Why Self-Publish?

Back in the dark ages of publishing (i.e. 2004 or so), I attended a Mystery Writers of America dinner. A monthly dinner sponsored by my local chapter of MWA. Shady characters with trench coats and handlebar mustaches met in the dark corners of a tidy little restaurant tucked into the folds of the city. A guest speaker fielded questions over the clinking of silverware and the smell of marinara sauce. The swash of wet tires on the pavement greasing his answers as the kitchen door swung open and closed.

And to fit right in, I brought out my large yellow notepad and scribbled away.

At these meetings, authors connected with authors. FBI special agents connected with process servers. We talked about the differences between .357s and .45s and our bellies filled with garlic bread.

I loved it.

I met my friend Don McQuinn through these monthly dinners. Read his book, “Targets.” Listened to his voice thunder and roll as he talked to me about the importance of color when setting a scene. And even with my sweater set and scribbling pen, I fit right in. We all did. Didn’t matter where we came from or what we did by day. For one Saturday night a month — we were mystery writers. All of us. Published or not.

One thing I saw at this meeting, for the first time, was how a self-published author had to sell his or her books. At the time, I barely grasped the concept of what self-publishing was. Total confusion swept over my face when a man with whom I’d tried and failed to share a pleasant conversation brought in a large rubber storage bin and heaved it, dripping wet from Seattle’s rain, onto the table beside the half-finished plates and crumpled napkins.

We all gathered round. He removed the lid and took the veil off the self-publishing industry.

Here was a bin of maybe fifty books. All the same. Same size, same colors, same cover. I didn’t know what they were — until he announced they were his book, and he wanted to sell them. People lauded his efforts. Removing copies and fanning through them. Feeling a bit put off as an unexpected sales pitch will do to you. But happy he’d finished his manuscript and had it made into a book. We didn’t know if it was any good. The bin seemed more of a sacrificial offering than anything else. I couldn’t look away, and yet I didn’t buy a copy.

Mulling over the night, I decided to attend an upcoming book signing of his. He partnered with another friend of mine at a Barnes and Noble well over an hour’s drive through dark, pounding rain from my house.Β I bought both of their books. His wasn’t the kind I normally buy, but the lack of attendees at his table tugged at me. He wasn’t very cordial, and didn’t remember my name though we’d met a number of times at those MWA dinners.

After the damp, dark, shrieking windshield wiper drive back home — I thought a lot about what it meant to be a self-published author. My friend Don was amazing. His book held my interest and stayed in my mind. I connected Don with the world of traditional publishing and this other fellow with the world of self-publishing. That unfortunate connection stayed with me a long time. Well through my first attempts at novel writing, through the births of my two children and into their first early years.

Then, in 2012, another friend of mine told me, “Melissa, wake up. The world of self-publishing has changed.”

I’d been bemoaning it to him over the phone. Not sure to do with a book of games I’d written for my children.

“But how can I self-publish this? No one will take me seriously. I’ll have to cart around big ugly bins of my book in my trunk and land them on tables amid linguine-stained business cards from the FBI.”

My friend was Jack Remick. He let me ramble.

Then he spoke. And I listened, because he’s been one of my mentors since those early days when I transitioned from a TV news reporter to a writer. He told me that if a story is good, it will sell. Period. Agents and publishing houses can do great things for you, but I ought not scoff at the world of self-publishing. The independent world. The indie world.

Scoff?

I wasn’t scoffing. Or was I? I thought of my disdain for that author with the bin. I thought of another author I’d listened to at a writer’s conference in Boston explain that the only way her self-published novel made it onto the bestsellers’ lists was because for the past 330+ days of the year she’d traveled from state to state across the country, seeking out local book groups and asking if they’d welcome her at their meetings. Spread the word through the sewing circles. How her life was a series of hotel rooms, road trips, and dining out. But how she believed in her book so much she wanted to dedicate a whole year just to promoting it. And rack up a ridiculous credit card debt. My own feelings were summed up by another self-published author on the panel who said, “My dear, you don’t have kids.”

Meaning that for most of us, parents or not, we don’t have the freedom, ability or means to take on such a task.

So though I listened to Jack, and believed him that self-publishing was now an honorable way to publish your work — I still didn’t see how I could do the follow up part. The promoting.

