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Lulu Author Interview: Wil Wheaton

Sunken TreasureWil Wheaton is many things, including a blogger, author, voice actor, special correspondent to the BBC, social commentator, and an actor. Recently Wil published his latest book, Sunken Treasure, on Lulu.com. He was kind enough to share some insight into his experiences with traditional publishing, marketing his book, and his future plans for publishing.

Check out Wil’s book, Sunken Treasure here (for the US version), and here (for the world version). You can also read Wil’s blog, WWdN: In Exile or follow him on Twitter. While you’re at it, you can follow Lulu on Twitter over here.

Can you tell us a little about Sunken Treasure? Why did you choose Lulu and Print On Demand over Traditional Publishing?

Everything you ever wanted to know about Sunken Treasure can be found in this entry at my blog, but here’s the story of how this whole thing came together, and how I found my way to Lulu.

When I published my first book, Dancing Barefoot, way back in 2002, I was at a point in my acting career where it was incredibly difficult to get work, but as a writer and blogger, I was finding all kinds of unexpected success. Rather than struggle to compete in the publishing arena the way I was struggling to compete in the acting arena, I decided to self-publish and take my work directly to the people who I thought would like it the most: the people who were reading my blog. I hoped they would respond to it and it would help build an audience for my second book, Just A Geek.

I was totally unprepared for the success I had with it, and I soon found myself spending more time packing and shipping books out of my house than I was spending writing new material. It was awesome, but way too time consuming. I looked into POD back then, but the technology and quality that was available just didn’t work for me. When I held a POD book in 2002, I felt like I was holding a POD book (contrasted to now, when I can’t tell the difference between a POD book and a book from a major publisher.)

Around this time, I was approached by an editor from a major publisher about taking over the distribution of Dancing Barefoot, as well as the future publication of Just A Geek. I was overjoyed to be “really” published, and to have more time to write again, and made a deal without very much thought.

It ended up being the biggest disappointment of my then-fledgling writing career, and remains one of the greatest learning experiences of my life. The whole experience was really depressing, but the worst thing of all is that I worked harder on Just A Geek than I’ve worked on anything before or since, and have still earned less from it than I earned from my self-published release of Dancing Barefoot. The publisher insisted on marketing it in a way that did nothing to expand the audience I was already able to reach on my own, and basically blew me off when I repeatedly begged them to change course. I hired a PR firm at great expense, and they did pretty much the same thing. I vowed that I would never again go the “traditional” route with my future books.

Last year, I published my third book, The Happiest Days of Our Lives. I used everything I learned from Dancing Barefoot and Just A Geek, and it was a wonderful experience that really helped me put food on the table. However, I had to make a considerable investment to print the books, had to give up a lot of space in my house to store them, and was once again unprepared for the demand. I ended up spending a lot of time packing and shipping orders, and not as much time actually writing. (By the way, this is a great problem to have, and I’m not complaining about it. It’s just that, practically, there are only so many hours in the day, you know?)

I’ve been making these neat little chapbooks at a local printer for the last few years, then taking them with me to cons in the summer. They’re deliberately lo-fi, and make me feel like I’m putting together a ‘zine, just like I did when I was in my early 20s. Last year, my editor and I put together one called Sunken Treasure, that ended up being something much cooler than we’d expected. When we were done, we both wondered if it would make sense to try and take it to a wider audience than the 200 people who’d get the lo-fi version over the summer.

The problem was, it’s only 90 pages, I didn’t know if there would be any audience for it, and I wasn’t willing to invest in the 1000 or so copies or so that I’d have to store in my house and ship myself. But in January, a couple of my friends published books with Lulu (Jamais Cascio’s Hacking the Earth and Lee Barnett’s The Fast Fiction Challenge) and they were very happy with the whole experience. They told me how easy it was, how fast it was, and – most importantly – how great the books felt when they held them in their hands. That last bit was the clincher for me, and I decided to go ahead and give Lulu a try with Sunken Treasure. So far, it’s been an absolutely wonderful experience.

Who designed your cover for you?

A friend of mine named Matt Brooker, who frequently does work under the pseudonym D’Israeli. He’s a pretty well-known comic book artist and writer, and when he heard the title of my book, he showed me that cover and told me that I could use it if I wanted it. I pretty much fell in love with it right away, especially the little binary bubbles.

