Indie Chick: Me!

Yep. Me. Since October 2011, I’ve been posting a different story each week about an Indie Chick – 25 Independent Women, 25 Personal Stories. Each story is from an author in the anthology of the same title. Each story tells how we all got here – here being Indie Land. The road hasn’t been easy, folks. There are a a lot of days I sit at the keyboard full of doubt. There have been a lot of those days the past year. But there are some days when it’s all good. There are some days when the story flows and I don’t think the light at the end of the tunnel is an oncoming train.

Since going down this road I’ve not only learned to be a better writer, I’ve had to learn to be marketer, book formatter, accountant, publicist. It’s lonely at the keyboard with only the dogs at my feet and the voices in my head to keep me company. Scary stuff, right? Like all authors, we write the stories in our hearts and our heads. We work over the words in those stories again and again until we feel they’re ready to go out into the world. Indie Writers don’t have big agents. We aren’t touted in bookstores. We have to hire our own editors and copyeditors. No mention on the NY Times Best Seller lists for us! We don’t get book advances. But we’re okay with that. Honest. Software developers don’t need to work for MicroSoft or Apple to put out good products. Why should authors be any different, right? We’re the TV actors to Hollywood’s Big Screen and that’s perfectly okay by me, too. We know that no book is perfect – it can’t be all things to all people, traditional or indie. Some love what we write and sing our praises. Others hate what we write with equal passion and scream that to the heavens, too. But mostly, we don’t hear what people think. It’s not always safe to. Not if you want to keep sane. We just sit back down at the keyboard and write the next book. Most of us don’t complain because, let’s face it – most authors think they have the best job in the world. I know I do.

Thanks for being a part of it. Thanks for taking a chance and reading my work. Thanks for the support, guys. I mean that. It’s a lot of what keeps me going.

I’ve shared my journey and like experiences with so many other authors. You’ve read their stories – bumpy roads, all of them. Today, you’ll read mine.  If there’s a take away from all this, it’s believe in yourself. That’s what it all really comes down to – writer, actor, software designer, person.

THE MAGIC WITHIN AND THE LITTLE BOOK THAT COULD

That’s what I’ve been calling The Book of Lost Souls, the book that started my path to publication. I’ve always loved to write. I’ve always loved the way imagination and words blend on a page, the way they transport a reader to faraway worlds, or right next door, where witches live. From the time I was very young, books were an amazing world to me. There was no greater joy than going to the library with my mother whose love of books knew no measure. When I was very young, my mother read to me every night. As I grew older, we’d talk about the books we were reading.

Even as a young child, I knew I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. But, writing wasn’t what paid the bills. I got a regular job and life went on, although I still dreamed of writing. My father always told me to believe in myself and to never give up on what I firmly believed in. A few years after his death, I took up writing again. My mother, who was now ill and who had moved in with my husband and me, was happy to read what I wrote, or to set the table in order to give me a few more minutes of writing time.

And so I wrote and edited and revised. Just before the book was ready to send to agents, my mother died. I set the book aside. Writing was too painful, too full of memories.

But, the stories in my head wouldn’t let up, and so after a few years I started writing again. This time, I wrote about a teen witch named Ivy and her life in a small town, and I quickly fell in love with the story and the eclectic group of characters. I think of it as Buffy meets Harry Potter. When I typed the last line, I actually felt a pang of sorrow—I didn’t want to say goodbye. Ivy and her story became The Book of Lost Souls, and after polishing it up, I sent it off to agents. Plenty were interested and requested the full manuscript. Unfortunately, most of them thought the book was too light. Too cute. Too Disney. They offered to read whatever else I had, as long as it was darker. Darker sells! Or so they said.

So, after two revisions for two separate agents that eventually didn’t pan out (they said the book still had a lighthearted feel to it that wouldn’t appeal to publishing houses), I set The Book of Lost Souls aside and started working on an outline for a much darker book.

It was around this time that the economy began to collapse—hard—and I was given the pink slip on Friday the 13th, right after I had completed a project that saved the company $400,000 annually. Say goodbye to eighteen years of loyal service! Suddenly, writing a darker, more dystopian book about the afterlife on top of losing my job seemed too much to take. Still, I recalled my father’s wisdom of believing in myself even when no one else did. I wrote and finished the next book, Don’t Fear the Reaper, in about seven months.

Still unemployed despite literally hundreds of applications, I began to worry we would lose our home or deplete our savings before I found a job. My career in IT was gone—off shored as they call it. I also wondered if I’d ever see any of my books published. I was so close to getting an agent so many times. Agents wrote back: You’re a strong writer. Or, The Book of Lost Souls is a great story and is well-written, but it’s not for me.

Nearly every morning, my inbox was filled with rejection letters from jobs and agents, yet I tried to stay positive. I kept repeating my father’s words to believe, to never give up. For every rejection, I sent out twice as many applications, twice as many query letters. I just tried harder.

I had been querying Reaper for about three months when I got an editorial letter from one of New York’s biggest literary agencies who’d had The Book of Lost Souls for nearly a year. A year! But, the letter was so enthusiastic about the story and my writing that I sat down and made every last revision they suggested. I turned it in and waited. Months went by. In the end, they rejected the story—not because they didn’t love it, but because in the year and change they’d had the manuscript, another client had submitted a proposal for a story about a teen witch. Conflict of interest, they called it.

And that was that. My novel, the book that was finished, was dumped for someone else’s book that hadn’t yet been written. Somewhat angry and depressed, I set The Book of Lost Souls aside. Again. By now, I was at the end of my rope. I was still unemployed and out of unemployment benefits. The only work I could find was the occasional short-term computer job, some tech writing gigs, or dog-sitting. Nothing full-time, and certainly nothing we could count on.

