On May 7th, it will be exactly two years since I self-published The Hole in the Middle. I remember it vividly. I was excited and proud and absolutely terrified. Self-publishing took every bit of courage that I had, pushed me far beyond the limits of what was comfortable or familiar, and changed my life. Self-publishing was also the smartest career move I could have made to establish myself as a writer.
Sometime around my 40th birthday, I decided that I wanted to write a novel. I wanted it badly enough to hire a babysitter and write on Sunday afternoons for a three hour block, for three years, until I had a book that was ready for a wider audience. And then I set about submitting it to agents.
For a lot of my life, people (notably my mother, but others as well) have been telling me, mostly without success, to grow a thicker skin. I’m sensitive. I fear rejection and hate criticism. If this sounds familiar, you will understand why I still shudder when I remember the tidal wave of rejection that greeted my first submission, and why I can still hear the voice of the agent who told me: “Some people have difficulty writing in the first person. Perhaps you are one of those people.”
I almost believed him, but not quite, and it was a turning point for me on the road to self-publication. If you read the Kobo Writing Life blog, you already know that writing is a kind of extreme sport: it is hard, the rewards are largely psychic, and if you are going to cross the finish line, you have to really want it. Rejection gave me a choice: I could believe the many experienced people who were telling me that my book was not publishable, or I could trust my own instinct that it was.
I chose to put my faith in myself, and on Mother’s Day, 2013, I self-published The Hole in the Middle. Within a month of self-publishing, my e-book had been downloaded more than 14,000 times. It caught the attention of an agent, and within a week of signing with her, I had a book deal with HarperCollins Canada.
HarperCollins released The Hole in the Middle in November 2013. Before I could even catch my breath, the book was in stores, getting great reviews, and becoming a book club favourite. Walmart Canada selected it as its Read of the Month. It spent 11 weeks on the Globe and Mail’s bestseller list. I got invited to speak at festivals. So many people described me as a writer that I began to believe it might be true.
But still, I couldn’t get a book deal in the United States. I started writing my second novel, and working on a non-fiction project with a friend (The Pen Pal Project https://www.facebook.com/ourpenpalproject). I worried about making a living at writing. I planned and abandoned alternative careers. And then, in October 2014, my agent called with wonderful news: we had an American two-book deal with Penguin Random House.
All of this feels vaguely miraculous, except that I lived it and know that a miracle of this kind takes faith, yes, but also a lot of hard work, resilience, determination and risk. And none of it would have happened without that first step into self-publishing.
I consider my self-publishing experience to have been an enormous gift, and one that made me more successful as a traditionally published writer. The skills I learned in self-publishing – brand-building, social media engagement, networking, and marketing – have served me incredibly well in the second phase of my career as a writer.
I’m grateful every day that I took the leap and self-published my first novel. And that’s why I’ll be celebrating my self-publishing anniversary this year. How? By wandering into a few bookstores and admiring the gorgeous new edition of The Hole in the Middle, set for release on May 5th.