or traditional publishing?”

LifeLines is all about “helping you share your story,” whether you are a business trying to attract customers, a ministry trying to encourage donations, or an interesting person who wants to write her memoirs. Most of the queries I get from potential clients are related to the process involved in writing/editing/publishing books, since that is still the most widely understood method of sharing a story.

Since I get some of the same questions over and over, this series will share the most popular ones, as well as the answers. Today we’ll look at—

Considering self-publishing

“Self-publishing or traditional publishing…do I have to choose?”

“Also, if I self-publish my book, and then find an agent or even a possible publisher, would they consider the book already published and refuse to take me on?”

The short answer is, Not necessarily. Self-publishing and traditional publishing do not have to be mutually exclusive. In fact, I have used both options on the same book! (See my post about Bea Hoek’s story, Cancer Freedom: A Living Memoir.)

But here’s the longer, general answer that I typically send to people who are interested in being published:

The thing you have to remember is, a publisher’s primary interest is making money. So he will be interested in any projects that have the potential to make money. If your book sells well as a self-published book, that could demonstrate that it has money-making potential, so a publisher might be interested. On the other hand, if a publisher thinks that everyone interested in your book has already bought it through Lulu, he might not be interested.

When you (or your agent) approach a publisher, you’ll have to make a case for why your book is a good investment. After all, the publisher will be paying for all the printing and much of the marketing, and he wants to not only get that money back but also make a profit. So you’ll be asked to prepare a proposal that explains who the book is for, and how you know they want it, and what you’ll do to help sell it. Your self-publishing experience might help you prepare that proposal.

You could also post your book on a site like Scribd.com (for free) as a way to experiment with gathering feedback from readers. For example, you could post just Chapter 1, and have it end with a call to action like, “Interested in the next installment? Contact the author at….” with a link to your email address. That’s a way to do some market research that will help you as a writer—whether you decide to pursue a publisher or not.

It’s also possible to be published by a traditional publisher first, and then re-acquire the rights and self-publish it. That’s what LifeLines did with Cancer Freedom, which was originally published by Baker Book House under a different title. You can read the whole story here.

I know all of this information can be overwhelming, but don’t let it sap the joy out of the work you’ve already done! Share the story with the people you first wrote it for, and don’t worry about the rest for now. You can play around with it more later, after you’ve had a chance to enjoy it.

And if you decide you’d like some help with preparing your manuscript for publishing or self-publishing, let me know!

Tune in again next week as we explore the age-old question, “Eek! Why does it cost so much?

Other questions from clients:


“Can you help me get my book published?”

LifeLines is all about “helping you share your story,” whether you are a business trying to attract customers, a ministry trying to encourage donations, or an interesting person who wants to write her memoirs. Most of the queries I get from potential clients are related to the process involved in writing/editing/publishing books, since that is still the most widely understood method of sharing a story.

Since I get some of the same questions over and over, I thought I’d start a series highlighting them and then providing the answers. Let’s start with—

“Can you help me get my book published?”

getting publishedThe short answer is Yes, but I’ll give the long answer here, since it’s more helpful. Often the people who ask this question are sending me a manuscript, or at least a sample chapter, and they are asking me to review it and give my opinion. I’m usually willing to do this—although the time when someone sent me a 526-page PDF, I did not promise to read the whole thing!

My answer to the question varies a little bit, depending on what the manuscript is actually about, and how well it’s written, and how sincere the person is about wanting help (as opposed to just affirmation). But below is the general answer that pretty much applies to everyone:

Know your goal

The world of book publishing has changed a lot, and would-be authors have a lot more options available now than we used to. Social media, e-publishing, and print-on-demand all offer opportunities that were not available a decade ago. Ask yourself what your goal is, and your answer will help determine the route(s) you take with your story.

The prestige of traditional publishing

For example, is your goal to have your book accepted by a mainstream, “traditional” publisher? The benefits of that approach include (1) prestige, and (2) marketing muscle. In other words, if a traditional publisher picks up your book, they typically invest time and money into making sure it sells. (They may also require you to do some of the work, but they’ll have resources—like staff and networks—that can give you some leverage.) The disadvantages of using a traditional publisher are (1) you won’t make a lot of money, and (2) the copyright will belong to them, not you.

