Writing: The Early Days

I made my first venture into the land of self-publishing at around the age of eight.

I can’t remember who taught me how to make a chapbook, but I believe it was my maternal grandmother.  Write your story on individual pages, front and back. Illustrate, of course. Make sure the pages are clearly numbered. Punch holes in the margins and sew the pages together. Make a colorful cover and sew that on as well.

Looking back, those were some seriously ugly little constructs, but I was so proud of them. I hand wrote each page, carefully printing each word. I checked my spelling and punctuation. I drew my own illustrations. My first cover was my favorite drawing, and try as I might, I wasn’t able to duplicate it. That book and cover became my first “author’s copy”.

Do I remember the story? I do not. Do I still have a copy somewhere? I do not. Darn it.

I made about a dozen copies. Sadly enough, I chose black thread to sew my books together. In retrospect, I should have chosen colors to match my illustrated cover, but… I was eight. Or seven. Maybe even nine. Who knows? My logic: black matches everything.

Once the books were put together and looking oh, so beautiful, I marched out into the neighborhood to pedal my wares.

Hey, it was hard work, making a book. I figured I should get a dollar, at least, just for the labor behind it all. But I wasn’t crazy; I knew no one was going to pay a dollar for an unknown writer, especially when anyone could go to the library and check out a book for free.

Still, I did work hard. I settled on charging a quarter.

It was tough. People smiled and patted my head and complimented me on my nice artwork and sent me on my way–penniless.

Finally, someone bought a book. She was probably in a rush to make dinner and get her kids cleaned up, and she snagged the little book, said, “Uh huh, pretty. Pretty.” She handed me a quarter and shut the door in my face.

I’ll never know if she read the story to her kids, gave it to a toddler to tear up or tossed in into the bin. All I knew was–MY FIRST SALE!!

It took me a few days to sell my books, and dinnertime seemed to be magic hour. I guess moms just take pity on a kid. That, or they’re too busy to argue and just want to get rid of you quickly so they can finish their work. Yeah, that was probably the kicker, right there.

One neighborhood woman invited me inside for tea and cookies and a personal reading. She was a family friend and my first fan. I read her a lot of stories after that. No charge, just cookies and tea and her treasured company.

I was a little kid, so I didn’t know there was an ordinance in my hometown outlawing door-to-door sales. I was lucky enough not to discover this law until I was trying to unload the very last book.

Naturally, I chose the house of the man who yelled at all the neighborhood kids to keep off his lawn, stay out of his yard, don’t pick his flowers. He didn’t live close to us, so how was I to know?

Anyway, he laid down the law to me, in no uncertain terms. No door to door sales allowed in this town. The cops would get me. I would go to jail. Plus, I would have to turn over all the money I had earned for my book.

I ran all the way home. I gave the book to my little sister. I counted my quarters and hid them away for a rainy day.

I never made another chapbook.

Oddly enough, I was reminded of all this when I ran across a YouTube video about how to make a chapbook. I had forgotten that I was a little self-published author in grade school, and that little clip brought all those memories back to me.

Of course, the video chapbook was a lot more sophisticated than my little hand-written, hand-drawn and hand-sewn story books, but what would you expect? I was proud of my books. If I had run across them again a few years later, no doubt they would have caused me to cringe, but I was proud, by golly.

I wonder if getting scared silly by a grumpy old man was what made me afraid to try self-publishing for so many years? (Ha ha!)

What was your first self-publishing experience?


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