Here I blog about writing, editing, reading, books, submissions, freelancing, getting published (and rejected), journalism, revisions, life after the MFA, teaching writing, and living the writer's life. Welcome. BUT -- if you are a writer: Write first, read blogs second.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Guest Blogger Michelle O'Neil on Insecurity, Expectations, and the Self-published Author

Some writer friends always know what to say. I met Michelle O'Neil online several years ago, and she's turned out to be that kind of writer friend, who always has something good to say about anything I do. Even when I screw up, I can count on getting a short but oh-so-spot-on email, tweet or Facebook message from Michelle that puts things right into perspective. Michelle recently self-published the memoir Daughter of the Drunk at the Bar. As she explains below, that was the easy part. Wounds fully licked, she is now hard at work on her next good book. 

Please welcome Michelle O'Neill.

Writing in general is fraught with fear and insecurity, but hang onto your hat if you decide to self-publish. I thought I'd done the hard emotional work writing my memoir. I wrote honestly. I wrote bravely.

I wrote a good book.

I hired professional editors to give me feedback on structure. I had other writers go through my manuscript line by line. Persnickety friends with eyes of eagles found even more things to fix after I released it. I thanked the self-pub Gods for print-on-demand and the ability to make corrections. 

Since the book's release, I've received emails from readers who want to tell me what my memoir has meant to them. Some have said they could not put it down. Some people are finishing the book in one or two days.  Some readers who work in the recovery field have said they are buying copies for their offices and clients.

One of my first writing teachers, author Jennifer Lauck asked me to guest post on her blog and hosted a webinar with me on the topic of self-publishing. I've received good Amazon reviews. Some of my nearest and dearest bloggy friends have talked me up on their blogs, and I've begun to receive good reviews by book bloggers

And yet. Many of my traditionally published writer friends and acquaintances are not touching my book with a ten-foot pole. Some writers I have long supported, are not reciprocating. To my knowledge they aren't even buying my book. If they are, they are not saying anything about it. They are not putting their name on a review. They are not talking it up on their social networks. They are not even giving me kudos privately.


I think I understand their reluctance. I have opted out of a system most writers are heavily invested in. I'm assuming the fact I didn't go the traditional publishing route, makes mine "not a real book" to many. And that completely derails me if I think about it too long.  

Is my book "real?" Am I a real writer? Did my book not get picked up by a literary agent because it isn't good enough? Granted, I only sent the final version to a handful of them. I kept reading about the emergence of e-books taking over the marketplace and how the time was ripe for independent publishing. Also, with the state of the publishing industry, unknown writers are not getting much attention from the big houses, so I was kind of scared to go that route, even if I did land an agent.   

Do people think my story is too personal? Too ugly? Was I wrong to publish it independently? Is my book not as good as I think it is? Is it a joke?

When you hope people will show up for you and they don't, it hurts.   

That being said, I have had to take an honest inventory of what my expectations were going in. I have supported many authors in the past because I was so happy and excited for them when their books came out. I believed in their work, and I love books! I didn't do it for a payback, but somehow, as my book marched out into the world, I started to assume they might return the favor, at least those I knew personally. My motivation for supporting other writers, though pure at the time, became muddied in retrospect.

What it comes down to is this. I support other writers on my blogs and through my social media outlets and via word of mouth, because I love to do it. I will continue to do it, but nobody owes me.

What I've learned, and would like to pass along to others who plan to self-publish is this: please explore whether you have any unconscious (or conscious) notions of riding the coattails of your traditionally published friends. If you do, it's probably best to let those notions go.

And, whatever expectations you do have for the traditionally published writers in your close circle, consider asking them directly to do something specific, such as, "Will you "share" my book with your Facebook friends?"  or "My Amazon sales could be better, would you mind reading my book and putting up a brief positive comment?" or "Would love it if you would do a tweet for my book sometime this week." Granted, this is an area I have yet to master. It is very hard for me to ask for help. And I abhor the thought of putting anyone on the spot. I feel if they were inspired to talk me up, they would. Deep down, I guess I'm afraid of finding out they don't like my work, or worse, they don't like me.  

I'm also forced to look at why it matters so much to me if my traditionally published friends and acquaintances support my book. Is it because I hope Daughter of the Drunk at the Bar will reach a wider audience and positively touch many people? Well, yes. But if I'm being honest, the reason that comes before that one is I don't want to feel like a failure. I'm tying my self-worth into how well my book does.

