So why’d you take the crazy step of self-publishing?

This is me in real life, trying to get that damn chapter finished

I used to be adamantly against self-publishing. I scorned it. I read classic literature for fun, I was serious about my craft, I wanted to write the best book possible and win awards and all those accolades that the good writers got. My dream was to win a Printz award (it’s like the Newbery for young adult books, which I wrote) as well as other awards, and write classic works of young adult literature that would go ringing through the ages.

Easy-peasy, right?

I started querying agents and editors — I ended up querying them for decades, seriously. I did my best to do everything right. I improved my craft, I studied the market, I targeted the editors and agents who wanted the kind of stuff I wrote, and I wrote the best book I was capable of at the time. I kept getting really close, kept getting revise and resubmit letters. I would revise the book to those standards and resubmit it, but in the end I always struck out.

But I kept querying, kept networking with agents and editors, kept taking writing classes, and kept writing books. I wanted so much to work with an editor and get those 27-page editorial letters, and have somebody who shared my vision and love of great literature so I could learn to write stuff with staying power, and eventually win awards and do good work.

Wellllllllll you know, life has a way of kicking your rear.

Finally I got a book about the Civil War published — did a lot of original research (and let me tell you, that spadework was so much fun), but even after that book was published, I still couldn’t get agents to look at me twice. What a bunch of butts!

This is me, doomed to a sad life of agentlessness.

I’d always written stories all my life, ever since first grade. Writing was something I’d always done — something I’d always loved. And when you hear NO over a thousand times, it does something to you. Through the years, I’d been able to push through and keep the faith, but about this time I got worn down. I couldn’t write without constantly looking over my own shoulder. Am I writing this right? What would an agent think if they were reading this? These choices I’m making — are they going to make an agent stop reading? Is this character even likable? Just on and on.

And in the meantime, these little kids who weren’t even born when I started querying were getting superstar agents. “I’ve never written a book before and I was just playing around, and I sent this novel off, and I didn’t know what I was doing but the first agent said Yes and now I have six books coming out with Big Name Publisher!” These little kids who didn’t know anything about writing, just strolling into the place I’d worked so hard to be for all these years! It made my guts shrivel.

However, while all this was going on, I was beginning to sell my Civil War book at events. A couple of my buddies were at these events, selling books they’d published themselves and doing pretty good business. And I really liked how it felt when somebody handed me 20 bucks and I’d hand them a book I’d made myself. Instant validation!

Well, why don’t I publish a few extra books that I can sell at these events along with this one?

So I self-published a short story collection that had gotten really close with an editor. And then I published a bunch of gardening columns in book form — then I wrote a book about roses (I used to be a municipal horticulturist) — then I published Butterfly Chaos, a novel about tornadoes and family and ghosts.

Guys, you can’t believe how much fun I was having with self-publishing. I was formatting my own books, making my own covers (eventually I made enough money to buy covers lol), finding illustrations for the gardening books on Flickr (there are a ton of old public domain illustrations from old gardening catalogs on there). It was like a craft project *and* a publishing project.

Then a fellow author asked me to collaborate with her. I was really afraid I wouldn’t be able to deliver because, even now, I was so filled with doubt and insecurity about my writing — my well was dry. But at the same time, I was determined to do it. This author asked me! After all these agents told me no, she was telling me YES. She has faith in me! I can’t let her down. So I blazed ahead with the project.

Holy crap. I wrote 90,000 words in the space of about two months, and I did this even during overtime city at work. I felt like I’d jumped over Mount Everest.

So why did I choose to self-publish instead of going with an agent?

You can’t help but love something that has given you your world back. Self-publishing has done that. I don’t make a huge amount of money every month, but it’s more than I’d make with royalties in traditional publishing. Failure and success is in my hands, in my control. I enjoy being wildly prolific — something that would be impossible in traditional publishing. I’ve finally settled down to focus on gardening books and dragon books, and am figuring out how to ramp up my ad spend so I can step up to the next level.

It’s been an amazing journey so far. I’m very happy to be here, and I’m always looking forward to the next book. I’m a writer who’s writing, and I have readers, who are all peaches. It’s all I’ve ever wanted.

The final page of Traitor’s Oath, the last book in the DRAGONRIDERS OF FIORENZA series.
But I feel this way about my readers too.
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