Self-publishing with Amazon

I am frequently asked about how I publish my books…specifically, who is my publisher. I’ve used Amazon’s Createspace for everything. My experience with it has been great. Would I like to sell more books? Sure, but apart from my facebook page and some half-hearted blogging, I rarely do much to self-promote. I think this is one component of self-publishing that many people aren’t prepared for. I think some people believe if you just throw something online it will sell. I can tell you from my experience, this is not true at all.

My book, “What I Want You To Know” was written specifically for new or expecting parents of a child with Down syndrome. I set up a kickstarter.com project to raise some money. When the book was complete, I used the funds to purchase a sizable number of copies, and pay the postage to send them out to loads of Down syndrome advocacy groups, clinics, and organizations about North America. I went on television a few times. I was reviewed by small magazines and a couple newspapers. I did public readings and book store signings. I created tiny ripples in the small pond of people who might actually be interested in my book.

This was really the only time I promoted a book I’d made. The rest just sit on an Amazon server somewhere, waiting for their number to be called.

Createspace publishing is all done POD, or “print on demand”. When someone orders a book of mine, the magic elves in South Carolina print and bind a copy, and ship off the order within about 24 hours. As someone who’s worked in publishing for 15 years, this is a beautiful technological feat. Here’s why it’s awesome: I don’t have to come up with $10k in advance and print a thousand copies I then haul around in my trunk for 3 years. I don’t have to invest a dime, and I don’t have to deal with inventory and shipping out orders. If I want copies for myself, I can buy them for a significantly reduced price per copy.

They let me pick the price. They direct deposit (30-day lag) all royalties each month. They give you virtual store you can create discount codes you can pass along to “fans”, allowing them to buy copies for cost or near-cost.

My books are also available throughout Europe.

What people gripe about mostly are the hardships of being an island. There’s no publisher to set-up a book tour for you. You have to navigate and figure this out yourself, and then be savvy enough to work it. Your book isn’t going to magically appear on New York’s bestseller lists, like I guess some people expect. Your book isn’t going to at Barnes & Noble because you call it your “new release”. Barnes & Noble and other (primarily) brick & mortar stores stick to what those major book publishers tell them too. I’ve found the only way to get into a brick & mortar store is to go there and meet the owner or manager. Give them physical copies of your book. Kind of a huge disadvantage for us unsigned authors. It really limits your distribution.  It’s like a band making their own CDs and selling them shows, as opposed to the major label artists’ CDs showing up at every retail store in the country. Then again, you obviously weren’t “discovered” and assigned an agent yet, which is why you’re considering this route to getting published in the first place.

If you’re someone who’s written their life’s novel, and you’re looking to making it available to the masses, you’ll also have to consider setting up the files and designing a cover. This can’t be underestimated, and I say if you’re going to even remotely have a shot at a book that sells, you need to spend some money. Find a good designer. Ask around. Don’t settle. Be fair on your price. Designers are generally a “get what you pay for” occupation. Give $50 to your best friend’s 16-year old daughter and I can almost guarantee it will suck. Look at other book covers in your genre. Let them inspire you. You really can often judge a book by it’s cover.

Also, Comic Sans will likely make your children’s book fail and 12-point Times New Roman will probably destroy the quality of your brilliant murder/mystery. Why? because they look unprofessional and low-brow to anyone with an eye for these things.

You’ll want friends to proofread it once you get a hard copy proof. Proofread the thing, set it down for a day or two, then proof again. I suggest asking friends (who are readers) to help you with this. Often times when we’re really involved in a project, a huge glaring error can get through because we have just looked at the project so many times, we quit “seeing” it after awhile.

Back to createspace.com. It’s really straight-forward to use. It walks you through every element. It will give you a free UPC code, which will also save you money. The caveat to this is that you can’t say “Published by Jim Smith Publishing, Akron, Michigan”. You have the option to pay to purchase the “imprint”, which is publishing talk for the little microtype copyright/publisher info that appears in the front pages of all books. That said, it might not matter much. Regardless if you purchase the imprint or not, you are the author/publisher, and retain all rights to the book. So say your amazing book is discovered by a huge publishing house who wants to republish/rework the rights, you can do that. You are under no obligation to keep your book available to Amazon. You still own it.

Since my books are all heavily illustrated, making them available on kindle doesn’t make sense, but it’s a free option here too. Again, don’t imagine you’ll be SEO, unless your topic is very specific and limited. Use tags. Write your author bio. Don’t skimp on the book synopsis.

There are several other POD book publishers these days. Initially I investigated a few, and found the info available on the message boards and through Amazon/createspace the most clear-cut and helpful. I’m sure you can discover their names with a quick google search of POD publishers, but since I’ve never used any others, I’d hate to steer you towards them. I found createspace first and have been very happy with the whole process. The final product is of high quality; I personally have never heard of issues with the quality of the book binding, paper, or printing. Since it’s 100% guaranteed, should any misprints occur, they will redo or refund.

It’s low risk, and low/no cost. I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to get their work published but has never been able to afford it.

If anyone has had a different sort of experience, I’d like to hear your story as well.

The Secrets of Raising A Child with Down Syndrome

10acd39f10f35b1c29170d4I surely don’t cast myself as speaking for all parents of child with Down syndrome or any other disability. But there’s some things about raising them that maybe not everyone knows.

