A Winding Path to Five Figures A Year

I think I know by now the “best” path to being successful at self-publishing. Write in a popular genre (billionaire romance, LitRPG, reverse harem, space opera, thrillers, etc.). Write in a series. Release frequently. Price competitively.

But after four years at this, I’ve come to realize that knowing something and doing it are two completely different things. And that I am not going to be that person that writes a book a month. (Or if I do write a book a month it’ll be a non-fiction title one month, a romance novel the next, and a fantasy novel the month after that.) And that if I do write to market, I’ll likely lose interest and not continue on that momentum even when it’s obvious that the written to market title performs the best with the least effort and expense. (I’m looking at you billionaire romance serial.)

There are MANY days where I wonder if I’m being a fool for continuing to do this self-publishing thing, because there are other ways for me to make far more money than I do at this. But I like it. I don’t know why. (Having my pup curled up asleep five feet away and not having a boss or co-workers is probably a good part of it…)

It helps that over the last four years I have seen steady progress. Even though I’d love to be in the high five-figures or low six-figures, this year I did manage to break into at least the low five-figures.

So I’m here as proof that it’s possible to write what you want, self-edit, do your own covers, be generally anti-social in terms of group promos and FB and Twitter, and still do alright. It’s not the fast path to success. Let’s be clear about that. But it’s also not the “oh my god, you will forever lose money and suck” path either.

Because I’ve taken such a convoluted path to get to where I am right now, it’s hard to tell someone else how to take that path. So this advice is going to be a little high-level. More strategy than tactics, I guess.

1. Don’t Be Afraid to Fail and Don’t Quit If You Do

The first title I self-published was Don’t Be a Douchebag. At the time I still fully expected that I would go the trade-publishing route with my novels, but I got annoyed with my experiences online dating and decided to write a book about it. I had no interest in building a platform, which is what a publisher would require, so I just put the book up on Amazon.

It had a horrible cover. Horrible. So bad I will not post it here. About the only thing I got right on that cover was the color scheme for dating books for men. It was that bad.

The title barely sold. Following up on the horrible cover I then did a free run on the book. Why? I had nowhere for readers to go. Maybe I thought they’d leave a review. (They didn’t.) But I had no plan or strategy or idea of what I was doing. I just knew other people offered books for free, so I did too.

A few months later I actually unpublished the title for a while. (I thought it was maybe a little harsh and I felt bad about being so mean to men who were just trying to meet someone and generally clueless about how to do so.)

But eventually I republished it and put the book into audio. And, while they’re not impressive numbers for fiction, that title has now sold over 300 copies, mostly in audio, is nicely profitable, and continues to sell every month with no or minimal effort on my part.

That book was a failure. I did everything wrong when I published it. Bad cover, no promo followed by bad promo, and I let my family buy copies which meant the also-boughts were a nightmare. But eventually it found it’s own little niche. (In 2016. It was published in 2013.)

2. A Book Doesn’t Have to Succeed Immediately

Douchebag is an example of this, too, but the first romance novel I published proves the point as well. That book came out in December 2014. It was the second novel I’d ever written and the first I self-published. They say we all have a therapy novel in us–that novel that’s sort of exorcising your demons. This one was mine. I was supposed to be writing an MG fantasy novel while I was living in Prague and instead I ended up writing this thing. (It originally ended with them not getting together because the whole point of writing it was to point out how they shouldn’t get together. Who needs a therapist when you have writing, right?)

Anyway. I wrote this novel even though I had no intention of becoming a romance novelist. So I self-published it. And it sold. It made me something like $400 in the first month. Which for me at the time was a big deal.

But I wasn’t looking to write romance novels and instead of saying to myself, “Aha, I’ve found what sells,” I wrote a series of books about managing your money.

Now, conventional wisdom is that since that book didn’t sell thousands when it was released, that it was dead and not worth following up on. (And I think that may be good advice if you’re writing to market. I have a theory on written-to-market titles versus “evergreen” titles and how the sales curves behave for each one.)

But after a few years I suddenly had the urge to write a follow-up novel featuring a minor character from the first book. So I did. And somehow, between the release of that second book, a free run on book 1, KU, and AMS ads, that novel that I published in 2014 made me close to $3,000 this year. (And probably would’ve made me a lot more if I hadn’t randomly decided to pull it from KU to try for a Bookbub.)

