THE STORY OF THE WILL O’ WISP
“This is good, Mom,” Colleen said after she read my first draft.
Lara agreed with her sister. “You should get it published.”
Well, of course my daughters would praise my memoir. Not only were they interested in the story of our family, but they were particularly curious about their eccentric grandmother—a petite but fierce Irish woman they knew only as a successful artist.
But while I was working on my manuscript, publishing was the last thing on my mind. I was grieving. The loss of my mother, followed by the sudden and unexplained death of my sister, had impelled me to write about my childhood. I wanted to remember happiness.
I was surprised at how much I remembered: the smell of ozone from my brother’s electric trains, the sound of our squeaky back door, the lawn daisies growing alongside our house. It was like watching an old movie, and all I had to do was write down what played in my mind.
However, what began as snippets of life during the innocent fifties began to transform into something else. Something so subtle, so insidious, it was hard to put my finger on what was wrong with this picture of my family.
“We were raised in a cult,” was my brother Patrick’s opinion. “Our mother would not want you to tell her secrets.”
Meanwhile, fellow members of a writing workshop were encouraging me to publish. The facilitator of the group, herself a published author, felt sure that my book would get the attention of a literary agent.
And so began the process of querying agents—and any new writer will tell you what an emotional gauntlet that can be. I don’t know what was worse: the instant rejections, or when an agent showed an interest by asking for sample chapters and proposals and synopses, ad infinitum… only to reject the manuscript with the pat explanation: “Not a good fit.”
By then, I began to realize that I really did want my book published—despite my reluctance at sharing the secrets of what, I was beginning to understand, made my family dysfunctional, and perhaps contributed to my sister’s accidental suicide.
The next step was to query the smaller publishing houses which did not require agent representation. But the result was always the same: My book was “not a good fit.”
To hell with them, I thought. I’ll self-publish.
Now, I hadn’t given up on the hope that, one day, a mainstream agent would discover my memoir. I knew it was a good book. So when I shopped around for a self-publishing company, I made sure I had the option to cancel my contract and withdraw my book if an agent decided to pick it up.
Which is exactly what happened. After getting my memoir formatted for paper and e-books, and making it available in the virtual bookstores under the title Backwards, I was contacted by a reputable agent who wanted to represent me. “This is a beautiful memoir,” she assured me. In addition, this particular agent represented another memoirist whose book was a recent bestseller! Woo-hoo! I couldn’t believe my good luck!
But I had a problem. Not only had I already self-published, but after I ordered the first box of fifty books, meaning to peddle them to local bookstores, I realized there were many misprints and errors in the text. I had already contacted the so-called publishing house, who acknowledged the problem and offered to refund my money if I returned the faulty books.
What the publisher did not tell me was that they would re-distribute the used copies, and that my bookcover would remain on the virtual bookstore sites until all the paperbacks were sold. I considered buying them back, but whenever I checked Amazon, my book was priced between $800 and $1700!
Not only that, but when I Googled my name, Sharon Nobilio, I saw that I had completely lost control of the contents of my book. (One site quoted a line and referenced my name on a billboard in China!)
Apparently, while my book was going viral, Barnes & Noble occasionally offered sale prices, which is how my younger half-brother and a few native Irish cousins found my memoir and promptly disowned me for telling the truth about our family. But that’s another story…
“I told you our mother wouldn’t want you to tell her secrets,” said brother Patrick.
“Don’t worry,” wrote my FB friends. “If it’s a good book, an agent won’t care if it had once been self-published.”
When I confessed the unseemly publishing history of my memoir to the agent, she did not reply. In fact, I never heard from her again—which, by the way, is how the bigshot agents reject you.
The moral of this story, I suppose, is that if you are considering self-publishing, know what that entails. Once your book goes global, there is no turning back.
I believe indie authors are gaining a foothold in the market, and there are many fine self-published books out there. But unfortunately, self-published writers are still viewed as the illegitimate step-children of the literary world—which is kind of ironic in my case, since being an unwanted child is the theme of my memoir.
But because this unwanted child has a story to tell, I have, once again, self-published my memoir—after licking the wounds incurred by the ordeal of trying to get traditionally published.
The new title, The Will O’ Wisp, is in reference to my mother’s girlhood stories of the graveyards in Ireland. And my pen name, Sharon Ann, is in honor of my father, the forgotten figure of my childhood resurrected through the magic of writing.
Fore more information on Sharon Ann and her work, follow the links.