The ten things I've learned from publishing
I might not be the last person to write a list like this, but I'm certainly the latest. For, I dunno, like five minutes or so, I'd bet. It's been an interesting five years so far, since I shifted from author to publisher, and one of the things I've seen most across the internet has been everyone's compiled list of "the X number of things you need to know about Y." Everything from formatting to marketing, from coming up with ideas to finding an agent. Everyone seems to know the Right Way to Write, or how to sell more books, or how to succeed in business without really trying. And I've read through all of them, and while some of them have got some really fantastic ideas, let's be honest. Not every road really does lead to financial glory. That being said, I've met a lot of people who are just taking those first steps towards their goal, and it seems like a good time to pause and share some of the lessons I've learned along the way.
As you'll see, some of the lessons were through doing things a "right" way, and some...not so much. This is not so much intended as a "follow me to glory!" as much as a buffet of experience. Feel free to pick and choose, you won't hurt my feelings.
1. Define "Success". Before you even get started, figure out where you're going. It may be a destination, it may be a journey. But get your bearings before you lose your way. Are you in it for the money? Then set a number. Are you in it for the joy of creation? Are you just making things for yourself to enjoy, or for others to see and share? Paint a picture in your mind, and commit it to paper - there's a profound sense of satisfaction to be had in knowing you've accomplished what you set out to do.
2. Learn about the path before trying to walk it. The way is littered with the wreckage of a thousand pilgrims, no matter what way you intend to go. See what they did right, see what they did wrong. Learn your options. Make a plan. Even if you're looking at the road less traveled, chances are that someone has taken it already. Understand their journey and you are more likely to be successful on yours. But always remember: just because that's the way it's always been done doesn't mean that's the way it should always be done.
3. Take the First Step. Fear stops most people before they've even begun. That first motion forward can be horribly terrifying. Get it over with. The road to your goal will be filled with little choices - remember this: small risk, big win - but the biggest little choice is that first step forward.
4. Enjoy the path. The bigger the goal you've set for yourself, the more challenging and time-intensive it's going to be. Don't make the mistake of choosing to celebrate only after you've arrived - the result will be a lifetime of memories of your struggles and pain, but none of the joy that should be associated with following the path of your heart. Smile. Breathe it in. Every step forward should fill you with joy - and then, when you've reached your goal, you will have all the more cause for celebration.
5. Know yourself. Keep a check on where you're going, how well you're moving, and be sure you're still heading in the right direction. If you aren't, change course now. Every step you take in the wrong direction takes you further from your goals. The time to correct is the moment you realize you're off path.
6. Get another pair of eyes. I don't care how meticulous or how much of a perfectionist you are, you're going to make mistakes along the way. Just accept that now. Get someone - a real friend, not just someone who will tell you what they think you want to hear - to look over your work and give you the cold, hard, facts. Is it good? Does it need work? And before you do this, by god, ready yourself for the truth. You don't want to spend ten years going down one path only to discover it's not the path you should be taking.
7. Embrace Doubt. Everyone doubts. Ask anyone, and only liars will tell you otherwise. Doubt is what makes faith such a big deal. It is the anchor which keeps us from flying off the map. Doubt is the resistance band which powers our belief and our motivation. Listen to it, and use it to explore the possibilities you haven't considered - like testing a boat's hull before planting it in the deeper waters.
8. Understand the motivations of others. You will encounter "haters", or people who simply tell you "it can't be done", or "we don't require your submission at this time," or "self-publishing is only going to destroy your chances of success", or whatever you hear. Maybe they'll say "we can publish your manuscript, we only require a down payment of 50% of your overall project cost..." People will rarely financially invest in your work if they see a profit in it. This includes agents, publishing houses, whatever. I'm not trying to make you cynical, but spend a few minutes browsing the internet and you'll see a whole author graveyard, scattered with the broken dreams of artists who got their projects published years ago, only to find themselves in debt to their publisher, with no means of escape and no property of their own to leverage against it. Musicians, artists, authors - it's a sad and common tale.
9. When in doubt, do it yourself. Thanks to the internet, there are many options available to musicians and authors - also to filmmakers, video game designers, and so forth. You don't need a publisher to publish your book. You don't need to be discovered in that dive bar downtown to become a successful musician. You have an idea for a book? Write it! You have a song jingling around in your brain? Play it, record it. Aspiring is like trying - do or do not. Get off your butt and get cracking.
10. Remember this: you are not alone. There is an entire world full of other artists out there, writing, recording, creating. Many of whom are in the exact same boat you're in. Find them. Reach out to them. Offer to help. Ask to pick their brains. Network. Work together. Support other independent artists. The rising tide lifts all boats.