We asked author Victoria Zigler, to share with us her experiences as a writer and voracious reader. Here is her story.
My name is Victoria Zigler, I’m twenty-nine years old, and I’m a self-published author of children’s books and poetry. I also just happen to be completely blind.
I was born with Glaucoma, which robbed me of the sight in my left eye at some point during my childhood, and later robbed me of the sight in my right eye. I don’t know exactly when my left eye stopped being useful, but I can tell you that I had the eye out shortly before my sixteenth birthday, because by that time all I could see with it was light and the light caused me severe pain. Seven years later there was a drastic change in what I could see in my right eye, and eight months after that, a few months before I turned twenty-four, I had my right eye out for the same reason. My left eye has been artificial since I was sixteen, and my right has been artificial since I was twenty-four, but I know it’s correct to say I still have the eye condition Glaucoma, because I asked the eye specialists.
I learned to read and write when I was young, because my big brothers had homework and I wanted some too. From the moment I learned how to read and write, I’ve been in love with the written word. I was three when I learned to read and write print, and twelve when I learned to read and write Braille. Books have always been my place to escape to when I needed to escape the real world, and writing has always been the easiest way for me to express my thoughts and feelings. When I lost my sight and could no longer read print books, the limited number of audiobooks and Braille books – not to mention the ridiculous prices of them – restricted my book accessibility. Discovering e books was a wonderful experience for me, because it re-opened doors I thought were closed, and allowed me to indulge my passion for reading a couple of hundred books a year. Yes, I did say that; last year, for example, I read 290 books, not counting a couple of re-reads, since I never count those. What? I did say I love books! I mostly listen to audiobooks or read ebooks, but I do grab the odd Braille book from time to time. My audiobooks come from places like Amazon, Waterstones, etc. My ebooks mostly come from Amazon and Smashwords, though I’ve also had some given to me for free directly from authors looking for reviews. As for my Braille books… They either come from the RNIB (Royal National Institute for the Blind) or from a place I found online that’s based in Canada called The Braille Superstore; both places that sell books and gadgets for blind and partially sighted people.
As for my own writing… When I was about seven I won a medal in a writing contest; I still have that medal. A couple of years later I won a class writing contest, and a couple of years after that I wrote and illustrated a children’s picture book for a class project that my teacher liked so much she went and read it to the younger children immediately, and they apparently really enjoyed it too. That same teacher kept a piece I’d written on the wall beside her office door after she became headmistress, and I happen to know that it stayed there long after I left the school; it stayed there until she stopped working there several years after I left that school. Then, when I was in my teens I had a couple of poems published via The International Library Of Poetry, and I was in a writing group where we all offered advice and support to one another, which was nice. I’ve wanted to be a published author for as long as I can remember, but – other than those couple of poems, and the interest of that one teacher who obviously loved my work – I hadn’t had any luck with even figuring out anyone who would look at my work, let alone publish it for me, though I did get some positive comments whenever I posted any of my work on my blog. But, in 2012, I entered a contest on a friend’s blog to win some free books, and I won. It was while I was claiming my prizes that I learned about Smashwords and the self-publishing service they offer. After reading their free style guide, and talking to my husband, Kelly, I told a good friend of mine named Karl about the possibility of my having a way to get my work published. Between my own enthusiasm for the idea, and the encouragement both Kelly and Karl gave me, I ended up publishing my first book a few weeks later. It was a collection of some of my poetry; ‘Mr. Pumpkin-Head And Other Poems’ was published on April 22nd 2012 – less than a month after I discovered Smashwords. I’m still waiting for the big break that will give me fame and fortune, but my books have had some interest, and the scattering of reviews I’ve had on them have generally been positive ones, so I’m happy enough with what I’ve achieved in the two years I’ve been self-published.
Right now I only publish via Smashwords, but I allow them to distribute my books where they will. I did publish via Amazon for a while, but their site isn’t easy to navigate, and after I called them to have them help me figure something out and was basically told it was my problem I was blind, I was reluctant to work directly with them any more. Shortly afterwards I did an interview on the trials faced by blind authors and readers, and learned that their official statement when asked about blind customers was that they don’t cater for the visually impaired (though their Kindle Keyboard has text to speech, as well as a talking feature for the menus, so – if you can get hold of one – that can be used by a blind person; I know this for a fact, because I have one). They basically said that if you can’t use their products because you’re visually impaired, you should go elsewhere and find products other companies do that you can use. I didn’t mind needing help from my husband to navigate the site and get my books listed, but I did mind their attitude towards the visually impaired, so I stopped publishing through them and removed my books from Amazon. Smashwords can distribute my books to them if I sell enough that Amazon will accept them for distribution, but I myself would only deal with publishing directly through Amazon now if I was left with no other option. At the moment I don’t sell enough for Amazon to allow my books to be distributed through Smashwords, since you have to sell a very large number for that to happen, but Smashwords does distribute my books to places like Barnes And Noble, Apple, WH Smith, etc. Other than cover creation, which I’ll talk more about in a moment, I haven’t faced any other difficulties with publishing my ebooks; Smashwords is pretty easy to use, even with a screen reader. I hope to also have my books available in print at some point in the near future, but I haven’t sorted that out yet.
