Today we’re featuring an excellent personal story about self-publishing from LTWF reader Lincoln Law!
By Lincoln Law
We can all remember that moment in the bookstores, looking at the shelves packed thick with books, hoping that one day we will find our own in amongst it. Heck, I still do it now (going so far as to sneak a self-printed copy onto the shelf, taking a photo, and then putting it back in my bag). The dream of one day writing full-time is something that I’m sure all writers dream about. I even use YouTube videos of interviews with successful writers to cut through writer’s block. This dream, however, will take a lot of work. The only mistake you can make is to rush into publication—and I am speaking from experience.
But we will get to my experience later. I would first like to tell you about a thirteen-year-old boy and his dreams.
One day, while reading Harry Potter, this boy decided he wanted to write a book. He hopped on his computer and began to write his first novel. This book would be written one-and-a-half times (because he gave up half-way through after realising what he had written was dribble), and when he reached the 90,000th word, he decided it was still dribble, and didn’t even bother to query it. This was perhaps the best decision he ever made (and you will all understand in due course).
Instead, he moves on to a new shiny idea he’s had. It is an epic trilogy about a boy who has no shadow in a world where to have no shadows means you are juvenile. This he writes, edits and with the pride that all young authors have, queries with it as if it’s the next Lord of the Rings.
He queries agents at first, and when the string of rejection letters come rolling in, he moves onto publishers that are open to unsolicited queries. The experience of querying a publisher was much like querying an agent. In his naïve understanding of the publishing world, he uses a carbon copy of his agent query, replacing the word ‘representation’ with ‘publication’.
He receives a reply from a big publisher (one of the biggest) requesting the full manuscript, which he promptly posts off.
Six months later, the manuscript arrives on his doorstep with a rejection letter attached. Heartbroken, but still filled with pride, he decides to self-publish this book, hoping for a kind of instant gratification that many people find in chocolate, coffee or instant loans. He receives some press, and his school gets him on the local TV news. There’s a write-up in the newspaper, and bookstores in his town begin to ask him if they can sell his book. Excited, confused, he says yes and begins printing books with Lulu.com, a print-on-demand company, and passes them onto stores.
He completes the trilogy, and eventually finds all three books on the shelves. People who have read it love it and congratulate him on something so wonderful from a person his age. They commend him for the momentous task that a 365,000 word trilogy is, and by age eighteen, he has his first book signing.
By now this boy is eighteen, on the cusp of nineteen, almost a man, and he is coming to realise the grave mistake he has made in self-publishing his work. While it has provided him some joy in having a wide audience read what he would’ve called at age fifteen, his magnum opus, at eighteen he has come to realise that perhaps he is in too deep, and he wants out now. The book is now published, technically speaking. It is on the shelves, and a little over a hundred people have read this book, and every one of those people have an opinion on his words—the ramblings of a fifteen-year-old newbie. However much he wishes to call every book back into his room to be burnt, he cannot possibly erase what people have seen of this unpolished, roughly edited series. The wakeup call, so to speak, arrived in the form of his English teacher reading his novel, and when asked whether he enjoyed it or not, was responded with an uncertain ‘yeah…’. It was like he was suddenly aware of the story’s faults, as Adam and Eve discovered their nakedness after eating the apple. The boy was naked before the world, and everyone was allowed to judge.
That boy is me, and while I soldier on, coming ever-closer to completing the second book my second trilogy (book number 6 since I started at thirteen), I look back at my mistake of my arrogant youth. I have dived in, when I should’ve stepped slowly. I was driven by hopes that the grass was greener, when in truth the grass was still growing for me; I just needed to be patient.
People who I’ve met since my mistake tell me I am still young by most standards, still developing. I have a good 50-60 years ahead of me during which my dreams can come true, and they are absolutely right. Unlike Christopher Paolini, who struck it lucky at fifteen with a book that was not necessarily of great quality, but of great marketability, and who rejected Colleges’ offers of the chance to study writing courses due to the supposed and self-proclaimed excellence of his developing prose, I have come to realise that only through time, practice and hard work can I eventually achieve my dream. I may not be able to say I have made millions from my writing, but I can safely say that I have not written a well-disguised piece of Star Wars fan-fic, and that it will be through my integrity and ever-growing skill that I will eventually find a publisher.
So listen to the words of someone who has experienced it. Work hard and develop your voice. Read as much as you can, write until you are asleep, and while there, keep writing; keep imagining; keep dreaming. There is a reason there are other people out there who decide when you are ready to be published, and they will be there when your time comes, as they always have been. There is no need to rush. Write not for hopes of publication, but for hopes to become better.
J.K. Rowling doesn’t want to be remembered as the richest author in the world, or the best-selling, or the most generous. As she once stated, she “wants to be remembered as a woman who did the best she could with the talent she had”, and that is something we can all strive for. Strive not for infamy, but for quality, and you will go well.
Contrary to what Lincoln Law wrote here, he is not wracked by the doom and gloom of his past, and can often be found writing to the music of Owl City or OneRepublic. He is currently spending a year away from school to write while waiting to begin a degree in English Teaching. Presently he is querying his most recent novel, “The Blood Moon” and has zero intentions of self-publishing it. You can find out more about him at www.lincolnlaw.livejournal.com