Successful Self-Publishing: Assignment #6

I woke up this morning with my book, the one I’m trying to self-publish, on my mind. Maybe it was because I worked on the workshop assignment late last night before going to bed. Or maybe it was because now that I am home again after a few idyllic days in Adams County, all the pressures I contend with at home came flooding back. I worked in the garden for a couple of hours. I did laundry. Unpacked. Made plans to visit my parents tomorrow. Did some final edits of my manuscript so my daughter can incorporate them into the pdf. And then I worked on my Successful Self-Publishing Workshop assignment.

Specifically, I woke up thinking about all the things that still need to go into the book: the little pages up front with all the publishing and copyright information, any dedication I choose to include, a table of contents perhaps. Are there more?  I was also thinking about the book cover (which I’m still waiting on my darling daughter to design). I need to write, or somehow come up with copy for the back cover—in 200 words or less what the book is about in an interesting enough way to grab the attention of an over-stimulated society. Am I losing my optimism here?

I not only woke up this morning with the book on my mind, I woke up several times through the night thinking about it. I think it might be because as we progress through this workshop  we learn about more and more things we need to do to be successful with this endeavor, yet we aren’t really supposed to do any of them until we complete the full ten weeks of the workshop. The to-do list in my mind is tremendous. I think I need to spend a little time today, tomorrow, or soon, organizing, prioritizing and committing that to-do list to paper. That usually makes me feel better in situations like this one.

Assignment #6 was about Indie Authorship and Types of Self-Publishing. We read Chapter 4 on Publishing Options in April Hamilton’s The Indie Author Guide. And then we were supposed to research and compare various publishing options.

All self-publishing options are not equal. There is vanity publishing, subsidy publishing, print service providers and print on demand (POD). They differ in whether or not you keep the rights to your book, whether there is an acceptance requirement for your book, distribution avenues, up-front costs, and royalties. Although it is fairly clear that print on demand is the way to go for most people, there are many variations on this theme out there depending upon how much you want to go it alone versus how much help with design, distribution, and marketing you need or want.

In many cases you’re comparing apples to oranges. It can be overwhelming.

All I can say is that I have a new-found respect for indie authors who have successfully navigated through this maze.

Here is the assignment I submitted. (It’s a darn good thing I’m not getting graded or paid for this shoddy work.)

I’ve just spent a lot of time reading through reviews of Createspace, iUniverse, Xlibris, and Authorhouse. It’s all very confusing and finding prices is not very straightforward, but I’m not as worried about the money as I am about the overall publishing experience and reliability.

You can read good and bad reviews on everybody. The thing that stands out in my mind about these four POD companies is the package they provide or require. From what I can tell, Createspace is the only one that allows you to do-it-yourself without the cost of an expensive package. As my daughter is a graphic designer, I do not feel the need to have a package to help me design or create my book.

Additionally, on the Writer’s Digest Community group about self-publishing, the creator of the discussion topic Linton Robinson seems to be quite knowledgeable. When I communicated with him earlier in the process, he recommended Createspace, probably in part because of the set-up fees others are charging. Also, I have been following a discussion on LinkedIn about self-publishing and several writers highly recommend Createspace.

I could spend an excessive amount of time scrutinizing the details. I feel confident that Createspace can do a good job. It is an established company, connected to the  established bookseller I think I will go with Createspace. If I’m not happy, I can always change later. It appears as if there are very few upfront costs.

As far as e-books go, I don’t know whether to use the free online tools with Kindle and other e-book providers, or to go with Smashwords. I will have to go to the various sites and see whether or not I understand what to do, or if I need to use a service like Smashwords.

I don’t think my initial plan has changed overly much. I always had a general sense of using a POD provider, and Createspace in particular, and also publish as an e-book. So nothing here has really changed. I think my original timing estimates are still realistic if I don’t encounter any major roadblocks I haven’t anticipated. If I go with Creatspace, unless I’m reading it wrong, I will have very little upfront expense with publishing the book. Most of the expense will come from setting up the business and creating marketing materials. One thing that has changed—initially I thought I would have to travel a lot and do a lot of book signings. Having recently read about the relative benefits of this, or lack of, for marketing a book, I now believe I won’t have to do all those book signings, if I don’t want to. Evidently, they are not the most productive way to spend your time marketing your books.