Which is why when I finished my children’s picture book, “Sometimes the Moon,” I — let it sit. I made a copy for my children, and that was it.

And that was okay with me!

I’d written it for them. Period. End of story. I wanted something sweet to read to my son, to express the love I feel for him. I drew all the pictures. Most of the times while sitting next to my daughter and him while they played puzzles or watched Curious George. I let them draw as well, wanting to share my love of writing and reading with them.

I told some family members and close friends, and celebrated the book as a special gift I’d made for my kids. I listened to my mom friends read it to their own kids, and delighted in hearing my own words read back to me.

I was fulfilled.

The world — beyond — well, that world was so alien and impenetrable seeming that I didn’t even want to pursue it. Then my writing friends, and my non-writing friends, got on my case.

“But why not?” was the biggest question. “Don’t you want your book — out there?”

At that point, it had been more than a year since I’d finished it. Since our copy had grown dog-eared and as tucked away in our bookshelf as that old restaurant with the monthly dinners had been tucked into the city, both began to exist — just for me. MWA doesn’t meet at that restaurant anymore. Those rainy nights listening to fingerprinting techniques and courtroom procedures were now just a memory.

But my friends — weren’t.

They were real. And they held on. And they encouraged me to self-publish. Just “get it out there.” So did my family. And to answer their, “But why not?” question I came in with, “But why?”

I can’t say what tipped me over the edge. Was it the steady support from my husband that whatever I wanted to do was okay with him? Was it the way Jack tipped his chin at me when I told him I still hadn’t published it? Was it that my sister wanted a copy for her own kids for crying out loud and would I please just get over it and make it public?

Whatever the reason, I did it. And when I received my proof copy in the mail of “Sometimes the Moon,” my heart leapt back almost a decade. Right back into that steamy room with the tipping of glasses and boisterous conversation. Back to the night I witnessed the unwieldy bin of that man’s books. To future nights at future book signings I went to. To the warm evenings tucked in the glider chair with my two children on my lap listening to the best readers of my book in the world.

Them.

I wanted my kids to see Mommy’s book in print. I wanted to share the spirit of all these long years working hard and working late on my writing. I wanted them to know that it’s important to see things through — especially because you never know what might happen.

The other day I received an award.

New Cover for Sometimes the Moon

I placed as a Finalist in the National Indie Excellence Awards. I couldn’t believe it. All that self-doubt. All that fear of the unknown. All the questions. All the elation from my first sale — to my sister. She insisted that she buy a copy, instead of me giving her one. All the glory of my first sale outside of the family to Karen over at FolkHaven. And now — an award. A recognition from this world I didn’t even understand a decade ago.

The indie world.

It’s out there, my friends, and it’s waiting for you. Whatever I may have thought about that man with the bin, he was a pioneer. His desire to see his words in print helped fuel this amazing revolution we all can tap into today. And finally, one big, giant, thumping thought hit me on the side of the head.

Books are meant to be shared.

I’m working on a novel now. Working only like a mother of young children can. In her sleep. Oops — I mean, when they sleep. I don’t know which route I’ll choose once it’s done. Traditional publishing or self-publishing.

But aren’t we lucky to have such a choice?

Whatever route you choose — do choose one. Don’t let your book sit alone on a shelf in your house. Get it out there. You can worry about promoting it in your own time, when you’re ready. I haven’t done anything to spread the word about my book save one post on this blog. But imagine if I had never published it. I would have missed so much. Including earning the right to call myself an award-winning author. That stuns me. The little book I typed up late one night trying to capture the wonder and love I share with my children — now it’s out there, and it’s earned itself a happy little spot in the publishing world.

This week, I re-released the book on Amazon with its shiny new cover. “Sometimes the Moon” talks about the power of a mother’s love. How it’s like the moon. Watching over you not just sometimes — but all the times.

It’s a great feeling — to have someone watching over you. And so I’d like to say to all of you who have encouraged me, bought the book or even just sent happy thoughts my way, thank you. And please remember my two cents on the subject of publishing your own works (do it). Like those monthly dinners, the world of self-publishing is open to all. I used to be the editor for the local MWA newsletter, and every month, regarding the dinners, I would type, “All are invited to attend.” It’s a phrase much like one my mother speaks to this day, “It’s always nice to be invited.” I encourage you to look at all the “submit” buttons before you, and view them as invitations.

