Do you know a young person who’s crazy about cats? Does he make up great stories, does she illustrate her own essays? Do they take photos, paint pictures, podcast to their friends and family? Do you often think, “This kid is going to have an interesting life and I bet there will be cats in it!”
Do you wonder where that young person might get advice about pursuing a creative career that could involve cats? Recently, I interviewed an animal professional who has some suggestions!
Amy Shojai lives in North Texas near Dallas. Amy is a certified animal behavior consultant for cats and dogs. She is sort of, as she says, a ‘jack of all pet-trades’ who works primarily as a writer. Amy writes nonfiction articles, blogs for herself (and for others), and writes both nonfiction books and pet-centric thrillers. So far, she has published more than 40 books.
I asked Amy to tell us about an organization in which she is active.
Amy explained, “I was a founder and president of the Cat Writers’ Association, Inc. At that time, I was a member of the Dog Writers Association of America, but I was writing mostly on cat topics. I wanted a supportive organization for writers and creatives who shared my love of cats. I also wanted an organization of members who could mentor each other and help one other along the path to becoming successful as published writers. The organization welcomes members from all areas of the cat world: cat shows, shelters, rescues, wild cats, and those creatives who write, paint, photograph, broadcast, and more.
“Four of us founded the nonprofit in 1992, and I served the first nine years as president. I stepped down from that position but continued to serve on the board, and returned to the position of president for one more term before retiring from any official capacity with the organization.”
I asked Amy, “What was your background that led to your qualifications for that position?”
Amy replied: “That’s a great question! Really, I had no qualifications to speak of, other than a love of cats, a passion for writing, and an eagerness (and maybe fearlessness) to learn. I had published articles in the ‘pet press’ (cat and dog magazines) for several years, and I had just received my first cat book contract. I basically told my other three partners in the endeavor that I’d work to get the CWA up and running, and would accept any position except treasurer—I didn’t want the responsibility of handling the money. They all called dibs on everything else, and left me with the role of president.
“I have a B.A. degree and double major in music and communication. I planned to be a Broadway performer. And today, in my speaking and teaching appearances, that background helps me enormously.
“I currently continue in my work as a freelance writer. The job has changed since back in 1992. I learned on the job, and made many mistakes—one big reason I wanted an organization that could help guide newer folks to avoid some of those pitfalls.
“Today, instead of writing for print newspapers and magazines, and cold-calling to interview veterinary experts, I’m called on as an expert myself. Wow! I write for online websites such as Martha Stewart, Chewy, and FearFreePets. And instead of working with my agent to submit book ideas to publishers, I hire my own editor and self-publish books that I know my readers want.”
“What do you like best about this job?” I asked.
Amy replied, “I love the freedom of being able to do something that I love and am passionate about. I make my own hours, choose my own topics, and then work my furry tail off. The downside is that my boss (me!) always knows when I goof off. I worked a ‘real job’ and wrote part-time for many years before I took the plunge to freelance on my own. The first several years, I didn’t make much money but did build my résumé. Working on my own means putting in much longer hours than working for an outside job. Is it worth it? Absolutely!”
I encouraged Amy to tell us more about the Cat Writers’ Association and its mentoring program.
“To become a member of the Cat Writers’ Association, you’ll be required to provide published samples of cat-related work. This also helps us gauge how serious and experienced (or not) an applicant may be, and there are both ‘professional’ and ‘associate’ levels of membership. So if you’re just starting out, get something published—in a newsletter, church directory, letter to the editor at your local paper or school newspaper—to get qualifying published work. Apply for associate membership, and once you’re more established, you can move up to the pro (paid) level. CWA has many members who joined with very little experience, learned more about the craft, became more and more successful, and now are award-winning writers, authors, and artists.
“We have an email list and a members-only Facebook presence where members can ask questions and get advice and feedback on a variety of topics. Also, there is a member directory, with description of ‘who does what,’ so often you can reach out to someone specific who has (for example) already published a children’s book, or hosts a podcast, or writes for newsletters.
“The Cat Writers’ Association has an informal mentoring program available for members. We strongly encourage mentoring between members. We even have an annual award ($500 and a plaque) that honors a member each year who has gone above and beyond.
“We also have a public Facebook presence so you don’t have to be a member to interact and find out more—perhaps even to get advice!”
I asked Amy what advice she would give a young person who thought her job sounded cool and who wondered if they might end up in a job like hers some day.
Amy answered emphatically: “Never feel as if you aren’t ‘good enough.’ Everyone starts at the same place. I had hundreds of rejections before I got my first acceptance and contract. That’s part of the deal. But if you don’t DREAM about the goal, and don’t REACH for that shining accomplishment, you’ll never get there. Take the chance. At worst, you’ll discover it’s not what you thought, and you can move on. You may be the next award-winning pet writer—and the cats and dogs (and hamsters, horses, birds, et al.) NEED your passion!”
Photo by Amy Shojai
I asked Amy to suggest a couple of her own books that have won CWA awards.
Does My Cat Hate Me? Improve Behavior, Boost Health, and Mend your Bond with Environmental Enrichment (A Quick-Tips Guide Book 5) by Amy Shojai
(CWA Muse Medallion winner)
Cat Life: Celebrating the History, Culture & Love of the Cat by Amy Shojai
(CWA Certificate Of Excellence winner)
Cat Facts: The Pet Parent’s A-to-Z Home Care Encyclopedia by Amy Shojai
(CWA Muse Medallion winner)
Then I encouraged some other animal professionals to recommend their favorite cat books.
Summer Storm Kingery DVM (North Carolina) Pam Johnson-Bennett addresses cat behavior with clear explanations that emphasize compassion and the implementation of strategic solutions. This book ranges from basic behavior to complex interactions between cats. Caregivers of cats who read it tell me that their relationship with their cats is deepened by the experience. It’s also an easy book to return to when questions arise. Cats will be better off if everyone who shares a home with a cat reads this book.
Maria Burton (Washington) Tiny but Mighty: Kitten Lady’s Guide to Saving the Most Vulnerable Felines is a fabulous book about all things cats! It covers everything related to fostering cats: bottle feeding, medical questions, behavioral questions, and even how to put together an adoption profile! It’s full of helpful pictures and graphs and is a joy to read. I’d recommend this book to all cat fosters, animal shelters, and even anyone interested in adopting a cat.
Susan Ewing (New York) My book, 77 Things to Know Before You Get a Cat: The Essential Guide to Preparing Your Family and Home for a Feline Companion, is a gentle guide to help people who have never had a cat to choose the one that’s best for them. It won a CWA Muse Medallion for Best Nonfiction Book in 2018. Tiny but Mighty is an amazing book if you want to rescue neonate kittens.
Nyssa Gatcombe (Maine) James Herriot’s Cat Stories—it is a collection of stories from his time as a vet. First, I just love all of James Herriot’s work. In particular, I like this book because it is a quick and easy read that takes you through all of the emotions of interacting with cats.
Hilary Lane (Colorado) 101 Cool Games for Cool Cats—I love this whimsical book by acclaimed author Elissa Wolfson, who has been a cat writer for years (and who has won both Cat and Dog Writer association awards). I love it because it’s so imaginative and fun—kids and adults will enjoy enlivening their cat’s life by strengthening mental and physical acuity, helping prevent boredom. Elissa has a 12-year-old daughter who has many young friends who have learned how to teach their cats these games, too.
Do you have a favorite book about cats? How about the kids you know—what books about cats have your cat-loving young friends read? I hope that reading books about cats—or having books about cats read to them—could be for the young people you know the start of a lifelong interest in cats as companions . . . as well as in reading, writing, and creating art about animals.