“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” Matt. 7:7-8
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that when Jesus spoke these words in the Sermon on the Mount, He wasn’t thinking about indie publishing. For one thing, none of the Big 5 publishing houses existed yet. Plus, Jesus didn’t have to worry about who would publish His sermons.
As you’ve likely concluded if you’ve been following this series of posts, independent publishing involves an extremely steep learning curve and a boatload of work you never saw coming. In my earlier post on the order of doing things, I set out my to-do list. I’m delighted to say that I’ve checked off all those items. (The downside is that there’s so much more to do that I haven’t even made a new list, but that’s for another time.)
One of the ways I managed this was to ask for help.
Mind you, I do not come from a family who believes in initiating requests for help. Quite the contrary: we were raised not to ask people to do things for us–not because we were self-sufficient, but because it wasn’t nice to bother anybody. If someone offered, terrific. Otherwise, you were on your own.
This is not a good mindset if you want to publish a book.
There’s a reason books generally include a section labeled “Acknowledgements.” This section, which may be a paragraph or five pages, names most of the people who helped the author to get from an idea to the book you hold in your hands. It often includes agents, editors, writing group members, friends, family members, and beloveds. The reason for this is that, in fact, it truly does take a village, large or small, to bring a book into existence.
Over the years of writing my book, I have been blessed with wonderful, generous friends who read and commented. A couple of them even asked to read it. Others graciously acquiesced when I initiated the request. All of them are cherished.
Others gave of their experience and expertise. For instance, going into this book, I knew nothing about reindeer or prisons. So, after doing as much as possible by online research, I turned to the experts. I sent emails, made phone calls, asked questions. In the case of the reindeer, I even went to the Christmas tree farm owned by local reindeer expert John Dzen, Jr., and saw real reindeer, up close and personal. I also went with a criminal lawyer to a prison and chatted with his client about living in prison. I had lunch and dinner with friends who had knowledge about prison life and lingo (from a non-prisoner perspective).
Similarly, when I began wandering down the indie publishing road, I initially relied on my online gurus, including Jane Friedman and Joanna Penn. As I moved forward, things started to occur to me, such as the fact that all the books I was pulling off the shelf to use as models had at least one or two blurbs on the cover. As a debut author, I had given exactly zero thought to blurbs. On the other hand, I’m fortunate to have encountered some superb authors over the years. So I reached out to authors with whom I had some connection, and I asked.
One, a friend and award-winning author, responded almost immediately with an enthusiastic affirmative. Another, a best-selling author whose workshops I have attended and who provided me with the guidance that led to my first award-winning story, graciously agreed even though he’s enormously busy. A third—the real long shot, in my view—declined in light of his busy schedule, but he assured me that he remembered me from our meeting at a conference a few years back, when he was the keynote speaker and I was the award winner and he, his wife, and I had had dinner together. More importantly, he told me that he never turns an author down twice, and that when my next book is coming out—and he’s certain there will be a next book—I am to reach out to him again.
This generosity is mind-boggling. And it doesn’t stop there.
My local bookshop, River Bend Bookshop, has already agreed to carry my book. They’re wonderfully supportive of local authors, and now I’m going to be one of those local authors whose book is on their shelves. (Blows. My. Mind.)
A lawyer friend who practices intellectual property law answered my question about whether I need to get permission for a certain reference in my book. I told him to send me a bill, but I have a feeling I may wait a very long time for this bill.
The photo I’ve used as my author photo for the past several years was taken nine years and 45 lbs. ago. It’s unquestionably the best one taken in the past decade. Still, it seemed appropriate that I procure a new author photo with appropriate pixels, etc. Fortunately, one of the volunteers at the cat shelter for which I write cat bios is a superb photographer. I messaged her to ask what she would charge for an author photo. Her response: no charge, and what are you doing this weekend?
I had previously mentioned to my hair stylist that when the time came for an author photo, I’d likely want to book a styling appointment. I texted her to see whether she’d be able to squeeze me in on such short notice (three days). She did. So Saturday afternoon, I went to her shop, and she applied root spray (so my hair wouldn’t be flat) and ran her wicked-hot curling iron through my hair. “Just remember, you’ll need to fluff it up every so often,” she said. “Make sure the photographer tells you if it’s flat.”
I went home, applied my makeup, and trundled off to the photographer’s picturesque farmhouse. We spent the next two hours taking photos all over her property. By the next day, she had forwarded a number of the edited ones. Right now, my biggest “dilemma” is picking one for the book cover, which is an incredibly nice “problem” to have.
When I began posting about my indie publishing journey, another author responded by offering guidance about marketing-related tasks. We’re basically at the beginning of this conversation, but her generosity in offering to help a newbie is lovely.
There are people I’ve hired to work on this book, including the cover designer and the interior designer. While I’m certain their work will be beautiful, they’re not people I know; they’re people with whom I’m doing business. The ones who volunteered to read are precious friends; I adore them, and my gratitude for their inestimable generosity is vast. But the ones who said “yes” when my request showed up one day in their inboxes—they’re the ones who fill my heart with a special kind of awe. Not just because they’re helping when they were under no obligation, friendship-based or otherwise. These are the people who looked at a request for assistance from someone they didn’t know all that well, and they decided to help simply out of kindness. Simply because I asked.
As it turns out, this is one of the major lessons I’ve learned on the indie publishing journey: set down your pride, and ask for help. You may think you can do it all by yourself, but odds are, you can’t. Can you take your own author photo? Write your own blurbs? Arrange your own prison interviews (or your book’s equivalent)? Advise yourself on whether you need to get permission to refer to something in your book? If so, you’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din. I needed a boatload of help to do all this.
Which is why I asked.
It’s also one reason I’m posting about my indie publishing journey—so other authors can see what’s involved. My hope is that they’ll glean enough information from these posts to know whether indie publishing is the right step for them—and that if they decide to take this route, they’ll have an idea what’s involved.
One last thing: as you write your book, keep a running list of the people who have helped along the way. Because sooner or later, you’re going to write your acknowledgements section, and you’ll want to remember the people who contributed, in large and small ways, to the book you will one day hold in your hands.