What It Means to Self-Publish

Yesterday marked the launch of the third book of The Redemption of Erâth, entitled Ancients & Death. And whilst I’m excited as can be about it, there’s still a lot of work to be done.

The Redemption of Erâth is an ongoing fantasy series chronicling the journey of Brandyé and his friend Elven through the fantastic and dark world of Erâth, in an effort to save their world from the overriding forces of Darkness. Volumes 1 & 2 are on sale for $0.99, and the third, Ancients & Death, is now available through Kindle and Apple Books.

Being a self-published author is a double-edged sword, because whilst it gives me the flexibility to create exactly what I want in a timeframe that suits me (although I must admit, some kind of deadline might’ve helped along the way), it also means the onus is entirely on me to succeed. And that success is difficult. Very, very difficult.

The thing is, pretty much anyone can self-publish these days. The quality of self-published novels can be dubious, from poor editing to outright terrible writing, and it’s into this crashing sea of mediocrity that most self-published books are launched. And even if the quality of the book is above-average (as most authors think their writing is), you’re then faced with the challenge of convincing readers of that fact.

And good luck with that, because gaining readership as a self-published author comes with its own unique challenges. Very few people are willing to part with their hard-earned cash on an author they’ve never heard of, and even less so when they learn that the author published themselves. There’s a kind of reassurance that comes with knowing a publishing house backed an author – even though there is a lot of traditionally-published trash out there, too.

I have enough insight into my novels to know that they are good, if not necessarily great; I’ve had enough feedback from publishers, professional editors and readers to know this. I’m not worried about the quality of my writing. But the goal of any author is to be read, and this is where the great difficulty lies. I’m not in it to make money – not outright. There’s no way I could sell enough copies to equal anything resembling a salary for the past three years. But if I can just get people to read it, I’ll be happy.

So most of my readership comes from free copies that I’ve given away, either through personal contact with readers or through giveaway websites such as Prolific Works or Voracious Readers Only. And I don’t mind – it gets the books into people’s hands.

But for every hundred copies given away, perhaps ten people will actually end up reading it. And for every ten reads, perhaps one person will review it. And of that 1% return-on-investment, it’s a toss-up whether they’ll even like it or not. And it becomes discouraging, because of course I want people to read it, but I also want them to like it. Really, I want them to let me know that they liked it. It does wonders for the ego.

So what does it mean, truly, to self-publish? It means endless effort and work, constant anxiety, hit-or-miss advertising, sales in the single-digits, and readers who don’t read or review. It means a lifetime of crippling self-doubt, until every once in a while someone posts somewhere in the annals of the world wide web, and just maybe, you come across it.

And every single review – each one out of a hundred – becomes so meaningful that it gets you back to the drawing board, the keyboard or the pen and paper, and you start it all over again.

Because sometimes you just have to write.

Cognitive Dissonance & Fighting the Mind

One of the difficulties for me as an author is the deep-seated belief that I cannot be successful. As odd as it sounds, I find myself unable to comprehend the success of authors such as J.K. Rowling or Stephen King. There’s a disconnect in my mind between sitting down day after day, week after week, typing word after word, and the multi-million dollar revenue of someone whose words are devoured lovingly by millions of people across the world. (Not that money necessarily equals success, but you get the point.)

Cognitive dissonance is a strange phenomenon, and one I’m all-too familiar with. In essence, the concept is that an individual person can hold two contradictory beliefs, and can’t come to terms with the conflict. An example would be that one believes sea levels are rising, but also believes climate change is a hoax.

A more practical example in my life is my medication. Sometimes I run low, and I don’t have time to get it refilled. In my mind I know it’s bad to run out of medication, so I stop taking it … so I don’t run out.

People have a lot of cognitive dissonances in their lives, and often are unaware of them until forced into a position where they have to consider both sides of the argument. With writing, for me, I used to simply not believe that people like King and Rowling were real. Despite reading (and enjoying) their words, I simply couldn’t attach the words to an individual, to a person like me or you.