I really meant not to do that. 

But this is what's great about being a writer. Every little thing we go through is an opportunity for self-exploration and there is always the opportunity to bring it back to the page. Why do I find it hard to ask for help? Why am I hanging my sense of value as a person on how many books I sell? How can I inspire others to want to read my work, rather than playing the role of the unnoticed victim? What does this give me the chance to heal? How can I believe in myself and in my writing more?

On a deeper, soulful level, being a writer is a chance to grow so much more than sales. We lick our wounds, but a new page always beckons, "Come here," it says, "get back to work." Because real writers? That's what we do.  
Michelle is a former radio news reporter whose pieces aired during NPR's Morning Edition in Washington DC. She has contributed to special needs anthologies, and has written for many venues, both print and online.  Learn more about her memoir here.


Carrie Link said...

Great post, Michelle! Great book! Great human, you are, in fact, you are MY human!

Turndog Millionaire said...

I find this rather sad if there will be a line between published and self published authors. Good writing is good writing, so if someone has written a good book then does it matter if it's come from a big publishers house or not?

I don't think your published friends owe you anything, but if they know you and trust your work then surely they'd be only happy to give it a read and maybe give it the odd mention/review. That's generally just something you do for people you like and trust

I suppose self published work means there will forever be a lot of crap out there, but it's unfair to say all self published writers are crap.

Congrats on the tough skin though. Keep it up

Matt (Turndog Millionaire)

drew said...

Your honesty and self-awareness have sold me, Michelle. I'm buying your book right now.

Your experience echoes my own feelings as a poet who is navigating the space between traditional and more "entrepreneurial" publishing paths.

Congratulations on your book, and best of luck in finding your audience — and feeling good about your success.

Anonymous said...

I read your blog and bought and read the book when it came out. Frankly, I didn't like it. I thought the writing was mediocre and the point of view self-serving. It even turned me off from your blog. I also thought it bad form to say so, though that is what the Amazon reviews are for. I am so tired of the woe-is-me tour of the internet, though, that I am going to go back to Amazon and write that review after all.

kario said...

I love that you've written this, Michelle. It is so difficult to divorce our self-perceptions from our readers' reactions and financial success (or lack thereof). Writing is such a unique kind of work to engage in and I think it is really important for writers to constantly reassess their reasons for writing in the first place.

I honestly believe that your stories touch many lives and that, absent of any financial considerations, you are making a difference by telling your truth. Thank you for your courage. said...

Great post, Michelle. And I started your book the other night and could not put it down. If I didn't have to go back to work today, I'd be at home reading it. I so appreciate your honesty in the writing.

Alyssa C. said...

Michelle, I just love this post. And I will definitely be checking out your book (and tweeting and posting about it too after!). I totally agree and relate with so many of your points about self worth and measurement. I love this line:

We lick our wounds, but a new page always beckons, "Come here," it says, "get back to work."

I admire your courage and bravery in self publishing and hope that one day soon the stigma with this choice will be nonexistent! Can't wait to read more from you.

Amber said...

Omg, do I HATE it when people write mean shit under "anonymous"!! Grow. Some. Balls, for fucksake. I love the threat too, to go write a review now... Lmao!! Really?! Will you use your real name then? Bet not. Pussy. Just use Pussy, and we'll know it was you, k? ;)
I could see why someone who is such a passive agressive sort wouldn't like your book, Michelle... It is FAR too honest and in your face truthful, and nothing about it is weak or mean about it. It makes some people's ass itch, you know. It is much easier to throw a punch and hide, then face ugly and painful truths about ones life using ones own name-- as you did.
Amber Harris

Lisa Romeo said...

Well, I was going to respond to Anonymous above, but it appears Amber has done that already!
Dissenting opinions are not the problem, and we need not be worried about readers who tried our work and didn't care for it; after all, not every reader will like every book he or she opens. But there are other options, such as to stop reading and move on.

Carrie Link said...

What Amber and Lisa said!

Wanda said...

Ditto, ditto, ditto. said...

Wonderful post, Michelle! And lisa, I like how you responded to anonymous.

Lisa MarK said...

I don't know If I said it already but ...This blog rocks! I gotta say, that I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say I'm glad I found your blog. Thanks,:)A definite great read.
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