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And Then What Happened?: My Self-Publishing Diaries

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Flickr: termie
Flickr: termie

Chapter One: Letting Go

It's a moment in my life that's hard to forget: I was at a shiva call eating a bagel with lox, schmoozing with friends and relatives of the deceased. I was positioned between the living and dining rooms of a split-level ranch, feet hurting from standing for so long, when my life as an unpublished author suddenly took a turn.

"I think you should self-publish your novel," my friend Dan said. Dan's father-in-law, Paul, the dad of one of my best friends, had died in his sleep a few days prior. Paul was a wonderful man, and, suddenly, he was gone. I had known him for most of my life.

"Never gonna happen." I said. We chewed our bagels in companionable silence. My eyes focused on pictures of Paul's family, smiling from silver frames atop the piano.

"But why not?" Dan pressed.

I shrugged. It's not like me, I said, to be unconventional. I am very good at following rules, and keeping the status quo quoing. I live in suburbia with two kids and drive an SUV, writing from a cold room over my garage while the kids are in school. I am not an artiste, pushing the boundaries.

Except for the freezing garret part, which is very La Boheme.

Dan rolled his eyes and then went on to list for me the many compelling arguments that we all now know about the self-publishing versus traditional publishing debate. "Read some Barry Eilser," he said. "You'll see." Control and ownership over your writing. Working in an outdated system that is perhaps broken and in need of readjusting. Finding readers yourself instead of waiting for a publisher to decide whether you are deserving of readers. Carpe Dieming it bigtime. Using your powers for good instead of evil.

Actually, maybe that last one was from a Batman movie, but you get my point. Or Dan's point, really. That self-publishing was a real deal alternative to my current reality, which was built around waiting for my agent to call with good news.

And I had been waiting a long time.

Perhaps I am exaggerating about the "long time" part, because I understand that one year in the publishing world is not really that long of a time. But it felt like it to me, goshdarnit. Every call with my agent went nowhere. Editors "loved" the book but the sales team "wasn't convinced." Did the sales team read the novel? No? So, then, what did they need convincing of, exactly? How to turn pages? Couldn't I talk to someone directly and find out what the heck was going on over there at Halfway House Publishers, where staff only appears in the office on Tuesdays?

I was growing bitter, which is not pretty because I am, in general, an 'Up' person. I mean, I was a cheerleader in high school!

The road to traditional publishing was bumming me out, and I just hate being bummed out.

"What's that guy's name again?" I asked Dan. "With the self-publishing battle cry?"

He smiled and told me more about Barry Eisler and Joe Konrath.

And so I read Be The Monkey in one sitting, and I recommend you do the same, if you are at all curious/interested/masochistic enough to try self-publishing on for size. (You don't have to read it all in one sitting; feel free to take a bathroom break or two and also eat a donut at some point.) And then I went ahead and did it. I broke up with my agent and self-published my first novel three months later.

Ta-dah!

Now here's the part of the self-publishing fairytale where dramatic transformation supposedly happens. You've read it all before, I'm sure, from The New York Times to the Amazon homepage, from Tracey Garvis-Graves and Brittany Geragotelis to other rags to riches stories of people's stories going all rags to riches. You know, How Amazon Saved My Life.

So, I know you are wondering, well, and then what happened, Julie? Did your self-publishing fairy godmother show up and, poof, bippity, boppety boo, magically transform your manuscript from a pumpkin into a beautiful carriage, just waiting to wisk you off to the Awesomely Confident and Successful But Not Overly Cocky Writers' Ball in a new dress from Bergdorf's that you could suddenly afford due to massive e-book royalties? Or, did the "self" in self-publishing cause you wallow in self-doubt, self-pity and self-loathing, so that you were drenched in a cold sweat even when you were seated in the warmest rooms of your house?

A little bit of both, my friends. A little bit of both.

Over the next few months, come along with me as I relive the highs and lows of the past half-year journey of self-pubbing in this column that I call "And Then What Happened?" It is thus named because each week* you will be on the edge of your seat, dying to know the answer to that question, as I fill you in on a new installment in the hilarious and sometimes bone-chilling episodes of my self-publishing career thus far. Each new post will be built around an approximately one-thousand-word rant, because 1000 is a supposed sweet-spot online word count. (*The weekly column may be published every 10 days to two weeks, depending on how depressed I am, I mean, how busy I am writing my second novel.)

Topics for the column may include "The Time I Made My Seven-Year-Old Sell My Book To Strangers on A Beach in Rhode Island," and, "What To Do When Your Book is Banished to the Back Corner of the Local Independent Book Store." Also, you won't want to miss "How To Schedule A Library Talk So That No One, Including Your Own Father, Will Be Able to Attend."

Each column will conclude with a precise word count and motivational quote from a Broadway musical, 'cuz that's how I roll.

Perhaps it is no accident that I began to consider self-publishing while faced with the passing of a friend. It was a day of letting go. What Dan was telling me was half of the message; the other half was the context in which we had our conversation. Did I want to look back on my life and say, I almost got a publishing deal from Halfway House, a big five publisher? Or worse, did I want others to be saying that about me at my funeral someday? No. I wanted people to say, didn't Julie write entertaining novels? And in order to have them say that, I needed to put the self into my publishing career.

Life is short. I figure, if anyone is going to fuck mine up for me, it better be me.

Today's word count: 1124
Today's motivational quote from a Broadway musical:
I'm not freaking out, I'm really okay
I'm totally chill or I will be someday.

From Bring it On: The Musical, "One Perfect Moment"