Why I Decided To Go Punk And Self-Publish My Debut Novel
I’m jealous of my friends in bands — for a farther-reaching reason than because they’re better at karaoke than me.
It’s because they always seem like they’re doing something. They’re releasing singles! They’re dropping music videos! They’re playing shows! They’re having myriad nervous breakdowns via my GChat window. (All y’all are probably thinking that last one was about you — nope, it’s universal. Sit down.)
Writing, however, is an extremely solitary process. For years, writers are just locked in rooms, drooling onto their keyboards and yelling at their cats. There’s a lot of talking to yourself, taking unneeded showers to get the mind-juices flowing and staring into space willing something interesting to manifest.
From the outside, however, we all kind of look like hacks. Our friends wonder if we’re any good. They doubt that we are. Until anything tangible “comes out” — along with wine and cheese and a polite celebratory night at a local bookstore — our writing process basically looks like that scene from “The Shining” to them. Not the one with the river of blood coming down the hallway (that’s how it looks to us) — the one where it’s revealed that all along Jack’s just been typing, “All work and no play makes Jack a very dull boy.”
And if nothing ever does come out… Well, then, no one ever sees it. And that’s the part that sucks. If you can’t get through the gatekeepers, your novel will just sit in a drawer collecting the dust of broken dreams.
The traditional publishing process is slow. And hard. And painful. And right about now, not really getting my motor running if you know what I mean. I want to be like my friends in bands (minus the crippling poverty and fear of showers). I want to put things out into the world and see what happens — even if I get booed or, worse, no one comes to the show.
That’s why I’ve decided to forgo the traditional process (put away my query letters, you know, stop watching my inbox and hyperventilating) and do it myself. Yup, I’m self-publishing my debut YA punk rock thriller, PLACID GIRL — and starting my own press/record label: All Ages Press. After I stop having this panic attack.
That’s about all I can say on that now (so many plans to be made — plus that decision alone was scary enough on its own), but I will bust out this favorite bit from Michael Azerrad’s “Our Band Could Be Your Life” that I find illustrative:
If punk was rebellious and DIY was rebellious, then doing it yourself was punk. “Punk was more than just starting a band,” former Minuteman bassist Mike Watt once said, “it was about starting a label, it was about touring, it was about taking control. It was like songwriting; you just do it. You want a record, you pay the pressing plant. That’s what it was all about.”
DIY or die, right? And I don’t plan on dying.
As I soldier forward into the world of self-publishing (steps have been taken, so this is actually happening — no going back) I decided to turn to those who have been there before for some sage advice.
Check out the below if you’re fixing to join their — and my, I guess — ranks. Also hit me up if you want to hold hands and scream a little. @BrennaEhrlich on the Twitter.
My reasons for self-publishing pretty much boiled down to me not being a patient person. I came to writing YA romantic comedy from a career as a screenwriter, with both film and TV credits. I loved it, however, I was getting frustrated with the speed (or lack thereof) that it took to finally connect stories to their audience. Feeling burned out, and wanting to write something for the pure joy of it, I decided to write a YA story that had been in my head for a long time. Not as a screenplay however, but as a novel. I’d always loved all the youth programming that I’d written for and I’m a huge YA reader. Plus, my heart has always been in writing romantic comedy. Writing that book (which became my first title Sam Cruz’s Infallible Guide to Getting Girls) made me so happy!
That was when I began to consider switching tracks and becoming a YA author. I sent out some queries to agents and got some requests but the entire process was taking a long time. Cue frustration. At that point I had a choice. I could keep querying — perhaps for years — and try to find someone else to publish my work, or I could take advantage of this amazing time we live in, where authors can connect directly to readers, put my years of writing and marketing experience to use, and try and make a go of it as a self-published author. So that’s what I did and four books later, I haven’t regretted it. Finding and meeting readers from around the globe has been the most incredible, wondrous experience. Plus they seem to laugh with me not at me, which does wonders for my fragile writer’s ego.
My advice to anyone considering this choice is that if you are going to self-publish, commit to having an extremely polished, extremely professional project that in terms of story, book cover, synopsis, formatting, editing, whatever can hold its own with traditionally published books. There are a lot of levels at which an author can self-publish. You can literally write a first draft, pay a stranger to format it and throw it up on Amazon, revising as you, yourself improve. I wouldn’t advise this. Self-published works are still held to a different standard than traditionally published novels. To be fair, when a book goes through a publisher, it is going to be edited, proofed, etc etc. Readers deserve that. They are giving our book the most precious gift of their time (and money). So it’s completely understandable that if they’ve invested in our book, it should be a highly professional product. Before I published anything, I decided that if I was going to function as my own publisher, that I’d need to produce my titles the way that the big kids do. So far no complaints.
I decided to self-publish as a major assignment in digital publishing for my Bachelor of Writing & Publishing. It was perfect timing as it was a couple of years ago when the self-publishing boom was beginning and self-publishing authors were selling a million copies of their books on Amazon. It was a gold rush, and by self-publishing as a major assignment, as an experiment, it gave me the freedom to experiment, to really research it all without putting a lot of pressure on the outcome, whether I sold books or not.
Turns out, it was a very successful experiment, I started selling work that had been languishing in computer hard drives for years AND I got a great grade on my assignment!
I think my #1 tip for ALL writers, actually, is to surround yourself with other writers. Self-publishers should especially surround themselves with other self-publishers – and we’re a helpful lot! Having a group of like-minded friends who TRULY understand the ups and downs and can commiserate with you, or perk you up or cheer on your successes is so important to me in this business. You can share each others experiences and brainstorm ideas for marketing and promotion, or help each other out of pesky plot holes and dead ends in your work-in-progress. Writer friends are the best friends for a writer. And you never know what opportunities might come up because of the amazing friends you’ve made!
So go forth and talk to other writers. Who DOESN’T want new friends?
I’d traditionally published several YAs, but my new idea was much edgier and sexier. The self-publishing market was taking off, and I was excited by the thought of doing things myself and reaching new readers. My Melody Grace romance books have blown me away with their success, so when one of my darker YA books, Dangerous Boys, had problems finding a home, I decided to self-publish too.
It’s great to have such a direct connection to my readers, and to be able to respond to what they like. The timetable for self-publishing is whatever you choose to make it, so when readers say they love a character and want a sequel or a spin-off novel, I can make that happen instead of going through submission to editors, waiting a year for their production schedule, etc.
Think about how you’re going to reach your readers. Traditional houses have publicity departments, sales teams going out and talking about your book, and physical distribution that gets your book on the shelf for people to discover. When you self-publish, you lose that machine — but you gain new tools. The indie readership is passionate and vocal on social media, it’s a real community that will welcome you if you take the time to explore and build relationships. Bloggers, Facebook, even Pinterest: There are tons of ways to interact and become visible to readers who might like your book.