The Women in Color series highlights creative work done by women of color in the arts through interviews as well as personal and craft essays.
On definitions: In this series, the phrase ‘women of color’ is used to define any one person who 1. identifies as female and 2. considers themselves of Asian/Pacific Islander, Arab/Middle-Eastern, Black/African American/Caribbean/West Indies, Native/Indigenous, and Hispanic/Latin descent.
Self-publishing a book was the hardest professional and personal challenge I have ever taken on–from writing each word, each chapter of my novel, funding all of its production costs, searching for an editor and designer I’d like to work with to the stress of learning the ever evolving art of self- marketing both online and in the real world.
When I decided to self-publish as opposed to sending hundreds of query letters to literary agents and publishing houses, I didn’t fully understand all the obstacles, prejudices, or advantages attached to the practice. I cannot help but cringe when people say self-publishing is “easy” or “easier.” All the roads to publishing a book are paved with late-nights, self-doubt, barriers, and require patience.
Depending on what your goals are and what you are willing to compromise as a writer, you make your decision accordingly. What drove me into the world of self-publishing wasn’t my fear of the publishing gatekeepers, but my eagerness to share my historical fiction novel, Lost in the City of Flowers.
Reflecting on my journey, I find that in many ways Lost in the City of Flowers wrote itself. My inclination to write this novel, surfaced shortly after I finished graduate school. While I tried to figure out what to do with my life, now that I had an additional degree in Art History, I started working a part-time job as an art teacher. As an educator and an art history advocate, I began to wonder whether there was a way to get young audiences interested in the subject. With this goal in mind, I developed a story about a teenage girl who becomes an apprentice in the same workshop as young Leonardo da Vinci in the burgeoning Florentine Renaissance.
For six months, I read, compiled, color-coded, and cataloged my research ten times over before I set to outlining the novel. All that was left to do was write. With the support of my family, I moved to Barcelona, Spain hoping that this would create a space in which all I would do was write. With each chapter I scrawled, I realized all my effort might be for nothing.
How would I publish this book? Does a book exist if no one reads it?
Concerns such as these created anxiety and doubts which began to slow down my writing process. After reaching out to an author I knew who had successfully self-published several novels, I too decided to self-publish.
However, I still had to overcome a lack of funding. When a writer self-publishes a work of professional quality, he or she needs to outsource everything from design to editing. At this point in my career, I couldn’t even pay back my student loans. To pay the designer and editors, I started a Kickstarter campaign for the $3,956 I needed to fund my book. This route also allowed me to promote Lost in the City of Flowers early on in the publishing process. It took a month to launch and complete the campaign. I think I must have checked-on the crowd-source site a hundred times a day before it was successfully funded.
With the funding I could pay for the editors and designers, but what about the content? In taking the road less traveled, I needed to reach out beyond my friends for people who would voluntarily contribute honest and constructive feedback on my book. I worked to find a group of alpha and a group of beta readers. The alpha readers read my book on a monthly basis and the beta readers read the first completed draft. With each group’s critique, I edited the manuscript to reflect their observations before sending the book draft to a copy editor.
Finding a competent editor was problematic and I ended up contracting a freelance editor who catered to self published authors through an internet rabbit hole of clicks and keywords. It was difficult to measure someone’s skill with just a few pages of writing and therefore required me to take a leap of faith. In the end, it wasn’t the best decision but in troubleshooting, I learned valuable lessons for the second of hopefully four books that will make up the Histories of Idan series.
Designing the book proved to be a more tangible obstacle. As a visual person, the design step is the part I enjoyed the most. I knew designers that were willing to illustrate the book cover but formatting the book’s interior proved more time-consuming than I anticipated. This was mostly because I didn’t pay attention to formatting while I was writing, Lost in the City of Flowers, an oversight I regretted. On the bright side, those hours spent using the “tab” or “return” key provided yet another learning opportunity.
While I did and do value the knowledge and experience of literary agents and publishing houses, the root of my decision lay in my eagerness to share my work as soon as possible and my unwillingness to relinquish decision-making power.
From my experience in attending writer workshops geared towards publishing, in pursuing any of the big five publishing houses, a beginning author is in the game for the long haul, especially if he or she doesn’t have roughly a 1 million followers on social media platforms. The timeline for a big publishing house like Penguin, is on the scale of several years. It could take that long after a book is written before any reader could see it. As part of a big firm, a debut author is a small fish in a big pond with little to no say in anything from grammar preferences to the book’s cover.
Big publishing houses often expect green authors to book their own author events. Like many, I thought if you made it into a big publishing house it was smooth sailing. It never occurred to me that you would still have to market yourself -the part of being a self-published author I dislike the most. If you have a large following already, this lengthy publishing process becomes more streamlined as publishers anticipate a high success rate.
As a self-publisher, I am still one of many but I am empowered to forge a direct link with my potential readers.
Self-publishing is straightforward if you have the heart and mind of an entrepreneur. A writer becomes a brand and their written output becomes their business.Sharing one’s writing is not for the faint of heart. There will always be bittersweet moments regardless of which publishing path is chosen. The road to self-publishing was my greatest challenge, but it was also my most rewarding experience as a writer.
MARIA CRISTINA TRUJILLO was born in the summer of 1987 at the Air Force Academy hospital in Colorado Springs, CO. As she grew up she lived in several states and countries along with her parents, two sisters, and brother. In 2005, Maria moved from Santiago, Chile to Miami, FL where she received her B.A. in Art History from Florida International University. She went on to acquire her M.A. at the University of Florida with a focus in Latin American textiles. Since receiving her degrees, she has worked towards introducing art history to a broader audience. Apart from writing with toxic quantities of coffee, she loves to read, paint, and explore the world beyond her front door.