When I started writing (I was fourteen when I wrote my first book), I dreamed of becoming a traditionally published author. I spent hours imagining the moment when I’d get an offer from a major publishing house with a million-dollar advance (I mean, haven’t we all?). However, like Rainey discovered in Chasing Fireflies, I quickly learned that life doesn’t always turn out the way you want it to, and my first book resulted in nothing more than a bin full of torn up rejection letters. Over 50 of them. Unfortunately, I’d already written the two books that followed in that first trilogy, and given I couldn’t sell the first book, the other two became fodder for dust bunnies.
Luckily for me, I have a rather single-minded strain of determination, and continued to write. I stuck with writing fantasy, which is the genre I’d grown up reading, and even landed myself an agent after completing my fourth novel, The Craigen Girl. You can imagine my elation – I thought my dream was about to come true, but alas, the book didn’t appeal to the publishers, and after months of effort, I was dropped. Now, even for an eternal optimist like myself, this came as a major blow. The disappointment was crippling, and I stopped writing for close to two years. However, after a while, the itch to write returned, and I eventually got back in the saddle, and wrote another historical fantasy, The Elder Queen. With girded loins, I pitched it to a wide range of agents. A agent or two read it, but I got a lot of comments back saying it was too long, or that it just didn’t capture their heart enough.
At this point, I started to wonder if I needed to change tactics. Maybe I needed to improve my query letter? Or maybe fantasy just wasn’t my genre? Or maybe I was shit at writing and should move to Tahiti to make seashell necklaces instead. I’d probably make more money. But the thing is, when you love something – truly love it – it’s impossible to give up, and as painful and relentless as my failure was, I wanted to write. Sooooo….I decided to try my hand at writing a contemporary book, and lo and behold, I came up with the idea for Chasing Fireflies. It was unlike anything I’d ever written, and a far cry from what I usually read, but despite that, I found myself compelled. The characters were so much more relatable, the settings more familiar, and the themes were much closer to my heart. When I finished writing it, I was proud of what I’d crafted. After many, many rounds of edits, beta readers, and proofreading, I sent out queries to agents with a renewed sense of excitement. I was SURE I would get plenty of requests to read the manuscript, followed by offers of representation.
Boy was I wrong – again – only this time it was worse: not a single agent requested the book. Not ONE. I was heartbroken. Now, you’re probably thinking Shouldn’t she take a hint? She clearly can’t write, and the book is probably crap. Don’t worry, I thought did cross my mind. How could it not? However, I also knew that my beta readers had loved the book. Some have even said it was the best book they’d read in years, and deep down (deep, deep down) I’m a tenacious bastard who refuses to give up even if it kills me. My husband also asked me a very important question: what exactly did I want to achieve?
The question made me pause and I thought about it very carefully. My initial response was the same as it had been at the age of fourteen: to be a published author. The reason I’d wanted to get traditionally published was primarily for the credibility of it. Sadly, self-publishing carries a whiff of vanity (hence the term vanity press), because you’re basically paying for someone to read your work. However, I realized that what I wanted most was to share my story with people, and I could do that – and do it well, granted I put in the work – on my own. The only thing stopping me was my own prejudices. Ergo, self-publishing.
It hasn’t been easy. In fact, I’ve worked harder on publishing Chasing Fireflies than I’ve worked on anything in my life. I hired a professional editor and cover designer, I did research and learned about the different markets. I had to learn how to apply for ISBNs and copyrights, how to get ARC readers, how to request reviews. It has been a herculean task, but I did it, and I’m thrilled, because I get reviews like this from strangers who don’t know me from Adam:
“Some books touch your heart and stick with you for a while, and then there is this book, this is the book that you won’t forget, the one that will break your heart into hundred pieces and you will remember with joy and satisfaction.”
I put it on Netgalley, an international platform where ARC readers can request your book before it’s released, and guess what? My book had more requests than other traditionally published YA novels by major publishers including Penguin and Harper Collins. It landed in the top 100 most requested YA books!
I was reluctant to share this because many people might walk away thinking this is just a story about how a mediocre writer didn’t want to admit she lacked the talent to make it in the big leagues. But you know what? I’m cool with that. I just wanted to share my struggles, and to say that sometimes it isn’t about the story. Sometimes it’s about luck, market trends, and timing. Sometimes you have to change paths or adjust your definition of success. The only way you really fail is if you give up.
2 thoughts on “Why I Went with Self Publishing”
I’ve been trad published, but am now looking into self-publishing because of the control I get over everything, such as having my own publishing schedule, not having to adhere to Southeast Asian themes, and also letting the market judge my work instead of just one gatekeeper or two.
You made the right choice, and I’m rooting for your to make it in the trad publishing world too. Btw, amazing cover on your book!
Thank you! It has been an interesting experience. I feel like I got a crash-course in business, learning everything from graphic design and advertising, to market research and networking. The control is certainly something I love – I find it’s been infinitely rewarding.