Sunday, December 28, 2014

Self-publishing: Was it worth it?

So, now that I've come down off the high of holding my very own book in my hands, I've had a chance to reflect on what it took to get to that point.  For those of you who may be aspiring writers, friends and family wondering what the hell I've been doing for the past 18 months, or for those who just want to know what it took to make this dream a reality, read on!

I had been toying with the idea of writing a book for years.  Fifteen years ago I had gone as far as writing a proposal for a book about twin pregnancy and birth.  Then, the same week that I was actively seeking an agent, my 3-year old daughter died, suddenly and unexpectedly.  If you follow this blog, you know all about Meghan and what has happened in the ten years since that day.  Needless to say, my focus shifted.  That venture.  That dream.  That part of my life, dropped off the radar. 

After I started writing to Meggie a few weeks after she died, I pondered turning some of my "letters" into a book.  But how?

No matter.  Grieving got in the way. Life got in the way.  Collateral losses got in the way.  There was no energy.  No time.  But the desire was still there, waaaaay in the back of my mind but ever present in my heart. 

For the past several years, I have had the idea to write a book for bereaved parents.  Then, I began to wonder if I could write a book that served two purposes.  Both a book for the bereaved and those who support them, but also part memoir, as supporting "evidence" for the self-help portion of the book.  

It was a daunting task.  Not so much the writing part, but the logistics of it.  I worked nearly full time between all my jobs.  I had two boys to raise who played soccer almost every night and weekend.  I managed Meghan's Hope in my "free" time, a time consuming but voluntary labor of love.  With what little was left, I fostered relationships with family and friends.  I don't sleep much as it is... when the hell would I find time to write?

Two years ago I wrote the blog post that was a call to action and cry heard around the world.  It was called Be With Me.  Just for Today.  Perhaps, if you've been here before, you've read it.  It went viral. The thousands of comments and messages I received was astounding and overwhelming.  I wanted to raise awareness about the dangers of furniture and TV tip-overs.  Which I did, and I was thrilled. That has evolved in ways I only dreamed of and will write more about that soon.  

What I didn't expect from that blog post, were the hundreds of messages from other bereaved parents, who in reading it, reached out to me to thank me for sharing what it's like to be a bereaved parent publicly.  To tell me they felt the same way and thought they were the only ones.  That they were frustrated their family and friends kept telling them to get over it and move on.  That other people did not understand what it was like to lose a child.  How it hurts so much and for so long... forever.  My grief keeping and sharing encouraged them to do the same. We all helped each other to heal.

In talking to other bereaved parents, they encouraged me to write more about it.  I found myself having similar conversations with many different people about child loss and coping.  What to say to bereaved parents.  What not to say.  How to tell your family how you feel.  What to do if they don't get it.  Where to find help when they feel so alone.  

Then, I found, through my work as a home care physical therapist, there are a tremendous number of bereaved elderly, who lost their own children.  Some as babies, some as teenagers, some just last year and yet their pain is no different, no less than had it happened yesterday to their only child born still. Then I started to get referrals to talk to other bereaved parents.  As a lay mentor.  When I mentioned my plans for a book they all said, "Yes, oh please... that would be so helpful... I can't wait to read it"

Thoughts of a non-fiction book, part self-help, part memoir, began to swim around in my head again. It was daunting to consider actually undertaking writing a book!  

I received one unsolicited publishing offer as a result of my blog post. I researched the company, which was a hybrid "self-publishing" and part traditional publishing company.  They were offering me a discount of $1500 (that I would pay them) to publish it. They sent me a contract.  I didn't like the terms.  They could not be changed.  I said thank you but no thank you.  

I sought out information with another popular self-publishing company, who gave my ego all kinds of stroking and would be more than thrilled to publish my book for anywhere from $1500-6000 depending on what services I wanted.  They were more pushy, doing the car salesman thing of "let me talk to my manager to see if I can get you a better price".  I don't play that game.  After doing further research, I also rejected that offer.  Interestingly, the sales person sent me the vibe that I did the right thing.  Not with her words at all, it's just the energetic feeling I got from her tone of voice and my intuition.  Validation, I guess. 

