How it Started:
I sat down to write first novel without any intention of writing a novel. My head was plagued with suicidal thoughts and postpartum obsessions that made it hard to sleep at night. So I wrote. I wrote a fictional character dealing with the same shit show I was going through–being a mother to a newborn and having a brain that doesn’t work.
It turned into more than that. It turned into a fantasy-like book, unsurprisingly (because I read mostly fantasy books and have since I was six). It turned into a tale about body image, love, marriage, lust and motherhood meshed with the dark magic of a place that was a physical representation of a pain that would not stop.
When I read it back, it made me cry because it was powerful even to my own critical eyes. I knew, then, it was a book. It was a book I was ashamed of. Not because it wasn’t good. I’m actually still quite proud of how good my first novel turned out being, but because it was uncomfortably honest. It was honest in a way I was not being with those around me when I said I was fine. It was honest in a way I hadn’t been for a long time.
It was what I wanted people to know but was too ashamed to say, and it was also a little more than that-sexy, funny, strange and dark. It was a book about something important that was also kinda fun to read. For the first time in a long time I was proud of myself. I didn’t feel like a failure.
I felt like an author.
Writing a Book Does Not an Author Make:
But I wasn’t an author. No one had read the book but me. I was terrified that someone would; at the same time, I was terrified that someone wouldn’t. Again, it was pretty freaking honest, which is scary. At the same time, I thought it was something other mothers might actually like to read, might relate to. I was attending MOPS at the time and saw women, every week, struggling with the same stuff I was going through. Most of them hid it or tried to.
I decided to try to publish the book. I queried 70 agents and 50 publishers in between caring for an infant and toddler and talking myself out of suicide. I did not know, at the time, that I was bipolar, but I knew I was not normal. I never felt normal. Putting myself out there was hard. Being rejected was harder. Don’t listen to people who say you’ll get used to being rejected. You don’t. It always sucks. You just pretend it doesn’t as you go along. It hurt every time I got back a rejection. Silence hurt just as much.
Here’s a thing you should know about me, though. Rejection has never stopped me. I started watching youtube videos, reading ebook manuals, playing with designs for a cover, reading about how to format pictures and play with free editing software. I became a student of publishing. I self-published Monochrome in 2013, two years after writing it and querying it.
It was met with a thunderous silence so loud it broke my heart and my will to do much besides feel sorry for myself. I put so much into writing it, editing it, learning to format, and setting it up to be available and even some of my best friends have still not read it. It was isolating, infuriating, and, yes, made the sanity I’d stored up, the hope I’d attached to it, dissipate like a deflating balloon.
I wrote a book, but no one would read it. I didn’t feel like an author. I felt like a fraud. And I felt betrayed for a reason I couldn’t put my finger on-like I created something for the world and no one wanted it. A bit grandiose and big-headed, I’ll admit, but my feelings were what they were and I won’t be ashamed of them now, or I’ll pretend not to be.
The Beautiful and Terrifying Reader:
Gradually, people picked it up-my sisters, my mother, my friends, at first. I particularly remember my older sister saying, “It’s so good, Hannah. And I’m so glad I liked it because I was really worried about reading your book and not liking it. But I LOVE it, so I don’t have to lie to you.”
That was both funny and the exact thing I needed to hear to get past the terrifying silence. I slowly crept out from under my embarrassment shell. I started putting the book up for awards. It won the Book Readers Appreciation Medallion in 2013. In 2015, Gravity by Booktrope (a then large Indie who has since gone out of publishing) picked it up. It became a National Indie Excellence Award Finalist in 2015, and started gaining a better readership, thanks, in large part, to the community of my Gravity imprint following. I met the wonderful Rachel Thompson, who is an inspiring author herself, helped me learn how to reach more readers. I felt competent, and, yes, I felt like an author, for the first time.
I’m still pretty bad at doing the things I need to do to reach readers-blogs, newsletters, ads, utilizing social media, etc. And you really should be good at these things to reach out, if you’re indie or self or even traditionally published. Books don’t just hop into reader’s hands, they are marketed there. And I still suck at it. But I sort of do it and I sort of have a following, six years after I started.
After Gravity by Booktrope closed its doors, the amazing Julie Anderson from Feminine Collective took Monochrome on because she loved the book and believed in it. I’d like to take a minute to thank Julie for all the effort she puts into it, into me. She and Feminine Collective support me in a way I’m still not comfortable doing myself. I continually downplay my work, my efforts (which are tiring and literally keep me up at night).
Still Crazy After All These Years
I’ve now published and self-published over 10 books in the last 6 years, and it still drives me crazy. I just finished #nanowrimo for the 5th year in a row and won with a book I’m actually sort of proud of, which, by the way, is terrifying. It means I’ll hope to be read, again, and I might not be.
I am still sitting on three novels that are mostly done that I just don’t like for this or that reason. They could be put out there to read, but they won’t be because I dislike inane things about them. I am still not brave enough to let everything go. And I’m a Gryffindor to the extreme, so that’s saying something. It still scares me to let a book go because I’m afraid it will be met with silence. And silence, indifference, is scarier, to me, than a bad review, a negative comment. I say negative stuff about my own work all the time. You can’t break my heart by not liking what I wrote. But I’m driven nuts by apathy, and I’m already a bipolar, so the drive is fairly short.
I recently wrote and published the prequel to Monochrome, Fade to Blue, because my handful of fans wanted more from Ishmael, one of the main characters, and from me. It has been met with the silence that deafens me, and, yes, that breaks my heart. Some of the fans who were gunning for it, loved it, read it and made my day. I specifically let go of Fade not because I thought it was ready but because I thought people wanted it. But maybe that is not the right approach.
Gryffindors Don’t Quit
Here’s the thing: I love writing. I like creating stories and I do it whether I write them down or not. I have no shortage of ideas for my next book. I do not suffer from writer’s block (stop throwing things at me).
I DO want people to read the things I create, but I equally enjoy the process of making them. And readership was not, when I began, my goal. I have many friends who’ve given up trying to get their work out there, and I get it. It’s a very embarrassing and somewhat disappointing process.
I’ve recently been gearing myself up to release two books this year. I’ve been trying to be better about not sitting on my work and tearing it apart. To do so, I know I need to let some of my perfectionism go.
The other thing I’m going to try, in the coming years, is writing and writing some more, without the end result being readership. I know that’s backwards. Why spend months perfecting a single novel/story only to not be upset if it gets no readers? Because I DO love writing them. I will do my best to make sure people know of them, but I will not obsess. I will be happy when people get to experience my worlds, but I will not fret if my reviews don’t pour in. I will write for the love of writing because that’s where I started.
And I was happy when I started. I was happy just to write and create, and release some of my crazy in a fun to read format.
I hope readers eventually find me, but, in terms of a career, this has been a short one, a blip compared to the lives of other authors. Gryffindors don’t quit. They keep trying no matter how risky and stupid. And I am Gryffindor to the extreme.
H.M. Jones is the author of many only slightly read books. She has a facebook, a twitter and an author page. She sometimes checks them and writes about geeky things. She’s a college instructor, a mother, and, yes, an author. Her website needs to be updated. She has a newsletter that she sucks at updating.