, my friend in Hawaii, wrote a self-published book
about her experience as a foster parent. It’s fantastic, and I am enormously proud. I’ve got an autographed copy to give away;
if you’d like a crack at winning, leave a comment on this post and I’ll draw the winner next Monday
. Update: Winner has been selected!
I asked her to share a little about both the book and her self-publishing experience, too, and her answers are so great.
You wrote a book with a rather provocative title. Give us a brief summary.
“Giving the Baby Back” is a book I wrote in response to all of the questions I get about my family. In my quest to become a mother, I have explored all of the avenues available to people who want to become parents. We have a biological child, an adopted child, and we have cared for a number of foster children. The question I get the most – the one that pops out of everyone’s mouth when they hear we foster newborns – is “How do you give them back?” So I set out to answer that question, and along the way tell the story of how and why we are foster parents.
What was it like reliving all of these very emotional stories in written form, sometimes years later?
Well, once you get over being worried about what your grandmother will say, it is actually very cathartic. I am not known for my filter, so sharing stories that – until now – have been private, was not the hard part. Surprisingly, the hard part is actually reading them out loud! I cried during my last reading, while I was actually reading part of a chapter out loud to the group. It was really embarrassing.
What makes someone a good candidate to become a foster parent?
I would say there are two things you need to be a good candidate:
1. You need to be prepared for anything.
2. You need to find a Foster Parent resource group in your area – an established one with experienced foster parents. They will be able to help you more than your very over-extended social worker.
You don’t need a lot of stuff. You don’t need a huge house. You don’t even need a lot of experience with kids – but you have to be ready for anything, willing to learn, and able to ask for help.
What do you wish you’d known when you started and what do you want everyone else to learn from your book?
I wish I had become a foster parent sooner, to be honest. I didn’t realize until we began that being a foster parent is incredibly rewarding. Yes, it can be frustrating, absolutely. But when you see that child asleep the first night, possibly getting the first solid sleep after the first decent meal they have had in a while, you will feel this immediate sense of pride that you did it. That you opened up your home and your heart to a child who has no one else to care for them. It feels SO GOOD, and to watch these kids thrive in a stable environment is just incredible. The trick, of course, is to hang on through the hard parts – because there are plenty of hard parts. But when you look back – even on the hardest times, the toughest cases – the bright moments of peace and joy always shine through.
What made you determined to keep fostering?
The reason we have continued to foster is two-fold:
First, we adopted our daughter because of our involvement in the foster system. She was never a foster child – it was just a situation that presented itself – but if we had not been foster parents we would never have gotten the call. I tell the whole story of how we adopted our daughter (which is really an incredible story) in the book. I feel a sense of – not debt, but gratitude. I am so grateful, that I want to stay involved in the foster system.
Second, I think being a foster sibling is a wonderful experience for my kids. Some families volunteer at soup kitchens or donate toys during the holidays – this is our volunteer work. We do this because we can, and we do this because it needs doing.
You’re self-published. What made you choose this route, and what are the advantages and challenges?
Honestly, I self-published because I didn’t have an agent, or a publisher, and I have no idea how to acquire those. I sent a bunch of inquiries, and got a few rejections, and I just wanted to move on. The book felt done, and I wanted to take the next step. That is my personality – and you see a lot of that stubbornness in the book – I just figure out how to get what I want or need, and then I dig in and make it happen. Sometimes this is a good thing, sometimes it’s not – my husband could probably explain that better. I discovered quickly that self-publishing was incredibly easy, and I could get the book out there in a matter of days, which suited my impatient nature. I haven’t given up on finding a publisher, I just didn’t want to keep the book in a file until I found one.
The challenges to self-publishing are the expense, and the marketing of the book after it’s published. I decided to go the most cost-effective route I could find, which was through Createspace – an Amazon company. The problem I have found most daunting is that many people will not shop on Amazon. Createspace has a “print-to-order” system, so I don’t have to order a minimum. My book is listed on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and printed as it gets ordered at no cost to me, AND I can order copies at wholesale and sell the book through my own website with free shipping, so that people can avoid shopping on Amazon. I thought that was a fair compromise. What I didn’t realize was that just having Amazon print the book would be a huge stumbling block. I feel like I have a scarlet letter on the book now, which is a bummer. I definitely love and support independent booksellers, and I wanted to keep the cost of my book low at the production end……but I upset and offended a lot of people by using an Amazon company. It was a huge bummer.
What surprised you the most about writing a book?
I never thought I could tackle a book. The idea of writing anything longer than a blog post made me sweaty. It was scary and daunting, and I told myself I couldn’t do it – until one day someone said “Of course you can. Just tell your story – you have a book’s worth.” And she was right. I just sat down and told my story, and it wasn’t so bad. Until I realized that other people would be reading it. Then I got nervous all over again: “What if the book is TERRIBLE?”
It’s like having a kid, and thinking your baby is beautiful while everyone else is wincing and saying “Wow, that’s a baby all right!” “She sure is breathtaking!” I had no idea if people would like the book, or if it was even readable. Thankfully, it has gotten a very warm reception. Whew.
You wrote a few highly personal things in the book that made your private, conservative family uncomfortable. How did you handle their responses?
I told them all to just wait until the next book. That one is going to be a real doozy. Ha!
No, really, it was tough. I was terrified. My mom started to read it, learned a bunch of details she didn’t know about my college days in the first 20 pages, and sent me an email telling me she was going to have to take it slow. But she managed to get through the book without freaking out completely, and while we haven’t discussed any of the specifics she is now my biggest champion. My grandmother, on the other hand, stood up and walked out after a reading without even saying goodbye. That was tough.
What made you say, “Fuck it, I’m telling my story?”
I wrote a blog post called “Giving the Baby Back”, talking about how upsetting it was to have people say “Well *I* could never give a baby back”. It made me feel like they were judging me, that they thought I was cold or unfeeling to be able to foster these babies and then give them up. I wanted to explain how it works, and why I do it. After I published that post, people emailed and called and texted with more questions. And that is when another writer – Rebecca Walker – told me that I had to write this book, and tell this story. I wish I still had her text, it said something like “stop whatever you are working on and write a book about this.” Then Oprah.com picked up the post, and I realized that there really could be a wider audience out there, interested in my experience and my perspective.
I worry a lot about privacy – not mine, so much, but everyone else involved – from my ex-husband to the foster children. It took me a while to determine how much of the story it was okay to tell. I changed a lot of details, but it is still my story, and I think it’s a story worth sharing.
Where can people get your book?
A few independent bookstores were willing to carry it – but only a few. I’m working really hard to change that. In the meantime, you can download the e-book on Kobo, and you can get the paperback at www.givingthebabyback.com
. It is for sale online at Barnes and Noble and Amazon, but truly, I encourage everyone who feels uncomfortable shopping on those websites to go to a local bookstore and ask them to order it. I would love to get this book in as many independent bookstores as possible and I have very flexible terms.