When it comes to writing my books… I tried writing in several genres, but trial and error – along with comments from people who read my work while I was posting it on my blog from time to time – have taught me that I do best when writing for children. So, I focus on books for children. I mostly do my research by reading children’s books by other authors, watching cartoons aimed at young children, and paying attention to the things I hear children say and do when I’m around any. Anything else I need to know can generally be found online; you can find just about anything on the internet if you know where to look. I also write poetry, but I don’t do any research for that; my poems just come out of my head and get written down.
As for my actual writing process… Well… That depends on how developed the idea is when I get it. If it’s only a vague idea, I make a note of it wherever I can (either in a document on my computer called ‘notes and ideas’, or on a bit of Braille paper to be added to the document later) then either set it aside for future reference, or spend some time thinking about it until it’s developed enough that I can sit down and start writing; which of these I do isn’t my choice, since my imagination generally gets to decide which idea it wants to focus on, though I do nudge it gently if I want to get a specific story finished by a certain date for any reason. When I sit down to write, I just type away until I’m either done with the first draft, or I’m forced to stop for some reason. If I’m forced to stop for some reason then, when I sit down to write some more, I’ll have my screen reader read the last paragraph or two back to me before I continue, but otherwise I don’t bother to read anything back until I’m completely done writing the first draft. Then I read through the entire thing, re-writing anything that doesn’t sound right and adding description where I feel it was lacking. After that, I read through it again and do the same thing. After doing this a third time, I focus on editing.
I don’t use an editor. Well, I sometimes ask Kelly to check for any mistakes, and Karl has helped with editing a couple of times, but I mean I don’t use a professional editor. The good thing with using a screen reader is that it reads the words back to you, so you can tell straight away if something doesn’t sound right. So, I’m my own editor. Well, unless you want to get really technical and say that JAWS (my screen reader) is my editor. I won’t pretend I never miss a single mistake, but I’ve only had a handful of mistakes pointed out to me after publication – this handful spread between the twenty-eight books I’ve published so far – so I dare say I do a reasonable job. Besides, even the best professional editor can miss the odd mistake. I don’t see why I should pay someone to do what I can do myself, especially since I already have to pay out a fair chunk of money to keep updating JAWS (which stands for Java Access With Speech, by the way). I love being able to control what happens with my books every step of the way, which is part of why I was so enthusiastic when I learned I had the option to self-publish, and why I’m my own editor. I also do the layout myself by keeping things as simple as possible based on the requirements mentioned in the Smashwords style guide. I did a course on using Microsoft Office a few years back, so I’m putting those skills to use in formatting my books ready for publication; it’s not much different using Microsoft Office 2000 (what I did the course on) as it is using the newer ones really, not when you know the basics. Fancy stuff would require help, but by keeping things simple I’m able to do it myself.
Of course, now that I’ve lost all my sight, there’s no way I can do illustrations myself, so my children’s books are no longer illustrated. A part of me wishes they could be, but that would mean not only having to arrange the creation of every illustration, but also having to get someone to help with the layout of my books to make sure the images are placed among the text correctly. That’s something I’m not in a position to arrange right now. I do have a couple of great cover artists working with me though. My main cover artists are Karl Mousley (yes, the same Karl that I mentioned before in this post) and Jacob Blackmon, but I also work with Doug of Gendrill Publishing. Doug is my website designer, so I don’t lean on him for covers much; he’s got enough to do with keeping my website updated. Karl does covers for me whenever I’ve got some I want doing and he’s got free time, but Jacob is actually a freelance artist who Kelly and I became friendly with after he did some character artwork for Kelly for some role-playing campaigns. Regardless of which cover artist I’m using though, the general process of cover creation is the same: I write out a description for what I have in mind and send it to either Jacob, Karl or Doug, and they see what they can come up with based on the description I’ve given them. I don’t send a copy of the description to Kelly, but when the cover image comes back from the cover artist in question, Kelly takes a look at what they’ve created, with no idea at this point what I asked for, and if his description matches what I had in mind (or, as has happened once or twice, is better than what I had in mind) then the artist in question gets the green light to do any finishing touches they want to do. If any finishing touches get done, Kelly takes a look again and tells me what they did, so I can say if I’m still happy with it, then I put the file safe ready to use when the book gets published. If Kelly’s description doesn’t work for what I had in mind, then the cover artist in question gets told what the problem is, then Kelly takes another look until I’m happy with it. That doesn’t usually happen though; usually my cover artists either manage to create something that sounds just like what I imagined, or they do something better that works for what I wanted, and gets the green light because I like the sound of their idea for the cover better than I liked my own cover idea.
My plan for this post was to answer some of the questions people have when they figure out I’m a blind author. I hope I managed to do this, and that anyone who stuck around long enough to read the entire thing found it to be interesting as well as informative.
You can read an interview with Victoria here.