Saturday, March 21, 2015

Publishing Year One: Hindsight

**Note to readers: I rewrote this post five or six times. Half of those posts had a positive spin, half went into the other direction. My attitudes about writing and publishing fluctuate on a daily basis. While this post may not be the most positive, know that I do still have moments of unfettered hope about the future of publishing my work. Ask me again tomorrow and the outlook may not be as bright.

Regrets—I have a few. 

It’s a big deal to publish a book no matter how you go about it. But the biggest lessons from it all are the things you have learned while you were standing right in the middle of all that planning and stress and hope. 

There were many things I could have done differently, starting with choosing a completely different form of writing to publish. Haiku is great, but half the world scoffs saying it’s easy, others say that it’s so challenging each one is a masterpiece in simplicity. I’m definitely walking the middle road on that topic, but creating a book of free verse poems or a novel would have probably provided a better vehicle for sales. 

That being said, the book is what it is. I could have tried different ways to advertise the book. I could have given out more free copies to avid readers. I could have made sure that paperback version and the ebook version came out on the same day. I could have just thrown money at the problem with paid advertising and paid book reviews (which I would never recommend). I could have simply waited and waited and waited until maybe someday, finally a real publisher or agent saw some talent in my work. But I didn’t wait around. I self-published because it the best way I knew how to get it out there at the time. 

A Career Changer?

The big question I know that I had at the beginning of this process was whether this would significantly change my career in any way. I’m very open about what I write, how I go about it and the struggles I have trying to make it my life’s work. But even I have to admit when I send a short story or some poetry to literary journals, Unfolding Life is never mentioned in the cover letter or the short bio. Self-publishing still has a stigma because the quality is unregulated. I will tell you this—after spending the past seven or eight years reading A LOT self-published work, the ratio of good-to-bad is about the same as traditionally published books. That’s because it is all about the reader’s perception and how they emotionally connect or disconnect with each story. Yes, formatting and grammatical nightmares are much more common in the self-publishing space, but even a great story can overcome all of that (think of your favorite trilogies-now-blockbuster-movies set). 

Lessons Learned

Learning throughout this process did give me one thing that I don’t regret—it made me happy to know what to expect for any potential future projects. Will I continue to self-publish? Maybe. I would still love to have a traditional contract with a major publisher, but I also know that the contract negotiations would be fierce—I’m no fool when it comes to royalties on ebooks. 

Will I continue to write? Come on. That’s like asking me whether I will continue to breathe. 

My motivation for writing will never change—it entertains me and I can’t think of anything else I would rather spend my time doing. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean I actually spend enough time writing—it takes a lot to cut through the demands of trying to make a living (not always succeeding at it) and trying to convince everyone around me I’m not at their beck and call just because my office is located where I live. Then when there is a time to write, I feel so guilty that I’m doing something people consider unimportant the anxiety starts to block out all of those ideas that seemed to be good in my head, but once on the paper seem like a whole lot of nothing. 

My motivation for publishing will need to change if I ever want to enjoy the process again. I can’t think about it as just doing this project to get to the next project. Right now I’m still in the mindset that if Unfolding Life had made more money, I could have hired an editor for my novel In Another Life. And if that project sold enough copies, it would give me the money to hire an artist for my comic book project. With the profits from that comic book project, I would be able to finally find a way to shoot some of the short films I’ve written. It’s a vicious cycle, but I don’t think it’s all that unreasonable. It’s not like I thought about making a full-time living from a single book. I’m certainly not that na├»ve. I just wanted to reinvest the profits in future projects which may or may not have led to the one perfect project that finally provided the means to write full-time.  

The self-publishing world will absolutely crush me if I dwell on getting paid what I think my work is worth. Yes, I do believe that writers are more than entitled to make a living from writing alone. And by alone I mean no parent, sibling, spouse, sugar daddy, trust fund, anyone or anything else providing additional financial support. This background support is often hidden by both beginning and well-established writers. Very few actually talk about struggling, which leads me and their audience to believe that they don’t. But they won’t tell you that—they’ll lose their starving artist street cred. 

Most consumers (and *ahem* those who hire freelance writers for their businesses) do not believe that writing can or should be a full-time job, and they certainly don’t want to pay a writer what they are worth. I can’t say I blame them. I am that consumer. The ONLY ebook I have ever purchased is my own to fulfill giveaways and review copies. I have hundreds of books on my Kindle and my Kobo that I downloaded for free. I haven’t bought a physical book in the past three years—I’ve been lucky enough to be given the opportunity to write reviews in exchange for free books, so I am that consumer. Unless the book seems like it will absolutely change my life, I’m a little reluctant to pay for it. I don’t have the resources to make as many book purchases as I want, and there’s your full circle—if I made more money writing, I could buy more books. 

So I get it. I get why this project was not what I would consider a success. 

I’m smarter for going through the process, but I’m also realistic. Whether any future writing will ever see the light of day is a serious question I’m still struggling with. I know that hard work is the key, but when you feel like you have given it more than your all and it still brings no results, you have to keep asking yourself whether it is worth all the time, effort, stress and guilt for not spending time trying to be better at making money instead of keeping focus on being creative.

Previous drafts of this post were a lot more positive, but that attitude made it feel like I was lying to myself and to everyone else. I'm disappointed in the sales numbers. I’m frustrated that even though I know a whole lot more about online marketing than most first-time writers going into this, I still couldn’t get the project in front of the right audience. I’m angry that it feels like there’s some secret to success that I just haven’t figured out. 

Right now, I don’t know where to go from here. I don’t want to spend the next six months working hard on another writing project only to have the same outcome. The future of my career as a professional writer in any capacity is uncertain, and it’s not a feeling I like carrying around each day. It’s decision time and I still don’t know where I’m going. I know that wherever it is I have to move forward in some direction, with or without writing projects in my hand. 

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