Three Ways a Book Publishing Plan That Seems So Right . . . Can Go So Wrong

Mike Ellerkamp thought he had done everything right.

The life coach was fully prepared to publish his first book, The Simple Little Rule: The Golden Rule Rediscovered. Mike was ready to reintroduce the world to the power of God’s ancient wisdom to “love thy neighbor as thyself.” He partnered with a big self-publishing company and a big marketing company for big results.

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But when the book was released, what he got was . . . big crickets.

Unfortunately, Mike’s outcome isn’t unique. Many self-published writers invest a lot of time and money into a quality message — with little to show but disappointment and disillusionment.

After that experience, Mike took a hard look at his assumptions about the book publishing industry. He regrouped. Now, as he prepares to publish his second book, the author candidly shares his three biggest lessons learned in hopes of helping others.

#1 A bigger company doesn’t necessarily mean a better process.

“My first mistake was assuming that giving a lot of money to a big publishing company was the safest route,” Mike explained. “As a new author, you don’t know who to trust. I bought into the sales pitch that a big company would know how to get this done.”

While not all big companies are problematic, Mike experienced several delays. “These large publishers are dealing with thousands of authors and agents,” he said.

Another issue was the growing cost. “I was assigned an ‘account coordinator’ who would ensure a ‘better experience,’” he said. “He did help during a couple of points in the process. But I now realize that he was mostly a sales person first. The company wasn’t unethical. It’s just that the mission of a larger publisher is to sell publishing services—lots of publishing services!”

#2 Bigger activity doesn’t necessarily mean bigger results.

Mike said his second mistake was his marketing plan. “My account coordinator suggested a bigger marketing campaign through ‘bigger and better’ contacts. He cast the bait, and I took it. Hook, line and sinker!”

The 3-month campaign involved a lot of activity. Reports showed that thousands had received his press release, and thousands more were reached through social media. It all looked dazzling. That is, until the sales report rolled in.

“I was excited to land a radio program. But other than that, there were no real results,” said Mike. “I spent a lot of money to speed the process, but it didn’t really enhance the process at all.”

Publicist Sandy Lawrence, the founder of Perceptive PR, said successful book marketing is less about money and more about time. “Most people don’t buy the first time they see. And so, because most first-time authors aren’t known, they first have to become known. Then they can begin to sell books. Naturally this process takes time and perseverance.”

#3 The experts aren’t necessarily smarter than your gut.

It’s critical to find a publisher you can trust. But even when you do, continue to pay attention to your instincts.

“I had done a massive amount of research before I began this new journey,” said Mike. “But I dropped all of that wisdom and listened to the folks at the publishing house instead. In hindsight, I think my money could have been spent in better ways.”

With this experience under his belt, Mike is applying his lessons learned to his forthcoming second book in The Simple Little Rule series. “I’m returning to my own research and following my own avenues to radio shows, newspapers and magazines,” he said, undeterred in his commitment. “I’ll continue to develop the brand the way I originally would have.”

And this time, Mike has a different plan for his resources. “I’m keeping the funding much closer to home and among people I know and trust.” He smiled, adding, “I know better now.”

AuthorMike Ellerkamp is a life coach, inspirational speaker, and Houston chapter leader of the Nonfiction Authors Association. He is the author of The Simple Little Rule: The Golden Rule Rediscovered, in which he brings to life a profound tenet through five principles and shares his own spiritual, philosophical and historical journey along the way. Contact Mike for a book event or speaking engagement, or connect with him on his website, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

 

 

EllaElla Ritchie is the founder of Stellar Communications Houston, a business communications and book publishing team that brings clarity, quality, and integrity to nonfiction authors, business leaders, nonprofit organizations, and federal government agencies. Connect with her on LinkedIn, Facebook, or the website for more information.

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The Power of Publishing Your “Big Why”

You wouldn’t guess the long, emotional journey that has driven Dr. Alanna Bree to establish A Children’s House for Pediatric Dermatology – nor its nonprofit counterpart, A Children’s House for the Soul. Her face only beamed joy as supporters streamed in the doors of The Health Museum in Houston. They were there to support the first annual happy hour fundraiser for the nonprofit. Bill Brown, the longtime voice of the Houston Astros, emceed an evening of tasty bites, signature cocktails, and auction items.

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But Dr. Alanna’s whole-hearted commitment was evident when speakers began sharing the impact of A Children’s House. A child life specialist explained the deep needs that the nonprofit fulfills in children and teens with skin disorders and birthmarks. A high school student with a rare genetic skin disorder talked about the respite from bullying that he enjoyed at the “Love The Skin You Are In” Family Days. A woman with a highly visible skin condition praised the nonprofit for helping her to embrace her unique beauty as a teenager. Through each speech, tears flowed quietly down Dr. Alanna’s face.

