One year later — a review of Self-Publishing

One year ago tomorrow Dancing in Heaven-a sister’s memoir appeared for sale on Amazon.com. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all of you who have supported me on this journey. I’d especially like to thank everyone who read and reviewed the book for me. This has been a big help. You can find links to these reviews at my Dancing in Heaven page.

If you’ve read the book and would like to leave a short sentence or two at Amazon.com or Goodreads, it’s not too late. The reviews absolutely help me.

As I was looking back over my posts regarding my memoir and self-publishing, I came across the following:

I know I need to write her 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.October 5, 2009 – from Dancing in Heaven

I remember very clearly writing this in the middle of the night at our old house with Arthur, who was just a puppy then, at my feet, three years ago,  almost exactly two years before I published the finished story.

Isn’t it funny that it all started at this same time of year?

I had a finished draft a year later in November of 2010 and started deliberating about what I should do with it. I’m not going to drag you through all that again, but if you missed it, you can find all my posts about Self-Publishing here. By June of 2011 I had decided to go forward with self-publishing and with a lot of help from my graphic designer daughter, had a proof copy in my hands before the end of September. I did a little video of that thrill to share with you in case you missed it. That was a high point of the journey.

After a few rounds of proof copies and edits, Dancing in Heaven went up on Amazon.com, and other sites as well, October 7, 2011. I was actually visiting our son, daughter-in-law, and grandson when that happened. I had prepared some excerpt posts in advance to be able to blog from St. Louis. For some of these I taped myself reading the excerpt as I sat out on our screened in porch where I sit as I type to you today.

Over the past year book sales have done little more than trickle in. I’ve sold almost or only (however you choose to see it) about 300 books to date. And I owe a nice portion of that to three individuals: my good friend, teacher, and mentor, Jeff Hillard who has made Dancing in Heaven one of the required books for his Cincinnati Authors’ class two years running;  a good friend and high school classmate Nancy Henry Chadwick who chose it for her book club’s selection and hosted a book discussion; and Teresa Hutson Simmons, also a friend and classmate as well as the librarian at the Kettering College of Medical Arts, who shared the book with her colleagues and invited me to speak to students. Friends and bloggers who wrote reviews, interviewed me, or allowed me to guest blog also were very helpful in promoting the book. Again, links to these can be found at my Dancing in Heaven page.

At first I had a pretty good idea who was buying my book. Now when the sales trickle in, I always wonder. Who is it? Where did they hear about it? I sold one book recently in the UK — my first book sold out of this country. Is that one of you out there reading my blog? I’m happy that Dancing in Heaven has made its way into the right niche market at Amazon.com judging by what recommendations come up when I search for it.

I’ve lost count of how many books I’ve given away over the past year, but if I were guessing I’d say in the neighborhood of 50 — not all that many, but a fairly high percentage of those that I sold. I’ve debated doing mass giveaways, one of the Indie tactics to generate publicity and sales, but I’m not convinced that it will actually result in readers of the book. If anybody asks me for a book, I gladly will give them a digital copy. If someone offers to do a review, I send them a print version if they’d like. Many people have told me they’ve shared the book with someone else, so it’s hard to know how many people have actually read it. But I think 350 is a good, yet conservative, number. And I really don’t think that is bad.

Early out I made efforts to get reviews, to get involved with Indie organizations and support groups, and to try to promote my book. I quickly became disenchanted with what I saw as the Indie rat race, and soon stopped overt efforts. I know that my sales would be much better if I would promote the book with any regularity, energy, and enthusiasm. I just don’t want to spend my time doing that. I still occasionally make a lame effort or two at promotion, but mostly I have removed myself from that arena and will allow Dancing in Heaven to sink or swim on its own.

Would I do it again and self-publish another book?

I’ve thought about this a long time, and I believe I would. In fact, I probably will, if I ever finish my father’s story.

Would I show it to someone from a major publishing house if they came to me and asked to see my manuscript? Duh.

Will I spend a lot of time generating book proposals and summaries and query letters and wait perhaps years to try to get my next book accepted by an agent and then published? Not likely.

Will I do anything differently the next time? I will probably make every effort to keep my costs as low as possible. But I still will pay for good editing and cover/book design.