Between the editing concerns, the permission and copyright considerations, establishing a business, selecting the POD provider, and understanding and executing all the marketing tasks required, it is a wonder anyone self-publishes. The whole process seems daunting.

Originally I planned to first seek an agent for my memoir. In fact I purchased several books on finding an agent, writing query letters and book proposals. I thought I could always fall back on self-publishing if I didn’t find an agent in a reasonable amount of time. But the more I read, the more disenchanted I became with the idea and possibility of finding an agent. And I became worried about the changes I might have to make in my memoir to please someone else.

The self-publishing option started to look more attractive. This way the readers will decide if the book is good enough to buy, not a random editor out there somewhere who I don’t get to choose, but who chooses me. I read over and over again that word of mouth sells books. I’m going to trust the readers.

I also read that even if you get published by a traditional publishing house, you still have to have a platform and a following and expend great energy marketing your book. At first look it seemed as if it wouldn’t be any more work to self-publish the book. I could do it more quickly and keep more control of the end product. Now I think that may be true for the marketing of the book, but a publishing house would take care of the other editing, copyrighting, permissions, and printing concerns. Setting up my own business wouldn’t be required. So self-publishing is clearly a lot more work, at least from my perspective right now.

It is daunting. But I think if I approach this project one step at a time, by first understanding what order I need to take the steps in, I will be able to do this. One step at a time.

Read Assignment #7

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Successful Self-Publishing: Assignment #5

Assignment #5 was called A Self-Publisher is a Small Businessperson. This is where the rubber meets the road for the writer. Most things I’ve read about self-publishing say the challenge for the writer is the business part of self-publishing. I can’t say for myself. Right now I’m feeling pretty challenged about a lot of aspects of self-publishing including editing, copyrights and permissions. In these areas, I suspect an  editor at a traditional publishing house would likely have your back.

We read a handout for this session that covered setting up your small business, identifying and complying with legal and regulatory requirements, record keeping and tax reporting, and contingency planning.

As with the other assignments, we had two worksheets to fill out: a business entity worksheet and a small business startup compliance checklist. Here is my response:

Okay, this is a little intimidating. But I suppose that may be the point — a reality check.

The reading materials were quite helpful. I’m not sure how I would have even known that I needed this information and these forms without them.

I believe my best plan is to start a LLC, primarily for liability concerns, but also for the tax benefits. My husband has an S-corp and I will consult with the accountant and lawyer we used to help us set it up.

I’m a little uncertain about some of the licensing steps because I live in West Chester, Ohio, which is a township. I’m not sure what city hall I need to go to. I did find a site online about licensing a business in West Chester, but it listed a variety of businesses, none of which applied.

Would I need a vendor’s license? They also had a miscellaneous permit, so I’m not sure what to do.

I went to the Ohio small business site and found that there are small business development centers, SBDCs, here. I plan to contact one located in the county in which I reside. Hopefully they will have good information for me there.

I downloaded all the recommended publications from the IRS site, but haven’t read them yet. I also visited the SBA (small business association) site and bookmarked it for later reference.

In summary, I understand there are licenses I need to acquire and tax responsibilities I need to understand. I have some resources to get started with.

Regarding a contingency plan, I have an external hard drive that automatically backs up my computer on a regular basis. That will not help if I have a fire or a natural disaster, like a tornado for instance. I might look into an online backup service, or consider backing up important files to my daughter’s computer and external hard drive. I also keep hard copies of everything.

I have an office set up with a good workspace and filing system.

I’m not sure about virus or malware protection because I use a Mac. This is something I will need to investigate.

So, this was an intimidating session, but helpful.

