As a writer I’ve hit a milestone: my first fiction publication (pending with Kindle as the image shows). So at this milestone, I’ll pause to summarize the journey (so far).
Siana as a character was once Eolia, part of my imaginative life circa age 13. She wasn’t the most significant of my childhood writing ideas. I spent my elementary years on a single massive storyline called After (yes, I was a freakishly focused child). I spent my middle school years primarily on a trio of novel series, Quasar (military science fiction), Kristinae (Dungeons and Dragons style pyromancer) and the Land of Kachnie (everyday characters transported to another world, Narnia or John Carter style). But when I decided in 2003 to get serious and write a novel, something about Siana beckoned across the decades and appealed to me as the story to flesh out.
I wrote Book One of Siana’s War 2004 to 2006. I wrote Book Two 2006 to 2008, and Book Three 2009 to 2012. I then gave myself 5 years to get published. I know, it’s 2022 now, so what happened?
Writing this engrossing trilogy was a hobby. I started a music school in 2005. That school went through some staffing and administrative challenges in 2013. But I got as far as joining the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Association. An excerpt from Siana’s War was a finalist in their writing contest in 2016, and I attended their 2016 and 2017 conferences. I had several agents request my work. Despite the clearly stated assertion throughout the conference that agents who requested copies of work pitched to them would automatically follow up, I only heard from one, 8 months later (who very politely declined to take on my book).
Honestly wrangling between self-publication and traditional publication routes was paralyzing and a significant source of the delay. I was only too aware that both self-promotion (on the scale that I saw at the conference) and systematic pursuit of agents and editors would be undertakings incompatible with my administrative and musical responsibilities in my regular work.
So the idea of publication evolved from a dream of actual getting the book out to tons of people and earning some money into self-publishing just to seal a chapter in my life. My now adult son designed an awesome cover in 2019. In early 2020 I was poised to self-publish, regardless of financial outcome. And then the pandemic derailed my life for several years.
Fortunately, my music school has survived and flourished. But back in 2020 I was suddenly working 30% more hours for 30% less pay. So it took a while to get back to where I was with publication. This month I was able to plan a week off to get published, and that’s definitely what it took.
I don’t feel the exhilaration yet. It was a hard week.
I am really grateful for the option to self-publish online. Similar to my YouTube channel (which is not yet eligible for monetization), publishing on Kindle gives me a sense of legitimacy which is the fundamental reward for the artistic soul. Sure, as artists we’d all like some fame and income. But I’m lucky enough to earn a good living sharing music with my students and my local community. So publishing this week is a chance to say “this is a real book”, now out there in the world, money or readership aside. In 1990 it would have been harder, given my lack of a traditional publisher, to feel that way.
I’m sure there are some self-published books that are not (by various standards) “worthy” of publication. I’ve read a few. I’m aware that there is always an element of subjectivity to such standards. There are classic books from one generation that probably wouldn’t make a traditional publisher’s standards in another generation. There are probably great stories that never get told just like there’s no hard and fast justice to what music groups get attention. But I can say that with Siana’s War I did years of editing to try to make my storytelling worthy of the story. I reread some pages and think “wow, I was kicking butt that day” and I read other pages and think “ooh, a bit clunky still.” But we can still believe in our story. I often use the example of Star Wars movies. Very few of them are without some glaring flaws, but the mythology rises above the vehicle.
Last Sunday I had never formatted an ebook. Every step of the way this week was a foray into the ambiguity of “I don’t really know what I’m doing.” Thanks to a tip from my former guitar student and writing colleague Tessonja O’dette I started the process with Atticus, a software that was indispensable in taking my extremely pored-over Word document and getting it ready for publication.
Something about this ambiguity (and constantly having to stop mid-flow and research some random thing like ISBNs) made the overall process this week way more mentally exhausting than I expected. Somehow all the wandering about online led to the right answers for each issue, and in retrospect I find myself thinking “was it really that hard?” But on the front side, it was. On Wednesday I almost gave up trying to accomplish it without the help of some paid service. But Tessonja rescued me again, by providing the tips I needed. Thank you Tess for reading your Facebook messages so quickly!
I tell people that 50% of everything I’ve ever learned about teaching guitar I learned in the first lesson I taught in 1991 fresh out of music school. My mind was racing, my mouth was racing, and I scared my teenage student off (he never came back for another). But I had to go through that to get out the other side. This week felt like that with publication. But I now know the basics of Atticus, Calibre (epub reading software for PC), buying ISBNs, and uploading to Amazon KDP (Kindle). I am guessing it will never be quite this hard again.
And so 16 years after finishing it, the first book of Siana’s War is in the Kindle queue. Siana’s War is a story I enjoyed telling and still enjoy reading, and this will help more people enjoy it too.