Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Putting Yourself Out There (an Indie Life post)

I was never very adept at dating when I was younger. At least, it didn't feel like I was. Maybe it feels like that for everyone? Or most people, at least. There's always this great ambivalence leading up to asking anyone out. Sometimes soul-crushing ambivalence. Doubt. Fear. And, frequently, you just don't do it, because you decide, before you even ask, that the person you want to ask will say "no."

Of course, when I was in high school (and college), all of this was complicated by "The Girl." I was so stuck on her that it made me incapable of seeing other opportunities that were in front of me. And it lasted for YEARS. And it's not like it was some hidden, unrequited thing, either. She knew how I felt and there was pretty consistent pursuit. In fact, any time I would start to get fatigued, she'd do something to keep me hooked without ever going out with me. She very much wanted to make sure that I didn't date anyone else while still not dating me. I came to hate, "I like you, but..." It was... horrible.

But I was completely blinded by her and her unfulfilled promises and it prompted me to completely turn away several girls who were interested in me just for the chance of going out with "The Girl." That and it felt dishonest to go out with someone when I was clearly attracted to someone else. The couple of times I did actually go out with some other girl, I let "The Girl" mess those up. Like I said, she didn't want to date me, per se, but she didn't want me dating someone else, either.

Eventually, though, I did get past her and started asking out some other girls. And, my gosh, the dread of doing that...
There was this one girl... I think I was a freshman in college (pretty sure), and she was, well, she was older than me, like a junior or something. Blond. Pretty. She sat next to me in... Intro to Drama? Maybe. She sat next to me in something, at any rate, and I really wanted to ask her out. I argued with myself over that for weeks. I gave myself all the reasons why I shouldn't ask her:
"She's older than you."
"She's popular."
"Look how pretty she is."
"She'll never say yes to you."

I'm sure there were more, and I'm also sure you get the idea.

At any rate, what it finally came down to for me was this:
If I didn't ask her out, it was the equivalent of a "no." But, if I did ask her out, I might get a "yes." I suppose I couldn't let the possibility slip by, so, one Friday after class when some friends of mine and I were going to hit the local pizza joint, I asked her if she wanted to come along. And...
I did not get a "yes," but I also didn't get a "no." I got a "I can't right now, maybe some other time." And, maybe, that was a "no" and, maybe, it was exactly what it was. I don't know, because I didn't try again. Maybe, I should have; I don't know. The main thing, though, was that I asked her, which I even knew at the time.

That was my thing after that, "If you don't ask [about whatever, not just dating], the answer is always "no." Or to say it the way my mother-in-law used to say it, "Let them say 'no,'" meaning: Don't not ask because you're convinced you'll get a "no." Make them say it.

Of course, I'm not really talking about dating. All of this has to do with what it's like being an independent author. "The Girl" is like that time period where you're stuck on going with a traditional publisher. Most authors go through that and will pursue it for years and years. They'll jump through all kinds of hoops thrown out there by "The Girl," um, I mean Agents. "I like it, but..."
You just need to change these parts.
You just need to write it first person.
You just need to have a love triangle.
blah blah blah
All of that when it's not really about you, anyway. They just want the attention and the power (and I'm not talking about any specific agent; I mean that in a general sense about the way that part of publishing works).

Of course, I could also talk about looking for an agent in the same context of dating, but I'm not going to do that, because I don't think most authors ought to be looking for agents, but that's a post for another time.

What I want to talk about is the whole thing of putting yourself out there. I mean, that's what dating is: putting yourself out there and becoming vulnerable. You risk the big "NO" any time you ask someone out, and that risk is scary, and it never feels good to get it. But you don't always get a "no." I hope.

Putting your book out there is a lot like this. Putting it out there where people can see it and read it is risking the big "No" of bad reviews (and no reviews), no sales, and people responding negatively to you rather than your work. It can be... hard. Scary.

But not putting your stuff out there is the same as not asking. Don't let the fear that people won't like what you have to say keep you from making it available. Let them say "no." And some people will say "no," but some people will say "Yes!" And isn't it those people we're writing for anyway?

This post has been brought to you in part by Indie Life.


  1. Wow! Very nicely put together post about facing the word 'No' - I really haven't thought about it quite like this before. Thank you!

  2. Awesome post! I really enjoy your analogies. Plus, I bet "That Girl" is still regretting her actions! You were the one who got away.

  3. I'm having conflicted feelings about this post. On the one hand it's a very convincing argument for publishing your work and getting it out in front of readers, no matter the response. On the other hand, I'm reminded of how no one ever asked me out in high school or college and I'm feeling all that rejection all over again. Hmph.

  4. Most people will say no but you can make a few bucks off the people who say yes so woo hoo.

  5. This post really resonated with me, Andrew. Thanks for this perfect analogy. I definitely can relate this to my publishing journey. Wonderful motivation I needed... such a perfectly crafted post.

  6. RG: Sure thing!

    JKIR,F!: Oh, well, I happen to know that she did, much later, regret her actions. I was way gone by that time, though.

    L.G.: Oh... um... I'm sorry?
    I don't know what else to say.

