"So, what kind of car have you been able to buy from your royalties?" A fellow self-published author asked me with a twinkle in his eye. "No Ferrari? No Mercedes? Not even a Cadillac?"
I laughed and thus followed a memorable conversation of the ups and downs of the writing life. Since the life of a writer (especially a self-published one) can be lonely, we both relished the chance to discuss The Secret Life of a Self-Published Author.
We're not rich.
A lucky few have made it big with their self-published works, but the majority are like my friend and I--driving the same rusty vehicles, receiving royalties that better pass as pocket-change, and walking invisible to the world. We put in the work to make a dream a reality, and we paid for the publication process out of our own pockets, with a very slow recuperation of the costs. Self-publishing, we agreed, is not for the faint of heart. It takes work, guts, and divine blessing to sell the book beyond a few family and friends.
Self-promotion isn't easy.
My friend and I share the same distaste for shouting the merits of our books through a megaphone. "I see these people who seem to self-promote constantly," he told me. "They can't meet someone on the street or go to an event without turning it into an opportunity to talk about their book. That isn't my style. It seems excessive and arrogant."
I agreed, though I admitted my struggle in the opposite realm. Sometimes I am too shy about advertising my book, but when you're a self-published author, you have no choice. If you don't market, you don't sell. And if you don't sell, you can't even recover the cost of the publication, never mind make a little profit for all your work. Learning the balance takes time and unusual persistence.
"I can't even look at my own book."
I laughed out loud when my friend admitted this. Yes! I have been there. I'm still there. My own book has been ruined for me. What my readers receive with delight (and I'm glad they do) makes me shudder. I saw too much of my book during the editing process and I can no longer bear the sight of it. I still believe in its message whole-heartedly, but I'm not in love with it, as I expected to be.
"If I could do it over..."
As soon as these words came out of my mouth, my friend responded, "Do you need me to slap you?" Then he explained. "I said those words once too. 'If only I could do it over, I'd do it differently.' And my listener said just those words to me: 'Do you need me to slap you? Don't look back at what you've done. Look forward to what you're going to do next.' It was good advice. In fact, I was told by a woman with a background in editing that I had a 'workman's voice.' If I went back to my book today and tried to refine it, I would destroy that voice."
I knew what my friend meant. Despite reviews that praise my excellent writing quality, I sincerely doubt my own quality. I can see only the faults of my book. But if I could do it over? I know I would kill the book. I would replace the rawness of honesty with the polish of artificiality. It is as much a mistake to be blind to my book's merits as to its faults. If my readers find treasure in my book, who am I to argue?
My friend is right. It's not my job to revisit my old work. It is my job to take the lessons I have learned and create new work.
That should be quite the adventure.