Taking a Private Story Public
Updated: Apr 24, 2021
or How Hundreds of Pages of Memories Became a Published Book
I never thought I would become a writer. At least, I had no plans to publish a book. But life isn't predictable, and sometimes you find yourself in situations you didn't anticipate.
That happened to me ten years ago. Well, actually, it happened to my entire family, but I was the one standing in the middle of the storm when it hit. It was the swirling tempest of mental illness, something that you cannot imagine unless you have lived it.
One day, I sat down at my laptop and began to let years of memories bleed onto the pages of Word. I was storytelling, but it felt more like describing the scenes from a movie playing inside my head. I never thought anyone would read what I wrote. As the number of pages grew, however, the urge to share became overwhelming.
So, I gave it to my best friend--my wife. She was a main character in the story, and she had lived through the same experience from a different perspective. It was hard for her; it was hard for us both. But she encouraged me to continue. Even if we were the only two who ever read it, she knew that reliving those memories was providing me with much needed healing.
After about a hundred pages, my wife suggested that I ask her college roommate to read it. This was great advice; her college roommate was one of the best writers we knew and had worked as both an author and an editor in the past. I also decided to share it with my brother. He had helped me through the difficult period that I was recounting.
Both of them encouraged me to continue. "Don't stop to edit anything," our friend said. "Don't worry if it's any good. Just keep pouring all these recollections into your manuscript." Her advice was encouraging, and it gave me license to continue slogging away. My brother's reaction was equally supportive. "Your story needs to be told," he said. "It's so powerful."
So every Saturday I would head to the back room of our house and sit, dog and computer on my lap, tapping out sentences. After about eighteen months I had written over 130,000 words. I had no idea if that was the right target, but the memories had stopped clawing their way out of my head. I went back and read the full text and wasn't sure if anyone would want to read it. But my wife was persuasive. "If our story can help even one person," she said, "shouldn't we try to get it out there?"
“Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book? It took me years to write, will you take a look?” -- the Beatles
I had no idea how to publish a book. Turning to Google, I researched the different ways available. I read about the big publishing houses and the independent press companies, and how most authors today are expected to market their own books through their "online audiences." Well, I didn't have an online audience, and my professional network consisted of business brokers, attorneys, and bankers. I had little chance of gaining attention in the world of publishing.
Then I discovered how much self-publishing has changed over the past decade. Books no longer needed to be produced in large numbers with huge up-front costs. In fact, many books weren't actually printed until after you ordered them online, and then they were made one copy at a time. This felt like a possible way forward. Plus, we wanted to control everything about our story, and self-publishing would allow us to do that.
But we needed our novel to be polished--to look and feel like a real publication. Through more research, I found several firms dedicated to helping independent writers. After a couple of conversations, I chose to engage a group called Girl Friday Productions. I liked the people; you could immediately sense the pride they took in helping to produce great books.
Soon, Girl Friday connected me with an incredible editor, and together we began to streamline and improve what I had written. I won't go into all the details, perhaps that will be another post, but the Girl Friday team has exceeded my expectations. I'm proud of our story, and I believe the book lives up to our experience.
I hope you'll read it, and, if you do, I hope you'll think about mental illness in a different way. Because Michelle Obama put it best when she addressed the Change Direction crowd in 2015: