How I Became an Indie Author (and Made My Peace with E-readers) Part I

If you had told me five years ago that I was going to be an indie author I would have said you were crazy. In fact, I don’t think I even knew the term indie author. I had heard of self-published authors (an industry previously referred to rather unattractively as vanity press), and I knew it was expensive. I was a stay at home mom from a single income family. We certainly didn’t have several thousand dollars to publish a book. So early on in my life I put the idea of becoming a self-published author out of my head. I decided that the merits of my work would speak for themselves and somewhere out there was a publisher who would be willing to give me a chance. I had finished a family advent devotional as gift to my mother and it took me two years to even try querying it with publishers. No luck. I continued to try on and off for several years, still no interest. One publisher was kind enough to refer me to their self-publishing division, but I knew I didn’t have the money it would require to get going so I didn’t follow it up. Then something happened. My husband wrote his first novel. At the same time I had been slaving away at my own novel between working, pregnancy, delivering, breastfeeding and otherwise caring for our new daughter full time. I hadn’t made much progress.

Suddenly this man that I loved and admired who, while very talented, hadn’t written much since high school was 50,000 words towards finishing his first novel. After a period of deep depression, he wanted to do something new, take a risk, so he decided to attempt National Novel Writing Month. He set daily writing goals, designed a tracking spreadsheet, created an outline and on November 1, 2010 off he went and at the end of the month he had an amazing 50,000 manuscript that was only half finished. This full edited and revised manuscript was just published in e-book format just a few months ago, nearly two years later. During the whole process I tried to be encouraging, but provide realistic assessment. He might have to spend a long time querying publishers and putting together proposals. He might need an agent. But I was sure he could do it if he worked hard enough at it. But when the time came to start looking at publishers, he shocked me. He wasn’t even going to attempt traditional publishing. He had decided to indie publish his book for e-reader.

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I didn’t understand. Why not at least attempt getting the interest of a regular publisher? He realized that his odds weren’t good and he had done his research well. As a new author who wasn’t already a celebrity he wasn’t likely to get a ton of marketing help from a major publisher, even if they agreed to publish his book. They would set the price and control most of the details like cover and format. The royalty percentages offered would likely be abysmal. Then he told me about Amazon.com and Smashwords. I thought it was a long shot. But indie publishing was a new trend and e-books were a prospering new niche of the literary industry. He wanted to be part of it.

As a life long bibliophile, I still deeply resented e-readers, especially Kindles, which I initially felt were snobby with their proprietary format and lack of lending abilities. I liked the feel of the book in my hand and the idea that this copy was mine. Part of me feared that e-readers were just another gadget that would ultimately lead to people doing less reading just spending more in front of yet another screen. The idea of paying for access to a document just didn’t feel the same. My husband tried to encourage me that my book might also do well if I indie published. But I said that while I was open to using an e-reader format eventually, I wouldn’t publish until I could get a paperback copy to hold in my hand.

Enter Createspace.comlogo-csp-no-tm

 

To be continued tomorrow in Part II

For a Limited Time: Get As We Wait for Only $.99

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If you didn’t get to celebrate Advent the way you would have liked this year, or you are looking for a good deal on a new devotional for next year, now is your chance. Until January 1, As We Wait: A Family Advent Devotional will be available for just $.99 on Kindle and $4.99 in paperback from Createspace.

Miracles: A Balanced View on Supernatural Healing

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I should start this review by saying that I believe in miracles. In fact, I always have. Even when people I loved died after I prayed for them to be healed. Even when the situations I prayed would change remained the same. I still never hesitate to ask God to make a difference in situations ranging from desperate to ordinary. This is part of the charismatic tradition in which I was raised (somewhat different from the Pentecostal tradition the author references throughout the book) and something that is still part of my faith.

I expected this book to be either written by an ardent Pentecostal promoting the reality of miracles or a cynical cessationist (someone who believes that all supernatural gifts of the spirit such as prophecy, tongues and miracles no longer occur) looking to disprove and explain away miraculous events. I was pleasantly surprised to find it to be neither.

