Friday, 17 October 2014

Dear Dare to Dream: Should I Self Publish My Novel?

Dear Dare to Dream,

I feel a bit like I've lost my mojo.

This year, I started sending the first three chapters of a novel I've written out to literary agents.Three of them asked to see the whole thing but then never got back to me, not even to say no. 

I've worked on this book for four years and I feel it's good enough to be published, but I am now losing my confidence and I worry that if I self publish I will make a fool of myself. Basically, I feel like a crap writer.

A writer friend of mine is dead against me self-publishing, telling me that I'm good enough to get a book deal, but I just don't know and I'm such a hands-on type person. It hurts sitting around doing nothing.

I've started working on another novel but it feels as if I'm just building sandcastles. I want to have something published to give me the confidence and power to write.

Have you ever felt this way? So down in the dumps?

And should I take the bull by the horns and just self publish, even if so many tell me that it's 'vanity publishing'? I know it sounds silly but I can just see my colleagues sniggering behind my back and saying, 'she thinks she can write!' Stupid, I know. 

I guess I just need some encouragement, or just to know that others have felt this way too...

Dear Down in the Dumps,

Once upon a time, writing made me so sad, I sat in the corner of my kitchen floor and cried.

I cried so long and so hard, I forgot I had a chocolate cake baking and it burned to a cinder.

Normally, nothing makes me forget I have a cake baking, so yes, writing has definitely made me as down in the dumps as you are feeling right now.

But I wasn't crying because I couldn't get a book deal. I was crying because I'd got a book deal, had three novels published, and then been dropped by my publisher.

And the reason I felt so cake-burningly bad was because it truly felt as if my life was over.

And it truly felt as if my life was over because getting a book deal had meant so, so much to me.

It had made me feel good about myself for the first time in years.

It had made me feel as if I'd finally achieved something in my work life.

It had given me the confidence to leave a relationship that had been destroying me from the inside out.

It had made me believe that I was finally a writer.

I wasn't a university drop-out any more - I was a writer.

I wasn't a loser in love any more - I was a writer.

I wasn't worthless any more - I was a writer.

I thought that losing my book deal meant that I was no longer a writer. Just as you think that not getting a book deal makes you a 'crappy writer'.

But I was wrong.

And so are you.

Having a book deal does not make you a writer. 

Writing makes you a writer.

Writing even when you're bone-tired and emotionally drained.

Writing around the edges of your busy life because you'd rather do it then than not at all. 

Because you can't do it 'not at all'. 

Because the words and the stories and the characters and the feelings are just bursting to come out.

And they all want to burst out through you and your own unique voice.

So, dear Down in the Dumps, you have a choice.

You can either let a bunch of strangers who can't even be bothered to reply to you determine your fate, or you can take full control of your writing destiny.

That's what I did, when I lost my book deal.

After crying and burning a cake and throwing a pity party for about a month, I picked myself up and I found my way back to the beginning. Back to the time when I wrote purely for the love of it.

And I wrote a novel, purely for the love of it and I self-published it so that I could give it away for free, purely for the love of it.

About a month after the book came out, I was invited to speak on a panel at London Book Fair.

My fellow panellists were two best-selling authors, a very well-known literary agent and the head of a major publishing house. I was invited along as the token self-publisher.

During the course of our debate I was roundly sneered at and put down by my fellow panellists - to the point where one member of the audience walked out in disgust.

There would have been a time when this would have really upset me, especially when one of the novelists suggested that the book I'd self-published was probably crap.

But if anything, her sneering only got me more fired up. Because I wasn't writing to massage my ego or for money or fame, I was doing it for the love of it. And I might not have been a best-selling novelist with a book deal, but at least I wasn't a self-important twat.

My self-published novel went on to win a national book award and I now have book deals with eight different publishers, in three different countries. But I'm also building my own indie imprint where I can enjoy complete creative control over my writing career.

I'm proof positive of the incredible things that can happen to writers when they take their careers into their own hands.

