Self-publishing my life story literally changed my life!
For the past 15 years, I’ve been a freelance reporter for a monthly newspaper. As a journalist, I cover heartbreaking stories all time and get many exclusives. People often voice surprise at how empathetic and easy I am to talk to. Interviewees even share their deepest secrets; all reporters know this is rare and something you do not minimize. It was obvious I was making a difference in people’s lives. I should have been proud and confident. But I wasn’t!
The problem? I found no joy in anything because my personal life was a mess. For years, I played with the idea of writing my life story; I was adopted, then abused until I became a teenage runaway. To move forward with life, I needed to put the horrors of my past on paper; it was the only way I could get the memories out of my head. But it was not until I went back to high school in 2005 (I was 37) that the seeds for my memoir were sown. Our English class was assigned the task of writing our story. I submitted a piece called “Behind Whispering Pines”. My teacher strongly encouraged me to expand on it and publish it. But I was not ready yet.
Three years later, my entire life changed. My abusive parent passed away; two weeks later I found my birth family through a total fluke. Soon I met my birth family for the first time in 40 years. In the course of 2 months I went from being an abused orphan to the much loved oldest daughter and grandchild of a family I never knew. The journalist in me recognized the value of the story. As the pieces fit together, I was left with an amazing exclusive. My story hit a few of the local papers and people were soon asking me to share the rest of the story.
It was not until I hit a deep depression about a year after my adoptive mother passed away, that I really recognized that I needed to get rid of all the hurt and distrust that still burdened my soul. So I started to write. It took me about a week to type out my first 80,000 word draft of [Finding Gloria].
My newspaper editor got the first printed copy; I knew he’d be truthful and unbiased. He owned two other papers so he also knew the business. I trusted him as an editor, writer and publisher. I was shocked when he encouraged me to publish; he even offered to help. The first thing he did was sending my untouched manuscript to our proofreaders. While we waited, he forced me to look at the business aspect. I was more than prepared to hand over that responsibility to someone else; I knew nothing about marketing. But he would not let me. To be successful, you have to know what you want, and how to get there, he told me. Since I didn’t know what I wanted yet, I relied on research.
The hardest decision was to self publish or submit my manuscript to a traditional publisher. I spoke to several other local authors I’d met over the years and they offered a list pros and cons to both types of publishing. Ultimately, I made the decision to self-publish because my story was so personal; I did not have the guts to approach a publisher. A rejection letter would have hurt on a deeper level than I could cope with at the time.
At one point, my editor offered to foot the bill for the first order if we self-published. As a publisher himself, he knew several publishing houses, but they would only print a minimum of a 1,000 books. I did not have the cash to invest in this purchase, and I didn’t believe I had a market for 1,000 books, so I took to the Internet and searched online publishing houses.
Eventually I found CreateSpace and fell in love instantly! Still waiting for my book to come back from the proofreaders, I began the process of finding out what I wanted and how I wanted it. I spent time on the forums, gathering insight and tips from other authors. This research was invaluable for learning what works and what doesn’t. CreateSpace made the entire process very easy; from setting up my book and getting an ISBN to helping with changes and designing my cover. Using Google, I found book templates and e-book templates which became invaluable tools. It took some practice to get things right, but I did my own layout in both paperback and e-book versions.
For me, the editing process was the hardest. My editor calls me a proofreader’s dream – after 15 years of writing, I don’t make a lot of mistakes. But I still make them. I took advantage of newspaper staff along with beta readers, other authors, fans from the paper and friends. When the final draft came back from the proof-reader, my editor and I sat down and read the entire book, sentence by sentence, re-wrote, made changes, and expanded. It was a tedious process.
My editor designed my cover as a gift to me. We wanted my oldest daughter to draw the cover picture, but we could not get the broken wings right. It is supposed to symbolize my true self’s emergence into life, just like a butterfly from the cocoon.
One would think writing is hard, but the real work while I waited the three weeks for my first shipment. I created a website and used social media to spread the word that readers could order signed books directly from me. Using Paypal, I took online orders and shipped them the same day. A word of advice, get your postage correct first! I took a major ding on my first shipment because I underestimated the cost of postage.
I created a book trailer, which was something I’d never heard of until I started my research. I downloaded royalty free pictures and music; then created the trailer using the basic movie maker found in Windows. Then I uploaded it to YouTube. This also did very well and was fun to do.
Once I received my first shipment (400 books) I hosted a book launch in my home town. It was my “coming out party” and a sell-out. Encouraged, I took advantage of having to cover community events by volunteering to speak, or setting up a tent and doing book signings. It was my own, self-designed book tour. It was a success based on the many people who came just to speak to me and share their stories.
We have a dedicated readership at the paper and several hundred locations for product so I took advantage of this relationship. Within a month Finding Gloria was available in over a dozen stores throughout southern Manitoba and McNally Robinson, the biggest bookstore in Manitoba. In exchange, our newspaper ran a free ad in every issue for a year, with a complete listing of these businesses. The free advertising and a 60/40 consignment agreement made it worth their while.
I learned the value of a well-written press-release. I emailed press releases to all media (print, radio and TV) in my province. With a little re-write I submitted releases to major media in the provinces where my story took place. This led to several newspaper articles in three different provinces. I did several radio interviews in Manitoba where I could speak about my book and the issues it addresses. I then paid a press-release service to write me a professional release and submit it to over 30,000 media from throughout the world. I did get some book requests, but I do not think it was worth the cost.
I became a “joiner”. I signed up for Goodreads, Smashwords, Lulu, BookHitch, Authors Den, Red Room, Google Books; the list goes on. Each has its own advantage – if you Google Finding Gloria it shows up exclusively the first 20 pages. I also started reviewing other authors’ books; it’s all about networking.
I use freebees frequently. I’ve donated copies to local libraries; I send them out for reviews; I will give them to people on the street who I feel may benefit from reading my story. I also published a poetry book to sell to raise funds for a local women’s shelter and partnered with the local hospital and did fundraising for their group. I also published two smaller free e-books; Behind Whispering Pines and Brian’s Last Ride. I give these away for free to introduce myself to new readers; plus readers LOVE free books. By putting reviews in the back of them, they have helped boost sales. As freebees, they also get listed on sites that normally do not advertise books.
I have learned to take advantage of opportunities when they arise. Recent media stories have brought forward issues relating to my book; rape, bullying, child abuse, spousal abuse. Subsequently, I have been invited to share my experiences, with students in schools, especially with the social media aspect and bullying. I also speak to foster parents. Where I once had no voice, I’ve become a voice for others.
Has this all worked? Yes and no. Over 50,000 copies of Finding Gloria have been downloaded from Amazon. It’s been listed as #1 several times (Under Dysfunctional Relationships). My bank account is still lean; but I have something of more value. I found ME!
When I first sat down and started writing Finding Gloria, I expected to have a finishing product in the end. I did not expect to find out the truth about myself, nor did I imagine that I would inspire others to find their own healing journeys. I highly encourage everyone to write their stories. Even if no one ever lays eyes on the material, what we can discover about ourselves through the process makes it worth more than all the money in the world.