First things first. I’m stubborn. When I set a goal, I reach it. I’ve never been one to set unattainable goals, but I’m certainly not opposed to setting difficult ones.
It was 2012. I had committed myself to writing a novel and succeeding. With no job, no income, and a dwindling cash reserve, I locked myself in the house and began writing. Thirty days passed. Another thirty. Maybe more. I slept little and typed a lot. Then, I cast aside what portions of the MS weren’t needed, kept what I believed was, and whittled it down to the base essentials. I had finally reached a point where the MS, at least in my opinion, was perfect. A good friend (who just so happened to be an editor) came over and read it.
He told me I had a knack for writing. In short, he loved it.
The next day I fired up my tired laptop to make a few final touches to what I expected was going to be an award-winning manuscript.
The computer locked up. After repeated attempts (by me, friends, and professionals) to resurrect the document(s), I found out my hard work was lost.
And, I started over from scratch.
A few months later I was done (again). I convinced myself version two was better than the first.
During my development of my first MS, my car was repossessed (no job, no income, and the necessity for a home trumped the need for a car). I didn’t care. I was sure I was going to be pretty damned wealthy in a matter of months.
I walked to the coffee shop, logged on their internet, and self-published my first book, Broken People.
Family, friends, and everyone I had met at the coffee shop over the years rejoiced. They all bought the book, read it, and loved it. 5-star reviews on top of 5-star reviews followed. I rubbed my palms together and dreamt of what color of car I was going to buy to replace the car that was repossessed.
60 days later, I got my first check (they sent me an actual check, because I didn’t even have a bank account). It was roughly $100.
The next month I got another. It was $70.
The bank came and repossessed my motorcycle. My motorcycle. My motorcycle. A motorcycle I had for over 10 years. My signature. My other half. I bit my quivering lower lip and reminded myself that I was going to succeed.
Challenged by a literary agent to write an erotic novel, I did so. Upon completion, I sent it to her. She chuckled. “It’s not marketable,” she said. “I couldn’t get an editor to even consider it. The hero is an asshole, and although you could self-publish it, you need to…”
She continued to speak, but I didn’t listen. What did she know?
I self-published my second novel, Baby Girl. The agent was right. It was marketable as a self-published work. It made it to #1 in Erotic Romance, and stayed there for two weeks. It was 2013. At the time, I was one of just a few self-published male romance/erotica authors. It was more of a curse than a blessing. Personally, I hated it when people said ‘you’re my favorite male romance author.’
What? Out of the four that exist?
I wanted to be categorized with everyone. A man, especially one in touch with his feminine side, should be able to write romance as well as a female, right?
I wrote a second book, Baby Girl II, a continuation of the couple in the first book. And then, a third, Baby Girl III.
Between my motorcycle’s departure and the third book, I got a few eviction notices. I’m not even going to get into that. I’ll just say I was determined. I worked 14-16 hours a day writing, and did so 7 days a week. I went 90 days without so much as opening my front door. I didn’t get the mail, I didn’t see friends, I didn’t do anything. The eviction notices stacked up.
I read. I wrote. I studied. I read more. I wrote more. I asked questions. I listened. Although I didn’t have a television (I hadn’t had one in 10 years), or the internet (I didn’t have it for 10 years either) I used the free wireless down the street at the coffee shop. I started a blog. I got a Goodreads page. I got my first Facebook account.
You see, up until that time, I was anti-social media. I didn’t believe I needed Facebook in my life. If someone wanted to know how or what I was doing, they would have to know me well enough to either have my phone number or know where I lived.
To succeed in the self-published world, however, I had to become social. So, once again, I bit my lip and did so.
The Baby Girl series sold extremely well, and I was pleased at my first attempt to write erotica.
A check came. It had a comma in the amount column. I paid my rent. And.
I ate food.
Peanut butter. And oatmeal. At the same time.
In December of 2013, I wrote another book, Undefeated. A boxer with a hard head and a soft heart. I published it in January 2014. It was met with mixed reviews, some saying he was too warm-hearted, and others saying he was too much of a hot-head.
