I'm a writer; I've always been a writer. I wrote before blogs existed. I wrote before regular people owned computers! I've always said I was going to write a book. In fact, it's always been one of my Big 3 life goals. (The other two being finish an Ironman and get an Obedience Trial Championship with a dog, neither one of which I'm even remotely close to.)
There are infinite subjects I COULD write a book about, but I've known for a long time that I have to write a book about guide dogs. I started one a few years ago, but scrapped it after 150 pages because I hadn't decided whether it was going to be a memoir or a training book, and it was turning into an awkward hybrid of both. So I decided I would write the training book first, even though I still want to write a memoir too. It makes sense to write the one that doesn't include personal stories about other people first.
I wrote the book I would have wanted to read before I became a GDMI. It includes chapters on puppy raising, guide dog temperament, changes in training philosophies and methods over the years, the progression of training skills, and the process of matching dogs with clients. (I'm putting a chapter list at the bottom, for people who are curious about exactly what topics are covered.) I wrote the book with all of the following audiences in mind:
1) people who are seriously interested in pursuing a career as a GDMI and want to know what the job is really like -- the good and the bad
2) puppy raisers who want more in-depth information on their puppies' experiences when they go back for training
3) guide dog handlers who want extensive information on how their dogs were trained
4) other GDMI's who like to debate the effectiveness of training methods
5) any dog trainer with an interest in guide dog training
I made a New Year's resolution that I was going to write 2000 words a day until I was done. Surprisingly (even to myself), I kept that resolution. Every single day between January 1 and April 17, I sat down at this computer and wrote 2000 words. Even if it meant I had to get up at 2:30 in the morning so I could write before going to the gym, even when I was teaching class, even when I was on the road, I still got my 2000 words done. Sometimes it was easy, sometimes it was hard, sometimes I felt like I was writing total garbage, but I did it every day.
It turns out that the writing was the easy part. The hard part started when I realized I had a book and now had to figure out what to do with it. If I had written this book 20 years ago, I would have known what to do with it because there was only one option: send query letters and proposals to publishers and agents until someone wanted to publish it. That actually would have been easier than deciding what to do with it now. Self-publishing is much less of a stigma now than it used to be. Probably about 20-25% of the books I read now are self-published, and I can't always tell the difference between a self-published book and a traditionally published one. (Well, unless the author didn't bother with an editor. THEN I can tell, usually on every single page.)
I am going to self-publish it for a lot of reasons:
1) It's quicker. Nothing about traditional publication is fast. If I got a publisher today, my book still might not be published for a year or two.
2) I'm confident I can put together and put out a good book without having to go through a publisher.
3) My goal is not to make money. My goal is the same as my goal for writing this blog: to provide information and to connect with other people who are interested in the same subject as I am. (But even if my goal was to make money, I am pretty sure I could make more self-publishing than I could with a traditional publisher.)
4) Publishers require authors to actively promote their own books, and hustling so does not appeal to me. The extent of my self-promotion is going to be saying on my blog: "I have a book; here's where you can get it." I don't want to worry about a "platform" or how many followers I have on Twitter or anything like that.
5) I have no ego investment in having my book published by a "real" publisher. I recognize that it appeals to a niche audience and in all likelihood would not make a lot of money for a publisher.
Since I finished my book in April, I've been educating myself on self-publishing. It's both very simple and very complicated. If I wanted to, I could publish it today. All I have to do is upload it to Amazon and CreateSpace, and I could have the ebook in the Kindle store and the print-on-demand paperback in my hands right away. But one thing I DON'T want to do is have the book I've waited this long to write come out crappy. There are a few things I need to do before publishing it. Well, really two things:
1) Get a cover. This is something that I will not do myself. There is technology involved, and any technology more complicated than this blog is beyond my ability. This is something I plan to pay for, and it's actually not that expensive, only a few hundred dollars. The biggest problem I have here is picking a designer from the literally thousands who are out there.
2) Edit it. It is a little unwieldy at over 200,000 words. Anyone who reads my writing knows that I am, perhaps, a little wordy. Why use one word when I can use ten? The way I feel about writing is that it's better to throw everything on the page and then cut the fat out in the editing process. I'd like to get it down to 150,000 words, and also make sure it's not so heavy on jargon that readers who are not GDMIs will get bogged down.
Professional editing is very, very expensive. I don't think I will ever be able to afford it, not unless I give up my 50 states marathon hobby, which I am not going to do. My writing is usually pretty clean from a grammar/typo perspective -- I make some mistakes, but I catch most of them myself, on the second or third read -- so I think I am going to skip professional editing. In lieu of a professional edit, I'm going to do two things. First, I'm going to read the whole thing out loud to Will. (Nothing makes unwieldy writing more obvious than reading it out loud.) Second, I'm going to look for beta readers who are willing to read a chapter or two and give me feedback on it. Chapters are anywhere between 3000 and 8000 words long. If anyone reading this blog is interested in being a beta reader, let me know! (And if any of my blog readers are also writers who need beta readers, it should go without saying that I'll do yours if you do mine.)
My ideal beta reader is someone who is:
- at least slightly knowledgeable on the subject of guide dogs
- qualified to make suggestions on improving writing, both grammar and overall structure
- willing to be critical
That last one -- willingness to be critical, is perhaps the most important. I want people who will be ruthless and tell me, "This sucks" if it does. My feelings will not be hurt, I promise. If you know that you're likely to just read it and tell me it's awesome, you can wait for the final product :)
As promised, here's the chapter list:
- Guide Dog Schools in the U.S. and How to Choose the Right One
- What Makes a Good Guide Dog?
- The Match
- Who Are the People Who Use Guide Dogs?
- Where Do Guide Dogs Come From?
- What Kind of Person Does This Job? Guide Dog Mobility Instructors
- Guide Dog Training: The Big Picture
- Tools of the Trade: Equipment Needed for Guide Dog Training
- Getting Started
- Collar Pressure/Collar Yielding
- Food Rewards in Guide Dog Training
- Impulse Control around Distractions
- The Platform
- The Role of Obedience in a Guide Dog's Life
- Introducing the Harness
- Early Guide Work Commands
- Teaching Curbs
- Accepting Body Handling
- On to the Real World: Beginning Training in Town
- Generalizing Curbs and Turns on Early Routes
- Random Reinforcement
- Establishing Pace and Pull
- Laying the Groundwork for Straight Line Travel
- Assessing Soundness in Town
- Assessing Distractions in Town
- Obstacles and Clearance
- The Mid-Cycle Blindfold
- Traffic Training
- Sidewalkless Travel
- Indoor Work -- Grocery Stores
- Indoor Work -- Malls
- "Parking" the Guide Dog
- Targeting, Patterning, and Behavior Chains
- Guide Dog Gear: Gentle Leaders and Booties
- Public Transportation and City Work
- Initial Client Contacts, Pre-Matching, and Custom Training
- Class Readiness -- Putting the Finishing Touches on the Dog
- Class -- Arrivals and Juno Walks
- Dog Day
- Progressing through Class
- Going Home with the New Guide Dog