Archive for July 18th, 2008

By Laura Fitzpatrick-Nager

Swimming with Chaos, monotype 1/1 etching ink on Arches archival paper,
print © 1990-2008 by Paul Fitzpatrick-Nager. All rights reserved.

I received a handwritten rejection letter in the mail. It was signed in a feminine, soft green script. “No,” the agent said. “No market right now for your book. There’s a cancer glut, too many books about being afraid of death, looking for hope. Like short stories, memoir doesn’t fly anymore. I love your writing though. Have you tried a novel? Good luck. J.”

Never mind that my memoir was about much more than where to find a doctor who will listen or a good hair salon while chemotherapy strips you bald. My rejected book proposal contained a real life love story about jumping into the deep end of the pool on my wedding day and treading water through cancer and healing, my own as well as my husband’s. I wrote about standing in quicksand after a recurrence of breast cancer and about all the waves of support we’d continued to receive. About the potting bench my husband built for me last spring so I could stand under pine trees in our yard and pot daisies without getting a sunburn. About our sex life.

And, in more recent chapters, I talked about what it’s like living in the land of remission for a couple of veteran survivors. I also shared this secret – that writing saved a life. Mine.

I threw away the letter and dabbed my eyes with a pile of tissues. I climbed the stairs to my writing desk. My laptop glowed in the morning light. My heart was on the sleeve of every page of my writing. I wasn’t up for more rejection. Surfing cyberspace I came upon a self-publishing house that built books for first-time authors like me. I started humming My Way by Frank Sinatra and crunched the numbers.

The world of self-publishing was unknown to me. I knew it was print-on-demand and that I wouldn’t get the wider distribution channels available to mainstream authors. I knew I’d have to sell my book myself.

That didn’t deter me. I’d survived cancer three times and had landed fully in my own Middle Ages. Surely I could publish a book my way versus letting it perish unread by my as yet unknown fans (the one or two that must be waiting out there…). Why bother with one agent’s opinion? How many zillion books on love are there? Cancer Schmancer. Oops, that title was taken.

Writing for me is like a ladder. Not the quaint, wooden paint speckled kind but the big monster Home Depot model that my husband used to shingle the peak of our cottage. It reaches corners not for the faint of heart. Real writing climbs.

Each day, I clambered up with my pen in hand to gain perspective on living. I climbed past the pile of junk mail on my kitchen counter and the cluttered spice rack, past the pantry stuffed to the gills with bags of cat food and kitty litter and empty cardboard boxes waiting for recycling. I stepped even higher to find out how little control I had over most things in my life. Like the spider webs hanging from the lacy kitchen curtain, or when yet another friend I cherished would meet her death from cancer. I wondered how I’d ever begin to say my goodbyes. Writing helped me face it all one rung at a time.

Self-publishing offered me control of my story. I had a voice in every step of the process — from what publishing house to choose, to the cover design, to the size and color of the pages. I only had to pay for it. There’s sadly no advance with this circuitous route to the bookstore. It helped, however, that my mother gave me the premier-plus literary package as a Christmas present.

Once I signed on, the clock was ticking. It took me five years to write the bulk of the book. Another six months of editing and revising drafts led me to my self-imposed deadline.

I pressed the SEND button on my birthday last year at 5 pm Eastern Standard Time. I had made a deal with myself. If I met my goal, I could have the biggest piece of Oreo cookie ice cream birthday cake I could find. Bribery worked. My polished manuscript flew across the country that evening on internet travel to an unknown but friendly person typing “Thank-you” to me from somewhere in Nebraska ten minutes after I started in on the cake.

Bundled into the top-notch publishing package was an editorial evaluation and a book manager named Michael who saw to it that every step on my checklist took place in a timely fashion. We e-mailed each other daily. Michael helped me through the maze of book editing (more money) to the art department to approval of the final copy. All in all, my book took six months to build from the day I sent off my manuscript.

The day I received my ISBN number in the mail I cried — and ate more cake. Wow, it even looked like a book. I sniffled louder. I flashed on my book being placed in the trim stacks at the Library of Congress. Or Barnes and Noble. Or Oprah’s bookshelf. My mind raced with the possibilities of print-on-demand.