 Our instructor offered to look over an excerpt of our manuscript. And by good fortune, I chose an excerpt that contained lyrics to a song and was promptly informed by the instructor that I could not included the copyrighted lyrics without permission. I should have known. That sent me into a panic of what other things might be in my memoir for which I need permission. I have now changed the names of every doctor, nurse and priest I write about. The only people who are named are family members. I will need written permission to publish what I’ve written about them. I will also need written permission for everyone who is included in a photograph.

I think I’d better learn how to write fiction.

Here is a short excerpt from my memoir (minus the lyrics). I have set the chapters up so that each one begins with a journal-type entry of the days when Annie was sick, diagnosed, and under the care of hospice, until her death. The second part of each chapter contains a vignette, or explanation of some aspect of Annie’s life or my relationship with her. Annie was born with severe brain damage. She couldn’t walk or talk and required the care of an infant, but she knew who we were, and she enjoyed our company. This excerpt is a vignette from the end of the 23rd out of 26 chapters.

late 1960s

I was at home babysitting Annie, and we were listening to the radio when her favorite song, Windy by the Association, came on.

“Annie! It’s our favorite song,” I yelled as I jumped up, grabbed an imaginary microphone, and started singing out loud along with the radio, in front of her chair. I replaced the name “Windy” with “Annie.”

“Everyone knows it’s Annie. . .

I started marching to the beat of the words, “ Da da, bum bum bum bum.”

Annie got excited and started waving her right arm up and down. She had a big grin on her face. I had a captivated audience, and now I was in full swing. I ran over and jumped onto the sofa, still holding my imaginary microphone in my right hand and using big dramatic arm motions with my left. I was singing out loud. Emphasis on the loud.

I jumped back off the sofa, got behind Annie’s chair, and twirled her in a circle as I sang. Annie was laughing all the while. By the time the song was over I was short of breath, and I had worked Annie into a state of utter excitement. She was hollering and laughing and swinging her arm up and down with fervor.

“We love that song, don’t we Annie?” I said. “ Whew!” I collapsed to the floor, arms and legs flaying out from my sides in an exhausted position, going for one more chuckle from Annie.

She complied.
Read Assignment #6

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Successful Self-Publishing: Assignment #4

The reading assignment for this week was on Branding your Business. It gets a little bit confusing, because technically, as a self-publisher, you have your “author” brand and your “imprint” brand. The imprint brand is the publishing name you have to come up with when you publish your book.

Writer’s Digest has an online community originated by Linton Robinson about self-publishing. Linton has provided clear and fairly comprehensive information in the discussions on this site. When you get ready to self-publish a book, he says, “Think HARD about the ‘publisher name’ because it might be something you stick with for a long time.””

The Indie Author Guide by April L. Hamilton has a whole chapter on branding, but deals primarily with author branding. In a separate chapter called Author Platform, Hamilton more or less defines branding when she writes, “it’s important to cultivate a signature look across all your promotional materials . . .using the same font(s), color scheme, and graphic elements . . . from your business cards to your website.” She advises letting your website, if you choose to have one, set the signature tone because graphic elements are more limited on the web.

For this assignment we were to write a description of our brand and possible alternatives. I chose to write about consideration of names  for both my imprint and author brands:

I’m intrigued by the prospect of producing books for others beside myself. In particular, I am thinking about the possibility of providing freelance work for my sons and daughter who are industrial and graphic designers.

For my youngest son’s senior-year theatre production, for which he was the crew head, we purchased a full-page ad in the program to honor him (and to donate money to the school’s theatre program). My industrial designer/illustrator son prepared a graphic image for us by combining two photographs we had. My daughter, who is a graphic designer, designed the layout, fonts, etc. I wrote and edited the text. It was a fun collaborative project.

I’d like to keep open the possibility of working with my children again at some point, so I want to keep the name of my business broad enough to go in the direction of illustrations and graphic design in addition to book publishing. I think a good name for this would be Grote Ink.

A backup option could be Grote Books, but that is narrower in scope.

I like the name Grote Ink, because it is a play on words, using ink instead of inc. I also like the nostalgia it could bring to the brand, especially if we use a small inkpot with a fountain pen as a logo. This could imply writing, or drawing.

