Because I feel compelled to write this. Because I hope telling this story might help another writer out there.
I’m not really all that old, and even when I was a kid, the notion of self-publishing seemed about as far-fetched as winning the lottery or becoming an astronaut. To be fair, before the advent of Amazon and ebooks, there have been writers who through some avenue or another have published themselves. Largely, however, until recent years, to be an”author,” to “be published” by an official publishing house has been the only way to get one’s work out to the masses, in a way that seems credible. After all, if you can walk into a Barnes & Noble store and see the book on the shelf, it must have met some sort of minimum standard, right? It must be good if it has a fancy dust cover, a barcode, and a price tag.
I said some of that in jest, because I do still believe written work, like most human endeavors, should be held to some sort of standard. Even though creative writing especially is open to subjective interpretation, it is good to have expectations on spelling, grammar, accessibility, readability, and other factors that go into how friendly the work is to the human eye. I find it also reasonable to have checks and balances in place, I think it is good that we have agents, editors, and other people with critical eyes who can help filter out the seas of garbage we humans collectively produce, in order to find something worthy of printing on the page.
So where does that put me? I have no literary agent. I have no publisher. Were it not for the self-publishing tools available to me, I would have to show for myself: three heavy manuscripts, a small pile of rejections, and compliments and suggestions from mentors, fellow authors, and beta readers. Would not having access to platforms such as Kindle have spurred me harder to find an agent at this point? That is probably a yes. Especially, after finding out how near-impossible it is to successfully pitch a book to an agent once it has been self-published already (unless you have gobs of sales, reviews, and a substantial following to back you up). Like many things in my life, I jumped into this world with little forethought, with an impulsive desire to share, with an attitude that demanded me to go through with it as though I were to die tomorrow. Better to go out having shared my life’s work rather than die with it sitting in an obscure file on my computer.
I don’t regret the decision I made on that dreary April day in 2016, when I stared for too long at the “Publish” button on Amazon, whilst my coffee and chocolate chip pancakes nearby cooled to a temperature most would find distasteful. My girlfriend at the time, who months later I would propose to, and shortly after lose in my life forever, she gave me support. She encouraged me more than I ever told her, with her fan fiction and never-ceasing desire to explore stories. I wanted to make her proud. I also wanted to tell my story. I wrote After Terra: Year 200 for myself, first and foremost. This was never about money. Oh sure, I’ve had those daydreams, those sweet reveries about what it’d be like to be well-off, successful, to have movies and games made about my stories and live the good life on the royalties. But if I don’t give a toss about the story, the rest of it doesn’t matter.
I’m not a great person at networking, at schmoozing with people. I don’t like advertisements in general, and yet I dove headfirst into a world that demands me to advertise if I want my stories to be shared by all those who might love it as much as I do. Whoops. What have I done? I’m a stoic introvert who is all but allergic to social media and social connectivity. I’d sooner run headfirst into a brick wall as to attend a party. By jove, I’ve really put myself into a pickle now, eh?
But that seems to be the story of my life. My day job is also one that is the antithesis of my comfort zone, yet I have not only kept it but excelled at it. Why should this be so different, I think… then I get the oh-so chipper reminder from Facebook that I “haven’t posted in a while.” Well, shit.
It all leads me down a weird like/loathe feeling toward the whole self-publishing, thing. We’ll call it a thing. I am thankful because without it, none but myself and a handful of acquaintances in Ohio would even know what the heck After Terra is. They would be in a world where the closest thing to it, in name, is a rubbish movie like After Earth. Which, some trivia for you, was the original name for my series, back in a time when I was all ideas and no action. Because of my procrastination, now we all have to live with the existence of that dreadful movie with a title that seems enticing. So sorry.
But now, I have to market myself and my work. I feel like Boromir after he tried to take the ring from Frodo: “what have I done!?” Ah well, to paraphrase some other work, “this is the business I have chosen.”
After the fateful pressing of that “Publish” button, an interesting thing happened. Even with the stigma that some (rightfully so in more than a few cases) attach to self-publishing, the majority of those whom I interact with respond more favorably when they learn I have published a book. This was exacerbated further when my work became available in print. To be fair, there is certain sort of magic you feel from grasping your own work in print, with a nicely bound cover and that fanciful, official looking barcode and ISBN on the back. I chuckle to myself though, because I want to tell the person interacting with me, that my conversation with them is probably taking up as much energy and effort as it did to write the damn book in the first place.
That’s not meant to say I don’t get any enjoyment out of interacting with others over books, whether mine or someone else’s. Oh, definitely not. Most recently, when I had my first ever book signing at a local cafe, I had quite an enjoyable time interacting with fellow science fiction enthusiasts and book lovers. Geeking out over my stories brings me great joy. The path I set myself on when I hit the magic “Publish” button led me to the company of people whom I now consider friends. I enjoyed the special camaraderie and kinship of an awesome group of people in the Antioch Writer’s Workshop fall retreat last year. I might never have participated in that had I not decided to self-publish. There’s no guarantee I would’ve come to know some of the fine people there, had I been lucky enough to score a literary agent up to that point.
