Monday, October 25, 2010

The Die Is Cast: We Are Publishers

Decrescendo has gone through the countdown faster than I expected and achieved lift off in what seemed like the proverbial twinkling of an eye. Publishing and marketing this book involves a team that seems to be working well, even though we never have a pep rally or a staff meeting. I, of course, am the author, but I’m also in charge of marketing. Robin set up the style sheet and turned my manuscript into a book. Four proof readings later, he converted the book to a Portable Document Format (PDF) file and sent it to CreateSpace, the company that will be printing the books on demand, as they are ordered. (We have found that part to be very swift.) Amazon is receiving and processing the book orders.

As you will discover when you read Decrescendo, everything with the Dreyers becomes a family affair. Robin’s wife Tammy was one of the proofreaders and has been part of all the decisions along the way. My daughter Melissa, who works in communications and marketing, has prepared press releases and other outreach materials and has been available for any kind of consulting. Some grandchildren or their spouses have been helping with mailing lists and mailings and outreach. I get marketing suggestions from everybody.

Just what is the marketing, you may be asking. Well, I have sent an email to everyone I know whose email address was available to me. It had a blurb about the book and links to Amazon and this blog. Then I have sent a lovely postcard featuring the book cover to everyone I know whose mailing address was available to me. Many of my friends will get both. I’ll be having a book launch in the community where I live in November and another one in Charlotte, NC in December. I’m available for more book parties.

Living in a rural community in the mountains, I don’t have ready access to a lot of media, but I am doing what I can. My marketing plan is to do at least one thing everyday and basically to try everything I can think of. Your ideas are welcome. I realize that I can’t charge into this project like I did when I was 50, so the trick will be to pace myself. I’m trading “I’ll do it now” for “Maybe tomorrow.”

Here at the Decrescendo Memoir Blog, it is my intention to chronicle the process of self-publishing and marketing my book for whatever value it might be to other potential authors. I also plan to explore what’s in the book and expand on some of the topics, going beyond what is covered within its pages. This is, of course, also a part of marketing. But I hope it can be more than that. Relationships and the impact of chronic illness on them is a subject of depth and importance. In addition Bill’s interests included family, theater, opera, church music, travel, community development, civil rights, and friendships. His curiosity about most things led him to discover all he could about his own illness, which introduces such topics as congestive heart failure and anti-coagulation therapy. The end of the book takes us to hospice, death and grieving, and the epilogue to yet another health issue. My own interests expand the list to include the organizations I worked for (American Friends Service Committee, Penland School of Crafts and the North Carolina School of the Arts), writing, books, knitting and gardening. There’s a lot for us to choose from for further consideration. So keep on dropping by.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Questions at Dawn: Second-guessing myself.

I’ve always wakened early; fortunately so did my husband Bill. He often made an occasion out of it, brewing a pot of tea and bringing two steaming cups on a tray to the bed. We had fine conversations as the sun rose and the light of day slowly filled the room. In the seven years since he died, I have had those pre-dawn conversations with myself, only rarely making tea. Of course it’s harder to reach a conclusion or mine a nugget of gold in a discussion with yourself. I know so many widows who say the hardest part of being suddenly thrust into the single life is the absence of a partner to help process questions and dilemmas or to share happy moments.

Lately I have been gnawing away like a dog with a bone on the decisions surrounding Decrescendo, shaping the subject of self-publishing into some why questions. When one of my early readers asked if I had written the book for my family, it was easy for me to answer that I never would have gone to that much effort just for my family. But the question has stayed with me. Was I being honest with myself about why I wrote the book?

Along the way I added a corollary. “Why do you want to get it published?” It seemed important to me to understand that. My answer to the first question has not changed. I wrote the book because I had this idea that an honest memoir about caregiving and our mutual effort to maintain the relationship we valued so highly might be helpful to others. I also thought that if doctors and other health professionals read it, they might get an intimate look at how these drawn-out chronic diseases affect a marriage. That doesn’t necessarily explain why I have kept working: fine-tuning and revising, making small changes for clarity or a better flow.

The simplistic answer as to why I want to publish is that I have worked hard and want to see it through to the finished product. My son Robin offered early on to help me with publishing by doing (or organizing) all the graphic work. The tenor of my early morning conversations with myself changed dramatically when the question became, “Is getting published important enough to do it yourself?" I am rather modest and, believe it or not, a private person; the whole idea of self-promotion is unattractive. There used to be a stigma about what was called “vanity publishing”. It was a sure indication that a book wasn’t worth it. Times have changed on that one: Print on Demand makes ecological sense and it is not an automatic signal about the worth of the project. Using CreateSpace costs a mere pittance up front and marketing is more impersonal when much of it is through Amazon.

I believe Decrescendo is a good read for anyone. In fact, one of the experts I took it to for an opinion said, “This is a compelling book, which could easily be a mainstream memoir. In the process of exploring your relationship with Bill, you establish a relationship with the reader as well. Not only is your book about caregiving and grieving, it is truly a love story.”

