The moment I questioned everything

It wasn’t meant to be an existential crisis, but there I was … staring into space, still clutching a cup of lukewarm tea.

Before jumping into my usual #5amWritersClub work this morning on my latest novel (68,290 words and counting), I opened an interesting-looking newsletter (about writing) and decided to read through it while I sipped my tea.

I feel less urgency to dive straight into writing on the weekend mornings, when I know I have hours to mess around. So reading about writing counts as professional development. So does Wordle. 😉

Anyway, so clicking through and reading the newsletter led me to reading other posts on this particular site, and then I came across a startling piece about the BLEAK publishing industry, how hard it is to get published traditionally (believe me, I know this intimately), how little money authors make (an average of … get this … nine thousand dollars a year?!) and so on.

Um.

Oh my god.

I’ve been querying since 2009 (mostly with old novels that will never see the light of day), and I’ve been querying what I feel are good, saleable books since 2020.

Even throughout many rejections — including two painful ones recently (here and here) from two agents who had been considering the full manuscripts, I have mostly stayed positive.

I have a whole series of Instagram Reels about how I’m staying motivated, pushing forward, not getting discouraged, and staying true to my dream of being a published author.

But something about reading those stats this morning just … hit me.

For the first time in ages (maybe ever), I really, TRULY thought about what it would mean if *it* never happens for me. Traditional publishing, that is.

What if I continue to get up every morning to write, edit, pitch, and query … and it doesn’t land me an agent, or a publishing deal? What if I devote years, DECADES of my life to the goal of being traditionally published … and it still never happens?

What if I continue to get up every morning to write, edit, pitch, and query … and it doesn’t land me an agent, or a publishing deal? What if I devote years, DECADES of my life to the goal of being traditionally published … and it still NEVER happens?

The idea of never seeing my books in print was so devastating that I slammed down my mug and started Googling, frantically, to see if self-publishing would be a good fit.

At first, it all seemed promising.

I know people who have self-published. I have a lot of the skills that are helpful in self-publishing (marketing, PR, social media. I like the idea of having full creative control — can you imagine how awful it would feel to hate your own book cover?! — and I’m certainly a hard worker, willing to put in the time. Maybe this was the path for me!

Then I started reading about the reasons not to self-publish.

And I realized it’s not for me.

At least, not yet.

I’m not against self-publishing fiction. I think it’s a great option in certain situations, but there are some valid reasons why it probably isn’t the best choice for me right now.

I want the potential to be a New York Times bestselling author. I want the chance of having my books displayed on an end cap at Targets across the U.S. I want the book signings. I want the TV interviews. I want the movie deals. I want the aspirational, shoot-for-the-stars (possibly not even realistic) fantasy of being that author.

While I could flip the switch on self-publishing and choose to get my books out into the world practically immediately, doing so would be agreeing that all of the above is likely never going to happen. I would sell some books, sure. But how many copies? 100? 1,000?

Once my family-and-friends sales trickled away, who else would be there to buy them? Would that be enough? Would I feel like it was “worth it,” or would I be kicking myself for giving up on what I really wanted?

For me, self-publishing — at least, at this point — wouldn’t be a choice I’d be making eagerly. It would be slinking away with my tail between my legs. It would be admitting that I couldn’t handle another rejection, that I was afraid no literary agent would ever love my books, defeated that I’d never get a publishing deal.

For me, self-publishing — at least, at this point — wouldn’t be a choice I’d be making eagerly. It would be slinking away with my tail between my legs. It would be admitting that I couldn’t handle another rejection, that I was afraid no literary agent would ever love my books, defeated that I’d never get a publishing deal.

And that’s not the right way to begin a self-publishing journey.

I don’t know when (or if) my books will ever be traditionally published, but there are three things I know for sure:

  1. I am getting better as a writer. I know I am.
  2. I love my books, even if they are getting rejections.
  3. There is an audience out there that will love them, too.

So I’m going to stick to the plan of trying to secure a literary agent and sell my books to a publisher. Could that change down the road? Absolutely.

But for now, it’s not a dream I’m ready to give up on.

So what do you think?

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