Somewhere along the way, I lost the spark. My stories collected dust and my writing got rusty. Without even realizing it, I’d given up on my dream.
It wasn’t always this way. When I was in eighth grade, my friends and I would sit in a sheltered nook in the school courtyard, exchanging the stories we’d written throughout the week. I’d always been a ravenous reader with an active imagination, but it was during those meetings that my dream of becoming a published author was born.
But by the spring of 2017, I hadn’t written a word in five years. Then, suddenly, I felt the match strike; the spark rekindled. On a flight back to Arkansas from Texas, I pulled out my journal and wrote six poems in forty-five minutes. The words poured out of me, and my dream of becoming a published author was reawakened. Only, this time, I was determined to make it happen.
One year later, and I’ve done it: I am officially a published author.
Perhaps you’re like me: you once had a dream of becoming a published author, it’s only recently reawakened, and you stand at the opening of the trail, prepared to begin your journey. It won’t be easy, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do it. As I traversed my trail, I learned a few lessons that I want to pass along so you don’t have to learn the hard way.
I have a stack of poetry books on my nightstand published by Andrews McMeel, Penguin Press, Harpercollins, Alfred A. Knopf — household names in the publishing business. When I first started my publishing journey, I wanted to see my name on the spine of a book, right next to the logo of one of those publishing houses.
If they don’t ask to see your book, they won’t look at it.
However, traditional publishing companies don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts; if they don’t ask to see your book, they won’t look at it.
It’s like applying for your first job: the employer wants experience, but you need the job to get experience. How was I going to get Penguin Press to ask me for my manuscript? I wasn’t.
Most authors use an agent to reach out to publishing companies so that the publisher can ask for the manuscript. I was a college student living at home, vacuuming my parents’ living room as rent. There was no way I could afford an agent.
To succeed in traditional publishing you need connections and money, and I had neither. Thankfully, I discovered self-publishing. I realized that there’s an affordable way to put your story into the world, and it doesn’t have anything to do with who you know.
When I first started looking into self-publishing my book, I didn’t like what I saw.
I scanned website after poorly-designed, ill-formatted website, growing frustrated with the selection. None of the so called “self-publishing companies” looked trustworthy, let alone professional. How was I to believe that self-publishing was legit?
Using my admittedly subjective beauty standards, I narrowed down self-publishing companies until I found Pronoun, the self-publishing imprint of Macmillan. The site was gorgeous and very user-friendly, and eased my initial misgivings about the viability of self-publishing. I finally felt confident.
And then, one day in November, I got an email from Pronoun. They were shutting down and would no longer publish new books, effective immediately, and would stop distribution of previously published books after the new year.
I was frustrated. So far, the process had been relatively easy. Even eliminating traditional publishing had been easy. Now I was going to have to search for a self-publishing company all over again.
On my second search, I searched for one that was user-friendly, minimized hidden costs, and didn’t look like they were going to go out of business. IngramSpark, AuthorHouse, Archway—I looked at them all before finally settling on CreateSpace.
CreateSpace was one of those sites I had dismissed in my first campaign. I saw it as an ugly website, and as such, it didn’t meet my standards. Once I looked past its beauty shortcomings, I realized that it was incredibly user-friendly, and was excellent about minimizing hidden costs. They even had an on-site book cover creator. It was better than Pronoun. My confidence returned.
Self-publishing with CreateSpace had major advantages over traditional publishing: since I would be doing all of the work myself, I wasn’t paying an agent to peddle my work, I wasn’t paying an artist to create a cover for my book, I wasn’t paying an editor to nitpick my carefully chosen words. I had complete control of my writing. This expedited the publishing process as well. I wasn’t waiting several months for someone to approve the final edits, I could approve them within a matter of hours or days, especially with the help of a handful of my friends who served as my editors. My only deadlines were the ones I set myself, which made the process fairly stress-free.
I wasn’t paying an agent to peddle my work, I wasn’t paying an artist to create a cover for my book, I wasn’t paying an editor to nitpick my carefully chosen words. I had complete control of my writing.
With CreateSpace, it wasn’t long before I realized my dream of becoming a published author.
If you’ve ever hiked to the summit of a mountain, you know about false summits. You think you’re at the top, only to reach that bend in the trail and discover you still have a bit to go. Publishing is the false summit of being an author.
I’d written thirty poems. I’d gone through the tedious task of researching self-publishing. I’d painstakingly worked through my manuscript line by line, word by word, correcting typos, reformatting, spell-checking, and ensuring the final product was in perfect condition before sending it off to the printer, receiving a final proof, and, at last, publishing my book. I had reached the summit. But there was a new problem.
I never thought about how to get people to read it.
In addition to a publishing plan, I needed a marketing plan, and I didn’t realize that until I hit the publish button on my book. If people don’t know your book is out there, you can’t get it into their hands. Part of the joy of being a published author is having people read your work, but they can’t read it if they don’t know about it.
At the end of the day, I accomplished a goal I’ve had since I was twelve years old: I am a published author. Even if the only people who ever bought a copy were my parents, I’d consider it a job well done. I decided that my voice was worth hearing, and therefore that my poetry was worth publishing.
What’s keeping you from publishing your book? Share some of your story in the comments below.
Aaron, Jennifer, and Simon have been here before. They’ve spent hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars making mistakes you don’t have to make.
Imagine you could spend three months with someone who saved you three years of mistakes and missteps on your journey to becoming a published author. What if they provided shortcuts and revealed blind spots that would have kept you from realizing your dream of becoming a published author?
If you’re ready to become a published author but don’t know where to start or where to turn next, consider registering for BookWorthy. It’s our go-at-your-own-pace course that will teach you how to become a published author, from ideation to publication (and marketing).
It’s our goal that by the end of the course, you’ll hold your own published book in the palms of your hands. Your story is worth publishing.
Josephine Bruce is both a published author and a scientist. When she’s not writing poetry or prose, she’s pursuing advanced studies in geology and watershed science, and currently works in sustainability at her alma mater, the University of Arkansas. She published her first volume of poetry in November 2017.MORE ARTICLES