So don’t give up on a title just because it doesn’t go gangbusters right away. Especially if it wasn’t written to a hot market.

3. Experiment

Both of the above examples teach another lesson. And that’s the importance of experimenting. At a time when people were saying that AMS ads were horrible and too expensive, I started to try them out. And they did well for me. I had a product display ad on that romance novel that cost me $8 and led to $100+ in sales. (They’ve since fixed the glitch that made that possible.) And a large part of the sales of that novel this year were also due to AMS.

Will you always succeed with experiments? No. I paid far too much for Early Bird ads this year that were not worth it. But you don’t know if you don’t try.

With Douchebag, putting the title into audio worked. If I hadn’t done that, that title would be doing nothing for me right now.

I also move titles into and out of KU. Some do well wide, some don’t. Some do well in KU for a bit and then die off. Without trying, how do you know? And the “nice” thing about having a low-performing title is that you have nothing to lose by trying something new except maybe a little time and possibly some money. There is no momentum to lose, there are no fans to anger. When you’re small, you have far more flexibility than when you’re big.

4. Sometimes It’s Better to Be Cheap

This one is dicey. And I know I’m going to get kickback on it, which is why I stay out of these discussions on any public forum. But I’m trying to give an alternative view here, so I’m going to talk about this even though I’ll probably regret it.

Conventional wisdom is that you should have a gorgeous cover and professionally edited book. And I get the argument for putting out the best product you can. But I think for a lot of newer writers, including myself, they don’t have the experience to judge a good product from a bad one. I have seen more than one post by an author who said, “why am I getting complaints about how my book needs to be edited? I paid for an editor!” And more than one author who asked why their book wasn’t selling who had an attractive cover that was absolutely not a good fit for their genre.

And even when you do get it right, it takes a lot to earn back those expenses. I have twenty-six “series” that I track. These are groups of books, like Excel Essentials which includes Excel for Beginners and Intermediate Excel, that I treat as part of the same advertising group. All but five of those groups are profitable when I look at money made from sales versus money spent on advertising, covers, and editing.

Only one series is in the red more than $50, and that’s my Rider’s series. I would argue that the covers for those books are gorgeous and hit their market. But they were expensive covers and I’m still paying for them.

All those other series where I did the covers myself? They’re profitable. The one where I put up the big bucks is not.

Fact of the matter is, most newer writers have an issue that no amount of editing or cover will overcome. And that’s that they wrote a book that isn’t hitting the market and no amount of paid promo, beautiful cover, or perfect implementation of Strunk & White is going to help.

Most authors would be better off spending a small amount of money on their initial book or two, learning the ropes, and then spending big money once they have an idea of what they’re actually doing. (In my opinion. Yes, there will be a handful of authors every year who would’ve taken off if they’d done it all “right” up-front, but there are far, far more who spend money they shouldn’t on a first book. You can always change covers or even re-edit a book later. You can never go back if the launch of that first book breaks your soul and your bank account at the same time.)

5. Rules Schmules

What most writers focus on when judging one another’s writing is not what most readers focus on. A few years back my mom gave me some Nora Roberts books to read. And after I’d done so I asked her what she thought of the head-hopping that occurs in those books. (The ones she gave me were 90% third-person limited but Nora would jump into someone else’s head for a sentence or two when she felt like it.)

My mom hadn’t noticed. She’d probably read a hundred books by the woman and never picked up on the head-hopping.

There was some other author she read who switched between present and past tense in a way that annoyed me, but my mom hadn’t noticed that one either. All my mother, and most readers like her, wants is to be entertained. She wants to lose herself in the story.

Writers get caught up in technical rules that readers don’t care about and they forget that the goal they need to focus on is writing an entertaining story (for fiction) or an informative book (for non-fiction). That’s what readers care about, not whether you use “whom” correctly.

For example, I use alright. Happy to do so. It’s a conscious, deliberate decision I’ve made. When I say, “Alright now, let’s talk about x” that is one word to me, not two. But there are grammar purists out there who would probably be horrified to read anything I write because of that. (Fortunately, those people are not the bulk of readers.)

I went to Stanford, have an MBA from Wharton, worked in high-paying consulting jobs, and have read thousands of books, and the first time I ran across this “all right” issue was when I bought a copy of Strunk & White. Until then I’d always thought it was “alright.” After careful consideration, I still do.

