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  • Writer's pictureWILLIAM HAZEL

Lessons of a Self-Published Book Journey

I wrote a book. Then I self-published the book. These are two very different things, with few crossover skills. The process took much longer than I ever imagined and required a perseverance like a career changing job search, which was in fact, exactly what I seemed to be doing.

I wrote Running to Zen – A Marathon Journey, in two spaces of time. I had the idea of writing about running as I made the transition from managing a few miles to completing my first half marathon. The original notion being the half marathon would be the grand finale. The original drafts were centered on the process of overcoming a major trauma, and the way running completely reshaped my inner vision of what my physical self was capable of in a post trauma life. A few chapters took shape in those days, about 20,000 words, and felt a genuine pull that I was on to something.

And then I stopped writing.

I held no illusions of being able to make a living as a writer, though this is possible, and ever more accessible in today’s marketplace, but I would not make a living on my own books or articles, sustainability required following a proven path of writing for others.

Website content, training manuals, online articles, resumes, and ghost writing of all sorts, would create a piece meal income most likely exceeding my nonprofit salary. I wasn’t done with my nonprofit work, however, still fanning embers for creating and managing a space offering genuine community impact. In other words, I gave my time to work instead of to my book.

And then came COVID.

I am one of the fortunate. Though I was without a job, I was able to lock down, live on some savings, and chose to start writing again instead of falling into a dark depression. Blogging came first, using the established Medium platform. Though laughingly small, I even made money on blogging. A Medium publication called, "Runners’ Life", accepted one of my early works, so I submitted more. Some of the pieces were extracted and adapted from my book chapters. Seeing the chapters as separate submissions in digital form on a giant platform trolled by plagiarizing content robots pushed my buttons to stop giving my work away and get it back into book form.

Running to Zen poured out of me in four months, with just over 110,000 words segmented through timeline chapters. Then came the re-writing. And more re-writing. And the editing. And more re-writing. After convincing myself the finished 77,000 word version was both readable and enjoyable, I pushed the self-publish button.

I picked up a few important lessons during the process to bring with me as I begin writing my next project:

Just Write.

Find the combination that let’s you write and write and write some more. I’ve discovered the backyard as writing sanctuary. The birds give me words, and I like the laptop in my lap and the fresh air in my lungs. I’ve also built an indoor quiet zone, with a nestled desk in a sunlit corner of space. I often write wired, with earbuds and music a little too loud. The always plentiful attractions of distraction often keep me from the goal, but when I discipline the time, the words come. Every time I draft, even a short blog, I am fighting the urge to edit as I go. To change. To rethink. To over think. An inveterate overthinker, the overthinking comes with ease. When I force myself to stay out of my own way, the momentum slowly flows me to that lovely state of losing time as ideas burn into pages. It works. Just write will forever remain lesson one of getting a book done.

Get Help

This might be harder that you think. If you like to write, love to write, chances are you prefer solitude, seclusion, self-time, away time, escape time, just leave me alone time. As natural isolationists, writers reaching out for help always conflicts as counter intuitive. Still, it became clear I needed help to make the book a reality. I needed help with the huge task of editing, the daunting obstacles of proper formatting, and some creative rethinking about the book’s design. Like I said, writing a book is completely different than publishing a book.

Again, I am thankful to be a person with great personal fortune, in having loved ones wanting, and most importantly, willing to help. The editing came first. Through blogging submissions to numerous publications, I experienced editors as mostly grammar cops.

Meagan Storey isn’t a grammar cop, she’s an editor, writing teacher, and reviewer for Library Journal, a professional resource for librarians. Meagan is also a runner.

When I reached out for Meagan's help, not only did I discover how much work the manuscript truly needed to become readable, but I knew I was on to something. Her honest assessment was that the book was different, had an edge missing in most athletic memoirs, and resonated as relatable.

So, before you send a manuscript to the grammar cops, get someone you trust to mark it all in red first.

Running To Zen is as much my wife’s book, as it is mine. It was Mindy that tossed out the standard templates, not liking the usual oversized text, or simplified structures found in many self-published works.

Mindy's patience, care, and desire for the work to look something of higher quality brought research into the modern formatting styles being used by the big publishing houses today.

An author, self-publisher, and editor for a run. Thank you to Mindy Mizak and Meagan Storey. Photo courtesy of Tidewater Striders

There were many bumps, learning pains, trials and re-trials along the way towards us finding a formatting style that suited the book’s mood.

Lindsey West took a hammer to my comfort zone walls and gave the project the cover design. Once a coworker, then colleague, now I'm grateful to know her as a treasured friend.

Lindsey lifted the look above the overused Unsplash and Pixabay styles that I, and many self-publishers, see as the safe approach.

Lindsey West holding a copy of her Running To Zen cover design.

I attempted my own photos but fell into the trap of what a normal running book cover would look like, creating uninteresting options. Using paid resources came with solid benefits, but with some real licensing trap doors, like extra fees or permissions how the cover images can be used on social media. A genuine creative, I reached out to Lindsey for help and will always be grateful for her kindness and effort.

So, ask for help. That’s lesson two. Ask for help from people you trust and don’t be afraid to admit you need the help

Imposter Syndrome is real.

Odd thing, seeing your work held in someone’s hands. Seeing somebody post a photo of them getting the book in the mail. Seeing a copy of your labor sitting on someone’s nightstand. The project comes to completion when someone is reading. And you might discover it makes you feel very uneasy to come to terms with this idea that the writing is worth someone’s hard earned money, and most importantly, their personal time. The thought can bring waves of self-doubt far outpowering the joy of the accomplishment.

I haven’t found a cure-all for the brain fraud, but I am more aware than ever before that Imposter Syndrome is a very real force that can keep me from achieving my goals.

Like any type of negative self-talk, I’ve grown to realize I, first, do have to listen. Not shut it out. Just let it come through. Then get detached to open awareness of bringing positive actions to the forefront. I don’t believe in positive self-talk as a defense. I’ve learned what helps me the most is positive actions.

Lesson three is heads up for the self-doubt. It’s real and it’s coming, and it’s part of the process.

Thank you to my dear, dear friends who helped me make the project a reality. And thank you to the early buyers for breaking the ice and getting it all started. I’ll take all the hard-earned lessons of Running To Zen with me for the next book. And if you’re thinking about writing and self-publishing your own work, I hope these three lessons help.

© Copyright William Hazel, 2022

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