I like the nostalgia connection because I am most interested in writing memoir or human-interest stories at this point. But I don’t think the nostalgia aspect is so blatant that it would be limiting, if I decided to write a sci-fi thriller.

I realize the ink reference might confuse some people who are looking to purchase ink, and not pages with ink on them bound into a book. I’m willing to live with that, I think.

I checked for “Grote Ink” online and didn’t find anything. I decided to take the advice of the textbook we’re reading and ordered the domain name.

While I was looking around on the web, I also checked out my author name for an author website. Originally I wanted to write under my maiden name and use the author name CM Smith. Unfortunately, there are a lot of CM Smith’s out there on the web and no way to really check on all of them. was not available.

I considered the possibility of using, which was available. I like this choice because I have used the name CMSmith as the author for my blog and as the user name for my gravatar. CMSmith57 is my Twitter name. So I have already started establishing an online presence with this name. I purchased this domain name to hold it, but after thinking it over I decided to abandon it and stick with my own real name.  There are just too many CM Smiths out there, and one of them is an author who I found at

I purchased the domain name for my author website.

Now I have two domain names, for two websites that I need to design, and quite a bit of work ahead of me. But then, you already knew that.

Read Assignment #5

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Clearing up Comma Confusion

As I continue to work on my manuscript and think about self-publishing it, one of the most challenging aspects for me is the editing. I already paid a professional to read and comment on the manuscript. Her input was extremely helpful. But I’m still left wondering if I’ve got all my i’s dotted and my t’s crosssed. In particular, have I got all my commas where they need to be? It made me remember a little essay I wrote while in college (for the second time) in 2006.

I used to blindly, while holding my breath, sprinkle commas randomly throughout a paper.  Well, maybe I wasn’t quite that bad, but a comma could be in and out of a position in a paper three or four times before I settled on the punctuation. I was using the “does it sound like it needs a comma?” approach.  Even after all this second-guessing, many times I still got it wrong.

It’s no wonder I have trouble with commas.  I’ve been reading the punctuation chapter of Diane Hacker’s A Writer’s Reference .  There are ten different rules for when to use a comma.  For perspective, the semi-colon and the colon have only three usage rules each.  The more I write and the more I try to help other people with their writing, the more I realize the need to clear up this comma confusion once and for all.

Let’s start with the easy rules: “Use a comma between all items in a series.”  I’m pretty clear on this one, although there is that prickling question of whether to include a comma before the word “and” and the last item in the list.  This is a matter of style, which is a whole other book, so I won’t get into it now.  Let’s just assume no comma is needed there.

This next rule is similar to the list rule, only the items that need to be separated by commas are coordinate adjectives, which are different from cumulative adjectives, but we probably all knew that.  “Adjectives are coordinate if they can be joined with and or if they can be scrambled.”  You’ll figure it out.

“Use commas with dates, addresses, titles, and numbers,” Hacker writes.  (Ooops.  Let’s assume we do need that last comma before the “and” in a series.)  This is a pretty easy rule to get right if we don’t get tripped up by the exceptions.  For example, a date should be set off by commas:  “On December 12, 1890, orders were sent . . .” but the “commas are not needed if the date is inverted or if only the month and year are given:  January 1994 was an extremely cold month.”  All the elements of an address except the zip code are followed by commas.  So we have another small exception.  Certainly I can remember that.

Seven more rules to go.  Here’s another easy one.  “Use commas with expressions such as he said to set off direct quotations.”  I almost never get that one wrong.

“Use a comma after an introductory word group.”  I generally get this one right too, as long as I correctly distinguish between a regular introductory word group and a short adverb clause or phrase for which there is the exception that the comma may be omitted.  I think I may have to rely on my sound test for this one.

“Use a comma before a coordinating conjunction joining independent clauses.”  I finally got this one figured out.  If you don’t have the conjunction between independent clauses, you have to have the semi-colon or a period.  Period.  No commas allowed.  There is a term for that, comma splicing.  Most people, whose papers I read, try to do it at one point or the other.  I’m not sure where they were or where I was the day we learned about this in grade school grammar, but I’ve got it now.

