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  • Writer's pictureDonna Norman Carbone

Learning the Hard Way: My Journey

So, here’s the story. I’m writing it down to remember and to help YOU (those who dream about publishing a book) benefit from the mountainous learning curve I experienced.

Before I received the call offering me a contract that would quite literally change my life, I was a writer (a full time teacher & wife and mom) who spent years–years–honing my craft and dreaming. I didn’t know it then, but that time was absolutely necessary to improve as a writer, develop a thick skin (for the 100+ rejections) and patience. I probably “quit” writing fifty times, doubting my abilities and my talent. At times, I sunk very low into depression thinking that this one thing that I worked so hard at over the years (long before the book I eventually published) would never come to fruition. I questioned whether I had it in me to publish a book, whether my writing was good enough or good at all.

What did I do that made it work? I found a community, albeit a small, safe one, of other writers and, eventually, editors. I learned not only HOW to improve my writing, I learned about their process. I picked up tips along the way about querying, about the various publishing paths, about how to fine tune a scene with tension and agency. Working with two critique partners who absolutely helped my writing skills through weekly critiques and occasional brainstorming sessions over Facetime. In reading the work of others, I learned how to improve my own. Two critique partners led to four and five. And, believe me, there were several more that didn’t work out for one reason or another, but, the sponge that I am, I learned something from each of them.

I became a student of publishing, taking a course in how to write a query. I attended webinars and online conferences that taught me about how to make my work marketable. I joined the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, making more connections, reading and learning questions I didn’t know to ask and their answers in the #WFWA Facebook chat, making even more connections. I joined some online book clubs, the place where some of my future readers talked about their love of books. More networking and more networking.

The day I received a call from my publisher, which seemed life changing in an instant, I could not wipe the smile off my face that, finally, my dream was coming true, the hard work had paid off. It was and it did, but I didn’t realize how much more work I had to do, how much more learning was yet to come.

I made a commitment to myself that, since I’d been given the opportunity to publish my work, I was no longer going to let fear and self-doubt hinder my experience. There have been a few times since making that promise that I almost fell back into old patterns. For one, I don’t like to be the center of attention; I much prefer to surround myself with familiar people with whom I’m already comfortable. I don’t like to talk about myself; I don’t find myself very interesting. I also shun being on camera, especially live, because I always nitpick how I look, what I said, how I said it. These were three HUGE hurdles for me to overcome. But I did.

I opened myself up to all of the experiences. I’ve walked through the fears. I’ve sought guidance to help myself learn what I didn’t already know or I taught myself.

The list seems endless: social media (even Tik Tok!), building and maintaining a website, creating and writing a monthly newsletter, requesting book blurbs and reviews, establishing a street team (and understanding what that is and why it’s needed), booking events, seeking local businesses to carry my books on a commission basis, talking at events, public readings, managing the finances, creating a brand and a logo and a tagline, creating and seeking out book swag, building a marketing strategy and executing, doing interviews and podcasts, creating my own podcast with a co-host and all that that entails…

The good news, for those that I may have scared a little, is these tasks come to you over time. You will learn them on an as-needed-basis, but knowing what’s coming down the road is absolutely helpful. This past year has been the whirlwind of my life in all the best possible ways.

Here are some of my takeaways:

  • Believe in yourself and your work

  • Never stop working to improve it

  • Walk through your fears. You’ll be glad you did.

  • Educate yourself on the kinds of publishing and what you should expect from each

  • Do what you can and give yourself grace when you can’t or you just simply don’t have the time

  • Prioritize what is most important right now to accomplish

  • Find your community, lean on them for support, experience and knowledge

  • Create a plan (and don’t be surprised if you have to deviate or change paths). Be flexible.

  • Practice patience (you’re going to need it).

  • Breathe

  • Celebrate all the little milestones

You deserve this ♡

All of this was the impetus for creating a podcast called Authors Talking Bookish with my dear friend and publishing sister, Hope Gibbs, author of Where the Grass Grows Blue. (Incidentally, this friendship is a result of signing on with my publisher and I couldn’t be more grateful). We are the co-hosts of a bi-weekly podcasts about what we learned the hard way as debut authors to clear the paths for others. In our most recent episode, we will address the steps to launch a book–complete with a free downloadable timeline to do so. I do hope you’ll check it out on our website or on Spotify, Amazon, Apple, Google and YouTube.

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