June 27th, 2016 was a monumental day for me. It was the day that my first book, An Epilogue to Innocence, went on sale. It was available at that time via direct purchase on Kindle, as well as available for pre-order via CreateSpace and Amazon4. I’ve shared quite a bit about the publishing process, as well as the twist and turns things took both before publishing and after. If you care about reading those stories, click on the links in the previous sentence. What I’d rather do today is to have a bit of reflection on my book, on being an author, and on what I could have done well/did do well in the process.
When a fellow author found out I was going the self-publishing route, they gave me a bit of advice regarding sales. They told me not to expect to turn a profit, rather I should expect to lose money — potentially a significant amount — if I took my book to market. While their statement was technically wrong, the spirit of needing to temper my expectations for my book’s sales was correct. My book broke even last December, as sales related to a charity drive I did were just enough to edge into profit territory.
That said, even with a handful of sales this year, the amount of money I’ve pocketed is minimal. I went from first draft to published product with minimal financial cost on my end. I’ve run zero advertising campaigns anywhere that I had to pay for. Every review that’s been written for my book either falls into the category of pre-release readers who wrote reviews or people who have submitted their own reviews out of their own kindness. My costs were the cost to have the book edited, the cost to get a ISBN from CreateSpace, and the cost to have a handful of copies shipped to me that I in turn mailed out to people I had promised copies of the book to. With all that said, I think the amount of money I’ve personally made off the book is enough to buy a Chipotle burrito for my wife and I. No guac or drinks though5.
Speaking of that charity drive, it was definitely both the most rewarding and most disappointing part of my first year as a published author. On one hand, I got to donate a bit of money to a cause I care a lot about — the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. On the other hand, the amount of money raised through the charity drive fell short of one-quarter of my mental goal for the drive itself. Limited advertising was definitely a reason for that, however I also think that other deserving causes got far more attention than suicide prevention in the wake of the 2016 US election. Had I hitched my wagon to a different cause, I think it would have done better. But suicide prevention is a cause I care a lot about, so I have no regrets about choosing the AFSP for the donation.
As for my book itself, shortly after I published, I saw a video from someone (I think John Green?) talking about how the most stressful part of being an author is seeing people misinterpret work you’ve written, and since it’s already published, you can’t change it. That idea, combined with the fact that I re-read my book so many times as part of the publishing process and wished I had changed some things, made me go back and think about each of the short stories in the book.
- Ljepota Oni Izlučivati – This story ended up being one of the few in the book that I didn’t have any strong opinion changes about even after a year after the book went to market. If I had the opportunity to do it over again, I wouldn’t have led off the book with this story, however it definitely would have stayed. A year on, no one has found the hidden storyline within this story, so I feel like it was written really well for what it was meant to be.
- Phosphor and Fear – This was the original story that was supposed to start the book, however I was convinced not to lead the book with it when someone told me that no one’s going to want to keep reading the book if I lead off with depression art. Unnecessary mental illness jokes aside, I think this story would have benefited from being a bit longer, particularly after the story’s time skip. The fact that I’d go back and change this one to make it longer has impacted some of the work I’ve done over the last year, particularly the first two chapters of the AI Project series that I posted this spring.
- A Delayed First Date – Meh. It was a good premise. I took a risk trying to write from a point-of-view I didn’t understand. Even with research and interviews to try to write it better, this story hasn’t aged well to me. I mean, it’s fine. It’s not boring. I still love the concept. But I don’t like this specific story as much as I used to.
- Soma – It was my favorite story before I decided to compile the book into a published entity. It’s still one of my favorites I’ve written a year on from publishing the book (though not my favorite anymore). I really need to keep focusing on adding heavy amounts of emotion to my writing. When it works, it really works. This is one of the stories in the book that I’ve received almost unanimous positive feedback about. Nothing I’d change here.
- Elk Ridge – I’m so confused by this story and the reader reaction to it. Both me and my editor thought this was the weakest story in the book, even after adding quite a bit of length to it. Yet most people who have given feedback thought it was one of the better stories in the book. The ending is what seems to be divisive. I personally hate the ending and would re-write it if I had the chance. The whole ghostly spirit being released from a demolished building angle is kind of cliche and the longer it’s been since I published6
- The Strongest Feelings Are On the Inside – The reaction to this story was by far the most surprising of any story that went into the book. I received ZERO negative feedback on this story prior to publishing. Considering it was one of the few stories that had been on the blog prior to going in the book, this was doubly confusing. People were split down the middle as to what they thought was the biggest issue with this story — either it was too long compared to the rest of the book’s stories[modern_footnote]Probably valid in hindsight. or they were upset that the story’s main villain was bisexual. Remember what I said about stuff getting taken out of context? In context, it’s a story about a woman who loves someone of her same sex who doesn’t love her back and she doesn’t feel totally comfortable with it because of her religious background. She then tries to repress it with a deeper dive into cult-like religious practices to try to “fix” herself. Then, when her love dies, she has a mental break, using her warped religious views to exact revenge on those who hurt her beloved, going so far as to kidnap a lookalike and treat that lookalike as if she were the departed woman. Then the villain chooses to die once she finally has closure through that surrogate. That wasn’t the takeaway by some readers though. It’s a learning experience on a lot of levels.
- Awkward? – The other story in the book that I didn’t particularly like but people loved. It was the closest thing to a light-hearted story in the book, and it was only included to serve as a change of pace following the previous story. Most people thought it was funny. I found it corny. If I did it all over again, this and A Delayed First Date would be cut in favor of making other stories longer.
- Use As Directed – Along with Awkward First Date, this is the story I did the most research for prior to writing it. I’m really happy with how it turned out. Feedback was largely good, it had a neutral ending that I liked, and apparently I did a decent job at representing a perspective of someone with a mental illness fairly and objectively. This story makes me happy.
- Laments of a Disillusioned Twenty Something – Oh my fucking god I was so whiny in this story. I’d re-write this story to be something more like what happens in one of the other short stories I’ve written if I had it to do again.
- Tia – This has become my favorite story in the book over time, however as one reviewer said, they really wished it was longer. I agree. It’s a very powerful story, but I could have done so much more with it. Definitely my biggest disappointment story-wise for that reason.
As for me and how being a published author has impacted me…it really hasn’t. As I mentioned, there hasn’t been a financial impact of any kind. It’s not like my social media life has taken off. Even though I still a see a copy or two of my book purchased every now and again, the book sits largely dormant now. I definitely haven’t been able to make a career change to be a full-time author…not that I’d be able to if currently proposed healthcare plans pass anyway.
I’m still writing though. I’m working on a couple of different projects as a writer, as well as trying to get some work together as a copy editor. If anything my real job prevents me from writing as much as I want or need to due to mental fatigue. That said, it’s largely been a positive experience, in spite of my gripes. I’ve learned you can’t please everyone, even if you have the best intentions. I’ve learned that I can produce quality work. And I’ve learned above all else that I love writing — even if my family still doesn’t know I’m a published author, even a year on.