Monday, August 28, 2023

I self-published my first book in 2014, then my self-confidence cratered

Part one in an ongoing series: Because you need to write more: Self-publishing and maintaining self-confidence.


Writing is hard. In many ways, it is the hardest thing I have ever attempted to do. Officially, I didn’t start writing until 2001. It was a form of self affirmation for me. I hard only been living openly as a gay man for a little over ten years, but I still did not feel that I was living my truth. The organisation named One In Ten held in conjunction with the LGBT film festival, a screenwriting competition.

 “One In Ten (OIT) is a non-profit, all-volunteer LGBT arts organization in Washington, D.C. Its largest program is Reel Affirmations, the third largest LGBT film festival (in terms of attendance) in the United States and the largest all-volunteer film festival in the world.” (Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation) Like 99% of writers I had been writing off and on since a very young age, so it intrigued me. My life partner and friends encouraged me to enter. I spent several weeks writing the script for “Only Child.”


I entered the competition, but my script wasn’t considered, but the experience lit a fire that at the time I thought would never go out. Afterward, I wanted to know why, so I went back and studied the script and decided it was because of my lack of knowledge of narrative construction. In 2005, I started taking many classes and reading as many books on writing as possible. It paid off. The more I learned, the more confident I became. I started writing short stories, and before I knew it, I had about fifty saved on my computer. However, I couln’t get that first script out of my head. So, I revisited it again, and I decided I had more to say. I reworked the script into a novel and expanded the story over three books. The new series title “Only Child Trilogy.” Not exactly original, but I figured it’s a good working title. I could change it later if need be. Using the script as an outline, from 2007to 2009 I worked on the novel version renamed “A Only Child.”


When I finished, I submitted to several small publishers and received no responses. Not even a “we aren’t interested.” I felt disappointed when small publishers did not respond, so I opted to enter the manuscript into competitions instead. Still no interest. Instead of moving forward with the series, I kept reworking the story. I told myself that I needed to get it right before I could start the next book in the series. Not doing so meant more work done the line. I had ideas for the second book and, but I couldn’t bring myself to get them into an outline. By the summer of 2012, I had reworked the story to the exclusion of everything else that I could have been writing at least thirty times. So, I gave up on the series. Looking back on it now, I realized this was when the fruit of my confidence started to wither on the vine.


I returned to my short stories. It had been the last time I had felt completely confident in my writing. I began work on my short story collection, “A Brief Moment In Time.” I had a lot to choose from that covered several genres. However, speculative fiction is my true love, so I pulled from that stack for the collection. I picked six stories and wrote three new ones to finish out the collection. Each story was seven to ten thousand words long, so they would be more than enough to combine into a novel.


It is hard to portray how much work that I put into this collection. I did everything from writing to book design my self: I even created the cover. I did so much because I decided early on that I would self publish. When I made that decision, I did not know that so much work would be involved. Honestly, I to this day don’t believe that I did enough. This was born out when as I was working on my MFA and we covered how to promote your book. As the term progressed, I learned so much about book promotion that I didn’t even consider during and after the release of ABMIT. Had I known, thing would have been different, I am sure, but hindsight is 20/20, right?


As it stood, I lost my confidence after the release of ABMIT in 2014, because I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I did what every novice, uninformed, self-published write does when they put their first self-published work up on sites like Amazon Kindle, Smashwords, Kobo, Barnes and Noble: they upload, sit back, and just wait for the accolades and money to flow in because they’ve written the next amazing novel and everyone knows it.


At first, it felt like I had some traction. I did promotions on Amazon, Smashwords, and Goodreads. I sent out a hundred ARC’s (advanced reading copies) and held competitions on Goodreads’s where twenty readers got free books. Everything looked and felt good for about two weeks. Then the lack luster reviews started. And the sales that weren’t good from the start stopped. For a year, I obsessed over what I did wrong. I ended up selling nine books. What I could have done differently? Why didn’t get the accolades that I deserved? At no time did I think maybe I wasn’t ready to make that leap in to self-publishing.


My self-published collection’s lack of sales and mediocre reviews killed my confidence, and it took me eight years to reenter the writing headspace.


[This is the end of part 1. Part 2 in the series will be available next week.]

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