I have just self-published my first novel, Unspeakable Things. It's a psychological suspense mystery about motherhood and madness – thank you for asking.
Now I am like a hermit with a megaphone – I have to shout about it – all the self-marketing check-lists say so – but with every shout/post/tweet I want to apologise for being so noisy and go back to hiding in my cave.
Everything about self-publishing means breaking out of your comfort zone and doing something frightening.
First you have to show your writing to someone. In my day job, I’m a book editor. I recently received the first chapter and synopsis of an 800-page novel. The writer has also written an 800-page sequel, but had never before dared to show the works to anyone. Imagine having that dedication to writing, but being afraid to reveal it to the world – and I think you’ve had a glimpse into the mind of most writers.
Showing you work makes you deeply vulnerable, like tearing out a lump of your soul and letting someone judge it. They might crush your dreams. Your outpourings might be unworthy of the world’s attention.
Being an aspiring writer is like being an out-of-work actor or a bathroom singer: you have an urge to express yourself, but no one is listening. What if you’re the hapless singer in those early auditions for the X Factor – talentless and deluded?
But if you don’t show anyone your writing, you’ll write your way into a dead end. You’re so familiar with your work that you can’t see it as a reader – you have no idea what’s good or bad about it.
I remember my fear and trembling as I sat waiting to meet my literary consultant, Lorna Fergusson. Everything I cared about might be shot down in flames.
But afterwards, I knew I’d done the right thing. I had a project with real potential. I had a clear way forward and hope again.
Show someone professional
Friends and family are too kind or too hurtful. Editors and literary consultants are encouraging, honest, unbiased and clear.
Lorna showed me what was working and what I needed to change. This, and my relentless re-editing in the light of her comments helped me make Unspeakable Things good enough to publish.
The beast at the gate
The next hurdle was my phobia of online forms. They fill me with self-loathing, because I shouldn’t be frightened – but every glitch, time-out or error message panics me so much that I can’t remember a sensible thing.
Even paper forms do this to me if they relate to finance, and don’t even say ‘tax’ to me – it’s a horrible swearword.
Yet I was going to self-publish through Createspace and Kindle Direct Publishing. I had to upload my files and fill in my details on two huge online forms which are notoriously difficult to conquer.
I had wanted to publish a novel since I was five years old. Now my lifelong dream was like a beautiful garden guarded by a monster.
When two fears fight
I put it off and put it off. The files weren’t ready. It wasn’t the right time of year. I’d do it when someone was there to help me. In the end, my fear of never getting published was as powerful as my fear of the forms. I was riven by anxiety. I had to do something.
And so one day I just did it. I sat down and tackled Createspace. It took a couple of hours, a lot of research, a foray into forums about US tax exemption and a lot of keeping calm under pressure. But I did it.
You know why they say ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’? Because that’s how we overcome phobias. After Createspace, I felt invincible. I had learned that mistakes and glitches are not the end of the world, and once you’ve worked through a few error messages, you get skilled at overcoming them. Panic subsides, your brain restarts, and everything is easier with it working.
I was barely even anxious about Kindle Direct Publishing. It took a while and there were glitches, but I got through it, and at the end there was a button that said, ‘PUBLISH’.
Reader, I published it.
I suspect that most things worth achieving are guarded by monsters of our own making. We are brilliant at finding reasons to stay within our comfort zones. But with every beast we slay, we grow and thrive.
Do you have a lifelong dream you haven’t achieved yet? Are you afraid you’ll never make it, but also afraid to try? I’ve been there and would love to hear from you!