D J Kirkby has been asking for a linkage of blog posts describing life-changing moments as part of the run up to the publication of her new book Special Deliveries. It is now available as an ebook and promises a plethora of tales about pregnancy and birth. Written by a midwifery lecturer, what would you expect?
I have found it almost impossible to choose which life changing moment to write about. There are obvious moments, such as the birth of my children, or marriage, or moving house (which I have done 11 times in 15 years of marriage!). I could also hark back to stories in my book In the Shade of the Mulberry Tree – the loss of our passports was undoubtedly life-changing, as was the whole experience of moving to Zambia. I could even write about the decision to put the African experience down on paper, a decision that has dominated my life for much of the last six years.
Instead I decided to write about the event that has had and is having the biggest impact on my life today: publishing.
Last October I decided that I needed to kickstart my writing mojo and so took on the NaNoWriMo challenge. This is National Novel Writing Month, when competitors are encouraged to write 50,000 words in the month of November – an average of 1,666 words per day. Leaving aside the obvious criticisms (that this is about quantity not quality, that 50,000 words doesn’t constitute a book and – in my case – I wasn’t writing novel but memoir) I found this a great motivation. Week 1 was straightforward; Week 2 more difficult; and then I found myself floundering. What was I really writing about? How did all this fit together?
But what gnawed away at me most was my already complete book. Why was I worrying about writing all this whilst I had a ready-to-go book, simply unpublished? Why was I leaving that to one side? After years and years of hard work, why wasn’t I pushing to get it published?
The more I wrote about my second and third years in Zambia the more I realised that I had to get the first year published. The traditional route of getting an agent and then a publisher had the probability of taking a long time. I know that thousands of books are published every year and it is hard to break into the market. Websites everywhere tell you how impossible it is, with a light scattering of JK Rowling and EL James stories to inspire hope while the flame is spluttering at the stub end of the candle. But I know too that ‘officially published’ books are not necessarily the best-written books, and that a lot of unpublished books are worthy of publication.
I also know that there is a movement towards self-publication, particularly with the rise of ebooks and the internet market. Historically, many have been terrible books, with terrible publication. They have been used as a last resort, for the junk that agents and publishers dismiss. Whilst there have been a few gems, many are simply satisfying the need of the author (and possibly his or her family). The physical books have been of poor quality, the cover designs were a hotchpotch knocked up on Word and the writing was inadequately edited and proofed. No wonder they gave self-publication a bad name!
So, in the midst of a 50,000 word writing frenzy I made a decision: to self-publish my book. This was not taken lightly, as I was determined I wouldn’t fall into the traps I’ve mentioned. If I was going to self-publish then the book had to be as good as a professionally published novel. My book had to fit proudly on your bookshelf alongside all the other books.
And so began a process. I set myself a deadline of publishing before Easter, took advice and worked backwards to see what had to be done when. It was a surprisingly tight deadline! All of a sudden the NaNoWriMo challenge was not so important. Now the focus was a final edit of my manuscript, attention to the details of spelling and grammar, a review of the overall shape and content of my book. This quickly transformed into a shopping list of requirements: a book cover (thanks once again to designforwriters.com, who have produced the most marvellous cover design), further independent readers, deadlines for the paperback version, ditto the kindle version.
And why is this decision still so life-changing? Because I have loved the process. Every moment: even the stressful ones, even the times when I felt I was going to fail to reach my target date in March, even the moment when I discovered my daughter had added some typing to my draft Kindle version… The publishing process has been so much fun that I cannot wait to do it again. I have plans to publish some of my father’s poetry (he’s really quite good!) and perhaps some other short essays and commentary.
Best of all, five months on from my NaNoWriMo challenge, I have reinvigorated desire to complete Book Two. Back in November I forced myself to complete 30,000 words; now I want to re-shape, edit and craft it into a book worth reading. And publishing. What seemed like a failure is, perhaps, just a deferral of the success.
A life-changing moment? Yes. I will forever be a published author, I have found something that I love doing and I can look forward to more in the years to come.