Of self-publishing, self-belief and allwoing yourself to be who you are and do what you want - an unhealthy rice that comforts the soul

Now that Spring is officially here, I bring you a dish that fits Winter, with all its comfort. But that's me, always late for the party, always swimming against the current, always climbing uphill when everyone's already been there. Not groundbreaking enough, or way too ahead of my time? Doesn't matter, this is March, when mornings and evenings are still chilly and a bit of comfort is always welcome, especially when you get to the weekend after a long, tiresome, overworked week. I must have broken some kind of record with this week's writing, because I'm beyond exhausted and my current wip is fast approaching the half mark. Yes, that would be the fantasy series I mentioned on my previous post, this is the third and final volume I'm writing, and I can already see a huge amount of work waiting for when I do revisions and edits. But that'll come in time, seeing I'm not planning on publishing it any time soon, if ever.

See, self-publishing is hard. It takes a toll on you, and it can crush your hopes, your dreams, your assurances. Because, in the end, being self-publishing, you're left to your own, you're alone. And that can be difficult to handle. It has opened the door to the possibility of so many people who long dreamt of contributing to the world of books now being able to do it, but it also opened the door to a host of side businesses, where everyone is just trying to make a living and toot their horn. Quite fair, to say the least, we all do what we got to do, but sometimes, it gets too much. It gets in your head. And leaves a brunt, a mark, a taint that accumulates, joins another taint, until you're beaten black and blue and left without knowing which way to turn.

When I published my first novel, I didn't much think about anything aside the story, making sure the story was good and tight, the characters were good and tight, the plot made sense. Formatting was hell, it was my first time and I'm useless with tech stuff. There were a few typos, and the editing wasn't up to par with a lot of people's preferences, sentences being very long, paragraphs being never-ending, adverbs being in plenty of use, and even the purple prose made its odd appearance. Despite having spent an entire year editing that particular novel. I thought it was ready, made the cover on KDP's cover design tool, and set it out in the world. It was as good as I could get it at the time, almost 3 years ago, with what I knew and what I had at hand to work with. And I was PROUD. I was stoked, elated, happy. The sense of accomplishment, of achievement, that followed was sensational. I went through some of the best months in my life, where it comes to self-esteem, after publishing that book. Of course hardly anyone read it. But I was fine with it.

But then I published my second novel, and although I was even prouder of this one, and although the cover on this was far better, and the formatting was also better - I did learn something after the first attempt, but this was only the second one - and the editing was far more detailed, the first critiques I received for it were from fellow authors who refused to post a review because the book wasn't up to par for them. The writing style was much critized - from boring to unreadable, from purple prose-ish to silly - as were the characters - not diverse enough, not believable, no one acts like that was mentioned a few times - as was the formatting, which was the thing that did take a huge toll on me. I had spent hours trying to tackle it, and done my best, and on my reading app it looked quite well. (I've later learnt that it tends to look different on different apps, so there.). But my self-esteem and my self-belief took a nose dive. When I started getting four and five star reviews for that novel, I didn't trust them. I couldn't bring myself to believe anyone but me had liked it. But I still went ahead and published the rest of the series, and I was still in love with those books, and still am. In the time elapsed from the first publishing, they've undergone several new edits, mostly because after the first critique I decided to edit according to what that particular author told me I should get rid of, and I later repented it very much indeed. After all, she had suggested I completely change my writing style and kill my writing voice, and that, I cannot do.

Enter my latest trilogy, which I wrote knowing would garner hard criticism. For starters, it touches on certain hard subjects, difficult themes, triggering issues. It's not for everyone, I know, and some people may even have a hard time reading certain passages. But I had to write it, and I am damn proud of it and of broaching those subjects. And because I knew the theme was a bit controversial and brutal (addictions, murder, suicidal tendencies, abuse, rape, you name it) I wanted covers that touched those themes and showed off what each book was all about. The covers got so much heat, and even very harsh personal messages throughout Facebook and Instagram, as well as some hate mail. The contents of the books too. At a certain point, one reader messaged me to tell me they wouldn't be reading anymore because certain scenes were brutal and handled badly, and they made me feel very ashamed of having written those books. They kind of hinted I had written it all for the shock value and trying to cash in on the violence that goes around those themes. Demeaning people who went through those issues. I was deeply ashamed of the books and their covers. Almost pulled them off, but because I'm stubborn, I didn't.

What I did do was - and this when I had an entire other trilogy all written and ready to go - not publish anymore. For a while, at least. My self-esteem and self-belief was way beyond repair, at this point, with the constant criticism to the choice of subject and the writing style - I tend to write character based, not plot based, sometimes I don't even care for plot because what matters most to me is the characters' insights, and their feelings. But this, apparently, can only be done in literary fiction, and I was writing paranormal... - even heat on how I'd chosen an open ending to the series (with one reader saying the book had no ending at all, I mean, it's an open ending, so of course there's no proverbial, literal ending, duh!), enough to drag me down to very dark places and never want to put out anything anymore. I'm well aware not everyone will like the same thing, but at a certain point it felt like no one liked my thing but me, and when it gets to this, one needs to pause and take a break, which is what I did. But then I decided I wanted to at least publish the trilogy I had hidden in a folder, as it tied up nicely with the previous two series I'd written. And I was damn proud of those books too.

