Meet Michelle M. Hagen

By Helen Edelman, manager, Exchange

January 9, 2013

Michelle M. HagenAs angelic as their faces may be, Michelle M. Hagen ’04 of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., (at left, in Paris) usually can tell if one of her sons is lying. The co-author of “Everything Body Language Book: Decipher signals, see the signs and read people's emotions without a word!”, Hagen (who uses ‘Shelly’ in her professional byline) admits the skill  is useful, “but not magic. It doesn’t work if you don’t understand the context for a behavior or a gesture.”

A Northeast Center graduate with a B.A. in cultural studies, her track record for decoding shrugs, postures and raised eyebrows is pretty good and resonates with readers. The 304-page paperback -- written in clear, straightforward language that connects concepts to practical application -- sold so well at its 2008 debut that she already has updated it for a second edition. 

“People are curious,” says the willowy, freckled Wilton, N.Y. resident, “but they also really find the information useful.”

To write the book with collaborator David Givens, Ph.D., director of The Center for Nonverbal Studies, a private, nonprofit research center in Spokane, Wash., Hagen researched topics like eye contact, fidgeting, head nodding, handshakes and crossed arms, plumbing cues and clues that may reveal how a date is going, whether a boss is pleased with a work product, if a friend is giving an honest opinion or if a spouse is feeling aggressive.

“The body has subtle ways of speaking. It’s very intriguing,’ Hagen says. “Of the 20 or so books I’ve written, this is my all-time favorite. I learned a lot writing it.”

Married at 22 to her high-school sweetheart and the mother of three baby boys within six years, the Buffalo native recalls, “You could say I was ‘stuck home’ with the kids, but I wanted to be there. Before I went to Empire State College and earned my B.A. in cultural studies, I also had trained to be a nurse, but I had no job. A friend since kindergarten who was working in publishing in New York City needed writers and she assigned me the first book in 2001 -- ‘The Everything Bachelorette Party: Throw a Party that the Bride and Her Friends Will Never Forget.’”

The book did well in the marketplace and Hagen ran with the concept, producing “Everything” books about grooms, destination weddings, elopement, mothers and fathers of the bride, and how to organize a wedding. Interest in matrimony seems to be inexhaustible, and the series was written at a time in Hagen’s own life when friends and relatives were planning weddings, and she was attending lots of them, so her burgeoning expertise was both tapped frequently and expanded exponentially.

The Everything Body Language Book coverI called vendors and went to wedding expos and interviewed everyone and anyone related to weddings. I investigated budgets, flowers, hors d’oeuvres and what to say to the limo driver,” says Hagen. “The books are thorough.”

Two decades at the keyboard has been enlightening for Hagen and her readers, as she has examined the breadth and depth of other topics such as childhood obesity, reflexology and babies’ first year, working with authorities in the fields to make sure the books are accurate and current, because despite the boiled-down presentation of the information, the substance is taken seriously. In addition to the “Everything” books, Hagen has authored “Dummies” and “Idiots” guides, sometimes even as a ghost writer for professionals who have vast knowledge but no time to put it on paper.

“For each book, I do extensive research,” Hagen says. “I become conversational in all the topics – a generalist. It’s fascinating.”

As enthralling as that sounds, she adds, “It’s not all about talking to specialists and the glamour of seeing my name on book spines in stores. I also meet deadlines, know how to format and can work with editors and sources. It’s exacting, meticulous work.”

The work-at-home set-up was perfect for Hagen as she raised her sons. “I had long hours and had to juggle with school buses, sports and bedtimes. I worked 10 a.m.-3 p.m. and then after everyone was asleep,” she remembers. “I put in long hours for months at a time. I would try to do everything in advance, to pace myself, as the deadline approached, but it seemed like there was always scrambling at the end of the project. Then it would be done and I’d have a break. I loved those breaks.”

The work is not lucrative, “and if you say no to a project or ask for more money, the editor will just find someone else who can do it cheaper,” Hagen warns those who want to try it, “but the ongoing royalty checks are terrific, and they come regularly.”

As the kids grew up, Hagen felt the need to get out of her house. “Working at home is convenient but it can get isolating,” she says. “Too much of just me and a 300-page manuscript.”

With her background in nursing and her proven credentials as a writer, Hagen was a perfect match for a medical marketing and media agency that serves clients around the world from offices on Broadway in Saratoga Springs. She worked there for a while full time as a copywriter.