Decisions, Decisions

IWSG

The idea of self-publishing used to terrify me, but not for the reason one might expect. It had nothing to do with a fear of failure; as an overweight, divorced, bankrupt and often-unemployed woman nearing her fiftieth birthday, I pretty much deal with failure on a daily basis. Believe me, I could write a long and detailed blog post about all of the areas in my life where I have failed.

I fail at a lot of things, and I usually do so spectacularly.

I am not afraid of failure.

But I was afraid to be a self-published author.  You see, I heard all the horror stories. I read the warnings when I haunted the writing forums to learn what the self-published authors were talking about. I learned terms like “carpet bombing” and “Goodreads bullies” and “trolls” and I almost bailed without ever trying.

It was intimidating. No, it was terrifying to think that years of hard work and effort could all be washed down the drain for reasons that had nothing to do with writing skills — or lack thereof. I was afraid to self-publish because I was worried about ending up on the wrong side of the wrong people. I was scared of pissing off someone who might take revenge on my book, because, hey, I read about it happening all the time.

But I have never been able to resist a challenge, so I swallowed my fear and self-published Her House Divided in February of 2014. I made a lot of mistakes and I realized that I had a huge learning curve ahead of me, but it’s been a great ride. A bumpy ride, but still a  thrilling one.

And the people I was warned about? Yep, they exist. Trolls and Bullies and Whackadoodles, oh my!

But I’ve learned that those guys are the minority. A noisy minority, to be sure, but a minority nonetheless. For the most part, the world of self-publishing has turned out to be filled with helpful, supportive, and productive people who really do seem to look out for each other. I have been so warmly welcomed into the community by writers in every genre, at every different stage in their writing careers.

It’s a matter of finding the supportive people and walking away from the destructive ones.

Easier said than done, right?

Here’s how I see it. I can go to the writing forums and spend my time with the people who want to look for the negative in everything. I can argue with every writer who swears Amazon is stealing their money or lying about their sales, and I can end up embroiled in unproductive arguments about every aspect of writing and publishing. In the end, it would be sort of like arguing with a rattlesnake to convince it that it’s a garter snake — it’s an argument I can’t win, and I’ll just end up filled with venom.

Or . . . . I can surround myself with the kind of professionals who understand that we are all part of the same community.That’s been the “bumpy” part of the learning process I referred to earlier. I’ve wasted far too many hours over the past year and a half, spent far too much time around the kind of folks who are more concerned with dragging down than raising up.  

For every author who spends their time mocking a particular genre or writer, there are authors like Marysol James and Mae Martini, who are always ready to offer honest feedback and practical suggestions of what works for them.  There’s an M. Lauryl Lewis  standing by to chit-chat about marketing strategies and share her ideas.

For every author who takes delight in the poor sales of a competitor, there is a Nancy Gideon offering words of encouragement instead.  There’s a Jasinda Wilder reaching out to say “Don’t be jealous of me honey! … Just keep writing. Get the next book out because that is more room on the shelf. I’m rooting for you.”

For every angry blogger posting insults and criticisms aimed at their fellow writers, there are bloggers like Ryan Lanz, Chris McMullen and Kristen Lamb, who use their blogs to offer guidance and support to their fellow writers.  And let’s not forget that Kristen Lamb is also responsible for creating the “MyWANA” hashtag, which is there to remind us all that we are not alone.

We are not alone. That’s what Alex Cavanaugh and his Insecure Writers Support Group are all about. We share our insecurities, and our fellow writers swoop in to offer advice or encouragement, or sometimes just a bit of virtual online hand-holding when needed.

If you go into self-publishing expecting trolls and whackadoodles, chances are good that you’re going to find exactly what you’re looking for. So why not look for something better? Be something better. Surround yourself with those who lift each other up, and try to do a little lifting yourself when you can.

In the week ahead, I want to challenge all of you to step out of your comfort zone and do something nice for another writer. Share a link to someone else’s book. Leave a comment on a blog you’ve never visited before. Reach out and offer a word of encouragement to an author who’s dealing with slow sales or a bad review.

Make a choice. What kind of writer do you want to be?

This has been my monthly post for the Insecure Writers Support Group. If you are a writer struggling with insecurities or just in need of a little support, please check out this FABULOUS group of wonderful people!  http://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com/p/iwsg-sign-up.html

Climbing out of the Envelope

Just because my life wasn’t hectic enough, I recently decided to add one more activity to my already over-booked schedule. But I’m not allowed to complain because I did this to myself.  Besides, the payoff is already enormous.

I signed up for a free writing workshop taught by one of my new heroes, Ami Hendrickson, and I swear I come home every Wednesday night with my brain exploding with new knowledge while my newest book is screaming to get out of me. After an hour and a half in her workshop, I can see so many places in my work where I’ve done something wrong.

At the same time, though, I see so many places where I’ve done something right.  And then I get all giddy and self-congratulatory because I got it right without really knowing exactly how I got it right.

Here’s the thing. I’ve always been a strong believer in continuing education. I will never know all there is to know about writing; I will never reach the point at which I am the best I am ever going to be.  Being a good writer is all about learning and growing, evolving into something bigger and better with each story or book that I write. I am constantly working my way through workbooks and how-to manuals and I take every RWA class I can jam into my schedule. I read articles and blog posts by people like Kristen Lamb and Ryan Lantz, and I absorb every possible bit of information I can find.

But I haven’t taken an actual sit-down creative writing class since my college days. And to be perfectly honest, Dr. Schiffer was more of a facilitator than an instructor. He would sort of throw topics at us and then sit back and nod sagely when we read our assignments aloud the next day. We were a bunch of college kids who went a little crazy with the lack of structure or rules, and I seem to remember that we wrote some really bad stories and poetry with a lot of swearing and sex simply because we had no one telling us that we couldn’t.

The greatest thing I learned from Dr. Schiffer was his insistence that “you can’t climb out of the envelope with your work.” When we read our work out loud in class, he wouldn’t let us spend any time on setting it up. It had to stand on its own, without any introduction or explanation.  Over the years, I have remembered that bit of advice every time I complete a story or novel and put it out there for critique or review.

Now, thirty years later, I’m attending a workshop that is absolutely blowing my mind. And not just because I’m learning about ways to structure my books better. I’m learning how to better mesh my blog with my books, how to turn a “great idea” into something more, and how to write faster, more efficiently. Even more important than all of that, Ami Hendrickson is teaching us about networking with other writers at our same level so we can help each other and grow together.

Once again, I’m delighted to discover that truly professional and successful writers are all about support, all about raising each other up, all about helping each other and learning to accept help when we need it. Our work may have to stand on its own, but we don’t have to. We stand with each other.

Yeah, I have to say it again: I love being a writer. If you love it too, take the time to find a workshop or class or some kind of in-person experience with other writers. You stand to gain so much more than just a little bit of knowledge.