(Or, How I Came to Fully Embrace My Self-Publishing Path)
Since I was a really little girl, I wanted to become a writer and publish books. This dream was surely rooted in my own love of reading from a young age. I devoured Baby Sitter Club books, the Goosebumps series and Sweet Valley High novels as quickly as I could get my hands on them. (Though I am literally a Jessica, I always felt like more of a Jessica/Elizabeth hybrid, even if I remained unsure about the ethics of the Unicorn Club. That I was a Claudia was never in doubt.)
My baby bookworm logic worked like this: Books make me happy. I should make books that make OTHER people happy. Made perfect sense!
So, I got older, made an educational turn toward journalism, but continued to hold onto the dream of publishing a novel. In my head, this process was like what you see in the movies: I’d get quickly signed by a whip-smart agent, ushered off to a glitzy publisher high rise in NYC, cast onto glamorous, canape-and-champagne-stocked book tours, and promptly hit the bestseller list(s). Done and done.
Then in the early 2000s, the digital era came fully into its own, blowing up basically every single form of information sharing. Funnily, even as the journalism industry was turned on its head, my publishing dream didn’t change.
To me, being an author meant being signed by one of the Big Five publishing houses and living out the aforementioned publicity dream. Fast forward to five years ago, and women in my RWA chapter were self publishing to much success all around me, but that still didn’t feel like The Path For Me. Maybe this was snobbery. Maybe this was ignorance. Call it what you want, but revamping one’s dreams is no small task. Not to mention that the prospect of self publishing felt like a heck of a lot of work. Part of the fantasy of the Traditionally Published Path is that there’d be all these other professionals available to do the nitty gritty work of birthing a book into this world, leaving me to focus on what I loved most: writing.
Right when I was on the cusp of deciding whether I’d take the possibility of self-publishing seriously, my RWA chapter hosted Gabriella Pereira, who talked to us about marketing strategies for creative people, and as she talked, I kept coming back to one key takeaway:
You have to name and own your personal end point.
For me, what that meant was an opportunity to really dismantle some of the pre-conceived notions I had about publishing and to instead think about what I wanted my creative writing life to look like. Right now, in this exact season of my life.
When it all boils down, even if I fantasize about the glamorous speaker’s tours of decades past and the logistical support of a well-run publishing house, here’s what, in its most simple form, I want as an author:
1.) A small, loyal following that’s really excited about my books.
2.) Enough financial support to remain active in the RWA, including participating in a conference, and to sustain the minimal costs of my humble publishing practice.
Anything on top of that? Well, it’s icing on the cake.
Once I began to factor in a few other considerations, the path toward self-pushing felt more and more right.
First, I wanted my fiction writing to supplement my Main Career, not to supplant it. (This isn’t the case for all authors; many are seeking to write their way out of what they’re currently doing.) I worked dang hard to get where I am professionally, and find great satisfaction in my Main Career. It will stay central.
Second, and relatedly, self-publishing would allow me to set a pace that felt best for me and my family. My Main Career has its own ‘seasons,’ if you will, and self-publishing allows me to map this creative work on top of my professional obligations in a way that is both sustainable and compatible. In a way that will allow it to, first and foremost, be fun. The idea that I could be solely responsible for when I publish, the pace of my own writing, as well as all the creative content and marketing … well, it’s a lot of work, but also a heck of a lot of opportunity to really make my book, and my author brand, my own.
For someone with the slightest bit of control-freak tendencies around my creative work, this was actually a relief to consider. Plus, this process was going to require me to immerse myself in many of the digital publishing, marketing and social media arenas that my own students will be entering after graduation. Trying out some of these processes first hand can only make me a more effective professor-by-day.
Deep in the back of my mind, there was this small part of me that thought that the decision to self-publish was giving up somehow, or lowering the bar, but the more I thought about it, the more it felt like the perfect opportunity. Talking with my dad, it occurred to me that I had to take the very advice that I give my own media students: you don’t sit around and assume that one day Big Fancy Print Newspaper or National Broadcast Network is going to be beating down your door. Our media environment has changed dramatically. You take every opportunity you can, and more often than not, that’s going to be a non-traditional, digital outlet, that, yes, will probably require substantial hustling. Maybe that path will one day lead to a job at Prominent Newspaper #1, or maybe you’ll fall in love with where you are and the unique opportunities it provides.
So one day, I just made the decision to self-publish my first series (with the first book debuting in September 2017.) I told my mom, my #1 cheerleader, and assured her there would still be ways to get a print copy of my book. I told my husband. Told my best girlfriends. It felt strangely confessional, but I had to say it out loud: my vision for my dream had changed. Then I rolled up my sleeves and got to work.
It’s now less than a month until my debut novel is released. I’m learning new tips, tricks, and complications every single day and my to-do list has become as comically long as a CVS receipt. I’m not writing nearly as much as I want these days, but for now, that’s okay. (Book 2, I WILL come back for you. I promise.) This is a brief window where other priorities have risen to the top of the heap.
I now not only accept my unique creative vision for my life, and fully own my end point, I actually adore it. This is a heck of a lot of fun. It’s not the naive dream of a book-loving young woman, but something that I’ve created within the particular realities of my life and the tools at my disposal. That I can sit here in my small, chaotic house, and forge my own creative dream into reality is a truly beautiful part of modern life. This roller coaster will have ups and downs and loopty loops (and, okay, might make me feel nauseous at times, because: vulnerability!) but I’m ready to throw my hands up and say “Let’s go.”
When Jess Vonn isn’t writing romance novels, she’s reading them (way past her bedtime.) She writes spicy but romantic books with sexy, playful men and quirky, funny women and wonderful groups of “found friends.” She’s the author of the smalltown “Love by The Seasons” series. Her books are available on Amazon, and via Kindle Unlimited. Connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter! She’s on TikTok, too, though in all fairness, she has no idea what she’s doing on there…
After an unfortunate discovery involving her boyfriend and a blonde and a glass-walled shower, Winnie Briggs is bolting from her Chicago-based life in search of a fresh start as the editor of rural Bloomsburo’s newspaper. Winnie’s only desire is to put all of her energy into her writing — well, that and to officially retire her lady parts in an act of self-defense. Unfortunately, as scandal unfolds in her new community, her closest ally comes in the form of delicious-smelling Chamber of Commerce director Cal Spencer, who also happens to be the son of Winnie’s benevolent (if meddling) landlady. Cal is a serial non-committer, yet his electric attraction to Winnie’s curves and quirks has him contemplating breaking his iron-clad commitment to never mix work with pleasure. The couple’s sexual chemistry escalates alongside the town’s drama, leaving them wondering: can they survive the fall with their jobs, their hearts, and their pledges of non-commitment intact?