With the release of my first book, Candy Pizza: Poetry that’s Fun and Healthy, I thought it would be helpful to write a couple of blog posts about my experience with self-publishing for those of my readers who are in a similar boat. (Note: This is also partially because yesterday was the first day in a year that I didn’t write a poem and already I’m jonesing to get back in the writing saddle.)
So you have something you’d like to publish: a novel or a collection of poems or stories that you’ve written and you love and you want to share with the world. Awesome! But before you start on any kind of publishing journey, you have some serious thinking to do. You’ll need to dig down deep and determine your exact reasons for wanting to publish, and figure out your true motivations and expectations. This is important because:
1) You’re not going to make money. You’re just not. The research is out there (I’m serious, Google it) – even the most prolific, famous, talented authors like Stephen King or James Patterson, who make enough to be excused from having a day job, are still not making football-player salaries. And remember, they’re the exceptions. I know it’s tempting to look at Stephenie Meyer or E.L. James and think, “I could write something better than that crap, and just look how successful they are!” But if you’re really going to shoot for that one-in-a-million chance at fluke success, prepare to be disappointed.
In my case, I knew early on that not making any money wasn’t going to be a deterrent for me. I mean, come on, I’m a teacher. If any group of people knows about not doing something for the money, it’s teachers. I make enough to share a lovely little apartment with a good friend (who’s also a teacher) and be able to keep myself in books and Starbucks to my heart’s content. That’s all I want, really.
The thing about writing, like teaching, is that your reward has to come from something besides money. You have to be satisfied with kids making you scraggly-looking cards that say “Best Teecher Ever”, or from a few people on the internet saying that your poem or story touched their hearts. You have to be able to be proud of your accomplishments no matter how many books sell.
But hey, neither teaching nor writing is for everyone. If you’re intent on being paid handsomely for your work, I suggest you apply for law school 😉
2) Not everyone is going to love your work as much as you do. This goes without saying but a lot of writers seem to forget that when it comes down to it. That old cliche about how writing a book is like having a baby is true, and it can turn you into one overprotective mother in no time. But it’s just something you’re going to have to face: not everyone’s going to like your baby. One of my favorite quotes on the subject is from Dita Von Teese: “You can be the ripest, juiciest peach in the world, and there’s still going to be somebody who hates peaches.” You’ll have to be prepared for this so a couple of poor reviews won’t send you spiraling into depression.
And maybe your work is generally well-received, but you’re in one of those less-popular niches that will just never sell as well as something more in vogue at the moment. I’m well aware that poetry is in its own seldom-visited corner of the literary world, and the demand for Emily-Dickinson-meets-Charles-Bukowski style poetry like mine is even smaller. I know this. I sold 2 copies of my book on the first day it was released. But do I think that’s evidence that the world doesn’t want it? No. I think it’s awesome evidence that 2 people in this world (who are not family and don’t know me in real life, mind you) DO want it. That’s very encouraging to me.
To keep your spirits up and not succumb to disappointment, you have to have the sort of mindset that sees silver linings. You have to be the sort of person who knows that if even one person is moved, encouraged, or changed because of something you wrote, you’re a success. You have to be motivated by the small good you’re doing, and not be affected by the massive amount of people who don’t know who you are and may not have any interest to find out.
When I started this blog I had zero followers, and I wasn’t too concerned with getting them. I knew that my ultimate goal was to practice and to rise to a personal challenge; I could’ve done that in a journal I kept in a drawer and never let anyone see it and at the end of the year I still would’ve counted that as a success because MY goals would’ve been met. But I didn’t do that because I wanted to give other people the chance to read my work (and to hold me accountable so I wouldn’t get lazy.)
The fact that my poetry has been well-received is the cherry on top but it has never been my main motivation, and I think that’s been an extremely important part of why I’ve been able to stay grounded and to truly appreciate every level of support and success I’ve known so far.
If there was only one piece of advice I could give to other writers considering publishing, it’s this: do it for the right reasons. Don’t set yourself up for disappointment, and don’t overlook the little bits of success you earn because you’re too busy reaching for something bigger.
And if you determine that you ARE going to do it for the right reasons, stay tuned for Part 2: Choosing A Method!
Blessings and happy writing,