Thoughts on Self-Publishing

Back from vacation, I’m trying to figure out where I left off with my various projects. Exodus is ready for fresh eyes, as is Blood and Loam. There’s also the updated version of When a Grandchild Dies. I also explored a few new ideas while I was gone, and one of those is ready for some good ol’ uncensored creative writing.

Most exciting, though, is that Patchwork and Ornament, Jeanette Feldman’s memoir, is on its way. As with When a Grandchild Dies, I am both excited and nervous. Part of me says, “What was I thinking?” Initially, P&O was meant purely for family, as a way to preserve my mother-in-law’s writings and art in book form for future generations. Still, I couldn’t let go of the nagging thought that others outside the family might find it interesting as well. When I handed the manuscript over to others, expecting a quick, cursory “that’s nice,” I found that readers didn’t want to put it down. Still, as the books make their way from Canada to Houston, I know that the real work has just begun.

As I go forth to market this book, I am aware of strikes against it. We all know that self-published works tend to be dismissed as being of poor quality, especially now when anyone and everyone can put a book out there.

Here’s the thing, though. As part of my research into this market, I read some of those self-published works. One in particular grabbed my attention. The author didn’t bother to get the book edited, and it was filled with typos and other errors. It had a plain cover, just a single color with an uninteresting title. Yet when I read it, I found it a compelling read, and I let go of my editorial eye as the story swept me away.

Maybe I part company with some of my writer friends, but I believe that the one prerequisite for putting a book out is to believe in it. I learned that from When a Grandchild Dies. Bookstores didn’t want me to come in to hold signings because “it might depress our customers.” Bereavement organizations aimed primarily at parents didn’t want me speaking, because the parent/grandparent relationship can be rocky. Even at a conference for bereavement professionals, one therapist told me, “I saw the subject of your book and almost didn’t come over to talk to you because I’m a grandparent, and I can’t imagine anything more devastating.”

In other words, getting the word out to my audience, the bereaved grandparents, wasn’t easy. I had to work hard and persist to find speaking opportunities and ways to find the people who needed the book. Yet I did so, and WGD has done well.

WGD is a self-published book. Ten years later, as I work on updating it, I know I’m a much better writer than I was then. Although I’m still pleased with the book overall, some areas need substantial improvement. Yet I have received enough letters from people who read the book to know that my efforts are appreciated. Had I waited for a traditional publisher, I might still be waiting yet today, and those grandparents and other family members who benefited from WGD would not have received the help they needed.

I agree that writers should take care that their book is of high quality by utilizing editors, cover designers, etc. We should try to elevate our work to its highest and best potential. However, we should not hold back our ideas because they might not sell, or maybe they’re not “good enough” somehow. One never really knows what’s going to sell anyway! Also, although I am pleased with WGD’s sales, that has never been my measure of success with the book. The lessons I learned, the growth I achieved, and the knowledge that I helped people in the process is what matters most to me.

Patchwork and Ornament is a different kind of book. It doesn’t have the specific niche that WGD has. That will make it both easier and harder to market. That said, I have done my best with P&O to make it beautiful, and I will do my best to find its audience. That’s the best that any of us can do–and it is what we must do, whether or not there are naysayers.

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