The explanation of this next rule is the longest one yet.   “Use commas to set off nonrestrictive elements.  Do not use commas to set off restrictive elements.”  This needs a lot of explanation because what the blazes are nonrestrictive elements?  I’m going to have to put a bookmark on this page.

Let’s move on.  “Use commas to set off transitional and parenthetical expressions, absolute phrases, and contrasted elements.”  This sounds like three or four rules to me.  I’m getting another bookmark.

“Use commas to set off nouns of direct address, the words yes and no, interrogative tags, and mild interjections.”  Again, the author has slipped four rules into one.  These aren’t too bad, until we get to the interrogative tags and mild interjections.  I wonder what I should do if it is a strong interjection.  Are there medium interjections?  I guess this is something that is at each individual writer’s discretion.  Let him or her worry about it.

Here’s my favorite, “Use a comma to prevent confusion.”  Somehow I don’t think a comma will fix all matters of confusion in some of the writing I’ve done and the writing I’ve seen, but it’s worth a shot.

Commas are pretty complicated.  Someone really ought to write a rule book.

Oh.  I see that they have.  Thank goodness.
Reprinted from the College of Mount St. Joseph’s  Lions-on-Line.

Successful Self-Publishing: Assignment #3

The topic for this third week of the workshop is Developing your Project Plan. We were given several worksheets to fill out as part of this assignment. Two were basic inventories or self-assessments of our resources, proportionally, in terms of time, money and skills; and our personal strengths and weaknesses in terms of tasks that would need to be accomplished in order to self-publish.

There is no one-way, or tried-and-true plan, to self-publish. Depending upon what my own personal goals are, and what resources and skills I bring to the project my plan will be different than someone who has other goals, resources and skills.

Proportionally, I valued my resources at 50% skills, 40% time and 10% money because I have training and experience across a broad range of necessary activities including non-fiction writing (for press releases, book covers, bio, promotional materials), photography and scanner skills (for promotional materials), and general web and HTML skills (for designing and maintaining a website, and platform activities like blogging and participating in online communities). My weaknesses are in the areas of art or design, public speaking skills or comfort level and confidence.

Since I have a fair amount of needed skills and pretty much time, I will do most of the work myself. If I had fewer of either, but a lot of money to throw at this project, I could hire someone to do all of that for me.

The final part of this assignment was to begin to work on a project plan template which listed the items that would need to be accomplished in chronological order and gave an estimation of how long each would take to complete. We were instructed to fill this form out in pencil because as we move through the workshop and learn more about each item, our estimates of when we will be able to accomplish any given one, or how we want to do it, may change.

I found this to be a very helpful assignment because it forced me to take a realistic look at what will  be required of me, what I will be able to do on my own, what I will need outside help with, which promotional activities I may want to concentrate on because of my strengths and weaknesses, and just how long all of this activity will likely take.

My instructor wrote the following question on my last assignment (#2):  “Are you confident that the way the book is written will serve the subject well?”

This, I think, will be the biggest sticking  point for me. How will I know when the book is written well enough? I thought I had it pretty well edited, and I had hired a professional to edit it for me. So I sent the first chapter to the workshop instructor for his input and he sent it back with about six edits (all missing commas except one) and a couple of comments. I thought I was done. So this has shaken my confidence a bit. When is good enough, good enough?

Here is the chapter I sent him with his edits included. (Let me know if you find any more mistakes.):

Chapter 1 — Watching in the Night

Monday, October 5, 2009

It’s 1:45 in the morning and I’m having trouble sleeping again. Vivid scenes from August play unbidden through my mind on an endless loop.

I abandon the effort to sleep and get out of bed to retrieve my robe from the bathroom hook, stopping for a moment to search out the window and into the darkness. I stand motionless watching the night, listening, waiting, hoping. I see only our still front yard and its massive oak tree, the early autumn colors illuminated by the porch light below my window. I hear nothing.

I do a quick calculation in my head. Seven weeks. Almost to the day. Since Annie died.

I tiptoe around the bed to get my glasses from the nightstand, trying not to wake my husband or our seven-month-old little white peek-a-poo Arthur.