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This is her “big why.” Her whole purpose is to cultivate this healing and hope in the world – not only physically but also emotionally and spiritually.

This is what the whole evening was about. It was about more than what Dr. Bree does (care for children and teens with skin disease and birthmarks). It was also about more than how she does it (with compassionate, holistic care, flexibility, and reasonable prices). It was all about why she does it.

In his TEDx talk titled, “How great leaders inspire action,” marketing consultant Simon Sinek says this approach is what makes Dr. Alanna different from other physicians. You see, true leaders share their “big why” to inspire people to take action. Sinek says, “People don’t buy what you do. They buy why you do it.”[1]

This is the reason Dr. Alanna just released, A Children’s House: A Small Story About a God-sized Dream. The 140-page autobiography chronicles her journey to becoming a pediatric dermatologist – and the four unmistakable words she heard from God that forever altered her course. She tells with honesty how she quit a successful but unsatisfying career to find her ultimate purpose and fulfillment. It’s a stunning read for everyone: medical students, professionals, believers, and nonbelievers alike.

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It’s also a stunning example of the power of sharing your “big why” with others. Dr. Alanna is communicating from “the inside out,” as Sinek calls it. She’s sharing the drive behind her cause, the whole reason her nonprofit exists. And it’s already making an impact.

As guests streamed out of the Health Museum, stakeholders stopped to tell Dr. Alanna that they were inspired by her message. Patients were grateful she hadn’t given up. Board members were surprised by their impact on her success. Dr. Alanna smiled at each of them. Now that they understand her “big why,” they are empowered to make a difference.

PubAuthor Portrait_editedElla Ritchie (left) is the founder of  Stellar Communications Houston, a business communications and book publishing team that brings clarity, quality, and integrity to nonfiction authors, business leaders, nonprofit organizations, and federal government agencies. Connect with the team on LinkedIn, Facebook, or the website for more information.

Alanna F. Bree, M.D., (right) is a board-certified pediatric dermatologist and owner of A Children’s House for Pediatric Dermatology, where she specializes in holistic care and effective treatments for skin conditions and birthmarks in infants, children, and teens. She is also the founder and executive director of a nonprofit organization, A Children’s House for the Soul, which provides social, emotional, and spiritual support for affected children and families in the Houston area. Connect with the clinic on Facebook and Twitter, or connect with the nonprofit on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

 

[1] Simon Sinek, “How Great Leaders Inspire Action,” TED, https://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action#t-21349, accessed March 29, 2018.

Author Interview: Co-authors work up laughter and hope in a self-help gift book for unemployed readers

Front coverUnemployment was no laughing matter for Roni Elayne Singer and Nancy DePrimo Zuromski. They both endured the shock and sadness of losing a job at the same time, and now the duo – both back in the workforce  – are setting out to help others.

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They are co-authors of a new gift book, Over 50? Menopausal? You’re Fired!!! It’s the humorous tale of Penny Pinkslip, from the humiliating day that she is fired through the five stages of losing a job and to the triumphant moment of accepting a new offer. Packed with colorful drawings and practical tips, the purpose is to provide beneficial job seeking advice and equal doses of hope and laughter.

 

Here, Roni (pictured above left) and Nancy (above right) reveal more about their own experiences and their new book.

Let’s get straight to the heart of the matter. You call unemployment a “rocky road.” What was it like for you?

Roni: It was the worst time of my life. I’ve actually been through several layoffs, but it doesn’t get easier. In fact, each layoff was worse than the last. To make matters worse, my husband left me while I was unemployed, so I had to find a new place to live. I can’t image anything worse for one’s confidence and self-esteem.

Nancy: One of the drawings in the book shows Penny walking with shackles on her ankles. That is exactly how I felt during each layoff.Penny Pinkslip in shackles

What would you say was the worst part?

Nancy: For me, the worst was not being able to say goodbye to the many employees who were not only friends but extended family. And, of course, knowing my income was just slashed.

Roni: My lowest low was being escorted out of the building. It happened to me twice. I was treated like a criminal, walking through the corridors with everyone looking at me. It’s truly humiliating and demeaning.

Nancy: Yes. I was escorted out of one oil and gas building where I had worked for over 15 years, and I remember looking down at the white lines in the driveway on my way out, knowing I would never see them again. My son had painted those parking lines when he had “worked” alongside me during one of his summer breaks to learn office skills.

Roni: Unfortunately, the inhumane treatment doesn’t stop there. I was surprised to discover that some people in Human Resources are nice, but most don’t want anything to do with you until they need you. They didn’t return phone calls, and I never knew if they were considering me as an applicant or if they even received my application. It felt very disrespectful.