Language evolves. Writing styles evolve. The question is: are you finding the readers who can read what you write in the way you write it and enjoy it? If yes, keep on keeping on. If no, consider a change.

6. We’re All Different

That leads me to my final point or piece of advice. We’re all different. We all have different strengths and weaknesses. What works for one writer (detailed plotting, for example) may not work at all for another. The thought of creating a five-page character profile horrifies me. So does letting people read what I’m writing before I think it’s a polished product. For others that’s their jam.

So if some bit of advice isn’t working for you, don’t listen to it. If you’re looking for solutions to a problem, then absolutely try different approaches or techniques. But don’t let someone else tell you the path to take or the way to do this thing if it doesn’t work for you. I get bored writing the same thing. I know it’s the successful way to do things, but it’s not me. I’ve had to find a non-traditional path to where I am because I couldn’t follow the one everybody swears by.

For me it was a question of doing it my own way and continuing to make forward progress or letting all those other voices into my head and getting nowhere. Find what works for you and what makes you happy. No one else has to get up and live your life everyday. You do. So do what works for you. (Easier said than done, by the way.)

Conclusion

I don’t know if any of that helped. I hope it did. This post wasn’t for those who want to skyrocket up the charts. My approach is not the way to do that. It’s for those who are struggling to get off the ground and want a bit of hope that they can do so even if they don’t follow the “correct” path.

Will I be able to improve on this year next year? I hope so. With writing there seem to be some natural support levels.  I hung out in the $300-$400 a month range for months with an occasional foray into $800 a month before I suddenly popped up to $1500 a month and have held steady above $1000 a month now since June.

But this self-publishing thing is a constantly moving target. What worked yesterday may not work tomorrow. What’s popular will change, what advertising works will change, and so will price trends. You have to be willing to try new things and to not quit.

(And, honestly, quitting isn’t such a bad thing. Read Seth Godin’s The Dip sometime. For some it’s a matter of pushing through, but for some it’s realizing there’s a better place to focus your efforts. Only you can tell which one you are.)

Anyway. Here’s to 2018, whatever it may bring.

AMS: A Tale of Three Ads

Here is a screenshot of statistics for three of my AMS ads:

December 2017 Top 3

One is a non-fiction title, one is fantasy, one is romance. If you look at the far right-hand column, you can see that the non-fiction title has an ACoS of just 33%, the romance title has an ACoS of 255%, and the fantasy novel is at 123%.

If you were just judging the ads by ACoS you’d probably think “shut down the fantasy and romance ads”, right? I mean, if you assume a 70% payout then anything above that is losing money.

But not so fast…

There are a few things at play here that make the non-fiction ad perhaps not as impressive as it looks and the romance ad actually profitable. (In fact, all three are profitable.)

First, with respect to the non-fiction ad, AMS ads report both paperback and ebook sales. And for this particular title, paperback sales are a large portion of the sales reported. As nice as it would be to get a 70% payout on print sales, that just doesn’t happen. Which means for a title that sells predominantly in print you can’t use 70% as a benchmark. (Same goes for an ebook priced below $2.99.)

Instead, for print, you need to look at the list price of the book compared to your payout and calculate a percentage from that.

Of course, most titles aren’t clean in terms of print versus ebook sales, so ideally you’d then calculate a weighted average that takes into account approximately how much of your sales are print versus how much are ebook. (I give some examples of just how different that ratio can be in CreateSpace for Beginners. For non-fiction, I see a decent amount of print sales. For romance, I see almost none.)

So the first thing to realize about those three ads above is that the non-fiction ad is potentially not the most profitable ad on that list even though it has the lowest ACoS.

Now let’s look at the romance. With an ACoS of 250%+ it looks horrible. It looks like I’m taking a bath on that ad and just handing Amazon my money.

But another thing you have to account for with AMS ads is that they don’t include KU page reads. This particular title had about 500K page reads when it was in KU. When I crunched the numbers I found that I had about 3.3 full reads from KU for every sale. (For those of you who picked up Excel for Self-Publishers, I walk through how to do that calculation in there.)

This title was also part of a series. So when I sold book 1 with an AMS ad, a certain percentage of the time that also lead to a sale of book 2. Between KU reads and sellthrough to book 2 that ad was profitable even though it doesn’t look it.

