To Publish or Not to Publish

IMG_0138Back in the 50’s, Chevrolet launched a TV ad campaign based on the slogan, “See the USA in your Chevrolet” (it was, as usual then, sung to a catchy tune that became branded on our brains). Well, I haven’t had a Chevy in many a moon. But these past eighteen months, or so, I have seen a lot of the USA through the windows of my Toyota Highlander, cruising the Interstates to visit family and close friends in Maine, Florida, Kentucky, Kansas and Colorado (Some of it was viewed through the window of a jet at 38,000 feet, but you don’t really see much from up there). As seen in the photo, I had my daughter and grandkids along part of the time. But much of the time I was traveling alone, so needless to say I had much time to ruminate and cogitate.

One topic that occupied my mind a fair amount was “Whither Del Hayes Press?” That is, given the changes in my life situation, the question naturally arose as to whether I wanted to continue with the responsibilities and time involved in my publishing business, microscopic though it might be, or rather spend that time at other pursuits. The pros and cons of both alternatives were significant, and not easily weighed, one against the other.

The appeal of spending more time visiting my grandchildren and family, as well as with friends scattered about the country was obvious. There are still many places I would enjoy visiting in this country. I’ve always wanted to go to Australia, and given that much of my novel Ad Astra was based in Sydney, I’ve especially wanted to see how well my research checked out (of course, it took place during World War II, so anything that might not appear as I had understood it to be could easily be blamed on poor maps from seventy years back).

Thus, the pros in favor of devoting all my time to personal pleasure were obvious, and I couldn’t seem to come up with any cons except that…there would be little, or no, time to be a publisher. And, the only con I could come up with where my publishing business is concerned is the obvious one that places it in conflict with the traveling, etc. Thus it appeared that the issue filtrated down to the question of whether I get sufficient pleasure and benefit from doing so, to offset the time taken from other pleasures.

The short answer to that question is, “Yes. I like my little publishing business and want to keep it going.” Why I feel that way is worth pursuing a bit, I think, especially for anyone who might be considering starting down that path.

To answer that question necessitated looking back over the five years, or so, that I have been Del Hayes Press to review what I have accomplished and measure what it has meant to me. In short, I had to answer the question: Has being a “self-publisher,” and then a publisher for the others that I have assisted, been worth it? And of course, to answer that I first had to answer—or remind myself—“Why did I do it in the first place?”

Most of the salient details of how, and why, I started Del Hayes Press are included in the “About” section of my Del Hayes Press website, so I won’t repeat them here. It occurred to me, though, as I thought about it that I started feeling best about it all when I changed from being a “self-publisher” to a “publisher.”

That happened when I succumbed to a request from a close friend to publish her book for her. When she approved the proof copy of her book, Taking Restorative Justice to School, and it became available both on Amazon and for direct orders through the printing company, suddenly I was a bona fide publisher. Okay, I had only the one title in my stable, other than my own, but it changed how I began to look at the whole affair.

On February 19, 2009, I uploaded to Lightning Source, Inc. the cover and interior files for my first self-published book, Happily Ever After; A Tribute to Marriage by a Fifty-year Veteran. Since that time I have published a total of eight titles, five for myself and three for other authors. In the ensuing five years, Del Hayes Press has seen more than 4,500 books printed under those eight titles. Interestingly, there has been an almost even split between sales through Amazon.com, and direct sales by the authors.

Perhaps it sounds a bit pretentious, but I now recognize that much of the reward to me has come less from being able to claim that I am a publisher, and more from how that has helped others. How so, you ask? Start with that first book, Taking Restorative Justice to School, by Jeannette Holtham.

Restorative Justice is a form of anger management training that has been instrumental in helping numerous at-risk kids, many of whom were already drop-outs, begin to get their lives back on track. Jeannette has been tireless in pushing the program in schools in Colorado, and the state legislature is beginning to take action on instituting it in Colorado. Her book has been a key tool, or weapon, in that effort.

She could have, of course, followed the traditional route of submitting the scores of query letters to agents, battled to overcome the scores of rejection letters that are guaranteed to be a part of such an effort and with pluck and luck, she might have—I emphasize “might”—finally got an agent and eventually got it published. Then she would have had to begin doing all the same hard marketing work she had already been doing all that time. The obvious difference is that she had been selling many hundreds of books while doing so. And—there is no real guarantee the book would have ever seen the light of day in today’s commercial publishing environment.

Another good example is For All the Wrong Reasons, by Dan Benavidez. I like to refer to Dan as the Hispanic Martin Luther King, Jr., of Longmont, Colorado. His courage, and quiet demeanor, in leading a candle light protest march on the Longmont City Hall, back when racial tensions were at a fever pitch in the city, defused what could have turned very ugly that night. His life story, as told in his book, is a compelling read. But once again, Dan has virtually no “platform,” as the agents and publishers like to call it, for elevating a book to national prominence.

