My elementary school had a “publishing center” where teachers would take stories that we had written and put a glossy cardboard cover on them so they looked like real books. Ever since I held that first “book” that I wrote, I wondered what it would be like to be a real published author. That was a possibility for a profession. Every year, the school also brought in a children’s book author to speak to the whole school, something I always looked forward to.
When I was really young, I loved holding the finished book, but hated the writing itself because as a blind person, I had to use a manual braille typewriter where it was very difficult to correct mistakes. If I wanted my work to look nice, I would have to start the page over if I made a mistake. But as I got older and technology for the blind improved, I started to love writing, and took creative writing courses all through school. But in college, I decided being a professional author wasn’t the career for me as one of my professors who was working on publishing a book at the time told us about the business side of publishing. For a book to be taken seriously by a publisher, an author has to work through an agent, and authors often have to sacrifice some of their creative freedom to make the book “marketable.” I remember my professor being furious when she came to class one day because they insisted on using a different title for her book that would be easily searchable using computer algorithms, but she hated it. So I decided right then and there that I just wanted to write for my own personal enjoyment and not get involved in all that business stuff. But I also still had a little bit of a longing to have at least one published book.
Then one day, I was shopping for something on Amazon when I noticed that Amazon was affiliated with a self-publishing company called CreateSpace. I investigated and found that you could pay for services like editing and cover design, but you could also do everything yourself and get published for free.
I had been thinking for awhile that it would be neat to take some blog posts I wrote about my training with Gilbert, edit them and expand on some of them, and compile them into a keepsake book that I could share with friends and family. So in the summer of 2014, which I thought might be my last summer of complete freedom before having a job the rest of my life, I embarked on this project. It was an all-consuming project, one of those projects where you barely want to leave your room for meals. But I loved it, not only because it was fun to re-live my dog training experience and polish up my blog posts, but also because it distracted me from the frustration I had been feeling up until that point at still being in school and not finding a job, and thus a purpose for my life.
I spent about a month putting this book together, and then on a Saturday at the end of June, I downloaded a free template and uploaded my book to CreateSpace. The only thing my mom had to help me with was picking out a free cover design because this was the only thing that wasn’t accessible for me. Then my parents agreed to pay for a proof of my book, which is basically just a copy of the book to look at and make sure I was happy with the way it looked before I published it. The proof only cost $2.15. Just holding the proof was exciting. It didn’t sink in until then that I was going to be the author of a real paper-back book that friends and family could buy on Amazon.
On the proof however, my mom noticed something I had not noticed on the computer. When I uploaded the book, it came in at a perfect, even 100 pages, but it turned out that the computer would make a new page if there was not enough room for a paragraph to fit on the page, leading to a lot of wasted space. In frustration, I went back to the drawing board, but when I figured out how to fix the problem, I found renewed determination not to let this little formatting issue discourage me. Going through the manuscript and correcting every page was another tedious project in which I barely left my room long enough for meals, but 2 days later, I was finished. But after correcting this formatting, the book was a lot shorter. So I found some additional blog posts to polish up and add to the manuscript, and I also wrote a closing chapter from scratch about service dog etiquette. Ultimately, I thought this formatting issue turned out to be a blessing in disguise because these additional blog posts and the closing chapter were not just filler after all. I thought they really enhanced the book, and I never would have thought to include them if I hadn’t had this formatting issue.
I spent about two weeks on these corrections, and then on July 11, 2014, Paws That Changed My Life was officially published! I only charge $6 for it, but family and friends who loved reading it said I could have charged more. But I wanted it to be affordable, since my career goal after all was just to write for personal enjoyment. Around that time, Hillary Clinton had just released a book and she was charging $21 on Amazon, and I remember thinking “who would pay that much to read that book?” and I even like Hillary Clinton. I used a royalty calculator CreateSpace had and charged just enough that I would get the thrill of making a few dollars in royalties, while keeping the price reasonable.
The rest of that summer was a lot of fun as I did get a small taste of what it would be like to be an author, even though the book wasn’t published in the truest sense like my professor’s book was. I gave free copies of my book to Gilbert’s veterinarian, and his groomer, as well as one of my teachers whom I wrote about in the book. My mom bought books for all the relatives, and Grandma on my dad’s side was an amazing marketer, asking me to order copies for all of her senior friends at church and the barbershop. I even had a speaking engagement at the monthly senior get-together at church. In May of 2015, I ordered a bunch of books from CreateSpace at the author discount of $2.15 and sold them for $6 at Puppies on Parmenter, a fundraiser for Occupaws Guide Dog Association, the program that trained Gilbert, and gave them the proceeds.
I think if I had to write and sell books with the pressure of needing to make a living, and if I had to sacrifice my creative license for computer algorithms, I would no longer enjoy writing, but with this self-publishing experience, I got a small taste of what it would be like to write and market a book, and made my first grade dream come true.