Full disclosure – I’ve wanted to write fiction novels since I was a kid. Other kids wanted to be scientists or astronauts, but I wanted to be a writer with crazy hair and a bushy beard, looking out at a lake somewhere and bashing away at a keyboard. I used to use my free periods at school to hit the computer lab and write fantasy stories. This is back when the computer screens all displayed a glowing green text and you stored your data on eight inch floppy disks which you scribbled your name on the label of. Eighty mighty kilobytes of data all held in that one fragile square. Those disks were lost to time, unfortunately. To be honest, I’d probably be pretty horrified now if I had the chance to read some of those stories, but at least I was giving it the ol’ Jr. High try.
So after three and a half decades of wanting to do this thing, I started wondering why I wasn’t. What was stopping me from doing this thing that I wanted to do so badly? If you’d asked, I’d have probably told you that working full time to make a little money for myself and a lot of money for the people in charge had me run down. Or that when I got home, there was no way I could do anything but veg out in front of my computer for hours on end playing games, since I was so mentally exhausted from trying to fit into that world. Those things might have had some truth to them.
But I’m older now – and maybe a little wiser. I understand that what we want and what we really want can sometimes be defined by what we actually do when we have the choice. I could write a whole piece on that concept alone, but for now it’s sufficive to say it finally dawned on me that if I wanted to be a writer so badly, I’d better get off my ass and see if it was something I could actually do. Not do in the sense of “am I good enough” (that remains to be seen) but rather, do in the sense of actually sitting down, turning off the distractions, and committing to getting something from my mind out into the physical world.
At the time of this glorious enlightenment I was of the mind that if I could just do that, then I could succeed in the field. Excited, and feeling brazen with enthusiasm for this new journey, I committed to writing at least 1,000 words a day. It went so well that I moved up to 1,500 within two weeks. For three months I wrote, read the story out loud to my wife, contemplated the story out loud to my wife, debated the merits of every possible path out loud to my wife – needless to say, she is incredibly supportive and patient. I was so immersed in the process, I was dreaming scenes. The basic plot had been something I’d been throwing around for years (see above methods of procrastination), but the bulk of everything beyond the first chapter evolved in this way.
Towards the end the excitement grew as I approached completion. I had done it! I had formulated a cohesive plot and put the figurative pen to paper to bring it to life. I was soon to enter the illustrious author’s club, a club that I had secretly yearned to be a part of, self-published or otherwise, since I’d been a child. It felt good. It felt like I’d overcome some personal blockage to make progress on following a dream, because that’s exactly what it was. But as I started looking into the next steps of the process, I began to realize just how out of my depth I was.
I researched for hours - sometimes entire days, things that I hadn’t even considered. How do you get your book published? Do you self-publish or find a literary agent to represent you? What was a literary agent? These things were just the visible tip of an iceberg that was about to crash into the gently coasting pleasure boat that I’d been riding over the last few months. The rabbit hole goes so deep, I started feeling a bit like Alice, wandering through a realm that I didn’t understand, and wasn’t sure I ever would.
How will you market your book so that people are aware it exists? Do you have a website? Social media accounts on every relevant platform? I had a friend tell me that if I didn’t engage Reddit and get my karma up there, my book wasn’t likely to succeed. I didn’t even know how Reddit worked. I started posting questions to people to try and engage them and ask, what I thought, were fairly intellectual questions to start up enticing conversations that would contribute to getting up-votes, or karma. In the end, that entire endeavor just amounted to me desperately trying to get deep with the internet, which had no interest in anything of the sort.
To add insult to injury, I’d compare the lonely estrangement of my deviously contrived postulations to things like - live streams of an eleven year old child who had committed to playing the same thirty seconds of a song on piano for six hours without pause. There were over 5,000 people watching that. There was a live stream of a woman who wanted to share with everyone what it was like walking from her job to her house that thoroughly entertained the 10,000 people who joined to watch. Someone posted the query - “What question sounds dumb, but is actually hard to answer?” It had over 2,000 people respond and up-vote it. And good for them! I am in full support of their success. Sadly, I had no idea how to emulate it, and my Reddit career came to a crashing halt.
I started investigating strategies for launching a novel. You need Advanced Reader Copies sent out to people so that they are ready to review your book on day one. You need to have your marketing strategy ready so that you are launching ad campaigns at the same time you are hitting review quotas and peaking in categories relevant to your story. You need to understand the market, what people are looking for, if the time is optimal for release in your genre, who else is releasing at that time…the list goes on. If I hadn’t pulled myself out of that mire, I’d still be knee deep in the agonizing shame that came with the realization that I had no clue what I was doing.
All of that is before even considering editing, cover art, formatting your novel, looking into copyrights, registering at the library of congress, building a street team for deployment, and so much more. I think I’ve made my point though. I thought writing the book had been the hard part. I thought I’d succeeded. But I’d really only opened the door. It’s been a couple of months now, and I’ve spent every day trying to wrap my head around these things. I’ve put hundreds of hours into following threads like quantum strands - folding in on themselves and splitting into multitudes of possibility, each with the hope that an answer to just one of these questions might lay at the end. But, usually I just emerge with another question. Ah, the internet.
As my knowledge and awareness has grown, the multitude of possibilities has dwindled into vague understanding and questionable decisiveness, and I feel slightly less anxious and overwhelmed. Still, I can’t seem to shake the feeling that I’ll miss some crucial element – that some essential component to putting a book out into the world will slip through the cracks and cause the entire process to collapse. But I’m still here, at it every day, moving forward. The crazy thing is that you can go through all of this and still release a terrible book that no one likes or cares about. It’s all pretty scary, really. But if you want something, you have to try, right? If I’ve learned anything from all of this, it’s that I must really want it, because I’m doing it. Whatever comes from it, I’ll at least be able to tell myself I tried. And that feels like enough for me right now.