I surrender to the insistent memories that disrupt my rest and walk downstairs directly to my computer desk.  The glow from a light left on in the family room that filters down the hall isn’t bright enough to illuminate where I sit. I can’t see the keys on the keyboard. Even so, I am reluctant to turn on a light and disturb the darkness.

Arthur is crying upstairs. His radar on my every movement must have issued an alarm. I go back up the stairs, open the door to his cage where he lies beside my bed, pick him up and return downstairs to take him outside to his fenced-in area.

The silence, solitude and darkness outside bring a tingle to my skin although the air is still warm. Again I stand very still to search and listen—but nothing.

Arthur has finished his business. I pick him up, return inside, and lock the door. I settle him on the folded blanket beside my desk where he often sleeps as I work.

I’ve known I needed to write this story for a while now. I would tell my sister Annie’s story in her own words if I could. In fact, there is nothing I would like better than to tell her story from her perspective.  But I don’t know what she was thinking or how she felt—it wasn’t possible while she was alive and any remote hope that someday, somehow she might be able to communicate that to us has died with her.

I know I need to write this story, but I am afraid I have waited too long and won’t be able to remember it clearly. I am afraid it is too soon and I will remember it too well.

Read Assignment #4

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Successful Self-Publishing: Assignment #2

It’s 7:15 a.m. and I am sitting at our kitchen table with the windows open listening to the concert of the birds. I need to get a birdsong reference so I can imagine who I’m hearing as they are singing. So many different sounds this morning. I just saw my first hummingbird of the year as I was letting Arthur out. It is a glorious morning although storms are predicted for later. I’m going to try to get outside early to work in the gardens before the heat and/or rain comes. Mark and I spent most of the day outside yesterday, taking advantage of the break in the weather. He was on his mission to eradicate, exterminate and otherwise eliminate honeysuckle again. I just putzed around planting Lilies of the Valley, Sweet Woodruff and one Jacob’s Ladder.

On to the topic at hand.

Somewhere in the back of my mind I always had this vague notion of being a writer. I imagined Mary Ann Evans (George Elliot) or Jane Austen sitting in their parlors with a fountain pen and pot of ink scribbling away. I suppose that is why I went back to college, when I was 25-30 years older than the average student, to get a degree in English with a Written Communications minor.

Click to enlarge and read.

For an assignment in a Feature Writing class I had to write an opinion piece and send it to a newspaper. As luck would have it I read a published opinion a few days later that inflamed my senses to the point where I told my husband, “I’m going to write a letter,” as I had threatened so many times times in the past. He just ignored me. I wrote the letter and e-mailed it in. Then I started sweating, Oh no, I thought, what if they print it? What will my friends and family members think of this opinion of mine? Will I start getting hate mail from strangers? Total panic.

The paper printed the op-ed piece in their column called “Your Voice.” I got accolades from my gay friends and silence from anyone who might have disagreed. Life went on.

The paper printed a couple more op-eds that I wrote and fired off, (always immediately regretting it and hoping they wouldn’t publish them). As another assignment for the Feature Writing class I had to send a query letter out about a feature story I had written for the class. Much to my amazement, St. Anthony Messenger responded positively and published my story, “Sister Mary Beth Peters: A Heart for the Poor.” I later sent them a story I had written after interviewing my parents about my sister Annie which they also published. You can find links to both of these on my Things I’ve Written page. That’s largely the sum-total of my publishing experience.

For a creative writing class I took a few years before she died, I wrote a collage of vignettes about my sister Annie. My teacher loved it. She suggested I revise it, make it the best I could, and then try to get it published. I made a couple of revisions and then shoved it in a file.

Back to the point. I’m sitting here with a finished book I felt compelled to write to turn off, or at least lower the volume of, the memories thrashing about in my mind after my sister Annie died. I pulled out the short story I had written a few years before and integrated it into the memoir. The whole time I was working, in my mind, I was doing it for Annie. It would be the only lasting imprint she left on this earth. I would be her voice.

Right now the finished memoir sits on my desk, a story waiting to be told and no one to listen.

