Live life to the hilt

Backpacking with Greg, Great Smoky Mountains, 1976. The author is kneeling.

A few days ago, was my brother-in law Greg Blaesing’s birthday. Were he still alive, he would be 66 and just a few months shy of full retirement age. Unfortunately, he died nearly a decade ago of non-smoker’s lung cancer. The time between his diagnosis and death was swift, maybe a month or five weeks. It still shocks me to think of it.

He started dating my sister Marty when I was fifteen and became like an older brother to me. We were close for many years, then drifted apart as the miles separated us. But we each went through a serious and devestating job-loss during our forties and those experiences drew us close once again. My own religious faith helped me through my unemployment and Greg returned to his own faith for strength through his. That same faith sustained him when he received his diagnosis of stage four cancer and faced the end of his life.

I was with him the last night of his life, though neither of us knew it then. Greg was at home in hospice care and my sister and niece were looking after him around-the-clock. I had flown out to see him just the day before and offered to spell my sister. She gladly accepted the help.

We sat up late that night. As we talked and prayed together we shared about life, about faith and about how to approach death. He told me he was not afraid to die. He spoke with gratitude about a trip to France that he and my sister had taken just the year before. He loved that trip, which now appeared might be their last. He didn’t talk about regrets, but I knew he wished he could take more trips like that with her.

We talked until after midnight, and then fatigue overcame him and he fell asleep. I didn’t know then that we’d had our last conversation. Six hours later, in what appeared to be a deep sleep, he breathed his last.

Greg is not the only person I’ve known over the years whose death was untimely. Even those who live longer might spend the last years of their life suffering from a disabling illness that overtakes them. My own father was one of those people—he developed various medical issues shortly after taking early retirement at age 64, culminating in a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, which he suffered from until his death at age 80. He might have said that he didn’t spend his retirement years in the ways he had planned.

These things were on my mind when I decided that I wanted to approach the last decades of my life in a different way. I wasn’t going to put anything off to some imagined retirement age; I may never get there. So I took a step that some thought crazy and left my job in early 2018, shortly before my 61st birthday. I decided to take a year off. I told people I was “downshifting,” or deliberately slowing the pace of my life. I was not retiring, but recalibrating. I am fortunate that my wife graciously agreed to it.

I had dreamed of walking the Camino de Santiago—an ancient pilgrim path in northern Spain—for nearly two decades. I decided that during this year off I was going to do it—all 500 miles on foot, solo if necessary, and carrying my backpack the entire way. At the end of March, I left for Spain and in early May, joined by my wife, walked into Santiago de Compostela. Five weeks, five hundred miles. It was exhilarating and transformative. My life slowed to the pace of walking. I had lots of time for solitude. I was outside for hours every day, meeting fascinating people and walking through gorgeous scenery and ancient history.

I went on the Camino solely for the experience, but after coming home, felt the urge to tell others about it. The result—to my surprise—was a book, finally published this year, The Walk of a Lifetime: 500 Miles On The Camino de Santiago.

The idea of writing the book came to me partly because I had decided that one thing I wanted to do (besides writing) was to help others write and publish books. I self-published my own book and the experience, besides being lots of fun and hard work, became a model. Even though I’d worked as a book publisher for decades, I had never gotten down into all the details like I did when I worked on my own book. It was nearly as fun and transformative as the pilgrimage had been. I even did my own interior design and layout.

Now I’m working full-time, promoting my book and cultivating my new business. More than once per week I meet someone who tells me that they “have a book inside of them” and need help figuring out how to write and publish it. I’m helping people find their “voice” and articulate themselves.

I’m working to keep the pace of my life slow and to avoid the inner sickness that comes with always being in a hurry. I have dreams and hopes for new adventures in the future. I want to do more long-distance walks. I now have enough time that I’m available to friends and family, and I’ve found work that I want to continue doing for the rest of my life. I have met quite a few people in my life who, well into their 80’s, continued work that was so fulfilling that they never wanted to stop. They had found their calling, their “vocation” in life. How could they ever “retire”?

