Dear Writer-Friends,

I've been self-publishing since 2011, and I've shared the knowledge I've gained in two books: the Indie Author Survival Guide, Second Edition, and For Love or Money. I'm not an indie rockstar or a breakout success: I'm one of thousands of solidly midlist indie authors making a living with their works. These books are my way of helping my fellow authors discover the freedom of indie publishing. Write on, writer-friends!

S.K. Quinn, Independent Author of Science Fiction

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Monday, August 19, 2013

Ch 3.9 Taking the Road Less Traveled

(This is an excerpt from my Indie Author Survival Guide, available on Kindle and Nook.)

Ch 3.9 Taking the Road Less Traveled*
*Apologies to Robert Frost

I'm preserving the original flavor of these two chapters (Taking the Road Less Traveled, The Secret Ingredient: Confidencewritten just before my leap into indie publishing. Partly because they show what I was thinking before I knew self-publishing was going to give me monthly paychecks that would replace a job in engineering within a year. Before I knew people would give my books hundreds of five-star reviews on Amazon. It was before all the success I've been lucky and worked hard to have. And I think it speaks to the experience that many writers go through during that transition time when they step back, gauge the gap, get a running start, and make the daring leap into their author careers. Then we'll tie things up with a retrospective chapter on Making the Leap.

When It First Occurred To Me That I Might Self-Publish
[Ed. Note: I am scared crazy here.]
Sometimes I wonder what compels me to take that weedy path, the one that's overgrown because few people go there. Sometimes I tromp across a meadow that doesn't have so much as a deer trail, just because I think there should be a path there, and darn it, someone's got to be the first.

What is my problem? And more importantly, is this behavior I would encourage in my kids?

I realize that I don't take chances in everything I do.

Wonderful, stable marriage? Well-worn path.
Running for public office? Road less traveled.
Owning a minivan, carting kids around? Paved road with lots of traffic.
Trying to write novels for a living? Weedy path.

So what makes me decide it's worth risking time/money/effort to pursue a goal (writing) that may end up snarled somewhere in a ditch?

The truth is that I agonized over that decision and still revisit it on occasion, as if I'm not finished with the agony just yet, needing to vex my conscience a little more. I'm relieved that 12 year old Dark Omen wants to be a physicist first and a novelist on the side, even as I abet his dream by uploading his novel to Smashwords so he can share it with his friends. I worry that 8 year old Mighty Mite loves Hip Hop dancing more than math, even as I can't resist putting up mirrors in the basement, turning it into his own private dance studio.

Do I really want to encourage them to be risk-takers, like Mom?

Never mind that it's worked out well for me, most of my life. My mom says I lead a charmed life, that things seem to go my way. Maybe she's right. Or maybe I make my own luck, by working hard to be ready when Opportunity comes knocking on my door. Either way, what seems like a calculated risk when I'm taking it, seems like crazy foolhardiness when it's my childrens' futures at stake.

So, I take a deep breath and whack down the tall grass in my way, with a machete I won online (being at the right place at the right time), and take the biggest risk of all: daring to be myself, even when the kids are watching.

(Four Months Later) Just Before Deciding to Take the Leap
[Ed. Note: The fear is still there, but I'm proceeding anyway.]
I've grown less worried about my children's forays into the creative arts and more concerned about all the children who don't. I've become less anxious that my risk-taking - in choosing to write children's novels rather than get a job with a paycheck - is some kind of foolhardiness that I will regret.

In fact, in these mere four months, I've grown in my confidence that not only is taking the road less traveled a wise choice for me, it may in fact be the only real choice.  There's a feeling of rightness, an intuition-approval (see Training Your Intuition) bliss-feeling that comes when I've made a choice that's right for me. I believe it has something to do with integrity, in the sense that all the disparate pieces of me are integrated and heading in the same direction. 

Where did this come from?

Sampling the Cloud 
[Ed. Note: this is summer of 2011, when indie publishing was just starting to go mainstream]
I've been reading a lot of blogs, talking to a lot of people, and reading books about changes in the publishing industry. I've been examining people who are successful, trying to discern what makes them unique. I think of the knowledge base of human experience like an amorphous cloud, shifting and gusting around, changing from minute to minute. You can easily get lost in the cloud, and it can drive you a bit crazy. But I've been trying to take large snapshots to find patterns and learn from them. 

From this I've discerned a couple things: 1) people who are successful aren't successful because they've divined the secret code. They're successful because they made their own code, and 2) Their own code is an expression of the type of person they are, fully embraced and carried forward into the world with confidence.


John Locke is a savvy sales guy who made a bucket load of money selling books the same way he sold insurance. Could I possibly succeed this way? No more than I could sell insurance (which is to say NO).

HP Mallory is enthusiastic, cute, and fun, and has sold a lot of books by being ... enthusiastic, cute, and fun. And attracting readers who enjoy that (and her). Could I be that cute and whimsical? I have my moments, but that's not the main thing that drives me.

My path to success will be different from theirs, and only by embracing who I am (see Ten Things I Believe), making up my own code for success, will I find it. This is the very definition of traveling your own road, but like the Room of Requirement, you will only find it when you go forward with confidence in what you need. Confidence to tromp down that path, even if I'm the first one to travel it in exactly my way. Confidence that my path is not only an acceptable way to go about things, it is probably the best way for me.

Because that's the kind of person I am.

So, Mighty Mite is not only taking Hip Hop, we've added Voice lessons to his creative outlets (he also wants to take acting classes). Dark Omen is hard at work on the sequel of his novel, and Worm Burner has decided that he's a fan of both C++ programming and Shakespeare.

I'm not worried about these explorations anymore. I know they are following their own paths, ones that are expressions of who they are, and I'm grateful that they feel free to tell me, "Mom, I want to try this."

After all, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

But How Do I Find That Confidence?
It's not magic. It's not blind faith. In The Secret Ingredient: Confidence I'll talk about how confidence isn't found, it's grown.

(This is an excerpt from my Indie Author Survival Guide, available on Kindle and Nook.)


  1. Every now and then I read a post that helps me recalibrate. This is such a post, found at the opportune moment. Nicely written.

  2. Another wonderful post, Susan. It's fun to read how you've changed and grown, thanks to giving yourself permission to be creative. And I'm so glad that your kids seem to be following in your path! I think creativity in boys is something that's not encouraged nearly enough.

  3. Change is such a vital part of life and growth and life happens based from it. terrific post.
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  4. Yes, it helps to hear about your insecurity of jumping into the large puddle called 'self-publishing,' and then realizing that you have to do it YOUR way, not the way of Joe, or Jill or Jane. That's how I'm getting through this puddle - handling the marketing and promoting the way that I'm comfortable with (after all, I wrote my books MY way also).


Erudite comments from thoughtful readers