There are many reasons why I decided to self-publish Stealing Away, my young adult (YA) novel about a teenage identity thief, as an e-book.
The first reason is relatively straightforward: After working on the manuscript for seven years and submitting it to many literary agencies, I have not found an agent to represent me.
The other reasons are more complex and reflect my triumph over my struggles with self-worth and fear of embarrassment. To move forward into positive change, we have to let go of the things that are holding us back--whether they be a negative person, fear, or a lack of confidence/poor self image. The latter being my particular problem.
As a Gen-Xer (those born between the early 1960s and the early 1980s) I came of age during the “Golden Age of Publishing” (approximately 1946 through the early 1980s), when publishers were churning out printed books. As a teen I wrote short stories and a lot of bad poetry, but it was my dream to publish a YA novel. Between 1996 and 2003 I published seven non-fiction books with Lerner Publishing, the largest school and library publisher in the United States, and published scores of freelance articles. But things changed for me in the early 2000s when the Internet was in full swing, offering a platform for anybody to write anything, and freelancing became more competitive and less lucrative. So I returned to my childhood dream and started writing a YA novel.
For years I clung to the idea that my first YA novel would be traditionally published by a top New York City publishing house. Hard cover copies of my book would sit smartly in bookstore displays nationwide. Then it would be translated into many languages. Eventually, there would be a movie.
I finished Stealing Away in 2007 and pitched it to agents. Some expressed interest and asked to see the complete manuscript, but all ultimately passed. So I re-wrote the book, made it considerably better, and submitted it again to another round of agents, with the same result. Although I knew it was a good book, I let my discouragement override my belief in myself.
In 2015, when I began writing sweet romance novels and self-published them as e-books, my husband encouraged me to do the same with Stealing Away.
Despite my foray into self-publishing, I told my husband that I would not—and in fact I would never—self-publish my precious YA novel. This treacherous act would betray my life-long dream. It would be an admission of failure. And what would people think if I became one of “those writers” who couldn’t get a novel published? At this point, my book had languished for a few years, waiting patiently for me on a thumb drive. Not long after that conversation with my husband, I powered up my computer and opened the document. I realized I had not worked on the manuscript in two years. It was a stunning revelation. I had abandoned my book—this thing that I loved and had spent years working on—because I was unable to see beyond my own stubborn thought patterns and beliefs.
Thus began my “journey from no.”
It was time for me to reconsider—and maybe reconfigure—my childhood dream. But change is hard-won, and must be coaxed and coddled. Most of all, it has to be earned by taking a hard look in the mirror, facing your demons and deciding once and for all to let them go.
I thought back to my original arguments about why I would never self-publish my YA novel. I had presented the reasons to my husband as irrefutable facts and with indignation. But if I was going to change my circumstances (i.e., publish my novel), I would have to take out my arguments, examine them one by one, and reconsider the alternatives.
First, it has been my life-long dream to traditionally publish a YA novel that would make a big splash. And who wants to let go of a dream? But I had to ask myself, was that really my dream? If I stripped everything away, would I see that my goal—on the purest level—was to write and publish a YA novel? I realized I had three options: I could continue to submit the manuscript (i.e. doing the same thing expecting different results), I could leave it to die in the shadows, or I could publish it myself.
My second argument was that self-publishing would mean I had capitulated and admitted failure. Failure? Really? I took a look at my “failure” as I writer, and when I had gathered together the bits and pieces of my writing career, I realized I was wrong. I could not be a failure as a writer, because I had already succeeded as one. I have published seven non-fiction books. I was once the editor of an award-winning children’s history magazine. I have written two “sweet romance” e-books that, while sell only modestly, do sell.
The third argument against self-publishing, “what would people think?” has been the biggest obstacle over the years and the nastiest demon to overcome. I realized the notion of what other people might think of me was, in fact, the real reason I struggled with the idea of self-publishing, no matter how much I hated to admit that. I worried about what my "high-brow" former work colleagues in literary and artistic circles would think, and imagined them snickering at me. It suddenly seemed absurd that I wasn't pursing a dream because I was afraid of what a handful of people—who I really didn't like anyway—thought of me and my work.
Stealing Away is almost like my child, and I think that’s why I clung to it for so long. But after years of nourishing the manuscript, I decided to do what any good mother would do—I set it, and ultimately myself, free. I sent the manuscript to a professional copywriter and hired a designer who created a beautiful cover. I bought an ISBN number and made a website and book trailer. And then I sent Stealing Away out into the world to find its place.
And it has. And when I look at my book on amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com, I no longer care what people think of my self-published work, because now—at long last— can think of myself and my accomplishments with pride. I love what I have done. And love that I had the courage to change.
My experience, this "journey from no," puts me in mind of a quote from one of my favorite writers, Victorian novelist George Eliot, who wrote: "It is never too late to be what you might have been."
All it takes is a willingness to change.