For one author with bipolar disorder and PTSD, self-publishing was the ultimate therapy
August 20, 2013 | 4:14 pm
By Roni Askey-Doran
When I decided to write a book called “I’m Bipolar And I Know It,” documenting my experiences with bipolar disorder and PTSD over four decades, I knew I would instantly be smeared with the unflattering “crazy” label by countless people who fear things they don’t understand.
Taking seemingly insane risks, however, is not new to me. I’ve done that my whole life, from leaping off cliffs while attached to a flimsy piece of silk connected to bits of string in a sport known as paragliding, to publishing a satire magazine called Istanbullshit in the middle of an emerging Islamic democracy.
In these cases and many others, I lived to tell the tale. And after everyone has stopped laughing and pointing at “I’m Bipolar And I Know It,” I will again.
The thing is, I don’t care what people think of me. I care more about what people think of my writing and, most importantly, I care about sharing what I’ve learned throughout my four decades of harrowing roller coaster rides through life, and about finding ways to help others who suffer the same afflictions.
With almost half the world’s population suffering from some kind of depression, I feel I have something meaningful to say. I wrote a non-depressing book about depression, and I believe my work has value.
Writing “I’m Bipolar And I Know It” was a piece of cake; writing is something I can do with one hand tied behind my back. The most challenging elements of book publishing are the actual publishing, the marketing and the distribution.
The Blessing of Self-Publishing
Nowadays, the emergence of e-books has created an easier medium in which to publish. Preferring the eco-friendly route, I chose not to print book proposals and manuscripts onto hundreds of sheets of bleached white paper, thereby destroying another entire forest, to send to mainstream publishers who would then toss it—unread—before sending standard format rejection letters signed by non-existent editors so that no actual person shoulders responsibility for the rejection. Believe me, I’ve received enough of those rejection letters over two decades to wallpaper my whole house. I’m over it.
So instead of going through that tedious self-esteem crushing rigmarole once more, I decided to publish “I’m Bipolar And I Know It” as an e-book under my own publishing house, Unicorn Press, which has been in existence now for almost 10 years. My previously published books, “Pendulum” [ISBN: 0975760000] and “Chasing Unicorns” [ISBN: 0975760017], were released as paperbacks. They did quite well at the time, although with limited distribution in only one country.
In the current climate of digital readers and their increasing popularity, those two books are also undergoing transformation to e-book format for international distribution through Amazon and Smashwords. Once again, I’m creating my own publishing revolution, which begs the question: Could indie e-publishing eventually become the new mainstream?
The Frustration of Formatting
When I began the formatting process, everything I knew about e-book formats could have been etched in five-point Times New Roman onto the side of a matchbox. After several days of intensive Internet research, I discovered that many self-publishers use Sigil, a multi-platform ePub editor. It’s free, downloadable here.
This program, combined with Calibre, was used to format “I’m Bipolar And I Know It.” Getting my head around basic HTML code wasn’t hard. Any clown like me can do <p></p> tags, easy-peasy. But when it came to deciphering stuff like this: <h2 id=”calibre_pb_0″ style=”font-size: 1.41667em; line-height: 1.2; margin: 0.83em 0px 0px; text-indent: -0.01in; -webkit-margin-before: 0px;”><span style=”border-collapse: separate; font-family: ‘Times New Roman'; font-size: 19px; border-spacing: 0px; background-color: rgb(255, 255, 255);”><b style=”font-family: ‘Times New Roman’, serif; line-height: 1.2; text-indent: -0.01in;”>Chapter X</b></span></h2>
“Learning curve” is not an appropriate term here; it was a learning roller coaster. But being bipolar, roller coasters have always played a significant role in my life. The great thing about being bipolar is that the majority of us are very intelligent (see the works of Ludwig van Beethoven, Edvard Munch, Stephen Fry, and Jim Carrey if you have any doubts.)
