Tip and Prompt: How to Self-Publish the Right Way

After taking in forums and coliseums, oodles of trains and 13 different (incredible, highly sedative) servings of gelato in Italy, I’m back in Prompt action. A special thanks to Jessica for posting in the last week, and for all of your comments and stories.

While on vacation, I found myself in a random discussion with a French writer about the ups and downs of self-publishing, which leads to one of the things I mentioned to her—today’s installment of the Top 20 Tips From WD in 2009 series.

No. 12: Self-Publish Right
Every book that’s self-published should look and read like it came from Random House. To reach that goal, every self-publisher must think like the big houses—and strive to even exceed their quality. Editing and design are not steps that can be skipped without exacting a significant price.
—Reader Linda Lane, as featured in our March/April 2009 issue. (We’re also running a 40-80 percent discount in our digital store until the end of the month; if you missed it on newsstands, check the issue out here or in a library for a slew of great self-publishing know-how).

Looking ahead, I’ve also got an intriguing author Q&A about the ins and outs of creativity lined up for next Monday, and some gelato inspired prompts in the works for the coming weeks. Here, spawning by a conversation overheard on a train to Pisa, is today’s offering. Moreover, here’s to hoping the last week has treated you and your writing well.

Feel free to take the following prompt home or post your response (500
words or fewer, funny, sad or stirring) in the Comments section below:

“Why did you cut it all off?”
She stares out the window.

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4 thoughts on “Tip and Prompt: How to Self-Publish the Right Way

  1. Karen Winters Schwartz

    “Why did you cut it all off?”

    She stares out the window.


    She turns to him slightly, her eyes narrowing with disapproval. “Why, Stanley? Why does everything turn into a drama with you?”

    Stanley turns from her, looks out the window. She studies, with a sliver of pleasure, the wretched lines upon his face, and knows he’s taking in the trauma of the open wound — taking in the splattering of dying leaves remaining in the yard. She turns back to the window — a small breeze blows across the grass; the leaves burst into life. His voice quivers slightly. “You know, I loved it. Looked at it everyday . . .”

    She rolls her eyes impatiently. “It was banging against the house. Threatening its very existence. Keeping me up at night.”

    His eyes come back to her, a little danger in them. “And, I suppose, he did it.”

    She laughs sharply. “Well, I certainly wasn’t going to climb up that tree with a chainsaw strapped to my back!” She sees Stanley shiver slightly at mention of the chainsaw. She laughs again. “Vrrrrrmm,” she says. He cringes.

    The image of Pablo shimmying up the tree — the chainsaw strapped to his glistening muscular back, his arms rippling with the effort — makes her smile. It was a hot day, and she’d sat on the patio, two sweating glasses of lemonade nearby, and watched the gardener ease his body onto the limb. “Be careful, Pablo!” she’d called. His smile flashing down on her; then the excitement of the noise, the ripping away of the branch, the thrill as the limb hit the ground, the leaves fluttering up in despair. Then Pablo climbing back down — watching him rip the branch apart — coming over, every now and then, to smile at her, wiping gently at the sweat along his brow, reaching his hand out and sipping from her offering of cold lemonade . . .

    Her beautiful memory is suddenly shattered by her husband’s words.

    “You could’ve had him trim it just a bit,” he whines. “It surely wasn’t necessary to lop off the entire thing!”

    She tilts her head Stanley’s way, looks away from his tragic face, slides her eyes over his sloping shoulders, runs her eyes down the soft swell of his belly, and wonders; what could she have Pablo lop off next?

  2. Lynn Campbell

    “Why did you cut it all off?”
    She stared out the window.

    "The baby will be coming soon."

    The answer came after such a delay that Elizabette thought perhaps it was a subject change.

    "What baby?"

    "The baby. My baby."

    "I didn’t know you were pregnant."

    Elizabette had no idea what it was Maria stared at, probably herself. Once full night had set, the window revealed nothing except a reflection of the train’s contents and the occasional bead of rain trailing down and back, clinging to the window in a vain attempt to not be left behind.

    "I’m not pregnant. Not yet," Maria said finally. She rubbed a hand over her scalp, still staring at her reflection. "It feels like velvet, now."

    Elizabette startled when Maria grabbed her wrist, placing the hand upon her own head. She rubbed obligingly, trying to dislodge the lump stuck in her throat. She didn’t like to touch, even if the short, somewhat prickly hair did feel nice. She pulled her hand away after a few strokes, and clasped both hands together in her lap. Her nails were ragged and a little dirty after a day spent in the pollution of the city, and all she wanted was a nice, hot shower. It would be some time before they got home.

