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I started my writing career during a friendly family competition, never expecting to publish. My kids kept telling me to try it. They knew I loved to read and that I longed to write a book but didn’t know where or how to begin.
A few months before our contest, my oldest son decided to write a book. He told us about a new publishing platform that allowed writers to publish their work. I was leery. I insisted he change his name in case it didn’t work out. When he told me he wanted to write a self-help book, both my husband and I begged him to forget the idea. For every obstacle we named, he explained how the company made publishing seamless.
“What do you know about writing a book?” I asked him.
“Nothing,” he told me. “Anyone can do this. It’s called self-publishing. It’s like a smorgasbord: You pick and choose what you want, and sites like CreateSpace will make it happen.”
He refused to give in. We figured he’d publish one book, get it out of his system, and move on to the next up-and-coming idea.
My son self-published his book, and within a few months, it appeared on Amazon’s listings directly opposite one of the bestselling law-of-attraction books of all time. Not one to let grass grow under his feet, he dove into fiction, writing and publishing a series of paranormals, science fiction, and horror stories in rapid succession. He won tons of awards and soon landed a two-book publishing deal under his real name, along with a high-powered entertainment attorney, a literary agent, and a film agent. All this using widely available tools on the internet.
I had written a bodice ripper back in the ’70s, during the Kathleen Woodiwiss and Rosemary Rogers revolution in romance novels. I sent it out to agents. H.N. Swanson, in Hollywood of all places, signed me.
Everyone rejected the book, and while the failure to publish was disappointing, it was a thrilling year. Eventually, I self-published the novel with a vanity press, made $100 in royalties, and put away my dreams of being a bestselling author.
While I always envisioned myself writing the Great American Novel, I never thought that if I did manage to get anything published, it would be a children’s book.
I never liked children’s books. I jettisoned kid’s lit when my boys were younger; they were as bored with it as I was. Instead, we read Shirley Jackson or Shakespeare. I had never heard of YA.
Then, one day, my adult children proposed a contest. Everybody had to bring in a story, or at least the beginning of one, on Monday morning. (We all work together in a family business during the week.)
As I have no patience — and back then, I had the attention span of a gnat — I dashed off a story about playtime with the grandkids. I didn’t take it seriously and was more excited about the next subject my son was going to explore: witches.
But a contest is a contest, and so I created a character. I dug deeply into my Sidney Shellaberger past, thought about Errol Flynn (and a little Burt Lancaster), and swashbuckled my way through a story. While my pirates hark from a few decades before Johnny Depp traipsed around the gangplank, my “Captain No Beard” struck a chord with my family of readers. I wrote a grand adventure with a little twist at the end and read it to them as we compared our stories.
Guess who won? Pirates: 1, Witches: 0!
My son called me over to the computer and pulled up his CreateSpace account. Within minutes, I had an ISBN. I had no idea I ever needed one. Illustrators were compared and styles evaluated; Bonnie Lemaire was chosen for her whimsical artwork. My kid tapped the buttons, and I was in business.
I had entered the world of self-publishing, a place I like to call “Indieworld.” Little did I know it would take over my life.
Six years ago, CreateSpace offered neat promotions for the uninitiated. I took every option they offered. I was given a set amount of illustrations, an editing package, and a press release kit.
It was a substantial amount of money, but I chose to purchase everything the company offered. I was working in the dark and felt the need to have the professionals at CreateSpace guide me. In other words, if I were going on a vacation, I’d be the one with 14 suitcases. Editing: check. Formatting: check. Editorial reviews: I’ll take two of those, please. List of any blog or newspaper that may be interested in your book: Count me in.
While I understand this is a luxury most authors don’t have, I had the benefit of having already built a successful business, which allowed me to invest in something that interested me. If I was attempting this venture, I wanted to be as prepared as possible.
I ascribe to the notion of when in doubt, know every option available. I am a hands-on learner. I don’t whine over mistakes or wrong turns, and I enjoy trying new things. I don’t see mistakes so much as an error but as an opportunity to never choose that option again. It’s how I learn and grow.
I was still in the hobby phase and felt insecure about proceeding. I had no idea that I was creating a strong platform that would eventually teach me the tools to feel confident enough to publish more than 50 books and genre-jump like a gazelle.
The editor was encouraging. She polished the manuscript in a way that made it clever, with subtle changes that enhanced the story. I was in heaven.
Next, I had to fill out a questionnaire describing the characters and the actions I wanted to see in the illustrations. I went through each line of dialogue, each scene, playing it out, explaining it to a person I’d never met. The illustrator was a stranger, and we spoke through email — not the best way to communicate something that was quickly taking over my heart and soul.
It was harder than I expected, and when the pencil drawings showed up in my account, I went into transports. They were stunning. I rushed through the pictures as I race through everything I do and accepted them while not carefully examining them. I was fine.
Once the drawings were inked, CreateSpace sent them back and said I should decide where the text should go.
“What! You want me to do what?! You’re the book people! You put it together!” I was aghast.
“No,” my account rep politely assured me. This was something I had to do.
We happened to be on vacation at the time. I sat with my laptop, pulling out my hair. The actions didn’t quite match the illustrations. I printed the pictures and played with the storyline.
“Well,” I wrote, “a few of the illustrations don’t work with the dialogue…What? I have to pay for changes? You don’t just fix ’em?”
Lesson number one: Everything costs money, especially mistakes. It’s only fair, I realized. Bonnie’s time was valuable. It was my fault for not paying attention to matching the actions to the text.
I wrestled with the story, tweaked, and twisted, finally hitting the publish button. One of the best days of my life.
I should have waited to get the proof, though. All those changes threw off my editing job, and the book was riddled with mistakes.
Lesson number two: Check, recheck, and check it again. I’ll never make that mistake again. Much.
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