After some deep discussion among friends and with heavy thought, I’ve decided to dedicate a post to the ‘writing and publication’ process. It’s been said ‘there are a hundred ways to skin a cat’ and this is how I skinned mine…metaphorically.
Growing up I read…a lot. In middle school each student tracked how much they read by taking tests after each book and accumulating points. I had the highest or second highest by the end of eighth grade. I was there, I was on top. After all, I had traveled the world with Dr. Dolittle. And I felt compassion through the hearts of Beverly Clearly and Laura Ingalls Wilder. But I had also experienced horror through the words of Stephen King, with monsters so terrifying I wish I could leave them in the pages I found them.
Then high school came, when horror manifested itself in the form of a divorce between my parents. An ugly creature it was, ripping and gnawing at the very fabric of my adolescence. Perhaps that’s why I found solitude and comfort in Derry, Maine as a member of the Loser’s Club. Maybe that’s why, looking back, the streets of Derry were so real to me. I had walked them to escape the reality I found myself in.
Well, life happens and doors were opened. I found an escape from my tiny town of horrors but lost the time to read in exchange. That was until about two years ago when my love of reading was reignited. My soul was giddy with excitement. I picked up right where I left off and devoured each book with a hunger that couldn’t seemed to be satisfied.
Then it dawned on me. I could do this. I know I can. I could write a book. I had read enough good work and plenty of bad to build my confidence. And, boy did I have the demons and monsters. And they wanted to play…so I let them.
I decided to start with short stories. Arguably the hardest to write, given the short distance to obtain a solid story, but the manageable word count was attractive. At this point, I can’t imagine completing a 200,000 novel, but a 6,000 word story…ok. So I wrote one. And then I wrote two. And before I knew it, I had enough to put together a collection.
It took me a year or two, depending on when I consider I started. I had some good ideas and bad. I had days were I couldn’t write at all and others where I accomplished a lot of ground. And through it all, there was always one constant. Fear. It often stepped up, blocking my path, telling me I wasn’t good enough and to just give up now and enjoy the comforts of reading from my couch. But my monsters wouldn’t sit still and kept knocking at the door, wanting to be let out. I can’t tell you how many inspirational quotes I read on a daily basis or how many I have tattooed on my body to help get me through the season, but I can tell you I was determined.
Then I began looking into the whole process of becoming published. And I thought writing the book would be the most daunting! First off, I’m very independent. I have been since the divorce and find that I am stronger when I work alone. So when I discovered that the path to being an author involved writing short stories, submitting them to magazines, waiting for rejection slips and then beginning the process over again, I became a little disheartened. Having to rely on other people to decide if my work was good enough for them really turned me off. Why should I not be allowed in because of a couple grumpy gatekeepers. I get that that’s how the industry has been working for decades, but I don’t have time to wait. Please note that I do not want to take anything away from that process. Many, many great authors were born that way. It’s just that I’m in my early-thirties and time is only speeding up. So I decided to walk the fence and see if there was another way in.
You get down the fence far enough and Jeff Bezos and the Gods of Amazon are waiting and welcoming you with open arms! Admission: 1 manuscript. That’s all. No stack of rejection slips covered in tears is required. But now I have a choice. Because I didn’t spend years being hardened by the process and getting my name out there, if I were to walk in, nobody would know me. I’d just be another fly on the wall while the Stephen King’s and Chuck Palahniuk’s walked by. At the same time though, I’m not tied to a publishing company. Oh, I’d love to nail it big and get picked up by a name-brand publisher, where I can sit by the pool side, eating grapes while an intern waves a fig leaf to cool me down. In my mind though, those days are long gone…unless you somehow win the book lottery (I’m not a gambler and believe that hard work and dedication goes a long ways). So, until then, you are stuck with the indie publishers who are in the same boat as you. They don’t have the money up front to fork over for advances. The ones I looked at would be able to print my book and ‘promote’ the work. Promote where? Amazon and their website, which you’ve never heard of. So why pay someone to do a job that I can do myself? (It’s that independent, hard-working mentality).
