How Self-Publishing Saved My Life

Self-Publishing saved my life. Seemed like a good idea at the time.

In 2010 I was broke and homeless, couch surfing and living off the fumes of a never terribly vibrant bank account. I hadn’t been able to find any freelance gigs in months, and it’d been far loger since I’d been anything other than self-employed. I was registered with several creative temp agencies, and would occasionally score an interview or two.

Bupkis.

I was running out of money and burning through what little goodwill my very patient friends still had for me. My twenties and thirties had been spent nomadic, living out of a suitcase, drifting about in a way that wasn’t anywhere as romantic as it sounds, but I’d never had such a difficult time finding work. This was new and terrible.

As you might imagine, the charm of sending out endless resumes and going on interviews wore thin after awhile. I began to first resent, then dread the treadmill. Writing became my form of procrastination.

I’ve always been a storyteller

I was a compulsive writer as a kid, filling notebooks with drawings before I could spell. And the reading. So much reading. I’d bring a book with me everywhere. I’d sneak books to read hidden under the lip of my desk during lectures. Classic lit, books from the class cart, whatever I could find. Lots of Bradbury. I think he was my favorite, but it’s hard to connect with who I was back then.

My twenties were spent hopping from menial job to menial job. Mall cop. Quality control in a chemical plant. Janitor in a state mental hospital. Day laborer. Whatever I could do to keep myself going until I drifted on to something else, never making much money, never having a life to really call my own. I stopped writing somewhere along the way, stopped reading. There was nothing but work, sleep, and work again, skimming the poverty line, wearing away all of my most interesting ridges bit by bloody bit. I’m sure I lived some interesting stories, but they’re not something I’m ready to talk about yet.

I still self-identified as a writer. Still figured I’d get back to it some day. Still bought copies of Writer’s Market every year, but I never got any further than sending off for submission guidelines. And eventually, “some day” turns into “never.”

Back to Self-Publishing.

So it’s mid-2010. I write a short story about the apocalypse, a literary horror thing, my first bit of fiction in over a decade. I liked it. Friends I showed it to liked it. I found myself a list of all the publications likely to pick it up, chose one, checked out their web page, and sent it off.

Then went back to the job hunt, largely forgetting about what I’d written. A month or so later I get a rejection notice — my first rejection for the first story I’d ever submitted, the first story I’d written in years. I’d steeled myself for this. I knew this was the biz. I’d read enough articles.

Except.

This was a personal rejection. The editor included a note that the story was

An almost. Brutal in a Lord of the Flies sort of way.

And I found that very encouraging. My first story, my first rejection, an almost.

Well.

My old dreams came flooding back. I remembered what it was like to have aspirations, to believe that I could be something, that I could have something. Suddenly, I really wanted to be a writer again. I wanted writing, to be my life. And I was good enough!

And yet I didn’t send the story out again immediately. I was close to going from “couchsurfing homeless” to “gutter homeless.” It’d take at least a month to sell the story, then many more months for the story to be published before I’d see a dime.

I didn’t have time for that. But I lived in the future now, didn’t I?

I said SELF-PUBLISHING

I’d been hearing about self-publishing and the way that e-marketplaces had been changing the landscape, but hadn’t looked into it too deeply. I did some research and found out that the payoff would be much sooner — royalties were disbursed two months after accrual. That I could do. Two months I had.

So I wrote a few more stories, researched self-publishing some more, and put them up on Amazon. That first month I made ten dollars.

Ten real dollars. I was a goddamn professional author.

The next month I made thirty. Enough to chip in a little for food, so I didn’t feel like so much the mooch. By the end of 2012 I was taking in four-figures of royalties every month, living in my own place.

So that’s me.

That’s my story. How I got where I am. I’m not rich, not by a longshot, but I’d consider myself a successful professional author. Sure, the market moved on, and Amazon changed things up so that I’m back to barely scraping by, but I know what I’m doing. Any one book could be the one that takes off unexpectedly, my lottery tickets to financial stability and the heights of a lower-middle class lifestyle.

Until then, until I make it, I’ll keep plugging away, keep writing, keep trying new things. It’s all I can do.

Michael Coorlim

Michael Coorlim is a teller of strange stories for stranger people. He collects them, the oddballs. The mystics and fire-spinners, the sages and tricksters. He curates their tales, combines their elements and lets them rattle around inside his rock-tumbler skull until they gleam, then spills them loose onto the page for like-minded readers to enjoy.

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