Because you never know what accepting them might bring.

 

 

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45 thoughts on “Why Self-Publish?

  1. Congratulations and a terrific story which spans the years so many of us writers take to get it out there. Can you expand on how you published the book ? Is it POD via the bigger players ? And did you use InDesign ? How did you do the drawings ? Thanks again.

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    1. Thank you! And you are so right that it does take years, indeed, for a book to come to fruition! In answer to your questions, I’m planning a post in the future that will give a behind-the-scenes look at going the self-published route. I’ve heard of InDesign, but have never seen it or used it. I do my drawings by hand and then color them on the computer, just like I recently learned illustrator Renata Liwska does.

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  2. Congratulations. Not only published but awarded. This is wonderful news. I will go to Amazon right now and purchase both books in time for both grandsons’ birthdays this summer. I’ll have them delivered to the “new” address so something familiar comes to our mailbox soon. Thank you for sharing your story — so beautifully written. Write on, Melissa.

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    1. Georgette — you have been cheering for me since my early days in blogging. I so appreciate your support, and thank you very much indeed for buying my books! Wow! I know you are busy with the move right now, and I’m honored to be welcoming in your new mailbox! πŸ™‚

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      1. In my mind, I’m working on my next book every minute of every day. In reality it has taken a back seat to several other things at the moment. I will return to it though. It has a grip on me like nothing else…well except for my other love…www.runberun.com. These kiddos fill my heart like words on a page.

        Also, I can’t remember if I ever sent you the picture I have of my great niece “reading” your book. So cute.

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        1. Becky — so glad you shared that link! I had no idea you had a running blog. It looks great. πŸ™‚ And no — I didn’t see the photo of your great niece — I’d love to!!

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  3. One of the great advantages of self-publishing is that you can give your book time to grow, find its feet, and learn how to walk. Traditional publishing is big and can be quickly-lucrative, but it’s also impatient, and a lot of good books meet an early death on the clearance table. I’m glad you took the step, Melissa. Sometimes the Moon is filled with love.

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    1. Awww… thank you, Charles. πŸ™‚ I remember an early discussion we had about self-publishing and traditional publishing as you’ve done both. You made the wonderful point, as stated in your comment above, that publishing something yourself ensures it will have a long shelf life, and be there, ready and waiting, when people are ready to read it. Wonderful advice. Thank you again for all the encouragement!

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  4. Melissa: Wonderful piece. It doesn’t get much better than this: ” A guest speaker fielded questions over the clinking of silverware and the smell of marinara sauce. The swash of wet tires on the pavement greasing his answers as the kitchen door swung open and closed. ” Your entire writing life boils up in those sentences.

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  5. Melissa, So nice to re-live this. You really did a wonderful job and deserve the accolades and the award. I have enjoyed your writings and drawings since forever!
    Love, Mom

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    1. Melissa, congratulations! Thanks for sharing this invaluable information. I too am a newly published author who went the traditional route. I have found that whether one utilizes a traditional publisher or is an indie, we still have a deep vested interest and carries the banner to self-promote. After all, we are our best cheerleaders. All the best.

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      1. Thank you! And I have heard just what you said echoed across the board in the writing community. Even traditionally published, an author MUST step up to do his or her own promotion. One friend of mine mentioned a 30 day window in which she had to sell a certain number of books or her publisher would be forced to pull her book from the shelves. And that was the first 30 days after it was released! Talk about pressure. Congratulations on your own book, and best of luck to you!

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  6. Congratulations Melissa!!! Here’s to writing our stories and sharing it with the world πŸ™‚ More power to you and can’t wait to read your novel!

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  7. Melissa – Congratulations on your award! Well deserved. I loved your “Sometimes the Moon” book and looking forward to the novel next. I so enjoyed your reflections on the pros and cons of self publishing.

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  8. Wow, Melissa! Loved this! You are one courageous writer, and always honest and willing to share your true thoughts. This is one of the reasons so many “real” people out there relate to you so much! (Not just us family members!!!) πŸ™‚ Can’t wait to get my “new” book too!