Looking forward to the next decades, I tell people that what I’ve chosen is to live a life that is “inspired” and what I’m doing now is to share that inspiration with others. From that work, that calling, I derive great satisfaction. And I’ll never retire.

“…life begins new again every day—and we must be up to it. Then, unless we foreclose on life ourselves, unless we refuse to live to the hilt every day, we are new again, too.”  

Joan Chittister, The Gift of Years.

How I used crowdsourcing to become a self-published author

I never thought I would write a book, even though I have published books for well over a hundred authors in recent decades.

I have always loved writing and decided when I left my job as Publisher and Executive Director of MennoMedia in early 2018 that I would semi-vocationally write articles and shorter pieces on topics that interested me. I was not interested in authoring books, which would require pinning myself down to a single idea or topic for much too long of a time. I had known authors that had wrestled with a book for years and wasn’t sure I would want to do that.

When I left my work, I had decided to take a year off and, to fulfill a dream I’d had for decades, went to Spain for six weeks to walk 500 miles on the ancient pilgrimage route, the Camino de Santiago, from the Pyrenees mountains in France to Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain. I was going to walk it for the experience alone, and it was indeed one of the most amazing of my life. Writing a book about it was not part of the plan.

When I was in Spain I had written letters, email and messages home to my family and friends I wrote about my experiences and posted photos on Facebook, and heard from many that they were closely following me and loved hearing what I wrote. It was gratifying, but I thought that was all I was going to do.

So, I was surprised after returning home from six weeks in Spain, walking the Camino de Santiago that the idea of a book came to me.

The idea to write a book dawned on me during a bike ride, a few weeks after my return. I was developing a plan to start my own self-publishing service and the thought came that I should begin by self-publishing my own book. It was that simple. I was also pretty enthusiastic about my experience and recalled how my own desire to walk Camino de Santiago itself had been fueled by a book. I wanted to provide similar inspiration myself, which I would later call the “why” of my book.

My first step was gathering up everything I’d written home, emails, letters and WhatsApp messages, alongside my pocket journal. Included were many anecdotes that I had recorded and had shared with others. In the process of collating them—and simultaneously reflecting inwardly on my experiences—I developed an outline of about ten chapters on topics that jumped out at me. I began imagining something that was about 20,000 words in length—that’s a book of less than 100 pages—that I could simply write and get out in a few months. I had also taken over 2,000 photos and I wanted to share them in a book, as well.

My second step, simultaneously, was to read books about the Camino. I had a total of six to compare, and I noted that they were of three general types: 

  • simple chronological, personal narratives;
  • chronological narratives sprinkled with themes, supported by anecdotes; 
  • general themes, sprinkled with anecdotes and experiences, but not necessarily chronological

(There is even another book that doesn’t fit any of the above, a book so scattered in its structure that I have never been able to get into it)

My third step was to think about who my audience(s) were. What were the ages and demographics? Was there more than one audience?

Then before I could get much further, I set the whole project aside.

When I came back to it five months later, I was unsure how to proceed. To regain my momentum, I decided to take a “crowdsourcing” approach to my writing.

Deciding that I needed to zero-in on a structure, style and audience, I began to use informal networks of friends, former colleagues and other contacts to help me figure out my final product. Some of the contact was direct and personal, either face-to-face, or by email or phone, but a good part of was also done via social media, which, besides Facebook, included some online forums about the Camino de Santiago. 

As I wrote and developed the manuscript, I sought out groups of readers via these personal networks. Overall, I had over fifteen readers who read my writing at its various stages, starting with the first drafts of the earliest chapters, and they represented my broader audiences.

Crowdsourcing helped me hone my structure (which in the end is a rough chronology, focusing on themes) my content (a narrative, sprinkled with dozens of stories and anecdotes) and my audiences, (of which are two: people over 55 who are seeking again adventure in life, and people of any age who want to, or who already have, walked the Camino.) 

