CS: Why did you write Drea’s Dream?
Susan: My daughter thought we should write a book together that would inspire people who were going through challenges like challenges that she overcame – childhood cancer and also subsequent learning disabilities. She wanted us to encourage others and help them to realize that you can overcome challenges and go for it, don’t let things stand in your way and anything is possible.
CS: Did you start writing it together?
Susan: Well, she thought we could write an inspiring story together. I started about 12 years ago and she didn’t have much time to write because she was starting graduate school, so I started writing then and then I continued to write a little bit and got the first section done about her childhood cancer. When she was killed by a drunk driver, shortly after I began, I knew I had to finish the book, though it would have a different ending now. My own goal was to help anyone who had faced the crisis of a child having cancer or the struggles of a child with learning disabilities and then finally losing a child tragically.
CS: Why did you choose to self-publish?
Susan: Initially, I thought I would do traditional publishing. Then I spoke with someone who had been traditionally published and they told me that if it was very personal story and I was not willing to give up my story, that I should probably self-publish because it would be a very emotionally difficult process to work with a publisher if they didn’t see it the way I saw it. That was helpful advice. And, to tell you the truth, I dedicated two weekends to writing the book proposal and I realized, ‘My goodness to really polish this, it’s like writing a book again.’ I was so consumed with finishing the book that the process of doing a good proposal and then doing all of the submitting was too daunting. I just wanted the book done. I wanted the book published.
CS: What worked well with self-publishing and what didn’t work as well?
Susan: Actually, I think everything went well. I had the advantage of having my foreword written by the actress Jane Seymour. In the end, I realized it didn’t really matter if I did traditional publishing or self-publishing because her name attracted so much attention. I’m being introduced on a national TV show on Monday. I know that even if the book was traditionally published, I may not have been invited to appear on the show without Jane Seymour’s foreword. That attracts attention!
CS: It sounds like you’re very happy with that decision to self-publish, then.
Susan: I feel it was the right decision, certainly, because I have control over the sales and I worked with Amazon CreateSpace which was absolutely incredible. They give you 24 hour free support.
CS: And you didn’t have any fees with CreateSpace?
Susan: I never paid them a penny to help me because I had my own photographer for the cover. I had my own graphics person lay out the book. I paid both of them but I didn’t pay CreateSpace anything and they gave me 24 hour support. They charge a percentage on Amazon sales only and I get a monthly royalty check and the other sales come through my website or through book signings. They did set me up with worldwide distribution and downloaded the book in Kindle format and charged a nominal fee for each. They also gave me a free ISBN number.
CS: And what are the profits on your book sales?
Susan: I order the books through CreateSpace, I order about 100 at a time and it comes to about $3.70 a book. The book retails for $14.95. So I make a much better profit than I would if I’d gone with a traditional publisher. And traditional publishers used to do a lot of promoting and marketing, but I’ve been told by many that that’s not true anymore. So maybe I would have gotten a little bit more attention, but I’m getting my own attention because Jane Seymour wrote the foreword.
CS: Who did you have outside of the writing process to give you help or support, such as a writing coach or editor?
Susan: Well, Lisa [Tener] was my writing coach and she helped me as I was completing the book. Once it was completed, I had two different editors – one did a developmental edit, deciding what order the book should go in and the other editor was helpful in fine-tuning the book and saying, ‘You really need more detail here; we really need to see the setting here.’ She worked with the nuts and bolts of every part, every word of the book. And then I worked with a copyeditor, doing the proofreading and she also had some good suggestions because she’s an avid reader so she wanted to help me make it the best it could be. I had two proofreaders, one did a very strict, dry proofreading and the second one was a little bit more helpful with input. And then the graphics person laid out and downloaded the book for me onto the Create Space site.
CS: What advice do you have about choosing the people who you work with when writing a book, such as an editor or publisher?
Susan: Certainly go with someone who is recommended, someone who is highly recommended, but ask to see the person’s work or ask them to edit a piece of your work as a sample before you get involved. And do not pay 100% of their fee up front. I can understand that an editor might want that because they’re putting work in. Maybe pay 50% up front at most and the remainder upon completion.
CS: You mentioned earlier your TV appearance, so what are some of the other exciting things that have happened since you published your book?
Susan: There’s a big dance conference in 2014 in Hawaii and I’m going to be speaking as a keynote speaker. I also just spoke at the American Association of University Women as well as the South County Women’s Club.
CS: And you’ve had some exciting TV coverage?
I’m scheduled to appear on the Marie Osmond Show (Marie) this month (probably Monday, May 20th – but things continue to change). It is on the Hallmark Channel. She introduced my book and I was able to discuss it along with information about The Andréa Rizzo Foundation.
CS: And radio, too…
Susan: I’ve been on Patricia Raskin’s radio show Positive Living on WPRO in Providence and I’ve also been on WADK in Newport. I was interviewed on the Mary Jones Show on WDRC in Connecticut. Most exciting – I was also on Sirius XM, which is worldwide, on their Doctor Radio station, which is the biggest station on all of XM as well as the Maggie Mistal show on The Martha Stewart Station.
My book was also reviewed on The Daily Quirk Review as well as 4Dancer.org. Local press covered the book signings (Narragansett Times, South County Independent) and last week the Providence Journal did an article with photos about the upcoming Marie Osmond Show appearance.
CS: Any advice on how to get PR?
