I love being independently published! Though it did take us many cascading, spiraling journeys through trials of dozens of query letters and episodes of depression and self-doubt, I have to say I wouldn’t do it any other way. It’s not all that glorious (yet, I have dreams), or profitable (I refer you again to my dreams), but it is in fact quite rewarding. Why? Because I’ve always had that independent, do it yourself spirit. There’s a massive feedback mechanism, a lot of it having to do with natural biological stimuli that our own bodies create to reward us when we do good things (e.g., dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin). But also, there’s the incredible excursion to the realization you can accomplish something you never thought within reach.
When I was starting out as an adult, figuring out what I wanted in life, I always loved learning new things, new skills, but mostly things with a practical application that could also blur the lines into a sort of art. Sometimes a skill came from not being able to afford to pay someone else to do the job. Like pulling the transmission out of an ’86 Suburban to take it down to the shop and have it rebuilt, or taking the diesel particulate filter out of a truck to have a shop kiln bake the crud out of it rather than pay a shop to do the same work. But we’re talking about more art than pragmatism here, so let’s go a different direction.
A better example is fly fishing, and its almost inseparable cousin, fly tying. Let’s talk about the very first step in that process (after the “buying the stuff” phase, obviously). It takes a sizeable investment in time, energy, research, practice, failure, frustration, and patience to learn to cast a fly line. It’s not as simple and beautiful at first as it seems in A River Runs Through It, or any of those documentaries you may have seen. I’m here to tell you, at first…it’s hard! You get out somewhere wide open (or maybe not, and that’s your first lesson), you get some line out of the rod and you start swinging. Line goes everywhere over your head, the tippet is cracking like a whip, you soon hit yourself on the back of the head or flick your own ear with the practice fly (or maybe an actual hooked fly, and that’s your second lesson), and you try to direct the tangle forward onto the ground. But instead of laying out and settling gently to the grass or water you’re practicing on, it piles up like a heap of spaghetti, from which you spend several minutes picking out all the tangles, knots, and fragments of self-respect. Then you do it again, and again, and again, and it doesn’t seem to get any better. But you keep at it, you research, you read books (remember those?), you watch YouTube videos, you go out with a friend who may actually know something about fly casting, you figure out what you’re doing wrong, and you get better. But it’s a perishable skill! You get rusty! You’ll always retain a good portion of the feeling of a good cast, but I’m telling you from experience, if you don’t do it for a few years, it takes some elbow grease to get your cast back.
Then, to stick with the fly fishing example, you have to learn to read the water, to select the right type of rod, and reel, and line, and leader, and tippet, and rigging, and (finally) fly or flies to fit the conditions you’re fishing! You have to know what the fish are feeding on, or reasonably deduce it, and then not only make a decent cast, but manage the line all the way to the fly in such a way that the fly acts like its real-life counterpart! Yeah! There’s a lot to it, and we haven’t even hooked a fish yet! So maybe, even if you’ve never known a thing about fly fishing other than hearing the phrase, “A day to learn, a lifetime to master,” you’ll get what I’m talking about. It’s an art form, and one that conventional anglers usually don’t understand. But it is precisely because of the challenge and the incredible reward when it all comes together correctly and you bring that feisty little fish to hand, that we choose to do it.
Another great example of the DIY spirit is homebrewing. Yes, beer! I took up homebrewing initially because I thought it would be a less expensive way to make what I already loved, and do a better job of it. And that part is true, but there are some equipment considerations I’ll get into later that severely cut into the savings potential unless you’re brewing A LOT! Anyway, on the surface it’s a pretty easy process: you buy a few basic materials (buckets, food grade hoses, some cheap little rubber stoppers and airlocks, nothing all that crazy), then you get a kit, which comes with a can of malt syrup with hops flakes mixed in, some dry yeast and a sani-wipe sized packet of Irish moss. Then you follow the directions! Boil the water, mix in the malt syrup, cook it for the right amount of time, stick your pot in a bath of ice water to quick cool it, syphon into one of the sterilized buckets, add your yeast, and wait for the good stuff to happen! Then a couple weeks later you can add a measured amount of sugar to carbonate and bottle it up, and a couple weeks after that, you’re drinking your very first homebrew! Amazing!
And then you taste it. You really taste it. You give it to your friends and they taste it. You realize…yeah, it’s drinkable, but is it what you signed up for? Five gallons of…this? No. You signed up to have a legit west coast style India Pale Ale (IPA), or a Belgian style Dubbel, or a Bavarian Hefeweizen! But how do we get there from…(another reluctant swallow of kit beer)…here? Again, it comes down to learning the art. Where did the malt syrup come from? Are there different types? What about hops? How do I get those? Can I choose my own? What about yeast? Is there a specific kind for IPAs? What? There are hundreds? How do I choose?
