Self-Publishing Moms Series: Interview with Melinda Roberts, author of Mommy Confidential: Adventures from the Wonderbelly of Motherhood
Mindy Roberts is the author of The Mommy Blog and Mommy Confidential: Adventures From the Wonderbelly of Motherhood. In 2002, after the birth of her third child in four years, she began to write about her life and children in the sleepless hours in an effort to capture her young family’s world in real time. The popularity of her daily blog grew exponentially and after being turned down by a few traditional publishers, Mindy decided to self-publish this chronicle of her family’s adventures and mishaps. Her advice: if you have a story bursting inside, write it! Even if you print only one copy, it will be well worth it.
What inspired you to self-publish, and why now?
Once I realized I had at least one full-length book practically written as a result of blogging just about daily since 2002, it seemed a short hop to publish it. I made a few attempts to have it published by a traditional publishing house, but after a few turn-downs, I decided to see what I could do myself. These publishers were telling me that they loved my voice, that my writing was funny and real and engaging, but they either weren’t sure there was a wide enough audience or that there wasn’t much of a market for memoirs by moms. I knew there was an audience because by that time I had accumulated millions of hits on my site, and if I could sell to a small percentage of that number I could call it a success. When I first began researching self-publishing, my boyfriend at the time was also ready to publish a book. Together we hunted down the least expensive service with the least amount of upsells and greatest level of service, and went for it.
How long was it in the works? How long did it take from start to publication?
Honestly, the first time I saw my book in print was about a week from start to finish! Lulu.com was new at the time, but was wonderful in that you could upload your PDF manuscript, choose a medium (hardcover, paperback, pocket or full size), and have it printed and shipped. I mean, you could have published a phone book. That’s the down side. Anyone can publish anything, but the upside is that if it’s quality writing, people will want to read it. Lulu.com was ideal for drafts and for seeing the book in print while designing the layout and the cover, and for seeing the quality of the publication. Then, we went to Aventine press because at the time it offered much more: help with an ISBN, registration with the Library of Congress, an association with Lightning Press and placement with online retailers such as Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and other online booksellers. Lulu .com now offers those services as well, and I still consider them an ideal sandbox so that authors don’t have to shell out thousands for a “package” to see their work in print.
What about the actual printing? How did you handle that?
Aventine and Lulu.com are both print on demand services, so you don’t have to keep your own inventory. As each person orders a copy, it’s printed and shipped to the customer. You can also buy a quantity at discount, and I did that at first so I could autograph copies and sell them through my website. The kids got a kick out of signing their “book names” and pressing lipstick kisses on the pages. I also offered extras such as a little wine spilled on the pages, or cookie crumbs, even ants when we had a very large but (eventually) very funny infestation. I actually had requests for that. Since then, I have just let readers purchase through Amazon or other outlets. I don’t have to be involved at all, which is incredibly convenient and stress-free.
So you have a printed book, but what happens next?
Well, if you’re smart and soon to be successful, you have a marketing and PR strategy and budget. I had neither. What I did have was tons of material that had already been well-received, an English Professor/Editor/Author mother, graphic and web design skills, and editing services all in the family. That was all free, and top notch. That was what allowed me to create a web site and advertise through an already established medium without spending any money. I’m amazed I still sold books, considering that was the extent of my PR and marketing campaign. Imagine if I’d had an agent or actual budget for any of those things!
What advice would you offer moms who are trying to start their own venture or book project while juggling everything else?
Follow your instincts! If you feel someone doesn’t have your best interests at heart, they may not. Don’t let a business convince you that you need to spend thousands of dollars before you can see anything even approaching a finished product. There are ways to see your work in print and make adjustments and edits accordingly. Even if you never publish it widely, you can have it for family and friends, or even just for yourself. Have one copy printed, or thousands. It’s totally under your control, and if you look around, there are a million resources for those who want to ease into it and be sure it’s what they want before spending a fortune on an uncertain outcome. Now, that’s just the technical side. For the intangible side, be sure you have passion for your subject matter. If there is a story bursting from your heart, write it! Write it poorly! But write it. Even if you decide in the end not to publish, it’s wonderful therapy!
Is it worth all the work?
Absolutely. Once a single copy was printed, it was worth the work. If nothing else, with that, I was able to hand my children a record of their young life, a collections of our stories. I don’t know many of the stories from when I was growing up, and I wish I did. My children will know just how hard and wonderful it was, how heartbreaking and awesome and devastatingly tiring and incredibly invigorating it was to grow up as a family. They will have a taste of what it was like living day to day with the realities of parenthood and childhood, unfettered by the need to appear perfect and pretty. It’s not all kittens and rainbows, but it is completely and totally worthwhile, an experience I wouldn’t trade for the world.