On Publishing a Book

I’m going to publish a book. I’m so excited! I will have to go back to the beginning to talk about this book because it has taken me fifty years to reach this point. As a senior citizen, I have finally gained the courage to do it. I guess I have always wanted to write. All my life I have been a reader, and at all times, have considered a book my best friend. When I was seven years old, my teacher called my mother to school and said that I would fall eventually because I was always walking down the hall and stairs reading. As an adult, I must have always have a book nearby, and when traveling, if I should finish what I am reading, I will definitely rush into the nearest airport bookstore to purchase a new one. Because the accumulation of books when traveling has become cumbersome, I recently purchased a Nook and read a book on it. I am not thrilled with this electronic device because I still love the feel of a real, live book and its pages, but I will have to go with the new way of reading because print is becoming obsolete. But, I digress.

Going back to 1962, my first child was born. Because I had an illness after the birth of my daughter, I was unable to return to my teaching job. Having been very active to that point, I felt somewhat bored, especially during the time that she napped. One day, I pulled out a sheet of paper and sat down at my typewriter. This was long before the computer age.

In fact, during my life as a secretary, it was a big thrill to use the new invention of the electric typewriter since it did not involve having to exert much pressure on the keys.

Because I had always been an avid fiction reader, I decided to write a book in that genre. What to write? What does one write about? I was mindful of the warning that for the written word to be meaningful, it had to be or relate to something with which the author is familiar. With that in mind, I decided I would write a book that would be autobiographical and fictional at the same time. In other words, although fiction, it would contain elements of the truth. I do not think I thought of memoir because it was not a topic with which I was familiar, although I had read “remembrance of Times Past,” in college and hated it.

As I began to write, I thought back to my childhood and to the colorful characters I had known. In fact, most of these people would have fit into the “Fiddler on the Roof,” first generation, immigrant neighborhood where I spent much of my youth. The book flowed almost without thought, and the blend of fiction and non-fiction seemed to meld effortlessly. I continued this pattern for the next year, writing about two hours daily, and at the end of that time, I had one hundred fifty pages. I went on blissfully writing until one day I hit a wall. As easy as it had been to write to that point, that is how difficult it became. In my mind, I was thinking back as I was writing the story, and although it was not truth, enough of it was so that I did not understand what was happening. Although I tried, each time I saw down to write, the same thing occurred.

Eventually, life happened, and the hundred fifty pages, bound in a three-ring notebook, just sat there. At first, it stared at me with reproach, but after a while, I managed to forget about it. Not really, though. Always, in the back of my mind, that unfinished project was tucked somewhere. It was a busy life, what with raising a son and daughter, divorce, a full-time teaching high school special education students in a commute requiring obscene time from my far northern suburb, a part-time dictaphone typing job to make ends meet, and eventually a return to school in search of a doctorate. Forty years managed to slip away, with that notebook always staring at me from the bottom of my typewriter stand, and later, the bottom shelf of my computer setup.

After retirement in 2003, I dabbled a bit with scoring standardized examinations for the huge Pearson company and editing doctoral dissertations. But, I kept looking at that bottom shelf, and it kept nagging at me. Finally, one day, I decided to enroll in a writing class. I did not want an online class but a live situation where people would critique my writing and I, in turn, would critique theirs. Unfortunately, I could not locate even one personal class. Looking online, I found someone who was advertising tutoring in the art of the short story. I contacted this individual and made an appointment. As we met in her home, we discussed keeping a journal and writing short stories. She suggested sources and readings, and we made another appointment.

When we met again, we went over what I had written. In conversation and in passing, I mentioned my book. I told her that I supposed we would have to tackle first things first by writing short stories. She was interested in my attempts at novel-writing, and for our third meeting, I picked up the one hundred fifty page manuscript and hauled it to her house. She read the first chapter, looked up, and said, “It reads like a novel.” My relief must have been almost palpable, but my sigh was only inside. “But,” she went on, “there are a lot of characters and I’m not sure where you are heading.” Yes, of course. I would have to make it all more cohesive, eliminate characters, or combine them. Perhaps a light was going on in my head.

Thinking further, I knew what I had to do. There were two major female characters who had to be combined into one. After I decided this, I was able to resume writing and complete the book. My mentor provided advice for rewriting and editing know-how. After we had determined that it was in a state of readiness, she provided me with a computer link to agents. So began my long journey to locate an agent.

Their requirements for determining whether to take me on as a client were diverse. Some merely wanted a letter describing in general terms the nature of the book. Others wanted the first ten pages. Still others wished to see fifty pages or perhaps the first three chapters. It didn’t matter. Unanimously, they rejected me. I had always been contemptuous of the so-called vanity press. If a piece of literature did not stand on its own, it seemed arrogant to spend several thousand dollars to print it for your own edification and for the few friends and family who would then read it. So, my feeling was that if I could not find an agent, the writing could not stand on its own and I should simply forget the entire project, chalking it up to finishing what I had long ago begun.

But, I did not know about the brave new world of self-publishing. It seems that nowadays to publish a book, what is needed is only a manuscript and the technical know-how to put it online. Therein lies the rub. The computer is always a struggle for me. It seems that I have to do each task many times before I am competent enough to sit down and just get it done. It also seems I never figure out the solution but simply persevere until I give up in frustration. In fact, I hired a tutor because I was tired of not knowing how to retrieve pictures from my camera or how to upload documents and photographs. So, I found a tutoring company and hired a very nice man who had several sessions with me and gave me excellent, detailed notes. The problem was that I thought when I needed to use the information, I would just have to consult the notes. Wrong. When I attempted to do those tasks several months later, I was unable to do so. He came back, and we discussed publishing my book.

He has done the technical work for online publishing before, and we talked about the pros and cons of Lulu versus CreateSpace. Actually, both are free to publish, but when I looked at the cost per book, CreateSpace won. Plus, I can be on the Kindle with it, but not with Lulu. So, the die is cast, so to speak.

I have typed this piece on Word because I did not know how to blog. I’m still not sure know how. I am crossing my fingers that when I try to publish this and get back on, I will be able to do that. This is my first submission, and it promises to be most interesting learning experience. Stay tuned.