Why I Chose Self-Publishing

Imagine for a moment that the child you gave birth to, the child that you raised and bought cute toys and outfits for, the one who lit up your world with just one smile, the child that grew and one day enrolled in school and on the first day of kindergarten broke your heart because you had to let him or her go — imagine that those moments and a million others just like those never existed. Imagine that that child never existed. Imagine that you woke up one day and found out it had all been moments you hoped to create with your child, but you would never get that opportunity.

Well years ago, that happened to me. The vision that I had of this child I was going to raise and love with all my heart, just disappeared overnight when my husband came home and said that he was going to be unable to have a baby. We had been trying to have a baby for a couple of years. We were both heartbroken. You go through a million emotions at that point. I remember him going to bed that night, and he was upset and sad. I was trying to be strong for him, of course, because he felt terrible. I told him that it didn’t matter. We don’t need to have children. We’re perfectly happy. There are all sorts of things we can do with our life. We don’t have to worry about kids anymore now.

But that night as he was sleeping, I remember getting up and looking out of my bedroom window. The night was unusually dark except for a few streetlights out there in the void. Tears started rolling down my face. The sadness that I didn’t allow myself to feel when I was talking to my husband was flowing out of me now and I couldn’t control it. You go through these moments of grief because it’s a loss. It’s a loss of a dream and of a child that you’re never going to have. And I thought that as I stood there — I’m never, ever going to have a child.

A few weeks went by after that, and I was talking to my friend who had just adopted a little girl from China. Enough time had gone by that I was able to tell her what the doctor had told my husband. She said, “why don’t you just adopt!”

And I thought, “oh no, I’m not going to go through all that. That’s okay, we’re fine.”

But it’s interesting the way the universe works and that she had just gone through the process of adoption. Her words put that little seed in my mind. I stared to do some research and find out information. What is an adoption? What’s an international adoption? What’s a domestic adoption? What do you have to do? The whole thing was overwhelming.

Eventually, we decided to just do it. At the time, I was into buying and collecting art, and my husband said, “What are we going to do with our life? Just collect art? What an empty existence. Let’s do this. Let’s give a child who doesn’t have a family an opportunity.” So, we began the process.

And it’s a long process! It takes about a year from start to finish. And during that year, you’re feeling all kinds of things. I was anxious. I was curious. I was excited. And I’m a writer. The way I deal with things is that I write. During that time, I wrote a novel. And the title of that novel is A Family for Raffi.

I could have written a memoir. I could have done all kinds of things, but since I’m a novelist, I decided to write a novel. And it helped me tremendously because all that anxiety, all those feelings that I was having, I channeled into a book.

When I was finished, I felt this incredible happiness and release from having written the book. What was interesting also was that in A Family for Raffi, Raffi short for Rafael, was a little boy, and my child ended up being a little boy. Funny how it worked out that way. It was almost as if I’d brought him to life by thinking of him all those months. Things worked out so wonderfully.

So, why am I sharing this with you?

In my last post, I shared that with the closing of the romance line I was writing for in 2000, I was left orphaned and looking for a new publisher. I had sold four books to Kensington and was between publishers and decided to try self-publishing.

But the larger truth was that my next novel was A Family for Raffi. It was not what I had been previously writing. A Family for Raffi was a romance, but it was so much more. The story was about a boy, stuck in the foster care system, experiencing abuse, who needed to be adopted by a loving family. Not exactly what most readers of romance novels are looking for when they go to the bookstore to select their next escapist novel.

This was when I decided I would self-publish this novel.

This book meant more to me than a publishing contract. I didn’t care that most authors who self-published back then were looked at as “not as good” as traditionally published authors. Today, it’s a different world, and as authors we have more freedom. Many writers who have worked with traditional publishers for years, have chosen to try self-publishing their own books. But in the early 2000, it was not as easy or common. But I didn’t care because A Family for Raffi would be published no matter what.

I didn’t even send the manuscript to my agent. I knew what she would say. I simply started the work of learning what to do to create my own publishing house.

Many times, writers ask me if they should try to publish with a traditional publishing house or if they should self-publish. I usually tell them that it depends. Both are good options, but it’s important to know why you are making that choice.

I chose to self-publish because I had written something outside of my brand. I also chose to self-publish because I wanted to see this book in print even if only four people bought it (my parent and my husband’s parents). The story was not my adoption story. But it was a book that allowed me to deal with my pain and my joy. It gave me a vehicle to express my creativity while dealing with a topic that was important to me. The book was important to me, so I wanted complete control of the process, from choosing the cover art to selling it to booksellers.

After A Family for Raffi, I went back to working with New York publishers. Not that I loved the new books I was writing less, but I found that self-publishing took up so much of my writing time that I didn’t want to “be a publisher”, I wanted to be a writer. So, I went back to selling my books and rights to a publisher.

My advice to writers who are considering their publishing options is to think about your reasons. How involved do you want to be with how your book looks and when it is released? How much time do you have to devote to self-publishing? How much money do you have? Self-publishing is not as expensive as it was when I started, but it still requires and initial investment to hire cover designers, editors, promotional help or materials, and so on.

Once you have evaluated your reasons carefully, the decision will be obvious.

For me, every time I look at A Family for Raffi, I am glad that I chose to self-publish it, and that I didn’t let an editor change it or a publisher choose a cover I didn’t like. The book is all mine.