We all take different roads to becoming a writer. Some of us have been writing since before we can remember, while others put pen to paper far more recently. As the first of what I hope will many posts from other fellow travelers, I’d like to introduce Carrie Bailey. Carrie is a fellow avid coffee drinker, and has the dubious distinction of being one of my first four Twitter followers (sorry for that, Carrie).
Carrie is very generous and encouraging to other writers around her. And she has a wonderful and unique voice born from ten lifetimes of experience crammed into one. She writes honestly and openly about the tough spots in life, while still having plenty of room for the whimsical and the fantastic. If you’re not reading her work, you really should be.
Anyway, enough out of me…
I’m a confirmed independent publisher. I knew I was more attracted to making books than fame and fortune before I started, but I lived a justified lie about my writing for years.
In truth, I’m a librarian. Or I was when I started. I drove a bookmobile once, years before I started. One of the regular patrons brought her writing to me. I blew past the first pages trying to imagine how not to hurt her feelings and I was shocked to see by the third page, she’d created a scene every bit as good as the sort of romantic fiction I respect, but couldn’t be forced to read.
That happened in 2008.
By 2010, I’d worked my way across forums and social networks posing as a writer to make contacts and figure out how to get her published. And then the guilt set in.
The writing community doesn’t ignore anyone. Someone will read your work. Someone will love it. Someone will be negative. Someone will be critical. Someone you want to care about your work will ignore it. And if you keep writing, you’ll probably get stalked a little, too.
I still chat with the people I met online that supported me when I was a fraud. In an uncoordinated huddle, they changed the course of my life. I began to organize them so we could write joint publications and form online writing communities. I knew a passion I had only ever felt before while drinking coffee even if I went months without working on my own fiction.
My artistic skills never involved language. I’ve earned significantly more money as a painter than a writer. And as a librarian, I repeated this conversation daily:
Everyone, “So, you must like to read a lot, huh?”
Me, “No, I read nonfiction sometimes. Online. Librarianship requires database management skills more than anything else.”
I published my first novella after moving to New Zealand from Oregon to study my Masters in Information. My confusion about identity, writer or librarian, deepened quickly. I began to add insightful footnotes to my work in progress while quoting humorous popular fiction in an academic context. Professors were not amused.
Thirty thousand words of nonsense cobbled together from Star Trek’s Ferengi culture, Ayn Rand and Machiavelli appeared on Amazon before I completed my thesis. On a whim, I’d made a fake book cover for a reptilian personal finance book to amuse my sister and then, for practice, wrote the book to go with it.
That barcode has been viewed MILLIONS of times, because someone liked the idea, borrowed the code and put his own false covers on books in actual bookstores. He went viral. I saw no increase in sales. I had a good idea, but someone else executed it better. At least, he used my ISBN.
Five years, four boyfriends and six apartments on three continents later, I finished my novel and rather than query and I find a small press that wanted it. I released it on Amazon. I earned a 100 USD per month for the first six months, which were most pleasantly, the last six months of my writing career. Then, over the holiday, still intensely pleased with myself, I opened a physical copy to take notes for the second book in the series and discovered every single version I’d created had been a draft complete with typos and an unrevised ending where two critical characters had the wrong background.
I ignored everyone who said that it read like a draft, because I thought they were just being negative. Writers have to be positive. We can’t network with the naysayers.
This is 2016.
I love writing. I made a Jurassic Park-style world with extinct Pliocene-like megafauna, because post-apocalyptic genetic engineers needed something better to eat. I killed 13 million people with two sentences. I have people obsessed over finding a specific strain of coffee. The entire Old Testament hierarchy of angels has gotten a knowledgeable if irreverent fantasy world makeover worthy of a Final Fantasy game. I wove in some Chippewa mythology to honor my father. And I’ve just started to realize my great vision to coordinate a choose-your-own story where one man searches for coffee and dies multiple horrible deaths as contributed by other writers and delivered via website.*
No, I know who I am now. I never wanted to just write books or just catalog them or just design the covers. I want to make books. To format them and feel their spine and the hours I spent building them page-by-page. To carry them to the post and mail them. And I absolutely love it.
