The most important thing I learned from self-publishing

Next week marks six months since I launched my novel about love and mental health, The Beauty of Broken Things. To date I’ve sold over 1,000 copies. I don’t know how this compares to other first-time authors, but I’m thrilled to have reached so many readers already.

I’m not here to advise anyone else on their writing career, but self-publishing was right for my circumstances and one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. Being an indie author put me in control of my book, massively increased my confidence and pushed me to develop new skills in editing, formatting, marketing and design.

The most important thing I learned, however, wasn’t how to produce or sell my novel. I came to appreciate that the real reason I wrote a novel was to connect with others, which is why the reviews below mean so much more to me than any conventional definition of success.

“I am immensely grateful to have read this book because it at least reminded me that I am not alone. I identified with and recognised so much. The novel helped me articulate things which I have kept private and muddled. Simply to know my own life is not so different after all from millions of others has helped.”

“So relatable and true. I suffer with anxiety and depression myself and it captured me from the beginning.”

“I think readers living with mental health problems themselves will get a lot out of this book – it’s not often we see ourselves so accurately and sensitively represented.”

“I volunteer in a charity shop and also have mental health issues and the whole thing was so accurate. Right down to all the details of what goes on in a charity shop, the characters dealing with their problems and how life isn’t all honey and roses, be it externally or internally. I think this book can really help people with mental health issues to realise they are not alone.”

“So close to home for me location wise and mental health wise. Reading this has made me feel less alone.”

The idea of enabling a person I’ve never met to recognise themselves in my story, to help someone with mental health problems feel less alone in the world, is as powerful as magic. It’s more precious than gold. It’s why I’m so glad I chose to share my work and so eternally grateful to everyone who encouraged me to do so.

I’m not ashamed to admit I was wounded by my attempts to follow the traditional publishing route. Published writers urged me to keep going despite the rejections, insisting my determination would pay off in the end. Maybe that would have been the case; I’ll never know. I do know that talented artists fall by the wayside all the time, because it’s just too depressing, too soul-crushing to carry on when you’re constantly told your voice is not worthy of being heard.

As well as submitting to agents, I entered a lot of contests. Again, sensitive creative people often struggle with the cycle of hope and disappointment, the process of enduring hurtful critiques, of editing your stories until your fingers bleed and still never making the longlist. It’s easy to conclude that other writers are better than you, leaving you washed up as a failure.

In the arts the narrative seems to be that we have to fail multiple times before we can succeed. I wonder why this doesn’t apply to other professions. Of course, you might fail at being a doctor, but it’s not a prerequisite to becoming one. A medical student receives training and mentorship. They practise and make mistakes and develop skills. It’s called learning. Wouldn’t it be helpful if we centred our conversations on learning instead of failing?

As for other books being better than mine, so what? It’s true some authors are gifted with exceptional imagination and flair for language. Like most people, I have plenty of flaws and much scope to improve. But once you reach a certain level of technical competence, I don’t think it’s about being good or bad any more. It’s about achieving connection with the reader.

A story doesn’t win a contest because it’s the best entry. It wins because the judge loved it. Because it resonated in her soul. And isn’t that love, that connection what we’re ultimately seeking? If so, then a simple thank you note from a reader can be as meaningful, as profoundly life-changing as any prize or award.

The Beauty of Broken Things is available in paperback or Kindle (currently on sale for 99p).

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