Do you have any take-aways from that difficult season?

Nancy: I was surprised to learn how many other women in administrative roles were in the same situation as myself. This ah-ha moment made me realize that I must advance my skills so that I may move into another type of employment. I also learned not to take the incident personally and to remember that this was only a business decision, not a failure on my part. And I’ve become confident in the fact that, while I may be over 50, I am capable to offer employers years of experience, common sense and dedication. I’m no longer constantly worried about being laid off because I have proven to myself time after time that I am able to brush off the lint and become employed again.

Roni: Having experienced the heartache of being over 50 and job searching, I am now much more compassionate and empathetic with those who are looking for a job. I’ve also learned patience because the wheels of hiring move very slowly. And I’ve found out that I’m stronger than I thought I was.

Of course, another take-away is this new books of yours! Tell us how such a great collaboration emerged from such a terrible time in your lives?

Roni: The idea for a book came up during what Nancy affectionately calls a “girlfriend check,” our way of staying in touch ever since we became instant friends in 2003 in a performing choral group. It was during one of these “girlfriend checks” that Nancy and I realized we were both facing unemployment at the same time.

Nancy: I mentioned that I had started writing a book about my job search, and Roni piped up that she had started writing a book on her job search too! From there, we compared notes and decided to collaborate.

Roni: For me, it started as emotional therapy, just writing down my thoughts. Then, I was able to put a humorous twist on it. After collaborating with Nancy, we found we really have something good here and that pushed us forward. We were able to take a terrible situation and put a funny twist on it and, at the same time, keeping it very real.

Nancy: We had a common bond of sadness over our circumstances, but it also felt natural to work together because our personalities, the way we see the world, and our senses of humor are so similar.

Speaking of your sense of humor, your title is pretty bold. How did you come to the decision to name it Over 50? Menopausal? You’re Fired!!!

Nancy: We wanted something that was both accurate and attention-grabbing. We’ve seen so many others in our same situation.

Roni: Even though we’re joking about menopause, all people over 50 will easily relate to the book. Many men have read the book – a few have even endorsed it – and they’ve found that even though they can’t relate to the hot flashes, they can definitely relate to the emotions of being laid off. Penny’s lessons are truly unisex.

The book has some great artwork. Tell us about that.

Roni: As a technical writer, I always use graphics to visually describe what I’m writing. So it was a no-brainer for me that this book must have great graphics. Our extremely talented illustrator, Kathy, did a fantastic job in capturing our message exactly.

Nancy: Yes, we wanted to show everything that Penny was going through, even down to lamenting the “dust bunnies” under her bed.

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What was it like to publish your first book?

Nancy: Being close friends helped with the ups and downs. We agreed that no matter what happens with this venture, our friendship is what matters most. Successes come and go, but true friendship is priceless.

Roni: Yes, we’ve always been very consider of each other. If we think we said something hurtful, we always talked about it. We bounced ideas off each other and laughed a lot! I can’t think of a better co-author.

Nancy: That’s why no part of the process was difficult. Not like a colonoscopy – now that is difficult! Between Roni’s unbelievable writing ability and our continuous communication, sprinkled with some times of hesitation and laughter, we’ve been able to create a gift for others who find themselves in this situation.

What has been the most surprising thing about publishing?

Nancy, laughing: That it’s actually being published!

Roni: I love this book and am proud of what we’ve done. But as therapeutic as it has been, I’ve found that it still doesn’t take away the emotional and financial pain that was suffered during more than 2 ½ years of unemployment.

That’s why we love that you’re sharing hope and wisdom with others. Do you have a bit of wisdom you want to share here?

Roni: I found networking groups to be the most helpful. They reminded me that I was not alone, and the people there were always very supportive. They are the ones who kept me focused and sane through the process. That’s why I stay in touch with them even though I’m gainfully employed. I want to help others with their resumes and interviewing skills like others helped me. I don’t want anyone going through what I went through.

Nancy: I recommend online training exams similar to those offered through Houston Unemployment and most temporary employment agencies. Testing has always been difficult for me, especially when it’s a make-or-break exam to land employment! So being able to sit in the comfort and peace of my home and challenge myself, by myself, built my confidence so that taking the placement exams elsewhere was easier. I also want to mention that even after we become employed again, we should always be ready for the bottom to drop, even when things seem to be calm seas. Unfortunately, in this economy, no position is safe from downsizing.

Any parting words for your readers?

Roni: I hope you will be able to see yourselves in this book – to see that there is a happy ending coming.

Nancy: Yes. Even at the lowest time in your lives, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. As a Master Spiritual Healer, it is my hope that this book will bring enlightenment to those who may not be able to see the rainbow light at this time in their lives. You are not alone as long as you reach out to others for help.