*only a massive undertaking if you consider the structure and number of pages involved.
So what does being an indie author mean to you specifically?
I believe independent publishing allows us to send a ripple out into the world, specific and unique to our own experience, as artists. Certainly, I have to learn more technical skills to distribute my work, but I get to say exactly what I want before becoming so popular a publisher is willing to take risks with me.
One reviewer said my first novel, “…felt like a warm ’emergency-jumper’, the one you throw on to slob about at home in and is always the most comfortable item in your wardrobe.” He found and delivered my motivation for publishing independently better than I could have expressed it. No chasing trends. No fear of the bottom line. Not for me.
After fifteen years watching people walk in and out of libraries looking for distraction when their life became too turbulent and making safe spaces for people to hide from the world, books stopped looking like books. They’re ships. They’re hugs. They’re helping hands. They’re a new palette for weary artists. With books, we can sail through the hardest experiences and emotions, the complexities and yet, emerge with hope or trigger a cathartic purge from the bilge of our most guarded thoughts. We unveil inspiration in the parallel universes of other people’s minds. With books.
Books aren’t books. They’re thoughts. They are us. And independent books represent the most potentially genuine expression a person can make.
Some writers use their unique voice to scream, “I want your money and I think you’re stupid!” They care so little for readers that not even the most desperate publishers want their work. But, many independent writers roll out every sentence for their readers like a red carpet. Even if the first show isn’t that great, it’ll get better.
What happened with your friend’s writing? Do you two still keep in touch?
We were very close for a few years. I even went on a chartered fishing trip with her extended family. And we talked about jealousy when I started writing, but in the end, it damaged our connection. I can certainly feel the distance when we chat.
I don’t think she ever got comfortable enough to put her work in circulation. Maybe she wrote from a deeper place that I may not understand, but I can face criticism.
Where do you do most of your writing?
During daylight hours and on the weekdays, I rent close to town. I have few possessions, being a minimalist, and most of them are art supplies. They fit comfortably in that small space. On the evenings and weekends, I am out of cellular range at my boyfriend’s home though I do bring my laptop whenever I spend a week here and there at friends’ homes and work a few hours out of their spare rooms.
I’ve tried working in a coffee shop before I left New Zealand, but I distract too easily and fail to keep ordering refills when a scene starts coming together.
Do you remember your first cup of coffee?
I was a thirteen year-old high school freshman in a small town on the Oregon Coast during the 1990s. I left campus to get lunch at the local grocery store. A 20 oz Styrofoam cup with a plastic lid, two packets of non-dairy creamer and a red straw to stir it cost fifty cents.
I didn’t need the coffee, but it had symbolic value. Coffee represented adulthood and the freedom I craved. I drank it almost everyday like an elixir, not in quantity or for quality, because it felt so hopeful. I never stopped.
I did not need permission to start drinking coffee and no one could stop me. At times, people have discouraged my coffee habit, but they do not understand the joy it gives me. This is also true of being an artist or a writer. Coffee reminds me to endure resistance we encounter and share the passion wherever I go.
What is the first rule of acquisition?
Once you have their money… you never give it back
I found it hard to switch from being an altruistic book-loving librarian to a heartless ebook vendor. I love and respect independent writers, but some of the publicity schemes show so little respect for readers that it embarrasses me to say I self-publish.
And when I worked in libraries, I had a few colleagues who dismissed all books from smaller publishers as inferior and blamed all digital formats for reducing public support and funding. I watched their anger spread to all ereaders, all non-print media and even to all the independent writers who upset the system and made it difficult to identify the “good” authors. I’ve been equally embarrassed to say I was a librarian.
As an independent publisher, I embrace ebooks as the fastest, simplest and most accessible method for transmitting a story or information between two people. As a former librarian, I want to increase the quality of my work until I can confidently say it is worthy of public collections. As an artist, I know my novels, print and digital, are a work in progress.
Carrie Bailey is working slowly on the second book of the Immortal Coffee Novels while planning an escape from Vermont, which is too cold. She tweets as Peevish Penman even though someone bought the domain with same name out from under her in 2013. And she’s a huge fan of Ben’s blog.