The freedom of blogging

On the other hand, if your goal is simply to share your story with the world, you can do that without a traditional publisher. You might, for example, want to start with a blog, which is a way to share your story without incurring any printing costs. Blogging works better for some types of books than others, but you might post a chapter or a short story or a lesson once a day or once a week. There are strategies you can learn to help your blog go viral, and you can gain input on your book while it’s being written! At some point, you could compile all your posts into a book and self-publish it or pitch it to traditional publishers.

The satisfaction of self-publishing

Most of the clients I’ve served are not interested in becoming rich and famous through their writing; they simply want to preserve their stories in book form, mainly for their families, so I help them self-publish. They send me their manuscript as a text file or Word doc, and they hire me to do the work of editor, fact-checker, and/or book designer. Once the final document earns their approval, I prepare the files for uploading to an online printing service like Lulu.com, which is the final step in turning their manuscript into hardcover or paperback books. Because Lulu.com is a print-on-demand printer, the client can print 1 or 12 or 75 copies at a time. And they can order more copies whenever they want, either through me or directly from Lulu.

How LifeLines can help

No matter which option you choose for sharing your story, LifeLines can help. Almost all manuscripts need at least a basic level of proofreading, and most would benefit from some editing. Whether you want to be published or self-published, a professionally edited manuscript will make your story more readable (and more marketable). You can view my “Manuscript services” page for information on different editing packages I offer.

If you are confident in your writing skills, and don’t need my editing services, LifeLines can still help with book design and layout. (The cost for that is listed as the “Beautiful Book” package on the “Need Writing Help?” page.) Some people want to handle design and layout themselves, and sites like Lulu.com offer plenty of help for first-time self-publishers. Others decide they’d rather not hassle with layout and PDFs and high-resolution images and Lulu accounts, so they hire me to take care of it.

If you want to be published by a traditional publisher, I can help you with query letters and proposals and that kind of thing, but I can’t guarantee you will in fact be published. If you want to explore the world of self-publishing, I can set you up on Lulu.com, help you format your story for different e-reading devices, and help you get the word out, using Facebook, Twitter, blogging, and LinkedIn.

After you’ve read all this and given it some thought, let me know if LifeLines can help you share your story!

Tune in next week as we explore the age-old question, “Self-publishing or traditional publishing—do I have to choose?

Other posts in this series:


Sharing your personal story

Most often when people hear that LifeLines is in the business of “helping you share your story,” their first thought is about the most traditional means of sharing a story—writing a book. While this is not the only way to share a story (for example, see “Sharing your business story“), it is an important one. I’ve worked with memoirists and autobiographers who have loved being able to capture their memories, experiences, photographs, and life lessons in tangible, printed pages they can give to their children and grandchildren.

4 reasons for sharing your personal story in a book

  1. The process of sorting through old documents and photographs can be personally meaningful.
  2. The process of writing helps clarify values—since you can’t include everything in a book (though some people try), you have to make choices, and those choices reveal what’s most important to you.
  3. Having an intended audience (usually your children) helps define the work.
  4. The completed volume serves as a historical reference for your family—the research has been done, the questions have been answered, the photos have been captioned, the blanks have been filled in, and everything is presented in a logical, attractive format.

3 samples of different types of books

  1. Memoir about a specific experience—Cancer Freedom
  2. Continuously revised memoir—Archer’s Arrows and Significant Grandfathers
  3. Autobiography—The Geertsema Chronicles

2 other ways of sharing your personal story

  1. Blogging. Even if you know you want to write a “real” book some day, blogging is a great place to start. You can get in the practice of writing every day, and you can choose to participate in the blogging community, where you’ll find support, encouragement, helpful criticism, and new ideas. Blogging can be as private as a personal diary or as public as a Facebook page—it’s up to you. If you need help setting up a WordPress blog, let me know, and we can work something out. That’s what John Klompmaker and Ann Schenkel did, and they are avid bloggers now! Both their blogs are a nice mix of personal story and business story.
  2. Planning your Memorial Folder. I have had several chances to work with Matthysse Kuiper DeGraaf Funeral Directors to create special keepsakes for families who want more than the standard-issue funeral bulletin for their loved one. It is truly an honor to serve families in this way, and perhaps it’s natural to wonder what stories your own family will be left with after you’re gone. The time to start planning for that is now, while your life story is still being written! As I’ve said before, this doesn’t have to be a morbid project. In fact, the more you talk about your life stories now, and the more you plan how you want to be remembered, the more prepared and less fearful you become.

