Tell your unique story by self-publishing

By Deanna Harms | April 1, 2024

Ileen Dunivent, left, and Jean Smith self-published books with their daughters’ help. The books can be ordered in paperback or Kindle form by visiting

Have you ever thought about writing a book? If yes, I encourage you to do it. You don’t have to have an agent or a publisher, you can go it alone through one of the many options now available. I recently helped my mother publish her memoir through Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing, and the experience has been gratifying for us both.

Let me back up a bit. My mother, Ileen Dunivent, lost her partner of 73 years in May 2022. Mom answered the question all her friends and family asked — “What are you going to do now?” — with the response: “I’m writing a book.”

That was an audacious statement for a first-time writer, even if she is a lifelong storyteller. “Stories for My Kids: Learning to Yodel and Other Life Lessons” published 14 months later. She wrote the book for her children and future generations, but also for herself. Putting thoughts to paper — yes, she wrote it longhand on lined notepaper since she doesn’t own a computer — helped her deal with her grief and to see the fullness of her life more clearly. The exercise filled her with gratitude.

She shares her wisdom and also her joy. She takes you along on her journey — irrepressible tomboy, polio-stricken child, head-in-the-clouds artist, lovesick teen, struggling mother, sledgehammer-wielding wife, faithful caretaker. 

Hidden benefits 

Perhaps the best part of the book has been the connections it generates for my mother, whose activities have been severely curtailed by mobility and health challenges. Mom went from being a caregiver for my bedridden father to being confined to a wheelchair herself. Her physical outings have been reduced to a once-a-week, wouldn’t-miss-it trip to the beauty shop.

Since her book’s publication, Mom has had two book signings in her 1,600-population hometown of Salisbury, Mo., and two articles in its weekly newspaper. Mom was sitting on her front porch one day a few months after her book came out, and someone driving by yelled, “You’re famous!”

Mom has a smartphone and a Facebook account where she continues to get positive comments about her book. And, she’s not done. Since last fall, she’s been working on a children’s book. She’s illustrating it with watercolor artwork that she paints from her living-room sofa. The creation process has helped pass many solitary days. Once she’s done, I’ll scan the artwork and publish the book, like before, on Amazon.

A friend, former Wichitan and now Missoulian Theresa Johnson, just helped her mother in Seattle, Jean Smith, self-publish a collection of creative writings she’s done over the years: “No Time to Lose: Collected Writings of Margaret Jean Heg Smith.” Once her mother saw the author’s proof, Theresa says, she was “over the moon.” Her mother took the book to the communal dining room at her assisted-living home and her friends’ enthusiasm fueled her excitement even more. The home’s already asked to do a write-up in its resident newsletter with a photo, bio and order information. Jean is starting to feel a bit like a celebrity, too, as people ask about getting their hands on a copy. She erroneously thought only family would be interested in her writing. She’s pleasantly surprised to be proven wrong.

Easy-to-use, free resources

Like me, Theresa had no experience self-publishing a book. Fortunately, Amazon makes it relatively easy. It walks you through the process step by step, and if you mess up, you can go back and correct your mistake. You can start the process by visiting

With Amazon, there are no upfront costs or hidden fees. Both my and Theresa’s mothers were ready to spend substantial dollars to have their books printed. Instead, they had no capital outlay whatsoever.

You can price your books however you like, but Amazon sets a minimum. My mom just wanted to cover her costs and to get her book into as many hands as possible, so she set her prices low: $14.95 for the paperback and $2.99 for the Kindle version.

Initially, when we were thinking about using a digital print shop to produce the books, Mom planned to handle distribution herself. That was some magical thinking for a multitude of reasons. She never could have managed to package, label and haul books to the post office, and she was not equipped to handle invoicing and payment. Instead, by using Amazon, people place their orders directly with the platform, sparing Mom those hassles and hurdles. Amazon handles sales and fulfillment turnkey. Easy breezy.

Go forth and publish

My goal with this piece is not to tell you how to publish a book, but why you should consider it. In taking my Mom’s words and photos and organizing them into a bound book, I offer proof that it can be done. You probably could do it even better.

If you prefer to use another platform, go for it. I just know that Amazon helped novices such as Theresa and me find a way to make our mamas mighty happy.