Indian Trail resident starts publishing company, writes first book
When Stephen Lehmann retired a couple years ago from a career in air traffic control, the Indian Trail resident had no idea he would become an author. A seasoned mathematician, Lehmann had no real writing experience. But the story of a martyred aunt led him to pen his first book, “Mission Vietnam – Under His Wings,” and start his own publishing company, Serenity Book Publishers.
Lehmann’s aunt, Ruth Wilting, left for Vietnam in 1953 to become a missionary nurse. Other than a couple furloughs in the United States, Wilting remained in Vietnam, tending the sick and wounded and spreading Christianity in a nation filled with turmoil until her death in 1968, when her camp was attacked.
For 40 years, her story remained untold, with letters, books, stories, artifacts and slides remaining closed in a trunk guarded by another one of Lehmann’s aunts. But in 2008, a memorial bench dedicated to all those martyred in Vietnam inspired Lehmann to learn more about his aunt.
“There were places that said ‘also killed in Vietnam,’” Lehmann said. “I thought, ‘There’s got to be more to her than that.’”
One year ago, approximately six months after his retirement, Lehmann felt a calling to write a book about Wilting. He spent hours and days researching Vietnam, reading more than 400 letters his aunt had written, digitalizing old slides and going through a “treasure chest” of her history. From dozens of hours of reading Wilting’s letters, Lehmann was able to “get inside her head” and think as she thought.
Once the information was compiled, the writing came naturally. “I truly believe the inspiration was coming from God, not me,” Lehmann said. “I’ve got to believe that. I’m a math person.”
As the book began to come together, Lehmann considered his publishing options. After learning authors who choose to publish through a major company only receive about 10 percent of the book’s net sales, he decided to self-publish.
Lehmann chose to finance an official publishing company in the summer of 2011. He brought on board his sister, Nola Hinton, to be the vice president of development and marketing. A retired realtor, Hinton brought a sense of skilled organization and business expertise to the organization.
Lehmann and Hinton didn’t want the book to look or feel amateurish, so they hired two editors and a graphics expert to help with the finished product, which reads like a historical novel and includes over 100 original photos.
“We’re very happy with the quality of the book,” Hinton said. “We want to hold ourselves to very high standards of publication.”
“Mission Vietnam – Under His Wings” was officially released via the website serenitybookpublishers.com Feb. 12 and has already seen a handful of sales. The book also has received positive reviews from retired Vietnam missionaries, who called the book “really great,” “hard to put down” and “well-written.” Dr. Dennis Hensley, director of professional writing at Taylor University, also praised the book, calling it “compelling” and “incredibly powerful.”
Serenity Book Publishers has put the book up for sale online as an e-book through Barnes & Noble, Smashwords and Amazon.com. Lehmann said marketing the book as an e-book has been considerably less costly and more profitable.
“The hard copy costs lots of money (to make),” Lehmann said. “With the e-book, I make about 70 percent of the sales. With little or no up-front costs, it’s a great thing.”
To promote the book, Lehmann has had several speaking engagements including an event at the Union West Regional Library in Indian Trail on Feb. 25. Lehmann and Hinton also are looking to work with a national distributor to offer the book to a larger audience.
“We’re trying to find a distributor to get (the book) into the national booksellers convention,” Hinton said. “We’re trying to get reviews in nationally recognized publications.”
In addition to promoting its first publication, Serenity Book Publishers hopes to recruit some additional authors and publish three to five books per year once finances become available. The company also wants to remain faith-based, publishing Christian literature.
“If you believe the Bible, you’ve gotta be all in,” Lehmann said. “There’s no (such thing as) halfway.”
In the meantime, Lehmann is working on his second book, also centered around missionaries in Vietnam, which he hopes to have finished in the foreseeable future. “I like to tell stories,” he said. “That’s probably why writing comes easy to me.”
For more information, or to purchase a hard copy of “Mission Vietnam – Under His Wings,” visit www.serenitybookpublishers.com.