It turns out May 2020 is a big month for me.
I published that book with a then-newish, cheerfully optimistic, and somewhat small imprint of a huge multinational publishing company, which in turn has since been purchased by an even larger publishing house. I fumbled my way through those first edits, learning on the fly how to use track changes and stet. I had not one clue how marketing and publishing worked. I tried to push back on the cover they designed, with little success. (See below.) I fubbed all my release-day tweets, despite the very detailed and helpful tutorial provided by the marketing department. I had no agent and very few friends with institutional knowledge of the industry. I was scared to join the newbie author listserv, worried my feelings of inadequacy would only deepen and grow, terrified I would never measure up.
At the same time, some part of me knew that was never going to sustain a proper publishing career.
So I screwed my courage to the sticking place and asked a lot of questions. I scrounged up money to attend a few writing and reader conventions. I learned from people who were open to sharing their experiences as published authors and as public speakers. I pitched myself for panels and talks. I joined writing organizations and volunteered. I helped organize conferences and writing events. I was sometimes lucky and got asked to be part of others’ events and conferences. I made new friends.
In so many ways, I’ve been privileged to help bring people together in community.
Of course, publishing is a business and community-building is not actually directly related to selling books. In fact, my debut sold very poorly. My publisher declined to pick up book 2 and the rest of the planned books. I couldn’t find an agent or a new publisher with a broken series. So I changed tack and learned how to self-publish.
So many things have changed in the years since I published my first indie book in 2015. I’ve learned unequivocally that I’m not cut out to self-publish more than one book per year. Writing, editing, layouts, format conversions, covers, online marketing, in-person marketing… It’s a lot. I see other indie author friends manage all of that two or even three times per year and I am in awe. I used to figuratively beat myself up for not being able to match that pace.
Luckily, I have a wonderful support system, people who remind me with kindness and love that I am not, in point of fact, my books or my production schedule or the number of reviews and awards I receive—or don’t receive, as the case may be.
A healthy perspective on the publishing industry, I’ve learned, is crucial to continuing to write. I’ve worked hard to pull back when myopia threatens, when someone else’s success feels like a threat, when lack of attention and sales feels like failure.
That first novel was a finalist for a best debut award. It sold less than a hundred copies its first year. I like to remember that both things are true. I didn’t think that book got the marketing support it could have. I also think the people at that publisher genuinely tried to be helpful. Sometimes, the very best of intentions don’t pan out into the best of results.
Seven years ago today, I felt giddiness and excitement and uncertainty. I felt intense, can’t-bear-to-look-at-it-head-on hope that I would finally start life as a published writer, something I’d dreamed of since childhood. I readily admit that I also knew as much about what published writer meant when I was a child as I knew in 2013.
But through the experience of moving from debut author to career author, I’ve learned that dreams are mutable. They’re aspirational. They’re not meant to be yardsticks against which we measure our failure. They’re meant to keep us alive and striving.
As long as I hold on to the dreaming, I will never be completely lost.
As long as I continue to dream, I can count myself lucky.
I never quite warmed up to the cover designed by the publisher, to be honest. Once the rights reverted back to me, I updated all the platforms I could with the cover of the indie edition, but, of course, the old cover remains, popping up now and then like a lingering ghost from the past…