What, if any, suggestions do you have for authors trying to market their own book?

Nobody in the world, no matter what they tell you, is going to work as hard as you will to sell your book. Unless you’re a huge famous author who is already earning six figure advances, your book is only going to sell as well as you work to promote it.

At the very least, read and study books on marketing. I highly-recommend The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing by Tom and Marilyn Ross, and The Purple Cow by Seth Godin. I’m sure there are others, but those are the first two I read, and the ones I keep coming back to.

Understand that there is smart marketing and publicity, and useless marketing and publicity. It’s really worth your time to talk to people who have experience so you can learn the difference between the two, and once you get some of your own, be willing to share it with anyone who asks. We’re all in this indie publishing thing together, you know.

Also, never underestimate the value of kindness. That goes for everything, too, not just publishing.

Tell us about any future Lulu books you may have planned.

My experience with Sunken Treasure has been so great, I’m giving serious consideration to using Lulu for an audio version, as well as audio versions of future books. Just this morning, I made a DRM-free PDF version available for $5, and if the response is good enough, I’ll do digital versions of other works in the future.

As far as books go, I have some original fiction projects in the works, as well as a print version of my Star Trek review column from TV Squad. My experience with Lulu has been so fantastic, I can’t imagine releasing them any other way.


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Throughout the month of March, Lulu will be offering a chance to win fame, fortune and some free marketing for you and your book in our first ever Author Sales Contest.

The three highest selling author’s in March will receive  $1,500, $750 and $500 respectively, with the top three titles (and a few honorable mentions) highlighted on the site and Lulu newsletter. As an extra added bonus, the first place winner will also be treated to an exclusive interview posted prominently here, in our very own Lulu blog.

To enter the contest you must register your intent through the entry form on the Author Sales Contest page. Registration is open now through the end of March. For more information head on over to the contest page now and sign up.

We hope this contest will bring a little extra added fun and excitement to your experience on Lulu and help highlight some really great books in the process.

As always we’d love to hear what you think about what we’re doing or if you have any questions. Please let us know.




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Resolve To Write A Book

It’s a new year, and many of us have already made our New Year’s resolutions. My list of resolutions this year include losing 5 pounds by the first weekend of February, taking more trips, and finishing the role-playing game I have been writing. Losing the weight is a bit daunting, but I have a good exercise regimen, and I am eating pretty well, so I’m not as worried about that one. Writing, on the other hand, is a very daunting task. Carol wrote an excellent blog entry in early December entitled “My Epic Battle With ‘The Nothing’”, which described one of the problems most of us run into…the blank page. In her post, Carol gives us some good tips for winning the battle against “The Nothing”, and I wanted to touch on how you can turn a New Year’s resolution into a creation you can share with your friends and family.

One of the problems with New Year’s resolutions is that we often set goals for ourselves that are either too easily ignored or too difficult to achieve. One way to avoid these concerns is to have a long-term goal that requires regular, but not overwhelming work. See where I’m going with this? If you decide to write a book as one of your resolutions this year, pick a milestone for each week, and meet that milestone. For our example, let’s say it’s 500 words. 500 words isn’t much, but if you wrote 500 words every week of the month, you would have a total of 26,000 words by the end of the year. If we use the standard 250 words per page, then you’ll have 104 pages written. You can set the bar wherever you feel comfortable, and don’t stress out if you miss a milestone. If you haven’t finished your book by the end of the year, then your resolution for next year can be to finish it, or to get it edited.

Happy 2009, and get started writing!


Copyrighting Your Work 101

Something we get asked about a lot is copyright.  As creators, we want to make sure our work is protected from intellectual property theft, and ensure that we control the publication, distribution and adaptation of what we’ve created. The problem is that copyright can be confusing and there are a lot of misconceptions about it. Hopefully, I can help clear some things up and give you some resources for more information on copyright if you’re interested in that sort of thing.

Please note that this information is focused on copyright in the United States. For more information on International copyrights, please check out the links at the bottom of the post.

What is Copyright?

