Spinning a new career leaves me … well, spinning

It’s been awhile since anyone’s seen creative writing from me.

Well, I guess that‘s technically not true. I’ve written a lot of things in the past six years, but almost all of it was nonfiction revolving around my new career, family therapy. When I gave up being a full-time freelance writer to become a full-time social worker, I also gave up the personal pursuit of writing for myself in favor of writing for my social work audience. Of course, I try to be creative when writing in my new field, but it’s not the same as creating a story or book simply because I want to write it.

It’s finally time for me to be able to both “save the world” as a social worker and be self-indulgent enough to write what I want to write, too. (Yes, we’re self-indulgent as writers, even if we don’t want to admit it. Don’t believe me? Try to interrupt one of us when we’re in the middle of writing time and see what happens.) I’m excited about writing again, and I have a ton of ideas to pursue.

Now, about that …

It was a much simpler world when I headed off to therapeutic pastures. The publishing formula was simple, albeit unfair to writers. The stages were: churn out a first draft, bleed over the second draft, cut and slash and paste over the third draft, let your trusted writing friends tear it apart, rewrite again, and then – if you liked it enough – send it out to your agent or a publisher. Months later, the publisher would probably reject you, and you’d send it to the next one. After a few years, you would’ve exhausted your avenues, so you’d put it in a box and try to figure out what you did wrong. In the meantime, you’d be in various stages of the same process with other projects.

What a dumbass system. It’s no wonder so many good writers became good waiters.

The process is different these days. My writing buddies are all self-publishing, which is a major change in the way of doing business. Back in my day (Good Lord, I sound like Grandpa Jones, a reference that in itself makes me sound like Grandpa Jones), we looked down on self-publishing. Publishing your own book was the sign of a desperate amateur with a few thousand dollars they obviously didn’t need, because why else would they pay that much money just to have a few hundred copies of their “book” sit in their garage for the next decade or so? Again, it was a dumbass system.

Self-publishing is much different these days. Writers I know use it. Writers that I read “back in the day” use it. Small publishers that I respected closed their doors and started self-publishing instead. Obviously, something important has changed.

Writers finally figured out how to break out of the contradictions and impossibilities of the major publishing system. More and more, big publishers push a few select titles that will make them a lot of money at the expense of smaller projects that just didn’t have the same income potential – often because the big publishers decided they didn’t, so they didn’t push those books, which then had no chance of making the money necessary to prove the big publishers wrong. Now we have control over our projects; we say what goes in, what comes out, and what we want the themes to be. We get to be in total control of our projects so that they can sink or swim on our merits, not on the whims of a publisher.

Sounds great. Sign me up.

Where do I start? Smashwords? Amazon? Lulu? Booktango? Billy Bob’s Digital Publishing Emporium? How do you choose? (I might suggest throwing darts at a board, but then you have to decide which kind of darts. Sharp point? Rubber? Magnetic?) A friend of mine knows someone who’ll format your book for you to upload to any of the digital self-publishing sites for a fee. Why can’t I do that myself? Can’t I do it in Word? Maybe if I just scream into a pillow, an answer will appear …

As with all things, stepping back and taking a deep breath helps. And so does asking for help from people you trust. In my case, that’s my best pal, Judy Post, who’s been writing e-books for awhile.

“My agency uses Smashwords on Amazon and B&N+,” Judy said helpfully. “If I were you, I’d start at Amazon for at least 90 days so you can go Amazon Select and ‘loan’ your books out and let ‘prime’ members download your book. You can always add Smashwords, B&N and others later.”

“OK,” I said, “all I heard was gobbledygook.”

“I’m recommending that you download your book on Amazon,” she said. (I’m surprised it took her so long to remember to dumb these things down for me …)

So that’s what I’m doing. I downloaded an e-book on how to format for Kindle Direct Publishing (i.e., Amazon), and I’m done formatting the book. I’m just waiting for my talented daughter to finish the cover art, and then I’ll take the digital plunge on my own.

On the one hand, it feels like I’m jumping into an ocean full of similar fish already swimming around like they know what they’re doing. On the other hand, I feel like I’m plunging naked into icy water all alone.

I guess writing really hasn’t changed that much after all.

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