It was my readers who helped me to decide to create a rough narrative that takes the reader along all 500 miles of my walk—a journey is a story and a story is a journey. Readers told me they especially related to the narrative style. Looking back through my notes and journals, I selected anecdotes to go with certain themes, then placed these in narrative fashion along the Camino road, when and where the accompanying stories happened. 

The readers told me what in the narrative was working, where detail was lacking (or was too much) and which kinds of stories they appreciated. Some who had walked the Camino told me the kinds of things that I needed to be sure to include. This all helped me achieve a good balance and blend of personal experience, community, culture and history.

My first chapters are filled with the daily detail–which readers told me they wanted–while later ones dealt more with inner themes and lessons learned. My readers helped me know which themes were most important and helped me to know where to fit them into the journey.

The final product was much like an assembled puzzle, with each part carefully positioned, and which, at 50,000 words ended up being more than two a half times longer than my original concept.

For the final draft, I also worked with two editors, and I combined their grammatical and prosaic expertise with the feedback of readers. My last group of readers got a chance to read the entire manuscript and were most helpful in telling me whether or not the book hung together as a whole.

When it came to the final title and cover designs, I also tested these with the “crowd.” For my title I chose key words which I found best expressed the content and created the most interest with my audience. As a publisher I also knew that they would be helpful for google searches, but my “crowd” indicated that they gravitated immediately to the title and helped confirm my choice.

For the cover, over 50 people gave input on a set of about six mockups which I displayed on Facebook, voting for their favorites. I was especially thankful for the input of a few who were designers which, ironically, led to me in a different cover concept entirely, minimizing the image in favor of a textual emphasis. I used two design professionals to help me with the final cover.

While many think that self-published books are not as good as those done by a publishing company, I felt in the end that crowdsourcing helped compensate for my lack of an external editor and publisher who typically help develop an author’s work. The result is a book that I am pleased to hear inspires and engages readers and which I think stands out among similarly self-published works and which, above all else, was fun to write.

Two last thoughts about crowdsourcing:

First, this concept can be applied across a wide spectrum of creative processes, not just writing. It employs, in fact, a number of similar concepts to another process I learned over 25 years ago, something called “Stratgic Design,” which itself utilizes gathering stakeholders and markets in a feedback loop to help designers.

Secondly, always be sure that you don’t “use” your crowd. Social Media works best when those involved don’t feel they are being manipulated. Always be sure that people know what you are asking them, and what they are getting in return. Don’t leave room for misunderstanding. It will build trust and further community, vital for any artist or writer’s future.

I’m not in a hurry

Having the freedom of six weeks to walk 500 miles the Camino de Santiago was a gift and a privilege, an opportunity to re-set the habits and priorities in my life. One of those priorities was to slow down, to not be in such a hurry.

I had been aware for more than a decade that I suffered from something called “hurry sickness” which I had read defined as, “… a continuous struggle and unremitting attempt to accomplish or achieve more and more things or participate in more and more events in less and less time, frequently in the face of opposition, real or imagined, from other persons.”[1] I spent a lot of time rushing: chafing at long lines at checkout counters, finishing my wife’s sentences for her, impatiently checking my watch in meetings. The list could go on.

Walking on the Camino was going to be different—I had no schedule other than to get up in the morning and walk. I was going to unwind my life, but not without effort. The first few mornings of my pilgrimage the quiet rustling of my neighbors around 6:00 was my signal to wake up and get going. I felt a strange internal pressure to hurry, as if we were all in a competition or a race. I don’t know where it came from, or why I thought it, but there it was; it was not rational.

That’s when I said to myself, “I’m not in a hurry,” and began to relax. That statement became my mantra: I said it not only first thing in the morning, I said it to myself as I sat in cafés mid-morning, savoring a café con leche; I said it to myself as I paused to take a photo, sometimes from several angles, wondering if I was taking too long. I said it to myself as I walked long stretches of the road and younger, faster groups of pilgrims bore down on me from behind. I had to say it to myself if I sat on the side of the trail for 15 minutes, just to rest my feet. Don’t be silly—this is not a race, I said to myself, again and again. Yet the urge to hurry, the belief that time is a scarce commodity, was very deeply rooted. 