Susan: I created a press release and got some local press attention in Rhode Island and in Connecticut and the local papers. Now I have something coming up that’s being taped. I’m in Los Angeles now so I just had my pre-taping interview with the producer over the phone. It’s an interesting process. Through Lisa, I found out about Monica Strobel, who is doing literary publicity. She did it for her own book and when you self-publish, like we said, you don’t have that publicity piece that you would from a traditional publisher. She did a great job promoting her own book nationally, so I’ve been working with her and that has been wonderful—she did the press release that interested the Providence Journal.
CS: What can you tell us about the experience of speaking about your own writing?
Susan: I’ve spoken a lot because I’m a nonprofit president for the Andrea Rizzo Vincent Foundation so I do a lot of speaking about the nonprofit. In doing the book, I’m learning about what the audience is there to hear. It’s hard to be objective when you’re talking about your own story.
CS: So, you didn’t start out with what they wanted?
Susan: The first time I spoke about the book – that was the South County Women’s Club – I offered a broad talk, about being a mother, and I read from three different parts of the book. I realized that the story is so sad that many of the women were crying. And I thought, ‘No, no, no, this is too heavy.’ So then I started to think about what do people really want to hear?
CS: And what was that?
Susan: For the American Association of University Women, I read only the most uplifting parts of the book. Someone addressed me before the luncheon started at the AAUW and said, “You’re the author I want to hear from. I want to hear how you did this, how you got through this.” And I realized right away that I still had a lot of fine-tuning to do so that there was a mix of the specifics they wanted to learn about me, as well as an uplifting feeling at the end. Women want to know, “How do you get through something like this? How are you still standing?” And I have to be more vivid. So I’m working on that. The more you talk, the better you’ll get.
CS: So, you’re still fine tuning the speaking?
Susan: I’m always working on my speaking. One of the things I learned from my publicist about speaking is you really need to come up with specific things that you stand up for or want to teach your audience.
Susan: Like talking with the producer today, I realized I should be willing to say, ‘If your child has learning disabilities, you must be willing to fight for that child. Fight for what they need; listen to your child.’
CS: So, you’re giving specific advice.
Susan: Yes, say things in ways that convince people: When I talk about dance therapy – that’s what my foundation provides to kids with cancer and special needs – many people at the hospitals and schools are skeptical. They have to be talked into dance therapy because they can’t imagine how dance therapy would be helpful. I had to change my tone when began talking about it publicly – be more emphatic about the positive benefits of it.
CS: What advice or helpful tips do you have for our readers?
Susan: I was constantly looking for affirmation, so I was constantly sending pieces to friends and saying, ‘What do you think of this?’ And then of course, I would take to heart what they said. I think probably you should find one person who has experience in writing and that you trust – and save your writing for them. I confused myself by seeking too many opinions.
CS: So, just ask a professional.
Susan: Well, [asking potential readers is] part of the process, too—sending out pieces of your book [to people in your target audience]. I sent it out to people I knew who had children with cancer and asked, ‘What do you think? Do you think this will be helpful?’ I do think I asked too many people for their advice, though.
CS: Anything else?
Susan: I remember Lisa’s [Tener] words – and it kept me going, but also nearly drove me crazy: “You can have your excuses or you can have your book.” I really wanted the book done.
CS: So, how did you get past excuses or procrastinating?
Susan: I set a deadline: ‘I want this book to go to press by April.’ It puts pressure on you to meet the deadlines. The book came out in October, which turned out to be the best possible time as there were many opportunities to sell the book at various gatherings.
CS: So, it made a great gift?
Susan: Yes. I had a book signing party and everyone bought Drea’s Dream as gifts. Have your book come out in October!
CS: And any advice specific to self publishing?
Susan: Don’t buy one of those package deals from [a self-publishing company] as they cost several thousand dollars—use your own editors who come highly recommended and use your own cover person and photographer and your own copyeditors. Just use [the POD company] to print the book.
People should know with self-publishing that if they choose a self-publisher, they’re going to take a chunk [of the profits], then when the books sells on Amazon, Amazon takes their chunk. I did a ton of research on all the self-publishing companies out there.
Ask a lot of questions. The graphics person who did layout for my book could have sent it off to get published and printed by a company in Canada, but I had to buy 500 books. I was petrified to buy 500 books. I kept saying, “I can’t do this, my house will be full of books.” If you have a couple of book signing parties, 500 books will sell quickly. You also want to prepare to give at least 100 books away to those who may have contacts that will promote your book.
I’ve already bought over 1,000 books and I’m kicking myself because if I’d bought 1,000 to begin with, it would have been a lot cheaper per book. So don’t be afraid to go ahead and buy the first 500 books if you’re going straight to the printer.
CS: How can readers get in touch with you?
About Susan Rizzo Vincent, President and Founder of The Andréa Rizzo Foundation:
A non-profit leader, funding Dréa’s Dream pediatric dance therapy programming exclusively for children with cancer and special needs in renowned hospitals and public schools, nationwide. She’s been the keynote speaker at the New England Chapter of the ADTA’s Annual Conference. She is certified by Salve Regina University’s Expressive Arts Institute in Transformation Through the Expressive and Creative Arts. Her book – Dréa’s Dream: An Unfinished Dance – Lessons in love, loss, hope and healing, includes a foreword by actress Jane Seymour. She’s been featured on ABC TV Eyewitness News , USA Today local and national radio and will soon be appearing on Marie Osmond’s, Marie Show. She’s received Woman’s Day magazine’s “Women Who Inspire Us Award,” Outstanding Achievement Awards from the ADTA and Rhee Gold’s “DanceLife” Convention and recently honored by Jane Seymour’s Open Hearts Foundation.