It’s so much more expensive, it’s absurd.
When we dreamed about our new child, we never thought for a second that we would be changing diapers for 6 years. Most “mainstream” children in America are housebroken by age 3. Some much earlier, before their second birthday. So that $200 a month on diapers is no longer a financial burden for most. You’re tagged with it for another 4 years. Do the math please, I’m horrible at it.
Also consider the additional laundry, caused by the near-daily “accidents” that happen while at school or overnight.

Think you can throw your kid in any after-school program or the before-school daycare? Not so fast. Your kid requires a 1-on-1 attendant. That is gonna cost you. Finding an opening for a child who is “different” takes more than running down the list a google search yields. It takes calling people you know who can recommend a place, or person. If your child is non-verbal, (i.e., can’t tell you if someone is behaving badly), you can bet that you will want to pay for quality care when you can’t be home. Or…you can really be nuts, like we are, realize it’s easier to have a parent at home. My husband and I have alternated throughout the years. Truth is though, someone gets their career derailed for a while. The family income is reduced, and you are maybe just gettin’ by at times. Or worse.

Don’t even get me started on medical co-pays. (Oh wait, there’s government programs to help with those? See my next point “The extra time it takes.”) The additional medical bills probably vary greatly from family to family, but can devastate you. Once you fall behind, things have a way of snowballing pretty quick.

Through a community program, our daughter received a beautiful brand new bike last year. It’s adaptive, meaning the pedals, handlebars, seat, etc, are all set-up in such a way to make it easiest for her to master. Wonderful program. (Spin For Kids, in Grand Forks, North Dakota) The bike, cost nearly $900. I cringe a little when I see a flyer for Target with a “mainstream” kids’ bike for under $100.
And yet we are lucky. Our daughter’s additional therapeutic and medical expenses for devices are nothing compared to other families whose precious children face even greater challenges in life.

The extra time it takes
Hope you’re patient. All parents say/think this, right? Ohtheyhavenoidea. Want to plan a special activity? Better start telling them about it a couple days in advance. Our daughter loves to look at the calendar or a visual schedule. That’s because transitioning, (going from one activity to the next) is difficult. I repeat myself so often and have for so many years, I feel challenged carrying on conversations with other adults sometimes. I probably say the same instruction a minimum of 3 different ways to try to find one that resonates. I feign enthusiasm. I exaggerate urgency. I exude anticipation. I scream in my car.

Ever heard of an “I.E.P.”? If not, consider yourself lucky. I.E.P. stands for “Individualized Educational Plan”. Plan on taking time off work to attend these in addition to regular conferences at school. First of all, let me say that I think I.E.P.s are a good thing. No, a great thing.
People who went to school, have had experience, and often times a passion for helping kids with special needs have watched your child, listened to you, and have put together a plan of how to address the special individual challenges, and cause positive change. Many times I’ve been relieved that other people see the same things in her that I do, and saddened by the realization that needing this plan is necessary. You’ll sit in meetings with specialists, therapists, teachers, principals, advocates, social workers, paras, and learn a lot. Hopefully laugh a little. (Or a lot, if you retain your sense of humor). You will sign your name a hundred times. You were there. You know the plan. You are okay with using this plan. As a parent, you should know your rights, and stand-up if you see any shortcomings. We learned this firsthand while living in Montana, in a city that has policies to this day that violate the Americans with Disabilities Act. We fought, and won for our child, but nothing changed system-wide for any other kids.

More time is spent try to take advantage of programs that are supposed to help your situation; the county or state programs vary widely depending on where you live. The only common denominator I’ve found is that filling out the bullshit paperwork and interviewing and talking on the phone is a full time job for about 2 to 5 months each year. I’m not even exaggerating, based on our experience. You can’t go to your job and sit on the phone with human services for an hour and a half while you’re on the clock. Also, you’ll spend many evenings completing the paperwork. Oh, and hunting down social security numbers and birth certificates and past I.E.P.s and medical records and bills, and paycheck stubs, and tax returns, and list of contacts, references, and medical practitioners. Some of these will need a notary. Or certification of some sort. Have fun.

Finding a place to play, a playgroup, a family activity, all take longer because your options may be limited. We can’t take our daughter to a movie, for example, because it would not be something she’d tolerate. She can’t sit still for 2 hours, and the light/sound stimulation would prove overwhelming. We tried. It doesn’t work. It’s too expensive to keep trying, so we’ll wait until she shows us she’s ready in other ways. I’m totally okay with that! We’ll just have to stick to the things that do work for her. We’ll go to the pool clear across town. Or the playground 2 towns over. We’ll spend extra time finding whatever works for us.

You are thrown into the role of rabid advocate.
Suddenly you want to scream at people who want to cut special education funding. You are overjoyed and tell people whenever you hear about a spectacular feat by a person with disabilities in the news. You join facebook groups with other parents in the same, special club. You resist the urge to punch mouths that say something is “retarded”.

You’ll tell anyone who will listen about all the ways your child is the same. You’ll argue to lessen the differences.

You might lose friends over this. Balance, my friend.

The Milestones come so hard.
Walking, a year long wait. Riding a bike, 3 year wait. Using a toilet, a 4 year wait.
All those insignificant things that happen to “mainstream” kids at an appointed time become I.E.P. goals and therapy exercises for you. And yes, it is even sweeter and soul-affecting for us.

You’re not a superhero. You are just a person. A person who faces extra challenges. Your challenges pale in comparison to your child’s. Maybe you’re not supposed to be hung up on teaching them things. Maybe you should focus on learning things.