If the near-miss with Super Agency wasn’t enough, I found myself running into similar situations with Don’t Fear the Reaper. Now, agents were saying, Too dark! But, you’re a talented writer and we’d love to see other work. Or, You’re capable of incredibly incisive scenes—the opener is still one of the best things I read all year. And, my personal favorite, In this economy…

It was then that I learned about self-published authors such as Karen McQuestion and Amanda Hocking. I decided to go indie as well, starting with The Book of Lost Souls. What did I have to lose? A lot if I didn’t figure out a way for our household to stop hemorrhaging money. The only problem? I had no idea where to start. I sent an email to Ms. McQuestion, in the hopes she could point me in the right direction. She was so incredibly kind! Not only did she reply, she sent me a wealth of information on self-publishing. Today, she shares all that information on her blog. I’m incredibly grateful to her.

I got a cover I could afford with the help of another indie, Sam Torode. Two editor friends went over my work. Finally, I formatted the book and the rest is history. I uploaded The Book of Lost Souls in early March, and it’s been getting consistently great reviews ever since. As for being too lighthearted? I receive emails all the time from people who love that the book is funny, upbeat, and clean.

Within my first five weeks of self-publishing, I hit three best seller lists on Amazon. Me. An indie author without a publicist or a big agency or publisher behind them. Just me, my computer, my loving husband, and the devotion of two dogs at my feet.

I’ve been asked if there will be a sequel to The Book of Lost Souls. The answer is yes. Two more books, maybe a third. I just haven’t thought that far out yet.

And the other, darker book? After some revisions, Don’t Fear the Reaper debuted in late September 2011. On its first day, the book reached lucky #13 on Amazon’s Hot New Releases, Children’s Fiction, Spine-Tingling Horror.

I’m only sorry that my parents aren’t here to see this. I took my father’s advice and my mother’s faith and reinvented myself. I still dog-sit and take on small computer jobs and tech writing gigs to help keep us afloat financially. But one day, I hope that my hard work will pay even more of the bills. Until then, I’m at peace with the way things are.

Henry Ford once said, “If you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.” Great advice. And so, The Book of Lost Souls, the book that nearly wasn’t, became the little book that could. I’m a firm believer that hopes and dreams are something to hold onto and fight for. Believe in the magic that is you. Keep your dreams close, and set your imagination free.

I’d like to dedicate my section of this anthology to readers everywhere—words alone cannot express how much I appreciate you believing in me. You’re every bit as much a part of the magic as Ivy herself.

So, thank you, Dear Reader. Sincerely. Because, every author with a story to tell writes with you in mind.

Want to read more Indie Chick stories? The book is free here. 

Me? You know where to find me. Thanks for taking the time to read my story, guys.  See you next time.

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11 replies

  1. Michelle, you know I’m such a fan of yours. I am so happy you decided to self-publish and share your fabulous books with the world.

  2. Michelle this was the first thing I read this morning at some ungodly hour after I was woken by the little one. I felt grumpy and exhausted but after reading this I feel more an ready to start my day with a smile on my face. The one thing that struck me that whilst I know your books, I knew practically nothing about you and now that I do, I can’t help but feel more inspired. After a week that saw me finish my second book and then be plunged right back to square one because I can’t afford editors fees to get me on the way with my first book, this has made me more determined to never give up. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Your story really not only gives me hope–I’d been going back and forth on indie publishing, thinking maybe I should wait and try for an agent. But it honestly worries me when I hear things like you’ve been through and then I remember in the indie community, we all support each other and we don’t necessarily care about being bestsellers–it’s nice, but we just want to write and put something out there for people to enjoy. Thanks for such an inspiring message. It’s exactly what I needed to hear.

    • Liz – I think it’s odd that some people think that Indie publishing means “It wasn’t good enough to make it.” I don’t subscribe to that theory. I use the software industry as a prime example because there are plenty of talented software designers out there that don’t work for the big company they make software for.
      No one tells a small town doctor they’re not a REAL doctor because they don’t work for the Mayo clinic. No one says that an accountant’s work is subpar because they don’t work for the IRS. This country was originally built on mom & pop shops. Small businesses. Frankly, that’s all we are. Small business.
      We’re not part of the Big Six corporation. And just like the corner coffee shop or the small town book store, we have to make our own decisions on product quality and work ethics. Heck, some of us even try harder. That small bookseller doesn’t need B&N or Amazon to quantify them as a viable business. They’re not less of a person. They’re not less of a worker. They’re neither smarter or more stupid, ambitious or lazy. Neither are we.
      But, traditional may still be the way to go for some, and that’s fine, too. They want the big corporation, or maybe they need it.
      I’m just the small town shop keeper that is happy to see each new customer walk through the door.

  4. Michelle, you are so amazing! And without a doubt I’m sure your parents are incredibly proud of you even if they can’t be here to tell you that! I admire you so much! I can’t wait to read your next masterpiece. :)

  5. Hi Michelle. Your dedication is inspiring. We all have days when we want to give up but you persevered. Congrats and best of luck with your writing career.

  6. Michelle,

    Thanks for sharing your story with all of us. Your perserverence, despite all the obstacles and loss, is so inspiring. Best, KO

  7. Amazing story, Michelle. I’m writing this as a fan of your work and your journey is inspirational. I love the small business analogy, a really great way of looking at things. For purely selfish reading reasons, I’m so glad you are as strong as you are and continued to write and publish The Book of Lost Souls. Good on you for sticking up two ‘very polite of course’ fingers to convention and going with your heart and your gut. Great to see that other people out there feel the same way too.

  8. Congrats on all your success. your store is an encouragement to me, in the midst of hemoraging (sp?) money and wondering how I’m going to keep the lights on. Thanks for sharing.

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