“How much longer do I have to live to see this book?”
Talk about pressure!
Leigh Callan’s mother, Juby, had saved over four hundred letters sent to her during World War II by her husband Lt. Doyle Whittenburg, along with many treasured photos. In 2009 Juby handed the letters and photographs over to Leigh, who began transcribing the letters so all her family members could have copies and enjoy the family history. The historical importance of the letters and photos soon dawned on Leigh, and she realized she needed to find a way to share this treasure with the public. Says Leigh, “Dad wrote well and described with full detail the circumstances and environments of his adventures leading a platoon of gun crews in an antiaircraft unit trained to shoot down enemy planes. He also documented his innermost thoughts and emotions along the way.”
Leigh decided a book would be the best way to make the important stories contained in the letters accessible beyond the family, as well as to insure the letters and photos would be safely preserved for generations to come. “But,” says Leigh, “I was under time pressure. I didn’t have the months and years it would take to find a trade publisher. My goal was to get a quality book into my 93-year-old mother’s hands.” Leigh made the commitment to her mother of publishing a book, as it was she who made the commitment to save the letters in the first place and who kept reminding Leigh of the deadline. “My mother is a perfectionist and I wanted a ‘real’ book to put in her hands. I was ready to pull out all the stops to get that done,” laughs Leigh.
Due to the time pressure, Leigh decided that self-publishing was the best route. “In my case, ‘self-publish’ is a misnomer,” says Leigh. “Yes, I paid for it all, but it took a village of experts to get it done. In short, I assembled a team and created my own publishing company (RiverMont Press) just for this book.” She adds, “I have to admit, I didn’t trust the material to anyone except hand-picked editors and designers who would work with me to hone the raw manuscript into something my mother would be proud of.”
The end result is certainly something that Leigh and her mom can be very proud of and any history buff would be eager to get their hands on. Here’s My Heart: A Legacy of Love and War shares the very personal and emotional story of Leigh’s parents as a young couple coping with the turmoil of World War II. Through the book, the reader experiences first-hand the daily life of a soldier as he trains to lead men in battle, falls in love, and faces the fear he must overcome as he readies for deployment to a combat zone. The letters encapsulated in the book include eye-witness accounts of events during the Battle of The Bulge, the defense of the Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen, a tour of Buchenwald Concentration Camp, and victory in Europe. Throughout the book, Leigh interspersed tales of her own discoveries as she followed her father’s footsteps across England, Belgium and Germany, revealing a poignant intergenerational journey.
Leigh’s instincts turned out to be correct and the book has resonated with members of the public. She recalls, “The daughter of a veteran of Battery D, 639th AAA AW BN, ordered the book for her father. He read it and said ‘I thought all those stories had been lost.’ He is 92 and lives in New Jersey. I found some pictures of him in the scrapbooks and sent copies to him.” In addition, some long-lost cousins have discovered their own parents’ history through Here’s My Heart, and the extended family has begun to reconnect.
While Leigh set out on her indie publishing journey with eyes wide open, she found the process of finding an editor in the genre to be most challenging. “I wanted someone who would teach me how to reduce the vast amount of raw material into a manageable manuscript,” comments Leigh. She also found the copy editing process to be frustrating as it was important for her to preserve her father’s true voice, which meant choosing words, abbreviations, grammar and punctuation that went against usual editing standards and sometimes put her at odds with the copy editor. Leigh muses, “All along the way I felt I was getting a series of crash courses in editing skills, design, and printing. I’m now on the low end of the learning curve in marketing.” Leigh also found the decision-making process with regards to cover design, paper, font, etc. to be a challenge with so little experience. “Many times I had to take a leap of faith and trust the experts.”
With regards to marketing, Leigh says she has only marketed in a limited way so far. She continues, “I’m still getting early feedback from readers; I’m trying to learn who my audience is. I have a feeling the story has national and intergenerational appeal, but I’ll have to seek further trusted professional help to tap into it. I would love for the book to end up on a best-seller list, but it will take a much bigger marketing platform to accomplish this.”
Leigh finds personal appearances a most enjoyable aspect of book marketing. “After such a long, sometimes tedious process, it is immensely rewarding to get immediate feedback from people of all ages who have read and enjoyed Here’s My Heart: A Legacy of Love and War.” Leigh’s mom accompanies her to book signings and is the star of the show. “My mom is basking in the glory of her ‘secrets’ being out there!”
1106 Design was pleased to provide Leigh with indie publishing services, including cover design, page design and typesetting, logo design, copy editing, and website design, along with printing advice. Leigh says that she found Michele’s publishing guide Publish Like the Pros to be very useful, and thanks Gayle Wurst, editor and author in the World War II genre for coaching her for three years in content and style, and for identifying 1106 Design and Bang Printing as resources for continuing the journey towards a final product.
Leigh’s advice to authors who are considering the indie publishing route is: “Be patient; seek out and invest in expert guidance. It will be worth it in the long run.”
In reflection, Leigh says she is thankful she decided to invest a great deal of time and money into the book project. “It was well worth every minute and every penny,” Leigh says. “Here’s My Heart: A Legacy of Love and War is the result my mother and I can be extremely proud of. And in my heart, I know Dad is proud too. The investment our Greatest Generation made back in the 1940s deserves to be honored just so.” We couldn’t agree more.
Book title and subtitle: Here’s My Heart: A Legacy of Love and War
Author: Leigh W. Callan