Self-Publishing: A Beginning, An Accident

The question that I get most, more than any other, has always been “Why did you choose self-publishing?” followed closely by “When are you going to get published for real?” or the much kinder, “Have you ever tried traditional publishing?” And actually, the answer might surprise you.

It was an accident.

At this point you might be wondering, how on Earth does one get into self-publishing by accident? But to answer that, I need to back track a little, set the stage and the characters, and do all those things that all good storytellers do.

I started writing at the age of six with my friend, Annie. She and I wrote thirteen chapters of a book called First Grade Killer Dinosaurs based on a dream that I had about a carnivorous triceratops trying to bite off my index finger. Why? I don’t know; I was six. But! Ever since then, writing is all that I ever wanted to do. It’s all that I did. At fourteen, I had written four novellas. By the time, I was nineteen, I had added five full length novels to the total, and I was the rave of an online writing club. So, full of youthful arrogance, I thought it was high time that I reached out and grasped my destiny to become the greatest author ever. There was just one problem: I had no idea what I was doing.

It took me a while to realize exactly what I had gotten myself into, but my eyes were opened when I bought the 2005 Writer’s Market book. I never knew that there were 1200 pages worth of ways to say, “You are in way over your head”, but apparently, there are. There were so many guidelines that it was hard to breathe. Electronic submissions only. Mail submissions only. No simultaneous submissions. Twelve point font. Double spaced. SASE (that’s self-addressed stamped envelope). No fantasy. No science fiction. Send a cover letter. Send a query. First 10 pages. Send a synopsis. Only accepts established authors. Only accepts referred authors. Only 5% of submissions chosen. Allow 6-8 weeks for a response. Allow 3-6 months for a response. My personal favorite? “If we haven’t responded after eight months, you can assume we aren’t interested.” And this wasn’t even for publishers! This was for literary agents, who were supposed to do all this shit for you for publishers. So, I thought that I’d just go straight to the publisher. Nope, the publishers wouldn’t accept anything that wasn’t sent to them by a literary agent.

But you know what? I did it. I did the leg work. I jumped through all the hoops, and I got rejected. I started hanging the rejection notices on my wall, not to highlight my failure, but to show that I had tried. You hear about these writers who have shoe boxes full of rejection notices. I had wallpaper.

The inevitable question is at what point did I give up?

Well, one day in 2005, I was in the shower and started screaming, “Oh my God!”
My sister opened the door thinking, y’know, a spider… and I yelled, “Get me a pen!”

I had gotten an idea for something else. Something bigger. This was Wingéd. That’s when I decided that I would no longer try to sell my previous work, and I’d concentrate on my new project instead. I started writing Wingéd in August, the same time that I started working at Sylvan Learning Center, which was fantastic, because I was surrounded by English teachers who helped me out. By December, I was finished. It was the fastest that I have ever written anything.

Shortly afterward, one of my co-workers came in with an illustrated children’s book written by her husband. He’d gotten it published by a company called BookSurge, a subsidiary of Amazon. She suggested that I look into it, because she knew how badly I wanted to be published. I believe that I was under the impression that it was a small press and was unaware of all of these things regarding “vanity presses” or all the stigma over self-publishing taking place at the time.

The process is a lot different now than it was back in 2006. I’ll get into how at a later date, but back then, I went to their website and followed the guidelines, which were a lot easier than any of the traditional publishing ones. After a couple of days, a representative called me to figure out the next steps, which included all sorts of plans available by this company to put my book into print. If you’re sensing red flags, you’d be correct. No one can deny that they’re there. The Writers’ Market book warns that no reputable literary agent or publisher will charge you money for services. I won’t say that I got taken for a ride, but… I’m sure that my exuberance made me an easy… let’s say sale.

My parents spent $600 to get my book into print. It seems steep, at least to me, but the old adage is true. You do get what you pay for. The company handled everything. The book was beautifully done, as professional as you’d expect any book to be (minus all the typos that books with no editor have). They also came up with a synopsis, back of the book, and other little bites to help me sell my book. The only thing that I provided was the front cover, which I took myself with my very first digital camera and edited in MS Paint. Other than the price tag, I have no complaints, and given the chance to do it over, I’d probably choose to do it again. Although I do have to tell you that I still haven’t been able to get my parents their money back and about half of those books are still in that box in my room.

So, that’s how it happened the first time around. I did kind of fall into it. I was excited, and I was stupid. But what’s important is that I learned, and it turned out okay. That’s not all of course. This would be a very short series if I didn’t make more mistakes. So, if you’d like to read more about my adventures fumbling around in the self-publishing dark, come back next Monday!

Colleen

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