It has been less than a year since I got serious about getting my writing ‘out there’. I thought I would share my experiences thus far. I have made some mistakes, but I’ve done some things right, too. Prior to embracing the web, I spent a lot of time accumulating stories on my computer and submitting to literary magazines that three people read. Then, I wised up. I self-published my novel, ‘Joe Café’, and started a few blogs. I joined Facebook and Twitter. I joined a few groups on Linkedin. I learned a lot of things. Some of them the hard way. Most of them by paying attention.
I played in punk bands when I was younger, so I came into this Indie writing thing with some prior experience in ‘the independent arts’. I knew that it was important to make contacts…not people you can ‘leverage’…friends. I knew that it was important to find like-minded people and work together towards a common goal. I knew that it was important to promote your friends’ work before your own. I knew that community was the most important thing.
So, how are things going? The novel is selling better than I expected. I have worked hard to get peoples’ attention. It’s also a pretty good book. I’m a firm believer that you should not share your work until it is ready. I wrote for years and years before I felt I had a story good enough to submit. When I finally did, it was accepted by the Berkeley Fiction Review and the Chicago Quarterly Review. I wrote a novel before ‘Joe Café’. It wasn’t that great and lives on my hard drive. When I wrote ‘Joe Café‘, I felt I had come up with something worthy of publication. And I had a bunch of stories that became the foundation of my blogs.
I was lucky enough to meet a lot of great writers online. Many of them were kind enough to review my work – to interview me or let me do guest blogs for them…or all three. I took every opportunity I was offered and tried to return the favor whenever I could. I was fortunate to meet Morgen Bailey on Linkedin. She was soliciting stories for her ‘red pen’ critiques. I sent her a story immediately. Then more stories. Then we did spots on each other’s blogs. Then she interviewed me. This same pattern repeated itself. Within months, I was in contact with brilliant authors like Richard Godwin. Rosanne Dingli. David Antrobus. I met our own K.S. Brooks and Stephen Hise. And there have been many more since then (I won’t list them all…it would make this already verbose post absurdly long).
I learned from these people. I became friends with them. I was inspired by what they were doing. Time passed. I knew I had to step my game up to the next level. Soon, I will be publishing my second novel, ‘The Biker’. My blogs are doing pretty well. Hise invited me to join the Indies Unlimited team. I don’t know exactly why he did this, but I suspect that it had a lot to do with accountability. Accountability is huge. I am starting a freelancing business and the same holds true. If you say you are going to do something, you better damn well do it. You probably won’t get asked a second time if you don’t.
I worked as a sportswriter while I was in High School. I did not miss deadlines. I took every opportunity offered to me there, too. I wrote about things I knew nothing about. I learned. I asked for a weekly column. I was given one. I did the best job I could and always took the shit stories as well as the fun ones. I learned a lot as a reporter, including how to write fast. But, more importantly, I learned that it was about the people above and beyond everything else.
I am not making a ton of money with my fiction writing, but I feel as though things are going pretty well. And if I can do it, you can too. The recipe is fairly simple. Get your game as tight as you can before you start trying to establish yourself. First impressions are important. Embrace the community of writers you will find. Do not focus on yourself. The more you focus on other people, the more you will benefit – and you won’t feel like a sleazy used car salesman. If someone gives you a chance to do something for them, do it. Help out your fellow writers. Don’t ever flake.
I have done my best over the last year to find writers that I respect and to engage in real, meaningful dialogue…to forge real and meaningful friendships. It has been rewarding on many levels. I am now a published novelist. People read the free content on my blog and enjoy it. I am in the position to help other writers and artists. I am honored to be a part of Indies Unlimited…and being a part of Indies Unlimited will help me. But that’s not why I do it.
You reap what you sow. I’ve spent a lot of time on Facebook. More than I would like. But I have met great people. Yesterday, a woman some of you know, Danielle Drake, helped me make the book cover for ‘The Biker’ that you see at the top of this post. She did not ask for anything in return. She did it because ‘paying it forward’ is the only way to be an artist with integrity. People (including me) liked the cover. Now, she is going to start making book covers on commission. She’s good at it. You can find her burgeoning business here. She opened a door simply by being willing to help.
Why do I mention this? Here’s why. A year ago I spent $35 on a cover for ‘Joe Café’ that wasn’t very good. I will never make that mistake again. I felt like I was being a pain in the ass when I asked for a small change. It wasn’t a fun experience. The result was sub-par, but I didn’t know any better. I like the cover I have now…one my wife, a photographer – Karen Mader, helped me design. Danielle made me a cover I love because she wanted to help. She spent hours working on it. It was a collaboration, but she made it happen. And she made it the way I wanted it. Graciously. I didn’t even have to ask…she offered.
That’s it. It’s as simple as that. I know a lot of talented people now because I made the effort to get to know them. And it has opened doors for me, too. I did a few guest posts for Hise. I delivered on time, and I took him up on every offer to write something for IU. Now, I get to do it twice a week. Danielle saw the opportunity to help me, and she did it without any expectations. Now, I am telling you about what a great experience it was. Some of you will choose to work with her and your network will expand. And if you’re smart, you will put friendship before business.
I have learned something from all the people I mentioned here, and they have all helped me. Danielle just happens to be the most recent example of “Indie generosity”. I don’t know if these people have learned anything from me, but I do my best to spread the word. I suggest that people read their work. I tweet random things about them. They do the same for me. You may never make a lot of money being an Indie writer, but you can have a lot of fun, and all you have to do is produce quality work, show up on time, take the opportunities presented to you, and approach everything as a chance to help the community, not yourself. It’s amazing how that attitude comes back to help you in the long run, regardless.
A few years ago, I started a motorcycle club. I had been riding for years, but I always rode alone. Then I bought a big dual-sport bike and joined a KLR forum. Weeks later, I was riding six hours to the house of some guy I had never met. He spent all day working on my bike – for nothing. It kept happening. I did my best to return the favor by helping others. They are like us. They are a community. My club is like a family. We ride some dangerous places. I literally trust them with my life. The club really only has one rule: if you see another biker who needs help, you stop. No matter what. No matter what kind of bike they ride. Whether you are late or just out for a cruise. Rain, sleet, or snow. You get into some pretty interesting conversations and meet some pretty cool people that way. Sometimes you even get a warm bed when you need one or a meal when you’re sick of Cliff bars. We Indie writers may never meet each other face to face, but that’s unimportant. We meet on a different kind of highway, but the moral is the same. It’s the spirit of it…that’s the thing.
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