The third ad, the fantasy ad also benefited from KU reads and sellthrough. In that case, for most of the time I was running this ad the book was the first in a three-book series with each book priced at $6.99. Now, in terms of borrows to buys, it didn’t reach the level of the romance novel. I was closer to 50:50 borrows to buys. If I’d had an ACoS of 250% on this ad I would’ve been losing substantial money. But 125% was still profitable.

Which is all an argument for judging your ads based upon the performance of the individual titles not some arbitrary number that Amazon chooses to display on its AMS dashboard.

Something else that’s not addressed in the AMS ACoS is that I am positive the non-fiction title has had sales due to its increased visibility from my running AMS that are not reflected in those numbers. (AMS are the only ads I’ve run on it on Amazon.)

And, also, I’ve noticed with the fantasy series that readers will often buy all three books at once but AMS will only count the purchase of book 1.

I will add, too, that you don’t need a lot of keywords to have a productive ad, you just need good ones. That non-fiction ad only has 66 keywords and I’ve paused some of those.

So anyway. There you have it. A real-life comparison of three very different titles and how they were each successful with AMS even though they look like they had very different outcomes.

Happy Holidays

Hard to believe another year is almost over. I’m just glad I was able to spend a nice holiday with my family which seems to get smaller every year since none of us that are stateside have had kids. The only casualty for the day was my thumb which has an inch-wide blister at the moment. (Note to self: Do not touch a roasting pan that has been in the oven for close to two hours with your bare hand.) At least a combination of running it under cool water, holding the inside of an aloe leaf to it, and then walking around with a wet rag pressed to the blister for the next couple hours seems to have done the trick. It’s amazing how much you use your thumbs.

Anyway.

I figured I’d share this cool picture I took of the pup this morning. I’ve lived in snowy states most of my life and I’m sure I’ve seen single snowflakes before, but for some reason this time I really noticed how cool it is that you can see the pattern in a snowflake without needing a microscope. I was going for the snowflake at the bottom left but captured three of them in this part of the photo:

IMG_4433 (4) - Copy

Added bonus that it was on the pup’s nose.

For those of you who find yourselves with a little extra holiday money, there’s a Boxing Day sale on at Kobo with tons of books 60% off. That link should take you to the page where they’re all listed. Don’t forget to use the promo code when you check out. (My title The How to Meet A Woman Collection is one of the titles. It includes Online Dating for Men: The Basics, Don’t Be a Douchebag, and You Have a Date, Don’t F It Up. At full-price that’s three for the price of two and with this discount it’s even better. So if any men out there have been thinking about finding love in the new year, might be worth checking out. If not there are lots and lots of other titles included in the promo.)

I’m wrapped up on all the writing I’d planned to do for the year, so might take a few days off to just relax before I hit the ground running in January. (Who am I kidding? I’ll probably be back at work on something by tomorrow…Unless someone can recommend some really really good books to me? I’ve had a run lately of okay but not amazing reads and am dying for a book that can really suck me in and make me put everything aside until I finish it.)

It’s Been A Strange Year

First, for anyone looking for info on AMS ads, it’s one of the categories on this site so just look for posts listed under that category.

Second, I just had a random pleasant surprise. I was doing my usual evening ritual of surfing various websites and dropped by Joanna Penn’s site to see what she had up. It’s an interesting article about what people look at on Amazon book pages that’s well worth a read in and of itself. But the surprise was that the author of the post, Michael Alvear, gave my book AMS Ads for Authors a shout out.

Which brings me to how this has been such a strange year for me. I did far better this year than any previous year, but how I did that is the part that’s so strange. Back in May I was preparing for Taos Toolbox and didn’t want to start on a new novel so decided I’d work on some non-fiction titles instead. I had three presentations planned at RMFW in September and two of them (one on CreateSpace and one on ACX) didn’t tie into anything I’d written yet. So the idea was to write a book about each.

Instead I wrote a book about AMS. I’d been finally seeing consistent long-term sales across titles and I could chalk almost all of that up to the use of AMS and thought I’d learned enough to share it. Little did I expect that that book would actually sell. I mean sure, I used AMS to get it out there and that helped. But what I hadn’t expected was that members of one of the writings forums where I participate would pick it up, too, and that some of those members would share with others how useful they’d found it. (Thank you to all of you who did so either through a review or a forum post or just a private comment.)