The more information I sought about getting published and getting an agent and the likelihood of that happening anytime soon, the more discouraged I became. So I started to listen to the people online who were promoting self-publishing and I signed up for the Writer’s Digest University workshop: Successful Self-Publishing.

If you want to self-publish and you do nothing else, buy the book we’re using in the class: the Indie Author Guide—self-publishing strategies anyone can use.

For our second assignment we were to read chapter 1—Indie Authorship: An Introduction; chapter 10—Author  Platform; and chapter 11—Promotion. As I read, I became more and more excited. I can do this, I thought. I can really do this. All those pesky questions about how do I publicize the memoir and even let people know about it are addressed in these chapters I just read. As I continued to read I became overwhelmed. There were so many ideas and suggestions. How would I ever do all of this?

The good thing about the workshop is that the moderating teacher helps us stay focused. He gives us worksheets to help us sort out in our own minds: What are our publishing goals—are we in it to make money or just to get readership? What are our personal skills—what are we able to do on our own and what will we need to hire out? Given our goals, what strategies should we be using to achieve them in terms of publishing, distribution and promotion? And all the while, the handy little paperback book we’re reading gives us suggestions and idea after idea of actual things we can do to make it all happen.

I’m encouraged. And I’m excited. And right now, I’m taking a first step and working on getting an author website up. Nora Roberts, move over.

Read Assignment #3

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Self-Publishing workshop – Assignment #1

I first told you about the workshop I was taking in my April 30th post, Successful Self-Publishing—A Writer’s Digest University Workshop. This is an WD online workshop designed with weekly assignments that are reviewed and commented on by an instructor, in this case, Mark Spencer.

You can see the course description and outline here.

The first assignment, A Self-Publisher is still a Publisher, emphasized the need to approach self-publishing as a business or project with a plan which includes the following elements—setting goals and milestones, determining a schedule and budget, writing the book, preparing the book for publication, producing the book, distributing the book, promoting the book,  and tracking the book. This first assignment was to write a 750 to 1500-word description of my book project.

Assignment #1

 How do you say good-bye to a disabled sister who is dying?

I tiptoe back to Annie’s bedroom and peek in the door. She stirs and opens her eyes. I walk to her side, lean over the railing of her hospital bed, and gently press my forehead to hers. Annie’s eyes are a large soft brown blur through the tears filling my own. “I love you, Sweetheart,” I whisper. Annie smiles and makes soft vocal noises. “Yes. Yes,” I say. “I hear you. I know you love me too . . . ”

My sister Annie was born a year after me with severe brain damage. She couldn’t walk or talk. She required the care of an infant, which my parents provided for her for 51 years until she died August 16, 2009. 

Dancing in Heaven—a sister’s memoir is an inspirational story about Annie’s life, death, and her significance in the lives of those who loved her. The finished manuscript is 53,000 words, 212 pages and contains family photographs.

The formatted book will measure 6 inches by 9 inches and be printed on white. The cover graphic is being designed by my son who is an industrial designer and aspiring illustrator. It will show an empty wheelchair, or a wheelchair holding only a small stuffed animal.

At this point, I plan to use the print-on-demand method of publishing as well as e-books.

I have all the bases covered on Tools of the Trade (computer software and photography proficiencies) through course work I recently took at a local college, volunteer web-editing work, and my photography hobby.

I have a Facebook page, a fledgling blog (Random Thoughts from Midlife) with a small following that I began in January, and a second blog I am developing about developmental disabilities. I am unemployed and available to travel and promote my book as needed. I may find avenues to promote the book through county boards of MRDD, Special Olympics, Hospice or end of life organizations, and Christian bookstores.

According to the website PubMed Health, mental retardation directly affects about 1 – 3 % of the population. Dancing in Heaven’s target audience is family members, friends, caregivers and just interested or concerned acquaintances of those individuals who have mental retardation. It will likely also appeal to individuals who are, or who care about others who are, disabled in some other way.

People were always curious about my sister Annie. Those who were brave or forward enough to ask wanted to know: What was wrong with her? How did it happen? Could she talk? Did she know who we were? Could she understand what we were saying?

