Tell us a little about yourself
I’m Gwen, but more readily known to book fans as “the squishy one” or “devil woman”. That’s what Finn calls me as he describes his life in his books.
Finn’s dutiful transcriber, Gwen Romack (aka The Squishy One), is a Maryland native, avid dog lover, and rescue volunteer. Gwen and her husband Evan (aka The Hairy One) initially agreed to foster Finn to work on some behavior issues and get him ready for a furever family. She began posting Finn’s weekly updates on social media to help prospective adopters fall in love with Finn. But it became clear pretty quickly that Finn was already home. The posts had become so popular that she continued sharing Finn’s view of life as a dog rescuing his difficult hoomans.
When her corporate job as an ethics compliance and anti-corruption officer was eliminated in the early days of the COVID pandemic, Gwen decided it was time to develop Finn’s funny updates into books for everyone to enjoy. Since I published the first book in July 2020, Finn has brought laughter and joy to fans in the US, UK, Canada, Germany, Australia, Argentina, Cambodia, the Philippines, Brazil and even the Swiss Alps. Both books reached best-seller status and hot new release status on Amazon’s charts and his fans get to enjoy his daily antics through social media.
As Finn’s popularity grew and the books took off, Finn’s fans started asking for more. Finn’s latest book is a field guide for dogs everywhere trying to train and manage their hoomans. It’s full of proven strategies and techniques for wrangling hoomans to do what dogs want! Anyone who’s ever been owned by a dog will relate and laugh out loud.
Finn and Gwen also volunteer in schools by offering interactive and engaging Zoom guest-teaching sessions. The students learn about developing a character’s persona, inspirational child authors, how to write and publish a book, how to do a wiggle-butt dance break, and more.
I’m very new to the world of writing. It’s been a really crazy year. If you’d told me last spring, I’d be writing and marketing books, guest teaching with littles or pawtographing books from my kitchen table… I would’ve thought you were bonkers. My career has been in the legal field—helping corporations, nonprofits and governments with ethics, compliance and anti-corruption programs. I’m also a passionate volunteer with a few different organizations that: help children experiencing homelessness with basic needs and personalized support to achieve graduation, help underserved teenagers develop their legal knowledge and ways they can join our profession, help military veterans fight the system to get the benefits they deserve after service, and help dogs through rescue.
Why Do you write?
In 2018, my husband and I took in a dog named Finn for what we’d planned to be a foster-fix. Meaning we’d foster him long enough to get him trained and correct some of his behavior challenges. He’d spent part of his first year of life on the streets in North Carolina, and his attitude and bad habits showed it. I started posting weekly reports in Finn’s voice to the different rescue groups on Facebook, hoping to help some potential adopters fall in love with his quirky, intense and dramatic personality. Long story short, we ended up foster-failing, but by then he’d already amassed quite the fan base online and they insisted we keep his weekly reports going. I just posted week 158. He’s very easy to write for. He has more personality, attitude and opinions than any dog I’ve ever known. He has hundreds of facial expressions and ways he communicates with us.
Over the years his fans have grown to over 4k people from around the world and many had maintained a constant drum beat trying to persuade me to turn the updates and his hilarious photos and videos into books. When my corporate job was eliminated at the start of the pandemic, I listened. Learning the author world and figuring out just how to write, package, distribute and market a book has been a wonderful distraction from the slog of job hunting in these crazy times. And Finn’s social media posts and the books make people laugh—I can’t get enough of knowing we’re spreading a little joy in these tough times. Getting those messages from fans keeps me going! It’s been fun!
What genre do you write and why did you pick this genre?
I don’t know how to characterize this genre… funny dog stuff? It’s funny because I’ve been seeing lots of public libraries carry the books and so many classify as “non-fiction” which cracks me up! As I mentioned, this all just evolved organically. I love the style of the books because they are light and funny… no crying! I hope they allow readers to just slide into Finn’s world and enjoy life through his eyes.
Tell us about your book.
