Local author turns others’ aspirations into bestselling publications.
By Colleen Sheehy Orme
Have you drafted a manuscript that swept rave reviews from your friends—but now sits coffee-stained and crumpled in a desk drawer? Do you have a really great book idea—but you just haven’t put the pen to paper yet?
David Hazard has spent years coaching writers and helping them transform these rough nuggets into publishable gems. His boutique business, Ascent [www.itsyourlifebethere.com], may well be one of Northern Virginia’s best-kept secrets.
As a publishing consultant and writing coach with 32 years in the business, Hazard has launched the careers of over 200 authors. He has coached everyone from Nobel-nominated peacemakers, to Hollywood celebrities, to political figures, to the undiscovered everyday writer—including the mega-million-selling author Stormie Omartian and the cohost of A & E Channel’s “Intervention,” Jeff VanVonderen.
With exclusive publishing industry ties, Hazard often found himself besieged at cocktail parties, and on soccer field sidelines. (He has three children, all graduates of Loudoun County schools.) Every week, someone would corner him with a familiar request. “I have a great book idea. Do you have a minute?” “My wife wrote a book. Is there a chance you could take a look at it?” “My neighbor has written the next bestseller. Do you think you can get her published?”
Then the proverbial light bulb blinked on. Hazard decided to create what he calls a prep school for writers. “I saw the gap between the writer and the publishing companies getting larger. Writers need to have everything working for them, to be able to break in today,” says Hazard.
“While there are many writing courses available, even the best ones only teach technique. What I do is worlds different. I teach people how to be writers. The difference between teaching and coaching someone how to find their voice, or how to open the creative mind, is what makes the difference between writing that’s good and writing that’s potent—publishable because it has power.”
Hazard entered the field of publishing at 19. “I learned very early on that you should know your industry inside and out or you should get out of it,” he says. He consumed every element of the publishing industry—editorial, marketing, publicity, reading profit and loss statements, dealing with distributors and salespeople, and developing book lines.
When asked what paved his professional path early on, he says, “My first struggle was to unlearn much of what I’d been taught in high school and journalism school. They taught me how to write out of my head. Very dull. It was all about structure and correctness, and not about voice and passion and engulfing your subject until you know, know, know it—the way you digest a new language until you make it yours.”
There is ‘gold out there,’” Hazard says, indicating he means Northern Virginia and the Metro-D.C. area, “but because no one else is finding and cultivating writers who have voice and power it’s just being missed. You can have an idea that’s ‘gold’ but if you don’t know how to work with it—where to get good coaching—it will just get washed down the stream. I help the writer find that gold nugget—the central, potent idea—and then help them shape and deliver it on the page.”
Starting the Ascent writing program was not a big stretch for Hazard, who has spent years developing bestselling lines of books for publishing companies. Publishers would enlist his help to create lines of books and find the author pool to deliver the books, many of which went on to sell a quarter-million or more copies.
They would also enlist his help to salvage a manuscript in need of serious surgery. Hazard was used to either giving birth to a manuscript or performing a major operation on one—earning him an unofficial title often given to writer-editors who perform manuscript heroics to save a company’s investment in a manuscript that doesn’t deliver: a “manuscript doctor.”
“I no longer do manuscript doctoring because of my love for individual coaching. I love seeing writers grow and develop in their craft. I love watching them leap to new skill levels. And I thought, ‘Since the companies no longer budget for editorial time to develop writers, and agents don’t know how to do it—why not create a prep school for them myself?’” he says.
“There are many voices deserving to be heard,” Hazard continues. “The Ascent program takes people who have raw talent and a strong idea and grooms them for the publishing world. If you want to go to Harvard, then you go to Phillips Exeter Academy first. If you are an accomplished regional writer and want to go to the national level, then you’ve got to be schooled for that. I find the person who is the complete unknown and groom them.”
Hazard is easygoing with a lighthearted and happy demeanor, so it’s easy to forget this is a man with a considerable resume. The author of over 30 books published nationally and internationally, his 1984 book, “Blood Brothers,” led to a Nobel Peace Prize nomination for its subject, Dr. Elias Chacour. Former Secretary of State James Baker, who wrote the foreword to “Blood Brothers,” has said, “David Hazard has done us all a great service by bringing the story of Elias Chacour to our attention.”
Hazard brings to his work a rare combination of literary prowess and marketing genius: He is part teacher, part editor, part life coach and part personal motivator. He is, in fact, an industry phenomenon, possessing a rare ability to “see inside” the writer, recognize their gift, and then understand how that gift connects universally with the outside world.
Any given day’s coaching schedule may include: meditation techniques that open up the creative mind; finer techniques of great narrative writing; offering the next suggestions on developing stronger essay skills; and coaching another on how to protect their creative writing time by transferring chores to an unwilling partner or their kids.
“What I do is a combination of developing the person and the idea that’s driving them. It’s all in the interest of mining those potent ideas many of us have, but need help delivering. Sometimes writers don’t even see, themselves, how powerful and important their idea is. That’s where I come in.”