As disenchanted as I’ve been with trying to rise above the clamor and market a self-published book, I’m even more disenchanted with the notion of having to get that opening paragraph of a query letter so perfect that it will knock the socks off the agent who is buried beneath a pile of them. Did that agent have enough coffee that morning? Is she in a good mood when she opens my envelope? Was mine the last one to be opened at the end of a very long day? I just can’t deal with that kind of stress and dependence on luck and timing.

If I were a famous personality would I try to get an agent? You betcha.

Do I hope the world of self-publishing figures out a way to separate the wheat from the chaff? Of course. (Assuming my book/s fall into the category of wheat.)

Am I glad 350 people have read my sister Annie’s story? Absolutely. It’s made it all worth while to me.

Your hands – a mother and daughter grow up

I hope you’ll enjoy this from the archives of my school days, written November 1, 2001

Your Hands

You came out crying, screaming really. You embraced the air and the world and announced your indignation with all the force your tiny body could muster. I heard you before I saw you, before I held you. It was a sign of things to come.

When you were first born I immediately looked for evidence of myself in you. On the delivery table I held your little hand and saw that it was truly a miniature of mine. I was so thrilled to see this part of me in you—to recognize myself in one of what I considered your most important features, —your hands. I think some of our turbulence may have come from this need of mine to see myself in you. It started from day one.

Over the years I have kept a journal of memories for you, filling it mostly with trivia of the times—but also with glimpses into our turbulent relationship at the start. When you were only 2 years old, I was already writing about struggles to come when I noted, “You try to exercise much control and influence over the people and events around you.”

August 16th, 1989
Last night you woke up in the middle of the night. When I put you back in bed, I left the light on and gave you about 6 books in your crib. I could hear them hitting the floor one-by-one as I left your room. You threw them out in your rage.

December 16, 1989
Anna, Anna, Anna, you are truly a challenge. We must come to terms with ‘dressing’—who is going to do it, what you will wear, and when……. I do think that your strong will will serve you well later in life—if we can just get through it together. I love you.

January 24, 1992
You are really a good girl but I think I misunderstand you sometimes. I yell at you for pushing the baby, or picking him up, but I know you’re usually just trying to help. And many times you really are a big help. You get irate with me when you feel I’ve reprimanded you unjustly. I guess I can’t find fault with that. I love you and hope we will be good friends.

September 22, 1992
You take the bus to kindergarten. The first day you were very brave. You were afraid and came back to me before you got on the bus. But you got on anyway—and that’s being brave.

January 25, 1993
You are very good at knowing where things are, and how things are done. I think you’re going to be a big help to me someday. You’re a smart girl and you are a good singer. You really take care of your little brother. I love you now and always—even if we fight.

January 10, 1996
We have had some times when we could laugh together but you still prefer your Dad to me and don’t hesitate to let me know it. I still believe with time we will have a strong relationship. I love you dearly. I’m just not a very patient person most times.

February 19, 1999
Yesterday you helped me set up the new computer and I saw again how I have come to rely on you. You help me, ungrudgingly, whenever I ask. I do enjoy your company at those times and I appreciate your help.

I know I’ve been hard on you, and I don’t regret some of it, but a lot of it I do regret. I hope that someday you will be able to forgive me. I have firm ideals about being strong, being brave, not being needy, so I know I discourage weakness in you. I think the problem with this is that I may be stifling your ability to feel O.K. about your feelings. I want to tell you now that it’s O.K. to be angry, scared, sad, and proud—forgive me for my mistakes in this. I am not a perfect person either. I’m hoping you will love me anyway. And I’m hoping you will be able to overcome the mistakes I’ve made. I love you dearly and always will.

November 1, 2001
Being a mother is a tremendous emotional burden. I feel your pain; sometimes I think I feel more than your pain. I want to take it all away from you. But I know that I can’t. I can’t buffer the world and keep you in a pastel, cottony soft cocoon. Sometimes I wish I could. Sometimes I wish I could paint your world for you. But it is better that you experience life with all its sorrows, fears and disappointments as well as its triumphant and joyous moments. You are strong and brave and loving. I have confidence that even if I won’t always be able to hold you and comfort you; you have it within you to take care of yourself. This gives me great comfort as you spread your wings and go out into the world.