To begin with, I’m going to get the easy stuff out of the way. With a quick Google search, you can find the basics of what copyright is as well as in-depth discussion and even some analysis. As such, I am going to keep this as simple as possible. Copyright protects the rights of creators of literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works. Specifically, it gives the owner of the copyright the exclusive right to, and to authorize others the right to, reproduce, distribute, perform, or display the work. It is illegal for anyone to violate any of the rights provided by the law to copyright holders.

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Read my post at Lulu Blog: http://lulublog.com

Thanksgiving is a holiday stuffed with family, friends and food. And while too many cooks in the kitchen can be a problem, no one has ever complained about too many dishes on the table.

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Read my post at Lulu Blog: http://lulublog.com

All Soul’s Day, Samhain, Halloween, Protestant Reformation Day - they’re all a week away. Chances are, you’re either going to a party, hosting one or hiding in terror. Make whatever you’ve got coming up better with the following guides.

Do you have a costume yet? Do you dread geting caught between spending too much time and money, and wearing the lamest getup ever? You should read Easy & Creative Halloween Costume Ideas by Lisa Severson. This book will show you 60 painless ways to create memorable costumes for yourself, your kids or that lackadaisical loser who shows up at your house dressed as “Joe the Plumber.”

Serve memorably spooky snacks at your party by following the repulsive recipes in Kaye Hamm’s Kreepy Katering. This illustrated cookbook features 29 stomach-churning concoctions sure to enliven, I mean deaden, any party. My favorites are the Slimy Bat Wings (relax, they only look like bat meat), and the Rotten Apple Martini. Also worth taking a peek at is 13 Halloween Recipes from ThirteenForHalloween.com. Those Goblin Horns are making me hungry. Please remember that these depraved dishes are only visually arresting - we have the authors’ word that everything featured is very tasty regardless of appearance. Even Poop On A Cracker.

Put some horror in your house by taking cues from The Secrets of Disney’s Haunted Mansion by Jeff Baham. This 64-page compendium includes the original script and sheet music, a walk-through of the mansion, descriptions of the ghoulish props and loads of vintage artwork, adverts and blueprints. There’s even a blank Haunted Mansion death certificate that you can fill out with petrified party guests’ names.

Further frighten up your humble abode with pumpkin heads - both carved and knitted, spooky sounds, mummy dolls, and unbelievably adorable Jack O’Lantern crochet poppets.

Keep your party guests groaning in delight with jokes from Tony Iacoviello’s Blood Lines. Here’s an example: What does a vampire never order at a restaurant? A stake sandwich. There are 52 ridiculous pages of this balderdash. Another book that would be fun to have at your party is Professor Ichbonnsen’s Monster Month. It’s a spectacular who’s who of the monsters that are likely skulking your streets this season. And, finally, if your party gets to the point where a past life regression session or druid healing spell is necessary, it’s probably a good idea to have a copy of A reference guide to the Craft on hand.

With all this fine literature at your disposal, any chilling celebration is bound to be a smash hit.

A Pirates Life Fer Me (fer today) Arrrr!

Ahoy, mateys! It’s that time of year, again! I had a hard time sleeping last night because of all the excitement the next morning would bring. I laid my outfit for the next day on the floor and hid my eye patch from my cat in the pocket of my skull and cross-bones vest pocket (she LOVES to chew on the elastic band that holds the patch to my head).

I sprung out of bed 6 minutes before my alarm went off, frightened the sleep out of my husband with a loud “YARRRRRG!” and jumped into my pirate garb! I popped my eye patch on and got into work early enough to be the first to greet my boss. “Ahoy! Ye scurvy-infested wench!”

On most days and with most bosses, a greeting of this nature is probably not acceptable, but if the urge is strong and runs deep within your soul, you’d better do it today. International Talk Like A Pirate Day is the coolest holiday there is. Move over Flag Day; get the heck out the way Thanksgiving. Aye, International Talk
Like A Pirate Day makes all the other holidays walk the plank of disappointment. This holiday has an attitude and ye best be prepared for pirate-speak, lest ye find ye’self in ol’ Davy Jones’ Locker.

And who do we owe our booty to fer creating this rum-filled holiday? Why, who else but one our very own Lulu authors and his pirate cohort! A few days ago I had the extreme pleasure of talking with one of the co-founders of International Talk Like A Pirate Day, John 'Ol' Chumbucket' Baur, via email. Sit down, grab some rum and take a listen, wont ye? Arrrrr!!!