A compelling example is Stormie Omartian’s bestselling book, “The Power of a Praying Woman.” It was Hazard who took Omartian from the exercise guru books she wrote in the 1980s, and discovered her true voice.
In transition and growing bored with writing one more exercise book, Omartian sought Hazard’s help and expressed her desire to move forward in a new literary direction. Hazard “saw in her a deeply spiritual woman whose gift was caring for, and praying for others. She never lets go until her prayers are answered. She’s amazing.”
“As I took time to listen to her, ask her deeper questions, I heard her true passion—which is caring and praying for other people. She won’t stop. But even Christian publishers had dismissed this, believe it or not. I connected this with all the women out there who love and pray for their families, their community, the country. And the title, ‘The Power of a Praying Woman’ jumped into my head.”
“I said, ‘Stormie, this is your next book.’ And in 10 minutes, we had an outline scribbled on a napkin.”
Over 11 million copies later, Stormie’s success boldly demonstrates Hazard’s ability to find the writer’s true voice and help them create their work in the strongest way possible.
“David has rare insight, and he could see that prayer was, and is, the great passion of my life. That first huge bestseller launched the whole series that came after,” says Omartian.
“I’m fortunate in that I have a native sense of what connects and what the common human denominator is,” says Hazard. I dig to a certain level. Then I know I have struck pay dirt, and I have found the idea that will connect with a given writer’s audience.”
Jeff VanVonderen, author and co-host of “Intervention” is another of Hazard’s clients.
“Jeff was doing some counseling books that sold very well,” says Hazard. “But when I was able to sit down with Jeff—really listen ‘into’ him, as I put it, I found he has an uncanny ability to see the core issue of someone’s problem—especially when they’re dealing with an addiction. Jeff could zero in and put his finger on the root cause of their problem.”
“I said to Jeff, ‘If I needed an intervention I wouldn’t want you there because you would go right to the problem and know how to help the person solve it. This is really the core of who you are. It’s what you do best.’”
“David Hazard was the editor on my first three books, and his work went much deeper than the normal editing process,” says VanVonderen.
He understood me, and helped to develop each manuscript from its core concept. This made my writing, and each book, much stronger. Undoubtedly, this helped open doors to my career in television.”
With his obvious ability to take a raw idea and make it more valuable, coupled with an ability to take something unpublishable and turn it into something great, Hazard can help change the course of a writer’s career path.
Ascent has become known for its unique and comprehensive approach to cultivating the writer as a whole person. Ascent’s intent is to “Help you live your life—your one amazing life—better.” Its tag line conveys a sense of importance Hazard feels about helping writers find and live out of their core vision: “It’s your life. Be there.”
So, who finds their way into Hazard’s workshops and mentorship program?
“I am looking for the person who really wants to roll up their sleeves and learn the craft. The person I work best with is the person who comes in and has a concept and possibly some rough writing, and what they really need first is for someone to help them identify its core idea—its potency.”
“Sometimes people contact me and say, ‘I know how to write, and I have a finished manuscript. I just want someone to edit for me.’ There are editorial services everywhere to help with that. Too often, unfortunately, those writers are not open to the real fundamental help they need. It’s the writer who’s not afraid of the learning curve that becomes successful. And the person who is ready for that kind of coaching is the person I work best with.”
In his Ascent program, Hazard has developed a creative path for the writer.
“First, I work to find the core idea, then voice, then technique. That’s the way to develop power, and powerful writing is what connects with publishers and the reading audience. So I start by exploring the question, ‘Who is this person?’ That’s the basis of great coaching and talent development in any field.”
Hazard’s own mentors were multi-million selling authors. They challenged him, he says, “because they cared less about sales than about developing the life of the writer—the habits of being that form the writer. Immersion in the craft. Immersion in the area of interest. Immersion in voice. When I began in publishing, editorial ruled the companies. From the mid-1980s on, marketing has ruled. And more’s the pity.”
Dan Sheehan of Great Falls is a Marine who flew Cobra helicopters in Iraq. “I went to combat, did two tours and moved past everything. I did not think I was carrying anything with me. Then I was surprised by something that happened in my life and realized I needed to gain perspective.”
With this impetus for his book, Sheehan began working with Hazard. “I knew more about what I didn’t want my book to be than what I wanted it to be. It’s been amazing to go through this process. The difference between what I had written is night and day. What I wrote before had importance to me, but it didn’t have the importance to others. David understands the nuances of what I am trying to do and is very good at giving me help when I need it.”
Hazard finds his greatest satisfaction discovering and launching the everyday person “who just has a solid idea and needs help delivering it on paper, so they’re ready for the challenge of breaking into publishing. My main love is coaching. I love the craft of writing, and I love to transfer the two skill-sets writers need: the writer’s life; the writer’s techniques.”
In the exclusive and elusive publishing industry, Hazard is offering the golden ring to aspiring writers who are willing to work hard at their craft and learn from a literary prophet.
Hazard’s fees vary depending upon the project—from one-time consultations to contract reading, intensive workshops or 10 months of coaching.
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