Thank you, Roni and Nancy! We’re certainly not alone now that we have Penny in our lives. To read the hilarious (mis)adventures of Penny Pinkslip, or gift it to someone you care about, we invite you to visit the following links:

Purchase the book

Check out the book announcement

 

EllaElla Ritchie is the founder of Stellar Communications Houston, a business communications and book publishing team that brings clarity, quality, and integrity to nonfiction authors, business leaders, nonprofit organizations, and federal government agencies.  Connect with her on LinkedIn or Facebook, or check out the website for more information.

Roni Elayne Singer headshot

Roni Elayne Singer is a trainer and technical writer in Houston, Texas,
with two grown children and two grown dachshunds. She enjoys singing, playing piano, cooking and being with her family and friends. Over 50? Menopausal? You’re Fired!!! is her first book. You can find out more at https://www.pennypinkslip.com/ or by emailing  Roni at pennypinkslip@gmail.com.

 

Nancy DePrimo Zuromski headshotNancy DePrimo Zuromski  is a financial account representative and
lives with her husband in Kingwood, Texas. She has two grown sons, three grandchildren, three cats and enjoys spoiling her family. Over 50? Menopausal? You’re Fired!!! is her first book. You can find out more at https://www.pennypinkslip.com/ or by emailing  Nancy at pennypinkslip@gmail.com.

Should authors purchase their own ISBNs for their books?

A Quick Author Guide to ISBNs

Hands down, ISBNs is the most confusing element for self-publishing authors. And the single most common question is this: “Should I purchase my own ISBN? Or should I use the one provided by a publishing services company?”

Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of owning your own ISBN. This way, you can make the best decision for you and your book.

But first, here are a few basics.

What is an ISBN?

ISBN is short for “international standard book number.” It’s a 13-digit number that you can find on the back cover of a book, above a bar code. That bar code is a simply a translation of your ISBN into a format that is compatible with scanners in bookstores.

ISBN barcode for books

What is the purpose of an ISBN?

It uniquely identifies every book that is published worldwide. An ISBN holds important information such as your title, publisher, and geographic location. This number helps simplify the distribution of your book to publishers, booksellers, libraries, internet retailers and other supply chain participants around the world.

One thing the ISBN does not do is establish copyright. You as the author are the rightful owner of your intellectual property under copyright laws. An ISBN does not change this.

Do I need an ISBN?

You need an ISBN if you want to sell your book in bookstores, to libraries, or through online retailers like Amazon.com. Otherwise, you do not need an ISBN.

Where do I purchase an ISBN?

The only official source of ISBNs in the United States is Bowker Agency.
Who should purchase the ISBN?

The individual or company that will be listed as the publisher of the book should apply for the ISBN. The publisher can be you as the author, a publishing services company, or a traditional publisher.

(If you’re still uncertain which kind of publishing option is best for you, check out our previous blog post called, “Choose Your Own Adventure in Book Publishing.” In it, we explain your three basic paths to publishing. You’ll see that a traditional publisher will expect you to use its ISBNs. So this question is really only for self-publishing authors.)

So now that you understand the basics, let’s get back to your question . . .

Should I purchase my own ISBN? Or should I use the one provided by a publishing services company?

Well, it depends. There are pros and cons to either option. The right answer for you depends on your publishing goals. Here are some of the factors you want to consider before you make a decision.

 

Cost

If you purchase your own ISBN, you’ll discover that the cost is surprisingly high. One ISBN through Bowker Agency is $125. And you need a different ISBN for each format of your book. That means you’ll need three ISBNs if you plan to publish your book as a paperback, hardcover, and e-book. Also, you’ll probably want guidance in knowing where and how to purchase your own ISBNs, which may also increase the cost of your publishing plan.

One bit of good news here is that you can purchase ISBNs in blocks that are discounted. For example, a block of 10 ISBNs costs $295. You can save a lot of money if you purchase a block.

In contrast, if you use an ISBN provided by a publisher, the cost is likely less expensive because your publisher purchases ISBNs from Bowker Agency in large blocks. The savings can be passed to you.

Paperwork

If you purchase your own ISBN, you’ll need to complete two extra steps in the publishing process. First, you’ll establish yourself as a publisher and set up your publishing account. Second, you’ll need to establish an account with Bowker Agency and set up your ISBNs.

If you rely on a publishing services company for your ISBN, these tasks are handled for you.

Time

If you establish yourself as a publisher, Amazon says it may take up to 6 weeks to be recognized by retailers. That means it could take another 6 weeks before your book is available online. The way to get around this is to be sure to establish your accounts early in the process. This way, you’ll avoid any delays with the release of your book.

