My Self-Publishing (Miss)-Adventure

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wendy thorntonWhen I decided to publish my memoir, Dear Oprah: How I Beat Cancer and Learned to Love Daytime TV, I sent the manuscript to a few agents who expressed interest. But many of them said a book on cancer would be a tough sell. And even if the book got accepted by a publisher, it would literally be years before it came out. I felt I had something to say to other people with similar experiences, and I wanted the book out immediately. So I self-published on CreateSpace, a division of Amazon.

I didn’t feel it was necessary to be traditionally published because I was already published in literary magazines, journals, and books. Also I wanted to prove I could actually finish a longer piece and get it out there. I took the picture that became the cover, and using the templates from CreateSpace, I created a cover by myself. I formatted the book and uploaded it by myself. I didn’t even request the assistance of my long-suffering IT husband. Back then— way back there in 2013 (this is how fast publishing is changing)—CreateSpace didn’t offer a lot of paid assistance. You mostly had to do the work yourself. I also published a version of the book on Kindle, another division of Amazon.

My memoir was typically successful for a self-published book. In other words, I sold copies to friends and relatives, and after a while it began to sell in other places. Slowwwwwwwwly. The real benefit for me came from people who told me how much the book helped them deal with either their own cancer experiences or those of the people they cared for. After a couple of years, and a lot more publications in literary journals, I decided to self-publish a mystery I’d written. I thought it would be nice to put a book out that didn’t involve a major illness.

IBear Trapped Cover-to upload2 decided that, as I had done for Dear Oprah, I would create my own cover for my mystery, Bear Trapped: In a Trashy Hollywood Novel. I was at a poetry reading one night when I saw a gentleman who looked exactly like what I envisioned my main character would look like. Revving up my courage, I asked him if he’d be willing to be on the cover of my book, and even offered him a free copy. He looked at me like I was a stalker and said, “No thanks, not interested.” I was so embarrassed I made a vow never to ask a stranger to be on my cover again.

I decided I would use my husband as the main character, Bear Huff. At least I knew he’d agree to be my model. We picked a location in town that looked like Los Angeles, the book’s location. We took a bunch of pictures, and he turned the photos into a perfect cover. We used the CreateSpace blank template to upload our file. In the meantime, my husband reviewed the book for me and found 1 billion errors. I couldn’t believe it. I had vetted this book through multiple critique groups and somehow missed all kinds of problems. I decided I would fix the book while at a writing conference. Unfortunately, I got sick that weekend and never got a chance to make the corrections. Finally, in desperation, I just uploaded the book anyway and hoped that my readers wouldn’t be too disappointed.

Of course, later, I decided that was a terrible thing to do, and I went through and made all the corrections. While I was at it, I decided to add a little bit to the back cover. We didn’t change much, just added a few lines of description. We uploaded the corrected version of the book – no problem. We uploaded the cover – it got rejected.

According to CreateSpace, my book cover was outside the allowable lines. In other words, text would get cut off when it was printed. So, my husband Ken formatted the file again. And it got rejected. And he fixed it again. And it got rejected.

CoverThis time I got in touch with CreateSpace and told them I didn’t know what needed to be fixed. We fixed everything that looked like a problem. The very kind service person from Amazon explained that there were still problems with material too close to the edges. So we fixed it again. This went on for eight uploads. I should say here that CreateSpace requires at least 24 hours for approval of any book that is uploaded. Therefore, eight days went by. This is why this book was not for sale at WAG’s booth at the recent Kanapaha Festival on March 19-20.

I talked to multiple CreateSpace people over those eight days. They were all very kind and helpful, but the cover got rejected over and over again. I was so frustrated I actually accused them of trying to make me pay for CreateSpace services. To be fair, Create Space has multiple options for you to create a decent cover. They make it easy for you. But once you upload your book, don’t go back and fix it over and over again. Make sure you’re done before you put it out there.

Finally, I gave up. The image of Bear Trapped that I had in my mind went away. I went to Amazon and picked one of their templates, picked one of their photos, and uploaded the book. It’s not what I wanted at all. But it’s done. Most of us writers know that the biggest problem we have is with our own expectations. Nothing is ever, ever, ever good enough for us. There comes a point where you have to say, “This is sufficient. I’m going to put the book out there and stop agonizing over it. I am done.” Hooray! On to the next book.


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Wendy Thornton is a freelance writer, editor, and instructor who has been published in dozens of major literary magazines. Her memoir, Dear Oprah, was published in 2013, her mystery, Bear Trapped, in 2015. She was nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and has been Editor’s Pick on multiple times.