Sunday, April 30, 2017

You can do this

Let me begin with something of a confession. I am a bit pumped about today’s post. When I first addressed this subject a couple years ago it felt like I was speaking to the world in general, hoping that my message would resonate with someone, and perhaps lead to something tangible.
Well, guess what? I have recently watched a friend of ours follow the path I wrote about---from the gentle nudging of a good idea all the way to a finished product. I spent a few minutes with him early on, suggesting what seemed to me the right approach, then stepped back while he carried on. I have seen his results, and they are impressive. (More about that later.)
Let me begin with the fact of it. I have taken on a new cause, a deeply held belief I would like to share with you. As sometimes happens, I have a message to spread. 
Now before you start for the door, please know that I am not interested in limiting your right to carry an AK-47, or bazooka, or whatever other “personal protection” device you desire. Neither am I advocating for the need to take away the weapons you already have. And I don’t really care if your Parenthood was Planned or not. Those may be 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/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 voice be heard in the cyber world.
Spend a few minutes on the web and you’ll realize there is almost no limit to the ways you can have your say. Our October/November friends are telling their stories in the form of Facebook posts, blogs, videos, and chat rooms. 
Better yet, some of them are taking what seems to me the next logical step, They are writing and publishing their stories, in the form of family histories, family adventures, self-help manuals, non-fictional offerings of every kind, and a multitude of fictional offerings. (Have you checked out the Geriatric Vampire literature? It is quite ghastly.) 
How many of you have ever dreamed of telling your own story? Do you realize how easy it has become to produce and share e-books and Print-on-Demand paperbacks? Beyond the book itself, an Author’s Page on Amazon that lists a writer’s books and e-books and allows prospective readers to browse and perhaps buy those offerings, costs absolutely nothing. 
On a purely selfish level, you can bet I enjoy seeing my sixteen paperbacks lined up on my bookshelf. And with the modest blog you are reading now I can connect with October/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 cause, the reason for today’s post, the message I’ve come to spread. As a veteran of those story-telling efforts I would like to convince my late-life friends that they too ought to have their say, no matter what the content, in a quality, hold-in-your-hand paperback format. 
Whether ‘your book’ (that has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?) deals with family history, fond remembrances, favorites recipes,  gardening tips, or your own fiction---today’s technology provides a gold-plated opportunity to see your work in print. It is so easy and inexpensive that there are few excuses not to give it a try.
So why not? 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 Roma and I have done the last couple years with a pair of books. They were personal stories, for and about our family. For each of the books we had five very professional-looking paperback copies printed, one for each of our children and one for Roma and me. If we never sell another copy we’ve accomplished everything we wanted to with those books. I guarantee that you can do that too.
Let’s consider the economics of it. In the old days, if we had a manuscript that publishers were not willing to underwrite, Plan B was what they called “vanity publishing.” That entailed paying 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 or more, enough to create economies of scale. The total cost would undoubtedly be at least several hundred 1970 or 1980 dollars. It was indeed 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 probably purchase your own high-quality paperbacks directly from the POD publisher for $5.00 or $6.00 each. The book might be your family history, your personal life story, a collection of poems, or the family’s favorite recipes. There is no up-front cost and you can order exactly the number of copies you want---from one to a thousand---for that same low price. 
True, you will have to write and edit the material, enter it on a computer, then upload that file to the publisher’s template. Your investment will be one of time, not dollars. Most of us can afford that, especially when we are having fun in the process.
But wait a moment, you may be saying, “How could I be expected to write a book or tell a story? And what about dealing with agents and editors---the experts who work with professional writers?” 
Well, the fact is, you don’t need those folks, unless you are aiming for a best seller, complete with a big-time marketing campaign. You see, telling a self-published story of any sort is a very personal activity. Regardless 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 who judges 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 October and November hours. As one who writes to please myself, (without worrying too much about what will sell), I tell the stories I want to tell, the way I want to tell them. In the end 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 that.
Please bear with me for a moment while I offer a specific example. It was mid-May a couple 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 know more about that time.”
Truth to tell, it took a few weeks for me to warm to the possibilities. But when I did, the fun she talked about was only just beginning. For days we sat in the living room, just the two of us, reliving those 1972 months when we lived 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 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. Then, 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 again. (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 absolutely enjoyable. For that modest cost we had produced a fine-looking 254-page story that recorded a special time in the life of our family. Additionally, in e-book and paperback versions, it was now available to the public on my Amazon Author’s Page---where it has sold a few copies and received good reviews.. All in all 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 make the point that everyone of us has stories to tell---memories to preserve, personal passions we would like to translate into a permanent, paperback form. 
Let me repeat, loud and clear---for next to nothing you can turn your family history or the fictional tale you have longed to create into something special for you and your family. Chances are you will find the process of revisiting the times, places, and people you are tranlating into print both fun and creatively invigorating. 
Personally I use 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 take a moment to let your mind wander a bit---to whatever story you would like to tell, or topic you would like to explore.

PS -- I mentioned earlier the recent Print-on-Demand book I watched coming to life. Don Robinson is a retired Methodist minister, with stories to tell and a gift for interesting titles. I think his first book, Of Donuts, Toilet Paper, Grace, and Love, proves that. You can check it out by clicking Here.

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