If you use the ISBN of a publishing services company, there is no delay in releasing your book because that company is already recognized by retailers as a publisher.
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One potential downside to using your own ISBN is that it clearly identifies you as the publisher. This means that readers will know that you are a self-published author. For some authors, this is not desirable because they’re concerned that their work will not be taken as seriously.

The benefit of using an ISBN from a publishing services company is that it presents a more professional image. It communicates that you’re not a “one-man band” – you have the backing of a company, and your work was refined through a professional process. Readers will not be able to tell if you are a self-published author or a traditionally published author. Ultimately, it adds credibility.

Royalties

If you purchase your own ISBN, one benefit is that you retain 100% of royalties from online sales. Plus, you also do not have to wait for royalties. The money is deposited directly into your bank account. And you can check royalty reports any time you want.

In contrast, if you use the ISBN of a publishing services company, you may be expected to share some of the royalties. Be sure you ask about this policy so that you feel comfortable with the percentage of royalties that you may be sharing. You will also likely have to wait. Royalty reports and payments are usually sent annually or semiannually.

Independence

If you purchase your own ISBN, you have the freedom to make any changes when it comes to the future of your book. For example, you may decide to change to a new publisher or to stop publishing your book entirely. You can make these changes without having to wait on your publishing services company to make them happen.

If you use the ISBN of a publishing services company, you will need to follow its procedures to make changes to your account. Be sure you read your contract and feel comfortable with the company policies. Even then, your book may be impacted in the worst-case scenario that the company goes out of business. You may want to ask if there are any precautions in place to protect you and your book in this scenario.

Support

You need to consider how much support you want with your book after it is published.

If you purchase your own ISBNs, then you manage your own publishing account. This means that you place your own book orders, read your own royalty reports, and receive your money directly. You decide if and when your book is distributed. In other words, once your book is published, there is no publishing services company between you and your book. You’ll retain control of every aspect of your book moving forward.

If you rely on a publishing services company, these administrative tasks are handled for you. You’ll call the company when you want to place a book order, and they will handle invoicing, ordering, tracking the order, issuing royalty reports, and mailing royalty payments. They’ll also be there to make updates to your account or to answer any questions long after your book is published. Some authors prefer this hassle-free experience and want to make sure someone is around to help them.

The Ultimate Factor

All of these factors will help you make the right decision. Ultimately, the choice to purchase your own ISBN or to use one provided by a publishing services company depends on what brings you greater peace of mind.

Do you value the security of knowing that no one and nothing can come between you and your book, even if it means more cost and hassle? Then publishing your own ISBNs is the way to go.

Or do you value the security of knowing you’ll have a seamless publishing process and professional image as well as help in the years after your book is published, even if it means relying on a company? Then choose a publishing services company that you can trust.

Whatever you decide, you’ll make an informed decision and enjoy a more peaceful process.

EllaElla Ritchie is the founder of Stellar Communications Houston, a business communications and book publishing team that brings clarity, quality, and integrity to nonfiction authors, business leaders, nonprofit organizations, and federal government agencies.  Connect with her on LinkedIn or Facebook, or check out the website for more information.

Buckle up, Buttercup: Writing a book is a marathon

By guest blogger Mike Kowis, Esq.

By day, Mike Kowis, Esq., is a mild-mannered tax attorney at a Fortune 500 company. By night, he’s an adjunct professor of Business Law and Corporate Tax for one of the largest community colleges in Texas. He’s also the author of the award-winning debut book, Engaging College Students: A Fun and Edgy Guide for Professors.

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Mike discovered that the process of self-publishing was just as challenging as teaching college students. So he took careful notes on each step and released a second award-winning book, 14 Steps to Self-Publishing a Book. It’s a handy guide for authors that paves the way to self-publishing on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. It also contains cost comparisons and 10 surprising lessons learned.

3D mockup 14 Steps

Here, Mike fills us in on one of those surprising lessons.

Writing my first book was nothing short of a full marathon. By that, I mean the process takes a serious commitment of time and effort to reach the finish line. If you’ve written a book, you know exactly what I mean. If you haven’t yet done so, then buckle up, Buttercup! It can be a long and emotional journey, but well worth it.

I kicked off my first book project with a public announcement on Facebook that gave me one year to write and publish it. I’ll admit the one-year time frame that I set for this goal was completely arbitrary. But I needed the pressure of a deadline to motivate me to stay on track and finish. Looking back, 365 days was too ambitious given that I also had a full-time legal career, part-time teaching gig, and a family to raise. Not to mention that I knew absolutely nothing about writing books.

Fast forward to one year later, and I was embarrassed to admit to my friends and family that I’d only written 57 pages. Most of the reactions I received were positive and encouraging. As expected, I took some friendly criticism for missing my initial deadline. But a few folks seemed almost happy to see me fail and were convinced I was wasting my time.

