Sometimes it can seem that everyone, their mother, and their grandmother is jumping on the novel-writing bandwagon. The indie publishing sphere has graduated to the terminology “artisanal publishing” for a reason: because it’s closely approaching the well-oiled machine mechanics of the big six. Indie authors are writing books in record numbers and in record time. 4,500 new books are uploaded to Amazon each day. There are countless DIY publishing books that prescribe get-rich-quick formulas for authors that go something like: Create a blog and blog a lot, market on Facebook and Twitter, write a book every two months, hire an editor and slap a decent cover on it. Each How-To book evangelizes that if you follow this true and tried formula you will–inevitably–strike gold. It doesn’t really matter, they claim, if the writing is mediocre so long as it doesn’t outright suck. People want series and as long as you’re pumping out books like the Play-doh Fun Factory, you’re golden.
This is where the needle scratches on the record. During the last two years I have come to the conclusion that we’ve been fed a lie when it comes to the indie book business, but that is not where I’m going with this blog post. I don’t want to preach about how hard it is to “make it” or sulk about the flood of poorly written, poorly edited dribble that passes as literature in both the indie and traditional markets. Ultimately, I have no control over what the public wants to read or what publishers want to publish.
There is a quote attributed to Buddha that says, “It is better to travel well than to arrive,” but in reality Buddha never said this. It’s unclear at which point the saying became attributed to Buddha, but it seems a variation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s, “To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive.” (El Dorado). Personally I prefer Stevenson’s wisdom. He adds the word hopefully, because as we’ve all experienced at one point or another, sometimes the journey is much worse than the destination.
I recall sitting at a lecture led by Dr. Wayne Dyer, where he told us the story of Immaculée Ilibagiza, a Rwandan survivor of the genocide that took place in 1994. She survived hidden for 91 days with seven other women in a bathroom no larger than three feet long by four feet wide. During the genocide most of her family was killed–with the exception of one of her brothers who was studying outside the country. This tale brought tears to my eyes and I remember thinking to myself, what an awful price she had to pay–before she reached her destination. Immaculée not only survived, she was able to turn that horrible experience into something positive in her life. She came to America, learned English and went on to write Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust (2006). This woman, who endured so much, found the courage to forgive her attackers. She is now a motivational speaker and an inspiration to many, including myself.
Immaculée’s journey was horrific. I’m sure there are days when she wakes up wishing she never had to travel that road, but it was the destination that kept her going. It was the thought of surviving and helping the other seven women that gave her the willpower to endure. Sometimes the destination gives us as much courage as the journey, though it’s the journey that serves as our crucible, time and again.
I often ask myself where I’m going with my lofty ideas of becoming a best-selling author–mostly because I have no idea, no clue whatsoever–on how to do this. I’m like the happy-go-lucky fool in the tarot deck. I got a knapsack on my back, I’m looking up at the sky, I’m whistling, enjoying the wind on my face, strutting confidently across the countryside oblivious of the pit I’m about to fall into. It’s not that I lack writing skills, or motivation, or marketing know-how. I’m a veritable machine when it comes to wearing every hat in the book. I can design gorgeous covers, compose solid, juicy prose, whip up graphics and websites, and even manage to juggle the chores of Facebook and Twitter, while trying to have a life! There are days when I look at myself and I say, “Damn! I got this! I can do this.” And then there are those days when I go to Amazon KDP reports and say, “Fuck, this will never work.”
Let me be brutally honest with you. In the last two years I’ve made about $300 in book sales–a number that doesn’t even begin to touch the heels of how much sweat and fiscal equity was required to put my two novellas on the market. It’s become abundantly clear to me that I’m writing for the love of it, not the money. Yet, there is that part of me, the alpha, competitive side that whispers in my ear and says, “You will make it.”
Far be it for me to shun hope and question an inner voice that hasn’t been wrong yet…but when your book is ranked 1,523,234 (I just made up that number, but it’s close) in your genre, yeah, it fucks with your brain. Sometimes I feel like the black sheep, the outsider, as I stare at my fellow indie author’s blogs, their successful blog tours, giveaways, and media feeding frenzies. I’m not writing young adult, I’m not writing about sexy vampires or werewolves, I’m not updating my blog enough, I’m not this, I’m not that, I’m not doing enough. I’m sort of secretive and reclusive when it comes to what I am working on. I’m not sharing any news of what’s going on with my book. I’m weird about pushing my existing books in people’s faces. I don’t tweet links around the clock. I’m sort of at a loss–or am I? I just don’t know.
I’m just me.
Those that have read my books have been very vocal about them. I’ve received letters, been asked for autographs and have developed a very tight group of devoted fans that are enthusiastically awaiting the next novel. It’s this reception of my work that is making my journey truly worth it. It’s been a dream come true to be able to share a piece of my mind through my stories and to have people “get me.” That’s not something I can put a price on. A few fans have gone out of their way to write reviews and blog posts about my books, and man, those have been amazing to read, because it’s made me see things in my work that I didn’t even know were there.
Part of the problem of wearing many hats is that it creates fatigue. Indie authors have a pretty good poker face when it comes to keeping things positive. No one wants to hear about doom and gloom burnout, so most of the time what you get is only a fraction of the story. You get the “This is so exciting check out my upcoming release of such and such,” but this is only half the truth. The truth is that indie authors, including myself, are working around the clock, tirelessly, trying to make time for all the chores that need to be done–most of which don’t include writing. Each good book and each crappy book takes the same amount of work. It’s an uphill journey, regardless of how enjoyable it is. Sometimes stories pull you by the nose, sometimes they drag you down to the bottom.
It’s really hard work, for very little profit. Yes, there are authors that are raking in the money. I know some of these authors personally, some are even close friends and I have to tell you they have God-like status in my mind. I am happy for every author that has been able to quit their 9-5 to write full time. This just tells me that it’s possible–even if I have no idea how–and that’s something!
So the moral of this story is, I have no idea where my books will go–I just know I want to write them. I don’t know if I will continue to self publish or find myself an agent. In terms of my writing career (if it can be called that) I’m flying by the seat of my pants. My only expectation is to be able to share more stories someway, somehow, at some point.
I know it’s not what you all want to hear. I know you’d rather hear about an official release date or see a cover reveal–but I’m dramatic, what can I say? I want you to hold my next book in your hands and smile, knowing that it was worth the wait. I want to sweep you away to a different place, surprise you, and delight you.
To quote Dr. Wayne Dyer, who I had the pleasure of traveling with during the summer I wrote my first book, “Passion is a feeling that tells you: this is the right thing to do. Nothing can stand in my way. It doesn’t matter what anyone else says. This feeling is so good that it cannot be ignored. I’m going to follow my bliss and act upon this glorious sensation of joy.” If I start worrying about the flooded market, my lack of reach and money to mount impressive advertising campaigns, my time constraints, my inability to write a book in two months, or even six months, and all of my limitations, I will lose sight of what really matters in my life: the joy of crafting stories; of exulting in this wonderful, creative gift I’ve been given.
This is my writing reality check.
I’m may not be good at jumping on bandwagons, but I am good at following my heart. In my fantasy worlds I have found my purpose. This new novel started as a short story and it’s turned into an epic adventure that I can’t wait to share. I hired one of the UK’s best fantasy artists Manon Delacroix for the cover and I’m already several hundred dollars in the hole and I don’t care. It’s not about the money. Certainly making a living out of what I love would feel like success, but my definition of success is broad enough to allow me a great deal of satisfaction of knowing I’ve written the best damn book I can write.