1 heartfelt referral

In an online discussion with a LinkedIn Group I’m part of, I met a woman named Lettice Stuart. We discovered that we both offer similar services to people who want to document and share their personal stories. Lettice, however, offers a more customized final product—rather than creating files that can be uploaded to a printer and printed (or revised) as needed, she works with a graphic designer, printer and book binder to produce a defined number of custom-designed books. You can find out more about the process and the product at Lettice’s website, www.portraitsinwords.com.

Do you have a personal story you want to share with the world, or with your family? Which of these story-sharing options sounds most appealing to you? What one step will you take today to turn this dream into reality?

George Griffiths: the serial memoirist

George Griffiths keeps adding new information to his memoirs, each time he discovers a new piece of history in his family archives. The images above include a letter from Admiral Byrd, photos of George’s grandfather with Frances Perkins and Thomas Dewey, and golf tees and paper clips manufactured by his grandfather’s company. All of these have been added to George’s memoirs—Archer’s Arrows and Significant Grandfathers.

George first came to me with an antique-looking copy of a hardcover book that he had found among his grandfather’s belongings. Titled Arrows, it was a collection of his grandfather’s poetry, published in 1931 by J. J. Little & Ives Company in New York. (George’s grandfather, Judge William Archer, was something of a renaissance man.) His daughters gathered some of his best poems and somehow got them published and printed. They presented the hardcover volume to the Judge as a surprise gift for his 60th birthday.

When George found the old book, he wanted to not only re-publish the collection (the original publisher is no longer in existence), but also add other information—other poems from his grandfather, old family photos, and various artifacts of the family history.

So we got to work. I re-typed the original Arrows, and I scanned and placed the photos and documents George wanted to add. Soon we had a book of 112 pages that we re-titled Archer’s Arrows. We used Lulu.com to print 25 copies.

George loved them

He eagerly gave copies to his mother, his siblings, and other friends and family members. When his first print run was depleted, he printed more.

In the meantime, George kept finding new memorabilia he wanted to add to the book—a photo of the 1930 Safety Conference his grandfather attended, a 1913 certificate from the Industrial Commission of Ohio, photos of his grandfather with such notables as Frances Perkins and Thomas Dewey. (I’ve often wondered what George’s house must look like, because it’s amazing what historical treasures he “just happens” to come across that he didn’t even realize he had!) George kept finding things he wanted to add to his book, and we kept adding them. By its 9th revision, Archer’s Arrows was up to 216 pages!

Then George moved on to another project

He began writing a book which he titled Significant Grandfathers. Now, George is not a writer, but he had fun with this project, and it was very creative. He set the stories up as a series of conversations between his two grandfathers, and he used this narrative device to introduce a lot of little-known historical facts that would be of particular importance to his family.

But George knew he needed help to really bring his book to life, and that’s why he contacted me. He loved what I had done with Archer’s Arrows, and he wanted the same kind of wordsmithing and layout for his second book.

For example, here’s a page of text as George provided it to me…

Memoir page as provided
(Click to open a larger view of the page.)

…and here’s that same section as it now appears in his book:

Memoir page as edited
(Click to open 3-page PDF.)

It was a lot of work—researching, fact-checking, and confirming stories, in addition to extensive editing and layout. And because of George’s eagerness to keep adding, keep enhancing, keep revising, for a while it felt like the project would never actually be done.

But we did publish and print this new memoir, and it did go through a series of revisions and re-releases, just as Archer’s Arrows had. I think we’re up to version 7 or 8 now.

Tears of joy

George is fun to work for because he’s always so appreciative! In fact, the “George G” endorsement on my endorsement page comes from an email George sent me after the first version of Significant Grandfathers was completed: “I cannot tell you how wonderful I feel seeing this 40-year-old project coming to fruition. Thank you!”

He also forwarded me an email from his brother, to whom he had sent a copy of Archer’s Arrows. The brother wrote, “I’m overwrought with tears at your accomplishment. …I can’t stop crying.”

That’s why

In the end, that’s why people write memoirs: to capture their own memories, to organize them in a way that will speak to future generations, and to make an emotional connection among family members.

It’s an honor to be a part of that process.

How about you?

You too could be a serial memoirist! You can have your memories and stories printed in book form and not have to worry that it’s “perfect” the first time. Like George, you can add new information, new photos, new chapters anytime you want. I would recommend, however, that you put a date code on the title page of each version, so you’ll be able to tell what version you have if you happen to come across a copy later!

Why not start today? And let me know if I can help.

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