I’ll admit it. This “new year” blog post is late to the point of being ludicrous. But what a year 2014 was—plenty of smash-my-face-on-the-desk moments as well as little victories. It was the year in which I published my very first novel, and let me tell you, it was hard. Let’s say that again, for emphasis: It was haaaaaaaaaaaaard. Let’s take a trip down memory lane and look back at my publishing journey.
Prior to 2014, I had already spent two years working on my book: writing, getting feedback and revising over and over again. I had also been taking my story to writing workshops, where editors and agents responded enthusiastically and slipped me their business cards, asking me to please send my book when it was complete. At one particular workshop, I had even been pulled aside by the director, who frankly told me the following when no one was looking: the faculty’s been talking about you and they say you’re going to be big.
Easy there, fella.
With all that seductive whispering in my ear, it seemed like going the traditional publishing route was the obvious choice. I was hopeful, but I also took a grain of salt. Preliminary interest doesn’t automagically translate to a publishing contract, nor does traditional publishing guarantee financial success. I’d heard that most traditionally published authors do much of their own marketing, and reap few rewards from it. Very few authors quit their day jobs. Plus, as an entrepreneurial graphic designer/branding babe/marketing wonk, I had the biz chops to bring the book to market myself. But I must admit, I still felt the allure of the traditional publishing world, with its stamp of legitimacy tugging at my ego. I was at a crossroads: send the book to the New York powers that be, or forge my own path? I needed a sign.
Then, last spring, I happened upon the documentary ‘The Punk Singer” and…IT BLEW MY MIND. It’s about Kathleen Hanna, the lead singer of the punk band Bikini Kill, one of the original feminist Riot Grrrl bands. Damn, I was inspired by how she and the other Riot Grrrls just did their own thing, sans apologies. Rock music, publishing, whatevs. Boom, just like that. And if you don’t know about the Riot Grrrl movement, the manifesto says it all. But I’ll sum it up for ya: it told young women they are SMART and STRONG and it empowered them to make THEIR OWN art/music/writing on THEIR OWN terms, unfettered by authority, corporations, money, sexism, whatever. It was very punk, very DIY. Riot Grrrls made their own ‘zines, publishing their work with whatever means they had: cutting letters or words out of magazines, handwriting, typewriters, printing the pages on black and white copiers, hand-stapling them, and distributing grassroots-style. It was edgy, cool, and subversive, and they never asked for anyone’s permission to express themselves. They simply just did it.
BOOM. JUST LIKE THAT.
Here. Just watch the trailer.
OH MY GOD. AWESOME RIGHT?
Yeah, that’s when I realized I was a Riot Grrrl. And I knew what I had to do.
Because my book had a feminist message, I knew I had to empower myself and self-publish. It was the truest way to live up to the Girl Power theme of my book. And because I have serious business skills, I knew I could rock it. So I immediately took the next steps toward making it happen. I had been building my social media presence for years and already had a website. And I had already hired an editor. Between the two of us, we proofread the book a gajillion times. I hired an ebook developer for the Kindle edition, and I did the paperback layout myself—working the graphic design skills I used in my day job. I researched the heck out of how to kick butt on Amazon, and proofread my book a gajillion times more. The production process took me from April 2014 until the first week of September, and it wasn’t without stress. There were times when I couldn’t believe we’d found yet another formatting error, and other times when I was so gawddamn sick of proofreading I wanted to hurl the book against the wall. But, slow and steady wins the race, and by early September, I finally hit upload. Meanwhile, my first readers stood by and wrote reviews by while I was in ‘soft launch’ phase, testing out all the systems, making sure my book was live and working properly before I made any big announcements. It was honestly both the scariest and most exhilarating time of my life. The truth was, I was so terrified before hitting upload that I seriously thought about not doing it. I wanted to cut my losses and run and hide and pretend that none of this ever happened. To put your art out there is to be vulnerable. And boy, was I feeling it. I felt like I was journeying blind into the great unknown.
During that soft launch phase, I took a solo road trip across the state to meet some friends at a remote cabin in the woods. (Okay, so my dog came along, but he can’t drive, so, there.) The trip was loooooong, at least five and a half hours, and involved driving through mountains and lonely miles of desert that seemed to stretch into infinity. It was daunting, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little scared. But I soon settled into cruising speeds, enjoying the view and the sun on my face. I pulled over periodically and stood in awe at a mountain before me, or at the expanse of blue sky over statues of wild horses in the desert, which looked the way I had begun to feel on this journey: absolutely euphoric and free. I was no longer afraid.
I officially announced the launch of my book a month later, in October of 2014, and since then, I’m happy to say that it has gotten praise and made people smile. I did exactly what I said I’d do, and I learned a lot in the process. I’m constantly buoyed by people’s positive encouragement and generosity, their willingness to take a chance on a new author. And I’ve been begged to keep going, and to release new books soon. Yes. YES. This riot grrrl won’t let you down.