Now that you’ve gotten older I can see what a charming, talented young woman you are becoming. And I am so proud of you. I worried when you were younger that you would reject all the ideals I held most dearly. I was most concerned about my ideals about the place or role of women in society. When you were young and infatuated with Barbies and make-up and dress-up, I worried you would end up being something of a ‘fluff’ for lack of a better word. Now I realize you have become a brave, serious and enlightened young woman, in addition to being sensitive and caring. I couldn’t have formed you better if I had held the power to do so. You are everything I could have hoped you would be, and amazingly you did it in spite of me.

I like to watch you use your hands: playing the piano or the flute, drawing, painting, and creating hairstyles for yourself or your friends. You are really quite creative and very good with your hands. You use your hands to not only create, but to help and comfort.

I believe you will do great things with your hands.

Charcoal sketch from photograph. “Mom and Me” by Anna M. Grote 2005

Why we write our stories — a guest post at Wrote by Rote

I’d like to thank Arlee Bird at Wrote by Rote for the invitation to write a guest post on his blog about memoir writing. Why we write our stories, is a post I wrote about writing stories in general and Dancing in Heaven in particular. I hope you’ll stop by and read it there today or sometime through next week.

In addition to Wrote by Rote, Arlee is the author of  Tossing it Out (his main blog), A Few Words (a Sunday contemplation), and A Faraway View (about dreams). Arlee also initiated  April’s A to Z challenge.

Thank you, Arlee, for your interest in Dancing in Heaven, and your invitation to guest blog.

A bouquet of wildflowers to you.

I feel a change coming

In some ways I might be a little ADHD. When I was younger, stronger, and had a house with more possibilities for it, I used to rearrange my furniture on a more frequent basis than my husband, at least, was comfortable with. That’s putting it gently. He’d come home after a hard day at work and find the piano stuck in the foyer, or the bookcase halfway across the room. Can’t fault him, I guess, for being a little tiffy about it at times.

I’m too old for that hoopla anymore. I just have to live with the same ol’ same ol’ because I’m simply too old and have a few physical limitations that discourage me from being impulsive in that way.

I have to find a new route for my impulsivity. (I might have just made up a new word, or misspelled an old one.)

I feel a change coming.

For quite a while now I’m been looking at how I’m spending the hours in my days. The older I get, the more valuable those are to me.

I’m thinking about backing off of blogging to two or three times a week from the five posts I do now. I know some of you who are getting barraged with daily messages from me in your inboxes may be heaving a sigh of relief. The biggest concern I have is that I used my daily blogging commitment to get myself seated at my computer and put words on paper every single day—something all the pros say is a must. But what I’m doing with my blog isn’t what I would call quality writing, usually. Not that I mind that much. I took a series of photography courses in college, really enjoy doing it, and wish I had more time for it. But the blogs with many photos actually take much longer to do, as I’m sure other photography bloggers can verify, than simple writing does. For me, at least.

The long and short is, I want to try to translate some of this disciplined at-the-computer time into working on my writing.

One sticking point is that I’m trying to build content on my blog, so I don’t know if I will be able to resist blogging every day. That’s an odd twist. I may try making better use of my Facebook author page (Christine M Grote) and Twitter.

I’m not going to make any more predictions or promises about blog frequency. I’m not a big rule-follower, which has been to my detriment at times. But it comes to me naturally and what can we do about genetics?

It’s a beautiful, blue-sky day here this morning. The windows are open and I can hear the birds singing, and babies in the birdhouse out front chirping. A soft breeze ruffles the leaves on the very end of the arched limbs that hang withing view from my desk. A robbin is skipping around the landscaping looking for a worm, no doubt.

My garden waits.

Float Away — A ghazal in honor of National Poetry Month

While in college the second time, this time for an English degree, I took several creative writing courses from Jeffrey S. Hillard, a professor who was an excellent poet and writer, and also was well-loved by the students. After graduating, I worked with Jeff on web editing RED!webzine, a publication Jeff initially started to share stories of transformation in the lives of prisoners and individuals reentering society and of innovations making it happen.

Jeff is an excellent poet and recently won a poetry contest sponsored by the Cincinnati Public Library. I wrote the following poem in Jeff’s Poetry class at the College of Mount St. Joseph in 2004.

I post it here in honor of National Poetry Month.

03.25.04

Float Away

White airy puff balls leave flower stems to float away
over grass where I lie and watch how clouds do float away.

