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. 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.
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.
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.
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.