Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Why I Chose to Self-publish After Two Successful Traditionally Published Books

Or: Why I'm self-publishing 10 Books in 10 months



I went to my first AA meeting (Alcoholics Anonymous for those unfamiliar) when I was in fourth grade. No, I wasn't an extremely young person with a substance abuse problem. However, my mother didn't have particularly strong boundaries or a sense of what might be appropriate for kids, never mind the fact that the other attendees probably weren't thrilled to share their issues with the ten-year old sitting in the circle eating store brand vanilla cookies and drinking apple juice. But you know… Life.

Prior to this, my mother used to drive a white Thunderbird circa the 80s. She had a red bumper sticker that said, "Shit Happens." Once she drove it off the side of a cliff. It was a small cliff, but still. The thing survived. So did she. Incidentally, the engine exploded outside of Queens and that was that. Anyway, the point is yes, shit does happen. It happens all of the time. Shitty things. Shitty people. Shitty emojis. Shit pickles. For a long time I wholly believed in that phrase—it was printed on a bumper sticker after all!—and that when shit happened, well, it was shitty. Instead of the popular earworm from the Lego movie: "Everything is awesome," my childhood anthem was, "Everything is shitty."

But I've come to understand that although shit happens it isn't so much the shit itself that causes the problem, it's how we react, respond, or run from our shit. Sometimes we flip our shit, fly off the handle, go bonkers. This often results in broken glass, lawsuits, and headaches. We can also run, and just say, "Screw it. I can't handle this shit." This often results in the shit coming back to us in one form or another much like Karma, but only because it's a lesson the Universe still wants us to learn. A third option is we can just wallow in our shit like a pig in mud. "Oh, woe is me, my life is shit."

Alternately, we can respond. This is like the yoga-spa-meditative answer to life. This is digging deep and realizing that the world and the man aren't out to get me, however there is no escape from my problems or my emotions. (For many years, I was under the impression that feeling what we dub negative emotions is bad and should be avoided at all costs. That's not to say I enjoy depression or anxiety, but they're often indicators of a life out of balance and ultimately serve a purpose in our growth as individuals and as part of the community at large. But I digress...)

So responding to life (versus reacting) might look something like this: "Wow, this is a really shitty situation. It makes me feel like shit (or any given variation on feeling shitty). How the heck did I find myself here? Why am I surrounded by so much shit? What did I do to contribute to this shit pickle? Was I shitty to so and so? What is my role in this shit sitch? And then the big leap… What can I do to change this? Or in other words, how can I clean up the shit from my side of the street?

I'm not saying when really, really bad things happen it's our fault. No, what I'm saying is that I've completed 27 manuscripts, totaling well over 1,770,077 words. (Not including projects that I never finished), and when only two of those are traditionally published, one of which hasn't earned out its advance, I might find myself wallowing or pointing fingers or wanting to throw my laptop out of a second story window. This isn't to say I'm not incredibly, extremely, sometimes struck dumb with gratitude about my opportunity in the publishing world. I've met some incredible people, learned getting a book from draft to bookshelf is a collaborative team effort, and being read by readers is a privilege. All of that is true and very much on my heart. What I'm saying is I might once or twice have felt like, well, why don't agents/editors want my next book? (This is the finger pointing) Why aren't readers reading my work? Why, why, why? Why me? Why not me? (This is the wallowing).

But I've realized this isn't shit. This is life and damn, it's grand because I have the opportunity to grow. How? By dialing back all the frustration and whining and using what sometimes feels like overwhelming and shitty emotions as fuel. It's time to get creative. To analyze the situation as objectively as possible and then ask myself, "Okay, now what? What's next?"

It's responding instead of reacting or running.

I've been thinking a lot lately about words like tenacity, persistence, and perseverance. The road of an artist, a creative, and author is traveled one brushstroke, one word, one step at a time. It isn't always easy, but neither is love. And that's why we do it. Right? I write because I have to, because I have stories to tell, because it fills me with a kind of joy I don't find elsewhere. And when I write I'm not thinking about sales or fans or even holding the published book in my hands. Rather, I write for the sake of writing even when it's challenging, even when my character is in a corner, even when sales are lousy. Even when it's shitty for goodness sakes! It can feel severe at times, harsh, but I persevere because with every word I'm a little closer to the love and light in the world and to me that is success.

So if I'm already successful then what do I fear I have to lose? Because that's what feeling shitty is: fear. It's being afraid of daring, failing, succeeding, shining. It's being afraid of living a life where everything is indeed AWESOME. And being able to handle your shit when it isn't.

This brings me to the notion of the shit sandwich. Mark Manson of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck fame and also highlighted in Liz Gilbert's Big Magic posits this: "WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE FLAVOR OF SHIT SANDWICH AND DOES IT COME WITH AN OLIVE?"

The idea is that in life, "everything sucks, some of the time." To follow the theme of this essay, I'd say, somethings are shitty, some of the time. What this means is that life has its ups and downs, ebbs and flows, highs and lows. Our endeavors, passions, and dreams all take dedicated action, hard work, sweat, diligence…and more. According to Mark, the shit sandwich question becomes, "what struggle or sacrifice are you willing to tolerate? Ultimately, what determines our ability to stick with something we care about is our ability to handle the rough patches and ride out the inevitable rotten days." And I'll add, even then, not wholly focusing on the shitty stuff because when we focus on shit, chances are we'll see, if not get, more of it.