Ahoy, scallywag! Thank ye for doing thiser here interview with me. I be understanding these be very busy times for a buccaneer of ye stature, and I owe ye all the doubloons in the sea fer taking the time to jabber. I be asking ye a few questions about thiser here holiday to let the folks out there on the open seas know a little bit more about ye. Yaaarg!

So tell me, me friend, how did ye create "International Talk Like A Pirate Day?"

The whole story is on our Web site, www.talklikeapirate.com/about.html.
Here’s the reader's digest version

My friend, Mark Summers, and I were playing racquetball when one of us - there's no remembering who now - reached a little too far for a shot and let out an "Aarrr!" Well, as you might expect with "guys," we started insulting each other in pirate talk. When we finished we realized we'd had more fun than we ever had before, so much so that we never play racquetball anymore, we just talk like pirates. We realized the entire world - every man, woman and child on the planet - needed one day a year when they were allowed, even encouraged, to talk like pirates, just for the sheer, anarchic fun of it.

Did ye scallywags expect the world would embrace Talk Like A Pirate Day as much as it has?
We had no expectations whatsoever; basically this is a very silly private joke among a couple of friends that has grown into a private joke shared by a few million friends all over the world. We're just riding the wave.

What brought ye to Lulu? Have ye made much gold here?

We had been writing a blog story and our Web Wench mentioned that we could get it printed at Lulu. We put it up there. And the children's book (A Li'l Pirates ABSeas), which no responsible person would buy for a child. It depends on what you mean by success. Have we sold thousands and thousands of books? No. But we've made beer money, and the fans that've wanted copies of the Tales of the Festering Boil have been able to get them.

What projects are ye buccaneers working on now and when will they be released?

Our new book is out from Kensington - "The Pirate Life: Unleashing Your Inner Buccaneer." It's the ultimate self-help book (results may vary; consult your physician.) We're working on another Festering Boil tale that will be on Lulu, and there's some other writing stuff going on that we can't quite announce yet. Soon, but not yet.

Right-o me friend! I will be looking forward to trading me riches for a copy of them there books. It will be a good trade, as I know fer sure me life will be greatly enriched be ye wise words. Do ye have any closing remarks for the people out there on the open seas?

We just want people to have fun with our idea. Let yer hair down, swagger, and say "Aarrr!" Talk Like a Pirate!

Ye can find the Pirates' Lulu storefront page here: www.stores.lulu.com/chumbucket
The official Talk Like A Pirate site can be found here: www.talklikeapirate.com
If Ye Need help talking like a Pirate, visit www.talklikeapirate.com/howto.html



Fighting CF With Bikes and Books

With the awesomeness that is the Olympics going on, there are lots of inspiring hero stories being told.

But not every hero is at the Olympics. There are people out there doing heroic things everyday. One hero we recently discovered at Lulu is Walter van Praag. He might not call himself a hero, but I think he is.

Last year, in order to raise awareness of Cystic Fibrosis, Walter, his wife and a small crew rode what they called The Great Cystic Orient Fibrosis Express, or COFE. They cycled the route of the Orient Express, from Paris to Istanbul. That's over 2400 miles! Walter himself has Cystic Fibrosis (CF), and did this ride to inspire healthy people, people living with CF and people with other disabilities.

Since the ride was completed last year, Walter has published two books on Lulu: Coughing the Distance: Paris to Istanbul With Cystic Fibrosis, a book chronicling his adventures on the ride, and Walter and the Mucous Monsters, a children's version written by his wife.


Walter has lived a life full of adventure and excitement, and shows that living with a disability is far from limiting. His adventurous spirit and athleticism has helped him far exceed the expected lifespan for someone with CF. With COFE and his books, Walter is showing the world how un-limiting disabilities of any type can be.



With the frenzy around Batman’s Dark Knight, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man and Hellboy II: The Golden Army all gracing the big screen this summer, everyone seems to have comics on the brain, and I’m no exception.

Personally, I’m a fan of Wonder Woman, and am waiting with baited breath for Lynda Carter to don the Lasso of Truth, to pass her trusty bracelets on to her daughter, or well, any kind of Wonder Woman movie really. Unfortunately, there have been holdups in getting one released, so until then, Delilah Dirk is my new ‘shero’.