    GP: Well, yeah... Unless they're just in it for the free stuff.

    Morgan: Thank you so much :)

  7. Once again, a very nicely drawn analogy.

  8. I hated dating. I mean, I didn't think of it that way at the time but it sure is nice not to have to do it anymore.

  9. You do do very good analogies - I have never tried to publish a book so I don't have the problems of people saying no. Maybe with dating though although haven't been there for many a long year.

  10. TAS: heh I thought of it that way at the time.

    Jo: It's nice when you're at a place where you don't have to worry about that.

  11. I have a close friend, recently divorced, who's going through it all over again. Poor guy...

  12. TAS: That's rough. Having to date again after a divorce is like a punishment on top of a punishment.

  13. Great post, Andrew. For me it isn't the "putting it out there" that's hard. It's the promotion aspect, where I'm required to repeatedly put my product in front of people, completely in their space…I don't like that part! If it could be out there and just be found, that would be super. :)

  14. Why are all dating stories so cringe-inducing?

    Good point, though. Flexibility is important. All I ever hear is that publishing doesn't go as planned. If you spend all your time trying to bust through the wall, you don't realize you can just walk around it.

  15. J.R.: To me the promotion is the "putting it out there" part. That's part where I have to say, "Will you buy my book?" or, as in the analogy, "Will you go out with me?"

    Jeanne: Exactly.

    Dating stories aren't stories if they're not cringe-inducing.

  16. Nicely put~ if you don't put yourself out there, it's the equivalent of a "no," so why not try? I think I tend to set my expectations to that "no" in lots of situations in my life, which actually frees me up emotionally to put myself out there (does that make sense?) because I don't worry as much about getting hurt. If I get the 'no' it's more like, "Well, crud. I figured that'd be the case, but I had to try." And the older I get, the more I realize how short/fleeting life can be and there are only so many chances we're given to try things, etc. And my embarrassment threshold is much bigger/stronger now, which helps (I think having kids does that to you).

  17. Very well said. One difference, though. No woman ever took 6 months to get back to me just to say, "I like you, but..."

    Also, I wasn't very adept at dating, either. And not just with the asking out. As the Joker said, "I'm just a dog chasing cars. I wouldn't even know what to do with one if I caught it."

  18. See what I mean about your posts being like parables? I call this one "The Parable Of The Girl."

    Lots of good points here, as always. Lately I've been thinking a lot about publishing myself vs. traditional vs. less-traditional, and playing around with it. It's part of a bigger thing I'm working on, but one aspect of it is the validation.

    When people comment on a post ("I like it!" "I hate it!" "WTF?") you at least know someone noticed it, and especially when people like it, link to it, reblog it, tweet it, etc., that, or a good review of a book, are validating. I mean, I like my stuff: I re-read my stories a lot, a year or two later, and I enjoy them still. But it's nice to have other people say that.

    So going with traditional publishing is a way, too, of validating oneself, and I think that's why the EL Jameses of the world get into that eventually. Just like Kevin Smith wanted to be more than an indie film maker, writers want to be able to say "I'm a REAL writer." I'd be willing to bet that if I sold 10,000,000 copies of "Eclipse," and then went to a cocktail party and called myself a 'writer,' at least one person would disagree because it was indie published.

    Then there's the aspect of whether you should change it to get that validation: "I like it, but...". The last time I submitted a book to a publisher was "Up So Down," and the publisher said "I like it but..." and made some suggestions. I followed them, resubmitted, they still said no, and then I published the version based on their suggestions (a version that entirely cut out one of my favorite characters, and which sort of dramatically changed the way other characters interacted, too).

    I originally did it because I wanted to be published, but then I realized that the advice was good advice anyway.

    So if Blondie had told you "You know, I kind of like you but you're always covered in pizza sauce and have messy hair, maybe if you cleaned yourself up a bit..." some people will say "NO ANDREW DON'T CHANGE STAY GOLDEN PONYBOY," but others might say, "You know, it wouldn't hurt to run a comb through your hair now and then."

    See? I tried my hand at a parable and it was awful. Take that and make it better, Gospel According To St. Andrew.

  19. I listened to "I Love It," my 10,000-play song, twice while writing that comment. That's my thing I'm doing today: listening to that song and letting people know it.

  20. I listened to "I Love It," my 10,000-play song, twice while writing that comment. That's my thing I'm doing today: listening to that song and letting people know it.

  21. I read once that pretty girls don't get hit on much because most guys are scared to approach them. Go for it I say. Good analogy

  22. Jessica: Expecting a "no" while trying anyway is certainly okay; you just can't let the "no" keep you from taking the chance. Also, having kids can really help with that if you are encouraging them to not let fear of a "no" stop them.

    ABftS: Oh, yeah, I had that problem, too. But that's probably a story for another day.

    Briane: Hmm... Maybe, if I ever collect all this stuff up, I will call it "Writing Parables."

    And you're right, there would be at least one person, probably many, who would consider you a "fake" because you weren't traditionally published. And that goes along with what you're saying about Blondie, because there can be some things that are just "clean up" issues while other things actually change who you are. Like if she said, "Also, I know you're friends with X, Y, and Z, and I won't go out with you if you are friends with them." So there has to be a decision in there about where the changes switch from affecting how you look to changing who you are.