In Dancing in Heaven, I answer these and other unspoken questions in my portrayal of Annie’s life and death, and what she meant to those of us who loved her.

As Annie approached the end of her life I had to examine my own faith and beliefs about, or hopes for, an afterlife. Because I share these hopes and concerns of what an afterlife means for a person as disabled as Annie, Dancing in Heaven’s target audience also includes individuals who are interested in faith and life after death and will appeal to those who purchase and read stories with a Christian or spiritual significance.

Dancing in Heaven is a window into my family’s world of living with a severely disabled family member. It is a story not only about loss, but also about pure love.  It’s about compassion, empathy, commitment, devotion, hope, disappointment and acceptance. But more importantly, it is a testimony to the basic value of human life and how we learn from and love each other . . .

“Most people might wonder what anyone could say about a life like Annie’s. After all, Annie never spoke a word or took a step, so how significant could her life possibly have been? The fact is that Annie had an extremely meaningful life—a life full of giving and receiving love.  Annie was like a beacon of light.  She did not need words or actions to touch the hearts of everyone who knew her,” (From Annie’s Eulogy by her sister).

She filled our lives with smiles, and radiated light and love every day of her life.

And now she’s dancing in heaven.

Read Assignment #2

Successful Self-Publishing— a Writer’s Digest University workshop

I  signed up for a workshop about self-publishing that started Thursday.

I’m sitting here at my desk beside a stack of 212 pages of a manuscript that is in the final stages of editing. I just need to re-scan a few photos to get a better resolution. My daughter, who is a graphic designer for a text book company (how convenient is that?) is formatting the manuscript into a book for me. My son, who is an industrial designer for a major toy company and an aspiring artist, is designing artwork for the book cover (again, how convenient, and downright lucky?)

At the beginning of April I described my publication plan in a post I wrote called  Back to work on my memoir and how to get it published.  At that time I planned to “polish” everything up (the industry’s word, not mine. I still fail to see how something made of paper and ink can be polished.) I had a query letter drafted and mostly ready to go, a membership to Writer’s Market online and a list of agents to send queries to. I planned to draft a book proposal. That’s where I’ve stalled out.

I might just be jaded by all I hear concerning the difficulty of getting published by traditional means. I know a talented writer who waited four years until she finally got an agent. I’m not that patient.

Or I might just be balking at the formidable task of writing a seven-part, 30-page book proposal.

The second part of my publishing plan was to investigate self-publishing. So when the advertisement for the Writer’s Digest University Successful Self-Publishing workshop appeared in my inbox, I jumped on it.

I haven’t abandoned my get-an-agent plan, but am just educating myself about all the possibilities (and patience and work involved).

The workshop is not inexpensive at $350 for ten weeks, working out to be $35 a week. But it is cheaper than a college course (and on some weeks my out-to-lunch budget). I took a WD memoir workshop at the end of last year that I found to be worth the money.

This workshop focuses on publishing aspects like setting goals, a schedule and a budget; preparing the book for publication; producing the book and all the pesky decisions you need to make about ISBN (I still don’t know what that one is), copyright, Library of Congress registration; distributing the book; promoting and tracking the book. The textbook we’re using is The Indie Author Guide— self-publishing strategies anyone can use by April L. Hamilton.

My first assignment is to complete a publishing project worksheet to define a selected (or invented) book (e.g. genre, page count, etc.). As I have an actual finished manuscript, this shouldn’t be too hard. Then I have to write up a 750–1,500 word description of my book project, including the title, genre, page count, intended audience and other information to describe my project, for review and feedback from the instructor. I think I might have to have this done by Monday (still trying to figure it all out), which might be a challenge because my son, daughter-in-law and

6-month old grandson

will be here this weekend. Can you tell I’m excited? You’ll probably be seeing a few slapped-up archive photographs for my quick posts this weekend. ( I know a few people who are dropping out of this post-a-day challenge, but I’m not ready to throw in the towel yet.)

Anyway, I’ll let you know how the workshop goes.

Read Assignment #1