Hello, dear readers, and welcome!
I have been contemplating what I would put in this post for quite some time now, but as I sit here at my desk, hot and comforting cup of English Breakfast beside me (we must always have tea, of course), I feel as though it is finally the right time to write this post.
Some time ago (in October, which seems like centuries past now) I wrote my annual publishing anniversary post, talking about some things I've learned about publishing, writing, and myself over the last year, and the years before, but today I want to talk a bit about my publishing history too, and...my future?
I put a question mark there because it's difficult to say what will happen in said future. I am confident, certainly, and I know what I think will happen, what I want to happen, but what we want is often not what we get -- because often, what we get is in so many ways much better and stronger than what we want.
Such has been the case with my self-publishing: it has certainly not been anything I thought it would be, but in many ways it has been better, because I've learned so much from it, and have seen a side of myself that I would not have seen otherwise.
I began publishing when I was nineteen, starting off with my Christmas Fantasy book, Clara Claus, which has become a fan favorite, something that always warms my frosty (pun) heart. This was in 2010, when e-books were really taking off, when everything was still new and exciting...when no one could tell where the market was going (as if they could now). I considered traditional publishing heavily, because that has always been my dream, sent out plenty of queries, and though the responses I received were nice and encouraging, no one wanted my manuscript(s). So I tried again. And again. And again. And again. I didn't want to give up, but it can be very difficult to keep pressing forward when you're constantly rejected.
And, to be honest, my age didn't help any. Everywhere I went, if I mentioned I was a writer, people looked at me as if they couldn't believe I could form a coherent sentence -- let alone a book full of them, let alone more than one book! One person actually asked (told) me: "Aren't you too young to be a writer?", complete with a scowl and a derisive tone. I tried not to hold it against them, and afterwards I forgave them for saying it, because I understood where they were coming from, because "traditionally" most writers are older, but those words, and the feeling -- like a sword in the heart, like a splinter shoved deep underneath your nail -- will never go away, and will probably never be forgotten.
I learned at a young age, thanks to my time in the theatre and ballet, that you cannot hold onto criticism, and you cannot, no matter how cruel it might be, allow it to break your spirit. But though I have learned this, and I know it well, it never gets easier to swallow comments, or to push them aside and draw close to reaffirmations.
I am twenty-three now, soon to be twenty-four, and I still get strange looks, snide comments, and the like when I tell people that I am an author. They haven't gone away, though through the years I have met people who can recognize that it doesn't matter how old you are -- all that matters is the words -- and those people constantly lift me up. So what if I'm not even twenty-five yet? Who said an author had to be older? Authors are as various as the stories that are penned, and that is a good thing. Age difference, background, religion, experience: all of these things give us different perspectives that should be respected, not tossed into the void.
Over four years ago (I started querying at about 17, I think), as the rejection letters poured in, and the market went crazy, and I searched for some way to be a writer despite the scowls I was receiving, I walked into a bookshop. It was a little bookshop, cozy and quaint, with wonderful shelves and a little cafe. On the side there was a large room where they held art classes for kids, and in the back there was a small cinema where they played old-fashioned cartoons, and independent, and black-and-white films. My mother and I happened upon the bookstore simply by chance -- if you believe in that sort of thing.
Inside I searched, wide-eyed, as I do whenever I go into a bookstore. Fingers drift over spines, I inhale the sweet, musty smell of old pages, and the books seem to speak to me. Bookstores are a beautiful thing. But the real magic came when I went to pay for my books, and met the owner of the bookshop. I am ashamed to say that I cannot remember her name -- I've always been terrible with names -- but I can remember her face. She was a middle-aged woman, perhaps nearing her fifties, and she had curling hair, pulled back, brown. The air of an author hung about her, the air of literary dignity, and she thanked us for coming into the store. Then she mentioned her books, and pointed them out to us. They stood directly behind me on a loving little shelf of their own: children's books with unique covers, which reminded me of mosaic stones. I flipped through the books and was amazed, and then I told her the terrifying truth: that I was a writer, too.
Only this woman didn't scoff, didn't judge. She was happy to hear it, and she asked me what I wrote, if I was going to get published, how long I had been writing. Finally, I was a peer instead of a sad little teenage girl with a dream she couldn't possibly fulfill until she was at least fifty (because aren't writers supposed to be at least fifty, maybe forty, maybe in their late thirties, if they're lucky?). We talked for quite a while, and it felt amazing, to finally be considered a writer -- and especially by someone who was published! But then she told me that she had published herself, and that I should look into it.