Luckily, I’m the type of person who loves to prove someone wrong. I used this criticism to push myself forward. I got up, wiped the egg off my face and repeated to myself, “I got this. No problem.”

At the end of year two, I found myself with 80 pages and perhaps the worst case of writer’s block known to mankind. Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t think of a single word to add to my manuscript. Not. One. Word.

As a tax attorney, I write daily and have never experienced writer’s block. So I was completely shocked and frustrated when this happened. I also felt depressed because it was the first time in my life that I doubted my own ability to complete a goal. Until that point, I had accomplished pretty much everything I had ever set my sights on from both a professional and a personal level. I remember thinking, how can this be happening to me?

I turned to my muse and editor, Geoff Smith, for help. Geoff worked his magic and gave me fresh ideas to explore. Soon, I was off and running again.

By the end of year three, things were finally looking up with 113 pages completed. But then I came down with another bout of writer’s block that stopped me in my tracks. Once again, I turned to Geoff for developmental edits and then headed toward the finish line.

My four-year journey finally ended when I published the book on October 21, 2016. Wow… what a day!  I felt just like a proud Papa when I finally got to hold my creation in my hands for the first time.

Obviously, not everyone’s first book journey is as long and arduous as mine. However, an aspiring author would be wise to head this advice: Be aware that book writing requires a significant investment of time. Also, the journey can take an emotional toll if you’re not mentally prepared for possible set-backs and delays.

The good news? The journey is totally worth the blood, sweat and tears that it takes to create the book you have always dreamed of.

Mike FULL SIZE PIC for Book Cover_08272016.jpgMike Kowis, Esq., is a tax attorney and adjunct college professor. He is the author of two award-winning books, Engaging College Students: A Fun and Edgy Guide for Professors and 14 Steps to Self-Publishing a Book. Mike holds a bachelor’s degree and two law degrees, including an advanced law degree from Georgetown University Law Center. He lives in Texas with his wife, Jessica; their two children; and their two dogs. Contact Mike for a guest blog post or find out more at www.engagingcollegestudents.com.

EllaElla Ritchie is the founder of Stellar Communications Houston, a business communications and book publishing team that brings clarity, quality, and integrity to nonfiction authors, business leaders, nonprofit organizations, and federal government agencies.  Connect with her on LinkedIn or Facebook, or check out the website for more information.

Author Interview: How one mother created a tribute to her son

Pat Stone’s life changed in 2006. That’s when her son, Alex, took his own life at just nineteen years old. In the wake of questions and grief, Pat discovered that he’d left behind a trunk of writings, poetry and drawings that revealed his inner thoughts.

Now, more than 10 years later, Pat has compiled selections from Alex’s volume of work in This Is Me: The Life and Writings of a Young Poet. It is a thoughtful gallery of photographs, school assignments, notes and poetry that retraces his steps from age seven to the night he died. In it, friends and family reminisce about the profound impact of a much-loved son, brother, nephew, uncle, friend, and—above all—free spirit.    

Pat sat down with us on what would have been Alex’s 30th birthday to share what it was like to create a tribute to her son.       

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It’s been more than 10 years since Alex died. Why did you decide to tackle this project this year?

My motivation for this project was part mystical and part guilt.

The mystical part happened when I was spending a week in the mountains of New Mexico. I felt pulled to the fact that I was the only one who would dig through the trunk of Alex’s writings. I asked myself, “Are these writings and drawings just things that a mother will read?”

The guilty part came from knowing that it was up to me to compile Alex’s work, even if only for his family and friends.

Alex left a trunk full of journals of his writings and drawings. How did you decide what to include in the manuscript?

The first cut was made by Mark Dossert, an editor for a Houston writing center called Writespace. Mark edited a three-ring binder full of typed poems down to a version that was readable by someone other than Alex’s mother. He gave me confidence in knowing that many of Alex’s writings are useful to a wider audience than just his family and friends.

Then my publisher, Ella Ritchie, went through the edits and pulled some of them to the book. We decided to include Alex’s early years, so I was happy to include one piece of writing in particular. It’s framed in his room and says, “My dog has onle three legis.” I like this one because when Alex was born, we had two Weimaraners and two cats. So it was no surprise that his first composition would include our Weimaraner, Lucy.

Pat and Ella working
Ella and Pat sift through Alex’s work in a collaboration session.

We see Alex’s work mature over time, from his elementary years to college years. We laughed at his young, 7-year-old threat to give a “nukkle sam winch” to anyone who messes with his mom. And we appreciated many of his later, darker pieces, especially “The Black Sky” and “Rest.” Do you have a favorite piece?

My favorite piece is “Be More Aware.” In it, he says, “Practice on strangers. How to be more compassionate to people we don’t know. . . . Think outside yourself.”

