Take Their Word For It

Turning a Tragedy Into Helping Others

Thom Vines

Thom Vines, devastated by the loss of a daughter, self-published a book about keeping your faith after a tragedy.

Life was going well for Thom Vines and his family. A 1976 Central grad and Pella native, Thom and his family — wife Becky ’77, son Jeremy, and twin daughters Kelsey and Kayla — lived in Lubbock, Tex., where Thom was the deputy superintendent for the Lubbock-Cooper School District and Becky was a curriculum specialist.

Then on Sept. 2, 2008, the Vines’ world changed forever.

On their way home from basketball practice at the beginning of their senior year of high school, the 18-year-old twins were hit by a 40,000-lb. dump truck that swerved into their lane of traffic. Kayla was banged up but fairly unscathed. Kelsey, however, was killed instantly.

“I remember, before this time, hearing about parents who had lost their children, and thinking, ‘That’s as bad as it gets,’” Thom Vines said. “But when it actually happens to you, it’s worse.”

Vines said his family’s strong Christian faith was about the only thing that pulled them through the tragedy. “But for Christians, there’s an added question of: ‘Can you still trust God when something like this happens?’” he said.

He began writing a book for parents who had lost a child and soon realized that any Christian who has been through a significant tragedy has the same questions and doubts.

Once the book was complete, Vines secured an agent in Boston and thought for a while that a major publishing firm might publish it. “But profit margins are so narrow in this business, and most firms are not going to take a chance on a beginning writer,” he said.

Vines Family

Pictured (from left to right): John Michael Vestal, Kayla Vines, Thom Vines ’76, Jeremy Vines and Becky Vines ’77.

At that point, Vines took a look at self-publishing, literally googling the term and finding a multitude of companies that published books for authors. He settled on AuthorHouse and ended up spending about $14,000 to have Tragedy and Trust: Can You Still Trust God After Losing a Child? published. The book came out in February 2011 and had sold about 2,000 copies as of the end of May. Vines said he’s recouped about two-thirds of his cost. “Once we get into the black, anything we make will go into scholarships in Kelsey’s name,” he said.

Immediately after publication, Vines began getting letters and emails from the book’s readers, sharing their stories of tragedy, and he knew he had touched a nerve with many people who had doubted God after horrific things happened in their lives.

Kelsey’s strong faith while alive and her subsequent death have led Vines into a ministry of his own, speaking to groups all over Texas. “For us, the answer to the question — Can you still trust God after losing a child? — is yes. The answer is right in front of us,” Vines said. “He loves us, He’s created us, and we are His children. Just because we’re Christians doesn’t mean we won’t have tragedy in our lives.”

Thom Vines’ book is available online through amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.


A Love Affair With Iowa History

Debbie and J.O. Parker

Her English major at Central led Deb Tindle Parker ’95, with her husband J.O. Parker, to start a publishing house and share their love of history with other Iowans through books.

When an English major marries someone with a with a photojournalism degree, publishing books is a pretty good bet.

That’s what Deb (Tindle) Parker ’95, an English grad, figured when she married J.O. Parker, a University of Missouri alum who had majored in agriculture with a concentration in photojournalism. And since the couple had met at the Iowa State Fair, why not a book about the fair for kids?

That’s how the children’s book Iowa’s Tradition: An ABC Photo Album of the Iowa State Fair came about.

“We took a picture to go along with every letter of the alphabet,” J.O. said. The couple did the research to obtain an International Standard Book Number (ISBN) and a bar code and then in 2006 took the work to a local printer, Sutherland Printing, to have the four-color book published at a cost of about $12,000. And since the couple discovered that buying a group of 10 ISBN numbers and bar codes cost about the same amount as buying one, they purchased a group and decided on a second book about the Old Threshers’ Reunion that takes place every Labor Day weekend in Mount Pleasant.J.O. and Debbie Parker with their books

From there, Deb said, the work begins. They take their books to craft shows, toy shows and any place lovers of history congregate. When you publish yourself, she said, the work of marketing largely falls on you. “We handed out our business card to everyone we photographed,” she said. “It got to the point where people were requesting the book at Barnes & Noble, and they contacted us and wanted our book in the store.”

The Parkers have established their own publishing company, Front Porch Books, and are holding their second writers’ conference this fall in Montezuma, Iowa, where they live.

The Parkers’ books are available at Barnes & Noble, amazon.com and at selected Iowa bookstores. You may also contact them at debwrite@zumatel.com. 


Is Self-Publishing For Me?

If you’re thinking about wading into the world of publishing, here are some ways to go:

  • Traditional publishing. Obtain an agent (Writers’ Market has lists of agents and the types of genres they’ll represent) and try to get your work seen by a publishing firm. Jason Vines ‘82, is a senior vice president at Fleishman-Hillard, a public relations firm in Detroit. He formerly worked for Zondervan Publishing and helped his brother Thom through the maze of self-publishing. “If what you have is good, an agent will tell you,” Vines said. “If an agent doesn’t want to take it on, then you’ll need to consider something else.” If a traditional publishing firm does accept your book, they will take care of much of the advertising and marketing.
  • Self-published with an online company. Google “self-publishing” and you’ll get hundreds of results, like AuthorHouse, iUniverse, Lulu and many others. These companies can offer complete services — they’ll format your book, design the cover and purchase an ISBN and bar code for you — or just print it if you’ve done all of that work ahead of time. But be warned: self-publishing this route does not mean you keep all the profits. The “publisher” you use will keep a huge chunk of each book sold, and you do all or most of the marketing of the book.
  • Print on demand. Sites like CreateSpace allow you to store your book online and print copies only as someone orders them. This prevents you from having hundreds — or even thousands — of books sitting around that no one is buying. But again, the company will keep some of the profits for doing so.
  • Your local copy shop. If you have the design and editorial skills (or want to hire it out) and feel you can go toe-to-toe with small publishers, do it yourself. You’ll keep all of the profits but will have to market everything yourself.

“If you’re really committed to your idea and willing to put a lot of time into it, publishing a book is a great way to go,” said Deb Parker ’95, co-owner of Front Porch Books in Montezuma. “But you’re going to have to work hard to get it in front of people.”

Find more in-depth tips about self-publishing on CNET.

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