Find a way

On February 14, I will be publishing my second full-length novel at a whopping 126,000 words. Six months ago, I only had 15,000 words of it written. I had fallen into a deep, cyclical case of writer’s block. Every time I even thought about writing, I got sick to my stomach with panic. I was a writer who wasn’t writing, and the pressure was unbearable.

Growing up, my mom had a motto: “Find a way, not an excuse.” And yet there I was, finding excuses not to do the very thing I’d most deeply identified with: writing.

Then, in September of 2016, a friend of mine Tweeted a variation on my mother’s motto: “If it’s important to you, you’ll find a way. If it’s not, you’ll find an excuse.” That simple change in perspective was the kick in the pants I needed. I decided that the book was important to me. I got up every day at 5 a.m. and wrote until 8:30 when I had to leave for work. I also wrote 12 hours a day on the weekends. I finished writing the first draft in 17 days, after a year and a half of stressful, soul-crushing procrastination.

I can think of no occupation, no endeavor, no human pursuit that does not require some meaningful form of investment. Most jobs can only be attained after a certain level of education or training. Most advanced positions in virtually all industries require quantifiable levels of experience or achievement. Being an author is no different.

I have always had a strong desire to do things my own way. If there’s a paint-by-numbers picture, I want to turn it into a papier mâché sculpture. If there’s a manual for putting together a shelf, I want to build a table. While this has often led to spending more time actually accomplishing whatever it is I’m trying to accomplish, it does help me better understand what I’m doing. More importantly, it gives me the autonomy to find the most effective method, not just the most common.

I published my first novel traditionally, through a major publisher. I was responsible for writing the book, and that was about it. Of course, I marketed it as best I could and promoted it on social media, but the design, formatting, printing, and distribution was completely out of my hands. It being my first book, I was happy to do my part and let the gears of publishing turn.

I learned a great deal from that experience, and I am intensely grateful for it. But for my second book, I chose to self-publish. I wanted to compare and contrast the amount of effort self-publishing required versus the potential creative and financial gains it could yield. The sheer amount of work involved in that, however, accounts for much of my initial procrastination. Oh, I could do it easily, quickly, and cheaply if I was willing to settle for a book that looked self-published. But I wanted to put out a product that was indistinguishable from a professional publisher. I wanted to do it my way and do it well.

For the past six months, in addition to actually writing and editing a 460-page book, I have been responsible for the business of publishing my novel. I shot, edited, and animated six book teasers and trailers (with great help from my crew, of course), teaching myself how to use After Effects and furthering my knowledge of Premiere. I designed the front, spine, and back cover of the book (using beautiful photography by my friend Matthew Simmons). I also designed the interior contents of my book, teaching myself how to use InDesign (with much guidance from my friends John and Bryan). I built an author website, managed Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts, shot and edited promotional videos for my YouTube channel, wrote blogs, ran book contests and giveaways, answered reader e-mails and blogger queries, participated in Q&As, and launched a blog tour. I figured out how to create ePub files and adhere to print standards. I figured out international distribution rates. I listed my ARC on NetGalley to get advanced reviews. I tested Facebook ads and trade magazine placements. I planned a launch party (with the help of my sister), researched branded merchandise, and pulled in almost every favor I had left to get this project off the ground.

I did all this, and you know what my financial goal was? To break even. To recoup my expenses.

This book is deeply important to me, but the purpose of publishing it was never to make money. It was to create a product I was proud of on all levels, from the story itself to the cover design to the marketing to how I interacted with readers. I gave myself permission to “fail” financially as long as I was pushing myself to learn and to grow as an artist and as a businesswoman. I put every ounce of my free time, every spare dollar, and perhaps too much of my family’s good will into making this story a reality. And I am so proud of the work I’ve done, even knowing that nothing I did was perfect. I understand everything better, now. And I will do even better next time. That is the joy of investing in something: knowing that thing you’re investing in can only improve.

I have no idea how well this book will sell, and on many levels, I honestly don’t care all that much. I got what I came here for: experience, knowledge, and passion. Apathy was never in the books for me. And I do not think I will ever regret giving something everything I had.

Temple West spent four months in Oxford holed up at the Radcliffe Camera amongst the hush of ancient books and the rich musk of academia. She acquired degrees in film and English, mostly as an excuse to write essays about The Princess Bride and Hook. She can sew (poorly), drive stick (please fasten your seatbelt), and mostly lift her feet off the ground while stuttering into first gear on a very small motorcycle. She currently lives in Seattle, WA and works at an agency doing motion graphics and design.temple-west

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