My fiction writing career has been quite a roller coaster. I started out, as so many writers do, when I was twelve. An avid reader, I found myself with an overwhelming urge to create stories as well as read them. So, I went to work on the old manual typewriter my dad kept on his desk.
I never finished that manuscript.
The desire to create stories never went away, though. As I moved through life, my writing ebbed and flowed in significance. While my primary money-making occupation was software development, I also wrote a newspaper column, worked as a reporter and an editor, and did contract work as a copywriter and technical writer.
During all of that, I was also pitching books to agents and publishers. When Dragon Run was picked up by Scholastic, I was ridiculously excited.
It took over a year for it to get published. During that time, I continued to write (of course). I submitted my other books to my editor. To my delight, he was excited about them.
Confident that those books would be published, I focused on other aspects of my life.
That’s when my story takes something of an unfortunate turn. A series of family health crises gave me the privilege of becoming my parents’ primary caregiver.
During those years, Scholastic decided not to pick up my other books, and my agent dropped me.
Suddenly, I found myself in a familiar position. I was a writer with no platform. Cue the introspective soul-searching music.
As a writer, the gold standard is a writing contract with a publisher. Not only does it bring recognition and affirmation, it also lets the writer focus on writing.
I’d been down that road with the biggest children’s publisher in the business, and I can attest that it’s everything you could want. Being published by Scholastic was awesome.
However, I really hated the process of searching for an agent. Querying agents is just about the most unpleasant thing I’ve ever done. I’m also not a huge fan of the convention circuit. Actually, let me correct that. I love the convention circuit. I hate all the “here’s what I do. Would you please pick me up?” conversations.
That’s the place I was in about two years ago. I knew that the “smart” play was to start querying again. Call my contacts, let people know I wanted to get back in the game, and try to land that juicy writing contract.
Unfortunately, my heart wasn’t in it.
I let myself get paralyzed by that dilemma for a depressing amount of time, stuck in what I call the waiting place.
Finally, I shoved all my insecurities to the side and did what I always tell my kids to do. I analyzed the pros and cons of my possible paths.
Path 1: start querying agents. It entails an extended period of personal unpleasantness, but the payoff is oh-so-sweet. Downside: it could take me ten years to land an agent.
Path 2: go the self-publishing route. Build myself up as some sort of celebrity, push out books (the more the better), and go marketing crazy. Downsides: the celebrity thing scares me, and I could end up doing a whole lot of work (and spending a whole lot of money) for basically nothing. Upside: total creative freedom (mwahahaha!), and I can claim to be an Indie Author.
Unfortunately, my analysis came up short. Both paths had a price I didn’t want to pay, and the chances at succeeding at either seemed ridiculously remote.
That’s when I realized I didn’t have to do path 2 the way everyone else does path 2. Instead of focusing all my efforts on marketing myself and try to push out book after book, I could focus on building something new. I’ve built businesses in the past, with mixed success.
I decided to stop thinking of myself as a struggling writer, and start thinking of myself as a struggling publisher.
The clouds parted above the darkness that is The Waiting Place, and ideas started to flow. What if I didn’t just do writing? What if I viewed my books as the launching pad, and explored new ways of bringing stories to kids and their families? What if I committed to the long haul, and specifically avoided the trap of viewing my books as revenue engines?
That’s how Second Story Up was born, my new publishing label.
I started by publishing The Boy With The Sword. In retrospect, that was a mistake. It was the sequel to Dragon Run, and I had no way of reaching those readers. Worse, I had no way of calculating the impact on the initial launch on it being a sequel. Lesson learned.
Next, I published Bradley’s Dragons. This is a story that holds a special place in my heart, and I’ve been dying to get it out for a very long time. I read countless books on how to launch a book, watched videos, and carefully enumerated the mistakes I made on The Boy With The Sword.
To be honest, I kind of blew the launch. I learned a ton, though.
On both of these books, I’m super happy with the reviews, and the feedback from fans has been incredibly gratifying. My goal, however, is the same as every other writer’s: to share the stories with as wide an audience as possible. The businessman in me forces me to recognize that I came up short in the marketing and messaging department.
I’m actually okay with that. Building a business is a process, and I’m in this for the long haul. I’ll keep getting better at marketing the books, and keep my fingers crossed that their audience will continue to spread.
In the meantime, I’m done with The Waiting Place. I have more stories “in the bag,” as it were, waiting for my final push to get them out. I’m also continuing to write, and sequels to Bradley’s Dragons and The Boy With The Sword are on the roadmap.
Just as exciting, I’m working to add more experiences than books. You see, that’s the key advantage to being a struggling business owner. There is no waiting place.
When you’re all-in, as I am, there’s always something to do, never enough time to do it, and no guarantee that it will be successful.
That life, as you might imagine, is terrifying, exhilarating, and exhausting. It’s a rollercoaster of emotion and effort. Honestly, though, I think that’s how I like to live.
That’s my story. I hope it is somehow helpful for your own.