It came to me eventually that a better way to think of it was “cultivating slowness,” taking a more deliberate and thoughtful approach to each moment of life. But learning a new habit was not going to be easy; it had taken me a lifetime to develop the old one. To change was going to require a conspicuous effort. One way was to see each pilgrim as a brother or sister when I came alongside them on the path, greeting them with “Buen camino, hermano,” and striking up conversations, even if it meant slowing my pace.

On my 15th day of walking, one of those opportunities presented itself. Around mid-morning I was trekking across a particularly featureless part of the Camino: a flat, straight gravel path that ran alongside the highway for at least five kilometers. The day had started out with light rain and the sky was gray. It was April 13th, the anniversary of my mother’s death in 2007. She had died rather unpredictably from colon cancer—just six months from diagnosis to death. I was reflecting on her life and her sudden passing as I overtook another pilgrim, Frank.

I’d seen Frank quite a few times ever since I’d left Pamplona, on my fourth day of walking. He was around 50 years old, and had a large pack with a distinctive orange cover. We’d stayed in the same albergues various times over the previous two weeks—we both liked the donativos. I discovered that he was from Germany and he enjoyed the fact that I knew a bit of German, smiling when I greeted him in the morning with “Hast du gut geschlafen?” I knew that he had walked a long way already: he was from Frankfurt and had set out on foot from there. By the time he had reached St.-Jean at the base of the Pyrenees, the starting place for most of us, he had already covered 1,000 kilometers.

We were both on our way to Carrion de los Condes and were about a kilometer from the tiny village of Población de Campos. I was walking faster than he was. Typically, I would walk alongside and say, “Buen camino, hermano,” and continue on my way.

But that day I felt an urge to linger with him—one of those inner “signs” I was trying to pay attention to—and after my greeting, struck up a conversation. He told me had left his home about three months earlier to walk all the way to Santiago. His pack was so large because he was carrying a tent and winter clothing. This is a genuine pilgrim, I thought to myself. I asked him why he was walking the Camino. What he said next surprised me. 

Three years earlier he had been diagnosed with colon cancer and had gone through chemo. “It was awful, but I went into remission.” He had tried to walk part of the Camino right after it but felt sick and after a week he’d quit. Then just the previous December the cancer came back and the doctor told him he had maybe only a year to live. “He said I should try chemo again, to prolong my life,” but he remembered how much he hated it and refused. Instead, he decided to try to walk to Santiago de Compostela again, and ask God what he should do.

Just then he pulled out his driver’s license and showed me his photo, pointing out how much rounder his face had been a few years earlier, when it was taken. “I’ve lost 40 kilos.”

I was silent for a moment, taking in what he had just said to me. After a few moments, I told him about my mother and how she had died eleven years ago that very day. I told him about how I’d been with her when she’d been undergoing chemo and that because of her I knew how awful both the cancer and the treatment were. We talked more and he told me about his hopes and fears for the future; he told me about his daughter, a nurse, back in Germany. He missed her.

I thought to myself, this encounter is not a coincidence.

We walked together in silence for a bit longer and then he asked me if he could borrow a euro for a cup of coffee. This was not a difficult request, but I replied, “How about if I buy you a cup in the next village?” Within minutes, we came into Población and stopped in a café, where I bought him a café con Leche. As we drank it, he explained that he was on a monthly disability allowance and that his money would not come through for two more days; could I lend him a few euros more? He hadn’t eaten yet that day and I realized then that he must be penniless. I also understood why he tried to stay at the donativos. “No problem,” I said as I handed him €20. I paused before I put away my wallet, then handed him €20 more, saying, “I decided a week ago that I would always accept whatever I was given on the Camino, and I’ve been given to generously. I also wish to give likewise. I don’t need to have this back.” He thanked me, insisting he would repay.  After a while the conversation slowed down. I knew he felt a bit self-conscious—maybe even embarrassed—so I got up, grabbed my pack and poles, saying, “Buen camino, hermano.”

