After years of working on a manuscript, I imagine that most authors strive to get noticed by a publisher and land that first book deal, but publication was not my original intention. Since I was a teenager, I knew my father had an extraordinary story and I’d wanted to write it, but I worried that asking him about his life during the war would dredge up all too painful memories. Twenty-five years later, driven by fears of escaping time, diminishing memories, and increasing health concerns, we decided it was time to record his memories before they disappeared altogether. At the time, I thought little about what the finished project would look like, focusing only on remembering and recording.
As our project evolved over months and years, I considered many options for sharing his story with our family, and even some close friends who had expressed interest. We discussed printing out copies, and maybe even binding it at a local print shop. During that period, I shared parts of the manuscript with teachers and classmates in my creative writing classes at University of Toronto. They encouraged me to complete and publish his story in book form.
When the manuscript was complete, and with my father’s blessing, I sent it out to a few small presses and crossed my fingers, but that winter my father’s health declined and I felt that there was no time to lose. That’s when I decided to self-publish.
The decision to become an indie author was the right one for so many reasons. There is no way to describe how I felt when I placed a copy of my father’s story into his hands or the look on his face when he saw his image on the cover. Fortunately, my father’s health improved enough that he could participate in book launches and other events with me after publication. As an author, self-publishing also taught me so much about the other side of writing: interior design and layout, various types of editing, cover design, shipping, distribution, sales, promotion, and a host of other issues I hadn’t thought about while I’d spent hours writing at my laptop.
Months after self-publishing, I learned that a new small press had sprung up in my hometown with a focus on northern writers. As is my nature, I threw my hat, or in this case my manuscript, into the mix. What was there to lose?
It turned out that it was a chance worth taking. When the publishers at Latitude 46 presented me with a contract, I received much more than that. All those roles I’d had to learn were now divvied amongst a group of passionate individuals whose purpose was to nurture my father’s story and support my efforts as an author. My book received a fresh interior layout, careful and respectful editing, and a lovely new cover, while I received a supportive team of individuals who believed in the book as much as I did. I’ll never regret self-publishing, but the transition to traditional publishing has been beyond my expectations. This time, I recognize the need for stories like my father’s to be read and shared beyond our circle of family and friends.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think there is an author out there that doesn’t dream of getting that first book deal, but placing the book in my father’s hands was more important to me than waiting for years for a publisher that might never arrive. To my delight and surprise, as if by magic, a publisher did arrive, and in my own backyard. They had faith in me and in my project. Now, I’m looking forward to the moment when, once again, I can place a copy of my father’s story into his hands. For that I am forever grateful.
Surviving Stutthof: My father’s memories behind the Death Gate will be available Sept. 28 2017.
Pre order your copy on May 1 2017.