Sarah Burleton grew up in the Midwest, the daughter of an emotionally disturbed woman. Her book, "Why Me" chronicles the abuse she experienced at the hands of her mother. It has proven to be a remarkable success and has been on The New York Times bestseller list for an extended time now. She has made it her life's goal to get her story out to the world and to become an ambassador to children who are experiencing similarly frightening childhoods today.
[David Weir] When and why did you decide to write "Why Me?"
[Sarah Burleton] “Why Me?”, basically the accounting of my abusive childhood, seems like it took my entire life to write. I tried many times over the years to write down my story but didn’t know how to start. I also didn’t know how anyone who read my story would react. Would they laugh and say that I really wasn’t abused and that I deserved what I got? Or would I be criticized for putting my “dirty laundry” out for the world to see? It was a very scary thought–the idea that I would be “abused” again by people I didn’t even know. But, at the urging of my husband—who believed that getting my story out onto paper could help me heal—I decided to write it without even thinking about publishing it. So I wrote.
[DW] What made you to decide to publish it?
[SB] As I was writing my book, each word, sentence, paragraph, and chapter I completed made me finally realize that I had been feeling guilty my entire life for no reason at all. I had been carrying around a weight on my shoulders and a shame for being abused when nothing I had done had ever justified the abuse I endured. When I felt the weight lift off of my shoulders after completing my story, I felt compelled to put my story out there for anyone who was like me in the hope that they would read it and realize that they too, were victims of their loved ones. I wanted to help one or two people if I could – never expecting that I would be helping thousands.
[DW] When did the book first start attracting reactions from people and how did that affect you?
[SB] I first started looking at getting my book traditionally published and was immediately discouraged by the long query process and the hoops one had to jump through to even get an associate editor to view a transcript. So during an online Google search one day I stumbled upon the Amazon KDP program and uploaded my book in September 2010. I had a trickle of sales for the first couple of months and then at the end of December 2010, sales of my book took off and reviews started coming in on my Amazon page. I was so honored that people were taking the time to read my story and even more honored that these same people were taking the time to leave such kind and inspiring reviews on my book. I remember sitting with my husband at night and wondering out loud who was reading my book at that moment and what they were thinking of it – it was all a very overwhelming experience.
[DW] Other than distributing your book to the major retailers, did you do anything to market the book?
[SB] I have done no outside marketing of my book; it felt very odd to me to ask people to read a story about my childhood abuse. I felt that it was a story that certain people would need to read and would find on their own – they would have to be looking for it for their own personal reasons. I did utilize the tools provided by Amazon and Barnes and Noble (the Author Central page, author description and the “From the Author” sections). I “talk” to the readers in these sections of my page – I want them to know me a bit even before they read the first paragraph of my story.
[DW] When did you realize your book was on the New York Times best-seller list?
[SB] Soon after I made the top 100 at Barnes and Noble, I did a Google search on my name and my book and saw that one of the links that popped up was to the NY Times and I was listed on there at #23. I’ll never forget seeing my little book and my name listed among the giants in the publishing industry and I am continuously amazed to see my name on there week after week.
[DW] Can you tell us about the offers you've gotten since from traditional publishers and other types of media companies?
[SB] In March 2011, I was listed on Good Morning Americas “Top 10 Self Help Books” for the Amazon Kindle. Soon after, I was contacted by Raw Television Productions and was asked to be part of a series they were developing about women who had overcome adversity that was going to be pitched to the OWN Network. Unfortunately, the OWN Network didn’t think that the series was right for them at that time, but we are revisiting sometime in the future. I also was approached by 3 major publishers who were interested in obtaining my print and e-book rights, but in the end, I decided to remain indie and turned down each of those offers. The only rights I have signed away are my audio rights to Brilliance Audio and my audio book will be released on May 1st of this year!
[DW] What do you now see as the advantages of remaining independent rather than signing on with a traditional publisher?
[SB] I am a control freak, so the thought of not being able to log on and see what my sales were doing during any point of the day really bothered me. I also, probably like many authors, hold my little story near and dear to my heart. I was extremely concerned that my message of strength over adversity would be lost in flowery language and edits once a publisher got their hands on it. I didn’t want my message to be lost and my story to be put on a backlist for a year. I love that I have all of the say on the editing, distribution, and pricing of my book and it would be very difficult for me to give up all of that freedom I enjoy as an indie.
[DW] What's your opinion of exclusivity options like KDP Select?