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  9. I’m not surprised at all that you won the indie award. I knew from the first time I read your blog that you’re an exceptional writer. I loved reading your books with my daughter–they are such wonderful and special stories. Loved your inspirational post. I’m about 2/3 done with my novel and will refer back to this post when I need encouragement with publishing!

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    1. Refer away, Jessica — as I can’t wait to read your novel! I think you are an amazing writer, too. With so many stories to tell. Thank you for sharing my books with your daughter, that is such a special thing to hear. Congratulations on making it so far in your novel, and best of luck for the final third! (And the re-write, ha ha…) πŸ™‚

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  10. First off, congrats on the award! You so deserve it and I’m as happy as a sunshine-filled day for you!! Second, thank you for writing this. Because I needed to read it. I’ve been feeling much the same way about self-publishing as you used to think. And sitting on some ideas and wondering how in the world they could ever be ‘traditionally published.’ So maybe, just maybe, I will seriously consider the alternative. Why? Because my good friend and amazing writer encourages me!

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    1. I do encourage you, Cindy! Go for it! My husband keeps reminding me not to think about the endgame. Just WRITE and enjoy it. I’m lucky to have him, and I’m happy to share his words with you! Thank you for all the kind words you’ve shared as well. πŸ™‚

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  11. What a great story and lead-in for your re-release. You are so right, that books are meant to be shared. My mother “published” and hand-bound a copy of her 1958 book “Cookie’s Secret” for me for Christmas. It too was both written and illustrated by her, and now I get to share it with my kids. So glad you are doing this for your children and your children’s children!! Can’t wait to have a look-see. Congrats, Melissa.

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    1. Thank you, Shannon! Your mother’s book, “Cookie’s Secret” sounds so intriguing! What is the secret? πŸ˜‰ Did you do a post about it? I’d love to see it!

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      1. No post yet, but it’s already written in my head. Last month, I got a box from her, a follow-up to the bound book: the German clock that sparked the story so many decades ago, now hanging on my kitchen wall to enjoy every day. It is the small things that keep life precious, I’m sure!

        Your post on self-publishing has tremendous timing. I do hope you won’t mind if I track back to it later, though now that summer is upon us, it may be a while before I actually get to it. You may have noticed my lag in weekly posting. Life first, blogging about it, second, I say. Cheers, and have a fantastic summer.

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          1. We forgot Gnomie! He goes on ALL our vacations win us, so this was a very, VERY bad Mommy. To see our last adventure (you may have), check out Gnomie’s post (http://wp.me/p28k6D-16D). It’ll give you a good idea of why we go every year! Making memories.

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  12. Self-publishing is one way of being direct with the universe about what you want. I think it’s a wonderful thing that it has become so much more accessible and regarded as a perfectly legitimate way to publish. Good stories will always find readers, and I knew yours would Melissa. Congrats on the award, what a lovely cherry on top!

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    1. That’s a fabulous way of looking at things, Dagne. πŸ™‚ “Being direct with the universe about what you want.” Thank you for the kind words, and for being a great friend.

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  13. I completely agree with you; you have to see it through. We all have that fear and anxiety about how we can manage, but in the end it comes down to just do it. Congratulations with the award. That is really fantastic.

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    1. Hi Otto, I know that you agree with me, I remember reading similar sentiments on your blog about photography — just do it! Thank you for the kind words. And for being a great example of what can happen when you accept those invitations; I know you’ve inspired many with your posts.

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  14. I wholeheartedly applaud your bravery and your success Melissa. It’s so encouraging to hear other writer’s stories. I hope I am as lucky some day. I will not sit back and do nothing though, that much I promise. Cheers to you with your next venture.

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  15. Great news, Melissa. I am so happy for you. You deserve all the success coming your way. I am sure there are plenty more such success story to your writing is going to unfold in coming days. Good luck with your novel. All my best wishes are with you. πŸ™‚

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  16. Yayy, Melissa, a hearty congrats! I have always adored your style of writing, the punch in your decriptions and the incredible power of your pen – such terrific posts that are so fantastically written…love ’em all! Oodles of luck and good wishes for a beautiful, fruitful future. ❀

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