Who’s Delilah Dirk? She’s the funny, sly, sword-wielding heroine of Delilah Dirk and the Treasure of Constantinople by Tony Cliff. Set in the late 19th century in Constantinople, the story centers on an army captain of the Ottoman Empire who finds his job and life on the line after Delilah Dirk, his most important prisoner mollywops a guard and escapes to freedom. I’m not the only one who is hip to Delilah and her adventures – Tony and his comic heroine have been nominated for an Eisner Award in the category for Best Single Issue. We here at Lulu wish Tony the best of luck, and are crossing our fingers that he walks away with the prize during the ceremony this Friday.

If you are looking for your own ‘shero’ here are a few titles you should look into:
A. Furuichi and S. Yoshinaga - Nemu Nemu
Wapsi Square: 2001-2004 - Paul Taylor
Girls With Slingshots Volume 1 (2nd Edition) - Danielle Corsetto

Coming to Fruition: A Manifesto

The Blog Team here at Lulu doesn't usually have the opportunity to share such a story with our readers, but when Lisa Haneburg sent us her account of helping our elders become published authors we knew we had to share it. It is truly remarkable how much one person can make a difference in the lives of others, and I hope that Lisa's story will inpsire others to follow in her path.

We here at the Lulu Blog team commend Lisa for taking the time to help Ruth, Mike, Carol, and Marwayne publish their books on Lulu.

The Four Authors

Coming to Fruition: A Manifesto
By Lisa Haneberg

Five months ago, Ruth, Mike, Carol, and Marwayne were senior writers, and tonight they became book authors, too. If I had not shown them my father’s book, my mother’s book, and one of my books—all done in the same way we planned to do theirs—they would not have believed the dream could come true for them. I assured them we could get past any barriers they might encounter with the technology. I told them we would recruit volunteers to help and I asked them to allow me to guide them through the process to create their own books. Although they did not understand how it would all happen, they placed their faith in me and the process that I had outlined for them. I promised them we would cap off our successful work together with a group reading event.

The reading at the West Seattle Senior Center ended two hours ago. It was scheduled for 4:00 pm so that the seniors in attendance would not have to drive home in the dark. Over 50 people came to hear the four new authors read and to celebrate their achievements. I was the proud emcee. As the authors sat up at the head table in the front of the room, their smiles and sparkly eyes beamed and told me that it was worth all the work. This day—this triumph—was a big deal for them and the audience responded warmly. It was a big deal for me, too, and I am sure I will remember this experience as one of my best of 2008.

Tale of Two Tails: And Other Essays  by Mike Mulhall
First up to read was Mike, except that Mike asked me to read from his book for him because he was recovering from his fourth stroke and had trouble forming long sentences. When I heard last month that Mike had suffered another stroke, I worried because I lost my mother to a stroke. I didn’t want Mike to miss seeing and holding his first and likely only book—we were so close to finishing it. He is recovering quite well, but is still not back to being the 90-year-old he was before the stroke. I read a short and funny essay Mike had written about driftwood ropers and mincemeat ranchers. He watched me and laughed as I read his work—I love it when people laugh at their own jokes. Mike’s essays span 70 years and tell stories about eating squirrels, jumping rail cars in Alaska, and being drafted to war.

The Only Thing Higher is Sky  by Carol Farnham
Carol read from her collection of pieces about photography, travel explorations, and family. She writes about places using beautiful, poetic sentences. I love her piece about how ponderosa pine trees smell like vanilla. She read an essay about her first job picking and wearing strawberries and another essay about the time she climbed to the summit of Mt. Rainier. Some of Carol’s pieces include short bits of song, and she sang as she read these portions tonight—that took a lot of courage. She dedicated her book to the grandparents she had never met or known. She wrote her stories so that her grandkids and great-grandkids would know something about her and the family.

The Little Red Barn And the Horses Who Lived There by Marwayne Leipzig
Marwayne read portions of two of her six stories about horses she had raised on her farm. Her book is unique because it is told from the imagined perspective of a red barn and written for a teen to young adult audience. She wrote the book for her daughter and her grandchildren. There are very few family memoirs written for younger readers. Marwayne was thrilled when we were able to get her book done in time to take to a family wedding in Texas. She said the kids loved the book, especially because the horses had really existed and their stories were true. The book includes pictures of each horse and some of the photos were nearly 50 years old.

