Lessons learned after six months of being a self-published author

ProdigyProdigy (formerly Shores of Redemption) has been available to the world for six months. Now that the newness of seeing my name in print has worn off a bit, I’m able to reflect on how I feel about the whole thing and what I learned along the way. My treasured novel, which was born on the shores of Australia during a ministry trip, was cultivated and molded over the course of an inspiringly painful year. I loved writing it. I loved getting it critiqued even more.

Every Wednesday night I’d show up at a little coffee shop/café, order a glass (or two or three) of wine, and sit down with other authors who inspired and encouraged me. They gave me the courage to write about difficult topics, to challenge myself and try something new.

It was, hands down, one of the best years of my life. Looking back, there was a lot that went wrong that year. But, somehow, those Wednesday nights made it all okay.

When the book was finished and it had gone through its two separate rounds of professional edits, I had a product that made me proud, and not just because I had finished a novel. It was actually my tenth novel, so in itself, completing it was not that much of a feat. What made me proud was what the novel represented.

For the first time in my life I was part of something. Those Wednesday night writers were important to me, as were the critiques and dreams we shared with each other. I loved those passionate, funny people who were often moody and intense, like me. And even now, when I flip through Prodigy or catch a glimpse of the prose during my marketing efforts, I see them in it.

I remember their advice, their kind words, and even some of the harsh critiques. All of it mattered, because it propelled me to the next level. One fellow writer once told me “you aren’t enough for this book.” It took me a long time to understand what he meant. I’m still not sure I fully understand his meaning, but I do know that it forced me to dig deeper, to make myself worthy of writing about my chosen topic.

What followed were months of self-evaluation as I rewrote (and rewrote and rewrote and rewrote…) the book. I didn’t have experience with drug abuse, and no amount of time spent Googling “heroin use” was going to make me understand enough to give my book the validity it deserved. I was never going to know enough. I had to look deeper to find the parts of myself that would be enough for Grace’s story.

I found what I was searching for, and it was not a pleasant experience. I had to dredge up a lot of past pains. In the end, I had a book that mirrored every bit of me, but also every bit of each person in that writer’s group who led me on a deeper journey than they even know.

Like most writers, my book became very personal to me. I self-published it because it is not a commercial story. I do not think anyone goes into a bookstore thinking “Gee, today I’m in the mood for a book about a drug addict and her self-destructive behavior.” It was also very near and dear to my heart, so I had a strong desire to keep it there. I wanted full control over the art of it. I also write commercial fiction, and one of my other books is in the final stages of being considered by a top publisher. That book is also very close to my heart, but I know that traditional publishing is the right path for that particular story. For Prodigy, indie publishing was the way to go.

Six months later I have to admit I’ve become disillusioned. Because this book is so personal to me, the fact that it hasn’t received the support I had hoped for, and even expected, is disheartening.

I read somewhere that a self-published author can expect 25-50 reviews from family and friends, and so a book isn’t really taken seriously until it receives more than 50 reviews. Prodigy has received three reviews.

And so, as I look back at the last six months I have to say that I am a little older, and a little wiser. The hard truth is that no one is obligated to support anyone, and not receiving support isn’t necessarily an indication that I or my book is unworthy. It just means that sometimes people will matter more to me than I matter to them.

A long time ago a pastor said to me: “It’s not all about you.”

How true that is. And it doesn’t mean I’m a bad person, or that my book is bad. It simply means people are people.

This situation – self-publishing and the rest – has made me a little more self-aware, a little less dependent on others, and a little more cautious of my expectations. I’ve learned that giving my book to people who know me is not a good idea. It makes them feel obligated, and it makes things awkward if they don’t like the book, or worse, don’t even read it. And let’s face it, when an indie author hears a friend say “I love it!” she doesn’t take it seriously anyway.

There are many more failed writers than successful ones, but you only ever hear about the successes….the J.K. Rowlings and the Kathryn Stocketts, who persevered and overcame years of rejection to finally “make it.” The truth is, they are the exception, not the rule. There are many more good writers than there are popular ones, but whether or not you consider yourself a success all depends on your definition of that word. If your definition is reliant on what other people think of your work, you won’t ever be successful enough for your own comfort. You’ll never sell enough books because your idea of success is built on a variable: people.

For me, I shared my book with people because I wanted to share this little bit of myself, especially to those who were beside me on the journey. It wasn’t to get them to write reviews, or to tell me how talented they think I am, or even to just hit the “share” button on some of my Facebook posts about the book. Even so, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t resentful of the way it all turned out and what this experience has revealed about my relationships.

I take comfort in knowing that this has thickened my skin. I am hard at work on another book, marketing Prodigy whenever I can, starting a book cover design business, and waiting anxiously for “the call.” Regardless of how that all turns out, I know I’ll keep writing.

For now, I’m taking solitary time with my craft. My ship may never come in, but I’m learning a hell of a lot while waiting on the dock. Maybe one day I’ll learn how to build my own boat and reach success in a way I never expected.




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