Spring Cleaning for the First-Time Author’s Soul (An ‘Everything I Learned’ Exposé on My Self-Publishing Experience)
“Fresh air equals instant breakthroughs.”
I tweeted this out this afternoon after a moment of clarity. About an hour ago, I stepped into the sunlight as I walked to my car on this crisp winter’s day, and it was as if a single breath of fresh air suddenly sparked a crazy breakthrough/realization that has been ages in the making.
Of course, it wasn’t the air itself that caused anything.
But, just like that, an unfathomable weight melted off me and felt like it sunk through my feet, deep into the ground. Now, I’m standing here with a beaming, goofy smile and an incredible lightness of my body and mind.
Hang on though- this isn’t some self-help bullshit, here. No mystic philosophizing, no smoke and mirrors. This is not a divine interruption.
What happened this morning was that I finally and hesitantly committed myself to a deep and difficult “spring cleaning” for my soul — an in-depth, internal chore to clean up all of the months of junk, dirt and dust that have piled up in my head and heart since finally publishing my first book last September.
And from that arduous cleanse, I had a revelation.
What was the revelation?
Well, obviously I can’t just tell you what it was (isn’t that annoying?). I need to tell you the important story behind it: a story from my perspective as a first-time author, who, today, decided it was finally time to deeply and objectively assess my own failures, missteps, faults and outright f*ck-ups in the journey of yesteryear’s self-publishing crusade that was the debut of my book, Lead Without Followers.
I’ve never dug this deep before to share with you every important and very personal lessons that I learned in writing my first book. But today, this message called on me — and so I happily share every bit and detail of it with you.
Here, I’ll share a couple of important lessons on self-publishing and debut-authorship (that I personally have never heard someone else mention), and also share a vital life-lesson that I think will speak to you about a powerful and liberating mindset on how to live your work, rather than allow it to take total control of you.
Ready? Let’s dive in.
Spring Cleaning for the First-Time Author’s Soul
When I stepped outside an hour ago, I was desperate to get some fresh air. I was taking off to get away from the computer for a mid-afternoon break. My mind was racing. My thoughts were muddled. Emotionally, I was feeling kind of defeated.
You see, for the previous four-odd hours I had slipped into a rabbit hole of introspection, and that “good-kind-of-painful” questioning — the kind of questioning you hate to be asked because it means you finally and actually have to answer.
It started with Marie Forleo’s latest video on negative reviews — advice that I have similarly given to others, myself. But it got me thinking.
It got me thinking about how I have been literally avoiding looking at my book’s Amazon review like the plague, even after writing a big post about reviews being meaningless and the conflicted nature of all great work. By avoiding those few negative reviews (literally only around three or four, out of five or six reviews total), I was passively avoiding ever explicitly asking myself (let alone answering) one of those “good-kind-of-painful” questions:
“Did I screw up?”
No, such a small number of dissenters doesn’t often get me to doubt myself like that. But, if it was just a few people — or even one person — telling me something that I was already afraid to be thinking, myself, maybe hearing it from someone else would cause a total avalanche of self-doubt and make it feel all too real.
Of course, you can understand why anyone would want to avoid that kind of questioning. It’s hard to ask, harder to admit, harder to admit to yourself, and hardest of all to admit to anyone else.
But this morning, prompted by Marie’s great video — and further enticed by just coming off of a great event last week on marketing and business (and especially about asking and facing up to important questions!) with Tara Gentile at Art of Earning LIVE! down in Philadelphia — I felt it was time.
So, I faced the reviews. I read them all, took them to heart, and wrote a sincere response to each.
Here’s an important note that I neglected to mention in my last post about negative reviews and creating meaningful work, regardless of what people have to say about it: criticism isn’t always hatred. Critiques aren’t always rooted in anger and hate, and someone’s dislike of your work doesn’t mean it’s personal. Marie mentions this, and it can’t be stated enough.
And so when I last wrote about haters, I did you an extreme disservice by not distinguishing between criticism and hatred. I’ve caught some hatred from my writing in the past, and I’ve encountered some healthy criticism.