[SB] I am not a fan of going exclusive with anyone - I don’t see the value of putting all of your eggs in one basket and hoping for the best. I would imagine that for an author, exposure is everything, so why cut out so many readers by only publishing on one site or device? It seems very counterproductive in my opinion.
[DW] Yours is a deeply personal story, of having been abused by an emotionally disturbed mother. How difficult was it for you to tell this story?
[SB] It was extremely difficult for me to tell this story. I only wrote about what I could clearly remember; the incidents in my life where I could still see the scar Mom left on me or remember the way Mom’s breath smelled in my face. I had many more things I could have written about, but I couldn’t remember what house I lived in at times or what exactly happened on a particular day that set Mom off on one of her tirades. I didn’t want to make anything up or fill in “holes” so I only relived what was still giving me nightmares and what was still making me sad in my adult life. Reliving these experiences word for word was extremely difficult and there were times I would write a chapter and weep for hours afterward. I went through every emotion possible while writing my little story – and I believe that emotion is what made my book so powerful.
[DW] How long did it take to write it?
[SB] Once I sat down and actually wrote it – it took me about a month and a half to complete it. I gave it to a former professor I had in college to edit it for spelling and grammar with the specific instructions that I did not want the tone of my story changed. Looking back – I should have probably asked for more advice on adding meat to my story or making the tone of certain parts sound more “adult,” but at the time – I was not thinking of any of those things.
[DW] Were there people who encouraged or helped you along the way?
[SB] The only person who knew I was writing the story at the time was my husband; he was the one who encouraged me to write down my nightmares just for my own piece of mind. He was absolutely wonderful throughout the entire process and I couldn’t be more grateful to have someone like him in my life.
[DW] How did you feel when you were done writing it?
[SB] I felt this enormous sense of guilt lift off of my shoulders and a wave of relief wash over me. I never realized how much I punished myself for the acts of my mother over the years – I always assumed that I had done something wrong or terrible for her to act the way she acted towards me. It is hard for many people to understand how a mother can hate her child – it’s even harder to understand it when you are the child and it’s your mother who hates you. By the end of the book, I realized that I really had no answers to the behavior exhibited by my mother – but what I knew was that I was not going to let my past dictate my future anymore. I had finally made a huge step in overcoming my childhood.
[DW] Since you've heard from others who suffered abuse as children, how has your story affected them?
[SB] Some of the emails I get from readers bring me to tears – there are so many of “us” out there; those of us who have suffered abuse at the hands of a loved one. The overwhelming theme I hear from my readers is that they realize that they too cannot let the past dictate their future. They realize that they cannot change who their parents are but they can change the way that they themselves react to situations in their lives. I have received emails from teenagers who tell me that they appreciate their mothers more; emails from mothers who want to reach out and offer me a motherly hand of love; and emails from people who were abused or are still being abused – using me as a venting board to tell their story. It is quite an honor to be trusted with such personal information and I pray nightly for those readers still suffering.
[DW] Usually success attracts critics also. Have you faced much criticism and if so, has that been like to deal with that?
[SB] My book has been called, “Boring, Poorly Written, Unbelievable, Fiction” and many more choice adjectives on numerous reviews and chat boards. At first, I was extremely insulted by these opinions, but then put myself into check and remembered that they were just opinions – nothing else. I know the truth, my family knows the truth and that is all that matters. If someone wants to knock me down for the way that my book is written or because they just don’t believe someone could be abused like that – then they are entitled to express that. It’s OK – I don’t let it bother me anymore and I make it a rule to never respond to a negative comment or review.
[DW] Are you working on another book, and if so, can you tell us what about?
[SB] I am working on a bullying book specifically for the Young Adult readers. I was bullied in school and can relate so much to what kids feel and what it is like to feel like there is no one in the world out there supporting you or understanding you. I hope to have it published onto all venues by Christmas – right now I am 6 ½ months pregnant so that has been slowing me down a bit!
[DW] Do you have advice for others who may wish to write non-fiction, but haven't worked up the courage to do so yet?
[SB] I would suggest writing the book without the intent to publish – but for your own personal reasons. If I knew I was going to publish my book onto global platforms like Amazon, B&N, and Smashwords, I may have written it differently or let the fear of customer reviews and critics cloud my judgment when writing it. Write what you feel, write what you know and remember, and once it is all done, then think about publishing it. If you have an abuse story like mine and you want to write about it – then do it! Even if you don’t publish it, seeing your story on paper makes you realize things about yourself that you never knew before and you will realize what a strong individual you really are.
[DW] Thanks Sarah!
Smashwords distributes Sarah Burleton to the following retailers:
Diesel eBook Store