Blogging and Writing

My Writing and Self-Publishing Journey

My writing journey: from blogger to author to who knows where?

This post comes at the request of Melissa of ZeroSpace, who wanted to about the how my writing journey began and how I got to where I am now.

Before I started blogging in 2017, I didn’t spend a lot of time online, and I wasn’t into social media at all. I really had no clue what other possibilities may appear as a result of embarking on my blogging journey. I knew nothing about book publishing, and probably the only thing I knew about self-publishing was that it existed. I’m pretty sure that writing a book had ever even crossed my mind.

The inspiration

A couple of months after I started blogging, Dyane Harwood reached out to ask if I would review her book Birth of a New Brain. Over the next year, I read several other books that some of my blogging friends had already published, and several bloggers I knew self-published for the first time.

At that point, I started to think huh, maybe this is something I could do too. Fiction and poetry aren’t my thing, so I knew that if I was going to write something, it would be non-fiction. I didn’t feel any pressing need to write a memoir, so I thought a good place to start would be to write about what I know—psych meds.

Diving into book #1

When I started writing Psych Meds Made Simple, I hadn’t fully committed in my head to writing a book that would make it out there to the world. It was easy to write. Besides the fact that I kept it short, it was simple because the basic framework came from stuff I already had written down, in the form of notes from school and from continuing education activities. Writing good summary notes has been my thing since my early university days, so most of the pieces were already there.

It was pretty overwhelming learning how to use Amazon KDP. To keep from getting too overwhelmed, I started off by exclusively publishing through KDP. Despite being dazed and confused, I managed to muddle through, and out came the book. I didn’t have a clue then how to market, and I still don’t. Well, that’s probably not entirely true. I have some idea how to do it, but I don’t like marketing, and I don’t want to be annoying, to myself or others.

If I recall correctly, it was Maranda Russell who clued me in to the world of advertising on Amazon. The beauty about super-niche nonfiction is that advertising can actually accomplish something. I wouldn’t have the slightest clue how to make fiction or poetry stand out from the hordes of other options.

Because just one isn’t enough…

I started on Making Sense of Psychiatric Diagnosis before Psych Meds Made Simple was released. I knew I wanted it to be a collaborative effort with stories from contributors, but I wasn’t sure how to go about it. Overall, I really liked working with so many contributors, but if I were to do something like that again, I’d do the logistics differently. As it was, there were a few people who said they would contribute but then bailed without actually telling me they were bailing, which left me scrambling at the last minute.

Shortly before Making Sense of Psychiatric Diagnosis was released, I decided I was going to expand beyond KDP. I removed Psych Meds Made Simple from Amazon’s exclusive KDP Select program, and published it on Kobo, Google, Apple Books, and Barnes & Noble. That gave me a chance to get familiar with those platforms before releasing the 2nd book. They’re small potatoes, though, compared to Amazon.

I started writing Managing the Depression Puzzle in little dribs and drabs while I was still working on the 2nd book. In early 2020, I wasn’t doing well healthwise, and I think I got to a point where I was done with the book more than having a sense of the book actually being finished. I released it in February 2020, and then COVID hit a month later. I was never able to get my traction trying to advertise it. Less specific book, harder to find good advertising keywords. I’ve since decided to spruce it up and re-release it within the next couple of months.

I started working on book #4, A Brief History of Stigma, not long after releasing #3. I’ve really been taking my time with it, and not making any effort to work on it regularly. It’s involved far more research than my other books, which I actually liked doing, although it took a lot of time. At this point, the research aspect is basically done and the structure is all there. What remains is to fill it in with my own thoughts and words, which I really don’t have a lot of. I’ve been taking a break for a while as I work on preparing the 2nd edition of book #3, so we’ll see if more thoughts and words start flowing when I return to #4. Thoughts are very much at a premium in my head these days.

Self-publishing

So far I’ve chosen to self-publish, and I really don’t see that changing. I know that part of the process of trying to get a book traditionally published is rejection, and likely lots of it; it’s just the way it is. My illness is at a place where I don’t have the fork tolerance to open myself up to rejection. Regardless of whether or not I were to take it personally, it would still be a fork jab. As it is, the most minor of stressors renders me almost immobile, and getting traditionally published just isn’t worth that for me. Sure, there’s a certain cachet with being traditionally published, but I just don’t care about that. I have no interest in working with an editor who’s expecting me to meet deadlines. Me and my slow brain are going to do our own slow thing. That’s what works for me, and that’s all I care about.

