Friday, March 1, 2013

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO THE COMPLEX! And the story of how to self-publish a book

A little over a year ago I was toying with the idea of publishing something. Like 92% of my life is spent by me assuming I will die old and alone with a lot of Labradors and a cupboard filled with nothing but Hot Cheetos and Campbell's soup. This was probably one of those times. But, by far the most wonderful person to ever enter my life tricked me into confessing that I like to write (because I literally don't tell anybody) and offered to read The Complex for me.

I was so nervous that I did not sleep.*

Never in my life had I allowed anyone to read something that I had written for leisure. I took a creative writing class in high school and that alone was enough to make me sweaty-palmed for an entire semester. But I trust(ed) this person enough to not look at me any differently after reading my book, and it seemed like a fine idea.

So while my book was being christened, I started researching publishing. I weighed the options
1) Get an agent. Get a publisher. Become Meg Cabot.
2) Publish it myself. Sell billions of books. Do it all while sitting pants-less on my bed and eating Hot Cheetos.

Finding an agent, risking rejection, etc. all seemed like too much work. I decided to just do it myself via Amazon. There are a few reasons why this was so appealing to me:
1 - I had total control over every element of the book
2 - Absolutely ZERO wait time on publishing
3 - I'm just that lazy that I didn't feel like bothering to learn how to get an agent.
4 - I am totally convinced that I am the most brilliant and creative person in the entire world, and thus did not need the help of trained editors, cover designers, advertisers, etc. who literally devote their life to the world of publishing.

So I did a little Googling and learned the ins and outs of what it actually entails to put a book on the internet. I lurked on forums and I read about success stories, and ultimately I came to one giant ass conclusion:
I do not want to be like any of the people on the internet.

Here's the deal: You will find a number of different kinds of self-pub writers on the internet. There are:
1) The elitists.
2) The desperate.
3) The delusional.
4) The successful.

The elitists are generally the authors who were there before self-publishing got really big. They see themselves as the ones who have some undefined right to self-publish, and consider the newbies to be ignorant and desperate to make a buck. In some cases they're right. But the fact that they have developed complex internet and forum-posting-personalities, which they use to simply knock other authors down a peg is annoying.

The desperate are generally the writers who post things like, "Why is nobody reading my book?" "I've only sold five." "You should TOTALLY buy my book." "CHECK OUT MY BOOK PLEASE. IF YOU LIKE HARRY POTTER YOU WILL LOVE MY BOOK." All of this comes, in my mind, from a very innocent place. It's just super weird.

The delusional (which is probably where I fall) are people who genuinely think that they are busting at the seams with talent, cannot understand why they are not millionaires, and generally hate everyone who thinks that their book isn't the next Hunger Games. They do a lot of complaining.

The successful...yeah. They're actually successful.


After coming across all of these different types of people, I basically decided that if I was going to do this, I would do so with my pride intact.
a) I wasn't going to belittle people--like tell authors why their books aren't selling, or tell them what they should be doing with the plot to make it better.** I don't know shit. I give out a lot of advice on my blog, but it's not directed at any one individual. It's basically just what I've deemed acceptable to apply to my own life.
b) I wasn't going to take some of the bad advice I saw on the internet. Like some of the advertising gimmicks that people use. If we're all so brilliant, we would be billionaires. So, no magnet on my car, no friending people on Facebook that have the same name as my book characters, no following 20,000 other writers on Twitter. I admit, these things enticed me for a while. Now, I know better.
c) I wasn't going to force anyone to read my book.
d) I wasn't going to let this be the center of my world. Hence, I went out and got a job.

If you really want to know how to publish a book, here's the deal:
1) It's not impressive. There's no screening process. Don't brag about it at cocktail parties.
2) You're not going to make a lot of money.
3) You're not going to be famous.
4) People will treat your book differently than they will treat a traditional pubbed book.
5) You will take every reaction to the book very personally.
6) I literally cannot describe to you how exhilarating and fun it is.

SO, one year ago (sort of--I published on leap day) on this day, I published a book. Would I do it again? Yeah, I think I did it a couple more times. It was a really fun year for me--I published three books, learned a lot about writing and publishing, made some cash that I use to buy clothes online, and now I have something to show to my kids one day when they tell me that I'm a lame and embarrassing mom (it'll either work as evidence for their claims or a nice debunker--we'll see).

I'm sorry if you read this hoping that you would find the answers to your publishing woes. If you're thinking about publishing a book, don't do it for the money (there ain't none) or the fame (there's less of that than money). Do it because it makes you happy. Because even if you have written the shittiest book in the entire world, something in it is going to resonate with at least one person out there. And if that person shares with you how affected they were by your book--you matter. The joy of self-publishing is that you can do it for any reason that you want--I did it because I wanted a teenage girl somewhere in this country to read my book and love it and feel inspired to write her own one day. That's what women like JK Rowling and Meg Cabot and Judy Blume and Ann Martin and Stephanie Meyer and Suzanne Collins and so many more did for me. And in my mind--and in this market where making money and being famous is about as likely as you dating Taylor Swift (very possible, but still rare)--that's the best motivation in the entire world.

*I overreact to pretty much everything.
**I abhor this. Do not tell a writer what they should have done to their plot, or tell them how YOU would have written it. I always think of this when people do that to me:

If you had invented Facebook you would have invented Facebook. And if you had written The Complex you would have written The Complex.
as well as this:



HAPPY ONE YEAR BOOKIVERSARY TO ME!

-CZ

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