That was the first odd outcome of the year. Writing a book on a whim and having people actually like and recommend it.

The second was when an AMS ad I’d had running for almost a year took off in June and stayed hot for close to four months resulting in far more sales of a book I’d released in 2014 than I’d ever expected from that title. I could’ve never predicted going into this year that one of my top revenue producing titles for the year would be one I’d published two and a half years before.

The third was what happened with the Excel guides. I wrote those four books and the whole time I was writing them I thought I was wasting my time. I figured Excel for Writers and Excel for Self-Publishers would each sell maybe a handful of copies. But once I’d started writing them I couldn’t stop myself. I wanted to get down on paper how I used Excel for my writing.

And then, even more bizarre than the first two surprise outcomes of the year, I had an opportunity to put those two books into the NaNo StoryBundle. Suddenly, books I’d thought would sell a handful of copies had a chance to sell thousands.

And the more general guides that I wrote because I’d written the other two, Excel for Beginners and Intermediate Excel, have been doing better and better, giving me my best-ever month for print sales this month.

I’m glad that those passion projects have turned out well. It’s made it a much better year than it would’ve been otherwise. But I have to say it does make trying to figure out what to do next even more confusing. At this point in my career, this is all I know:

This is a constantly changing market. What works today will likely not work tomorrow or not work as well tomorrow. The more product you have out there, the better. (As long as it’s good work that its audience will enjoy.) And for me, personally, it’s better to write eclectic projects that I enjoy and that keep me writing than to try to force myself to write what I think is in demand. (Although if I could write reverse harem or alphahole romance I’d certainly be doing so right now…)

Anyway. It was an interesting year to say the least. Here’s to another one in 2018.

Some Microsoft Word Tips

This morning I hit publish on my last titles for 2017, Word for Beginners and Intermediate Word. That makes 441,312 words written (give or take) and 409,252 words published for the year. Phew. A little more than half of that was non-fiction since that seems to have become my focus for the second half of the year, but I did have two novels in there, too.

Anyway.

While I was writing the Word guides I kept finding myself saying “never do this” based on things I had actually encountered in my professional career. Finally, I started writing them down so I could share them.

So here they are. Things you should never do in Word (because there’s a better way to do it). With suggestions of how to better handle it using Word 2013 as my source.

1. Never manually number a list of items. (Especially in the midst of an automatically numbered list.) Instead use the Numbering option in the Paragraph section of the Home tab. Or the Format Painter in the Home tab if there’s already a numbered list you’re trying to continue.

2. Never add a return between paragraphs to create space. Instead, use Word to add space before or after your paragraphs. You can do this using the Line and Paragraph Spacing option in the Paragraph section of the Home tab or by right-clicking and choosing Paragraph to bring up the Paragraph dialogue box.

3. Never use the tab key or, worse, manual spaces to indent a paragraph. Instead, right-click, choose Paragraph, and bring up the Paragraph dialogue box. Then go to Indentation and under Special choose First Line.

4. Never manually add page numbering to your document. Instead, go to the Header & Footer section of the Insert tab and choose from the options in the Page Number dropdown.

5. Never manually add headers or footers to your document. Instead, go to the Header & Footer section of the Insert tab and choose from the options in the Header or Footer dropdowns.

6. Never manually mark text to be deleted with a strikethrough. Instead, use track changes which is available under the Review tab.

7. Never manually mark text as inserted by changing its color and/or underlining it. Instead, use track changes which is available under the Review tab.

8. Never make comments within the text of the document and set those comments aside using brackets, highlighting, or different colored text. Instead, use New Comment from the Comments section of the Review tab.

9. Never use enter to get to the next page when you need to start a new chapter. Instead, insert a page or section break into your document by going to the Page Setup section of the Page Layout tab and choosing from the options under Breaks.

10. Never manually build a table of contents in your document. Instead, use the Heading 1, Heading 2, etc. styles on your section headings and then have Word insert a table of contents by going to the Table of Contents section of the References tab.

11. Never manually break a table that’s long enough to repeat across more than one page into multiple tables so that you can repeat the header row on each page. Instead, right-click on the top row of the table, choose Table Properties, go to the Row tab, and click the box for “Repeat as header row at the top of each page.”

