I've been thinking a lot about how much joy this writing journey has brought to my life. It has been a slow burn -- and I think that has contributed to the pleasure.
I mean, when you are sitting at home thinking, hey, I'd like to write a novel someday, you aren't thinking... and once I publish it is going to take years before anyone starts to read my books. You are thinking, bam! This is going to be so great! And it is, but... it is a process. And so, here is a list of some of the many milestones I have observed and celebrated as an indie author.
The Decision: In 2017, I decided it was time to start writing novels. The kids were pretty much grown, and I had a lot more freedom to focus on my own dreams. So, I quit the management job at the pet store, and I took an entry-level position at Indigo Books. It paid the bills (sort of). It also led to me rubbing elbows with authors and wannabe authors, making contacts and the beginnings of a writing community. Working at the bookstore was an incredibly positive experience, and over that year, I completed my first manuscript.
The Writer's Conference. In Fall of 2018, I attended my first ever Writer's Conference. I don't remember much about the teachings, but I did meet Jane, who invited me to join a Writer's Group back home -- which I did. Over meals, I met many different authors in many different stages of their careers, and it struck me again and again that it didn't matter what the genre, it didn't matter the age difference, you sat down beside someone, started talking shop, and the connection was immediate. I had found my tribe.
"I am a writer." At the writer's conference, one of the speakers urged us to refer to ourselves as writers. When people asked about us, she suggested we tell them, "I am a writer." I remember sitting around the tables laughing as we repeated that to one another. "Hey, I am a writer." "I am a writer, too!" It felt a bit fraudulent since there is a difference between being a writer and being a published writer. It also felt liberating, exhilarating, hopeful, prophetic. Soon enough I was addressing myself this way to strangers. At some point, it stopped being awkward and I even came to believe it. Finally, I came to have a legitimate answer for the follow-up question, "Oh? Anything I would know?" And also the ever-popular, "Where can I get your books?"
The first finished book, the first query, and the first agent request to read the full manuscript. All of these had the same sense of elation flooding my mind. When I typed out the last words of my first manuscript, I immediately called my mom to celebrate. When I had the query written, I sat with it open on the computer and stared at it in terror as I worked up the nerve to hit send, and the day I received the request from an agent to read the entire manuscript, I had to go pick up my daughter from her volleyball practice. I told one of her friend's father's, and I literally bounced like Tiger -- just jumped (a small but celebratory jump) in glee in front of him.
Deciding to go Indie. Although I did get positive feedback from the agent I spoke with, it took forever, and then ultimately she realized I was Canadian. Since she only represented Americans, that turned into 'wasted' time. I realized that not only was I far too impatient to wait for months or years to hear back on the publication status of a novel, I was also far too prolific. In the two years it can take for a traditionally published book to get onto shelves, I'd have eight manuscripts completed. Clearly, there had to be a better path for someone like me. So, I uploaded (ahhhhhhhh!) my manuscript to KDP (Amazon) and to Smashwords. Yikes!
Creating Covers This meant that I needed a cover for my manuscript. That has been a whole learning curve unto itself. A friend I know recommended studying other covers in my genre, and I did that. Then I decided I probably wasn't going to be putting the naked chests of men onto most of my covers. It's a personal preference thing. So, I went back and studied the covers of the novelists I myself admire (Nora Roberts, Jill Shalvis, for starters). That became a starting point for learning to create my own book covers. Now I occasionally have the cover created before I have the book written. I use it for inspiration. I also use it for the kick in the butt I sometimes need to keep working. (I want to stop, but I really, really want to get that cover out there!)
First book sold. For me, this was to my mother. Still counted. Plus, she liked it. I have the email chain to prove it.
First royalty cheque. Mine was for something like $1.44. Didn't matter. Not the point. I HAD SOLD A BOOK, AND NOT JUST TO MY MOTHER!
First NaNoWriMo. For those of you who don't know, NaNoWriMo is National Write a Novel in a Month month. It happens in November, and the goal is to write a 50,000 word (minimum) novel in 30 days. The first time I signed up, I was really unsure I could write that quickly, but my son wanted to give NaNo a try together, so I signed up. He only lasted a few days before deciding he was just too busy, but I scribed away. 21 days later, I hit 50,000 words! A few days more, and Rock Bottom Ranch was finished at just over 60,000 words. I was elated. It was a huge confidence boost. Later, when I reread the draft of the book, I was pleased to realize it wasn't even half bad.
First online review. This was absolutely heart-in-the-throat terrifying. In fact, it still is -- every single time. Yet, I figure if you have taken the time to review the book, I need to find the courage to read what you have written and learn from it where needed, whoop it up and dance around my kitchen where merited. The first time, I called my mom and made her stay on the line with me while I read what turned out to be my first POSITIVE review!
First hundred newsletter followers. That was so amazing! I had coasted along haphazardly, chucking out the occasional newsy email and calling it a newsletter, but as I got more studied and more intentional with the application of newsletters for staying in touch with all my readers, the numbers grew. And I am seriously thankful for every single one of you.
First complete novel series. You know you are a real writer when you can say, "I have written an entire series of novels!" I have been able to say that twice now. It was just as exciting the second time as it was the first. Very empowering. Very, "Look what I can do!"
The day I made it to TEN published novels. Yeah, that was a good day. Big happy faces all over the place.
The first Box Set! Okay, this is made and at the publishers. Technically it isn't out until November. BUT, I MADE A BOX SET EVERYBODY!!
There have been a lot of other moments, too. Some are still in the works. For example, I am almost at the 100 copies sold mark for a single title for the first time. For me, this is hugely exciting! There have been public readings (terrifying) and Zoom readings (still terrifying), there have been book signings, and interviews, and the co-worker who bought every title I had because she wanted to 'support me.' And she wouldn't take the discount I offered her, either. There was also that one time when a lady bought a copy of every single title in a single sale! There was that time when the Brooklyn public library bought several copies of my titles! And there was that time when I received a royalty statement -- in Euros! That's right, I am an internationally read author!! Yeah, baby.
There are a couple of different words that come to mind when I think about my writing journey: consuming, exciting, obsession, thrilling, challenging, fabulous, fulfilling, a never-ending learning process, the verbal equivalent of solving a puzzle. The number one word that comes to mind, though, is empowering. I have found what I love to do. Writing novels allows me to voice -- even to a small extent -- the way I see and experience the world. To build worlds and play 'god.' Writing novels allows me to explore ideas of family, of love, of male-female relationships. It allows me to add a little hope and love into a fairly jaded world. It gives me a voice, gives me purpose, gives me pleasure, and helps me to see just who I am and what I am capable of.
Thank you, all, for being part of this continuing journey and celebrating these milestones with me. Here's to more to come!