It seemed to me self-publishing should not cost thousands of dollars and then the publisher still has control of pretty much everything and royalties amount to about $1.20 per book sold if you are lucky. It's pretty hard to recoup the initial expense, let alone make money, especially when you add in your own marketing costs since they don't do that for you!  This book was too important and too personal to give up control of content, the cover, the price... anything to someone who knew nothing of the content or the intended audience.  Such emotional and delicate subject matter with such a niche audience.  No, this was my baby... about my baby. 

I also talked to one traditional small publisher.  No cost to me up front but they still got most of the money from the sales, which is more appropriate than the other offers, but again, I was not willing to give up creative control for this particular book.  They dealt in books close to my target audience, but still with small reach.  I was close to taking this offer though, just because the pressure for editing and cover and all of that would be off. 

Finally, after literally months of research and soul-searching, I decided to truly self-publish.  I chose CreateSpace, which is an Amazon affiliate.  I did this after days and weeks  and months of reading and researching different options out there.  My head was spinning! You know what it costs to truly self-publish?  Nothing!  Well, except time, which you probably have to devote more to when pursuing this route.  

There are other costs that are worth factoring in, like finding an editor and perhaps a cover designer. Still, it's a hell of a lot less expensive and you retain full rights, creative control, and will see a much higher royalty payment per book sold as a result. You choose the size of your book, the font, the title, the content, the price, everything.  Great! So now I had a plan! 

The challenge was in finding the time to do it.  Writing can be time consuming.  Writing about something so emotional and personal requires uninterrupted time. Research also had to be done.  

There are actually courses out there that teach you how to write.  How to write a book proposal.  How to market.  How to find an agent.  There are also a plethora of books out there.  There are courses on how to meet media and sell your story.  How to write a bio.  It goes on and on. They all cost money. They may or may not help you.  It depends what you need and where you can access that information. I purchased a few.  To be honest, I have read nor watched many of them.  A colossal waste of money.  
I took the NaNoWriMo challenge in November of 2013 (National Novel Writing Month) and wrote the bulk of the book then.  November-December and the summer months are the only relative "down" time I have with the soccer schedule of my boys.

Then I took a break.  I got back to it in the spring and over the summer.  I began to look for an editor. I asked friends and family and other bereaved parents to read it for me to give feedback on content and flow.  Of those that even agreed to do it, only one actually read the entire book and provided the feedback. The others either couldn't get through it or didn't have the time.  Most didn't even take me up on the offer.  I get it.  People are busy.  The subject matter is very emotional.  I was sad more people didn't follow through.  It made me wonder if anyone would really buy it.  

I plowed on.  I found an editor.  I finished the first draft.  I began incorporating the line edits. It is very tedious and time consuming work.  It took months of on again, off again editing and re-editing. Then I read it again.  And edited it, again.  Rinse. Lather. Repeat.  Over and over and over.  I understand now why a good book editor can cost a few thousand dollars.

It got to the point where I couldn't get the distance I needed to do the developmental editing anymore, let alone find the few and random punctuation and grammatical or spelling/word choice errors.  I again asked if people would be willing to give it a quick read for feedback.  Crickets.  

I was on my own. 

I formatted it for CreateSpace.  Formatting errors then needed to be corrected and it also made for previously missed errors in punctuation and grammar easier to spot.  Great!  More tedious line editing.  I did have the support and assistance of my tech savvy husband, which was a Godsend!

Next began a process of uploading the file to CreateSpace for approval.  Their return of the proof was usually less than 24 hours, which was great.  You could order a digital proof, which was free and immediately available, or you could order a printed proof of the book, which took about 5 business days expedited delivery.  It's a print on demand system, so overnight or 2 day delivery really isn't an option. Cost of author copies depends on the size of the book and number of pages.  You had to pay for a printed proof.  

I ordered one printed proof for the first print ready upload, just to see the cover for real.  It looked blurry in the PDF proof.  It actually wasn't in the printed version. You can do both the printed and the digital PDF proof, which I did. So, in the meantime, other errors were found once I received the PDF print ready proof, so then I had to go back and change the original formatted word doc and re-upload it (you can't edit in their PDF proof reader). I did this 3 or 4 times before I finally hit the wall and let it go. 