Even in my introverted, lackadaisically flawed attempts at marketing myself up to this point, I have managed to make connections with some of the nicest, most genuine, most caring individuals I have encountered thus far in my life. These include local authors such as Cyndi Pauwels, Ryan Ireland, Fred Marion, Katrina Kittle, Tim Waggoner, writers for the area newspaper like Sharon Short, as well as peers, friends, and other authors I met through Sinclair Community College (I will finish a degree of some sort there some day, I swear). Through meeting these people, some of whom have been gracious enough to allow me to be in their home and partake of their coffee, I have also seen interesting parts of the local area I didn’t know existed. Since hitting “Publish,” I learned more about how to be a better literary citizen than I thought possible. I have been humbled and invigorated by every person who takes time out of their day and sometimes money out of their budget to give my stories a chance. There is no other feeling in the world like seeing the story you wrote for yourself, the story you love, making an impact on someone else’s life.
So, after hitting the magic button a third time this month with After Terra: Lunacy, I realize, at the risk of sounding arrogant, that writing these books is never going to be the hard part. Doing all of the things to get people’s attention, to say “look here at what I’ve written, dammit,” that’s the real trick. I have all of these ideas floating in my head, you see, but getting them out of my head and onto your screen is a job all its own. I have a stupidly long backlog of material in mind for Youtube that needs doing. I have enough floating around in my noggin to blog until the end of time or the lifespan of this keyboard, whichever comes first. I could probably discuss how awesome Firefly is all the way up to and including my own eulogy. Wait, I’m digressing. Ah yes, ideas that pertain to my own work. I have drawings, character sketches, storyboards, I have theme music, I have concepts for covers, bookmarks, shirts, and all this other cool shit, but at the end of the day, I’m just one guy. Especially with my day job, one that frequently gives me migraines, strains my eyes, and raises my stress level to and sometimes beyond its limit, there are days where all I want to do is maybe shoot some shit in Gears of War with my friends. There are days where even thinking about looking at a gorram computer screen makes me sick. And frankly I reach points, due to my nature, where I run out of energy and my general capacity to deal with people, even ones I like.
Ah, but then it begins to sound like I am complaining, perhaps in some way “badmouthing” my own choice to self-publish, or even the self-publishing world itself. After all, even in my reckless impulsiveness, I knew on some level what I was getting myself into when I hit the magic button. I have no regrets. I live in a time where a social recluse, a willing misfit and freak like me has three novels available to almost anyone in the world who has an internet connection. That’s pretty freaking sweet. I’m not making any money off of it, but that’s not the point. If I tried to do this in, let’s say, 1970, I’d be nailing masses of rejection letters to my wall like Stephen King, instead of accumulating small numbers of them in my e-mail box. I would, to be blunt, have to try harder, because, even though modern social media certainly has a number of dangers and shortcomings, the tools available to modern authors make things a hell of a lot easier as far as getting your work out there. I wonder how in the hell anyone ever made it through the era where everything had to be typed by typewriter, where editing was done without computer aid. I suppose you had to be a special kind of stubborn in those days. I wonder, I hope for my own sake, that if I lived in Ray Bradbury’s time, I would’ve mustered the fortitude to write my story anyway. Of course, the fight to be heard, for your story to be noticed above someone else’s, well, that really hasn’t changed. The difference now is that because in theory, anyone with an internet connection and an Amazon account can self-publish an ebook, you have to write well enough and advertise yourself well enough to push back against the tidal waves of mediocre and subpar content on the market today.
It’s easy, and tempting too, to get on my little box in this little article and make grandiose promises about how I am going to magically do better at all the things I haven’t been so good at since I hit the special button for the first time. Hell, in the history of this very blog I have made promises and set expectations for delivering content that I failed to achieve. None of that is anyone’s fault but my own. It’s not from a lack of caring, but a matter of what was a priority in my life, where my energy was directed, and how different implementation of an idea was from the idea itself. The first thing I have to admit is that there are some things I either do not have the ability, or more likely, the time to do all by myself. I am sure that with enough time and patience, I could learn to draw or paint well enough to make my own book covers, that I could learn web design well enough to do more with this site beyond the provided template, or that I could become a masterful enough video editor and producer to match Youtube hits such as Jeremy Jahns.
If I didn’t have to keep a roof over my head and food in my stomach, I could ditch the day job and have time to master all of the things! But this is not the case. So, I commissioned an awesome artist like Jon Hrubesch, for example, to create the latest book covers in the After Terra series. And I will have to kick my own networking skills into gear to find the right connections, so that I can make these other ideas of mine a reality. The whole point of it all is to maximize the chances that the stories I create will be seen by the highest number of people as is possible. It’s all with the endgame of providing inspiration, entertainment, and maybe even some much needed hope to people who love stories as much as I do. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without the stories I grew up with. I might not have escaped the hate I was surrounded by as a child without optimism and hope from stories such as Star Trek and Star Wars.
I don’t have life figured out, indeed, I find the more I go through life, the less about the world and the universe I really know. Some people find that scary. I find it comforting, because to me it means there is more out there than our petty disputes. It means either that the answers to the questions of our existence are somewhere in the universe for us to find if we would but work together to find them, or, maybe there is no ultimate reason for our existing, in which case it falls on us to forge it for ourselves. I consider myself lost, stumbling through life, figuring things out as they come. I spend more time writing stories than I do washing dishes or folding laundry. I forget to shave more days than not even though I hate keeping a beard. I am lucky enough to be able to share my stories with you even though I am a lazy cuss who always has his head in the clouds, or the stars. If I can do this, so can you. And for you, those of you taking time out of your day to read what I write, and for myself as well, I endeavor to do better, to share more of what’s rattling around in this head of mine so that I might make the world at least a little nicer than I found it.