I saw him repeatedly over the next days, until we reached Leon, where I finally lost track of him. He continued to thank me for the cash, and though he said he would repay me, I was secretly glad he didn’t. Having been able to share freely with him felt like a privilege—worth far more than the cost.

This experience was one of the most important I had on my pilgrimage. I heard the inner-prompting to stop and talk with Frank only because I had deliberately slowed down enough to hear the “inner signs” that are as important on the Camino as the physical signs.

As a daily reminder of this I now have a note stuck to the door of my refrigerator that I see first thing every morning. It says, I’m not in a hurry.

This is adapted from the chapter, “I’m Not in a Hurry” from my book about the Camino de Santiago, The Walk of a Lifetime.

[1] John Ortberg

What I learned from Walking the Camino de Santiago

In May of 2018 I finished walking the 500-mile Camino Frances. it took me five weeks to walk, but I was gone from home for a total of six weeks. It was the longest I had been away from my home and family since I had gotten married, nearly 38 years earlier. As the title of my book states, it was “the walk of a lifetime.”

I gave a presentation this past week on the Camino, and signed copies of my book. As is often the case, I was asked, “what did you learn from your pilgrimage?” My book is full of what I learned–writing is a good way to process such an experience–but the question got me thinking about how to put the lessons into a nutshell. In writing my books, I have intentionally taken a great deal of time in the past year to reflect on the experience and it deepens the farther it recedes into the past. Putting it into a few words is hard, but just today I came across something I had written just a few months after returning [now over a year ago] when the experience was freshest in my mind. It’s a pretty succinct statement and it came in a free-form sort of list, which I thought it said it well:

I learned that I love to step out into the fresh, cold morning air, strap on my pack and head west with the sun coming up behind me, a long shadow forming a guide down the center of the road in front of me.

I learned that I love the early morning solitude of the trail, where my head is clear and my senses sharp and I have no more cares than where I might stop later for coffee.

I learned that I could walk alone and like it.

I learned that I could meet new people and strike up conversations, with no effort.

I learned to listen for God in the smallest and least-expected of ways.

I learned that the red earth of La Rioja is beautiful in the month of April.

I learned that I could carry all I really needed in life in a 38-liter backpack that weighed only 16 pounds.

I learned that I could easily go to sleep in a room full of people, some of whom were strangers, but most of whom were strangers no longer.

I learned that to receive can be harder than to give.

I learned that when you have companions to share the road, you will really lack for nothing.

I learned that when the road ahead that day is long, you can really only focus on the next kilometer.

I learned that to wake up in the morning in a new place and to greet the day by saying, “it’s a great day to be alive,” is good for the soul.

I learned that I could walk 31 kilometers in a day and it didn’t kill me.

I learned the joy of meeting companions in unexpected places and unexpected times.

I learned that a person is only as rich as what they can afford to leave alone–which is why it’s good to have a small backpack. [that’s a paraphrase from Henry Thoreau]

I learned that in the long periods of solitude I could pray and sense the presence of God in my life.

Of course I learned much more–about the community of pilgrims, about the beauty of Spain, about the spirituality of a pilgrimage, about the simplicity of a clothesline and clothespins and a simple hot shower–there is so much that it’s hard to stop. But that’s why I wrote my book, to make the experience more than just something in the past, something that lives on and informs my present and my future.

A pilgrimage changes a person and we have a responsibility once we experience that change, to live it and to share it. That’s much of what my life is about now, and it is as fulfilling as the pilgrimage was itself. As a wise hospitalero said to us one evening, “Once you walk the Camino, you will walk it every day for the rest of your life.”

