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Confessions of a Pet Groomer

by Carol DeFrank

JAN NIEMAN converted a 21-year career as a wild and crazy pet groomer into a humorous book that will hit book stores November 1. Nieman shares the high and low points of her adventures in Going to the Dogs: Confessions of a Mobile Pet Groomer. In her words, she “tussled with feisty pets, wrestled with stubborn vans, chased down AWOL dogs, adopted orphan pets, and learned to cope with wayward employees.”

Her daughter Chris planted the idea of becoming a mobile pet groomer when she decided to go to dog grooming school instead of college. Nieman was making a nice salary as a branch supervisor for the Social Security Administration in Milwaukee, but she hated the job and was thinking of quitting. It was causing her so much stress her hair was falling out and her health was suffering.

Hoping for encouragement, before she resigned she bounced her idea off family and friends. Her husband Neil’s reaction was “You’re going to do what?” Her mother was more adamant. “You spent eighteen years in college while raising five children and you’re throwing all that education away on what?”

The adverse responses didn’t stop her. She proceeded to terminate her employment and used her retirement fund to launch Canine Clippers Mobile Pet Groomers. Within six years the business grew from one, to five fully-equipped vans. When she retired, the company was servicing 4,500 customers.

Neiman started to write the book because she found retirement boring and had a lot of humorous memories to share, but primarily because of recurring nightmares about vans breaking down. “You would think I’d dream about over-protective owners or schizophrenic pets, not vans. I decided the only way to get rid of the nightmares was to start journaling. I quickly filled numerous pages with the problems, expenses and missed appointments caused by an aging fleet. Our trucks were towed so often that we were on a first name basis with the drivers.”

When she told her husband she was thinking of transforming the data into a book, he simply said, “If it will keep you off the streets and out of my hair, go for it.” Then he got serious, “You’ve accomplished everything else you set out to do — I’m sure you can do this too. Go for it.”

Starting a new adventure with little writing experience, Nieman joined Gulf Coast Writers Association (GCWA). “I soaked up every bit of information the club had to offer. Members willingly shared their experiences, and speakers taught me so much. But even though I was determined to write my book, I never expected to get it published.”

Three years later, with 18 chapters and 192 pages of manuscript, Nieman changed her mind and started to look for a publisher.

As luck would have it, Chris Angermann, editor-in-chief of New Chapter Publishing was a speaker at GCWA. “Several members joined him for lunch. I took the opportunity to ask if he would look at my manuscript. He agreed and I put it in the mail that same day. I didn’t hear from him for months. Just when I was beginning to give up, he called and said that the story needed work, but he found it interesting, funny and different because it was written from the groomer’s perspective.”

The editor told Nieman he wanted the story to be her journey. He also told her to use the same material but concentrate on linking the chapters together in an interesting way. “The extent of my revision was to add transitional sentences at the end of the chapters,” she said. “I got my manuscript back fast. That wasn’t what he wanted. So I tried again.” Just when she was getting discouraged, Angermann called and said the last rewrite gave him something workable.

“A couple of days later I received a nine-page contract in the mail. That’s when reality struck. What was I getting myself into? Did I really want to do this? I was retired, had a nice life.”

Again she turned to family and friends. This time everyone had positive feedback. Her pastor, Jon Zehnder, finalized her decision to finish the project. “As I was leaving church he stopped me to ask how the book was coming along. I told him my doubts. He said the book is just the hook. You’ll be meeting all kinds of people, Jan, and it will all be good. Your light’s going to shine.”

She decided to sign the contract and bring her dream to fruition. “Before I finished reading it, I knew I needed an attorney. There is only one Intellectual Property Attorney in the area, but he is fantastic. He told me what should be negotiated, and between us we revised the contract until it worked for everyone.”

Then the real work began. It was revision after revision. Even the cover went through several modifications.

It was finally time to think about selling the book. “To me, marketing is hours and hours of struggling in front of the computer. I had heard that writing is only 25% of the process, editing is 25% and marketing 50%, and I was finding it true. I’m on the computer now, more than when I was writing the book. I’m lining up speaking engagements at libraries, community organizations, and schools.”

Angermann is more than pleased with Nieman’s marketing ability. “It’s hard to sell books today. There’s more than 550,000 books published a year. The author has to paddle her own canoe very hard and often upstream, and Jan’s willing to do that.”

Is she ready to begin the process all over? “I don’t have another book in mind right now,” she says. “I’m 71 and should be retired. But so far I’m having a good time. When it stops being fun I’ll let it go. It’s been quite a ride.”

Going to the Dogs will be available November 1 in Barnes & Noble, Borders, Books-A-Million, book and pet stores, on Amazon.com and Kindle. •

from the September-October 2010 issue

Nieman tussled
with feisty pets,
wrestled with stubborn vans,
chased down AWOL dogs,
adopted orphan pets,
and learned to cope
with wayward employees.
Neiman started to write
the book because of
recurring nightmares about
vans breaking down.
“I decided the only way
to get rid of the nightmares
was to start journaling.”