Hatred never does any good. But criticism?
If you can face down your ego, your defensiveness, your shields, and all of those immediate, guttural and emotional reactions — criticism is genuinely good.
It helps you to see your work from a fresh and different perspective: something that is so incredibly vital, and contains worlds of lessons within it.
And I especially realized this when I read the criticism of those reviews that I was so terrified to read — because I feared it would confirm my own fears and insecurities about my first book. It wasn’t hatred. Not really venom meant to crush or maim. Just criticism. And from that criticism, something that I have grown to realize over the last six-or-so months about my book was indeed confirmed:
Did I screw up? Yes. I sucked really bad at describing my own book!
This was my biggest fault. It’s what warranted and deserved criticism from negative reviewers. It’s the biggest problem that I’ve had in converting sales in any way, shape or form. I sucked at accurately describing my own book.
It’s a bit hilarious and embarrassing to admit that. I mean, who do you think could ever possibly know or describe his own book better than the guy who wrote it?! But it honestly feels good to finally realize!
The truth is that I envisioned Lead Without Followers as an in-depth and dynamic alternative leadership philosophy that would function as a start-to-finish process that would guide the reader to create a unique form of personal leadership for him/herself.
It’s not the book I ultimately wrote.
Really, the book turned out to be a personal tale infused with a political treatment of the state of modern leadership in our world while pinned against a disturbing backdrop of widespread discontent with our political leaders on both sides of the aisle — and how by redefining the meaning of leadership to have more of a personal focus, we can individually and collectively begin to become part of the solution.
…Holy shit, why didn’t I just say that the first time?! :)
If I can so much more clearly see and understand what my 60,000-word, 18-chapter book is now, why is it that I couldn’t figure it out those months ago?
Great question. Here’s why.
The Two Biggest + Most Vital Lessons of My Experience
Lesson #1: I was too close to the book’s ideas — for way too long. I had too much time to develop too many assumptions. Too many pre-conceived images had grown in my head: an overgrown forest of clutter and weeds in desperate need of thinning, pruning and simplicity.
I allowed too much time to pass thinking about this one book and its many ideas without incorporating an synergistic, complementary “Do” action in the process, which would even out the “Think” side and create strength and balance, and help to more strongly develop the book itself.
Remember — for three years, I envisioned what the book could become, without ever actually diving in and physically shaping it until last summer.
And by that time, I had put myself under the gun to produce with haste. Yes, there was too little time to reflect and analyze… and especially too little time to include others in the process.
Back to real life for a second….
Hours after delving into my spring cleaning, as I stepped off the front steps of my parent’s Rhode Island home.
As my mind continued to race and question and debate — for some reason, I imagined myself being asked a great question. The imaginary question came from an imaginary audience-member of some imaginary crowd: it was a question about my book, about writing and self-publishing it, and about everything else that has followed:
What did you do wrong?
The question was a serious challenge and one that I’d stumble over to provide an answer truly worthy of helping people with their work, and especially with self-publishing their first book. And so I imagined my answer:
I relied too much upon myself.
Yes, there it is.
I relied to heavily upon myself. Like, way, way, wayyyyyyyyy too much upon myself, and thus, even worse, neglected to include other people into the process — especially those whose opinions and advice I so deeply value, love and trust.
This is the absolute crux of successful self-publishing for first time authors, I’m now quite certain.
How would I do this part over again?
I would literally assemble a team of friends, contemporaries, advisers, mentors and accountabili-buddies to aid and assist me along the entire self-publishing journey — not in one single panel or group, but by establishing each relationship independently.
This way, I would have a whole team — a dozen or more personal advisers, each with a different role — to help keep me:
- extremely motivated, energized, and full of an “O.M.G. I’m going to save the entire freaking world!!!!!” love,
- on-task, in tune with sharp clarity, and aligned with my personal goals,
- free from assumption (the enemy of understanding) and comparison (the enemy of success),
- properly focused on the vital aspects of writing, message crafting, brand-alignment, marketing, and so on,
- always asking new and important questions (those most powerful and “good-sort-of-painful” questions),
- inviting constant critiquing-in-the-process,
- workshopping chapter-by-chapter with a group of my most loyal blog readers, as sort of a “crowd-source meets exit polling” strategy to fully shape the book as intended,
- and much, much more.
