Friday, January 1, 2016

Is it time to tell your story?

     

  Let me begin with the fact of it. At my advanced November age I am taking on a new cause ---a deeply held belief I’ve written about before, but would like touch on again. 
   I suppose I can seeing your eyes rolling already. The guy is a missionary, with a message to spread. 
   But before you start for the door please know that in this era of incredibly divisive messages, I am not interested in limiting your right to carry an AK-47, or bazooka, or whatever other “personal protection” device you deem necessary. Nor am I advocating the need to take away the arsenal you have already accumulated. And I am certainly not here to ask if your Parenthood was Planned or not. Those are important issues, but they are not the gospel I am preaching.
  With those disclaimers in mind, I hope you will hear me out before you change channels.
   I will begin with the obvious. If you are the kind who likes to poke around the internet, you have probably noticed how many October and November folks are out there---speaking their piece, asking their questions, and telling their stories. Without the noisy fanfare that so often accompanies Gen-X trends, our Gen-Oct/Nov peers are quietly exercising their new-found ability to speak up and let their voices be heard.
   Spend a few minutes on the web and you realize there is almost no limit to the ways you can have your say. Our October peers are having their say in the form of Facebook posts, blogs, videos, and chat rooms. 
   They are writing and even self-publishing family histories, family travel tales, self-help manuals, non-fictional offerings of every kind, and a multitude of highly imaginative fictional offerings. (Have you checked out the Geriatric/Late-Life Vampire literature?) 
  If you are one of those who feels the urge to be heard, if only by your family and friends, today's blog sites, e-books, and Print-on-Demand paperbacks are well within reach. They can be produced and shared more easily than ever before. 
   An Author’s Page on Amazon, listing a writer’s books and e-books, allowing prospective readers to browse, and perhaps buy, is free. On a personal level, you can bet I enjoy seeing my sixteen paperbacks lined up on my bookshelf. 
   And with this modest blog you are reading now I can connect with October and November friends and potential readers all over the world. I can’t explain why these pages attract a steady, if modest, Russian and South Korean readership. But they do.
   But let’s return for a moment to my stated purpose, the reason for today’s post---the message I’ve come to spread. As a veteran of those story-telling efforts I am hoping to convince my late-life friends that they too ought to be having their say. Be it in the form of opinion, complaint, instruction, or stories---fiction or nonfiction, today’s technology provides a gold-plated, easy-to-use opportunity to say what you want to say in whatever form you choose to say it. It is so easy and inexpensive. So why not speak up?
   At your stage of life you probably have the time to do that. And given your history (whatever it may be), you certainly have stories to tell---if only for a limited audience of immediate family and friends. 
   That is exactly what I have done recently with a couple of my books. They are family stories, for and about my family. For both of them I had five very high quality paperback copies printed, one for each of our children and one for Roma and me. If I never sold another copy I would have accomplished everything I wanted with those books. And I guarantee you, you can do that too.
   Let’s begin with the economics of it. In our younger days, if we had a manuscript that publishers were not willing to underwrite, Plan B was what they called “vanity publishing.” You paid an often second-rate publisher to turn your story into a book and print a given number of copies. The publisher would  require a minimum run, say one hundred books, enough to create some economies of scale. The cost would undoubtedly be several hundred 1970 or 1980 dollars, perhaps more. It was a hefty price. Truth is, you had to be quite vain and a bit flush to afford that.
   Today, as the author of a Print-on-Demand book you can buy your own high-quality paperbacks directly from the POD publisher for $4.00 to $6.00 each. It might be your family history, your personal life story, a collection of poems, the family’s favorite recipes, or the great American novel. You can order exactly the number of copies you want---from one to a hundred---for that same low cost. True, you have to write and edit the material, enter it on a computer, then upload that computer file to the publisher’s template. Your investment is one of time, not dollars. Most of us can afford that.
   But wait a moment, you may be saying. How could you be expected to write a book or tell a story? And what about dealing with agents and publishers---all those experts who work with professional writers? 
   Well, the fact is, you don’t need those folks, unless you have a best seller and big-time marketing campaign in mind. You see, telling a self-published story or creating a collection of articles is a very personal activity. In spite of what the so-called “experts” may say, there is no right way, no wrong way to do that. 
   If you are writing for yourself you are the only one you have to please. You are the one to judge the results. Does it work for you? That is the question. More than that, one of the beauties of Print-on-Demand publishing is the ease of revising and editing any or all of your book at any time in the future.
   What can I say? I enjoy seeing my stories in print. Of course it’s a vanity thing. There’s no denying that. It’s an accomplishment I am proud of. More than that, it has proved to be a most liberating way to spend my retirement hours. As one who writes to please myself, (without worrying about what will sell), I can tell the stories I want to tell, the way I want to tell them. I am the only one I have to satisfy. Within those parameters, anyone who wants to tell their story---about anything, in any way they choose---can do it.
   Please bear with me for a moment as I offer a specific example. It was mid-May two years ago when Roma first dropped her idea on me. I was finishing a story and would soon be ready to start another. 
   “Why not write about our time in England?” she asked. “With all the crazy things that happened to us, it would be fun and funny. And I know the kids would like to have it.”
   Truth to tell, it took a few weeks for me to warm to the possibilities. But when I did, that fun she talked about was just beginning. For the next couple weeks the two of us would sit in the living room, taking notes as we relived those 1972 months living on Ashley Close in Winchester, England. 
   One recollection would lead to another. Before long the notes were piling up---about how we had ended up in Winchester, the life we lived there, the mistakes we made, the wonderful friends we met, and the life-changing experiences we and our children gained. Before we were done we had the stuff of a story---our story.
    By September we had a first draft, a 54,000 word computer file. As I had done so many times before, I uploaded the file to the Create Space template. Daughter Amy, who would not see the finished story until much later, designed the cover using a collage of family photos from our time in England. A week later, after proofing our online file, we made the first monetary investment in our project---$6.50, for a single copy of the paperback, including shipping and handling.
   Long story short. That first copy was used to proofread and edit the entire story. (Additional editing would come later.) A month later, we ordered six copies of the revised story we called A Year of Remember, by Gil and Roma Stewart---for a total cost of $30.05. That Christmas our children received their copies as gifts.
   We had invested thirty-seven dollars, a few printer supplies, and a good many hours doing what we both found totally enjoyable. For that modest price we had produced a fine-looking 254 page book that recorded a special time in the life of our family. Additionally the story, in e-book and paperback versions, was now available to the public on my Amazon Author’s Page. On a modest scale it has become one of our best sellers. In every way I consider that a good return on our investment.
    As for the story itself. Does this back-cover tease sound interesting to you?

Gil was at it again. At the tender age of 35 he was on track for his third mid-life crisis in five years. For some inexplicable reason he had concluded that he was meant to be a writer. Now he was preparing to move his thoroughly confused family to England in pursuit of his career as a novelist.”

   As I said in the beginning my mission today is to stress again that every one of us has stories to tell, memories to preserve, and personal passions we might like to translate into a permanent, paperback form. For next to nothing we can turn that legacy, which is unique to each of us, into something special for us and our family. 
   If you are like me you will enjoy revisiting the elements you are putting on paper, whether they originate in your imagination or your own life journey. Personally I use CreateSpace.com to publish my books. I like their process and love their customer support. There are, however, several other Print-on-Demand publishers out there. You’ll find them online.
   Okay. with that I’m through preaching. I hope you will consider the possibilities. No one else in the whole world can tell your story. Why not do that yourself? 

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