Trekking in Sandals

Last year I walked the Camino Frances, 500 miles (800 kilometers) in a pair of hiking shoes. Or, I should say, in a couple of pairs, since my Keenes gave out halfway and were replaced by a pair of Columbias. I walked it in early spring (late March to early May) and it was occasionally muddy from St.-Jean to about Carrion de los Condes. Not the entire way, but enough that I was glad to be wearing shoes. Lots of people walking create lots of deep mud… I also walked through at least one snow/rain storm. I carried along a pair of Birkenstocks (no backstrap) for the evenings, though I would have preferred to have taken my Chacos along. But my pair of Chacos weigh nearly a kilo and the Birkenstocks were half that, so the Birkenstocks made the journey.

I have feet that are nearly flat and I have had problems in the past with Plantar Fasciitis. The flat feet also exacerbated problems with my knees. I averaged 25 kilometers per day on the Camino and each evening my feet were sore. It felt good to put them up. Still, I wondered what it would have been like to have been wearing my Chacos when the weather suited? Now I know.

Chacos have a triple arch support, which includes the main arch and the metatarsal arch. A podiatrist told me that they were the best thing for hiking in general, but particularly for someone with flat, or nearly flat feet.

My wife and I just completed 150+ kilometers on the Via di Francesco in Italy, eight days, from Rieti to Assisi and I walked nearly the entire way in my Chacos, as did my wife. What a difference they make! No more sore feet. Except for a couple of points crossing some mountain passes, where I put on my shoes, they were perfectly suitable. This path has been a mixture of blacktop and dirt road. The weather has been warm (20 plus Celsius or 70 plus Fahrenheit) and no rain. I feel like I’m walking on a cloud. I’m even carrying a pack that’s slightly heavier than what I carried on the Camino (8 kilos compared to 6.) There is the occasional nuisance of small pebbles getting caught under my foot, which means stopping to get it out, but otherwise I find it preferable. There were even some people walking by in high-top hiking shoes who were shocked when they saw us. But I’m glad to say that there were no injuries. And when you descend, your toes do not push against the tip of the shoe, a great benefit.

One more benefit: fewer blisters, since there are fewer contact points with your feet, than with shoes/boots.

Walking in sandals can dry out your feet, so use lotion at night to help moisten them.

If you are considering a long walk on the Camino de Santiago, or the Via di Francesco, or anywhere in warmer weather, I highly recommend Chacos, or something similar. My feet are very thankful.

(Full disclosure: this is NOT an advertisement for Chacos, or any other brand. I’m not paid by them. Just happens to be the brand I’m wearing and I’m sure pilgrims can also find something else suitable.)

And lastly, if you are interested in reading about my own walk on the Camino de Santiago, you can read about my book here.

Why self-publish a book? (part 2)

There’s a lot to be said for publishers of any kind. The word “publishing” literally means to “make public”. We tend to think of it as something printed, but that’s not the actual definition of the word. In the ancient world, it was an oral message. In our time it can include something published online that never appears on paper. The basic job of a publisher is to get a message to the broader public and a good publisher develops a reputation with its audience over time and works to keep a good reputation. Magazines, newspapers and online outlets all have publishers.

Trade Book publishers–i.e., those that sell retail–have a lot to offer an author. First and foremost, they provide credibility. They “vet” authors and give them a stamp of approval. A known and respected publisher has selected authors and books that fit its niche, its particular audience. (And this does not just include books, but also magazines, newspaper and online versions of the same.) Besides credibility, publishers provide expertise in editing, proofing, design, printing, marketing, promotion and distribution. If you as an author are accepted by a publisher, then you have all those services at your disposal. And the finished product can be outstanding. This is what I spent years doing, and I loved it.

But what if you aren’t accepted by a publisher, what can you do? This is common and something that I experienced quite often in my career–telling an author that we were not going to work with them. There are lots of reasons why an author might be rejected, but most frequently it is because of the lack of sales potential. I used to reckon that as a trade publisher a book had to sell at least 2,500 copies to break even and that number may have been low. Many times I spoke to writers that I thought had a good idea for a book, but the sales potential just wasn’t there. My advice was for them to go looking for another publisher, or to self-publish. Many abandoned their idea altogether, but some chose the latter.