I took it personal. I wondered, however, how he could be too soft and too hard. I reviewed my MS, re-read the book, and scratched my head. Time passed. I realized there will always be people who make it a point to hate on a self-published work. They enjoy it. They pick at it like a festering sore.
I decided my hero, Shane Dekkar, was a great guy, and wrote a four book series about him and his best friend, Mike Ripton. Unstoppable, Unleashed, and Unbroken all went to #1 in their subgenres, and Unleashed went to #1 in all of erotica for an entire month.
Finally, I was making enough money to survive.
I wasn’t getting rich, but I was paying my rent.
And. I. Continued.
I’m not going to bore you with all of the details, but I made a few changes. I realized my covers were nothing short of a photo that covered the title page. My wife volunteered to make me new covers. I replaced all my old covers. Sales picked up.
I spent an hour or so a day interacting with fans on Facebook, an hour on Goodreads, and wrote for 12 hours. Seven days a week, this process continued from 2014-2015.
In 2015 I did my first signing, and took 300 books. My wife and I had no idea what to expect. It was at Hard Rock in Tulsa. In four hours, we were sold out of books. It appeared that I had reached a point that I was being well-received by readers. I convinced myself I was capable of writing. A pimple, if you will, on an author’s ass.
I left with a sack of cash and a stomach full of humility.
On the surface, I appear to be an ass. I am, however, a very humble man.
I bit into a slice of humble pie, and in fall of 2015, I sent the agent (the one who said Baby Girl was unmarketable) a query. Enough time had passed that I realized she was right about Baby Girl. You see, in the beginning, many of us think we’re authors. More often than not, we aren’t. We’re simply writers.
We put words together until they form an improperly punctuated sentence, follow it with a little dialogue, and give the dialogue a very descriptive dialogue tag. We tell a lot and convince ourselves we’re showing. We make mistakes.
My first manuscripts stand as a testament to my ability to sell a story that’s poorly written, filled with mistakes, and nothing short of embarrassing. I’m a great story teller and a really crappy author.
So, the fall of 2015…
I’d written a series of books about a motorcycle club. They’d all been to #1, and they’d also hit the top 100 out of all book on Amazon, regardless of genre. Two made it to the top 50. I was selling (with each release) between 1,000 and 1,500 books a day. My author ranking, at the time, was #2. Only EL James was above me.
I emailed the agent. The email turned into a phone call. The phone call produced a challenge on her part to have me write a book for her that an editor had specifically asked for. I accepted the challenge, and wrote the first 4 chapters for her.
She submitted it to the editor. Within 12 hours, I had commitment for my first book deal. It seemed my writing had progressed enough to gather the attention of an agent, a major publisher, and become mainstream.
The next month, I won a Kindle All-Star award for selling more books than most self-published authors.
Then, my book won a Kindle All-Star award. And then, I won another. And another.
Amazon contacted me. They offered to buy the audio rights to my motorcycle series. I refereed them to my agent. I liked saying it. “I’m sorry, you’ll have to talk to my agent.”
2016 rolled around.
I exhaled for a moment at Christmas and realized more that three years had passed since my first stab at writing a self-published book. 25 full-length novels later, and I had finally reached a point that my writing didn’t embarrass me.
And now, everything’s pretty much the same. I write 12-14 hours a day, seven days a week, and each day I learn something about the craft that makes my writing more clear, more concise, and more marketable.
I listen to my agent, Michelle Johnson. And my wife, Jessica. And my PA, Kat Chadwick. I read a lot. And, I realize that above all, I’m human. Not super-human, simply human. And, humans make mistakes. A lot of them.
I guess I’ll close by saying this. I had written for almost 20 years (magazine articles) but committed myself to becoming an author in the late months of 2012. I stuck with it. I lost everything, but I never gave up. I listened. I changed. I realized when I made mistakes and learned from them. I thanked people for their constructive one-star reviews. I read all the reviews, applied what I felt I should, and, as a result, developed a more palatable book.
I now stand as proof that a self-published author can make it.
We can succeed.
But we must be willing to admit something to do so.
We’re only human.
And in being so, we make mistakes.