My mother’s self-publishing venture began in 1977 with a kill fee from Yankee magazine. Focusing on the area where we lived in central Vermont, she had chronicled the 1927 flood that devastated parts of New England on November 3rd and 4th. First-person stories, often recorded over coffee at kitchen tables, were riveting tales of narrow escapes, unsuccessful rescues and children drowning. Disappointed, she set aside the interview tapes and transcriptions in a roll-top desk.
In 1996, she took them out again. The tapes had deteriorated some, and most of the 25 interviewees had died, but her transcriptions revealed the voices and the stories as fresh as they had ever been. In their own words, a woman described her son’s birth in a dorm room of a seminary on high ground, and a man who was 14 at the time recalled watching four young boys disappear when their rescue boat capsized. She kept this immediacy by framing the book around their words. Two women who read the book were so moved by the boys’ drowning that they arranged to get a headstone donated for the unmarked grave.
“Each book had its unexpected outcomes,” my mother said. “You never know how your book will touch a reader.”
When my mother began Through Hell and High Water in Barre, Vermont (Potash Brook Publishing; 1998), she had already published her commissioned book on Vermont’s libraries under her own imprint. She discovered an affinity with the self-publishing process that would carry her through four books.
She considers herself lucky to have a printer within walking distance. My father handles the photography. Promotion involves book signings, enlisting bookstores to carry her work, and speaking and selling books at local organizations. She’s been on TV, on radio, and in the newspaper. People hear about her books, then seek her out.
Her flood book had two printings, in 1998, and in 2002 to mark the 75th anniversary of the disaster, selling over 750 books. Her fourth book, One Less Woman (2006), concerning a local murder in 1919, was as successful. They were not best sellers but that was never her aim.
She finds the experience rewarding, but with the caveat that self-publishing is hard work, can be expensive, and requires an entrepreneurial mindset not all writers have.
Her books preceded the arrival of print on demand. She’s not sure whether she’d want to pursue that route but she appreciates having the choice.
“Either way, you have the control,” she says.
Janet Belding is a freelance writer living on Cape Cod. She has published her work in local newspapers and in a travel guide of the area. Her fiction has appeared in “Glimmer Train Stories” and “Green Mountains Review.” She has published gardening articles on eHow.com.
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