The Valleys and Peaks of the Self-Publishing Life

Looking out to Monument Valley - Bruce Witzel photo

I’ve learned that life will go through changes -up and down and up again. It’s what life does. (Ben Okri)

Ben Okri’s words resonate. You’re up, you’re down … such is life. Being a self-published author has definite peak and valley experiences. But, really, how could it be any other way? Self-publishing is akin to being the general contractor on a major construction job that never ends.

I write, I rewrite, edit and proofread. I format for publication and come up with cover design ideas. And after all of that, I try and promote my own work – times all that by four.

I’m not saying I don’t have help – I do my share of contracting out. From the early days of writing Disappearing in Plain Sight, I’ve had the joy to work with a fabulous editor who is willing to do conceptual and line-by-line editing. I’ve sought the help of a great e-book formatter and I’ve had my husband, Bruce, to create covers and take on the lion’s share of softcover book sales. He is a very active promoter of my work.

Columbia Icefields, Jasper National Park - Bruce Witzel photo

Even with a team of dedicated contributors, the choice to self-publish puts me down in the dumps occasionally. Amazon sales plunge, someone returns a $2.99 e-book for refund weeks after purchase, softcover sale move like molasses on a cold day, promoting on social media seems like soul suicide and worst of all, there never seems to be enough hours in a day to write something new. Characters and their stories clamour in my head for escape and I just want to get on with writing the next book.

But like most valleys, these experiences provide a view of the peaks. A local couple recently purchased the whole Crater Lake Series. A phone call the other day provided wonderful feedback – the wife is through all three, husband is currently sliding through the forest beside the cougar in Chasing Down the Night. They both love the series and can’t wait for the next instalment. They’ve already passed on the first two books to a good friend and are eager to order two more complete sets as Christmas gifts.

Barrier Lake, Alberta - Fran Guenette photo

I’m three years into my five year, self-publishing plan with three books out and one more soon to be released. All good things come to those who wait. I’ll just add my own spin to that maxim – those who work hard while waiting. I’m good on the hard work part but waiting is a challenge. Which leads me to a stream of consciousness question – what is it that I am waiting for?

Success, or that sense of having arrived, to a self-published author can be as diverse as the number of self-published authors out there. For me, it means being self-sustaining in my craft; over and above that, making a modest retirement income through my writing. Self-sustaining translates to having the money in my pocket from sales to produce my next book. Modest income truly is modest.

Not to say success is totally defined by money. I am successful because I pursue my dream. I am successful whenever I discover that my books have changed a reader in some essential way. I am successful in the satisfaction I draw from my own creativity.

There you have it – self-talk through a blog post takes me from the valley and plunks me back on the mountain top. I often assigned writing tasks to my counselling clients who were open to such exercises. The goal – write your way out of your current state of mind.

2 Kananaskis Country, Alberta - Bruce Witzel photo

Not a bad idea. What do you think?

25 comments on “The Valleys and Peaks of the Self-Publishing Life

  1. MariHoward says:

    Have read and re-blogged: wonderful post, Francis!

  2. MariHoward says:

    Reblogged this on Mari Howard, Author and commented:
    Well worth a read on ‘self’ publishing and I recommend the books, too!

  3. Spectacular photos to illustrate the journey. Yes, ups and downs, but more ups, I think. As you said It comes down (or up) to how we enjoy the adventure and measure success. 🙂

    • Essential 101 for the self-published author – being able to define one’s own measure of success. There is great wisdom in your comment about enjoying the adventure. There is a saying that talks of learning, only when we arrive at our destination, that the journey was what mattered.

      • I think with writing the destination is often elusive as we’re always learning, and there’s always the next mountain to climb. So in a way it has to be about the journey (while also relishing the spectacular views from the peaks along the way). 🙂

  4. melparish says:

    Love your last line, Francis. Whenever I start to feel overwhelmed, I find I can change my mood in a very short time just by writing down whatever’s on my mind at that moment. Often times the writing can end up more like a list than journaling, but just getting it all down on paper makes the overwhelming seem more manageable.

