Self-Publishing saved my life. Seemed like a good idea at the time.
In 2010 I was broke and homeless, couch surfing and living off the fumes of a never terribly vibrant savings. I hadn’t been able to find any freelance copywriting in months, and it’d been years since I’d had a salaried or even hourly job. I was registered with several Chicago temp agencies, sent out application after application, and used all available outlets to try and find new clients.
Straits were dire. I was running out of money and burning through what little goodwill my friends still had for me. I’d spent most of my twenties and thirties nomadic, living out of a suitcase, drifting from state to state and town to town in a way that wasn’t anywhere near as romantic as it sounds, but I’d never had such a difficult time finding work.
As you can imagine, the process of sending out endless waves of resumes and going on fruitless interviews wore thin. I looked for ways to avoid doing it, but lacking an entertainment budget, didn’t have a lot of options. So, writing became my form of procrastination.
I’d always been a writer.
I was a storyteller as a kid, filling notebooks with drawings before I could write, putting on plays with stuffed animals for my aunts and uncles. Writing came later, and so did reading. So much reading. I’d bring a book with me everywhere — on vacation, in the car, to class. I’d sneak books to read hidden under the lip of my desk during lectures. Classic lit, books from the class cart, whatever I could find. Lots of Bradbury. I think he was my favorite, but it’s hard to connect with who I was back then.
I spent my twenties drifting from low-paying job to low-paying job. Call center rep. Janitor in a state mental hospital. Day laborer. Mall cop. Whatever I could do to keep by until I drifted on to something else, never making much money, never having a life to really call my own. I stopped writing somewhere along the way, stopped reading. There was nothing but work, sleep, and work again, gliding the poverty line best I could, wearing away all of my most interesting layers bit by bit. I’m sure I lived some interesting stories in my decades as a vagrant, but they’re not something I’m ready to talk about yet.
I still thought of myself as a writer. Still figured I’d get to it “eventually.” Still bought a copy of Writer’s Market every year, still tried to keep up with the industry, but I never got any further than sending off for a publication’s submission guidelines. And at some point, “eventually” turns into “never.”
What were we talking about? Oh yeah. Self-Publishing.
So 2010. I write a short story about the end of the world, my first bit of fiction in over a decade. I liked it. Friends I showed it to liked it. It being the fucking future, I logged into Duotrope and found myself a list of all the publications likely to pick it up, chose one, checked out their web page, and sent it off.
Then went back to the grind, looking for work, largely forgetting about what I’d written. A month or so later I get a rejection notice — my first rejection for the first story I’d ever submitted, the first story I’d written in years. I’d steeled myself for this. I knew this was the biz. I’d read enough articles.
Only this was a personal rejection. The editor included a note that the story was
An almost. Brutal in a Lord of the Flies sort of way.
And that I found very encouraging. My first story, my first rejection, an almost.
Clearly this was destiny.
All of my old dreams came flooding back. I remembered, for the first time in what felt like forever, what it was like to have aspirations, to believe that I could have something, that I could be something. All of a sudden, I really wanted to be a writer again. I wanted that, writing, to be my life. And I was good enough. It was viable.
And yet I didn’t send the story out again immediately. I was close to going from “friends’ couch homeless” to “real street homeless.” It’d take at least a month to sell the story, then many more months for the story to be published before I’d see a dime. And if I wrote novels, the way I wanted to? Payoffs could take years.
I didn’t have time for that. But I lived in the future now, didn’t I?
Self Publishing to the rescue
I’d been hearing about self-publishing and the way that Amazon, Apple, and Barnes & Noble had been changing the landscape, but hadn’t looked into it too deeply. I did some research and found out that the payoff would be much sooner — royalties were disbursed two months after accrual. That I could do. Two months I had.
So I wrote a few more stories, researched self-publishing some more, and put them up on Amazon. That first month I made ten dollars.
Ten real dollars. I was a goddamn professional author.
The next month I made thirty. Enough to chip in a little for food, so I didn’t feel like so much the mooch. By the end of 2012 I was taking in four-figures of royalties every month, living in my own place.
So that’s me.
That’s my story. How I got where I am. I’m not rich, not by a longshot, but I’d consider myself a successful professional author. Sure, the market moved on, and Amazon changed things up so that I’m back to barely scraping by, but I know what I’m doing. Any one book could be the one that takes off unexpectedly, my lottery tickets to financial stability and the heights of a lower-middle class lifestyle.
Until then, until I make it, I’ll keep plugging away, keep writing, keep trying new things. Like this. Like Medium. I’m not really sure what I’m going to use it for, but I’m sure I’ll think of something.
If you want to check out what I’m working on, head on over to my author page. If you want free copies of my books as I release them, consider supporting me on Patreon. Book royalties can swing a lot from month to month, so the Patreon is the closest thing I have to a steady income.