As to whether it’s possible to make money self-publishing, I’d say maybe kinda sorta maybe but probably not much. There are too many books out there in the world for a “build it and they will come” approach to work. Unless you already have a ginormous online following, you need to hustle with marketing or you need to advertise. To successfully advertise, you need to be able to dominate certain keywords that people are actually searching for. If you don’t have a clear niche, and/or if you’re in a niche where you’re competing with a lot of traditionally published books, I think it’s probably going to be very hard to get a book in front of eyeballs.

I plan to keep writing books until I run out of ideas, and I’ll continue to self-publish as I move forward with my writing journey. The learning curve was steep, but now I’m in a pretty comfortable zone where I’m quite content to stay.

Have you contemplated writing a book? Where are you at in the process, or if you have published, what was that experience like?

A Beginner's Guide to Self-Publishing from Mental Health @ Home

A Beginner’s Guide to Self-Publishing is a mini e-book containing all the knowledge and tricks that I’ve picked up from self-publishing two books.  It’s available from the MH@H Store.

54 thoughts on “My Writing and Self-Publishing Journey”

  1. I’m happy I have some books “out there,” and of course grateful for my few buyers/readers/reviewers, but ultimately I find it frustrating and not fun. I dislike marketing intensely (except for a passive blurb at the end of posts), and I am absolutely not going to keep shoving my products in people’s faces. That’s just gross. I think to really get readers, you have to be associated with a traditional publishing house, even if you’re only in ebooks. Of course there are exceptions, more for niche non-fic, and the first of anything crazy, like the dinosaur erotica…

  2. It’s impossible not to take the rejection personally. On my first book, about 40 agents said it was a great idea, but they couldn’t commit the time and resources to a story that hadn’t been told before because they didn’t know if there was a market. I also shopped it to around 80 publishers before one went for it. Thankfully, I only shopped to a dozen for my second book and that same publisher did my third. I’ve got an idea for my fourth, but I’m low on time these days. Nonetheless, every rejection is like a hot knife to your gut, especially when you’re writing non-fiction. How can you feel anything else when someone looks at your memoir and turns it down?

    I didn’t go the traditional route for the “prestige”, the money or the marketing. I went with it because the connections for distribution are far better than anything you can do self-publishing. Libraries have been a big part of my sales, but they will rarely take a self-published text.

  3. I’ve considered writing a book about dieting and why it doesn’t work, while outlining alternatives for safe weight loss and healthy eating habits. I really don’t have the time to write it, though.

  4. I love that you found the first book quite easy – even with a lot of pre-written content and ideas and a framework in place, I would have found it incredibly difficult! I wonder how many people get their heads around writing a book that they intend to be published and be fully committed to it, and for how many it just kind of happens afterwards. I think a little break before returning to book 4 is a good idea. You certainly have all of the words and ideas in your head, it’s just getting them organised and onto the page. I struggle with creative writing and it gets harder the worse depression is. You manage to write books and your blog posts, and still support other bloggers at the same time. I take my hat off to you, Ashley. You amaze me. You should be hugely proud. xx

  5. I’m kind of used to rejection because it’s like… I don’t know… expected? Like if you think, oh, all the agents will want my book, then that’s what my dad would call an unreasonable expectation. But for sure, I mean, at first, it’s going to hurt like the dickens. I’m more sensitive to bad reviews of my books. That feels more personal! Although there was one review that was bad that sort of made me laugh… hold on and let me find it…

    [start] I didn’t get very far in this book, I’m sad to say, before I had to quit reading. I did like the character of Corey’s mom; she seemed very realistic. The issue I ran into was the subject on which it looked as if Corey and her group at school were going to be allowed to do a report/project. It’s possible if I skipped around, or just skipped ahead a certain ways, that I could get around that, but I don’t know and I just am personally too repulsed to try. I don’t think that giving the topic would be a spoiler and if you’re fine with it then you may like the book, so I’ll say that it’s…
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    …The Donner Party.

    I’m very squeamish about it myself, just one of those things for me, and had I known it was even mentioned in the book, I would not have entered the giveaway. My apologies in that regard. [end]

    HA HA H AH AH HA! I can’t help but laugh every time I read that. Well, she didn’t like the book. I get it. The Donner party’s not for everyone.