As I have these questions at dawn, I have articulated lots of reasons for self-publishing but they didn’t quite do it, until one morning when I woke up thinking, “Decrescendo is my hand-blown glass vase or my clay pot.” So I examined that thought and realized that for me to publish and market my book is no different than when craft artists set up a booth at an American Craft Council (ACC) or Smithsonian Craft Fair to market their work.

I may have written Decrescendo for a particular purpose, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is my creative work. I have poured into it my love, my energy and my understanding of the craft of writing. It is the work of my heart and now it is time to share it.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Sometimes You Have to Jump in the Deep End and Start Swimming

I’ve just finished reading the proof copy of my book, Decrescendo. Wow. My son Robin did the book production and Leslie Noell, the graphic designer, who works with him at Penland School of Crafts, designed the beautiful cover using Robin’s photograph of the hemlock grove behind my house. There’s a little story in the book about that grove.

(You can see a thumbnail picture if you click on “About Decrescendo” above this blog.)

Last spring after three publishers suggested I self-publish, I began to educate myself on the process. First I noticed an ad for a little book called Aiming at Amazon, by Aaron Shepard, which purported to tell everything you needed to know about marketing through Amazon. I ordered it right away. That was my first step; it introduced me to, a subsidiary of Amazon, which offers Print on Demand. I was a bit turned off by the company’s name, because it didn’t tell me anything. However, I found out they chose it because you don’t have to buy 500 or 1,000 books and store them in your garage while you try to sell them. Instead you use Amazon for sales and CreateSpace prints the books as they are ordered. I’ve been told it only takes a minute to print a book, but I’m skeptical.

I discovered there’s also a little book called Self-Publishing with Amazon’s CreateSpace by Kevin Sivils that I then ordered. I studied the bibliographies in those little books and chose The Fine Print of Self-Publishing by Mark Levine, which I enthusiastically recommend to anyone considering this route to the marketplace. Mr. Levine analyzes and ranks 45 self-publishing companies. I read it cover to cover and chose five of them for further investigation. I visited their websites and found that CreateSpace best suited my particular situation.

While I was educating myself, I was chatting about my discoveries with several of my friends. They in turn started clipping articles and sending them to me. All were about various writers who had self-published, sold a thousand or more books and then gotten an offer from a mainstream publisher: Horatio Alger stories that gave me a glimmer of hope.

Before Robin began his work, I read Decrescendo again and did some more editing and revising. Then he started the transition from manuscript to book. That was in mid-August. His job as Communications Manager at Penland is demanding and he is boxed in by constant deadlines. He is also the school’s photographer and if he hears about something that will make a good picture in one of the studios, he drops everything to get it. I have no idea how long the process would take if someone were just working on that. In my case, he uploaded the PDF to CreateSpace about six weeks after he started. He mostly worked on weekends and sometimes at night. Four of us did the proofreading. He and I chose the photographs, and he scanned them, placed them and adjusted the contrast.

Robin reported that there was some contradictory technical information on the CreateSpace site, having to do with how to save the PDF and how to make the cover file. “The support people were great,” he told me. “You click on a button and they call back immediately. I checked all the technical information with them to be sure it was how they wanted it. They answered my questions and solved the problem.”

We have made some changes in the proof copy so now Robin will send a new PDF and we have to check another proof. But after that it should just take a couple of weeks until the book is available on Amazon and another week until we have copies in hand. Then we’ll have a party.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Little red hen publishing--or, I'll just do it myself

It took me longer to produce a book than the combined gestation of my three children. After many rewrites, revisions, and fine-tuning, I came up for air and discovered that while I was buried in drafts, the financial world had imploded. In the wake of the meltdown, small presses folded, and major publishing houses downsized and posted website notices announcing manuscripts from first-time authors would not be accepted.

Believing there was still a tiny possibility that my memoir might find a publisher, I spent a year looking for an agent, sending out book proposals and/or manuscripts to selected publishers, and entering contests where the prize was publication. I received a mix of no replies, form turn-downs and thoughtful, encouraging rejection letters suggesting that I self-publish. One of the most frequent comments I heard was there is such a glut of memoirs that publishers are only interested if the author is famous or related to someone famous.

Several readers in the trade asked, “Did you write your book for your family and friends?” The answer to that is a definite No. My friends and my family are well acquainted with my stories, and while I hope they will all read the book, I wrote it for a very different reason. More on that in a future post.

It seemed to me that I had three choices for giving my manuscript a chance to see if it had any traction. I could copy it on a tiny flash disk, seal it in a bottle and toss it in the French Broad River; copy it on a CD, fasten it to a helium balloon and send it aloft; or publish it myself and market it on Amazon.

I have some assets that not everyone who writes a book can claim. Specifically I have a son and a daughter who work in the communication field and another son who is a lighting designer with a great aesthetic and a pragmatic sense of what works. Taken together they have the technical skill sets I don’t have as well as a network of friends and colleagues who can design book covers and websites or offer advice on marketing.

So off we go and Decrescendo: A Memoir of Love and Caregiving will be turning up on Amazon in the next few weeks.