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

Start at the beginning with Successful Self-Publishing Workshop

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

Start at the beginning with Successful Self-Publishing Workshop

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

Tens of thousands of words

An excerpt from one of many writing journals begun . . .my on-going struggle with writing discipline:

January 18, 2007
8:40 a.m.  – 9:40 a.m.  (One hour.  It’s better than nothing.)

I read somewhere that I needed to set a goal to write two hours. Two hours seems like an eternity.  I can’t imagine I’m going to be able to sit here and write for two hours.  I just edited that sentence.  I also read somewhere that you should turn off the internal editor at this point in the creative process—one strike against me already.

Notes on “The Sea of Stories:  Where Stories Come From” by Rick DeMarinis.  All in all I thought it was an inspiring essay.  I would like to particularly note the following ideas:

“Great stories written by the masters . . . have shaped the way we perceive ourselves in this existence.”  Telling the story isn’t enough.  The storyteller has to make sense from the story.  “The fiction writer will cut into the surface of stories like these and come up with an understanding of their meaning that will illuminate. . .our human predicament.”

Is it a predicament? (A difficult, perplexing, or trying situation according to Websters).  Calling it a predicament immediately assumes a particular stance or viewpoint on the whole thing.  I don’t think all people look at life as a predicament.  I think some people look at life as a gift to be explored and experienced.   You make what you will of it.  Literature likes the dark side.

“You’ve got to sit down at a given time every day and make sentences.  Even if you don’t feel like it.”  How many times have I heard that?  Well, here I sit today.

“I’ve come to understand that a blank mind is sometimes an asset.”  Emphasis on this comment.  “I need characters, not ideas.  I need situations with good dramatic potential, not philosophy.  These things come from the replenishable aquifers of the psyche, below and beyond big ideas and philosophy.”

“The problem is that you’re thinking of writing as a purely intellectual process:  exceptional ideas captured in deathless prose. […] You’ve got to put your hands on the keyboard, you’ve got to punch the keys with your determined fingers until words begin to collect.”

Daily goal:  1000 words.

“You’ve got to write tens of thousands of words before you begin to see improvement.  (Note to self—dig out old manuscripts and add up number of words).  “Your first efforts are going to be flawed in one way or another.  You need to be able to live with this condition.  You need to have faith that your work will improve.”

Well, that was a nice little 10 minute diversion.  Only 1 hour and 50 minutes to go.  I’ll never make it.

Postscript — April 27, 2011

I’d give you more information on “The Sea of Stories:  Where Stories Come From” by Rick DeMarinis so you could read it if you so desired, but unfortunately at this point more than four years later, I have no idea where it came from.

If you ask me today, I do think that life is a predicament. There’s very seldom an easy way out. I suppose there are stages in life that are more challenging than others. And our life can be influenced by our outlook or attitude—but denial only gets you so far.

If a blank mind is an asset, I’m sorely short. My mind is packed full. I have to make lists to remove things from my mind. (I know someone is going to tell me to take deep breaths.)

I realized this morning that my memoir manuscript is about 50,000 words. Hooray! I’ve made it over the tens of thousands of words, but I still don’t sit down and write with consistency. Maybe I never will.

Now I’ve got to go deal with my predicament.

Writing through the hard place

Last November I signed up for a workshop through Writer’s Digest Online University. I had just finished drafting my memoir about my sister Annie when I read the e-mail and on a whim signed up for the workshop.

My sister Annie was born a year after me with severe brain damage, although she wasn’t diagnosed until she was over a year old and my parents didn’t fully realize the extent of her problems until even after that. On August 16, 2009, Annie died. My memoir is about love, devotion, fear, sorrow, and hope in an afterlife where Annie might be Dancing in Heaven.

Anyway, I was well-satisfied with the workshop. The teacher, Carolyn Walker, who worked with the five or six participants did an excellent job of pointing out all the things you hope someone reading your manuscript will point out. The workshop didn’t allow for a complete review of my entire manuscript, so I hired Carolyn as a consultant to finish the job. I received her comments late last week.

She was very supportive and complimentary, but the comment I most focused on was the one I copied below.

“There are places where I push you to write more about your emotions. I know that’s hard for you,” Carolyn wrote and she sent me a copy of an essay, a series of interviews with memoirists, she had written called, “Writing Through the Hard Place.”

To say it was not easy to write my memories initially is a monumental understatement. And now Carolyn wanted more.

Annie couldn’t walk or talk or do much of anything, really. She required the care of an infant. But at one point in my memoir I wanted to convey the loss I felt when I was younger of having a sister I could do things with. So I included a dream where Annie is walking and talking and I am fixing her hair like my older sisters sometimes did for me. Carolyn thought the dream was confusing and should go. I didn’t want to let it go. It was important. But maybe the dream wasn’t expressing what I had not necessarily wanted, but needed it to.

And that’s when these words popped into my mind, down through my fingers to the keyboard and appeared on the screen,

I felt cheated. If I’m being completely honest I can’t deny the fact that I felt cheated out of a younger sister who would look up to me. I looked up to Kathy and Carol. I watched what they did and tried to emulate them in many ways from how to wear my hair, to what to shoes to buy, pants to wear or music to listen to.

I didn’t have a younger sister I could teach how to do things. I didn’t have a younger sister whose hair I could fix or make-up I could put on like my sisters did for me. I had a younger sister, but I couldn’t do any of those things with her.

I know it sounds small, and very self-serving, but the truth is sometimes I just felt like I had been cheated.  I felt cheated for myself and I felt cheated for Annie. We both had been cheated. My mom and dad had been cheated. We all had been cheated out of knowing the person Annie might have been.

Sometimes I wondered if she would have been more quiet like me, or vivacious like Carol. Would she have been pragmatic like Kathy, or a hilarious story-teller like my brother Jerry? Would she have shared a love of reading with me or would she have been a gifted artist like Carol and Jerry? What things would we have talked about? My memories of my other siblings all contain conversation. I don’t have that for Annie. I have only my words to her and her smiling back.

No one ever talked about what we all lost. The closest anyone ever came was when I interviewed my parents and asked, “How do you think our lives would have been different as a family if Annie would not have been disabled?” And my dad said, “ Well, I’d have had one more bright daughter.”

He would have. That’s what we all were cheated out of.

I never heard my mom utter a word about what might have been. There was no useful point to considering it and Mom was far too practical to think about it. Or if she ever thought about it, she was too practical to speak of it. But once when I asked if she thought Annie knew she was different, or felt bad that she couldn’t do the things that we could do, Mom said, “Look how happy she is. This is the only life she’s ever known.” Another time Mom said, “In some ways, she’s the lucky one. She’s never known rejection, or failure, or reprimand. All she’s ever known is love.”

We loved Annie. She was very special to us. In many ways she was a very special gift to us. We didn’t want to deny her by wishing she were different. We didn’t talk about it.

Would we have magically transformed her into a fully functional human being? In a heartbeat. Not for us, but for her. We had all been cheated—and Annie, by far, had been the most cheated of all.

Copyright © 2011 by Christine M. Grote