    And I think that's actually another post.

    Maurice: Yeah, I've heard that, but I don't know if it's empirically true or not. Hmm... now, I'm wondering if there have been any studies on that.

  23. Awesome, Andrew. You articulated it well. It's the same with asking for help when you're promoting. IF you never ask, you'll never get a yes, and people's willingness to share you with the world may surprise you. Speaking of which, I owe you an email...this weekend. Toodles!

  24. Crystal: Yeah, it's true of most things. And, um, I'll be waiting for the email...

  25. Great post, Andrew, and I totally agree - this is something I am dealing with right now. The "I want to self publish but none of my stuff is ready and arrrggggh it makes me so nervous arrrgggh." But I'm inching ever-closer to taking that step. I've seen plenty of my blogger friends do it, and I know I can as well.

    I still think it's a very brave step to take!

  26. Yes, I think the best parts of a traditional publisher is getting your work in front of more people, and secondarily, give those of us that need it, the validation that the story is a) finished and b) good enough for the public.

    And that's about it. Those are pretty big things, especially now that I think everyone is struggling to rise above the background noise of the thousands of titles that are coming out so often that even the most voracious readers may never even hear your name.

    I'm starting to think a hybrid approach is really the way to go, I know some authors have been very successful doing that, getting the agent, the traditional book deal, but also putting out self-pubbed work. That way you're pulling in a much bigger audience than you might otherwise.

    I might not feel that way tomorrow, but as of right now, that's where my head is at... not that you asked, I'm just rambling. It's early, I missed this yesterday.... I have a headache.... what was I talking about... whose blog am I on?

  27. As a reader not an author, I find I obtain dozens of freebies from Amazon and end up buying the rest of the trilogies. There is an ezine which comes out daily offering all kinds of Kindle books and I usually pick out the freebies from there.

  28. Trisha: It is a brave step. It's always brave to step out and risk rejection.

    Rusty: Except I don't think being traditionally published actually helps you get your stuff in front of more people. That is the great illusion, but mid-list authors tend to sing the same song: they had to do all the work themselves anyway. They only put your stuff out in front of people if you're a big name, in which case you probably don't need the help.

    Jo: A lot of people do that, which both helps and hurts indie authors.

  29. Andrew - I'd dispute that statement somewhat, I won't dispute it a lot, because I think your right, mostly, but I think getting almost nothing from a publisher is still a ton better than me working myself into the ground could manage.

    I think getting my book published by any big 5 group, or a large mid-sized publisher (like Angry Robot, for example) will mean that I'm going to a) have an advance of at least $5k, and b) sell at least 1000 copies (I'd be tempted to say more like 3 or 4 thousand, but I'm not very confident in that number, even though I'd like to think that 1000 is in the bank).

    Now, if I sold 1000 copies I'd be an epic failure and my big 5 publisher wouldn't be able to get out my contract fast enough, I'd never earn out my advance and probably wouldn't get another contract again. So, that is a pretty big failure all way around.

    BUT - if the book is good (and it just had a crappy cover, or came out the same time that Stephen King released his latest novel that happened to overwhelm mine because they came out the same week, or whatever), I think 1000 people reading it is enough to find an audience of people that might enjoy it and become fans. Not all 1000, but some, and those folks might want to find other things I've written, and if I have a catalog of self pubbed items to choose from, I might be able to turn what was a failure from a publishing house into a real revenue stream.

    However, back to my point about a nothing from a big publishing house being better than what I can do. I realize I'm not a hard worker when it comes to self promotion. But a decent sized publisher will get review copies of books in the hands of folks that are either very popular reviewers, or at the very least, into the hands of other authors from their imprint that will at least write blurbs.

    Those two things alone will get me more reviews and eyes on my work than I'd ever generate on my own.

    I know folks like Chuck Wendig have become pretty darned successful with that hybrid approach too - as well as previous mid-list authors that couldn't move enough copies of their books to warrant future contracts with their publishers (Linda Nagata comes to mind, she all but disappeared until self publishing resurrected her career). Their small fanbases have been enough to give them huge boosts when they self publish.

    Of course, it isn't for everyone, if I were a better marketer, promoter, faster writer, better writer, whatever it was, I might have a leg up self publishing, but as it stands, I think the modest sales I have now is what I can expect forever, which means I can take my wife out to eat once or twice a year, nothing more.

    If I want more financial success, I have to do something different.

  30. Rusty: I'm not saying that it can't work; I'm saying that it mostly doesn't work. And, from what I've been reading, selling 1000 is actually a lot these days. For most, it's only a few hundred without getting out and doing the work. Basically, you're going to sell approximately the same number of books either self or traditional, both based on the amount of work you put into it. Even books that get excellent reviews and awards barely move if the author expects the publisher to push the book and, so, does nothing.
    Unless you just get lucky, which is just as likely with self-publishing as it is with traditional publishing.

    None of which is to say that you shouldn't pursue traditional publishing if you want the validation that comes with that.