I'll admit, I was skeptical. Self-publishing was still considered...eh...at that point, despite the fact that some people were doing quite well selling e-books (for my opinion on pricing, see this post). But with the mass of rejections, and the fact that nobody seemed to want to take me seriously due to my age, I decided to look into it. I bought books, I read every online article I could, I researched. I did my best, but the sad thing is: they don't (or didn't) tell you up front how hard self-publishing is, and how it takes just the right type of person to be truly successful at it, and though my family helped me research and plan and plot, they knew nothing about publishing or how it worked, either. I'm not sure that anybody knew the ugly truth at that point, or if they did, they were hiding the information. Another 19 year old girl who has dreams nobody seems to take seriously might have quit, but I'm far too stubborn for that, so I decided to try it.
People (who don't scoff) often tell me that it's amazing how far I've come, and how much I've accomplished. However, to be honest, though I appreciate their support, I don't often feel like I've come very far at all, or that I've accomplished all that much -- not compared to what I want to accomplish. It's these times where I have to sit down and remind myself that, though things did not turn out as I expected, I have actually accomplished a lot...maybe not what I wanted, but perhaps what I needed.
Through my four years self-publishing I have released nearly twenty books, though not all of them are still published -- due to the fact that many of them have been experiments, have been ways for me to try different writing techniques, release times, story ideas, both to see what works in the market and what doesn't; the information alone is very valuable to me. I have had several bestsellers on Amazon -- not all of them free, though that still technically counts...in a way -- and I've had several book singings where I've been able to meet readers and, most importantly in my book, encourage plenty of budding authors, young and old. I've split my work into two pen names, then rehashed my pen names, to see what it's like to be writing as someone else; I even designed a second website. And speaking of that -- I learned how to create a website (and what doesn't work terribly well for said website), how to format, create covers, market; some of these things I learned in college in my design classes, but many I either had to learn how to apply, or had to learn from scratch. I have learned what form of marketing works and doesn't work for me personally, and I have seen marketing change exponentially. I have become a better public speaker through the talks I have done at schools and for NaNo (as liaison). I have taken many risks, and tried many new things, and though plenty of them didn't work out, at the end of the day I can say this: I had the courage to try.
Somewhere in the middle of all of this, I had a writing mid-life crisis (writing crisis?), where I could write very little for nearly a year. I fell out of touch with my writing, and became so frustrated with everything. I found myself in a dark, depressive hole that I could not get out of, which connected to my personal life, as well. It was a terrible year for me, and it also caused many changes in my writing life, and in my life in general. I witnessed the effect of this darkness on my work and my publishing, and then...I had to fight to overcome it. I was able to pull myself out of that hole, and now I am back to writing, and slowly becoming stronger than ever. This is another thing that "going at it alone" has taught me: no matter the seemingly unsurmountable challenge before you, never give up.
I write all of this to say that I'm incredibly grateful, though sometimes I forget it, for everything that I have been through, and all that it has taught me. Despite the difficulties, what I was given was, while not what I wanted, exactly what I needed. It has made me stronger, as trials do, and now I'm ready to take on the next leg of my journey.
What might that be, Alexandra? Well: querying. Things truly do come full circle.
Though I have enjoyed many things about self-publishing, I have come to understand that it simply isn't the best route for me. I have never given up my hope and dream of one day being part of a large team, part of a publishing house, of seeing my book on the bookstore shelves (say what you like about print, but it still means the world to me), seeing my name and my book listed on a publisher's site -- and I'll admit, a film would be great, too...or maybe a musical, a la Wicked; I aim high, always. This is my dream, and I'm prepared to fight to the death for it. It may take years, much sweat and tears, but nothing worth having comes easy.
But again, this gives me the chance to try something new. The book I am querying you may be familiar with: it is the first book in my Knight Blood series (you may have noticed I have unpublished it from e-book sites, because I personally don't feel right about querying a book I'm currently trying to sell). But Alexandra, that book has already been published! You're rocking the boat! Yes, yes, you're right. It has. I am. But the thing is: I really adore this story, and it means a lot to me. I know you're not supposed to get sentimental with business, but this is my story -- I fostered it, I created it, I sat up with it at night when it couldn't sleep; it's my baby. I understand that some agencies still don't like the idea of pitching to re-publish something after it's already been out, probably because if it didn't sell well then, they don't think it will sell well with a publisher behind it, either. I understand that, though I don't necessarily agree, especially since the consensus is large: you (generally) can't succeed well at self-publishing unless you have plenty of money to market, or just money in general, because it is, at its heart, a business. 19 year old me didn't understand that well enough, and I in no way wish to push aside responsibility for my decisions, but in the same token I don't want my story to automatically be pushed aside either because of my "mistake".
So, I'm trying. I'm trying with this book first. If no one wants it, then so be it. I will try again with another, non-published book. I will try harder. I will keep trying. If I paved my own course, becoming one of those "too young" writers, and finding success in that (though maybe not most peoples' definition of success), then there really isn't anything I should be afraid to try.
Go after your dream. Chase it down. Don't stop until you've grasped it.