I published my debut novel in March 2013 as a fresh-faced newbie who knew nothing about publishing. I enjoyed writing in college and throughout middle and high school, but writing a book hadn’t crossed my mind until I found Apple iBooks. I read on my iPad back then, and once I started reading romance books, I couldn’t stop. What was it about these books that had crack laced in the pages that made me obsessed? I wanted to write that. I wanted to get lost in worlds and help others get lost in those pages. But I had zero knowledge about how to actually publish and market a book. Back in 2013, resources were limited, and few self-published authors could offer advice because we were all still learning. It was the blind leading the blind. We were figuring it out on our own, through trials and errors, making huge mistakes and learning from them. There were no agents for self-published authors, they wanted to sell books, not sub-rights. It was rare to find one who would. I found one in 2014, but they wanted me to write something fresh and new to sell, while also agreeing to sell my audio rights. But the money for them was in selling to a traditional publisher. I never did, as my views didn’t align with theirs, and we eventually broke ties, but even then, having an agent was a new experience.
Can we take a moment to appreciate how far covers have come since 2013?
Insert second-hand embarrassment from past Brooke.
Author groups were sparse, bloggers took over the world, Facebook parties were all the hype, and there were no Facebook or Amazon ads. It was all about networking, getting bloggers (and most importantly, bigger-named bloggers) to read your book in hopes they loved it and screamed it from the rooftops. That’s how we got sales back then. There was no shoving money at advertising because there wasn’t any. There wasn’t even Kindle Unlimited, so everyone was on all platforms. (KU entered in summer 2014 and it was very different from how it is now). We were all learning about websites, newsletters, Facebook groups, and social media. Indie publishing was still pretty new, and so any knowledge that was gained was from personal experience or asking someone who might know. There weren’t an abundance of courses, classes, or YouTube videos. I remember crying as I struggled to learn how to format my paperback. I spent days on it. Looking up limited tutorials and blog posts, and hoping someone might offer some advice to me somewhere. It wasn’t nearly as easy to find information as it is today. The abundance of resources, author support groups, videos, and classes can be found all over the internet.
So many indie authors ran so the rest of us could walk.
Sad thing is, so many of the author friends I made from the 2013-2016 timeframe are no longer publishing or they’ve just completely left the book community. Indie publishing is hard, and no matter the amount of resources, it’ll never be “easy.” It’s a 24/7 job because even when we aren’t working, we think about work or writing. It consumes us, and sometimes, it takes over completely. It’s an unhealthy balance of wanting to make it in this world and not wanting to be forgotten because we aren’t pushing books out every month.
That time Kindle Direct Publishing spotlighted Pushing the Limits
was a huge high for me in my career!
After over a decade of self-publishing existing, there are millions of books available. The competition is high. Some may even say it’s too saturated. I don’t know the statistics on how many indies make a full-time living from writing or how many are “successful” by their own terms, but I have witnessed and felt the struggles. The writers that go unnoticed. The underrated authors who are amazing writers but aren’t necessarily good at marketing or networking. The ones who become besties with bigger names and shoot up the ranks, whether or not it’s merited in their work, are all reasons why authors stop publishing. Not everyone is competitive in nature or has the skills to market properly. Not everyone has the disposable income to put into ads, influencers, PR companies, or book boxes. And whatever you resonate with is valid. Self-publishing is not for the weak-minded or hearted because publishing a piece of your soul and giving it to the masses to judge, critique or rant about is the hardest part no one prepares you for. Eventually, you learn with time that those critiques aren’t always for us, but it still steals a part of your soul. Naturally, we want everyone to love our book, but it’s impossible.
Reading and writing are too subjective for the masses to agree on whether it’s good or bad.
