Hello faithful readers!
As some of you may already know (and I only remembered shamefully late), it’s not just the beginning of spring for us in the #WritingCommunity right now: it’s also #IndieApril! This is a time of year set aside to promote indie and self-published authors, and as such it’s one that’s near and dear to my heart. So this week, I figured I’d talk a little about my own journey as an indie author and share what drives me to help other people who are trying to write, publish, and market their own work. Trust me, it’s not as easy as it looks…but does it even look easy? Maybe that’s not the right cliche here.
Anyway, my first steps toward where I am now came when I was in high school. After having an idea and being challenged by some friends of mine to turn it into a story, I wrote my first full-length novel, The Showstopper (you can read more about it on my Works page). Of course the first draft wasn’t nearly done, so I spent the next probably five years continually rewriting and revising it (with help from many friends and fellow writers) until I arrived at a version I was comfortable with putting out in the world, just after I graduated college in 2014. At that point, I knew (even at this early point in my development as a writer) that I could try to shop my work to agents and publishers and potentially wait a very long time for anyone to read or recognize my book, or I could try to go my own way and take advantage of self-publishing options I was learning more about. When I learned Amazon had its own self-publishing platform (CreateSpace, now KDP), I jumped at the chance to be part of it. My book on Amazon, the biggest shopping center in the world? And with a cost to me of virtually nothing, provided I used the bare minimum of features? It seemed too good to pass up.
In retrospect, that’s probably because it might have been. In Amazon’s defense, the editing services they offered at the time were reasonably priced and actually very helpful in bringing some final edits to my manuscript, and the printed and ebook versions of The Showstopper I was able to produce weren’t flashy, but they were functional and looked pretty solid, even with the template cover and stock image I used to construct it. At the time, I also didn’t have much of a mind for formatting a novel for print or online publication, and I decided to just wing it with the templates Amazon provided. As with the cover, the final result looked line if you didn’t scrutinize it too closely, but looking back I cringe with how riddled with formatting errors it was and how they could easily have been avoided if I’d only spent a little more time thinking about it. But at the time, I was a penniless former college student (I hadn’t even landed my first job yet) and just the satisfaction of having a book in print that I could say was mine was the greatest feeling in the world. It was a dream come true.
Over the next few years, through a move to New York and the self-publication of my second novel, Camp Ferguson, I didn’t give much thought to the publishing process. I even hand-drew a cover for Camp Ferguson and uploaded it to become the official book cover. While a bit crude artistically, I felt it conveyed the spirit of the novel and the appeal of being an all-in-one artist made me stick with it, even when I probably shouldn’t have. In a perfectly understandable fashion, I was still more concerned with holding a book in my hands as soon as possible than making sure that product was the best it could be.
Then, I joined the Twitter community and my knowledge of everything related to writing and marketing just exploded. I was making so many new friends, many of whom had also gone the self-publishing route, that I was astounded and, if truth be told, a bit jealous that they seemed to be doing so well with their work when I could barely sell any copies of mine to my friends and family. I marveled at how they seemed able to crank out professional-looking books and afford the services I’d always considered over my head to make them sleek and perfected. Three years of getting to know my fellow indie authors convinced me of two things: one, that being a (relative) success as an indie author was possible. Many of the books I’ve read by indie authors on Twitter have rivaled, and even surpassed, the quality of many trade publications I’ve read in my life. I can’t overstate how talented many of the people I’ve gotten to know here are, and I’m constantly in awe of you.
The second thing I realized was that if I really wanted to bring my work up to par, I needed to do a few things: be willing to spend some money, make connections, and put more intensity and thought into my books than I ever had before. Joining a grad school program and meeting more fellow writers there as well as learning even more about writing and publishing through my classes only convinced me that not only did I need to revamp my social media image, I needed to aggressively correct some of the mistakes I felt I’d made in the past before I could rightfully put myself in the company of the amazing writers I’d gotten to know.
In the last few months, I’ve taken steps to do just that. I pulled both The Showstopper and Camp Ferguson off Amazon (don’t worry, they’ll be back!) until such time as I could re-release them in a retouched form. The Showstopper is as of now slated for an October relaunch, and Camp Ferguson sometime next year (hopefully after I have another book or two in that series lined up for publication). Not only am I doing some hard-core edits on both books and planning to pay some friends I’ve made who are professional editors to review them, a step I’d never considered taking before, but I’m also looking to others for help with proper formatting and even cover art (though I’m still investigating methods of doing that part myself, thanks to some graphic design training I’ve gotten in my classes). The bottom line is, I decided that if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing well.
Of course, I recognize that a lot of this new drive to perfect my books is because I now have a much better-paying job in marketing and have resources others may not have access to. But I hope that people who read my story and maybe see something of themselves and their journey in it will be inspired to keep on going, even when the challenge feels insurmountable. The only way you won’t succeed on your writing journey, as with anything else in life, is if you quit. So don’t give up! You can do this!
That’s why, for the rest of this month, I’m going to talk about a self-published book (or maybe more than one) by one of the writer friends I’ve made to try to spread the word about the people out there who have done it right and come out with some of the best literature I’ve ever read. Join me back here next week for the first in this new series!