My friend Alicia e-mailed me just before New Year’s. “Your book is on Amazon. I just ordered it!” I cried again and opened my computer. There it was, Swimming on My Wedding Day: My Cancer Journey through the Seasons. I surfed the net and found my new book on other less familiar sellers, too. It was listed among some of the strangest of book fellows, like Biotechbooks.com, Entrepreneurs.com, and Diesel books. I’ve never been an entrepreneur but maybe this was my chance. I was even listed on Weddings.com, sharing an on-line bookshelf with Princess Grace’s wedding day coffee table book.

My hallway is now packed with 500 books fresh from the publisher (more money). I never leave home without my purse and at least two cartons of books packed in the trunk of my Mazda. My calendar, too, is filled with book signings and book talks through the end of the year. If I sell 5,000 books in my first year, I was told by another agent, she’d be interested. What a ride.

Amazon woman hear me roar.

Laura’s Nuts and Bolts of Self-Publishing

Self-publishing websites are everywhere! My choice as a first-time author was iuniverse.com because of their range of services, worldwide distribution, quality of design and alliance with Barnes and Noble booksellers.

  • Publishing packages range from $500 – $1500 (and up) depending on services desired. Additional costs for advanced editorial services like line and copy editing.
  • Minimum number of books required – may be an issue based on publishing house.
  • Approximate cost per book is based on number of pages and industry standards. My book in paperback was priced at $12.95.

Self-publishing packages may include:

  • A legal contract (read it carefully!) with the publisher, which often includes a royalty agreement and initial number of books to be printed
  • One-on-one support, from design to production
  • Editorial evaluation and guidance
  • Editing services (line-editing, copy editing, proofreading, etc.)
  • Custom cover design
  • ISBN assignment
  • Formats, such as hardback, paperback, and ebooks
  • Free paperbacks based on volume for author
  • Worldwide distribution on-line with book retailers worldwide (e.g.: Amazon, Barnes and Noble)
  • Marketing support, from tips to website design and promotional materials


The self-published author provides:

  • A manuscript, usually submitted on-line (along with the guts to press the SEND button!)
  • Artwork, photographs (often an additional cost based on number of graphics and whether color or B&W)
  • Format (industry standards apply to size desired)
  • Copyright permissions to use quotes, etc.
  • Marketing and channel distribution support, which is about getting your book into readers’ hands (and you thought writing was hard — I hired a publicist to assist with this part of the book process)

Hope, monotype 1/1 etching ink on Arches archival paper, print ©
1988-2008 by Paul Fitzpatrick-Nager. All rights reserved.

Laura Fitzpatrick-Nager writes, teaches, and celebrates remission on the shoreline of Connecticut. Her newly released book Swimming on My Wedding Day: My Cancer Journey through the Seasons was self-published in January of 2008. Her husband Paul, also a cancer survivor, wrote the Foreword and included four of his prints in the book. (Two of those are featured in this post.)

Here’s what Laura says about writing her book: I began writing my memoir as fast as I could after receiving a third diagnosis of breast cancer in 2001. My husband’s treatment had recently finished and I was starting up again. It was a terrifying time. Having a writing project helped me to cope and heal from the fear of living with so much uncertainty.

I’d been a journal writer since high school and always taken notes on my life. Writing led me to find my own voice through the wilderness of cancer…and find hope along the way.

Self-publishing was another way for me to get my story out there on my own terms. I didn’t want to be side-tracked by searching for an agent. Now that my book is written, I feel such a sense of completion. And there’s so much more to write about.

Throughout our last eight years together, Laura has had cancer, I have had cancer, and Laura has had cancer again. We have been harbor to an emotional storm that rages and ebbs…and each time, we have found something to keep us in the world…something to work at. It was good to have a goal, but it would be the process that would take us away from cancer.

I painted, and with help from family and friends, built our house. Laura went from keeping a journal…to becoming a writer… We were going to build our future no matter what the obstacles were. Cancer would not keep us from living. Cancer would not keep us from being happy. Cancer was going to teach us about life… and about love.

I am so honored to be a part of this story. I’ve watched it progress from inception to completion… in all its phases. I’ve watched Laura grow in her craft, develop confidence in her abilities, and move beyond the trauma.

-Paul Fitzpatrick-Nager (excerpt from the Foreword to Swimming on my Wedding Day)

To read more about Laura’s story, go to the Swimming on my Wedding Day website. (And, from red Ravine editors: We hope you’ll buy the book. These two are special people, their story inspiring.)

Read Full Post »