    Anyway, ahem. Most rejections are form letters, so the agents don’t tell you what they passionately hated about your book (and thank God!). It’s more like, “This isn’t a good fit for me now.” The rudest rejection I ever got was: “Pass.” I replied: “Rude.” (I couldn’t resist.) But if you brace yourself for a form letter and know that everyone gets them, it makes it easier. At any rate, I’m super-excited to see what you’ve been cooking up about the stigma!! Go Ashley go!!

  6. I think anyone who writes a book of any kind is some kind of wonderful. Anyone who self-publishes a book is a superhero. I swear I don’t know how you deal with it all – starting with the basics of copyright and ISBN number, nevermind formatting and all that – I’m an obsessive detail person but the mere thought of that whole operation – self-publishing – gives me hives!

  7. It is interesting and inspiring to read how you have come so far in the world of writing, and I think that any thing written or created, which is looked at by someone, is important. Also thank you for your honest advise concerning marketing and making money (there are so many con people out there!)

  8. I’m looking forward to your finishing A Brief History of Stigma. Does it deal exclusively with mental health, or does it poke into things like mental health AND gender identity, or maybe things like rebellion or going against the grain?

  9. You’ve gotten a lot accomplished, thank you for sharing with us. My first publishing experience was the shock of contact from an academic publisher telling me that they wanted to publish my PhD thesis, when it was finished. After confirming with another student who’d already published with them in 2008, I got back to them, worked with an editor to turn my thesis into a monograph after I submitted, and then got the shock of a lifetime when I saw the pricetag they put on my book (and the fact that I’d only get about 8% royalties on that pricey book). I did get an author’s copy, which I gave away (and now regret not giving to the library instead), and didn’t think much more of it. Academic books don’t sell well, in general, especially in my area, but I’m glad that this publisher (Lambert Academic Publishing, and imprint of VDK in Germany) does have to give hard copies to the German public library system. I was happy with the process in 2010, but regret going with them again for my history book, Stayed on Freedom’s Call. Their contracts and editorial system changed drastically, essentially turning them into an academic vanity publisher, and it was a nightmare. Since I was having serious personal problems, I went with them, having to pay nothing, but refusing to buy my own books, so the sales price is high, and no editorial help came from them at all. Since I retained all electronic rights, I later decided to publish online, but not to try to sell either book.

      1. It was, but I figured that at least the two books are out there, and I can build on them later, or keep working on my novels. But I have learned to be much more careful about publishers.

  10. Hi, thank you for the article! As a part of the process of self-publishing, how important would you say creating a platform is? How did you go about creating yours? Again, thank you for the wonderful advice, I enjoyed reading this.

    1. That can definitely help with marketing. I’ve mostly focused on my blog because I”m not a big social media fan, but social media can have a big impact.

  11. Writing can be quite the slog no matter which route you take. Over the last ten years I’ve written four novels, got plenty of rejections from agents, and although I do have an agent now, I’m still getting rejections from publishers. In my case, I sort of developed calloused skin for it, but it definitely still stings sometimes. Just like I’m sure it will sting if/when I do get that book deal and the negative reviews come in. Somehow, the magic of the writing process just keeps me putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. Happy writing! <3

    1. Happy writing indeed!

      Yeah, I think some creative/performative fields you either have to develop a calloused skin or just get out of the field entirely.

  12. I self publish on Amazon, KDP select. I may get around to advertising one day, but so far I haven’t and I’m overjoyed and astonished when anyone finds one of my books. To date, I’ve spent more on editing than I’ve made on my books. Writing is a hobby that’s saving my sanity during these Covid days. Also, a challenge that I’ve set for myself. And sometimes, just sometimes, I pat myself on the back and say, “Hey, you did that.” 🙂

  13. Ashley, your post is great, but you didn’t give any thought to the cost aspect in self publishing.
    I started looking at self publishing and I was shocked at the costs.
    Would you discuss sometime the pros and cons about the cost factor. Is there ever a point where you really see returns that covers the initial input cost?

  14. I just bought your first two books on Amazon. Downloading to my Kindle. I feel special because this is like… the first time I have ever bought published books from a blogger I follow. lmao. 🙂

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