It's a trilogy that dives into Arthuriana lore - and boy, I could see a world of heat coming my way because of certain liberties I took! - set in the Dark Ages and modern day, with vampires and witches and whatnot. I was very happy with the plot, the character arcs, the writing, even the covers I did on Canva and that would be completed through KDP's cover creator. I was really proud of it all. Even did tons of teasers and had a marketing plan all set up for it. But then I started second guessing myself, and wondering if I could put up with the bad reviews, the bad opinions, the not so good impressions on the books. And realised I couldn't. It's a personal thing, and many have already said that if I can't deal with bad reviews, I shouldn't publish at all, so I was of a mind to listen to these people and give the whole thing up. And even though I'd already started marketing it, I had so many doubts. Despite all the pride I felt on having done it all by myself - it is SELF publishing, and I did it all alone, depending and resorting to no one, this made me proud, this made me believe I had value and talents and capacities. But the doubts still nagged, and then I read a blog post from an author whose work ethic and insights I admire and respect, and it was like she was just vindicating all my doubts, and my reserve on publishing anymore.

Because, let's be real here, I can't afford to hire a cover designer, nor a formatter, nor an editor. I can't pay for those services, and I can't afford to save money for it. It is what it is, and everyone has their lot in life, from the moment I decided to publish my first book, I knew I'd have to do it all on my own. But the market does not accept that, the market demands you present a professional book, which means hire professionals to do certain things - even if it means killing your entire aesthetic and writing voice! - and that I cannot do. Readers demand beautiful covers, a perfect formatting, edits that comply to specific rules, and will settle for nothing less. That post practically screamed at me that I didn't have what it takes to self publish anyhting - especially the thick skin to endure the bad rap!! So I changed my mind again, decided to pull back, not publish after all. If I couldn't present the reader with what they want and expect, then what right did I have to put something out there that wasn't according to norm? What right did I have to present such unprofessional, half-assed work to the world, something that lacked the finesse and beauty of having professionals do it for me?

Enter a couple of self published books I read this month. Some of them had beautiful, artistic, professionally designed covers. And pristine formatting. And a world of four and five star reviews to boot. There were no typos, no odd spellings. There was no soul, either, to some of them. No writing voice, just a string of words and sentences pulled together. The plot was achingly mundane, the characters lifeless, soulless, barren. The writing style was frankly lacking in everything, especially maturity and magic. Yes, magic. Talent with words, making them sing. These books had none of it, they told a story as if pointing out facts, and that was it. But the audiences loved them! I hated them, was left wanting for so much more other than gorgeous covers and perfect formatting, I wanted to be swept off my feet, I wanted to fall in love, and these books did not do it. Then there were others, with a hefty number of really bad reviews - which mentioned a lot of formatting problems, and editing, and typos or spelling issues, along with things that make a book great for me but that for the general audiences bore them to death - that really made me swoon with the contents. Were there so many issues, when it came to the typos or the formatting? If so, I didn't even notice, as engrossed as I was with the story. I fell in love with these books, and realised that even in my reading preferences, I tend to go against the grain. These were slow books, not packed full of action each and every scene. These were much like mine, in that aspect. Character centered. Introspective.

This got me thinking, I had no right NOT being proud of my work. In three years on this business, I've improved all my skills by a long shot. I've designed my covers as I believe they suit the books, not audiences - which may be a huge mistake, but it is who I am - I've upped my writing style, I've learnt how to better format, better market, better tease the reader. I've worked countless hours editing my work, going through it, lumbering, giving it my best, my all. How dare I not feel proud of this? I even designed a couple of maps for my wip, and I was so proud of them until someone told me they were a great basis for a cartographer to use when designing my maps for publishing. See, I had thought of using those for my published book, but immediately allowed that comment to take me down and have me doubt the quality of my own work. Is it perfect? Not by a long shot. Will probably do a few more versions of those maps, but I'm sure as hell not hiring a cartographer because I can't afford to. I've already designed the covers for this particular wip, and again, I'm proud and happy with them, and am keeping those because it's what I can afford to do. So right now, I'm once more sitting on the fence, wondering whether to publish my Arthurian trilogy or not, but of a mind to do it. It's self publishing, and one of the reasons I chose it was the freedom it allows me on doing exactly WHAT and HOW I want. And I should be damn proud of all the work I've done so far. Even if only one or two people like it.

It's like this dish. Heavy on the charcuterie, it's not healthy food at all. But it's not that bad either. When in moderation, this is a perfect comfort dish, something you might partake of once a year. Not everyday, but when you give yourself some leeway and allow yourself to cut some slack. It has tons of cabbage too, so it's not all that bad. Here's how to get it:

  • 1 black chorizo, chopped
  • 1 onion chorizo, chopped
  • 1 spicy chorizo, chopped
  • 100 gr of pork, cut into small cubes
  • 1 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 portuguese cabbage, thinly sliced
  • 1 and 1/2 cups of red rice
  • 3 cups of stock
  • salt and pepper
  • olive oil
Fry the garlic, onion and the chorizos in a drizzle of olive oil until slightly translucid and sizzling.  Leave some of the spicy chorizo aside for later. Add the cabbage and let it steam for a few minutes. Pour in the rice, give it a couple of minutes coating it in the juices. Add the stock and check the seasoning. Allow it to cook until rice is done and tender, check the seasoning again and adjust, transfer to an oven dish, scatter the remaining spicy chorizo over it and bake in the oven grill for ten minutes, give or take. Serve with a robust red wine and enjoy! And also don't judge a book by its cover.