A year ago, I declared that I was going to spend 2013 working on writing and self-publishing – that I was going to take time away from having a day job by cashing in some stocks and living off that money for a year. I’m here today to tell you how that went.
It . . . didn’t go very well.
Here’s what I said back at the beginning of last year:
I set myself a very simple victory condition. The goal is simply to do it. If my goal had been that in one year’s time, I would be earning a living wage from self-publishing, I would just be setting myself up for failure. But my only goal here is just not to walk away from it. As long as I’m still concentrating on my writing career by the time I cross the finish line a year from now, I can call this year a success.
I’m sure that within that year’s time I will manage to become more successful. I’ll manage to increase my sales a little bit and get my name out there more. The only hope here is to bump the needle a little — to lay the groundwork for a writing career that, hopefully, will someday earn me a living. I’m going to try to set specific, measurable goals during the next year in order to see if I’m on the right track, but I’m going to try not to stress over them too much. This is just to see if I can actually do the work, and that depends solely on me.
After that, my year got off to a pretty good start. I ran a book giveaway promotion that put me, however briefly, at the top of Amazon’s Top 100 lists, both for free books and paid. After that, I started my main project – revising a novel that I’d written about a decade ago, to get it into good enough shape to publish.
That went well, although it took even more time than I expected it to – I thought it was going to need a quick polish and a few minor changes, but with the help of my writer friend Elisabeth Knottingham, I soon realized there were parts of the plot that needed reengineering. While we were going back and forth over the final draft, I also started a new project – a new novel that’s really quite different from anything I’ve ever published before.
Unfortunately, that’s about when things started to go off the rails:
I’ve actually been having a hell of a hard time lately, even though I really haven’t talked about that much here. Left to my own devices, having no other obligations other than simply to write hasn’t been the liberating experience I thought it would be. It’s been paralyzing. On days when I’m not feeling too overwhelmed and depressed to sit down at the keyboard, I too often find myself instead sitting there in a blank state of free-floating anxiety – elevated heart rate, shallow breathing. [....]
Another big issue I have at the moment is that my current work-in-progress is very, very different in style and tone from anything I’ve ever published, and so [I'm afraid] that I’m not writing what everyone wants from me, even though I think what I’m writing is fun and good and even though everyone I’ve described the project to seems very enthusiastic about it. I still can’t seem to just relax and let myself work on it.
Part of the problem is that I had gone off my meds. My prescriptions for depression, diabetes, cholesterol, and high blood pressure had all expired, and I needed to find a new doctor but I kept being too anxious and depressed to actually do it, and the longer I put it off, the worse the situation got. It was an incredibly stupid vicious cycle, and I knew that at the time, but that didn’t make it any easier to get out of it.
I managed to finish revising Still Life and get it published. But after that, I had a couple of setbacks.
I tried to buy ad space in the BookBub newsletter. I heard they were pretty selective about the books they were willing to promote, but I was pretty confident – Still Life was getting good reviews on Amazon and it had a sharp, professional-looking cover. But they turned me down. This really rattled me – for one thing, it really made me start second-guessing myself in terms of the quality of my work, but mainly, it left me thinking, what the hell do I do now? Most of the tips and tricks that had lead others to self-publishing success over the past few years were no longer effective in the face of changing Amazon algorithms and policies, and as of mid-2013, BookBub was the 500-pound gorilla of book promotion. Most indie authors considered them the only game in town. So where did that leave me?
The more serious setback was that the mysterious chronic pain I’d been having in my left hand finally flared up in my right hand as well. I’d been getting by pretty well with a one-handed keyboard layout, but this left me practically unable to use a keyboard and mouse at all for more than a few minutes at a time.
This seriously cut into my ability to work. I never had quite gotten used to using voice recognition software to write fiction, and the limited time I could spend on the computer meant that all my promotional activities basically stopped as well, and therefore my sales dropped to practically nothing. My inability to work sent me spiraling down even farther into depression. My general health crashed pretty hard around this same time.
I honestly think this was the hardest, darkest period of my life. During that whole time, I managed to write exactly one short story, a submission for an anthology I desperately wanted to be in.
That little victory helped. With the support of my friends, I finally managed to force myself to go see a doctor and get back on my medications, and that helped pull me back up out of the place I was in.
I’m starting to feel better, but my year is over, and I need to start looking for a job again. (Although I’m not sure what kind of work I can do with my hands in their current condition.) Looking back at the past year, I’m forced to realize that almost half of it was largely wasted.
I’m trying not to beat myself up too hard over this. I didn’t manage to meet even my simple goal of “just keep at it,” and it’s hard not to look back at that and feel like I failed. Extenuating circumstances or not.
But dammit, Still Life is finished. It’s out in the world, finally. Even if I could only accomplish one thing in 2013 – that’s a hell of a thing to accomplish.
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