There has been a bit of discussion about self-publishing. First, there was this post by an unknown writer who called himself a self-publishing failure. In my opinion, the post was more about trying to be witty and funny than about the reality of self-publishing. The author showed a distinct lack of knowledge about self-publishing, and didn’t appear to have made much of an effort to sell his book. Also: only one book? For only six months? Very few people can make it work in such a short period.
Hugh Howey responded to that article with this post. This was a much more balanced view of how self-publishing has liberated many mid-list writers. The self-publishing story is not about Hugh (sorry Hugh, you’re a nice fellow), and it’s not about Amanda Hocking or E.L. James. The story is about the thousands and thousands of small-time writers who make a few hundred dollars a month which allows them to pay some bills, or, as in Michael Coorlim’s case, has returned to him his dignity and purpose in life.
Read Michael’s story:
Self-publishing saved my life.
Back in December 2011 I was in a bad place. I hadn’t had a full-time job since 2008, getting by on temping and freelance copywriting, only there hadn’t been much work coming my way. I was broke, couch surfing, and hadn’t had even the promise of real work in months.
You know how they say that you should treat a job hunt like a job? Yeah, that works for a while, but after the first few years you get discouraged. Then depressed.
So I found myself with little more than a laptop, an impending sense of doom, and copious amounts of free-time.
I always considered myself a writer
Now, I’ve always been a storyteller. Even when I was just a little shaver, even before I could read, I was filling up spiral notebooks with stickman comic books and giving them to my grandparents. As soon as I learned to read I became a literary addict, binging on as many books as I could get my grubby little hands on. In class I’d ignore whatever the teachers were blathering on about and read something hidden under the lip of my desk. When assigned reading I’d get through it in the first day. I still binge; I think I got through the last Harry Potter book in a single sitting.
I don’t read as much anymore. And by 2011, I wasn’t writing much, either. Life skimming the poverty line has this way of wearing away at your most interesting edges. I still thought of myself as “a writer”, but truth was I hadn’t written anything substantial in years.
Never tried to get published, either. Oh, I thought about it. Researched it. Bought Writer’s Digest guides, read How To’s on the business by Stephen King and Ray Bradbury and Orson Scott Card. Never did so much as send a query, though. Maybe it was a fear of success. Or a fear of failure. It seems an alien mindset to me, now, but all I know is that it was some d*mn unprofessional attitude or another that held me back, kept me working [crap] jobs to make other people rich.
If I was smart, I woulda started self-publishing in 2009, but that’s the lethargy that comes with depression.
Might as well write somethin’
So I found myself in late 2011 with a lot of free time, impending doom, and not a lot else. I can’t say exactly what spurred me to start writing again, but it’s a good thing; I was rapidly burning through my social circle’s hospitality, and was faced with an upcoming Chicago winter.
I wrote a short psychological thriller about the end of the word and sent it off to some magazine. A milestone. My first ever submission anywhere.
It was rejected. I had expected that. What I hadn’t expected was that my rejection was a personal one, calling it an “Almost”.
Spirits lifted, I thought about sending it off to the next market on my list, when I remembered that self-publishing thing. Why not, right?
I spent some time researching it, then sent the story off to Amazon, Smashwords, and Barnes & Noble. I hastened and wrote a few other stories, publishing four that first month.
I made $10. And I was doing everything wrong.
My covers were terrible, my titles were vague and uninformative, my pricing was 99 cents. I could write, but I had no clue about the business of writing.
Gotta learn the trade
I did some more research, wrote some more stories, and put some thought into branding. Month two? $250.
That was $250 more than I’d earned in a long time.
As time went by, I kept writing, kept researching, kept honing my skills with covers and blurbs and titles. I stopped wasting so much time on twitter and facebook trying to promote myself, and instead focused on producing content. I’ve got the website, but that’s about all the active marketing I bother with, beyond sending out a twitter announcement and mailing list email when I publish something new.
By June 2012 I was making a thousand dollars a month.
That may not sound like a lot as someone’s sole source of income, but it was a hell of a lot to me, and it’s entirely through my efforts. Sure, Amazon and BN and Kobo and iTunes get their cut, but I’m not working for anyone else. Nobody else is making as much offa my word-sweat as I am.
And that’s incredibly liberating.
Where I’m At
So I’ve been plateaued at around a thousand a month since then and I can’t seem to climb any higher for whatever reason, but I’m doing something that I love. That’s it. That’s the job. Eventually I’ll break this wall I keep hitting and start making more. Some story will take off, or my mailing list will grow to the point where I have more consistent sales, or I’ll just have an inventory where the individual sales trickles add up to more.
I can write. My reviews tell me that. And I’m learning to publish.
The only way to fail at writing is to give up, and a lot of people who try self-publishing do. They publish a story or two and don’t see instant results, get discouraged, and quit. It’s a long game, and you have to have realistic expectations, but as long as you don’t stop you’re making progress. I’m proof of that, and I hope that my story inspires other authors to keep on.
Though a prolific writer Michael Coorlim had found the prospect and process of traditional publication daunting, often preparing query letters and researching markets only to never get around to submitting any of his work. It wasn’t until he reached his thirties that he took the steps to write professionally, and by then the self-publishing revolution had already begun.
He currently lives in the city of Chicago with his girlfriend and their cat, living his life-long dream of supporting himself as an author of fast-paced character-driven fiction about authentic people in fantastic situations.