It hangs in the bathroom where it gets seen frequently.  It shows the innate goodness and compassion he had for people who are easy to judge and discount.

You did more than compile Alex’s work. You also took the time to round up reflections from family and friends. Why was this important to you?

The reflections from Alex’s friends and teachers add to my understanding of my son. I’m not the only one that feels this way. . . . When one of his friends read Alex’s manuscript, she commented that it explained some things about Alex that she didn’t know.

I have to admit that the timing of asking for reflections couldn’t have been worse. I asked during the holiday season. I cajoled and set deadlines to try to publish his book by Alex’s 30th birthday.

But I wasn’t thinking of the emotions that I was asking them to relive. It was my project at that time. I finally realized how selfish that was and extended the deadlines to “whenever and whatever.” After the printing deadline passed his 30th birthday, I relaxed. I decided to wait even longer to gather reflections from more people.

I’m so glad I waited. Their reflections have become the heart of Alex’s book. To me, gaining understanding may be the bigger purpose of This Is Me.

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The content isn’t the only thing that is meaningful. Tell us about the book cover.

Every element represents Alex. The title is a line from one of his poems. It’s bold and direct, like he was. Then we narrowed the cover image to several that we liked, and we went with one in which his face is half-hidden, like Alex was. He was private. The geometric design in the background is from one of his drawings.

The title is fitting for his work. In fact, much of Alex’s writings are dark, which made this project an emotional undertaking for everyone involved, especially for you. How did you cope?

Yes, there were many days that frustration and emotion took over.

I felt frustration over trying to make sense out of random writings and the timing of writings . . . and the never far-away emotions of what I could have done differently. The obvious pain he shows in the writings from 1997 to 2000 were the hardest to read, especially the apology note he wrote the night he died. It was also difficult to look at the photograph of him smoking a cigarette.

Even though 10 years have passed, these things bring back some old feelings like anger and disappointment. But I put them in the book because I wanted to be accurate. This was the real Alex.

Ultimately, I just kept going back to the last note Alex wrote to me: “Mom, I love you. Your son, Alex. Please be strong.”

It does take strength to publish, particularly a project like yours. Do you have any advice for others who are considering publishing a tribute to a family member or friend?

I don’t feel like I have any expertise to share. The universe just aligned for me.  I had the good fortune to reconnect with Elizabeth White-Olson, the founder of WriteSpace, who opened her heart and home to me when I arrived with a 3” binder full of typed pages. She introduced me to Mark Dossert, an editor at Writespace. And then when I asked what the next step was, she showed me the Stellar Communications Houston website and said, “This one is not the least expensive route to take, but you and Alex would be in good hands.” It’s like I fell into a vat of chocolate.

Was anything about the book publishing process surprising to you?

The most surprising thing about this process has been the details. I now appreciate little things like front matter and back matter, the size of a book, the font design, and whether or not to indent text. All of these details make an enormous difference in how a book looks and how appealing it is to read.

What has been the most difficult thing and the most rewarding thing about the process of publishing Alex’s work?

The only difficult part was when I realized I had deleted the first table of contents, which was organized chronologically. The editor suggested that we rearrange the manuscript so that the tone of the work flows from light to dark. But later we reconsidered the organization and decided to return to a chronological arrangement, so I had to recreate the timeline.

The most rewarding part has been my relationship with Ella. She made me feel like Alex’s book was her only project. She was always calm, promptly responding to every question and making a point of letting me talk first. She also asked for my feedback, pointing out things that were options or personal choices with a sense that she truly valued what I thought. She understood the feelings that accompany each piece of writing as only a mother could. I’ll miss our emails and visits on the phone.

What do you hope readers will take away from This Is Me?

I hope readers who didn’t know Alex will find a kinship with some of his work. Some of his ideas are universal, and some of the topics he wrote about 10 to 12 years ago are relevant today. I hope for a greater understanding of kids labeled “troubled” or “lazy” and try to see the possibility of goodness they may be hiding.

For Alex’s family and friends, I hope This Is Me will expand their understanding of him by seeing different perspectives shown by the other reflections. His work was not widely known by even his closest friends and family. He’s grown in some people’s minds from being thought of as a “smart aleck” to “smart Alex.” For that shift in perspective, this book has served its purpose.

Thank you, Pat, for your dedication and candor throughout this interview and the entire publishing process. You’ve created quite a tribute to Alex!

We invite family, friends, and readers to purchase the book here.

Pat and EllaElla Ritchie (left) is the founder of Stellar Communications Houston, a business communications and book publishing team that brings clarity, quality, and integrity to nonfiction authors, business leaders, nonprofit organizations, and federal government agencies.  Connect with her on LinkedIn or Facebook, or check out the website for more information.