Squirrels and rabbits scramble for food, a spider clings to a twig.
Geese, like an arrow, in the sky slice through, float away.

Fresh sprouts shoot up, a delicate green mist covers the wood.
Fragrances of jonquils and hyacinths wrapped in blue float away.

A breeze of warm air carries whispered voices of
mothers, sisters, friends, lovers, who float away.

I plant a seed in the rich black soil of the earth and watch
as the children born from my womb float away.

A cricket chirps and so do the restless birds
who chatter of morning but soon float away.

For more about the ghazal poetic form see Poets.org.

Why do I do this?

This is one of those days where I wonder why I do this. Do you ever have a day like that? I start thinking about how much time all this blogging, commenting, writing, and promoting is taking, and it makes me wonder. Why?

Sometimes I think it’s the stats and the comparison to others that gets me down.

Then I think about how it might feel if I quit. I would have to face not only the opinions of people who might think I was a quitter, but also I would have to face the void of no writing. I don’t know how I would feel if I wasn’t writing, but I’m fairly certain I would regret giving up what I’ve started.

So I continue.

Do you ever have days like this?

Besides, I have promises to keep. When my dad asked me when I was going to write his story several years ago, I told him I would. With each passing day, that promise becomes more important to me, even if his story is only typed on a stack of hole-punched papers in a three-ring binder.

A group of women wanted to tell their stories about children they placed for adoption, or in the less politically correct terminology, gave up for adoption, because regardless of what you call it, these women were bereft of a child they bore and could no longer hold, or see, or even know if he or she was happy and healthy, choosing this path only out of shame and lack of support. They held on to a firm belief that their child would be better off without them, that someone else was in a better position to care for them, that, in some cases, they didn’t deserve to raise the child. I promised them I would help them  tell their story.

So write I must.

There are promises to keep.

And books to write before I sleep.

I have garden photos I hope to post tomorrow, and a ghazal to squeeze in before poetry month comes to a close. And I still have to answer the question, “Where in the world is Dancing in Heaven?” I also want to show you photos from the Our Lady of Victory National Shrine and Basilica in Lackawanna, New York (just outside of Buffalo) from our trip there last weekend. And let’s not forget this year’s butterfly show. Which reminds me, below I copied a very short, 41 second, video of the wind chimes at Krohn Conservatory from CincinnatiParks.

I’ll end with a question I read on Touch2Touch, “Do you know what you are doing?” or “How good are you at knowing what you’re doing?” It’s a short post over there, I hope you’ll take a look. Would love to see your response.

Readers continue to amaze, surprise, inspire, and uplift me

In April, I’ve had three speaking events about Dancing in Heaven. I wanted to share a few of my experiences with you.

A gathering of women

This morning I’m being true to my initial conception of Random Thoughts from Midlife and am blogging about what was on my mind and in my heart when I first woke up this morning.

I was still experiencing the love and care from a group of women gathered at the home of a friend I knew in high school and with whom I’ve been recently re-acquainted. I met Nancy Henry the summer before my freshman year of high school. She was a close friend of one of my sister Carol’s friends and the two of them got the two of us together. My memories of Nancy from all those years ago include Pot-O-Gloss, hot steam electric curlers, walks at night, papers read aloud in English class, and a trip to Florida. As often happens, we drifted apart and lost track of each other until her daughter and my youngest son brought us both together at an Arts Works opening day. We sat together in the balcony of a small auditorium. I met her husband there and learned her name is now Nancy Chadwick. Recently we’ve shared lunches together and an evening out with husbands. I am thrilled to have her, with all her intelligence, wit, and compassion, back in my life again.

The fabulous food Nancy prepared for the gathering.

Nancy is a writer waiting to begin. I am a writer who compelled myself to finish. Nancy has been a tremendous supporter of my efforts. Last night she hosted an event at her home for her book club and other friends to discuss Dancing in Heaven. As has been the case, it was an uplifting and emotionally draining experience for me to talk about Annie’s story. But the women were awesome. It’s an incredible experience to sit in a room filled with women who have read the words from my heart, yet want to know more. Who, in some cases, have shed a tear over my written words, yet still listen intently for more.

One woman said, “I was reading Dancing in Heaven at an athletic event, and it made me cry. I had to stop reading it until I got someplace private.”

