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.