This special blog post is dedicated to my 10-year anniversary in publishing. After writing the following post, I counted up all of my releases – from lesfic, to straight romance, to fantasy – and discovered I have exactly 100 books/short story collections as of this year. No, I’m not joking. Yes, I think that sounds fake, too. Except, here we are!
“But what do you really want to do?”
One of the most interesting things I encountered as a kid was how many adults supported me – but also didn’t. From my own mother, to teachers, to my university advisor, I was always told I had a great talent and encouraged to pursue writing fiction.
As a hobby, of course.
When adults asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I told them, “An author.” They’d smile, nod, and tell me what an ambitious dream that was. But, really, what did I want to be when I grew up? Serious answers only. Preferably in the “doctor, lawyer, or something in computers” category.
(Okay, that’s a bit of a fib. Nobody ever told me to be a doctor. It was that I should be a teacher, which sounded like the worst job in the world to someone as independent as me, honestly.)
Today is my tenth anniversary as a published author. It’s also ten years of doing this full time, for even though I didn’t make “the big bucks” (ha!) in the first couple of years, I still did this full time on the side. I am privileged enough to say that it’s not only the longest job I’ve ever had, but pretty much the only job I’ve had in my adult life. (If we’re not counting that year I spent abroad after college. Really, we shouldn’t.) I’d daresay it’s my whole damn career. It’s surreal, but it’s also… well, yeah. Of course it is. What else would I be? A LAWYER? Joke’s on them – when I graduated, none of the law school kids I knew could even get jobs. 2010 was a wild year for figuring out just how well you could survive with absolutely no support network.
But I think about that line a lot. “But what do you REALLY want to do?” I knew what they meant. Writing was a hobby. One they all agreed I was great at, but the odds of making a dollar off one’s writing was, well… it was either impossible, or it was beneath me. That was the real implication. Authorship was for retirees (preferably from finance, all right?) trust fund kids, and the very lucky few who submitted to New York and became the next airport read.
I can’t fault the adults in my life for thinking that way. They thought they were helping, after all. Here I was, an intelligent kid who clearly understood books and the written word. As my parents, as my counselors, it was their job to figure out how to capitalize on that to secure my future. But even though the answer was right there, they were right – before 2010, making a living as a fiction author was like buying a lottery ticket.
I don’t know if it’s coincidental or serendipitous that Kindle Direct Publishing launched when I graduated college. Granted, I didn’t hear about it for two years. Not until I came back from abroad in 2012 and couldn’t find a crappy retail job to save my life. Here I was, 24, educated, and depressed as hell. When you’re told your whole life by the adults that a four-year college degree will make paying jobs fall into your lap, it’s hard to figure out what to do when you reach that phase and… nothing happens, no matter how much you apply yourself or put yourself out there. It’s even tougher when those same adults don’t realize the job landscape has completely changed. To say it was the most frustrating time of my life is a cute understatement.
Luckily, I had an online friend who casually asked if I knew anything about KDP. Having never heard of it, I said no. But I began researching immediately. Was it possible for me to really publish my own books, retain all the rights, and make some money?
Maybe it was serendipitous. Because, while I was working abroad, one thing kept me going through that mind-numbing job that was completely unfit for my personality. (Hey, guess what? It was teaching.) I had it in mind that I would self-publish the fantasy series I had been working on for a few years by that point. Back then, though, that meant hiring a vanity press. I figured – if I knew what I was getting into ahead of time, it wouldn’t be so bad. It was better than vainly submitting the books to the likes of Tor and likely being rejected. Besides, I had a very specific vision for those books. Could I let them go to a publisher to do with as they saw fit?
All my research into KDP suggested Romance was what sold the hottest. So I took a side couple from my fantasy universe, wrote them a romance… and immediately panicked.
See, self-publishing has come a LONG way when it comes to services, information, and best practices. But back then, you still wanted a good cover. You had to work that blurb to death. Do you want to sell a few copies? Treat this like a business. Didn’t you know you’re an entrepreneur now?
