Or, “Dammit, Jim, I’m a writer, not a marketing executive!”
“Write a novel,” they said.
“It’ll be fun,” they said.
Actually, that’s not what they said. I have no one to blame but myself for this adventure. Has it been worth it? There’s no easy answer to that. Yes, and I hope so are the best I can do right now.
Like all aspiring writers, I want to make this what I do for a living. I’m not seeking fame and fortune, just a way to do something I love and have it also pay the bills. (Although, I certainly wouldn’t turn down a spot on the NY Times Best Seller List…) My day job does not leave a lot of time or energy for writing and that frustrates me to no end, but I do my best.
I had a book published through Heritage Books in 2010: Put Up Your Hair: A Practical Manual To Nineteenth Century Hairstyles. It was picked up quickly and although the publication process was extremely long, I was ecstatic when I held that first, fresh, copy in my hands. This is it, I thought. I’m going to be a professional writer!
Spoiler alert: I did not become a professional writer. At least not yet.
Soon after Put Up Your Hair, I wrote Traveler, a middle grade novel about a modern-day boy who discovers that his missing father is a time traveler. I read it to my classes four years in a row to see how the target age group would receive it. They loved it. My confidence soared.
Then came the avalanche of rejection emails from agents. Crash and burn. It wasn’t all bad; there were some bites, some requests for a partial or full manuscript. All of the responses were eventually the same stock answer: “Thank you for your submission, I just don’t feel that this is right for me at this time.” I did have a full publishing offer from a quasi-vanity press that just didn’t feel right, even though they did put out a lot of books. I turned it down.
Four years ago, I gave up on an agent for Traveler and decided to self-publish on Amazon. I had edited and re-edited. My students loved it, so I knew I had a good story. A dear artist friend designed a great cover. Self-publishing on Amazon doesn’t require payment, only a percentage, so there wasn’t the danger of losing money. All of the pieces were there, so I put my little book-child out there for the world to see.
It’s had its ups and downs. My friends and family have bought copies, which feels good, of course. Sales weren’t horrible, at least in the beginning. Another dear friend hosted a book signing for me in her shop and keeps copies in stock. I’ve donated copies to our public and school libraries in my city. While these are all good things, I found out that self-publishing requires a lot of self-promotion and marketing to keep the momentum going and to constantly find new audiences, things that I’m not very good at.
I’m not ashamed to say that I did a bit of wallowing in self-pity, but being an author means that you have to learn to deal with rejection. A lot of rejection. I found that it’s best if I allow myself that indulgence for just a bit before I shake it off and put my big-girl panties on.
Over the summer, I finished writing a sequel to Traveler, yet untitled. I had some great beta readers who offered generous feedback and I’m just now getting the energy to go in and make those edits. I’d love to have it polished up and ready to go in time for the holidays.
Just for kicks, I sent out some (premature)queries to agents to see how a sequel to a self-published book would be received. It seems that except in rare cases, once a book is self-published, it pretty much stays self-published, including any sequels. I can understand that, it probably entails a lot more work on the part of an agent or publisher. I’m starting to make peace with the probability that my little Traveler series will never see a traditional publisher. (I know that I’ve only written Book #2, but Traveler was always meant to be a series, like a Magic Treehouse series for older children.)
That doesn’t mean that I don’t want a traditional publisher, I really do! More than anything else, I want to be able to focus more on the writing and less on the publishing/marketing end of the business, even though I know I’ll be expected to contribute to that. I would just like a knowledgeable person to tell me what to do instead of going through this blindly.
I have a couple more stories in the works, unrelated to Traveler, that I’m excited about finishing and sending out to prospective agents. One is a middle grade story about a family of theatre ghosts, inspired by the spooky happenings in my own theatre where I act. Another is a completed historical fiction novel about Bessie Blount that has a solid foundation but needs some tweaking. There are infinite possibilities…
In the meantime, I’m going to keep writing, keep editing, keep submitting to Medium, keep writing freelance articles, and so on. The dream isn’t dead.
If you are a self-published and/or struggling writer, please feel free to share your story with me in the comments. Misery loves company and it helps to know that we’re not alone and the struggle is real.