Why You Should Keep Writing After Self-Publishing
I self-published my first 80K word novel when I was 21. I poured time, love, and money into it, lured by the promise that as soon as the book hit the shelves, it would be an overnight sensation. I would be rich and famous.
Surely you know what comes next. Unfortunately, I didn’t.
I hit publish. Ordered a box of books. Gave one to everyone I knew. And then I waited for the day in the near future when I could quit my day job.
But nothing happened. Well, almost nothing. The first year, I made a few hundred dollars, mostly as my grandma and a few other people I knew bought the book.
The second year, I didn’t even break triple digits — it seemed like my marketing plan of “Do Nothing” and “Don’t Tell People You Wrote a Book” wasn’t working. I started to lose my interest in writing. After all, if it wasn’t going to make me money, I didn’t want to do it.
The third year, when tax time rolled around, I didn’t get an Amazon tax form for my royalties. Confused, I looked into it and found out why. You don’t have to pay taxes on royalties if you made less than $10 in that tax year.
The night I made that discovery, I plummeted into despair and promised my husband, Curtis, that my career as a writer was over. My dream of becoming a world-famous author wasn’t attainable. I was a failure.
So, I did what every good writer does when they don’t succeed. I quit.
I stopped writing. I stopped blogging. I stopped working on the sequel. I took up biking as a full-time hobby and gave up on my aspirations. I probably would have turned to alcohol, but I don’t like the way it tastes.
When well-meaning people asked about the sequel, I changed the subject. When family asked, I told them some version of the truth. “I haven’t worked on it for a while” feels better than saying, “I gave up.” If I got an idea, I shoved it out of my brain.
And for a while, I convinced myself I was happy that way.
But it’s in my soul
Unfortunately, people kept asking. Family kept pressing. I kept getting ideas. And the real problem kept coming up. Writing is in my soul.
I am a lot of things: wife, daughter, sister, friend, biker, artist, pianist, even gardener and pet enthusiast. I dearly love every one of those roles, and I tried hard to fill the writing-sized hole with them, but it didn’t work. Writing kept coming back to haunt me.
Finally, one day, I gave in to the nagging and started to write again. It was slow going, like re-learning how to play an instrument after a 20-year pause. I didn’t like anything I wrote. The old sparkle wasn’t in it. But, with dogged determination, I kept at it, certain that my next book would be the “rich and famous” edition. After a few weeks of miserable slaving, as I wondered why I wasn’t enjoying it, the lights suddenly came on.
All this time, I’d been writing for money.
I was using my skill and passion to gain wealth, not to improve my craft or share a message with the world. That’s why there was no sparkle, no real delight. So, I stopped again, but this time I wasn’t quitting. I was asking myself why I wanted to write.
For you, for me
And when I picked up writing a few weeks later, it wasn’t to write the sequel or another book that would make me rich or famous. In fact, I may never be rich and famous from writing, and that’s okay with me.
I started writing again for two main reasons: for you and me.
For you, dear human, because I want to help you live well. I’ve made a lot of mistakes and had a lot of failures. If I can help you avoid them by writing about them, that’s worth it to me.
For me, because writing is in my soul and I always want to be getting better at it. It brings me delight and contentment, helps me process through things, and makes me a more mentally stable person. And we could all use a little more mental stability.
I hope that if you self-publish a book, it’s an amazing success. I don’t want you to have to struggle through failure like I did.
However, if the worst-case scenario hits and you never make more than a few hundred dollars on your book, don’t give up on writing. Sure, take a break. Stop for a while. Pick up a different passion for the summer, or the whole year if you have to.
But after the dust has settled and the sting of disappointment wears off, come back to the keyboard. Think about why you’re there, and keep writing.
If I can do it, you can too.