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Every image I conjure of an “author” is of a man wearing a soft sweater over his button-down shirt, the sea crashing behind his weather-beaten cottage, a fire burning in his 17th-century grate, and his wife looking incredible with her long gray hair.

Maybe it’s the black-and-white photos that are always in the back of their books, with a faraway look in the author’s eyes as he contemplates the tumultuous ocean.

Female authors are often in color photos, looking savvy and sharp, with big Texas hair that would make any country-western star envious.

Well, I’ve met my share of authors. Some have great professional cover shots, while others peer toward you with the obvious angle of a selfie.

Independent authors, or indies, have a different look in their eye. Maybe it’s because they don’t have a crew of people adjusting the lighting or someone who knows the best angle for their nose. They certainly don’t look thoughtful, savvy, or sharp. Mostly they seem worried, and sometimes just a little mad.

Writing swarms your life. You are never safe, whether you are in a deep sleep or driving the car. Thoughts jump out at you; your characters fight to be heard, poking with their sharp imaginary fingers, saying, “Don’t do that to me. This is what I want.”

Sometimes indies have to hide what they’re doing. It’s considered nothing more than a pastime, or even a compulsion, and it interferes with life, leaving family members and friends resentful.

It’s hard to turn off creativity. Yet many indies have day jobs, kids, and other responsibilities. They don’t have hideaways to cut themselves off from the rest of the world so they can concentrate on their plots or create dazzling characters.

Indies don’t have the luxury of saying, “Go away. Leave me alone. I’m feeling creative right now.”

Indies write in the corner of the living room or that damp spot in the basement. They steal time from their chores, leaving the laundry wrinkled and the meat overcooked. They don’t have a choice; indie authors have to squeeze 10 pounds of crap into a two-pound bag. They are not considered “real” authors by many people. They have yet to prove they can deliver the goods.

It isn’t enough that the book takes over your existence while you’re writing it. This is a big commitment that infringes on everybody who’s connected to a writer.

Only when the last word is typed and your computer closes with a satisfying snap does the shock come that the real work is beginning.

Editing, formatting, picking a cover—the list can feel endless. It’s like building a house and having to decorate 10 different bathrooms at once. It’s overwhelming.

After it’s been put through labor and delivery, your baby needs the same amount of nurturing as sextuplets. If you Google your name and don’t see 10 pages of references to both you and your novel, you ain’t doing enough.

Pre-launch, post-launch: I’m not talking about rocket ships here. If you want your book to sell, you have to find out where to promote it.

You can’t hawk fantasy to a crime thriller crowd. This is the time when an indie has to look up bloggers and showcase the book. Talk about the characters, show off the cover, do interviews, reveal the first chapter; the book might still be in production, but selling it starts before the proof is in your hands.

I think that’s why every author I meet looks hollow-eyed and exhausted. They have to split themselves into the three-ring circus of promotion and publicity to do death-defying leaps and bounds in uncharted territory. There are multiple jobs, and unless you have an assistant, all the things required for a successful book launch will make you feel like you’re stuck on the beach during high tide. You can’t run away from the workload fast enough. There is always one thing more to do.

Follow-up is a bitch. Everybody who is blogging about you is probably in the same boat, squeezing your blog tour between carpools and soccer. One has to live and die by their to-do list.

It’s scary, and it’s hard. You may not like to do interviews, and you may hate being in the spotlight. For me, the computer and all its tasks of attaching and downloading are loathsome. I never learned how to use the television remote: “How will I master this?”

Somehow, we trudge on. “Why?” We are at a watershed moment in time, a pivotal kink in history where ordinary people can take a chance. The internet has opened the floodgates, allowing indies to swarm and produce what they want to write, not what some guy at a corporation in Manhattan dictates.

We don’t have to read what traditional publishers are shoving down our throats, and every independent author is spearheading this movement. It’s exciting, adventurous, and electrifying.

Strange things are happening to genres; they are morphing, bending, expanding to include subjects that might never have seen the light of day.

This is a revolutionary time to be an author.

Writing as an indie is a lot like going on the famous Cyclone roller coaster in Coney Island. It is a thrilling ride with unexpected twists and turns. The climb to the top is fun and full of anticipation. The highs are delightfully frightening, filled with tingling chills.

Then come the lows, plummeting so deeply it pulls your backbone through your belly, dragging you with a relentless pull, making you feel like you’re going into a dive that you will never recover.

You think I’m being melodramatic? I swear, I’m not. Writing is the most soul-baring activity. It’s a multifaceted, all-encompassing endeavor that will change your life. You don’t even realize it while you’re working like a horse to make your book be seen; you have exposed your psyche to the world. If you think heartbreak comes from just lack of sales, you have no idea. There is more, so much more.

When you write, you reveal pieces of your inner self you didn’t know existed.

Sometimes, you’re not even aware that you’re letting it all hang out.

It’s like spending an entire presentation with toilet paper attached to the sole of your shoe. You stand before a crowd, thinking you are doing one thing, but your audience’s perceptions are based on something you never knew was there.

Criticism stings. Being misunderstood or hurting someone with your words are even worse. It can feel so right when you’re in the thick of it, and in the cold light of reality, you wonder, “What the hell was I thinking?”

Still, we bounce back, even when we say we are done. Sometimes you’re sick and tired of the whole thing; it borders on torture. You feel hurt, confused, even embarrassed. Don’t despair—it doesn’t last, and within a week or so you will be starting on book two.

There is something special about sharing our ideas, our inner thoughts with people we’ve never met. Maybe it makes the world a smaller place, and we don’t feel so much like strangers anymore.