Signing collage from 2014 – 2015 where I met a ton of author friends and readers
Between 2013 and 2015, I published 13 titles, some boxed sets, and participated in anthologies. I was hungry for keeping my name alive and writing as much as I could. I was a stay-at-home mom and caretaker to my handicapped husband and our 3 kids. We lived off his disability checks, which was definitely not enough for a family of 5 and therefore, I didn’t have much to spend on publishing. I was in grad school when my husband lost his leg and had to quit to take care of the household. I had a bachelor’s degree in Psychology but I couldn’t get an actual job in my field with only a BS degree. I needed my master’s on top of internship work and that was no longer feasible since I needed to be home. My daughter was 18 months when I first started and there wasn’t extra income for daycare. Looking back, I don’t know how I did it, balancing it all and writing but like I said, I was hungry for success. Better yet, it became therapeutic to put my grief and pain into something else. To give my brain something else to obsess over that could potentially bring in more income for my family. And well, it worked. By 2014, I was bringing in 6-figures and the following year, we bought our first house. It felt unheard of. So taboo. No one in my life understood what I was doing though most of them supported me, it was unconventional to them. Especially when the conservative side of my family realized just what I was writing… 😉 Who knew sex sold? (HA!)
An author friend sent me custom bookish cookies after a book release did really well 🙂
By the end of 2015, I was burnt out. Two years of grinding nonstop, raising a family and moving took a toll on me and I told myself I needed a break from writing. I joined a popular rising MLM and in 2016, started a new venture that ultimately took my life savings, my sanity, and will to live (Okay, that last one is dramatic but it felt like it at the time). I wanted out but was in too deep to just quit cold turkey. I had invested a lot of my money that I needed to somehow recover so I could put it back into publishing.
I met someone who was in the same MLM and an indie author and after some time speaking, we decided to co-write together. We both wanted to start fresh, make a pen name, and write without the pressure of what was expected of us. When we started out, we made a lot of mistakes. Bad editors, bad covers, bad marketing. Overall, bad packaging. We now knew what not to do and we took that knowledge into starting fresh. In October 2016, we published the first book together and to our surprise, it did amazing. In December, book 2 was released and did even better. I officially quit that MLM when I got my first paycheck from our debut.
The original Checkmate duet series covers
In the months and years since our first book, we published
42 books together, numerous boxed sets and collections,
special editions, anthologies, and made the USA Today Bestsellers list 4x.
We also went to several conferences and signings together. I’m insanely proud of all that we accomplished together. We were making great money, both writing full-time, and both burning out. Even with two people and a team behind us, the pressure to run a business and publish consistently took a toll. We weren’t the same people we started as 6.5 years ago. We’d changed and change wasn’t always for the better.
Two months ago, I decided to return to solo writing. I didn’t have any grand plans for what I’d do as a solo author, but one thing I promised myself was I’d finally slow down. I didn’t *need* to release 6-8 books a year, even with a partner, it was a ton of work. My nights and days consumed of work—marketing, planning, advertising, plotting, outlining, writing, networking, making graphics, making videos, scheduling posts, speaking with editors/designers/PAs. It was nonstop no matter what time of the year it was, and at 35, I am exhausted. When I started this journey, I was 25 and had the energy of a 25-year-old. The adrenaline of figuring out this business is what kept me working so hard. Learning new things, pushing and challenging myself, figuring out how to level up and make the next book release better than the last. I craved knowledge and wanted to make a name for myself. I still do, but I’ve learned I no longer need to work at 10x speed.
I gave myself this new opportunity, this fresh start, a new beginning. What am I going to do with it?
I’m used to writing for hours at a time. Writing to catch up and make a deadline. For the first time in years, I don’t have a deadline. No one is waiting on me and there’s no pressure to write, write, write. As a self-published author, I get to make my own deadline, so if there was pressure, it was on me, but that’s what I needed to stay on track. Having set goals, such as a preorder deadline that could not be missed, was enough to set a fire under my ass and get to writing. It was an unhealthy lifestyle. Sooo unhealthy. Constantly staying up late, getting up early with kids and dogs, and then trying to function throughout the day or taking a half-assed nap at some point, just to stay up all night and do it again. I’ve never been a day writer, as much as I’ve tried, so being a night owl became a hazard of the job.
