Shaky legs but nearly there

Shaky legs but nearly there »

I can breathe. The end of an intense process bringing my memoir to publication is in sight. The covers for both print and EPUB versions are done; so is typesetting and proofreading with their multiple iterations of back-and-forth checking between three of us in Toronto (Canada), Wollongong and Newcastle. It’s time now to upload to IngramSpark, the distribution platform I’m using, and order the first, proof copy. What a trip!

This memoir A fragile hold: Living with multiple sclerosis and other uncertainties is my life, viewed through the lens of two and a half turbulent pandemic years. It tells how a progressive disease, and the acceleration of my husband’s cancer, led me to a more mindful way of living.

At times over the past three months, immersed in the minefield of self-publishing, I almost lost confidence in the writing that was the very reason for this journey. My learning curve was steep and at times alarming, as the consequences of a possible ‘wrong decision’ immobilised me. Was my work too slight? Maybe it didn’t translate from a blog style where the micro-essays came into being? Would its tapestry confuse the reader, causing them to lose track of time, people, and places?

Self-belief was restored when the document was delivered to Susan for proofreading. At the end of a transactional email, I spied a postscript: ‘By the way, this is very beautifully written, and often moving’. It was enough to keep me going. When I discovered later that as well as being a top-notch proof-reader, Susan is a published writer and poet, I felt even more buoyant.

The crunch would come when I received my first reviews. I needed three testimonials – those brief, pithy sentences that capture the essence of a book, and of course, praise it. It was late November when I approached three people, knowing that I would be asking a lot of these already busy people to spend some of their Christmas break reading my book. I drew a blank with all three, each of whom had a compelling reason why they were unable to do this for me. I lapsed into feelings of defeat, not knowing where to turn next.

Eventually, with encouragement from my mentor Christine, I returned to the drawing board. This time, I was successful with all three. Once received, the testimonials could be added to the back cover of the book by the designer, and the cover for the print version completed.

Much more work and many stressors lay ahead for me – a new website to be developed, marketing strategies devised, contact made with local booksellers and media. For several months, it has seemed as if I’ve had a full-time job. My to-do list is like an axolotl, constantly sprouting new limbs or a tail when one is cut off. I become someone who falls asleep in front of the television most nights, exhausted. My husband worries aloud, ‘What are you going to do when all this is over?’

A succinct ‘back cover blurb’ that’s been rigorously edited with my team proved its value time and again as I completed author profiles, drafted flyers for media and booksellers, devised possible interview questions and book group discussion points.

It all came back to one thing: what had I written about, and why? That’s where confidence was critical. If I wanted to convince others to read my memoir, I had to believe that I had something of value to add to the many stories already written by people with a chronic disease.

The three people who had agreed so generously to write testimonials were, in the end, the right people for the task. Not only have they strengthened my confidence for the last stretch ahead, but each chose a unique aspect of my work to respond to, complementing each other.

In time, I’ll probably look back over this period of my life and wonder what all the fuss was about. More than once, I’ve said to myself: I’m 77, why on earth am I doing this? Then a recent conversation with a bookseller comes to mind. Now in his nineties, he is still in business. If he can run a bookshop, then, why can’t I publish a book?

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