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Self-Publishing: Lessons and Realities

Writing a book is work, hard work, but the process internalized for me the steps involved, from first drafts to beta-readings to copy editors. After I finished my story, Babchi: A Love Story, however, I had no compass to point me toward self-publishing. I read everything I could find about the process and also attended some webinars; as useful as these were, nonetheless, conflicting information and the lack of step-by-step instructions limited their usefulness. I am an introvert and a writer of fiction other than mystery or romance; I came to terms with the reality that often the advice given to self-published authors is not specific to my genre of historical fiction or the advice given is not a fit.

Along the bumpy road to self-publishing, I learned a few lessons that I hope will be of use to other authors.

Top 8 Lessons

1. When you’re tired, forget about marketing. Yes, yes. I know. We are all exhausted and sleep deprived. I’m talking about the kind of tiredness that blurs your eyes until you can’t see straight. If you sign up for publishing platforms and marketing sites in this state, you’re heading toward a potential disaster. One such time, I entered a typo in my email and locked myself out of a new account completely. Next day I fixed it, but after a good night’s sleep.

2. Take into consideration your personality type. If you’re an extrovert, you might get an easier handle on the marketing needed for self-publishing, while an introvert must stretch past her comfort zones. As an introvert I found the advice in Lauren Sapala’s Firefly Magic: Heart Powered Marketing for Highly Sensitive Writers extremely helpful. Even then, if a suggestion was too far past my comfort zone, I skipped it.

3. Reality Check A: Romance and mystery series have the potential to sell well, because the genres have a loyal, voracious readership; they fit neatly into the algorithm Amazon uses.

4. Professional and personal spheres of influence vary among authors. An introvert, I have a small circle of friends; I do not have a large personal sphere to market my book. However, introverts can have a surprising professional reach if they’re well known in their industry. If you’re lucky you might dip into your pool of professional contacts when you’re ready to market your book.

5. Keep building your support system. Not everyone has a group of cheerleaders or a supportive spouse, partner, child, parent, or other individual. That’s life. Once I reached out to someone who, unknown to me, was a disappointed writer. I realized I had to be more discerning and build my own support network. I explored writing coaches, writers’ groups, online work sessions, that is, anything I thought had the potential to support my creative life.

6. Reality Check B: Life happens. Most of us have many responsibilities other than writing — our families, school, work, community. The first commitment for an author is making time to write. The second commitment is finding the time to market your book. Time is often out of your control. You will use all your physical and emotional energy, especially if there is a crisis at home, like a sick loved one. When this happens, something in the schedule must give. Don’t worry. I’ve found the Muse to be forgiving. She’ll wait.

7. Throw out all preconceived notions. I know. Easier said than done. For my first book, I wrestled with two preconceived notions. First, my vision of an author was idealistic, but the more bios I read about journalists, essayists, and other writers in the trenches, led me to appreciate the day-to-day author, not the one in a million bestselling. My second preconceived notion was my conception of what an author was required to do. In this time of social media connections and branding, I wondered how many tools and platforms I’d have to use. Much of the advice to authors is to take advantage of as many social media outlets as possible and, what’s more, to create original content for each. Who has time for that? I began to ask myself questions: must every author use Twitter? Why must my website be an “engaging” experience? And if so, how engaging must it be? Who decides? My engaging experience might not be my neighbor’s. Years ago, I was selling my botanical paintings at an art fair. A man looked at my work and asked if I was the artist. I said yes. As he walked away, I heard him say to his companion, “She doesn’t look like an artist.” Ouch. So, we all have preconceived notions of how certain types of people must look. We can’t control that. I realized that the only thing I can control is how I see myself. In addition, no person is just one thing. At the moment, I’m a writer and a visual artist. This might change. The beauty of identity is you can change and rebalance your strengths and weaknesses.

8. Reality Check C: Timing, serendipity, and luck are indeed true for some. Reading Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers was life changing for me. Gladwell discusses the many incredible ideas and amazing inventions that were never recognized because circumstances were not optimal. Timing and place can mean everything. We simply can’t control the world or the times into which we are born. We can’t control the DNA we inherit. We have to work with what we have, where we are, and when we are.

As tech platforms change, self-published authors will have to adapt and learn which channels are best for promoting their books. To me, writing my book was much easier than learning how to market it. Will this keep me from writing? No. Even though I probably don’t look like an author just as much as, I don’t look like an artist. I’m going to keep writing.

Fiction writer and poet. Author of the historical fiction book Babchi: A Love Story.

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