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Sharing our stories in selfies

Self-publishing books becoming popular

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Brian Darragh shows a mock-up of the book on streetcars he is self-publishing.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Brian Darragh shows a mock-up of the book on streetcars he is self-publishing. Photo Store

I was scanning the New York Times online edition Sunday when something shouted out at me.

The quote of the day.

"I just want to make sure I could tell my story the way I want to tell it. I just want to own my truth."

NFL draft prospect Michael Sam spoke those words in the context of telling his University of Missouri teammates he is gay. The courage the young man's general message took jumped out because it reminded me of a topic that came up during a recent dinner conversation with David Friesen, the current patriarch of Altona-based book manufacturer Friesen Corp. The topic being the need to tell our own stories our own way in the form of selfies. No, not the photographic self-portrait that made "selfie" the Oxford Dictionary's word of 2013. David and I were talking about the written equivalent of the selfie -- the self-published book.

"Everyone has a book in them," David said. "Everyone has a story they want to tell."

So it appears.

Sunday afternoon, at Emily Doer's fundraising tea for adult eating disorders, there were two self-published books on the subject, both there for the taking. One of them was titled i'm so fat.

Winnipeg wife and mother Sandra Lorange self-published it as a novella through American-based AuthorHouse. In her case, writing was both a natural progression from voracious reading and book-club discussions, to a need to write the story other women had shared with her.

But as the New York Times reported last year, even established writers such as Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and author David Mamet are turning to self-publishing, moved primarily, I suspect, by the lure of substantially higher author profit margins. Then there are journalists, such as former Free Press reporter Carreen Maloney, who is planning to self-publish her non-fiction book for another reason: because she can control the content of a controversial topic traditional publishers might fear to touch. She could even choose to publish it online, at no cost. The working title of Maloney's manuscript is Uniquely Dangerous. I'll leave it at that, although if you're curious -- and this comes with a content warning -- you can check out the theme on her blog of the same title.

For Friesens Corp., it was the increasing popularity of the self-published book, coupled with the digitally driven threat to the printing industry, that has prompted it to create a publishing arm, FriesenPress. Even local bookstore McNally Robinson has added a publishing component. In fact, tonight at McNally Robinson -- in what exemplifies the essence of most self-publishing -- former Winnipeg urologist Henry Krahn launches Damaged Care; A Surgeon Dissects the Vaunted Canadian and U.S. Health Care Systems. Krahn's FriesenPress-published book will join more than 450 other selfies on consignment at McNally Robinson, including about 60 produced by the bookstore's on-site Espresso Book Machine. What makes Krahn's book typical is it's a labour of love and legacy.

Retired Transit driver Brian Darragh's soon-to-be-self-published book, Street Cars of Winnipeg: Our Forgotten Heritage, is beyond a labour of love and legacy. It's the mission of a lifetime for the 85-year-old, who operated a city streetcar for 17 months before they were abandoned in 1955.

What was the cost to fulfil his dream? Just over $2,000. That includes a series of services, among them editing, layout, Amazon Kindle distribution plus a limited quantity of printed books.

How much of the self-publishing business is driven by the labour of love and legacy? Way more than aspiring novelists who hope to be discovered with the next great Canadian novel.

That's because, contrary to the seemingly inexorable move from print to online news, blogs and storytelling, self-publishing suggests something that hasn't changed, at least not yet. According to David Friesen, the children of the digital age still want yearbooks. "They still want something they can write in and share with others."

Then there's 23-year-old Red River College creative communications grad Kristy Hoffman, who as part of her course requirement self-published 120 copies of her book Late Bloomers. She sold them all, and now she's searching to sign with a traditional publisher.

So for some, even some of the young, it's not just the need to tell our stories. It's the need to tell them on paper, in books, that can be proudly placed on a shelf where it will last for all time.

Even if the reality, alas, is the digital word may last even longer.

gordon.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 11, 2014 B1

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