Again, we’re back to “a moment to learn, a lifetime to master.” If you stick with homebrewing you will have such adventures as upgrading to a full 5-gallon boil kettle from your standard 2 gallon stovetop kettle, shifting from canned kits to BIAB kits (that’s “Brew In A Bag”), where you get a customized kit for the style you’re looking for, with hops and yeast and specialty grains and everything you need, ready to make with malt syrup you purchase to suit the style. Then you’ll start crafting your own recipes. Then there’s the inevitable decision to extract your own malt from the grain yourself, also called “all-grain” brewing. This requires more stuff, so you either buy the stuff from your homebrew shop, or you enroll in YouTube University to see how to make your own, and you become a partial shareholder in your local Home Depot. Believe me, I’ve had many very interesting conversations with the dudes in the plumbing department, trying to get them to understand what I needed, and why I needed it, and with quite a few curious side conversations as a result! Then there’s bottling or kegging, and if you keg, there’s the whole “keezer” part of the equation (that’s a fridge or freezer converted into a keg cooler, with taps on the side and everything, and yes I did that, too!). You may even get ballsy enough to grow your own hops and use those in your recipes (yes, I did, and the beer was delicious, thank you).
By now you probably get it. I’m the indie type. If there’s a way I can do it myself rather than have someone else do it for me or pay for it to be done, I tend to prefer learning to do it myself. I have applied this spirit to many different areas of my life, including making mead, making my own sausages from scratch, making bread including sourdough, learning to cure and smoke meats, making cheese, fermenting my own kefir and kombucha, building a greenhouse, growing a ½-acre garden in the desert, raising rabbits and pigs and chickens, and even learning to cook a whole pig Kalua style (buried in the ground overnight on a bank of coals). Notice a theme here? I loves my foods.
I’m pleased to say I’ve managed to pass my independent spirit on to my kids as well. They, too, will simply decide one day they want to learn how to make candles, or soap, or build a trebuchet (this one was a lot of fun to help with). But now that some of them are adults, I’m very proud to say they can change the tires, the oil, and the brake pads on their cars without my help. They can put chains on a car in the snow, they can drive in the snow, they can gut and skin an animal for food, and my 18-year old just recently booked his own flight to another city 500 miles away, got himself to the airport, flew there, visited the folks he wanted, and got himself home with no drama! Independent spirit! No, of course I didn’t want him to go, but…in the back of my mind, after he got home safe of course, I was proud he’d done it successfully. And I know he learned a lot on the way, no matter how much he talks down all the fatherly advice I gave him before he left.
Alright, full circle. Back to being independently published authors. Yeah, it was a long road, and I’m okay admitting a lot of the reason we didn’t do it to begin with was that I thought it meant we weren’t “real” authors, and we’d never be taken seriously by the “real” book reader crowd. What I’m learning now is that is a lot farther from the truth than I ever presumed. There is a huge section of readers out there who’ve already picked through all the big names and read everything they can, and are craving more, and combing through the indie market to find those gems just like I believe our books to be. COVID has probably done us some favors in this regard, as the demand for reading materials, both printed and e-reader, is pretty darned high right now.
Was there a learning curve to publishing independently? You bet there was! We had to be our own editors, our own proofreaders, our own worst critics, our own formatters, our own publishers, and our own marketing agents! We even made a fair attempt at being our own cover art designers (my wife Rose, did actually, she’s the artist), but eventually decided this was one area where paying for the service was worth the money, and we’re glad we did (huge shout out to JD&J Book Cover Design!). We now have four books in our series independently published through Kindle Direct Publishing (Amazon), and are learning more and more every day about how to be successful. Remember that bio-feedback thing I was talking about? Well, the only thing that compares to seeing the “In Review” flag change to “Live” on our KDP dashboard, is the feeling of the first author proof in our hands, fanning the pages, admiring the artwork, and realizing all the long hours of work all in a single, hugely gratifying moment! It’s a feeling that never gets old. As a matter of fact, it has grown stronger for me with each book completed. And a huge part of that satisfaction comes from having done it all ourselves.
Although I no longer have a big garden, I haven’t roasted a whole pig in seven or eight years, and I haven’t brewed a batch of beer in way too long, all of these skills have added meaningfully to my life, to my sense of accomplishment and confidence. Each one defined a chapter in my life where I grew and learned and was then able to pass these skills on to others. In fact I had one friend years ago who came to me specifically because he wanted me to “de-mystify” one of these things for him by joining me in the process once or twice. It wasn’t long before we were scheduling weekends to do nothing but brew a couple batches of beer (maybe drink a pint or two), and grind up and mix and stuff about 150 pounds of sausage. That’s a great weekend, let me tell you! Nowadays, a great weekend amounts to time well spent with family, and maybe 5,000-10,000 words drafted on our next novel. The goals may change, but the journey is the same.
Is there a part of me that would like to have gone with the traditional publishing route? Sure. But then there is the possibility that we may still not have been accepted by any of the major publishing houses, and we’d be mired in discouragement with far less progress than we currently have made. And that progress, and the feedback we’ve gotten along the way (not to mention all those “feel good” molecules), are the fuel that have kept us energized! So bottom line, I’m proud to be an indie. Maybe one day, when we’ve finished our current series, we’ll try for it again. Maybe our indie works will serve as the platform portfolio to launch us into a very successful career! And that exposure will draw interest back to our independently published works and be a sort of a symbiotic thing! Who knows? I’m excited about that possibility. But regardless, I’m glad we took this path, because quite simply, it’s a journey to self-actualization that we would never have experienced if any of our query letters had hit their mark.
What does your story look like? Do you have the “indie spirit” in some way in your life? Tell us about it in the comments below, or in whatever post this article appears! We’d love to get to know you better, and hear your story, too. And if you’re interested in other aspects of our writing journey, please check out our other blog posts!
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Jason (and Rose) – Legends of Cyrradon
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