Finding a self-publishing service can be a daunting task and the cost–anywhere from $1,500 to $10,000 is equally daunting. Where do you start and whom can you trust? The array of choices itself can be difficult to navigate. Even if you choose a service and lay out all that cash for a finished book, you still have to figure out how to market and promote. That’s still more daunting! What if you only want to print or sell a few hundred books? Who can show an author where to turn? Helping writers authors with those questions is behind my idea for forming The Walker Press. I wanted to fill the gap between traditional book publishing and the maze of self-publishing choices.

Similar to what is sometimes called “hybrid publishing,” the model I’m offering is a service guiding authors, explaining the process, a personal, cafeteria-style service in which authors can choose the amount of help they need and can do as much–or little–as they want. I’ll help you figure out what you need and offer as little or as much support as you need.

An additional service I offer to authors is to help them get a book into print, at minimal cost and risk. Print-on-demand technology, or POD, alongside the eBook, has made a huge difference in the ability of authors to self-publish books. I am a huge fan of the physical, printed book, so I especially want to help someone create a physical book. In the past, “vanity publishers,” as self-publishing services were called, would produce printed books for an author as the final part of their service. Authors might find themselves in possession of a few thousand books, with no idea how to sell them. They might sit in the basement until they end up being pulped. With POD, services such as Kindle Direct Publishing (used to be called Create Space, on Amazon) only print books as they are sold. Same with Ingram Spark, a POD service provided by the world’s largest book wholesaler, Ingram. With the digital files for a book in these two channels, an author can provide their book to most of the world, at a low-cost and almost no risk. This is what I did with my book.

My goal is to help budding or experienced authors put their dream in between the covers of a book, always the favorite part of my old job. Get in touch if you are interested.

Why self-publish a book? (Part 1)

Why did I self-publish my book? I get asked this a lot and it’s a good question. Here are some of the reasons:

  1. Working with a traditional publisher would have taken a lot longer to get my book into print. I thought about going this route last year, but I knew that to get my book accepted I would have to first write an engaging book proposal, then send over a draft of writing, sample chapters, a table of contents, etc… If I worked with an agent that might have improved my chances, but then I would have needed to find the right agent. And an agent would have to accept me, too. Even if I got accepted by a publisher (and I was expecting lots of rejections; trust me, I used to be a publisher) I knew that it might take months to get to work with a good editor (which was what I wanted most.) All this would take time and I would be at the mercy of the publisher’s schedule. I finished my book at the end of July and it probably would have been slotted into a 2020 or 2021 release date. I wanted something out in late 2019.
  2. I wanted to see how much I could earn via the self-publishing route. A traditional publisher take on a lot of risk–they incur cost of editorial, design and marketing, though I would be expected to do my own promotion as well. If the publisher and I market and promote well, the book would have a chance of decent sales, but no telling how much they might be. One thousand copies? Two thousand? I doubt I would see any significant revenue from the sales. (Again, trust me, I used to be a publisher. Most books don’t break even.) Self-publish means that I take on the risk and cost, but also get all of the profits. My goal is to sell 1,000 copies in the first 12 months and I think I will break even at sales of between 400 and 500.
  3. The main reason by far is that I am starting a self-publishing service, called The Walker Press and I thought that the best way to start this venture was to write and self-publish my own book. All the cost and risk are on me and so are the headaches, but I have enjoyed every step of this creative process. To make a better product, I have worked with some professional editors and designers. That has increased the cost, but improved the quality. And I’m learning as I go! I also got to do my own interior design and layout, something I’ve always wanted to do and which I found fun. My book is currently available in both print and eBook formats on Amazon, Ingram Spark and Barnes and Noble.
  4. I have absolutely nothing against traditional trade book publishers; I used to be one and I loved my job! However, I am hoping to discover a cost-effective niche for people who want to publish a book, but have been either turned down by a traditional publisher or who have a smaller target audience. If you are interested in learning more about what I do, get in touch with me.

I will share about my experiences and what I’m learning, as I go. Next weekI will write more about the options for self-publishing that are out there.