When I started writing myself – seriously writing, writing tens of thousands of words and ordering them into something called a novel – it helped my cognitive dissonance a little. When I wrote the final words to The Redemption of Erâth: Consolation (“And so it was that, unknown to him, Darkness followed behind and laughed.”), I realized that it was actually possible for a single person to write over 100,000 sequential words. And when I published it – not the disastrous 2014 publication through iUniverse, but rather when I republished it myself in early 2016 – and people started to read it, it connected the dots just a little more.

But I still find myself in a place of dissonance nonetheless, be it less than before. I liken my fantasy work to Tolkien, in terms of scope and style, and it is a pipe dream for me that my books might one day be adapted for the big screen. I would absolutely love to see my fierundé rendered in high-quality CGI, blood sunsets descending behind dark storm clouds, the sweeping devastation of a world on fire on a fifty-foot screen. I wonder if it will happen in my lifetime, or if, like Tolkien, the fame of my works might come after my death.

Or perhaps what I write is doomed to obscurity for all eternity, like so many others. Perhaps I will never get more than a handful of reviews, and my readers will dwindle as interest slowly wanes.

I believe that I can write just as much as just as well (at my best, perhaps) as the literary giants of the world. I also believe that I will never be recognized for my writing. I believe such a thing is, quite literary, impossible. That it has in fact never happened (to anyone), and therefore cannot happen to me. Stephen King and J.K. Rowling and Tolkien, for all I know, don’t actually exist.

This dissonance is something I have to fight daily, in my writing, in my mental health, and in my everyday life. It’s a strange phenomenon, and it’s frustrating as hell.

What dissonances do you have? What exists, that you can’t quite believe? Let me know below!

Languishing No More

Those of you who’ve been following me for a time know that I published the first book in the Redemption of Erâth series all the way back in 2014, with the second coming out over two years ago in 2016. And whilst I finished the draft of the third book over the summer of 2016, it’s been languishing in edit hell for going on two years.

Some of that time, of course, was spent away from the increasingly detailed fantasy world of Erâth whilst I worked on my first young adult novel, 22 Scars (published last November). And as much as I’ve been putting effort into publishing, publicizing and marketing this other story, I’ve been longing to return to Erâth and continue the story of Brandyé, Elven, Elỳn and their family and friends.

Over the past few months, I’ve (slowly) spent time revising, cutting and editing book  three of the series, entitled Ancients & Death. It’s at a place now where I believe it’s as good as I can possibly make it, from both a story point of view as well as an editing point of view. I feel like it’s ready for the world, and I want to get it out to you all.

However – if I do so, it’ll be the first time I’ve published a novel without a professional edit. And I’m very reluctant to proceed without it. I’ve used the same wonderful editor for all my novels so far – both fantasy and otherwise – and she’s been instrumental in improving the style, pacing and fluidity of everything I’ve ever written. So why would I forgo her this time?

In a nutshull, it comes down to budget. As good as she is, she’s also expensive – for me, anyway. And in that regard, I’ve come to realize that I need to prioritize my projects. I’m not making any money from writing; I’ve invested far more into my books than I’ve made back (by a factor of hundreds), and as much as I appreciate the vast improvements it’s made in their quality, I just can’t afford it anymore.

So what I’ve had to do is learn from the edits she’s provided, and try to apply the same mentality to Ancients & Death myself. It started with severe cutting; I chopped something around 25,000 – 30,000 words from the original draft. Then I moved onto continuity, looking at the events and timelines to ensure they made sense. Finally, I read through the novel as slowly and in as much detail as I could, looking for every spelling, grammar and typo error I could find.

I think I learned a great deal about structure over the past eight years since I started writing, and I believe the pacing and action of Ancients & Death is far superior to both Consolation and Exile. This is important, because it’s one of the things I’ve been faulted for in the past by both my editor and my readers. I really can’t wait to see what you think of the result here.

At the end of the day, one of the advantages of self-publishing is the ease with which I can put out updates, corrections and revisions should they be found post-publication. But as far as the overall story goes, I’m pleased with it. And I’m ready to share it.

That means that – sooner, rather than later – there’ll be a third installment in the Redemption of Erâth series. And I can’t wait to tell you when it’s going to drop!