    Fabulous pictures too!

  5. Roy McCarthy says:

    Indeed, what constitutes success for one writer will be way different for the next. Your parameters are reasonable and achievable with the diligence you apply to your craft Fran. Big-selling authors set the bar much higher. Me, maybe I simply don’t want to fall short of my aims so consequently I’m content to limit those aims so my writing is a hobby and little more.

    • Again, getting clear on our expectations seems to be key. Thanks for the vote of confidence, Roy. I will keep plugging away at my idea of success and I know you will be doing the same. The wonderful thing about being able to define those parameters for ourselves is the freedom to change them when we feel the need.

  6. diannegray says:

    Writing in itself is an amazing journey, Frances. The marketing and ups and downs of sales is a wild ride that I try to avoid most of the time 😉

  7. The highs and lows are exhausting, Fran. I’ve learned quickly that I can’t do it all. Since I don’t rely on my writing income to pay the mortgage, my plan is to put writing first and all of the other worries that come along will be kicked to the curb.
    The photos are GORGEOUS! Did you or Bruce snap those beauties?

    • I love the imagery of kicking my worries to the curb 🙂 Most of the photos I post were taken by Bruce or myself. If you let your cursor hover over one of the images, it will usually be labelled with at least the info of who took it and sometimes more detail as well. Whenever I use stock images from Google or someone else’s photo, that info will be labelled on the photo. It is a bonus when blogging to have files and files of gorgeous photos – I have Bruce to thank for that.

  8. smilecalm says:

    wishing you a place
    in-between
    where contentment
    is more than the filling
    between two
    stale oreo’s!
    and amazon should
    send you a pile of money
    for your wonderful writing 🙂

    • Here’s me slithering out of the trap of those stale oreos 🙂 Such a priceless image. And many thanks for the vote of confidence. You make me grin. What higher praise can there be in this peaks and valley world?

  9. Behind the Story says:

    I do what I can each day. But it’s never enough. I had no idea what I was getting into when I published a book. If I ever finish my second book, maybe I’ll do better with marketing then.

    • Nicki – your words absolutely resonate with me – I had no idea what I was getting into when I started this self-publishing journey. It is live and learn as we go, for sure. Best luck for your second time out the gate.

  10. I think there are ups and downs with anything we’re passionate about but the ups usually trump the downs. Self publishing three books in three years with another on the way is impressive. I’d call that a success! BTW-I’ve started reading Disappearing in Plain Sight. Excellent so far!

    • I’m glad you are enjoying Disappearing in Plain Sight. And you’re right – there will always be ups and downs. It indicates both passion and commitment. Here’s me riding the wave 🙂

  11. Kelee Morris says:

    I always ask myself, what would I be doing if I didn’t write? BTW, I had no idea you could return an e-book. Does it have to be in “like-new” condition?

    • Yes – indeed – like that question – where would I be in five years if I didn’t do this? I got a laugh out of the ‘like-new’ comment. Oh well, maybe someday someone will weigh-in with a reason for returning an e-book I can get behind. Thanks for dropping by, Kelee.

  12. Gwen Stephens says:

    I need to put that on a post-it and affix it to my laptop monitor – “Write yourself out of your current state of mind” – definitely a quotable quote. My go-to tactic is avoidance. Put the computer away until the solution comes to me. Most writers would likely chastise me for my cowardice, and I can’t blame them. My greatest hope as a writer is to write without fear. That would be my definition of success.

    • Yes indeed – writing without fear. Such a hurdle for any writer. There is a book I read years ago – Feel the Fear, And Do it Anyways. I guess that says it all. What I found is that fear never goes away completely but it does fade into the background with time. I suppose we each make our own type of peace with fear. Good luck, Gwen and it is so nice to hear from you.

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