Friday, July 3, 2009

On self-publishing, goals, and dreams

My whole life, my dream has been to be a writer. The reason I publish under my initials is that I decided when I was four or five that I would do that in order to be like C. S. Lewis or J. R. R. Tolkien. There hasn't been a point in my life when I thought that I could ever do anything else.

I picked my career in high school because I wanted to have a day job that wouldn't interfere with writing. (Of course, from a high-schooler's perspective, teaching looks easy. It's not, but. Well.) I always assumed that I would write while working for a few years and that (probably sometime in my midtwenties), I would be discovered. Then I'd quit my day job and spend my days like Stephen King, writing ten pages a day. What a life, I thought.

This is still my dream. I still would love to write full-time. But the problem is that somewhere between really getting serious about writing novels (around 23) and now, I unfortunately let writing full time become my goal and not my dream.

There's a difference between goals and dreams. Dreams are something that you long for. That you, well, dream of. Hope for. Aspire to. Wish for. Goals are things in which you believe that you can achieve, if you just follow all the right steps and work hard enough.

The thing about goals is that you should never make goals about things in which you can't control the outcome. Say I wanted to make a goal of exercising 20 minutes a day or going to California. That's fine. Because I can do those things. California is there. The steps I need to take are to find the finances, arrange the transportation, and go. I can do that. Me. All by myself.

But writing full time isn't like that, because I need people to help me achieve that goal. Basically, I need people to give me money. And I can't force people to do that. I have felt like a failure for a long time, because I felt like I was working so hard to reach my goal, and I just wasn't getting anywhere.

I think that's why I decided to self-publish. Getting myspace feedback for the first scene of my book was electrifying. I just put it out there, asked people to look at it, and they did. It seemed so easy. Emboldened, I thought that this was the way I would finally be able to achieve my goal. After all, I was actually interacting with people, not just getting form-letter rejections. This was it!

But it wasn't. It's sincerely hard to get people to read fiction, even for free. Of my 5000 myspace friends, I estimate that only about 250 of them actually read my story. And of those readers, only seven have purchased my book. And here's the thing. To come out of nowhere, start posting a webfic, and have 250 readers is a pretty awesome thing. And to sell seven copies of a self-published novel in a day is no mean feat either. Shannon Yarbrough, author of Stealing Wishes and one of the few self-pubbers willing to actually tell his sales numbers, only sold 29 books in a whole year!! (His Kindle sales were much higher, however.) So, really, I should be feeling pretty proud of myself right now.

And if that weren't enough, I can't open my myspace without finding kind comments from one of my readers, who say things to me like, "The days you post your book are my favorite days!" How sweet is that, honestly?

But, you know what, this morning, I still felt like a failure. And that's because, in terms of making a living writing, I've done absolutely nothing. And since I viewed that as a goal, I felt like crap.

Making money from writing should not be my goal. It should be my dream.

My goals should be attainable things--things that actually can control. Things like delivering a reliable and entertaining serial novel. Things like writing the best books I can.

I think, that maybe I'm going to be a whole lot happier if I stop treating writing like a career and start treating it like a hobby. I'm never going to stop writing. It wouldn't matter if no one ever read a single word that I wrote. I'd still be doing it. So why am I trying to force myself to work towards a goal that I don't have control over?

Here's what I'd like to do in the future. I'd like to finish posting the Jason and Azazel trilogy on the web. I'd like to self-publish the novels I have that made the rounds with agents and got rejected. I'd like to keep trying to submit to the big houses with my new books, but know that if they get rejected, I've got a place to publish them and a small, but growing, number of readers. Overall, right now, for a hobbyist, I'm really damned successful. And I think I'd like to stay that way. :)


  1. Way to go :).. I would say that's the spirit. And all the best.. I just found your books and the blurbs have got me trying to push up your book on my TBR list :).. Thank you..

  2. hey yes if you will just think writing as your hobby..forgetting it as a goal for living, for a while,,concentrate on just writing because you can,,and you love day you will surely live your dreams and achieve your goal..
    I wish you good luck..