Her friend standing beside her said, “She called me and told me not to read it in public.”

The first women who arrived at Nancy’s last night were a mother and daughter. They were family members of a young man named Michael who had been born with cerebral palsy. “Your book was like reading our story,” they said. “We related to so much of it.” Since they were talking about Michael in the past tense I asked if he was gone now and found out that he died over 20 years ago at the age of 21.  Michael’s sister said, “The obituary at the end of the book said it all for me.” She said, “You expressed exactly how I felt. I didn’t know there was someone who really understood our experience.”

From the beginning I have felt that readers validated me and my family’s experience with their comments, reviews, and questions. Last night I felt the great wonder of validating the experience of someone else.

I know I’ve had my ups and downs with the whole self-publishing journey, but nights like last night make it all so worth while.

Nancy Henry Chadwick has my unending gratitude.

Nancy and Me - April 18, 2012

Cincinnati Authors class

Jeffrey Hillard

On April 5th I visited Jeff Hillard’s Cincinnati Authors class at the College of Mount St. Joseph. This was the second time I’d done that and both were easy, fun, and rewarding experiences for me. Jeff likes me to speak a little about why I wrote the book, my writing and publishing process, and the aftermath. The students are extremely well-prepared. Since Jeff uses the book as part of the coursework, the students have read it, discussed it in small groups, written personal responses, and generated questions before I ever step foot inside the door.

Afterwards, a non-traditional student came up to me and told me he has a child with cerebral palsy, but who is highly functioning. I think he said his child was even married. He said he felt bad or a little guilty that our family had had it so rough compared to his. And he wondered if I ever resented other people whose disabilities weren’t as severe as Annie’s. The question really surprised me. I said, “When I see someone who is disabled, I see the abilities they have. I focus on that. And I celebrate and rejoice in that. I don’t resent them for being able to do whatever it is they are able to do. It makes me happy to see it.” This is my truth.

I hope Jeff realizes how much I appreciate his past and continued support.

Friends of the Library at Kettering College

Teresa Hutson Simmons

One day last month I answered the phone and it was a high school classmate who I hadn’t spoken to in years, except through messages here and there on Facebook. I remember Teresa Hutson as being a quiet student in the honors classes with me. I never knew her outside the classroom, but always liked her. Teresa falls in the category of those people I would make the effort to get to know better if I had a chance (not that I would want the chance) to do high school all over again. A missed opportunity. There are others.

Now her name is Teresa Hutson Simmons and she is a librarian at Kettering College of Medical Arts in Dayton, Ohio. Teresa has been following my blog and, in particular, my self-publishing journey. Over the phone she told me she had the privilege of putting Dancing in Heaven in the international book catalog (I’m sure she used other terminology, but this is the best my memory-failing brain can do this morning). She invited me to come and speak to the Friends of the Library group and students from two of the members’ classes.

Last Wednesday I did that. It was a different experience from my two previous classroom experiences at the Mount because these students had not had the opportunity to read the book, although several members of the FOL had read part or all of it.

I started with my usual two opening comments. “I want to tell you that I am not a public speaker and it makes me nervous,” I said. “I usually calm down eventually.” I got out my little travel pack of tissues and placed it on the table. “The other thing you need to know is that I cry easily. This is an emotional  topic for me. I’m not likely to get out of here without shedding a tear or two.” I said. “I’m okay with it if you are.”

The students were from psychology and sociology classes, so I tried to tell the story and select readings that might be of interest to them. I spent pretty much time talking and reading. Then we opened it up for questions. I was pleasantly surprised at how many thoughtful and good questions came out of the group of students with so little advance preparation. These are people who will be working in the medical field. When Teresa asked me to come she said, “We are trying to teach our students how to be compassionate professionals. Your book addresses that from a family’s perspective.”

Sometimes the things that make me cry surprise me and everyone else. Teresa had explained that we were in the Honors classes together throughout high school, and that I was a cheerleader. One of the students asked why I thought I was able to succeed or do well, or why I didn’t act out for attention given my family circumstances. “I never wanted to make my parents worry about me,” I said, and I got all choked up and could barely finish. “They had enough to worry about.”

Thank you, Teresa, for the opportunity to speak to future medical care-givers. It was a wonderful experience and you’ve been a great supporter.