On Sept. 28th, 2012 my first romance novel (“Daisuki.”) hit Amazon and a few of my friends’ Kindles. I still remember the sheer number of nerves I felt when I hit “upload.” And I still recall the look on my mother’s face when I showed her the first copy to arrive at my door. She was on the brink of her dementia diagnosis. I am forever grateful that she could knowingly hold one of my books in her hand before slipping from reality.
Although that book hardly made waves, it taught me something important: I could do this. I was an author. What was stopping me from making this my CAREER? Because there was nothing else out there at the time. I was turning 25 and living at home with my parents. While I was grateful for their help during that time, we lived very isolated: a log cabin in the rural Oregonian woods might sound like bliss to some, but for me, it was hell. I had no real-life friends. I often spent weeks at a time in my house, never even going to the grocery store. Back then, it was much more difficult to get a job in a city unless you already lived there. So I decided to work steady and methodically. First, I’d make enough to cover my student loan bills that were quickly due. Then I’d make enough to move to Portland.
It did not happen overnight.
But it happened. When I finally moved in 2014, I got to renew adulthood. The promise of independence in the city meant friends and experiences. (Ironically, my girlfriend ended up being an online friend who moved out to Portland to be with me, but that’s life for you!) While things weren’t easy, they were more freeing. I immediately integrated myself into the local writing communities in Portland, where I still am super active to this day. (Seriously, you can drop-in to one of my writing meetups anytime.)
The past ten years have blown by. I know that’s life, but it’s still shocking to step back and think holy shit, I’ve been doing this for how long? I’ve written how many books? My rent costs how much? Don’t mind that last one. We’re all thinking it.
My life does not revolve around writing and publishing, but it’s a big part of it. Writing is in my soul. I don’t romanticize it, because it just is. From when I was four years old, I’ve been telling stories I’ve made up on the spot. Just yesterday I was imagining something about my friend’s life, and she said, “You sure do have a lot of stories about me. Tell me more.” A soundbite that makes you realize you never really turn it off. My imagination is going 24/7. A dreamless sleep is the only silence up there. And while I’ve often been down on myself for being seemingly behind everyone else I know (no house, no kids, no SPACE to live in really, no travel experience beyond a few places, etc. etc.) I remind myself that I have a career that others would kill to have. I’m doing what I’ve always known I’m destined to do, and to top it off? I’m doing it my way, because indie publishing is the way I was always meant to do this. Even though Amazon needs to be in timeout a lot, but I digress. Nothing’s perfect!
I suppose the lesson I’ve learned through my adult life isn’t “follow your dreams” or “work hard and it will happen.” We all know people – including ourselves – who that didn’t work out for. But I do think the message I’ve picked up is that you just never know what will happen. Maybe that rando who messaged you on Tumblr turns out to be your future life partner. Maybe that random anime you caught on TV in 1998 hurls you down a rabbit hole toward a degree in Japanese Studies. Maybe graduating college in 2010 made you look at alternate forms of making money, back in a time when people struggled to understand that. And maybe the people who said you needed a “realistic” dream didn’t say it from a sad place. Maybe reality was exactly what you needed.
If you’ve read my works, no matter how many or for how long, thank you. For the deepest parts of my soul, thank you for helping this career, this realistic dream come true. This is a job built on a two-way street. I would not be here today if my books, my lifelong talent (that I spent many, many years practicing at, of course) didn’t resonate with people. That’s what is truly humbling to me as a human being. I have sold tens of thousands of books, and I don’t even know how many have borrowed in KU. People listen to my audiobooks on their way to work. They’re finding me at conferences and taking pictures with me. It’s absolutely nuts to think about, and I love you all.
And if you’re wondering about that fantasy series I was supposed to publish back in 2012… that’s another whole subplot of this story. One of digging deep into Romance to make a living while working on Fantasy on the side. But now, on my tenth anniversary, I think it’s only right to announce that I am, in fact, moving in to fantasy, and you can read more about it HERE. (I swear this whole thing was not a plug, ha!)
I have little family left. I don’t know if I’ll ever see that log cabin in the woods again. All I know is that, despite losing many loved ones and places in my life, as long as I have writing… I’ll be home.
Thank you. Here’s to another ten years of stories, characters, and reality.
I couldn’t have done this without all of you.