Pat Stone (right) is the compiler of This Is Me: The Life and Writings of a Young Poet, on behalf of her son, Alex Ware. Contact her at patstone87@gmail.com.

 

 

Choose Your Own Adventure in Book Publishing

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Have you ever read the Choose Your Own Adventure book series? They give the reader the delightful power to direct characters through plot twists to their favorite ending.

Unfortunately, we’ve been hearing from too many authors who consider books anything but a great adventure. When it comes to publishing, they don’t feel any sense of control over their own book. Some are staring uncertainly at the options while others are feeling disappointed and disillusioned with their publisher.

It doesn’t have to be that way. It shouldn’t be that way.

We’ve seen the guts and dedication it takes to pour your story onto paper. It’s time to reclaim your sense of adventure and power in publishing by bringing some clarity to your next step: Choosing your publisher.

Let’s take a look at three publishing options. We’ll give you a few pros and cons of each path – as well as the two questions that should guide your decision.

Traditional Publishing

This is the traditional way that authors were published before self-publishing came along. In traditional publishing, you take the time to research the publishers that may be interested in your manuscript, send them a query letter, and wait to find out if they will represent your book. An interested publisher will purchase the rights to your manuscript.

Pros: There are big benefits. The publishing house often bears all or most expenses. Also, you and your book have instant credibility as well as an instant audience for broader reach.

Cons: Waiting to hear back from publishing houses can be very time-consuming since it can sometimes take more than six months. And because many people are vying for a chance with them, the odds of being selected are competitive. Also, the traditional publisher owns the rights, which means they have the control of your book. This impacts the amount of royalties you receive from sales and means that they have the final say on every aspect of the book. They may also have additional stipulations, such as required attendance at book conferences.

Self-Publishing

At the other end of the spectrum is self-publishing. With this option, you own the rights to your book and are responsible for every aspect of the project. This path is available to any author who wants to be the publisher of his own book.

Pros: With the development of Printing on Demand (POD), publishing is now easily accessible to any author. You no longer have to wait on traditional publishing houses to see your book in print. The main benefit of this path is retaining control of your book. You call the shots on what it says, what it looks like, and when it is published.

Cons: The downside to making every decision on your own is that you may not be making the best decisions. This path can also feel pretty confusing and overwhelming at times because of the hundreds of big and small decisions and research that come with creating a book on your own. Some online platforms don’t allow you to speak directly with your editor or formatter, which means things can get lost in translation. Unfortunately, a tell-tale sign of a self-published book is when quality is sacrificed for the sake of the budget. For this reason, readers can often spot a “do it yourself” book and won’t take the writing seriously. This takes away from your credibility and can hurt your marketing efforts.

Assisted Publishing

This third option is a blend of traditional publishing and self-publishing. Assisted publishers bridge the gap between the two options so that self-published authors have some of the benefits of being represented by a publishing house. This describes our own company model, so we’ll tell you the pros and cons of our approach. When you’re contacting assisted publishers, be sure to ask a lot of questions because each company does things a little differently.

Pros: This option is for authors who are ready to begin the process toward publishing a manuscript – and who want collaborative guidance on how to do it. An assisted publisher is an advocate who helps you determine the best choices for your book, providing honest feedback and other considerations. It’s an intimate process with a lot of back-and-forth on ideas and details. You retain control of the process and the book while relying on experts for quality work. This collaboration impacts your marketing efforts because the public sees that you’re more than a “one-man band” – your book cover and marketing materials show that you’re backed by a publishing company.

Cons: Engaging a project manager throughout the process makes this option more costly than self-publishing on your own. Also, an assisted publisher may share in book earnings, so be sure you’re comfortable with company policies. And while some assisted publishers have an audience, you’re still essentially a self-published author and not as likely to achieve the same reach as in traditional publishing.

Two Important Questions

As you consider your publishing options, it’s time for some self-reflection. Ask yourself these two questions:

▪ What are my short-term goals? That is, what do I want to happen within the first year that the book is published?

▪ What are my long-term goals? What do I envision for my book 10 years from now?

Now prioritize your list of goals to find out which you value most. For example, some authors value wide audiences and sales while others value a legacy they can pass to their children. Still others want to publish as inexpensively as possible. When you’re honest with yourself, your goals will point you to the type of publisher that is right for you.

Now that you have some clarity on the paths to publishing, you can take your next step with confidence. Choose your own adventure!

EllaElla Ritchie is the founder of Stellar Communications Houston, a business communications and book publishing team that brings clarity, quality, and integrity to nonfiction authors, business leaders, nonprofit organizations, and federal government agencies.  Connect with her on LinkedIn or Facebook, or check out the website for more information.