Then there is the cover design.  I am blessed and fortunate to have generous friends.  Two edited it for me, one line edits only, the other both line and developmental editing.  My friend Steve, who is an amazing photographer and Photoshop guru, helped me with the cover design.  No, scratch that.  He did the entire cover design.  I just gave him my vision, he found some pictures, I chose one.  I gave him the words, he did the rest.  It's amazing.  He kicks all kinds of cover design ass.  For payment, he has requested a nice dinner with our respective significant others.  Done and done.  If you want to see his photos, check him out at this Flickr site

Once you approve the print ready proof in CreateSpace it's locked and cannot be changed.  It is immediately available for purchase in the CreateSpace store.  It took 3 days before my book was available on Amazon.

The author gets a higher royalty, almost double, from the CreateSpace store than they do from Amazon sales because Amazon takes 40%.  Still, it's far less than what most traditional or so called "Self" publishing houses take. Amazon is probably where the vast majority of books are sold today. It's where I buy all mine.  So having my book in a brick and mortar bookstore was not necessary for me. I also didn't want the hassle of trying to sell the books on my own Website, as that adds cost, the need for a sales tax permit, shipping cost determination and challenges, and a lot of trips to the post office. I'd also have to keep an inventory, which has it's own logistical challenges.

Is the book perfect?  No.  I'm sure there are a few grammatical errors I missed. 

Is the content perfect?  No.  I did the best I could.  If I had written about everything I wanted to and with the level of detail I would have liked, the book would be too heavy and too expensive to manage! There is some repetition, but it's intentional because of the way the book was written.  It's designed to read like a conversation between the reader and I in a down to earth, person to person manner.  it's also written so any chapter could stand alone.  Not everyone will read it in order.  Not everyone will read the entire book.  Not everyone will like it.  Not everyone will understand it's purpose, although I tried to make it clear from the cover copy and introduction and in my marketing efforts.

I'm sure with some distance and a re-read in a few months, along with feedback from readers, I will be able to see it with fresh eyes and update it if need be.  Therein lies another beautiful thing about self-publishing.

I can always revise it!  It just means while I am going through the process of revising the content, the book is unavailable for sale since it's also unavailable for printing.  It means potential lost sales for a few days.  

Once you have published your book with CreateSpace, you have the option of converting the files to the Kindle Publishing Platform or KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing).  Turns out the conversion of the Word file did not prove easy.  The formatting got all messed up.  It had to be reformatted for Kindle, which proved to be no easy task.  Thankfully, my husband is savvy because I could not have figured it out easily, if at all.  He converted it to a mobi file, wrote some HTML code to make the table of contents work the way it ideally should in a mobile device or e-reader, and an entire day of reformatting later...  it's 90% compatible with the most popular Kindle reading apps.  It looks different in every device.  What a royal PIA!  There is really no way to get it perfect for all of them so far as I can tell.  

So, after almost 2 years since I began this process, and a very concentrated last 2 months with all kinds of glitches at the end, I am a published author.  Had I known about all the formatting inconsistencies, challenges of cover design, and the likely need for multiple revisions and 24 hr lags between proof returns digitally, I'd have factored that in.  I was on a self-imposed publishing deadline, which was a good thing, because otherwise it might never have gotten done!  

The beauty of self-publishing is the only deadline is your own!  You do need to plan ahead though as editing can take a few months for your editor and then you have to incorporate all those edits which can take weeks if not longer, depending on how much time you have to devote to it.  You also have to plan for cover design, which can also be quite time consuming unless you have mad Photoshop skilz.

You could hire someone to design a cover, but that will also take a month or two and add cost that must be factored in.  How long it takes you to write is all up to you.  Obviously, if I were not also working, being a mom, and managing an educational awareness campaign, I could have done the writing a lot faster and the same is true for editing.  Then, of course, a good few weeks should be budged for unexpected glitches at the end like Kindle formatting.  If you don't have the skills to understand and do the formatting, you may need to hire someone to do the conversion for you, and that adds more time and expense.

Do I regret any of it?  Absolutely not.  While I was honored and thrilled to be offered 3 different publishing contracts, I knew in my heart of hearts, this was meant to be a truly self-published book. My goal is not to sell a million copies, although that would be nice, to know all those people are getting the information and support they need after suffering the worst loss ever.    The reality is this is a book no wants to ever have to buy.  It's a niche audience.  It's a book hundreds of people need every single day as newly bereaved parents, and one hundreds of thousands could use because they know someone who is a bereaved parent or are one themselves who has never been offered the support and guidance or even permission to grieve.

If this book helps but one person in their journey out of the darkness of grief, then it was worth every single second.  

If you'd like to learn more, visit

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