I did a thing. A real-life, super adult, realizing a dream kind of a thing. I wrote and published a book. It’s on Amazon and everything. It was even on a book list on Amazon; it was the “New Juvenile Fiction Books for Families of Children With Special Needs” list, but I’ll take it. Now buckle up, readers, because I’m going to walk you through the process, which, if you’re not a writer, can sound incredibly boring. But, when I first started this journey, I wish I would have had a roadmap to follow.
To fully understand the end of my journey, I’ve got to start at the beginning of it. I’ve dreamed of being a professional writer since I was a kid. Veterinarian was actually my first career choice as a third grader, but then I discovered that part of the job was putting animals to sleep, so I gave up on that dream. About that same time, I also found out that princess wasn’t a job you could really apply for, so I focused on writing.
I loved to write and the process of telling a good story. I wrote short stories and really angsty poetry and devoured books in my free time. First off, who writes poetry for fun? Second, I was a child, so all I had was free time. I wasn’t particularly good at it at first, but I had passion and perseverance, so I got better. I also read anything and everything: Nancy Drew, Sweet Valley High, biographies, my mom’s true crime books, and Archie Comics. I began to get better at articulating my thoughts and my writing was often commended by teachers. But that’s the irony of it; just as I was finding my voice, my writing and reading became educational and I lost my passion for it. And then I did all of the schooling: junior high, high school, college, followed by a few years of working and drinking full time; then marriage, kids and grad school. Essentially, I was reading and writing academically for several decades.
And then my youngest son, Patrick, was diagnosed with autism. I began reading again; medical journals, blog posts, academic research, anything that helped me understand what we were going through. When Patrick was in pre-school, I was approached by his speech therapist about sharing my own experience. She had family that wrote for the QC Moms Blog, and they were looking for submissions for Autism Awareness Month.
I wrote a piece. I tore it up. I wrote another piece. I tore that one up too. I wrote a third one, and then edited it to the point it was a different piece from where it started. It was difficult, but inherent, that I properly conveyed who Patrick was; that his autism made him who he was and that we loved him so completely in spite of AND BECAUSE OF his autism. The process of writing every version was extremely cathartic, but I felt emotionally raw by the end. The piece was published, and I was anxious and vulnerable. I had put myself and my family in view of the public, to be judged. Fortunately, the post was well received. People told me they were able to catch a glimpse into our lives and into this world of autism. I found my voice again. I realized my writing would allow me to advocate for Patrick. Because of the post, I became a “full-time” contributor to the QC Mom’s Blog. I found writing and sharing was the easiest and most gratifying way for me to deal with difficult events in my life. I wrote frequently about different aspects of raising a child with autism, but also the death of both of my parents, as well as my #metoo moment.
Writing for the blog reignited my passion for writing and my desire to reach a wider audience. Someone asked me, “If money weren’t an object, what would you be?” Without hesitation, I answered “A writer.” Or I’d own a nightclub that only plays music from the 90’s, encourages women to dress as comfortably as they want, and only require them to pay 70 cents on the dollar for their drinks. But mostly, the writing thing. I had family members that had recently published books on their own, so I began musing.
New Year’s Day passed, and I decided that my resolution was to publish a children’s book by the end of the year. I shared the idea with my husband, who was immediately on board. He has always encouraged my writing. I took a sabbatical from the Mom’s Blog after my mother died in 2016, and he was the one who said to me several months later, “Maybe you should start writing again.”
I started researching publishing houses online, visions of Violet wrapping her demo tapes in brown paper envelopes and sending them to record labels in “Coyote Ugly” in my head. I soon discovered that publishers don’t take submissions without a literary agent and self-publishing through a publishing house costs thousands of dollars. I shared my struggle on social media and quickly received information on self-publishing on Amazon.
