Sunday, June 3, 2018

My Decision to Self-Publish

Some Background: I finished my book in August 2016 and was ready to send it out to agents and publishers. Less than a week after finishing, I got the news that my grandma only had a few months to live. My grandma was like a second mom to me, and my world came crashing down yet again after that. I didn't touch my book for a long time. I tried several times to send it out, but I kept chickening out. My book really didn't fit the description of what anyone was looking for, and I couldn't give most agents what they wanted. When it comes to non-fiction self-help books, you're expected to be an expert in your field - have a PhD and have a job in the field and be writing about something that you've actually tested. Every agent I checked required a paragraph stating why you were qualified to write the book, and sample letters usually included stuff like, "I have a PhD in clinical psychology, I have been in practice for 20 years, I've tested the methods in this book on over 500 clients and they have worked." I was never going to be "qualified" to write this book in the eyes of agents and publishers. When I would go to send out my pitch letter, I would just freeze.

I began therapy on June 12, 2017, which took up a lot of my writing energy. I used to do a lot of long, written exercises for therapy. I didn't have to write as much as I did, but it was a good way to give my therapist a lot of information in a short amount of time (because she's a fast reader, and it takes less time for her to read something in session that I've already written than for me to say it all), and I also did it because I had a lot of anxiety talking  to her and writing stuff ahead of time made it easier. Now I'm at a point where I don't write as much for therapy, I just make some notes to myself because I feel safe talking in session. But while I was in that mode of writing long pieces for therapy, I did not really get much work done on my personal writing, everything else was sort of put on hold.

I tried many times to send out my pitch letter and I kept freezing up. My therapist tried to help me with this. She actually read over my pitch letter, and one day she pulled tons of books off her bookshelf that were written by non-experts and stacked them up in front of me to show that I didn't have to be an expert in the field to publish a book. I felt a lot better, but I still just couldn't bring myself to make that first move.

Not having my book published is one of the biggest things that's been holding me back and making me feel like I'm not getting anywhere in my life. I spent TWO YEARS writing my book - I began on August 17, 2014 and finished on August 29, 2016 - and in all the time I spent not doing anything with it, I felt like it hadn't gotten me anywhere. I was making no progress on any of my other writing projects. Every time I tried to work on something, I felt like, what was the point? I began writing the validation book with the intention of publishing it and giving talks about it and changing the world. If it was just going to sit on my computer, then what was the point of writing it? I couldn't get excited about any other projects knowing that I wasn't going to do anything about them.

So I continued to focus on my individual therapy and my therapy class, putting my book on the back burner yet again. This past spring, I read my essay about what happened in college out loud to my therapist in the course of 6 sessions, and recently began pulling out all of the issues from the essay that are still hurting me now and bringing them up in session. On May 8, 2018 - the one-year anniversary of when I contacted my therapist for the first time - I told my therapist that one of my biggest issues is that ever since I left college, I have had a strong desire to save other kids from going down the path that I went down, but I have never gotten any support for that goal. I told her that I had seriously considered pursuing a career as a high school guidance counselor when I was just out of college, but that I'm just not a people person, and I know that I would miserable having a working-with-people job 40 hours a week. Like, if a standard work week were only 10 hours, I would love to be a therapist, but it's just not something I can do in large quantities and still have energy for anything else. My therapist suggested that I could volunteer with kids, and I could do it just one hour a week or less, that it didn't have to be my full-time job. She gave me lots of suggestions of places where I could do that. I told her that I had seriously considered volunteering with kids for years, I had looked into doing something like Big Brothers Big Sisters. The problem is that I'm anti-school. My mission is to stop kids like my younger self from being pushed on the path of academic success and going to good colleges when it's not what they want. My idea of volunteering with kids is to shred all the school papers and make paper mache toys out of it and go play outside and have fun. And that's not exactly welcome in most places. Most mentoring programs expect you to push kids towards academic success, down the exact path that I needed someone to save me from. But my therapist told me that there were opportunities to volunteer in the ways that I wanted to. She told me that I could just go someplace and run a poetry workshop or an art class, I could promote kids expressing their feelings in artwork even if it's grotesque enough to give adults nightmares. I asked my therapist, wouldn't I need a degree to teach something like that? And she said, not if you're volunteering. She knows a lot of people who run organizations, and she said that if you're offering a free service, a lot of times people will take it. That if I called up a place and said that I'd like to run a class for free, someone would probably say yes to it.

I thought that over as I was driving home. It never occurred to me that I could do something like that. I always thought that the only way to volunteer was to follow the rules of what other people wanted, like pushing kids to behave properly and do well in school. It never occurred to me that I just could offer one specific service, like a writing or art workshop, and that some places would agree to that if I was offering it for free. I thought long and hard about this on my drive home - for the first time in years, I felt empowered. I felt like I could actually make the difference that I wanted to make. While I liked the idea of running a writing or art workshop, I realized that what I wanted to do more than anything else was to give talks on my book. I wanted to run workshops on validation and consent-consciousness. I had all the material in my book. I could make fun, engaging workshops, for kids with the material that I have. This was it. This was what I wanted to do.

And I knew at that moment that I had to self-publish.