I did discover a few success stories among the self publishers of Amazon and decided that if I believed enough in my work, then I would handle the process myself and eventually, I’d have publishers coming to me with contracts. I’m a long ways off from that, but it’s a sight I have my eyes set on.
This also meant I’d have to create my own book cover, which I was fine with. I had an idea, drew it up (to the best of my ability. I am definitely a writer and can paint pictures with words, not colored pencils.) and handed it over to a friend to polish it up for me. Amazon provided a template, I provided the idea, and my friend provided the artwork.
But what about editing? Let’s be honest. I think we would all be up shit creek without auto-correct. I would be anyway. Standing on the shore, waving my grammatical oar in the air asking for help as others with a more talented eye for catching mistakes float past me. I did a lot of research on this process. I could hire someone a lot of money to look over my work. I could find friends to do it for me. In the end, I found an editing software that I used and considered it to be a happy medium. For my first work anyway.
Now, let’s talk marketing for a minute. Sadly, you won’t be seeing my work inside a Barnes and Noble anytime soon. But, you will be hearing about it from a friend or seeing a post about it on social media. I even managed to run a successful Kickstarter campaign. I quickly learned that if I wasn’t going to go with the flow that I needed to find other ways to market and brand myself. Get creative!
Alright, lets double check things here:
Book Cover. Check.
The nerves to hit ‘publish’. Uh…
When I was a kid, years before the divorce, my mom would take me to a local swimming pool that had a high dive. And as a 9-year-old staring up at it, the thought of climbing up and then jumping off terrified me. So many things could go wrong. What if I fell off climbing up? Once on top, what if I froze and couldn’t jump? Then I’d have to climb back down in embarrassment. Or, let’s say I jumped, and I belly flopped? There was so much fear, but that thrill, the sense of accomplishment, drew me up the ladder and encouraged me to jump off! Yes, I held my nose the whole way down and I’m not even ashamed about it.
I share this because it couldn’t capture the process any better. The fear I had writing was like climbing that ladder. Often times, I wanted to stop or I’d pause and not devote as much energy to it as I should have. Do I keep going or climb back down? No…keep going. Once I reached the top though, I couldn’t just give up on all the work I just put in…I needed to make my way towards the diving board, towards producing a final product. But what if….but nothing. I didn’t just put all this work in to not show off!
So here I am, head above water looking back at that high dive and telling myself it wasn’t that bad. Scary yes, but manageable nonetheless. As I swim towards the edge of the pool, I think about climbing back up and jumping again…this time a little less intimidated. Don’t get me wrong, the fear is still there, but are we really living if we aren’t doing something that frightens us? The trick is not letting Fear know that you are scared!
I often ask myself if I was successful. Yes, I wrote a book. Yes, I am published and have a few copies in the hands of people across the U.S. and Canada. Am I going to break even when I consider the amount of money and time I invested into it. Not with this book I’m not. And I probably won’t with my second or third, but eventually, if I continue to climb that ladder and I get better at diving, things will turn around for me. I’m determined. Your idea of success will be different then mine. I have my goals but I also understand I already shattered my expectations by simply having the nerve to get started.
Along the way, some may say that you’re doing it wrong or this or that. Bottom line is, you do you! It took me too long to realize that I will never be the next Stephen King or Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. I can’t be Stephen King because I am Allen Brown. And, on a more comical note, Stephen King will never be Allen Brown. Let that sink in Steve-y!
I do realize that I am far from being perfect. I am sure you will find errors in my work that I missed even though I went over it countless times. I’ll accept my mistake with humility and move on. Also, I’ve only written one book and am not claiming to know anymore than what I’ve experienced. Like with many things in life, especially getting older, the more I think I know about something, the more I realize how little I actually do know.
As I stated in the beginning, there are a hundred ways to skin a cat. So, find what works best for you and get after it! After all, there is no right way.