Thankful That the Tree Still Stands: And Other Musings by Ruth Ward
Ruth was the final reader this evening and she read several small pieces from her collection of poems and short nonfiction. She started with a poem called “Exposed,” explaining that this is how she felt, having never read her work for a large audience. Ruth’s work is provocative and sassy, and she likes bending and stretching conventional thinking and norms. When I first met Ruth, she said she wanted to create her book to be handed out at her memorial service. As the book was coming together and she saw how beautiful it was going to be, she got excited about sharing it now, while she is still very much alive.

After the readings, the authors were available to answer questions and to sell and sign books. The audience loved the readings and people mingled and talked for a long time. When I think about this evening’s celebration, I am filled with a sense of accomplishment and a sense of urgency, a sense that something is still undone. I wonder what would have happened had Ruth, Mike, Carol and Marwayne not published their books. Their stories might never have been shared, and this would have been a tragedy.

My sense of urgency comes from a belief that there are thousands, perhaps millions, of other senior writers out there whose work is hidden away in old stacks of paper; faded, handwritten journals, or lost in the digital catacombs of old 386 floppy-drive computers. How do we ensure that seniors who have taken the time and care to write their stories have a chance to pass on their work?

Three Realities and a Manifesto

Reality number one: Print-on-demand publishing is simpler and more cost effective than ever. It is very easy to design, load, and publish a nice looking book. There are no or few upfront costs. For example, a 100-page book with a nice color cover will cost around eight dollars to print and there is no minimum order required.
Reality number two: Most seniors do not have the basic computer skills needed to design, load, and publish their writing using the newer print-on-demand methods. Mike does not type at all. Ruth types, but does not understand how to save or format her work on her computer. Carol and Marwayne can type and save Word files, but do not understand how to format files or upload them to an Internet site. Each senior writer will face different technology barriers. The print-on-demand publishing process is simple, but not for those who are not comfortable using computers.
Reality number three: If you are my age or younger (I’m 40 something), you likely have the skills you need to help bridge the gap between a senior writer and their finished book. Can you format a Microsoft Word document? Can you place pictures in a Word file? Do you buy books from Amazon.com or other online retailers? Are you comfortable attaching files to email messages? Can you create a PowerPoint presentation? If so, you have all the skills needed to design, load and publish a print-on-demand book.
The manifesto: I would like to see senior publishing workshops crop up in cities across the country and world. I want there to be millions of Ruths, Mikes, Carols, and Marwaynes who have the opportunity to publish and share their writing. How many stories end up rotting in basement cardboard boxes or landfills? Our elders’ writings are important and they deserve to be valued, preserved, and shared. Happily, new technologies have made publishing their works easy and inexpensive. But people like you and me are needed to bridge the gap—to become enablers—between the writers and the technology.
I believe that anyone with the desire to help can become a powerful catalyst and facilitator for a senior writer. Start with your parents or grandparents. Ask them if they have written down any stories or memories and let them know you would like to help them publish their writings so the whole family can read them.
Get comfortable with the print-on-demand publishing process by giving it a try. There are many print-on-demand vendors to choose from, but I like Lulu.com because there are no upfront costs and it is very easy to use. You can upload a Word document, make a few standard choices about the cover style and design (Lulu offers several preloaded alternatives) and order your first book in about an hour. The cost of this experiment will likely be less than ten dollars. If you are not a writer, publish your son’s book reports or your mother’s stories.
Although I am a writer, this is how it all started for me: with my parents. My 73-year-old mother was a budding writer when she died unexpectedly two years ago. She had nearly completed her memoir, with just the final chapter to write. My mother was a member of a spirited writing group for seniors and she and I attended writers’ conferences together. We were connected by a love of writing. She published several short pieces in regional publications. Writing fueled her final years and days. I saw how it enlivened her spirit. Having retired from the Cape Coral Police Department communications department, my mother had good computer skills and could type and edit her own work, and so her manuscript was in pretty good shape. Because her memoir was nearly complete before she died, I was able to finish it for her and publish it for my family.