Finn has two books in his annual series (the third is available for pre-order now and comes out in May!) as well as a standalone book published in February called, “How to Train your Hooman, a field guide”. The field guide is a departure from the weekly update annual series, but imparts the same witty humor and sarcasm he’s known for. The books are funny and light—and we all need more laughter these days. The books are a little different in format and style in a way that makes most folks pick them up and re- read them more than once… and still laugh each time. The Finn Chronicles series is a collection of weekly updates in Finn’s voice. They are a bit like journal entries, sent back to a fictitious K9 Training Academy where dogs learn how to prepare for life with rescued hoomans. Training rescued hoomans is a stressful job, but somedoggy has to do it. The Finn Chronicles is a unique story told by an extraordinary dog. He’s irreverent, funny, and full of sass. Based on his actual life, join Finn as he issues weekly reports back to K9 Rescue Headquarters on the strange behaviors and rituals of his rescue-hoomans. With sarcastic wit, he observes the curious world around him, heroically saves his unwitting hoomans from dangers (see also: evil electric toothbrush), and shares his musings about the often-lackluster level of service he feels he receives. With bonus content like links to Finn’s social media and videos, you’ll get to see this vocal and energetic dog in action. You will fall in love with Finn, his hilarious facial expressions, his tantrums and even his dim-witted hoomans.
This is the light-hearted and funny read we need in these not so light-hearted times. Book one hit #1 and book two hit #2 on Amazon’s Hot New Releases and placed on best-seller lists in their first weeks! “How to Train your Hooman: A Field Guide” came about after the first two books in his annual series were published and caught on. I wanted to publish a book with an original structure than his “weekly reports” in the other books. So many fans of his series of books would comment about not letting their dog see his techniques, lest they get ideas. I thought it would be fun to write a book just for the dogs. I reached out to a very talented friend I’ve known since 6th grade to see if she’d be willing to illustrate the book, and thankfully she said yes. Julie Goldman is a phenomenally talented artist whose usual graphite works are so astoundingly striking that people often can’t tell they aren’t photographs. And here I was, asking her to draw some stick figures in a way Finn would do it if he could hold a pen. It was fun to collaborate with her and I think her illustrations are the best part of the book! If you want to be blown away, check out her Etsy shop for her real-deal work: https://www.etsy.com/shop/BentRailArt
And there’s one more, if you count an activity/coloring book as a “book.” Finn and I started doing zoom classroom visits with elementary aged kiddos to provide a fun break from their new virtual learning world. We do the usual “meet the author/pawthor” thing but also teach about developing personas, inspiring child-authors and ask the kids to do a writing challenge they send to Finn for feedback later.
Those were so much fun, we made a book just for the littles and gear it towards teaching about dogs and rescue – mixed with fun. We think it’s never too early to teach little hoomans about dog safety, care, and health. Finn uses his charming personality to teach kids All About Dogs in this delightful activity book! Through brain games, puzzles, and coloring pages, Finn teaches dog care and safety essentials, the important role of dog rescues and veterinarians, and how to be a dog super hero. Kids can continue to engage with Finn on his website and social media to keep the fun going. Endorsed by a veterinarian, a teacher, a rescue organization, and a mom, this book is a perfect gift for children ages 5- 10! The illustrator for this one was Jean Tower… another dynamo! She really brought Finn and his real frens to life in her drawings.
How much time do you dedicate to your author’s career?
Well, in 2020, it was definitely a full-time job and then some. The writing, developing, designing and publishing is actually the “easiest” part! The direct marketing, media efforts, and contacting brick and mortar stores to carry them… that’s the harder slog! I’ve shifted most of my time back to working again to pay the bills, but I’m still spending at least 20 hours a week on book stuff.
How long, on average, does it take you to write your books?
To be honest, not much! The actual content happens organically because it’s based on our actual life, day to day. I had to do a ton of research and learning initially about creating, distributing and marketing the books, though. I’m so grateful for generous women who stepped forward to coach me, teach me and show me how it’s done! A friend helped me understand the marketing aspects—getting our website and social media up and running, how to make effective ads, even how to make the covers eye catching. Another friend connected me to an author friend of hers, who generously spent hours on the phone helping me understand the world of publishing. She started out as a total stranger and has become a trusted mentor and friend. I knew nothing, and I mean—NOTHING, about being an author, how books get created and published, etc. She gave me the lay of the land. A generous Hallmark store owner I’d approached to carry the first book in her gift store realized instantly I had no clue what I was doing. She sat me down in her storeroom and explained how shop owners look at this process, what they expect, and how to succeed in those negotiations. And she took a chance on me and started selling my books in her store. They have sold out for her over and over, thankfully. So, it turned out to be a good risk she took. It has amazed me at the generosity of strangers willing to take time to help me figure it all out.