I had to self-publish because my book needed to already be out before I could run workshops on it. First of all, giving talks about my book is a great way to sell more copies - while I plan to leave a free copy with every school that I give a talk in, I'm sure that a lot of teachers and older students may want to buy a copy for themselves or for other people they know. I already have enough people telling me that they want to read my book when it comes out, and I can't deal with giving actual talks on it and having people get all excited about it and having to tell them that no, I haven't found a publisher yet. And secondly, in order to have schools agree to let me give these talks, I really need to have my book out there already so that they can look into it ahead of time. If I were to call up a school right now and volunteer to give a lecture on validation, their response would probably be, "Who the heck are you?" I'm not a therapist, I don't work in the field, and if you google my name, you'll only find my Linkedin page with a bunch of work experience in finance departments. I don't have any qualifications right now. But if my book is out there, and I have my professional website marketing the book, then people can look me up and get a sense of what I would be talking about before agreeing to let me give lectures.

I've given it a lot of thought, and I know that self-publishing is the right choice for me. Even if I got the courage to send out my pitch letter, it would take a long time before I would actually get an offer. My life has been on hold for way too long over this book and I am ready to move forward and start making a difference. There is also the fact that I would have to work with an editor and possibly change what is in the book, and if I self-publish, I have the final say on everything.

I have begun my final edit, which will take some time because I had previously expected to have a professional editor, and now I need to make a lot of editing decisions that I had previously thought that someone else would make. I'm using a print-on-demand website, so that when my book is on Amazon and you order a copy, the company prints just one copy for you. A portion of what you pay for the book will go to the printing company, and I will get my portion as well. This way, I will not have the start-up cost of ordering lots of copies of the book. (For this reason, I will not be able to give away a lot of free copies, because I will not have lots of copies just lying around in my apartment.  "Free" actually means that I will be buying the book at the printing cost.)

My biggest concern with self-publishing was marketing. I'm not a networker, and I was really hoping to have a professional marketing team and not have to do all of that work myself. But, as I've learned from the process of trying to find an agent, being a writer is much different now than it used to be. Writers used to just be writers, and they had professional editors and marketing teams. But nowadays, writers are expected to be more of their own editors and do a lot of their own marketing. You know how you can find articles about common mistakes people make on their resumes or at job interviews? Well, I've read lots of articles about common mistakes people make when trying to get a book published, and it's considered (from multiple sources) a common mistake to send out a query letter for a book without already having a website set up for marketing your book. I've also found lots of sample query letters for non-fiction books like mine where you are expected to have an entire paragraph about how you are going to market your book. Even if I got an agent and a publisher, I'd still be expected to do a lot of marketing work on my own. Self-publishing is more like being self-employed, where I can make my own decisions about what I want to do because no one other than me is relying on my book sales.

The talk I had with my therapist about volunteering made me realize that it's okay to start local. I had thought that I had to hit it big first - be on the bestseller list and have a TED talk and TV interviews and then people would start asking me to give talks at schools and colleges. But I realize now that it doesn't have to go in that order - I can start marketing locally, with the networks that I do have, and I can start volunteering to give talks in middle schools, high schools, and colleges locally, and start making a difference right away. And while I'm doing all of that, I can still audition for a TED talk and contact TV shows for interviews and still work to succeed on a larger scale. I can always be working towards my larger goals while making a difference every day once I'm published. I do want to have a TED talk. I do want to be a bestseller. I do want to get paid enough for book sales and speaking engagements that I can quit my day job and be a full-time writer. And when I get there, I'll be successful. But I don't have to wait that long. I can still be successful right now.

What is success for me?

-Success was when my friend told me that my essay about college inspired her to get out of a toxic job situation.
-Success was when two of my friends told me that I had helped them to be more assertive about their needs, to stand up for themselves more, and to just feel better about being themselves.
-Success was when my teacher friend told me that my college story changed the way she taught her students, that she didn't want them to just be good at school but end up treating other people the same way my college classmates treated me, she wanted to make sure they also knew how to be kind.
-Success was when I friend said that I had inspired her to do more wild, untamable things.
-Success was when my super-logical friend said that being around me made them more understanding and accepting of super-emotional people.
-Success was when my friend who does not experience social pressures said that they learned a lot about the effects of social pressure from me and that it's influenced how they treat people.
-Success was when my friend who comes from a "suck it up and deal" culture, where they were used to pushing people to pull themselves up, read my posts about demanding pure validation and thought, "Hmm, I wonder if I could try validating people?" and ended up trying it and being more validating.
-Success was when a friend told me that they had had a conflict with another person years ago that they had never quite understood, and that after hearing my college story, they understood what they had done that made the other person upset.
-Success was when I shared part of my experience with a coworker and she became open to the fact that her child may have been mistreated by the people who were supposed to be helping. (This was thankfully not the case, but she had previously believed that if someone was in a position where they were supposed to be helping her child, it meant that they were helping her child, and I saw that belief change in her when I shared my story).
-Success was when the therapist running my DBT group said that she shared one of my metaphors with her colleagues and that they loved it and are using it with their clients.
-Success was when the same therapist said that my questions have made her reconsider how she's teaching the class, and actually seeing those changes implemented in the following class sessions.
-Success is seeing a lot of my friends be a little more validating and little more consent-conscious after hearing my college story and reading the unpublished draft of my validation book.

This is what success means to me. And this is what I've been able to do without even being published. I can't wait to see the effects I can have once my book is out there. I am so ready.

No comments:

Post a Comment