There you have it. My list of eleven things you should “never” do in Word.  And, of course, it just so happens I covered how to do all of these things the “right way” and much, much more in my Word guides. Items 1 through 5 are covered in Word for Beginners. Items 6 through 11 are covered in Intermediate Word. Just sayin’…

A Realization

I’ve been trying to figure out what hit me so hard about Courtney Milan’s post about her sexual harassment experience when she was a clerk. (http://www.courtneymilan.com/metoo/kozinski.html)

It wasn’t that the judge called her honey. Or that he showed her pornographic photos. I think any woman over the age of thirty who has ever worked outside the home isn’t surprised to learn that men at all levels have acted in ways that were inappropriate and uncomfortable. Maybe the names of some of the men have been surprising, but not the actions.

When #metoo was doing the rounds on Facebook I posted about it. If the criteria for saying #metoo was sexual harassment, then there’s no doubt that I qualified. By the time I was twenty I’d lost count of the number of inappropriate sexual comments men I didn’t even know had said to me. At work, on the street. Basically, anytime I was going to be out in public it was a possibility that some man would say something sexually suggestive.

And like most women I learned for my own sanity’s sake to draw distinctions between the awkwardly inappropriate and the truly creepy ones. It’s like the definition of pornography that came out of that Supreme Court case.  I can’t write you a precise definition (sorry guys that feel a need for one), but I can certainly tell you when that line has been crossed.

But I’ve been fortunate in my professional career to not be in a position like Courtney was. I once had a man I worked with who tried giving me unwanted shoulder massages. (I told him if he f’in touched me again, I’d take his hands off. He stopped. Until I was remotely nice to him a couple months later and he tried it again and I had to repeat my threat.)

And I did have a job where I reached the point of feeling physically ill every time I had to go into work because of one of my co-workers who I felt was stalking me. (I told my boss. She asked if it rose to the level of sexual harassment. I said probably not but please don’t schedule me with him anymore. She continued to do so. He was her brother, after all. A few weeks later I got into a screaming argument with her over wearing shorts to work and was fired…)

So reading that post didn’t bring up any of those kind of memories for me. Maybe a little of the “oh yeah, I know how that feels to be almost ill at the thought of interacting with someone and having to anyway…”

No. I realized today that what hit me so hard about her post was something that’s not even part of this #metoo movement.

It’s this idea of loyalty. This notion that if someone gives you a tremendous opportunity that you owe them your loyalty. That you will work as many hours as they need you to work without complaint and with a positive attitude. That you never go around them. That you never publicly disagree with them. (And for some, that you never disagree with them at all. Ever.) That you don’t try to move ahead of them. That you are below them and always will be, but that if you play it right you’ll be given lots of money and the opportunity to move up in their wake.

Forget that you worked your ass off to be there. Forget that you bring skills and intelligence to the table that they need in order to succeed. Forget that there are a very limited number of people who can do what you do. None of that counts.

And to be fair here, I realized when I was thinking this through that my first job out of college was a situation where I gave everything I had but my mentor and my boss and my boss’s boss all acknowledged and rewarded that, and supported me enough to even suggest that it was time to move on to bigger challenges after I grew bored about two years in. That’s how it should be.

But so many of the bosses I worked for after that didn’t see it that way. They weren’t monsters. At the time I liked most of them. But looking back on it now I can see all those moments, all those ways in which they took and took and took and never gave back. The better ones gave raises and promotions, but the minute my path diverged from theirs they either actively sabotaged my taking that path or were so non-supportive that they may as well have sabotaged me.

And it’s so hard to try to explain to others. To try to explain why you’re not happy with an opportunity that others would kill for. Because you know even as you’re desperately unhappy that there are so many who’d say “Oh my God, do you know what I’d give to be earning that?” or “Do you know how many people wish they were you? How many people wanted this opportunity that you’ve been given?”

I think the isolation caused by that “you’re lucky to even be there” comments is what makes it so much harder for those who find themselves in a situation like that.

For me, Courtney’s story wasn’t just of a man who was sexually inappropriate. It was a story of getting an opportunity that thousands wish they could have, but only being able to have that opportunity by working for a man who called his clerks “slaves”. A man who expected them to be at his beck and call. A man who went so far as to tell his subordinates what they were allowed to read.

