Some time ago (in October, which seems like centuries past now) I wrote my annual publishing anniversary post, talking about some things I’ve learned about publishing, writing, and myself over the last year, and the years before, but today I want to talk a bit about my publishing history too, and…my future?
I put a question mark there because it’s difficult to say what will happen in said future. I am confident, certainly, and I know what I think will happen, what I want to happen, but what we want is often not what we get — because often, what we get is in so many ways much better and stronger than what we want.
Such has been the case with my self-publishing: it has certainly not been anything I thought it would be, but in many ways it has been better, because I’ve learned so much from it, and have seen a side of myself that I would not have seen otherwise.
. . . .
I am twenty-three now, soon to be twenty-four, and I still get strange looks, snide comments, and the like when I tell people that I am an author. They haven’t gone away, though through the years I have met people who can recognize that it doesn’t matter how old you are — all that matters is the words — and those people constantly lift me up. So what if I’m not even twenty-five yet? Who said an author had to be older? Authors are as various as the stories that are penned, and that is a good thing. Age difference, background, religion, experience: all of these things give us different perspectives that should be respected, not tossed into the void.
Over four years ago (I started querying at about 17, I think), as the rejection letters poured in, and the market went crazy, and I searched for some way to be a writer despite the scowls I was receiving, I walked into a bookshop. It was a little bookshop, cozy and quaint, with wonderful shelves and a little cafe. On the side there was a large room where they held art classes for kids, and in the back there was a small cinema where they played old-fashioned cartoons, and independent, and black-and-white films. My mother and I happened upon the bookstore simply by chance — if you believe in that sort of thing.
Inside I searched, wide-eyed, as I do whenever I go into a bookstore. Fingers drift over spines, I inhale the sweet, musty smell of old pages, and the books seem to speak to me. Bookstores are a beautiful thing. But the real magic came when I went to pay for my books, and met the owner of the bookshop. I am ashamed to say that I cannot remember her name — I’ve always been terrible with names — but I can remember her face. She was a middle-aged woman, perhaps nearing her fifties, and she had curling hair, pulled back, brown. The air of an author hung about her, the air of literary dignity, and she thanked us for coming into the store. Then she mentioned her books, and pointed them out to us. They stood directly behind me on a loving little shelf of their own: children’s books with unique covers, which reminded me of mosaic stones. I flipped through the books and was amazed, and then I told her the terrifying truth: that I was a writer, too.
Only this woman didn’t scoff, didn’t judge. She was happy to hear it, and she asked me what I wrote, if I was going to get published, how long I had been writing. Finally, I was a peer instead of a sad little teenage girl with a dream she couldn’t possibly fulfill until she was at least fifty (because aren’t writers supposed to be at least fifty, maybe forty, maybe in their late thirties, if they’re lucky?). We talked for quite a while, and it felt amazing, to finally be considered a writer — and especially by someone who was published! But then she told me that she had published herself, and that I should look into it.
I’ll admit, I was skeptical. Self-publishing was still considered…eh…at that point, despite the fact that some people were doing quite well selling e-books . . . . But with the mass of rejections, and the fact that nobody seemed to want to take me seriously due to my age, I decided to look into it.
. . . .
Through my four years self-publishing I have released nearly twenty books, though not all of them are still published — due to the fact that many of them have been experiments, have been ways for me to try different writing techniques, release times, story ideas, both to see what works in the market and what doesn’t; the information alone is very valuable to me. I have had several bestsellers on Amazon — not all of them free, though that still technically counts…in a way.
. . . .
Despite the difficulties, what I was given was, while not what I wanted, exactly what I needed. It has made me stronger, as trials do, and now I’m ready to take on the next leg of my journey.
What might that be, Alexandra? Well: querying. Things truly do come full circle.
Though I have enjoyed many things about self-publishing, I have come to understand that it simply isn’t the best route for me. I have never given up my hope and dream of one day being part of a large team, part of a publishing house, of seeing my book on the bookstore shelves (say what you like about print, but it still means the world to me), seeing my name and my book listed on a publisher’s site — and I’ll admit, a film would be great, too…or maybe a musical, a la Wicked; I aim high, always. This is my dream, and I’m prepared to fight to the death for it. It may take years, much sweat and tears, but nothing worth having comes easy.