Douglas James Troxell
How to Publish a Book in 4,367 Easy Steps (Part III: Steps 2680 - 4366)
Attending Wilkes University's Creative Writing Program didn't get me published, but it did force me to take myself more seriously as a writer. Back in 2010, I didn't have much of a writing routine. I would write when I felt like it or when I had time.
Lesson learned: No one will take you seriously until you take yourself seriously.
I decided that if I was going to be a writer, then I had to dedicate myself to the craft and that meant writing every single day. Every ... single ... day. No exceptions. I started what would become THE STREAK on June 1, 2010. I tracked my writing hours and set minimal hours for the week. It was at the same time I heard about the "10,000 hour rule" (basically, to master anything, a person has to do that thing for 10,000 hours). I figured it was a nice, round number so I set a goal to publish a novel before I hit 10,000 hours. I had to get published before that ... right? RIGHT?!
So I wrote. Hour after hour, day after day, month after month, year after year. I wrote every single day. I wrote when I was sick, when I was on vacation, I wrote on the day my son was born, I wrote on the day my daughter was born, I wrote when I was slammed at work, I wrote when I was camping in the middle of the woods, I wrote when the last thing I wanted to do was write. There are 24 hours in a day, and I forced myself to spend at least one of those hours writing every ... single ... day. THE STREAK became my curse. It was my punishment for not being published. I hate that I have to write every single day, but if the sun sets on a day where I haven't created something, I will scratch and claw and do whatever I have to do to get in front of a laptop. Writing is my drug, and I am a self-admitted addict.
On June 1, 2020, I will have written every single day for a decade. I am both proud and extremely ashamed of that fact.
Lesson learned: Have a writing routine. Set goals. Don't vow to write every single day until you've published a novel unless you want to destroy your life.
With all that writing, there were victories. I had short stories published. Some I even got paid for! Half a dozen, then a dozen. They were nice appetizers, but I was ready for the main course.
I queried. Oh, God, did I query. I would spend months writing a book, another couple months to edit and revise. Then I'd make a list of suitable agents or small publishing houses. I'd send 20, 30, 40, 50 queries. I usually received a few requests for the full manuscript, but the end result was always the same.
I received my fair share of form rejections, and I was always ok with those. Then there were personalized rejections that were the equivalent of someone ripping my spine out and gnawing on it. There were three similar messages I kept receiving:
1) "I love your voice, but I have no idea how to pitch this."
2) "Your work is SO CREATIVE ... and that's bad. It doesn't fall neatly into any genre category."
3) "It was hilarious ... but humor is a hard sell ... so no."
I contemplated writing a very by-the-numbers genre book that would give me a better chance of getting published. I was a dozen chapters in before I called it quits. My heart wasn't into it. What was the point of being published if I wasn't proud of the book I had my name on? I scrapped the book. When I did finally hold a book with my name on it, I wanted it to be a purely Troxellian work, something I could be proud of.
I chose the hard road.
I started going to writing conferences and pitching agents face-to-face. They were always excited by the premise of my work. I'd send them the manuscript. They spent weeks deliberating.
I'd win writing competitions and continued to get my short fiction published.
Still no. Always no.
But something else happened at the conferences, too. I started to meet indie authors who had ignored agents and traditional publishers and gone out and found success publishing on their own. My dream always included a book contract and an agent and a publisher, but I was starting to see that there are different routes to the top of the mountain. One indie author explained it this way: "Publishing houses are not the gatekeepers of quality. They are the gatekeepers of what will sell. The number of books by Snooki is all the proof you need."
I started to pay attention.
Subconsciously, I had already made the decision by the end of 2017. The final nail in the coffin was when an agent at a conference told me I had no comparative authors to my work. I told her, "I want to be the Millennial Kurt Vonnegut." She said, "Vonnegut would never be published in 2018." That was it for me. I decided it was time to stop waiting for someone else to make my dream come true.
Anyone who tells you indie publishing is the "easy way out" doesn't know what the hell he's talking about. I thought writing the book was the hard part. WRONG! If you're going into indie publishing, you're basically going to be starting your own small business. Over the course of the next year, I learned about copy-editing, structural editing, line editing, cover art and design, online marketing, social media marketing, e-book formatting, paperback formatting, Amazon ads, Facebook ads, author newsletters, author branding, author websites, and I'm still learning new things each step along the path to publication.
Lesson learned: Writing is no different from anything else. If you want to succeed, be prepared to work your ass off.
I hired people to help me with the things I couldn't do myself (mainly editing and cover design), but the rest I did on my own. I love having my fate in my own hands. Whether I succeed or fail is entirely up to me. I can't blame an overzealous editor or a boring cover design. The book sounds the way I want and it looks the way I want. It's MY book. I'm a control freak to begin with so I'm not sure I could have done this any other way.
Now, after 26 years and 4,366 steps, there's only one step left. On February 29, 2020, Trumptopia! The United States of Walmart will be released. It is Troxellian comedy in its purest form. Will it make me any money? That doesn't really matter. It didn't matter when I self-published my first novel my senior year of high school and lost $60 on the whole endeavor and it won't matter now (although it would be nice since I have children to feed). What will matter is that I will have reached the top of the mountain. I will have reached a goal I set for myself when I was ten years old. I will have done the thing I was born to do. I will be a published novelist.
See you at the top of the mountain.
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