(I’ll tell you, reading fantasy novels is probably the only reason I lasted as long as I did in my corporate career. And I can think of at least one person I worked for who would’ve probably done the same thing the judge did if they’d ever noticed. There are reasons I use pen names for my writing and one of them is that kind of bullshit attitude that you can’t be a serious professional and enjoy something like fantasy or romance novels. Fuck that.)

That was what hit home for me in her story. I’m not downplaying the sexual aspects of it. Not in the slightest.

But the fact that she felt compelled to consult attorneys in order to share her personal experience? Or that she felt bound by an expectation of loyalty from her abuser (I would argue what she experienced was emotional abuse) and only broke her silence when he broke the loyalty code first? That what made it so hard for her to walk away was the prestige of that opportunity?

That’s what shook me. The realization that I, even though my bosses were never sexually inappropriate, had been there, too. Letting someone else control my life, letting them take whatever they needed without complaint.  And all the while with them expecting me to be grateful that they’d bothered to give me a chance…

Maybe This Isn’t For You

The great thing about self-publishing is how easy it is to do. If you really want to put your work out there you can. You can write it and format it and design a basic cover and publish all by yourself.

The horrible thing about self-publishing is how easy it is to do. Anyone can write a book, format it, design a basic cover, and hit publish.

The thing is, even though it’s easy to do and there are not gatekeepers holding you back, self-publishing is not something everyone should do.

I consider myself a resilient person. I’ve been able to handle a tremendous amount of stress in my life without batting an eye. (Terminally ill father while take four AP classes in high school and playing two varsity sports? Easy. Triple major at Stanford while working full-time? Challenging as all get out, but doable. MBA from Wharton while working a more than full-time job? Required a few meltdowns along the way, but done.)

I also really don’t care what 99% of the world thinks about me. There are maybe five people whose opinions mean the world to me and I could really care less what the rest have to say. I’m going to do me and you can take it or leave it.

I’m also in relatively good health, mentally and physically.

But I’ll tell you, self-publishing is a challenge for me. On all levels.

It’s a fight to keep those outside voices out of my head while I’m writing. (Every single time I use alright, I know there are people who will cringe and judge me for it. I mean, seriously?)

And it’s a daily struggle to get visibility for my books. I don’t advertise, I don’t sell.

And even though I know that not everyone will like what I write, it’s never easy to read a one-star review of a book I wrote. I don’t even like reading the three-star reviews.

And when success does come (I know this part more from observation than personal experience) there’s a whole new set of challenges. Do you keep writing what your fans want even though it’s not what you want? Can you really deliver what they want again and again and again? Do you even know what they want? And what do you do when you’ve experienced success and then lost it? Does that mean you were never good enough in the first place? Or that you’ll never achieve success again?

Self-publishing is one of the most mentally challenging things I’ve ever done. It is not for the faint of heart. And, yet, most writers have issues. We aren’t perfectly happy and contented individuals. There’s a reason we don’t spend our free time sitting on the couch watching television or playing video games. Many of us have a dissatisfaction with life that we need to explore through our art.

And when you’re off-balance to start with, self-publishing can destroy you. It can take what little self-esteem you had and crush it. And it can take someone who was already a little distrustful of the world and push them over the edge. I saw it happen this week with an author who became convinced that a promo site had deliberately sabotaged them.

That’s not the first author I’ve seen lose it either. How many public meltdowns over reviews have we seen? Too many to count.

The stresses of doing something so emotionally demanding and doing it in public are extreme.

And, you know what? It’s okay to say this isn’t for you. It’s okay to decide that you want to write, but not publish. It’s okay to realize that you’d rather go the traditional route of agent and publisher (which does have its own stresses, but at least it allows you to hold on to the fact that you were chosen). And it’s okay to realize that you’re perfectly fine making stories up for yourself and never putting a single word down on paper.

It’s all okay. You have to do what’s best for you.

Look. We all have our own challenges and demons that no one else sees. And if self-publishing brings those out for you, it’s okay to walk away from it. (And for every single person reading this thinking I’m talking about you, I’m not. Pretty sure the person who directly inspired this post doesn’t read this blog. And really it was more a general thought I’ve been having these days that I was triggered to write about when I saw KKR’s business blog today: Quitting)

And I’ll tell you one last thing: It’s even okay to walk away from this if you’re good at it…

Life is too short. Find what makes you happiest.