Elizabeth-Anne Kim recently published two collections of life stories, DANCING IN THE RAIN (free Kindle download Thanksgiving Day through Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012) and WHAT MY MOTHER DIDN’T KNOW, as Kindle Shorts. These memoir pieces were largely unplanned. In this guest post, she explains how incidental writing can turn into something surprising.
If you can be an accidental life story writer, that's what I am. I didn't mean to publish independently either; it just sort of happened.
After nearly four years in Korea, my husband and I transitioned our family back to the United States in the spring of 2010. I found myself in a new setting with two children who needed me close at hand. Traditional career options were not going to work. I decided to try writing. I had previously done a bit of writing work, and I felt pretty confident in my ability to transition back and forth between genres.
What I didn't feel comfortable with was my ability to stick to a deadline all by myself.
ADHD runs in my family, and I desperately need deadlines, lists, and accountability. Finding writing groups I could join with two little boys in tow was difficult. Finding writing groups that met consistently was even harder! Fortunately, I ran across a life writing group at a nearby library that met religiously on the second and fourth Wednesday of the month. Proud to have found a group that would give me a solid writing deadline, I told myself I could learn to write memoir.
I did learn. Sharon's book, The Heart and Craft of Lifestory Writing, has helped. I am writing a full-length memoir—but this isn't it. Once again, serendipity stepped in. In response to a county library initiative, our life story group concept was expanding to other libraries. I started facilitating a life writing group at my own local library, and I needed some stories that were more relevant to the general population. Those stories essentially boiled down to my stories as a child and my stories as a parent.
Until that point, I had only blogged about my children, who are bright, creative, active little boys who also happen to have some mental health issues. Reactions from the writing group and others in the community cemented two things for me. First, many parents are grappling with mental health issues in their children now. Secondly, while there are plenty of heartbreaking memoirs out there and lots of self-help books for children with ADHD and spectrum disorders, very few people are writing about the joy found in life with these children. And that was my intent—to connect with others who were determined to enjoy their sometimes rather difficult children.
I began with four solid stories. I thought about building up enough stories for a complete memoir, a feat which would require quite a bit of time and would have no guarantee of eventual publishing success. I thought of my community. Those of us struggling now need encouragement now, not a few years down the road.
That conviction in and of itself, however, probably wouldn't have pushed me to publish independently either.
I was convinced instead by a combination of an upcoming project in our life writing group that I would like to convert to book form (and would therefore need a book to practice on first!) combined with Will Bevis's Kindle Shorts. If you haven't read Will Bevis's work, please do! It's hilarious, and I never begrudge the $0.99 I spend on it. In fact, I appreciate the brevity of the pieces. I will finish his work (and laugh the whole time).
With the project looming over my head, I began investigating the Kindle Short and Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). It requires no initial monetary investment by the writer, takes care of all the sales taxes and online sales, and offers free promotions. It merely requires that there be no other electronic formats of one's e-book out there while that e-book is enrolled in KDP. So essentially, you can publish and un-publish in KDP. It allows me to get stuff out there in a format to test the waters. If I decide that I want to expand this material, which I think I'm going to do, it allows me to incorporate it into something larger by taking it down at the end of my contract period and putting it in a different format. It also allows me to test my voice as well as give a preview. As I write that longer memoir, I'm thinking of taking the stories that don't fit and putting them into a Kindle Short to use as a promotional piece later on. KDP will NOT work for my group project, but it has really allowed me to enter publishing at the shallow end of the pool. I'm extremely grateful for that.
Like many authors, I'm a little overwhelmed at the promotional end of the publishing process, but I think that KDP offers the perfect place to start. I have no initial costs to pay back, so my mistakes in promotions are not disastrous to my bank account. Because I'm confident in my stories, I'm satisfied that putting them out there, in whatever small capacity, will eventually help build my career, and I fully expect that as I publish more, the books will sell each other.
Elizabeth-Anne Kim, mother, writer, editor, teacher, records her personal thoughts at Kim Kusli, her pedagogical reflections at Umm, Teacher?, and tips for life writers at Lives in Letters. She is also currently coordinating the Share a Pair of Stories initiative.
Write now: Write about something annoying and go on to find the joy in it. Write about your most recent annoyance and include thoughts on how your attitudes might seem when viewed from another perspective. Empathize with yourself and gain a big picture attitude. Then turn your frustrations into a story we can all laugh along with by walking us through the whole situation with a few well-placed asides.