Admittedly, it took a minute or 10 to make it work. After initially trying to figure out why Sigil had added 300 </span> tags to the end of each paragraph and how to get rid of them, and then wondering where the other half of the document had vanished to for about three days, and then working out how to get that half of the document back, “I’m Bipolar And I Know It” finally began to come together.
The Satisfaction of Hard Work
Yes, it was time-consuming. At times, it was hair-tearingly frustrating. Learning a new skill is often this way. In the end, the satisfaction of seeing my work turn out exactly the way I’d planned was worth the 15,000 more gray hairs I accumulated along the way. Added to my pleasure were the advantages of avoiding many issues I’d have faced with mainstream publishers: title changes, inane cover designs, idiotic questions from inexperienced editors, super fine print contracts stating that the publisher owned my next thirty books, and a pittance in royalties. In the meantime, I learned so much that the current digital transformation of one of my earlier books, “Chasing Unicorns,” is a breeze.
Once I had my e-book files organized, the next challenge I faced was how to get the book out into the world. Even if all of my 145 Facebook friends and 75 Twitter followers bought a copy, the paltry financial gain from 40 years of suffering and six months of hard work would be downright depressing, and it certainly wouldn’t be enough to achieve the other goals I had in mind for the book.
Seminars and the Public Speaking Circuit
After the release of “Pendulum” and “Chasing Unicorns,” I spent several months on a public speaking circuit talking about my life; I covered the adversities and traumas I had endured in detail, along with the challenges of overcoming them, and my eventual recovery and healing. Thousands of people attended and benefited from my seminars and workshops, and most of them bought books.
I envisioned an encore performance, but with a different theme: Bipolar disorder and depression. In the same vein, I wanted “I’m Bipolar And I Know It” to become the catalyst for an international campaign to destigmatize mental illness. I also wanted the book to be available to everyone who wanted to read it, and although it’s becoming increasingly popular, not everyone owns an e-book reader. There are those who still love the inky smell of a new paperback, and the feel of a book slipping from their fingers as they drift off to sleep each night.
The Genius of Crowdfunding
By a strange twist of fate, controversial singer Amanda Palmer introduced me to the concept of crowd-sourced funding. Indie publishing and crowdfunding, I thought. Why not? It didn’t seem such an alien idea. I explored all the options. Unlike Kickstarter, RocketHub caters to a larger range of international projects. I went with it. Very quickly, I discovered two things: Facebook isn’t all it’s cracked up to be; your reach is only as good as your friends’ interest in your project. Also, they now all think I’m completely crazy!
However, the more time I spend on Twitter, tweeting people I’ve never met, the more hits I get on the site. So far, the funding itself has been a little sluggish. Mental illness scares people. And who wants to give money to a crazy person? No one wants to admit they’re depressed, even though it actually helps. Very few will admit to knowing someone who suffers from a mental illness, even though nearly everyone does.
The whole point of “I’m Bipolar And I Know It” is to beat depression and overcome the stigma, and to teach others how to do the same. Point and laugh if you like. I’m not crazy. I have bipolar disorder. And I’m doing OK. If I had cancer, you would never point and laugh. More people with mental illnesses will be doing OK when everyone realizes that it’s OK to be ill. And the only way to change the way the world sees mental illness is with more compassion, more understanding, more love and more support.
“I’m Bipolar And I Know It” is a part of that process. Are you on board?
How You Can Support the Project
If you’re interested in donating to author Roni Askey-Doran’s Rockethub campaign, click here. For a $12 donation, you’ll receive an e-book copy of “I’m Bipolar And I Know It” in your choice of Mobi, ePub or PDF.
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Roni Askey-Doran has been writing since she was four years old. Barely out of nappies, she was penning adventurous bedtime stories to read to her teddy bear and, more than four decades later, with a lifetime of international travel and life experience to draw from, she continues to write evocative and moving tales based on her own journey. When she’s not writing or blogging, Roni SCUBA dives and makes her own chocolate.