Instead this is a candid look at miracles by someone who was brought up to believe in them in theory but not in practice. He believes in praying for miracles but isn’t part of a church tradition where it is made into much of a production. Stafford discusses the problems but also the freedom of demystifying miracles and healings. When our bodies heal themselves it is a wonderful, amazing event, and yet it is a function we take for granted. But he also acknowledges real experiences where nothing can explain why someone recovered except the supernatural hand of God.

This book is a great one for both believers in and skeptics of miracles alike because of the balanced few he presents. As a journalist, Stafford investigates but never allows himself to fall prey to cynicism. As someone who believes for and actively prays for miracles and healings I appreciate his suggestions for how to better handle the process. I think this book would also be beneficial to someone who is looking for more information about miracles but has many doubts. It is the most balanced view on the subject I’ve ever encountered. The author skillfully avoids stereotypes and catch phrases, instead focusing of the experiences of people he has encountered in his years as a journalist, allowing the reader to explore real miracles in the lives of real people. This is a worthwhile read and I highly recommend it.

I was not compensated for this review but I did receive a free copy of the book to review.

Interested in becoming a reviewer for Bethany House? Apply here.

How to Survive and Enjoy the Holidays with Family

Our family tradition for the last ten years has been to spend the weekend before Christmas with my husband’s family for the annual “cabin party”. A cabin or lodge is rented for the day and the whole extended family gathers for food, games and other traditional family activities. The problem is there is always some kind of major drama during the visit. Sometimes it’s just the nature of life, someone with cancer or other serious illness, or the first Christmas since the death of a relative. But other times it’s more complicated, such as the year my mother-in-law’s new dog tried to eat my daughter. (Seriously, he put her whole foot in his mouth and wouldn’t let go, fortunately without biting much. Other times he went for her face. She spent the whole trip climbing up on my husband’s shoulders; mine being too short to protect her since the dog could still reach her when he jumped, even when I was holding her). There is always a ton going on and it feels like we have the same two superficial conversations with everyone and his mother is too busy to sit down. We’re not selfish. We understand that everyone is busy. But we drive almost five hours, now with two kids, and it would be nice to feel like anyone really cares if we are there. Most of the family lives within 20 minutes of each other, except for us and an aunt, uncle and cousins who come in from Chicago. (Crazily enough they are going to be driving in this year, each taking turns and barely staying 24 hours.)

We’ve debating doing away with the trip all together because the negative family dynamics are so emotionally draining to my husband and it is a long trip and a lot of preparation. But this is the last surviving visit we make to his family. We used to travel up three or four times a year before we had kids and had planned to continue doing the same, if not more often, but the situation has gotten so bad that once a year is the most we can manage.

So how do we do it?

Create Boundaries: For us this meant staying in a hotel, even though we couldn’t really afford to do it. We save all year with rebate checks, credit card rewards and anything extra we can scrounge to sell on Ebay to afford a two night stay. This year is more expensive than usual in part because the cabin party if so close to Christmas and the nightly hotel rate is higher. We also discovered that having our own private space has made a difference because at the end of a long day of family socializing we have a quiet place to go and recharge. Plus if the whole situation goes down hill we can pack up the kids and head out to the safe haven of the hotel room instead of returning to a relative’s house.

Mentally Prepare: I was inspired last year by Megan at SortaCrunchy when she shared a self-talk script that I found very helpful.

I am not responsible for fill-in-the-blank family member/friend’s happiness.
If _____________ is mad, that is his/her feeling, and it doesn’t have to affect me.
I cannot make _________________ happy.
It’s okay that I am happy and he/she is not.