Although an uneducated man, my father has been writing his stories about family and life for over a decade. In the early stages of Alzheimer’s and plagued with heart disease, his ability to remember and write his stories has diminished. My father’s wife types his stories despite her severe rheumatoid arthritis in both hands. She knows enough about computers to type the stories and insert pictures amongst the text to create homemade books, coil bound at the local Kinko’s. I remember the look on my father’s face when my siblings and I presented him with 20 professional looking, perfect bound copies of his book called, 75 Years and Lee’s Excellent Adventures.
For his 75th birthday, we put together a collection of his stories and created a print-on-demand book on Lulu.com, complete with his author bio and picture on the back cover. He was a published author and the book was available for our extended relatives in Canada to buy online. He gushed with pride and happiness, signed copies for his Wednesday afternoon beer buddies and mailed a copy to his only living sibling. He tells me now that he re-reads his book often to keep his memory tuned up.
The writing my mother and father have done is precious to my siblings and me, and I know that writing was and is important to them, too. Their work shares little in common except that it provides a window into their hearts, minds, and lives. Working on their print-on-demand projects gave me the confidence and resolve to help other senior writers publish their stories.
Once you feel comfortable using a print-on-demand website, the next step is to offer to help senior writers go through the process. A great place to find older writers is your local senior center. They often have writing courses that help seniors recall and write their stories. Find and partner with the class instructors and offer a follow-up workshop for those who have written enough to create a book (anything over 25 pages or so can be made into a book). If you are not comfortable with the technology but are interested in helping seniors publish their writing, partner with someone who is a computer whiz. Keep the group size small—no more than six people at a time—because there are lots of little details to cover and some of the work you will need to do one-on-one.
In my case, I taught a nonfiction writing class at the West Seattle Senior Center and then pitched the publishing class as a second offering. Only three from the first class (Ruth, Mike and Carol) felt they had enough finished work to proceed to the publishing workshop. I volunteered my time and materials for both of these classes, but I think it would be fine to charge a nominal fee to cover basic expenses (keep in mind that many seniors are on fixed budgets).
If your writers need help getting their work typed, proofed, or edited, you will want to recruit volunteers. I asked my community blog, the West Seattle Blog, to post a request for volunteers. A lot of people responded because they felt the project was important and worthy. I had eight people who typed 20-50 pages each, three proofreaders who helped spot and correct typographical errors, and three people who offered light editing to improve the readability of the writing. Because the workshop, writers, and volunteers were all located in my West Seattle community, meetings were easy to plan. I met many of my volunteers at a nearby Barnes & Noble coffee shop to hand off work that needed to be typed. Once typed, the work could be emailed back and forth to be proofed and edited.
My workshop had five class dates and then one-on-one time as needed to get all the books completed. Because each book project is unique, some were completed more quickly than others. Our first group meeting occurred on January 28th and our reading celebration was May 14th. While the classroom work occurred over five group sessions, there were gaps in meetings as work was being typed, proofed, uploaded, and as we ordered and reviewed the draft books (Allow ten days for each book order, or a total of 20 days to accommodate two rounds of draft books).
Ruth, Mike, Carol and Marwayne designed their own books. I created a template for the type of information I knew that I needed to format and load their books and then I walked them through considering and making their own decisions about how their books would look. I think it is important that each writer make these choices, even if this makes the process a bit slower and more cumbersome. Each class was two hours long. For the first 40 minutes I would explain the book elements we would work on and make assignments. Then I would put them to work on the assignments while I met one-on-one with each writer to determine what needed to happen next to move their books forward. Here is a list of the design elements they defined and completed:

• Book title and subtitle
• Design of their front cover (color, picture, font style)
• Design of their back cover (author picture and short biography)
• Book dedication and acknowledgements
• The introduction or preface
• The author bio for the back of the book
• The flow of the book – how they would like their writing to be organized into chapters or sections.