For the past two months, I’ve been working but not much writing. My brain needed a break. A mental vacation from forcing myself to write and preparing to create new worlds from scratch. That was perhaps the hardest part. As a duo, we had our schedule for 12-18 months ahead, so I always knew what I’d be writing next. What world we’d be creating. What characters I needed to get into the mental head space for. That all stopped, and immediately my creative mind halted. I had to start fresh, envision new characters, and get to know them before telling their stories.
I’m a visual person, so I need to visualize a story and specific scenes before I can write them. I dream about them a lot before I can even begin, so I’m slow to begin something new. Once I’ve done those things, I can usually get the words to fly out of me, but after years of this process, my mental health has not been great. I will miss these characters I planned on writing for the past year. They’ll forever be stuck in my head instead of being written on paper.
I went from my first “office” with this rolling desk cart while I wrote on the couch for years…
To my final office… a large wide-open space filled with books and writing inspiration
One of the things I promised myself once I slowed down was that I’d go back to reading more. That’s how I got here in the first place, yet it wasn’t as much of a priority as it should’ve been. Work and writing took precedence, along with being a wife and mother, and reading went to the back burner. My mind and body were far too exhausted at the end of the day to open a book. I have a love/hate relationship with reading because of being such a visual and empathetic person, I feel everything I read. I also struggle with anxiety, panic attacks, and seasonal depression, and reading angsty, heartbreaking, emotional romances, tends to put me in those mental states. As an author, I’m not just reading the book for pleasure. I’m unwillingly critiquing it, comparing it to my writing, and my ability to tell a story as well as others. I think it’s natural for any author to wonder if they’re good enough and how anything they write could ever compare to the amazing other books and authors out there. Constantly second guessing ourselves, dealing with imposture syndrome, and feeling small amongst the bigger names out there. Honestly, it’s not a healthy way to live, and yet here we are, putting in the work each and every day to make our dreams come true.
I’m proud to say I’ve put energy into reading again. I managed to read 4 books this past week, and that’s huge for me. I was staying up all night getting lost in someone else’s world and feeling that excitement from reading again. Excitement of not knowing what was coming next as I flipped the pages and enjoying the stories in the process. My hope is eventually, I’ll be ready to sit down and write my own words again, outline a story or two, and get lost in new worlds. And then make a promise to myself to keep reading even when life and work get busy again.
Ten years and over 50 books later, I couldn’t sum up what the past decade in self-publishing has meant to me except that it’s changed my life.
It gave me something to consume myself in, it was my therapy during the lowest of times, it prevented me from falling into a deep depression, and it allowed me to provide for my family when we needed it the most. I have found an amazing community, best friends, supportive readers and reviewers, and most of all, I found my passion. For years, I always felt like I didn’t belong. I wasn’t an athlete, I didn’t have many friends, I wasn’t a singer or dancer, but I feel at home when I’m writing. I’m more confident and aware of what I’m capable of because of publishing. I pushed myself, found my limits, and continued to put in the work so I could not only provide for my family but continue to be a part of a community I love.
The special edition of my best-selling title, Pushing the Limits.
With more readers wanting “discreet” or “non-people” covers, I adapted into
making sure I had one available and loved this concept of providing more options
and being more inclusive for readers.
As with any industry, we have to learn how to adapt, change, learn new tactics, expand our networking, and most importantly, take risks. I can’t change the past or the mistakes I’ve made, but I can learn from them, and make better goals moving forward. Some I’ll hit and some I’ll have to work a bit harder to achieve but I’ll never stop trying. Writing is my lifeline and just like anything, there are ups and downs, but I wouldn’t change having this career for anything. I’m beyond grateful and humbled to be in this industry, even when it tries to kill me at times.