    "Are you trying for a baby?"

    "We have been, for awhile. He has — well, we’re not sure what our problem is, exactly. We’ve done tests. They’ve been inconclusive."

    "But you said it would be coming soon?"

    "I donated the hair. A sacrifice of my vanity for a good cause. The lady said –."

    Elizabette raised an eyebrow. "What lady?"

    Maria smiled, and turned back to her reflection. "Nothing. You’ll think it’s stupid."

    "No I won’t. What did the lady say?"

    "She said it would buy me a baby."

    "You can’t buy a baby!"

    "Shhh," Maria said, and Elizabette noticed the other passengers staring. Her voice had gotten rather loud.

    "Not like that. I’m not buying a baby with my hair. It’s like building karma."

    "I don’t understand," Elizabette said.

    "No," Maria said, and traced the curve of her cheek with a finger on the glass, "you wouldn’t."

  3. Adam Legrand

    "why did you cut it all off?"

    she stares out the window.

    "why?" i ask again. she doesn’t answer. she is sitting on the toilet seat in the upstairs bathroom, still holding the scissors in her right hand. her hair sits in piles on the vanity, in the sink, on the floor, discarded and forlorn looking. i can see her reflection in the window. outside it’s raining and the drops streak the glass and make her face look like it’s melting. i look away.

    "did you take your medicine today, jenn?" still no response from her. dr. richards told me it would be like this. he told me and still i have a hard time believing it even when i’m looking right at her.

    "you know you have to take your medicine everyday," i say, trying not to sound patronizing and failing. i walk over to her and pick her up (she weighs so very little now) and carry her into our bedroom and lay her down on the duvet my mother gave us last christmas. she says nothing, curls into a ball on her right side and stares at the wall, her bald head resting on the pillow. outside it continues to rain.

  4. Mark James

    “Why did you cut it all off?”

    She stared out the window.

    "Why?" he asked again.

    “You mean hacked off, don’t you, Steve?”

    “Alright. Whatever. It’s gone. What the hell got into you?”

    “I guess I got tired of looking at it.”

    Steve looked at Sarah, his wife of five years, a woman who – to the best of his knowledge – had never done an unpredictable thing in her life. He smoothed his beard, moved in his chair so his body language shifted from confrontational to ‘I’m your friend’. “Babe, you wanna tell me about it?”

    Sara gave him a look that could have frozen a volcano in full eruption. “I’m not one of your patients, doctor.”

    “You know the new laws. You can’t leave the house looking like that.”

    “You mean I can’t go down to the Stop N Shop and stand in line for two hours to get a quart of watered down milk?”

    Steve had suspected for a long time that Sara wasn’t coping well with the Victory. “We have it better than most people.”

    Sara made a low sound that sounded like a laugh, but could have turned into a scream at a moment’s notice. “Yeah. Better. They didn’t take our house, because they need doctors. I have to stay home and take care of the kids on the block like some village wife, because they decided it isn’t decent for women to teach at universities.”

    The small cuts on the right side of Sara’s bald head showed when she moved closer to the window. The tiny bleeding slits in his wife’s skin made Steve’s heart ache because he knew there were similar cuts in her mind, but they were big gaping wounds and Sara’s sanity was bleeding away.

    When Steve got to his feet, Sara cringed, almost raised a hand to protect her face. That was the deciding factor. His wife had no reason to be afraid of him, except that now they lived under a brutal regime where beating a woman was seen as no more than a husband’s duty. “We’re leaving. Let’s go.”

    Her eyes dark brown eyes filled, overflowed, and big drops fell to the black shirt that came up to her neck. “I’m sorry, babe.”

    Steve held his hand out to his wife.

    Together they walked out their front door, left it open behind them. No need to lock up belongings they’d never be back to claim.

    At the end of the block the Morality Patrol stopped them. “Your wife is indecent, Friend. Please, take her back to your house. Cover her indecency.”

    “We’re leaving,” Steve said.

    Sara, her eyes on the soldier’s polished boots, said nothing.

    “You’re choosing to leave the Light of Purity and enter the Zone?”

    The word slipped from Steve’s mouth like a small triumph. “Yes.”

    “Very well, Friend.” The soldier stepped aside. “May Peace go with you.”

    Sara and Steve walked three city blocks to the Victory Bridge. On the other side was Old America, where the Impure lived on food scraps, without running water, or electricity or any of the other things you could have if you lived in the Light of Purity.

    He smoothed a tear from his wife’s face; they both stepped onto the bridge; their footsteps echoed on wood. The Unbeliever Zone had one thing no human soul could live without – freedom.