Hello, readers —
I have a real treat for you over the next few days: Jim McFarland, successfully self-published author of DO OR DIE: THE BABY-BOOMER MAN’S GUIDE TO REGAINING HEALTH, HAPPINESS, VITALITY, AND A LONGER, FULLER LIFE, has very graciously agreed to answer a few pointed questions about the process of self-publishing.
Most of us have thought about it, haven’t we? It’s appealing, having control over the publication process. Yet how does one go about it? Even for those of us who’ve spent a lot of time hanging out at writers’ conferences and reading writers’ publications, our information on the subject tends to be sketchy, at best second-hand and anecdotal.
So I asked Jim to give me the lowdown on the practicalities. Over the next few days, I shall be posting the results. Enjoy!
Anne: How did you come to the decision to self-publish?
Jim: At the age of 52, I received a bone chilling call from my doctor following a physical in the spring of 2002. He told me that in addition to my problems with hypertension and obesity, I was now close to having type two diabetes, a chronic condition attacking millions of older Americans.
After the call, I went out searching for resources to help me figure out what to do. Unfortunately, my search left me empty handed. I found nothing because there was no comprehensive “health renewal guide” for older men. Such a resource did not exist. Within weeks, my searches turned into notes and then notes turned into short “how to articles.” After another six to eight weeks of introspection and contemplation, I decided that it was my job to write a guide to help older men with their health.
Entitled Do or Die, my book will help baby boomer men restore health, vitality, happiness, and longevity through fitness, faith, and food. Do or Die helps men figure out how to get out of denial and discover the inspiration and willpower to create a life-changing renewal and a healthy lifestyle.
What motivated me to write is a simple and sad fact. Middle-aged men between the ages of 45 and 64 are dying from cardiovascular disease and stroke at double the rate of women in the same age group. According to the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics in 2002, 79,873 men died from cardiovascular disease or stroke. That works out to 219 baby-boomer men per day. I still find that figure almost too incredible to believe. However, it is true.
Frankly, I simply reached a point in my life where I said, “I am sick and tired of watching and hearing about thousands of men giving up and dying. Men need help and I want to wake them up and tell them their lives are worth living. My book Do or Die will help men begin to make those changes.”
Fast forward to the spring of 2004, nearly 23 months following my physical. I had spent months writing and submitting proposals to agents and publishers. They were turning me down about as rapidly as I could distribute them. I was starting to believe that my idea for the book was just not going to gain any traction. Early one afternoon I opened and read my 34th proposal rejection letter from an agent. I was frustrated, exhausted, cranky, and ready to quit writing.
I decided the medicine that might help me the best was a two to three week hiatus away from anything and everything related to writing.
During this forced vacation, I began thinking about why I had started to work on this project in the first place. What I discovered in the middle of all of this was that I had become a slave to the process that every writer, literary agent and publisher talks about. You know what I am talking about. Of course you do. You may have become a slave to the process and lost sight of why you started this journey in the first place.
This is the grinding and toiling associated with writing proposals and trying to get somebody, somewhere to pay attention to your idea. You work extra hours on weekends, nights, noon hours, before work, and after Church. Whenever you can squeeze another edit out of a proposal, or make another trip to Kinko’s to copy something that has to be mailed the following day. You know the feelings. Your hopes are up; the process enthralls you, because you are making progress. At least you think you are moving forward.
Somehow, somewhere in the middle of writing I forgot about the fact that approximately 200,000 books are published every year. I forgot about the heated competition that exists for ideas that will make the cash registers ring in bookstores. I began to think, as we all do, that my book would own the real estate in an agent’s mind.
My proximity to success was palpable every day I sat at the typewriter. I could see myself on Oprah sharing my story with the masses. I could envision customers lining up in bookstores waiting to have me sign their precious copies. I could see myself on television, giving interviews to local news stations.
Yes, I had already painted the canvas with my success, oblivious to what was really happening with my writing project. I was drunk with bravado, hope, and unabashed egotism. Truthfully and sadly, I had really lost sight of my original mission, which was to write a book that will help older men get healthy again.
What helped me escape the vice-like grip of this confusing mess? It was the re-examination of thinking through why I started in the first place. I asked myself two simple, but powerful questions. Why am I writing this book? What do I want out of it? I really did think about quitting. That was a simple and very clean option. It would have been so easy and simple to delete everything about my project from my two computers at work and home. That process probably would have been completed in about an hour. I could have ordered the computer consultant to dump the backup files and the process would have been complete. It would be over. The chapter would have been closed.
As I examined the idea of dumping all these files, I found myself thinking that such an event would be tantamount to burning down a house that was 70 percent complete. Could I really do it? Just dump everything?
Whenever I get into these situations, I find that you have to let your heart lead you through this thicket of confusion. Using your mind, with all of its intended and rational processes, can often result in bad answers and results. Therefore, I led with my heart.
My heart responded to the question about why I was writing with this answer: “to help people.” On the second question of what I wanted out of it, my heart said “you are writing this to help yourself get healthy and to help others learn from your work.”
Following this trump by the heart over the mind, I resolved to go forward to finish the book. The reflection period was over. I would send out a few more proposals to mainline publishers and if those were rejected, then I would move to the world of self-publishing. And that is what I did.
Anne here again: thanks, Jim. Tomorrow, we’ll move on to Jim’s observations on how to navigate the often-confusing morass of self-publishing options.
In the meantime, keep up the good work!
– Anne Mini