This blog was originally published in the LARA (Los Angeles Romance Authors) September, 2014 newsletter. I am re-publishing it here.
I self-published my first novel on Amazon in early 2012. My brother had just published his first ebook, and he more or less dared me to do the same. I did it quietly, sneaking the book online without fanfare, with a generic cover, and telling only a handful of people. I waited, both terrified and excited, for the sales to roll in. They did not. Over the next year, I sold four or, perhaps, five copies. Although I told myself otherwise, the truth was that I was relieved. If nobody noticed my ebook, then nobody could criticize it.
What changed? Not me! My second book went up on Amazon in January of 2014, again to little fanfare (none, really). Again, I sold four or five copies. Little did I know things were about to change. Someone had found out about it. I was busted. I’d been chatting on and off via Facebook with an old college friend when out of nowhere one day she says to me “Claire, what are these books I see on Amazon, and why am I just hearing about this?” “Oh…those…,” I replied weakly (if you can convey such emotion over Facebook IM). My friend was a book publicist, which I guess I knew, and she informed me that we were going to get my writing up and running and into the spotlight it deserved. I had to try to get my ebook noticed, or else.
It was no easy task. I hemmed and hawed and heaved up massive insecurity every step of the way. Putting up a website was terrifying, but with some virtual nudging (well, okay, shoving — she’s most likely not going to read this!) by that old college friend along the way, I got a terrific website designed and implemented. She then told me I had to get reviews, and I went in search of people who would review the book at no cost. I sent out many, many requests (noted on a spreadsheet because that’s just how I live my life), got few replies, and heard from fewer reviewers still who agreed to review the book. It was painful sending out each request, and even more painful to email the ebook on the rare occasions when the reviewer agreed to review them.
Then I got my first Amazon review. When the reviewer told me she’d put the review up, she used “charming” in her email. Wow! I immediately surfed to Amazon to read the review, and it was like a giant weight had been lifted off my shoulders. All the weeks of massive insecurity, all the unanswered emails, all the fear of strangers — gone in a moment. It would return, of course, and quickly, but not that day. It gave me the courage to continue. Shortly thereafter, I published my third ebook on Amazon, this one an urban fantasy/time travel novella. I was still terrified, but I did it. The aforementioned friend encouraged me (there may have been some more nudging, or shoving, involved) to begin entering contests . I also joined LARA, something I had been meaning to do for a while, but had postponed because I feared I would have nothing to contribute to the group. Also, it would mean I was – gasp – committed to being a serious writer!
If it hadn’t been for my insistent college friend/muse, would I have found the courage to do these things? I know that I would have, eventually. She may have expedited my plans, but truly, I wanted to move forward with my plans to turn my avocation into more than just a hobby. I was a bundle of fear, though, content to write but not take risks; to create, but not grow in the creating. But I would have overcome that, one way or another. It turned out that self-publishing the books was easy (thanks to Amazon!); it was the rest that was hard. Believing that I was a “real” author who deserved a web site, and investing in getting one built (which meant giving myself and my work a vote of confidence) was probably the toughest hurdle for me. Then, each time I sent email pitches off to reviewers, I cringed a little bit. But each time I got a positive response, things got a little easier. I no longer feared opening the emails to read their contents.
The feedback hasn’t been universally positive. One reviewer absolutely detested the UF novella and refused to continue reading it. That was hard. Every bump in the road makes me question my ability, but then there comes the reward afterwards which is all the sweeter for the difficult time before it. I currently have an unpublished paranormal entered in several contests. I didn’t place in the first contest, and the old demon insecurity came rushing back. However, less than a week later, I was notified that it had finaled in the second contest. Euphoria!
There are many more bridges to cross. I’ve put in for pitch appointments at the March California Dreaming conference. I have some idea of what a pitch involves, and plenty of time to hone the 8-minute sales proposal. I am not as terrified of beta readers as I was, but I still hold my breath whenever a person has one of my books to review, edit, or critique. The difference between today and back then is that, today, I keep going. It doesn’t take any great skill to keep putting one foot in front of the other, but it does require remembering I am in this for the long haul. Today, I try to remember that everyone is entitled to an opinion and what I love others will hate, and vice versa. Nobody bats 100%. It’s not personal, even though it feels that way. Today, I try to remember that famous writers like J.K. Rowling were rejected dozens of times before getting accepted for publication. My experiences are not unique.
Mostly, today I try to remember that I am a writer. Nothing can change that, and nobody can stop that, except me. At the end of the day, that’s the most important lesson I could have learned.