But don't just take my word for it, pay a visit to The Creative Penn, a fantastic website run by indie author, Joanna Penn. It's crammed full of inspirational interviews with writers who are achieving phenomenal success without a traditional book deal. And it also contains loads of helpful tips and advice for writers who want to achieve the same.

I also recommend you read the Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield. It's a kick up the butt in book form.

The only people who sneer at self-publishing and call it 'vanity' publishing these days are old-school, self-important, literary snobs or unhappy people too fearful to chase their own dreams.

I'm sure your writer friend has your best interests at heart, but self publishing isn't a sign of failure - it's a sign of enterprise and passion. It's the sign of a true writer who doesn't want to let anything hold them back.

If a musician builds a following on Youtube prior to getting a record deal they aren't laughed at or called stupid. Just ask Jessie J or the Arctic Monkeys or Lily Allen.

So, why not follow their example?

Get your book out there. 

Get writing the next one.

Get back to the beginning and write and publish for the love of it. Nothing else.

You aren't building sandcastles, you're building imaginary worlds for others to enjoy.

And you're building a happier future for yourself by daring to dream.

As Ray Bradbury so eloquently puts it:

“To sum it all up, if you want to write, if you want to create, you must be the most sublime fool that God ever turned out and sent rambling. You must write every single day of your life. You must read dreadful dumb books and glorious books, and let them wrestle in beautiful fights inside your head, vulgar one moment, brilliant the next. You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads. I wish you a wrestling match with your Creative Muse that will last a lifetime. I wish craziness and foolishness and madness upon you. May you live with hysteria, and out of it make fine stories — science fiction or otherwise. Which finally means, may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.” 

Wishing you much love and writing happiness,

Siobhan x


You can find the new site here.

Fresh new posts include:

15 Things I've Learnt From 15 Years as a Writer

Dear Dare to Dream: How can I overcome my illness and become a speaker

An Exciting New Chapter for Dare to Dream


  1. Love this brilliant kick up the butt Siobham - thanks! And the fantastic Ray Bradbury quote too rings home about the craziness and love..where's it from?

    1. Thanks, Bridget! I don't actually know where the quote's from but I saw it in an article once and I loved it so much I copied it out and have kept it on my desk ever since :)

  2. Siobhan,

    I am happy to have found your blog! Thank you for generously sharing your writing and life wisdom. You are a real gift to your profession.

    I am on my own journey toward freelance writing now, and am finding your words and emotions both relatable and comforting. :)

    Best wishes and keep up the great work!

    1. Thanks so much for the lovely feedback, M - that's really great to hear. And very best of luck with your freelance writing :)

  3. Hi Siobhan. I know you've gotten a lot of attention lately due to the whole Girl Online uproar, but I wanted you to know that while much of it has been negative, I believe that some good has come out of it. For one, I've discovered this site, which I have been surfing for the last 2 hours. And I cannot begin to tell you what a saving grace it has been.

    As I read your posts, I just get this sense that everything will be okay. That no matter what path my life will take, I'll survive...perhaps prosper. I'm 18 and lately I've had this morbid narrative playing in my head: I'm going to go to uni, get a job I hate, sail through life without living, and then meet my end without ever achieving my dreams. I suppose I think this way because every adult I've encountered has followed this path....but then I found you.

    You just seem so detached from "expected social norms." You do what you want, you take risks, you rise above challenges. I can't tell you how comforting it is to you succeed, but also to see you fail and carry on.

    I feel as though I have a chance. That with grit and poetry, I might just find a way to write my own books and share them with the world. That I can write...and be happy.

    Thank you :)

    1. Thank you so much for your lovely comment - it means so much to me to know that the blog has helped you in that way. Funnily enough, I've had about four messages this past week on a similar theme so keep your eyes peeled as I'm going to be covering the subject of uni and big life decisions in a blog post v soon. And I love your phrase 'grit and poetry' - that just about sums it up. You can definitely write and be happy - and you will, with just a bit of grit and a lot of poetry :)
      Very best of luck
      Siobhan x