The next step was the actual writing. I knew I wanted to create characters based off of my own children, so when I started writing, the words came quickly and easily. Within a few days, I had my fist draft. I forwarded it to my husband, hoping for constructive criticism. He didn’t provide any, just support. I needed to be able to send it to someone who wouldn’t be afraid to criticize me…..my older sister. From my childhood experience, she would have no issue doing that. I was right. She sent me her corrections in short order, along with ideas for a second book. She also suggested I send a copy to her friend who has a daughter on the autism spectrum. I also sent a copy to the creator of the Mom’s Blog. I made the suggested corrections, started the second book, and sent a copy to my sister’ friend.
I wanted my sister’s friends opinion desperately, as I wanted to make sure those in the autism community felt as though I were representing them correctly. I didn’t want to seem as though I were pandering or exploiting my son. She responded less than favorably. I had made a joke involving Patrick not being potty trained and she was offended. She also felt like I was romanticizing the disability. I was devastated. I sputtered out her critique through heavy tears to my husband. I wanted to give up. He talked me through several of her points, suggesting I replace the potty training portion with something different, an easy fix. Then we muddled through the idea of romanticizing autism. Obviously, there are hard days, but they are outweighed by the good ones. He asked me why I wrote the book. In articulating my hope to initiate conversations between parents and their children about autism, I had realized that portraying the positive sides of it was the best way to do so. I wanted children to discover the value in developing relationships with children with different abilities. And I had written about my children honestly, their strength and love for each other.
Our conversation had no sooner ended, that I got a second email from my sister’s friend. She had talked to her husband about the book and he read it. He agreed with my viewpoint and drew parallels to their own autism journey. And although I had decided to continue with the book, I am glad she sent that second email.
The hardest part of the whole process was getting the book illustrated. Illustrations are an essential component to children’s books, and I am, at best, a meh artist. I have friends and family who are incredible illustrators, but I had no budget and they all had full time commitments. My oldest son volunteered to draw for me, but he’s 13, and would rather search for memes on the internet. It took over a month to complete the illustrations for the first book. The look I got when I mentioned the second book could have frozen Hell, so I knew I would have to look elsewhere. After several days, I realized that the solution was literally under my nose. I sat Patrick down with a stack of paper and a handful of markers.
I added the drawings to the manuscript and slowly made my way through the Kindle Direct Publishing website, piecing together both books in ebook format. My finger hovered nervously over the “Save and Publish” button. All at once, I was scared and excited. I suddenly felt the need to edit it for the hundredth time. I tossed different scenarios around: people read it and hated it, that thing I had put my heart into, or worse; no one even bought it. I could hear my heart beat in my ears as I clicked the button.
I awoke the next morning to an email, letting me know that both of my books were available in the Kindle store. I cried. I shared the news on social media. My immediate family bought their copies, but apparently Kindle is very 2012, so I knew I would have to convert the manuscripts to paperback.
Fun fact: Amazon won’t publish a paperback book unless it is at least 24 pages. My first book was 14 pages and the second only 11. Hurdle. My sensible husband said, “Better to have one paperback than none.” I really dislike his pragmatism sometimes. I combined the books, but this new, longer manuscript wouldn’t seem to format correctly for Amazon. Hurdle.
I watched videos and searched google until I finally just started to change one page at a time until it was accepted. 26 correctly formatted pages.
Fun fact: the cost of printing the book comes out of the purchase price of the book, as does Amazon’s cut and the government’s portion. I will have to sell roughly 3000 copies to pay for our next trip to DisneyWorld. Thank God for my day job.
I got my official copy in the mail several days later, and as I held it in my hand, I cried again.
My community has been so supportive, both in buying and sharing. My book has been read in classrooms, been given as a gift to the mother a recently diagnosed child, and recommended for parents at my son’s school. I’ve been on the precipice of an emotional breakdown for a week. I’m afraid for the person who randomly compliments my hair and is then confronted by gut wrenching sobs.
So fellow moms, your dreams are important and attainable. I am not special. I shared my dream, and was supported and encouraged through it. I wanted to give up a dozen times, but then I remembered who was watching.
PS: The book is titled “Little Brother Big Hero”