How to write and publish a book
I have shared my journey of how to be a widow, so here’s my latest. While I by no means claim to be an expert, by sharing my experience maybe I can encourage someone to tell their story as well.
Last summer I saw a post that read “write a book in 30 days”. The idea of writing a book appealed to me, but getting started seemed to be the issue. I had some ideas. My story of tragically losing my is horrific. I wanted to tell Mike’s story. I have trudged through the thick of it and am living a good life now. Could this be helpful to someone – let them know they are not alone and life can be good again? I wanted to give it a try.
While busily packing up my house last July, I signed up for the 30 day on-line writing program before I moved to Florida. I know me and I work best under pressure. This could work. Each day I opened an email from Joshua Sprague with assignments to spend 1-2 hours writing. I found a quiet place to sit and write. So I began.
My initial idea was to write a self-help book to help other widows deal with the sudden loss of a spouse. I had been through it and maybe my words could help someone. That is what I have tried to do over the years writing this blog.
People continue to read my blog posts daily from my Pinterest page, so I know others are looking for guidance and affirmations as they stumble down the road of widowhood. I recall seeking advice and even a “how to” book or blog post as a new widow. Do widows wear wedding rings? Are we considered a Ms. or a Mrs.? And even how NOT to be a sad and lonely widow?
My strategy for handling grief, that I discuss in the book, included basically throwing the literal kitchen sink at my grief journey. I tried everything and anything to keep moving forward each day. Walking, yoga, traveling, playing cards, work, journaling and even a puppy helped me stay distracted and move forward at the pace I needed.
Once I started writing my story, it took on a life of its own. One of the first activities was to plan out a table of contents. This helped me decide where the book was going. It started to form into a memoir that begins on the night Mike died.
As a new widow, I had to deal with all the issues that an unexpected death entail. I had to find a way to let people know that he died. Making phone calls was very difficult for me. I was fortunate to have a good support system to hold my hand those first few days.
Within one week I had planned and executed a memorial service for Mike. In shock, I went through the motions of meeting with the funeral home, the priest, family and friends. I also had to deal with talking to police and officials representing the medical examiner for the autopsy regarding his cause of death.
Something was not making sense. I had one more issue to deal with that not all widows do, though many believe it to be true:
My husband wasn’t supposed to die that night.
When Mike left the beach to use the restroom at the beach clubhouse, he should have been able to walk out of that building without being assaulted and killed. It took two years for us to see the surveillance video and learn the truth of what happened that night.
Pursuing legal action isn’t easy but sometimes it has to be done. With the help of friends and family and a good legal team, I took the road less traveled. We pursued the truth and sought justice for Mike.
That is the story I wrote.
It took a little longer than thirty days to put the story all together. We did move to Florida, and after I set up a desk area in the new office, I got back to work editing my book.
Part of my battle regarding Mike’s wrongful death was the suspicion that the two men who got away with murder had connections with corrupt officials in the Suffolk County Police Department. Why else were they not arrested for assault and murder that night? Rumor had it that they told the teens at the party that nothing would happen, and they ended up being right. I wanted answers and hired a team to investigate.
While they worked on doing interviews and gathering information, I researched the chief of police, James Burke, who had recently in 2015 been arrested and indicted for civil rights abuses and a coverup. This was the same police department who had discovered 11 bodies on Ocean Parkway and suspected a serial killer, yet despite denied offers of help from the FBI, had not made any progress on those unsolved cases.
Listening to podcasts such as UNRAVELED made the administration in Suffolk County and many of the higher up officials seem overwhelmingly guilty of something. Was there a connection between the men that killed Mike and one of these people? Over the next few years, the cover up that police chief James Burke tried to orchestrate was exposed and the 79 year old District Attorney Tom Spota and “anti-corruptions” officer Christopher McPartland both ended up serving time in prison. Proof in my opinion that “corruption” was prevalent in the SCPD.
Should I publish my book?
Once satisfied with my first draft, I sent it off to my brother and sister. They read it (so they told me) and gave me some feedback. But I worried how someone who didn’t know me and this story would react.
I had not taken a creative writing class in quite some time, so I thought I would invest in hiring an editor from a website called Reedsy. The editors each provide a brief description of their qualifications and areas of expertise. You then ask several if they would be interested in reading your book and giving you either developmental editing – which gives you feedback on the idea of your book, or simply copy editing which I think means grammar and spelling. The editors you select will review your proposal and then make you an offer of how much time and the cost they will charge to read your book.
I made a contract with Lisa Mullenneaux who agreed to give me feedback on my idea of the book. She also corrected some grammar and encouraged me to develop the characters more. Her constructive feedback proved she put in effort and time to think about my story. In fact she had a great piece of advice:
Change the tense of the book to PRESENT.
As a memoir of what happened to me, it had all been in the past. Changing the book to the present tense really made a difference in the tone of the book and the feedback I have heard from readers. Several reviewers have mentioned “I couldn’t put the book down”. Changing the story to present tense kept you wanting to keep reading and find out what happened, like the reader was there with me as the story unfolded.
So once it was all edited, again, and reread, again and again, it was time to get it published. Lisa recommended I send query letters to non-fiction and memoir agents but I did not get much positive feedback from that adventure. Some pleasant rejection emails, but mostly return emails saying if I didn’t hear from them in 3 months, they weren’t interested.
Fortunately, it is the year 2022 and technology has come a long way. Have you heard of Amazon? You can self-publish your book for practically free these days. Before pulling the trigger, I did read several blog posts about self publishing and watched Youtube videos as well. You can self-publish a book that looks like a DIY project, or you can hire a little bit of help.
I hired some help
In addition to Lisa my editor through Reedsy, I wanted the book to look good. Apparently despite the saying, people do judge a book by its cover.
I hired a graphic artist from the website Fiverr. They have all these technologically savvy people available to help you out. The first person I chose I told her the title I wanted. No simple highway is from a Grateful Dead song called Ripple:
“There is a road, No Simple Highway – Between the dawn and the dark of night.
And if you go, no one may follow – that path is for your steps alone.”
Mike was a “dead head” and knew all the songs. This one is cool and I thought he would appreciate it.
The first couple of covers had those words with pretty blue skies and curvy roads. They looked peaceful – but my editor said it looked like a travel book. She suggested I use a picture of Mike.
My Aunt Gert had told me when I first became a widow that the journey was like a road with potholes. Some are big and some are deep. You may even feel stuck but eventually you get out and find the road again. Over time, the potholes get smaller and not so deep but occasionally they do show up. That is grief.
So after a few mock-ups, I decided on the cover here:
Finally, you could send your Microsoft word file to Amazon, but it will probably not come out looking so nice. I used Fiverr to find someone to format the book with chapter headings, a table of contents and to make it look professional. I like the way it came out.
And that is how I wrote my story. It was a cathartic exercise that helped me to once again deal with the trauma and put it in its place – in the past. I have spent the last 7 years pushing hard to move forward and live a good life. I’m glad I could share my story and bring light to the darkness that was his tragic death.
Thanks for everyone who has read my book or shared it with someone. I hope that it can be used to let others know that no matter how hard life can get, with some perseverance and hope, it will get better.
You can read chapter one Here: NO SIMPLE HIGHWAY_ CHAPTER ONE