That does not mean, however, that the story is not worth telling. And because he just happened to be a friend of Jeannette Holtham, he was put in contact with a “publisher in Texas” to talk about  getting his story published. Less than six months later we had a compelling cover designed featuring a photograph taken by a Longmont newspaper photographer the night of that march, the manuscript had been carefully edited, and we had a proof copy ready for Dan’s approval.

The same can be said of my book, Grace Will Lead Me Home; the Albert Cheng Story. Whether I could have ever been successful at getting that book accepted by a commercial publisher is difficult to answer. But we have sold a pleasing number of books and raised a significant amount of money for the non-profit organization HANDS for Cambodia, which supports the efforts of Albert Cheng’s brother, a doctor in Cambodia who treats the poor in the small villages there.

Why someone else would choose the self-publishing route would obviously be a function of their own interests and reasons. And certainly I had a self-interest in doing so. But being able to help others get their story between book covers has proved to be far more rewarding to me. I look forward to doing even more in the months and years to come.

 

Brighten the Corner

A quick perusal of the dates of my previous posts will show that quite some time has passed since my last one, and some explanation is in order. I’m too new to the Blogosphere to know its protocols, as to what is appropriate and what is not. This post is going to be quite personal. Perhaps that’s not appropriate, but for me it is unavoidable. One of my primary emphases in this blog is oriented toward writing, and self-publishing. Germane to those topics are factors that have influenced my writing, the books I have written or plan to write, my very motivation for doing so. Soon after my last post, I lost the greatest source of my inspiration,  my most dedicated advocate, the one who has most influenced my writing. After a brief illness, Colleen, my best friend, my wife and dear companion for over fifty-five years, left this earthly vale for a heavenly one.

When I was first attempting to wean myself from years of engineering writing and stick a toe in the water of fiction, I created a novel I called The Old Man. I had told Colleen as I was working on it that the story was a “character study.” When I had a draft sufficiently well done that I was willing to let her read it, after doing so she smiled at me and said, “Mister Engineer, you do realize you’ve written a love story, don’t you?”

“No,” I insisted, “it isn’t a ‘love story.’ It’s a story about love—how love should be, between two people.”

“Well, perhaps,” she replied, “but it’s still a love story.”

I suppose we were both right. It is a love story. Likewise for my second novel, Ad Astra. Boy meets girl. They fall in love. Good things happen. Bad things happen. But one thing is clear. For two people truly committed to each other, love always transcends, always survives the bad and nurtures the good. To the extent my abilities as a writer permitted, the stories reflect life and certainly reflect my perception of how love between two people should be.

It was our marriage, our life together, that gave me the understanding and experience that make those two stories feel real to the reader, and that led directly to my writing Happily Ever After: A Tribute to Marriage From a Fifty Year Veteran. It was Colleen’s gracious hosting during the many hours of interviews in our living room with Albert Cheng that smoothed over the pain as he relived his tortuous years of captivity by the Khmer Rouge, as I prepared to write Grace Will Lead Me Home: the Albert Cheng Story. Obviously, she deeply influenced all I have written. How her loss will affect my writing I cannot speculate.

But that is not the take-away I want to leave from this post. No, what I want to leave is the realization that has come to me over the past months of how profoundly our lives can be affected by something so simple as a smile. As I read through the many sympathy cards I received, and was supported by our friends, the one constant that was near-universal in the comments was “I’ll miss her sweet smile.”

When we graduated from the small community college where we met, there was a tradition of signing our classmates’ yearbooks. Usually, we penned such memorable lines as “Don’t forget the fun we had in Chemistry Lab.” But in Colleen’s book, most of the comments were variations on the theme of “I’ll always remember your smile.” Of all her accomplishments in her life, and there were many, in the end what we all remember is “her sweet smile.” Such a simple thing, but what better legacy could there be?

My dad was a dedicated Christian, and as we three kids grew up in the Hayes household, it was a rare Sunday that did not find Dad’s old Chevy one of the first to arrive at the small church in our hometown. One of the hymns we sang there, of the many that became part and parcel of my life, was “Brighten the Corner Where You Are.” As we would finish each verse and move into the chorus, the singing became quite enthusiastic as we all exhorted ourselves to

Brighten the corner where you are!
Brighten the corner where you are!
Someone far from harbor you may guide across the bar;
Brighten the corner where you are!

That simple philosophy was as natural to Colleen as breathing. Her smile brightened all our corners, and helped family, friends, neighbors, people she didn’t even know, regardless of how far from harbor they might have been.

Can any of us leave a better life-lesson from our own life? Each time we greet our children, deal with a co-worker, check out at the supermarket, let the cable guy in, say good morning to our mate or pass a stranger on the street, what a difference it would make if each of those times that person could be greeted with a smile, their corner brightened if only for that moment.