This resonates with me on a high frequency. This is what writing and publishing and being in it for the long game means. It means I'm going to keep writing. I'm not quitting after 1,770,077 words. Not after hundreds (okay, thousands) of rejections from literary agents—I've lost track. Not when sales average around the $2 range for weeks. And certainly not when life happens.

I'm going to keep writing and growing and getting better at craft and storytelling and doing what I do because it makes me happy. If it connects me with millions or just brings a smile to the faces of a handful of people or tears to the eyes of a girl from Hungary or enters the hearts of a thousand or so people who see themselves in a story I write—, either way it’s a win. It's not quantity, but the quality of the experience

When the dog wakes me up early, and I still find the energy to get in a chapter or three. When I lose track of time and find myself in that magical, expansive place of creation. When I come to a deeper understanding of who I am and who you are and what it means that the universe has our backs because we're all connected I'm living life.

That's my shit sandwich and, I'll gladly eat it with an olive.

Okay, moving on from shit. I got off track. Way off track. I was talking about AA meetings, but now you get a better sense of my childhood and how over the years it's provided me with opportunities to deeply reflect on life.

So have you ever been to an AA meeting? Or a therapy group formatted similar to one? If we were in the mildewed basement of a church somewhere in Massachusetts, I'd start by saying, "My name is Deirdre Riordan Hall. I'm a traditionally and self-published novelist who enjoys eating a particular kind of shit sandwich layered with creative writing, teen fiction, fantasy, and romance. It's lovely to meet you."

What made me come to this meeting?

Remember I mentioned I've written 27 books? I call them my backlist and in order to move what felt like stagnant energy surrounding my writing life (in other words, my shit sandwich had gotten kind of stale), I decided to shift my energy. Just before New Year's, I had what one of my high school besties might have called a "flash of brilliance." One of those light bulb moments. Don't get me wrong, I mulled it over with charts and graphs and a lot of bubbles in my stomach, but in the end I decided to call it, "2017, an epic year in self-publishing." Or "Ten books in ten months." Or "This is my shit sandwich, want a bite?" Okay, no, not that. But ambitious and nutty and awesome, I know! That's me in three words.

I needed to share those older books to make room for the new!

I did this because I write in a variety of genres: contemporary and fantasy, even moving between women's, teen, and middle grade. By self-publishing, I can easily shift between all of these, whereas traditional prefers you pick one and stick to it. Not always, but much of the time.

I also decided to return to my roots as it were: back in 2012, I think, I learned about self-publishing and got up the guts to go for it aka I followed my bliss with the, ahem, Follow your Bliss six book romance series.

Self-publishing gives me a lot of creative freedom, from content to cover design. That also means I also have to do or outsource it, but I enjoy the process, or at least am willing to eat the shittier parts of it (with olives, natch).

Although I can sing the praises of my publishing team at Skyscape all darn day (they're amazing, creative, inspiring, insightful, and really, really awesome). As a writer, it's also nice to have full creative freedom. Lately, I'm all about freedom in time and finances and life in general.

A while back, I contributed to Forever YA with a post about being a hybrid author if you're interested in knowing more about my experience.

Also, here is my editorial schedule, as it were:

1/17: Love, Hate, and Other Lies We Told women’s romantic comedy
2/17: How Not to Fall in Love women’s romantic comedy novella
3/17: Chasing Days a young adult novel
4/17: Spent a young adult novel
5/17: Tide a young adult fantasy, Sea & Sand Series
6/17: Anchored a young adult fantasy, Sea & Sand Series 
>I also snuck in My Essential Oils Journal because I'm obsessed with them & needed a way to keep track<
7/17: Fight Camp Book 1: Firebird Born a young adult dystopian
8/17: Fight Camp Book 2: Firebird Rising a young adult dystopian
9/17: An Irish Dancer's Handbook (just what it sounds like)
10/17: Fairy Cakes middle grade magical realism

Previously Published:
Through the Jungle a FREE prequel & sequel to the
To the Sea a new adult novel
Surfaced a new adult novella
In the Desert a new adult novel
Mirrored a new adult novella
On the Mountain a new adult novel
Kindled a new adult novella

Sugar a young adult novel
Pearl a young adult novel

Book Promotion 365: how to reach readers and share your work with the world non-fiction

So this is life. Life happens. Books  happen.

If you'd like to try the shit sandwich I mentioned, if you eat them every day for lunch, or if you enjoy the results of my shit sandwiches (no, don't go there; remember, this is a metaphor), we're in this together. This thing called life. We're in the same community, supported by the same universe. It's hard and it's awesome. It's shitty and it's beautiful.

Life is the kind of paradox that will leaves me wonderstruck on the daily, even if I have a shit sandwich in my hand. You too?

 P.S. If you know anyone who might gain insight from reading this, please share!

1 comment :

  1. I am so ridiculously proud of you and standing by to help keep your spirits high!

    ReplyDelete