The seniors really enjoyed working on these design elements because they could see their book coming together exactly how they wanted it to. I gave the seniors some structure for the sake of simplicity and time, making it clear where we needed to have consistency. For example, I told the seniors that their books would be 6” x 9” perfect bound, softcover books with a color cover and black and white printing inside. Lulu offers many sizes, but by keeping it the same for everyone, I could use one basic Word template for all the books. The hardest part of this process is turning each writer’s work into a correctly formatted Word file so it can be uploaded to Lulu. Asking everyone to agree to the 6” x 9” softcover style made my job much easier. As it turned out, Carol and Marwayne deviated a bit and included color pictures inside their book, but this difference was not difficult to accommodate.
I found that the easiest way to create the front covers was to design them using PowerPoint. You can make the page size 6 x 9 inches and then place any pictures onto the cover. Using PowerPoint, I was able to sit with each writer and instantly show them different title fonts and background colors. Most of the writers used pictures they already had for the cover, which I then scanned and placed onto the PowerPoint page. Once the cover is designed, you can save the PowerPoint page as a jpeg file, which can then be easily uploaded to your Lulu account. Make sure that the jpeg is 300dpi or better.
I am sharing these details about the process to give you an idea of how easy it can be to create a nice looking book. Yes, there were a lot of little things we had to design and define; but it was a fun process and these writers really got into it. Do you have team volunteer projects at work? Share a copy of this essay with your peers and say, “let’s do this!”
You might be thinking that there are publishers out there who will do all the work and publish anyone’s book. This is true, and one of the writers in my group had been given a quote for $4,000 to publish her book. This quote included a minimum of 500 books, which is about 350 more than she would ever need. Many seniors live on fixed budgets and cannot hire people to publish their work. The print-on-demand method is more labor intensive, but it allows all writers the opportunity to share their work. I used volunteers to help with typing, proofing, and editing, but it would be nice if every senior writer could have his or her work edited by a professional. I’d like to see grants written for senior book projects that would cover costs for basic editing and typing when needed. I would bet that many philanthropists would love to support this work.
I have had a few people ask me about the quality of the writing, suggesting that not everyone’s stories are good enough to be published. I look at writing much the same as I do the visual arts. There is fine art and there is folk art. Fine art might demonstrate more technique and craft, but folk art is often more interesting and generally tells a story. While some seniors are experienced writers who have developed their craft, many are writing folk art. I would put my father’s writing in the category of folk art, but his stories are wonderful! I believe that any elder, who has taken the time to write, deserves to be published and read. And when I work with senior writers, I do not try to change their style of writing or fix things beyond typographical errors and basic grammar and sentence structure.
Writers like words and I remember using a word that got a big reaction from my group of senior writers. The word was fruition and I was referring to the ability to complete a writing project so that it was available for others to read. They ached for fruition. They wanted to feel relevant and appreciated, and their stories offered them an opportunity to live beyond their earthly days. We get energy and satisfaction from all aspects of writing—the creation of our work and the act of sharing it. I can remember the first small piece that my mother got published in a magazine for seniors. This initial success powered her confidence that led to the writing of her memoir. The piece is short enough that I would like to share it here:

Evidence of a Good Life by Barbara McCranie

I feel good about the weirdest things. This week I'm wallowing in the recognition that our worn table napkins validate a fine lifestyle. Not just great dining but a higher level of living.

It started when my husband suggested new napkins. The dozen white cotton dinner napkins are still good and proof of thousands of dinners for two. The same old couple dabbing and wiping until their napkins are threadbare. You can't replace that.

Worn table napkins are symbolic of the soft touch of wrinkled hands, worn elbow patches on a favorite sweater, a book with eared pages, a fireplace stained by smoke—testimony of a meaningful life.
New napkins would offer a promise; old ones are evidence.

On a list of wishes for my children: worn napkins.

And I remember the first time I was able to walk into my local bookstore and find something with my name on the cover. I cried. Having one’s written work appreciated and shared is extremely important. We can all live on through our writing and this gets more precious and important (and difficult) as we age. Please join me in my quest to bridge the gap between the precious stories written by seniors and the new publishing tools that can allow more people to read and enjoy them.
Lisa Haneburg is a professional management and leadership trainer, coach, and organization development consultant. She is the sole proprietor of her company, Haneberg Management, and the author of H.I.M.M.: (High Impact Middle Management): Solutions for Today's Busy Managers, Organization Development Basics, Coaching Basics,Focus Like a Laser Beam and several short e-books. Her website is located at www.lisahaneberg.com