What is the best money you have ever spent on your author career?
I’d have to say professional editing. I’m just thankful she doesn’t charge by the correction!
What is the toughest part of being an author?
For me, the initial fear of rejection or critical reviews was really crippling early on. I’ve adjusted to that now and would say today, it’s the imbalance of effort to results. This may not be something I’m supposed to say out loud, but here goes: it’s very very, very hard to make money in this business. I didn’t expect to become wealthy or anything, but I thought revenue would easily outpace expenses given how successful the books have been. The books in my series are full color interiors and loaded with photos, so the margin on those are tiny. Production costs, marketing fees, website costs, etc.—it adds up fast. New authors considering this process should definitely factor in far more on the expense column than I realized upfront. As I mentioned, I put in so much time, energy and emotion to getting the books in front of folks and basically begging for help or advocacy. And despite our success, the books don’t generate meaningful income. Each time I run an ad we go back in the red on the books overall. And from what I understand, we’ve been way more successful than the average self- published author in their first year. It’s hard to stay motivated sometimes when it’s not catching on to the degree needed to see actual income. But I understand that takes years in most cases. It’s the positive messages and reviews from fans that keep me going!
What is the best piece of advice you have for other authors?
For self-published authors: marketing, marketing, marketing. Get good at making beautiful graphics and get good at contacting stranger after stranger to put your work in front of them. Also, get a wonderful tribe to lift you, carry you, talk you into keeping on, and support you. I would not have done this at all without those amazing people—most of whom I’ve never even met! I wish every writer, creator and artist could have the tribe I have.
First, the readers online are the people who made me believe I could do this and they’ve been the biggest supporters—buying the books, sharing posts, telling friends and keeping me inspired to keep going. I have the best tribe, truly. I’ve also gotten more messages than I can count that were so compelling, they actually changed the course of things. I’ll give you a few examples.
One of the first messages that shook me was from a stranger on Facebook. She wrote to tell me how much laughter and joy she found from reading the first Finn Chronicles book to her very ill brother as he battled COVID in a hospital bed. I cried, knowing something I made had been a part of such a meaningful memory for someone and that it brought her a little comfort in a really hard time. That was my first realization that the books could really be a light to people in a miserable time. It was right around then that I’d been debating whether to publish the second book, year two. Her message was like a sign from the universe to keep going.
I also started getting messages from parents telling me how much their kids loved the books. This came as a total shock to me and inspired me to new directions. I wrote the chronicles for adults, full of pop culture references I can’t imagine anyone under 40 even getting! Despite that, I heard from parents of 9-year-olds, 10-year-olds and even teenagers telling me their kids were obsessed and asking for more Finn. One parent even sent a picture of her 16-year-old son reading book one and captioned it, “I’ve never seen this kid read voluntarily… thank you.” This got me thinking about how Finn and I might contribute to the elementary aged kids, teachers and parents suffering through the alternative world of virtual school. Just as I was looking into how we might offer virtual visits, a Finnatic (that’s what we call Finn’s fans) reached out to ask if I’d be willing to do a “meet the author” event for her teacher friend’s school in Florida. I developed a short interactive lesson that used Finn and his YouTube videos to teach about the concept of a “persona” in writing, about child-authors, how they can be creators, too… and a little on dog rescue and how to be safe around dogs. That first session was so much fun, I got hooked and built out an entire program for this. Finn and I have now taken part in virtual “meet the author” events with elementary schools all over the U.S. We volunteer this time to help all the teachers and parents struggling with pandemic virtual learning and to hopefully inspire kids to create and share. We ask the kids to write a story and email it to Finn and he always replies with positive reinforcement and praise. It’s been so fun for us. That entire process that led us to develop the coloring/activity book.
It’s truly been the fans that have inspired me to keep going with the next project and get ideas for what would be fun.
What is your favorite book?
That’s such a hard question! “To Kill a Mockingbird” was one of the most impactful to me growing up. Most of my reading these days is about self-help, learning how to live more fully and accept myself (and others), and generally fresh ways of thinking. I’m not reading as much fiction as I used to, but I did recently get hooked on Melissa Bourbon’s new series that starts with “Murder in Devil’s Cove.” It sucked me right in and now I’m waiting not so patiently for the second one to drop.