Real writers self-publish: How publishing my work helped me validate a 15-year career unlike anything else

I've been a published writer for almost 20 years, but until I self-published this year, I was reluctant to call myself a real writer. The whole process was expensive and tiring, like pushing a boulder up a steep mountain in an evening gown and pumps.

Part of the problem was that I had internalized a traditional publishing sentiment. I talked about my book like it was "just online" and I had "just self-published it" -- even though I had spent thousands of dollars in labor, design, and promotion costs. It turned out that self-publishing revealed to me my habit of self-sabotage, the true cost of self-doubt, and the danger of ambivalence for self-promotion. 

Talk about bad timing. This is not the kind of stuff you want to deal with when you are publishing your first book. It was brutal. But I wouldn't trade it for anything.

When I was just a 12-year-old who dreamed about being a writer, the shadow of my proclamations to write for a living was deep, ongoing self-doubt, a minor fear of failure, and a gigantic fear of success. I learned over the years that I love to pine for my dreams, but I have sometimes gotten in my own way when it comes to living them out. I believed that being published would slay these demons magically.

Life had other plans.

When I started writing for publication online in 1998, I was following the advice of James Baldwin: "Write what you know." That led to a career in newspapers and teaching journalism and much more than I had hoped for. Along the way, I noticed several relentless years of mainstream media coverage that appeared everywhere from The Economist to Nightline bemoaning the crisis of single black womanhood. A short summary of the coverage: "Black women are outearning and outlearning their heterosexual male peers, many of whom are in prison or uninterested in dating them because they are hard to love. This is a monumental crisis that reflects the general dysfunction of black people, but it also is a warning to all single women: if you are too smart and too successful, you will die alone."

They were talking about me! I was furious. I started a blog. I wrote about trying to date online, the importance of self-possession and cutting off messages that keep us from feeling good about ourselves, single or not. I found an international community of partnered and unpartnered people who said they found affirmation outside of a popular culture narrative that suggested black women (and by extension, all women who did not consider marriage to be the one and only way for a woman to fulfill her destiny in the world and/or become "a real woman") are some cast off society of scorned, misshapen women because we found the world as our oyster and tread the paths that had been blazed for us by many women before us.If comedians could become relationship gurus, surely I could add an important and missing voice to the mix. Yes, I would be called bitter, bitchy, jaded -- these are code words for black women who tell their truth, and they have been used on everyone from Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman to Anita Hill and Michelle Obama. I had also been desperate, lonely and alienated by my partnered friends every time I heard the truisms single women know well, like, "It's going to happen when you're least expecting it!"

In my six years of non-expectation, I managed to write, travel, date and cultivate the friendships-like-family that make my life rich and beautiful. My book was for me and women like me. It was crucial, unexpected gift. I was disappointed in my inability to dispel all my fears when it was published a year ago, but grateful that I learned a really valuable lesson.

Months after Single & Happy was published, I signed a contract for a traditionally published academic book -- the universally accepted designation of a Real Writer. It was self-publication and all the joys, pains, and bills that went with it that gave me the confidence, courage, and ability to honor that contract when it arrived. Whatever your publishing and publication journey is, I hope you remember to be open to what happens when you follow your ideas and narratives where they lead. We never know what blogs, books, and stories will bring us.

Single & Happy is available on Smashwords for $4.99. You can read a sample and purchase the book by following this link:

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Tags: blogs, dating, fear, marketing, promotion, publication, publishing, self publishing, self-doubt, singles, More…women, writers, writing


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Comment by Joshunda Sanders on November 23, 2013 at 4:05pm

@Crystal Mary Lindsey: Thank you for asking about the cover. I think one of the most irritating things about the story/stories in Single & Happy is that people assume that because I'm writing about my experience that is impacted by the fact that I'm a black woman, in fact I think the story is that all kinds of women are impacted by the narrative. So I thought it was important to try and universalize the story by not pigeonholing my book in the eyes of readers before they had a chance to read the work. Congratulations to you on your journey!

Comment by S.C. Rhyne on November 23, 2013 at 3:06pm

This book looks interesting, I think I'll walk over to smashwords and take a look at it. Congrats on self-publishing!

Comment by Crystal Mary Lindsey on November 19, 2013 at 6:34pm

On the book cover the photographed legs look like those of a white woman? Why would you do that? Black woman are so beautiful!! And either black or white, you are still a special person.  So saying this, thank you for being so forth right.. As I read it sounded like my very own story, and its good to know that many other writers go through the same issues. I am not a great writer. Up until five years ago all I had written was letters to friends and academic writing for University assessments...Oh, and also, nursing reports. After living for a short time in the U.S. (I am an Ozzie) and realising how little was known about my country, I thought to myself, if I ever write a book it have an Australian theme. On my return to live back in Australia with my American hubby, I had a fall that finished my nursing career. What would I do now? Yes, I was sixty three years but I wasn't ready to bite the bullet yet. I grieved. Then I decided to write that book. My mother always wanted to be a published author, so this would be her dream come true through me. Well, after thousands of dollars and so much work, my book was published. Then I was advised to spend thousands more on advertising. I haven't!! I don't have money to waste and I think of and help litte hungry children and could see myself as totally selfish to pay lot of money to get my book out there. So my book sits.. I'd say that maybe a hundred have been sold and thats about all. Blessings to you.

Comment by Lacey Louwagie on November 19, 2013 at 4:42pm

SO glad someone is writing about this, and wish I would have known about your blog in the many years that I was single and "not expecting." Those were some of the richest years of my life!

Comment by Talya Tate Boerner on November 19, 2013 at 10:04am

I needed to hear this today. Thank you.

Comment by Veronica Marie Lewis-Shaw on November 17, 2013 at 5:06pm

I'm married and happy, but who doesn't have room for a little personal growth, right?  I have downloaded and if I am not a complete "techno'tard", Single & Happy is currently 'flying' through the ether to my Kindle.  :)

One of the crueler ironies of the human condition is that all too often, our [collectively speaking] fear of success is greater than our fear of failure, especially among women, where centuries of being held back, held down and held under by the fear of others have 'conditioned' women to accept what others tell them they can or can't do... can or can't become.  We didn't create the stereotypes we have been put in, but it seems at times that there are some who are all to willing to accept them as their own.  This is something we all have to fight.

I wish you all the best on your journey, V.

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