I heard today that successful companies and successful people make the most impact in their chosen line of work when they get in touch with the ‘why’ portion of what they do. Why do you work where you do? Hopefully, not just to make money or not just to yield whatever it is your company produces. Those things are the results of the ‘how’, the ‘what’, and, yes, the ‘why’ of what we do every day.
That got me thinking, why do I write? Considering that until the summer of 2013, I’d never made a dime doing so, why did I do it? And the answer is, because I love it. I love the process. I love the cathartic feeling of pulling out life experiences and fictionalizing them. I love the surprises when my characters do or say things I’m not expecting. I love having a body of words that, in my mind’s eye, move, think, and become something far more important than a blank piece of paper could ever strive to be.
But until now, I couldn’t really count on anything I wrote being read by an actual audience. In fact, my first novel, a middle grade eco-adventure, has been sitting unread for over five years. Not because I didn’t want to publish it, but because no one else would do it for me. The process for a new author getting discovered is near impossible. There’s the crafting of the query letter, and the searching for the agent, and the never-ending denial letters. Why even bother?
Times are changing in the world of publishing. Indie authors are all over the New York Times and the USA Today best seller lists. They’re declining deals by major publishing houses. They’re discussing things like Amazon algorithms and formatting for various retailers in online groups. And really, anyone can join the club. But only a select few will thrive in the marketplace: the best ones. The readers get to decide who those authors will be. They vote with their one-click button. Supply meets demand, and cuts out the middle-man. It sounds perfect. So what was holding me back?
I’ll never forget the moment when I found out that Indie authors were actually doing this. They were hitting the publish button and changing their lives. I was nearly finished writing my debut, Sadie’s Mountain, and I’d searched on Amazon for another book that dealt with sexual assault. That’s how I found Easy by Tammara Webber. I’d read a few reviews and then downloaded it on my Nook. I have to admit, I was thinking the book was going to be crap. I mean, if she can’t get an agent, how good can it be? This is the kind of bias I lugged around because, until so recently, trad publishing deals were the ideal for aspiring authors like myself. To self-publish was supposed to be a disgrace.
After the first chapter of Easy, my mind was completely changed. It’s an awesome book, and the reason she didn’t go the traditional publishing route is because she didn’t have to. There’s empowerment behind that thought. We don’t have to wait for someone to discover us. We hold the power to be discovered without the gate keepers.
Even still, once my manuscript was complete and beta readers had devoured it, I started to send query letters again to agents and small publishing companies. But at the same time, I was asking a few of my writer friends about self-publishing. All of them were telling me to do it. It’s not that difficult. After the thirtieth decline letter, I decided, they were right.
I loved this book and I was going to take charge of my future. I hired an editor; I found a cover designer and a book formatter. I completely focused on making my dream come true. I gave no thought to how I’d market myself. I believed there had to be success on the other side of unpublished for me. I had to think that or I’d never have invested so much in the process toward making my manuscript into a real book.
I’m not just talking about the money. Yeah, there were upfront costs. What I’m talking about is the mental investment. The feeling that this deeply personal book would have to do well or it meant that I’d failed. I’m still dealing with that today, to be honest.
I am not my book.
I’ve had to tell myself that more than once. And I’d like to tell you that I found everything I was looking for after clicking the publish button. I didn’t. In truth, without the gatekeepers like agents and publishers to tell me my work is worthy of publication, how could I know whether or not my book was good enough? What if I was making a huge mistake? Authors crave validation. It’s what we need to help us write more words. It’s like book-writing-food for the weak little ego that lives inside of a newly published writer.
Tell me you loved it! Tell me what I wrote matters to you! Write on my wall! Beg me for more!
I got great reviews, but not a whole lot of buzz or sales. So this has been a big hurdle for my weak little ego to handle. On a positive note, I’ve learned a ton about Indie publishing. I’ve met some awesome new bloggers and readers. I’ve made friends, and networked with some of the best Indie authors around. I’ve heard from readers who did love my book, and who wanted more. But, I actually haven’t written at all since I finished Sadie’s Mountain in January of 2013. And the reason is, the result was all I could focus on. I’d gotten away from the ‘why’.
Why write? Is it for fame or fortune? Those things are just the result of what we do, right? The ‘why’, it’s what drives the words to the paper. So I had to get back to the ‘why’. Two weeks ago I started writing a new book, Phoenix Rising, a new adult contemporary romance with a hot rock star hero. The idea seemed fun. It seemed lighter than my debut. It’s not so much about me, this book. The characters are very different from me, which makes it more fun, to be honest. So I’m back to creating a story that makes me happy.
I’m getting that cathartic feeling again as I expel the build-up of feelings that cloud my regular life. My characters are surprising me. They are moving around inside my mind and begging to be written about. It’s good. And I’ve decided, no matter what happens with this new book, Phoenix Rising, I will keep writing. Because it makes me happy. The bonus for me will be if I find more readers, if I sell books, if I make a list somewhere. That’s just a possible result of doing what I love.
My question for you is, what makes you happy? Really, think about it. Maybe what you discover will help you do the things you love to do, too, and for all the right ‘whys’.**
This post was originally written and published on Christina Cole's Time to Love blog.