Alchemy of a Memoir, Pt. 2: To Self Publish or . . .
“What would you do if nothing were standing in your way?” I would be a writer—you know, spending my day in a turret with a 360º view, writing best-selling novels. I probably should have turned down a different path long ago. Since I didn’t, I am lucky to have lived into the age of internet. I started writing a blog in 2009. I sat, not in a tower every day, but in cafes on Saturdays, faithfully publishing a weekly post about life lessons learned from my garden.
I left my job and my home in 2012 to return to the Pacific Northwest to support my already very old mother. With the time not spent supporting a living, I thought maybe I would put together a book based on my garden blog*. Mama thought that was what I was going to do too, maybe it’s why she “let” me come and live with her. Then I switched paths.
When I began blogging about life with my mother and attended a week-long writing workshop armed with a few posts, I began dreaming for the first time of a real book, a memoir. Sitting in a circle with other writers, reading aloud, receiving their encouragement, is much more sustaining than the turret idea. I went home and devouring memoirs and books on the art of memoir.
Though it was too tender an idea to consider back then what I would do with a finished manuscript, I learned about arcs and themes and the heroes journey. I turned the back room of my father’s workshop over the carport into a writing studio and wrote on sticky notes that I stuck on the wall, moving color-coded story stickies around under the theme stickies. I looked for the narrative arc, the reason for the book, aka why anyone would want to read it.
I have long considered myself a dabbler, and made my peace with it. I get interested in something—anything from various crafts to a career as a school counselor—and then lose interest and move on to the next thing. But I became uncharacteristically determined to see this book idea through. However, I was not confident enough to believe I could successively navigate the increasingly impossible odds of traditional publishing; nor did I want to subject myself to the endless cycle of writing pitch letters or attending conferences with an elevator speech in search of an agent and receiving rejection letters. You’re not good enough rang in my head, in spite of encouragement by my writing workshoppers. I assumed I would self-publish, it was just more practical and felt more doable. And I wanted to be successful. I felt lucky again to be living in these times when such opportunity is available to ordinary humans, those of a “mature age” to boot.
In 2019, at a the fourth writing alumni retreat for attendees of the one in 2012, I read about She Writes Press (SWP), a small hybrid press (a cross between traditional publishers and self-publishing) that in a bit of serendipity was born the same year I moved across the country and began writing my memoir. I was intrigued. They offered manuscript assessments. I wanted to know if my work was even worth pursuing, and it seemed like a good way to get to know what they were about.
I had a finished draft, that is I had something with a beginning, a middle, and an end. I made a snap decision to submit it, knowing if I waited I risked continuing to edit for months or chickening out altogether. On the last day of the retreat—on my father’s birthday—I sent them what I guess I’ll just call the first draft (though it was more like the 100th). Bottom line: The publisher (and co-founder of SWP) said yes! There were several suggestions, chief among them to cut at least 10,000 words. At 115K it was already down from 138K a year earlier.
Over the next year, at the beginning of the pandemic, after cutting thousands of words until I no longer knew what to cut, I hired a SWP editor and also sent the manuscript to several people who had agreed to be beta readers. I cut more words and made some major changes to the opening chapters that had been the first words I’d written seven years earlier. In October 2020, I signed a publishing contract.
It was very expensive, but unlike self-publishing, it came with support, professional designers, knowledge of the book publishing world, and traditional distribution. And not least, a group of sister authors—some first timers, some experienced—who meet (online) to share ideas and high fives, like my writing sisters had. I had inherited some money that, practically, I should save for old age, but I decided to invest it in my dream instead, in my present rather than in a future that may not even come, because who really knows? The publication date of Fall 2022 seemed so far away. It has, of course, flown by, the time filled with professional copy editing and proofreading, many of my own read-throughs (including aloud), negotiating cover design, writing synopses and bios, decisions about where or if to spend even more money, and learning about marketing. Lots and lots of learning.
And now it’s nearly here. October 18, officially Pub Day, is also the 47th anniversary of the day I was married. That was a happy day, and I am pleased to repurpose the date with the fulfillment of another dream.
Why this book? You can read Part One of Alchemy of a Memoir here.
* I did put that little book together, during the Great Pandemic.
You can receive the PDF as my gift for your pre-order of Mother Lode!
Details coming soon.