I also find it helpful to have prepared answers to potentially awkward questions. I’m prepared to discuss our choice of living situation, my staying home with the kids, why we try to keep Christmas simple, my choice to use cloth diapers etc. in as short and easy a way as possible, attempting not to deliberately offend anyone of cause unnecessary conflict. I also try to keep my passion in check. I get very passionate about certain issues, including politics and faith. So when these topics come up I try to diffuse any tension that may result in both myself or others. This is especially important when talking with older relatives who are very set in their ways and opinions. Let them talk. Smile and nod and interject politely when needed. If you disagree you can say so politely if necessary or just let it go. You probably aren’t going to change anyone’s mind and sometimes keeping your opinions to yourself can help maintain some family harmony. I love giving my opinions but I’ve learned to sense they best times to have a serious and thought provoking discussion and when to just let someone rant, even if I think she is completely wrong and I’m dying to set her straight.

Reserve the Right to Do Your Own Thing: We raise our children differently than some of our other relatives, we have different values. We do make exceptions for our daughter around the holidays allowing her food items that we normally don’t keep at home. We also give her some grace because we know that she is over tired and over excited, but ultimately our rules for behavior still apply.

We also don’t really celebrate Santa and the rest of the family does. So when “Santa” arrives at the family party, we compromise. She goes up to get her gift from Santa but she doesn’t sit on his lap and pose for pictures. (This also has to do with my personal opinion that I find children sitting on Santa’s lap a little bit creepy. I never liked it but when I was pregnant with my daughter I was pressured/forced to sit on Santa’s lap for “baby’s first picture with Santa,” and ever since the idea makes my skin crawl. It doesn’t help that as the children of the family have started growing up and becoming young adults the whole sitting on Santa’s lap thing has definitely taken on a more, ahem, adult tone.)

This year we’ve also decided to opt out of the big gift exchange; sometimes called a Yankee swap. We struggled every year to find a gift that seemed nice enough for the $20-25 limit and it really took a chunk out of our budget. I tried really hard to find a $25 gift for $10 or $15. My husband especially struggled to find an appropriate generic gift for a man. The game is fun, but each year “the family” keep adding new rules so that it will be faster since everyone is rushed and mostly seem like they just want to get through the day as quickly as possible. Honestly, it’s already people with too much stuff trading gifts they don’t want and can’t afford for more things they don’t need. I have gotten a few things I’ve loved over the years, but the fun has kind of gone out of the game anyway.  It seems like people get bitter when they don’t get something they like. Well then why not just go out and buy yourself a gift and forget the whole thing?

But we didn’t want to forget the trip altogether so we found a way to have family time around the holidays that works for us.

My first review on Amazon.com

Right now my life is consumed with holiday preparations but I wanted to share an exciting new development. I got my first review on Amazon.com! Hopefully there will be more to come. If any of my readers are out there enjoying my book right now, I encourage you to submit a review. Let other people know how my book is impacting your life so they can give it a chance to impact their’s.

I Only Ask That You Take a Step: Lessons Learned from My Daughter

“Please take off your pajamas and put on your underwear.” I told my daughter, as I tried to finish getting ready before running to a MOPS Steering Team meeting.

“I don’t know how to put on my shirt,” she said, already on the edge of tears. I tried to calm the irritation in my voice.

“I know that you have trouble with your shirt. I didn’t ask you to do that. I just asked that you would get undressed and put on clean underwear.”  In that every day mundane request I heard God speak to me. How often does he ask me to do something small, simple even, and I cut him off; insisting that I can’t do a larger and more difficult task? How many times does he quietly and gently remind me that he has only asked me to take the first step, not move the mountain in one fell swoop? He knows that I can do and he will give me strength and direction I need for each task.

Ten minutes later after I had gotten myself and my baby son ready for the day, I found her still sitting on the floor of her room, having done nothing. My first reaction was anger. I had asked her to do something so simple. Couldn’t she handle even the most basic instruction? Again I felt convicted. There are so many times I feel God directing me, giving me a task to accomplish and I ignore his instruction or complain that I can’t do it without even trying. I was not as gracious toward my daughter as I should have been. But I recognized how much grace he extends to me; gently reminding, redirecting and lifting me up so that I can withstand all the challenges of life. Now more than ever I must pray for strength as I try to prepare my daughter to face the world and attune her own heart to listen to God’s promptings.