I’ve talked in depth about the absolute mammoth of a process that self-publishing a book is — let alone your first book ever. You are literally obligated to do everything yourself.
But, then again, you don’t need to if you have the right people to help, either just from their support from afar or by hiring them to do it better than you ever could.
And I seriously believe that this sort of a method is the new golden ticket for successful first-time self-publishing:
Construct an involved network of involved supporters, each with unique and explicitly defined roles (ie, they would know that they are actively participating in your book-writing based upon what you ask or hire them for).
I will be developing this idea further into its own “how to write and self publish your first book” offering that I’m creating these days called, Organic Book Writing. Yay.
In fact, every product or service that I’ll be offering from now on has this sort of a system explicitly built into it — and from the start.
This method was something that I was quietly pondering for a while, and it became my main focus when I was attending the Art of Earning Live! last week — a hugely helpful, insightful and exciting event that has bolstered my business sense and excited me to create some amazing things (with the help of others!).
If I Could Do it All Over Again… Would I?
Yes, I absolutely would write my book again.
Also worth mentioning? I really like my book. And dozens upon dozens of readers have loved it, too. I think my book is an important perspective on a very important issue and speaks to a need for a voice of inspired leadership from a rising generation, Generation Y.
But because of the very high standard that I hold my writing to — on behalf of anyone that might read it, and especially with a book idea and concept that I held (and still hold) in such high regard — I admit that I’d love the chance to go back in time and write the book over again freshly, and with everything that I now know to make it the best possible work.
Even still, I definitely don’t regret learning this “the hard way.”
No way, no how. Even with hindsight being perfect. Why?
Because I certainly learned far more (so, so much more) in the last several months from this experience than I did in the three years prior when I was “just thinking” about the book.
I learned more from a single experience in self-publishing my debut book than I did ever before — and that I ever could have from researching, plotting and waiting any longer.
I learned an extraordinary amount on writing and self-publishing, I learned about myself, I learned about criticism and praise and feedback, I learned about sales marketing and email marketing, I learned about life and leadership and love, I learned about including others and about neglecting to involve enough others, and the list goes on.
I learned so damn much that it’s taken me nearly six months to fully realize, understand, and finally share these lessons with you.
No, I don’t regret writing my book whatsoever or learning so much from the experience of diving in and seeing what happens.
But Maybe I *Do* Have Just One Regret…
I wish I wrote this book three years sooner!
I wish I had written it much, much sooner — not because it would have been the same, or because it would have been any better (I’m sure it wouldn’t have been as good). It wouldn’t have been read as widely, or been received so well by so many readers and friends I’ve connected with over the last three-plus years.
Even still, I wish I had written and self-published my debut book sooner because I’d have learned then that my life, my first book’s message, and my journey in life are all so much bigger — far, far and away bigger — than any one thing, idea, book or product.
Let me state that again.
I wish I wrote this book sooner because I now understand that what I’m here to do — my work, my life’s journey, my mission and purpose — exceed any single book title, or concept, or “big idea,” or single product, or special offering.
They’ve all pleasantly evolved into something bigger, and thrust me into living and breathing and working from a state of total liberation.
Now that my first book is written, I’ve learned that my mission is a matter of living, breathing, working, loving, laughing, standing and speaking, sitting and writing… they’re each, separately and together, in sync. In tune.
Now, my life isn’t about one book. Or one idea. Or one single offering.
Everything that I do — all of the ideas, products, services, offerings, blog posts and essays, every single thing I create and piece of work — is separately its own part, a component, to a much bigger, united, purpose-fueled and happy-within-myself machine. I depend upon none of them. I don’t lean upon any like a crutch.
From writing my first book, I’ve learned that my life is bigger than any one thing that I do. And that humble understanding is worth its weight in gold.
If I didn’t reach this “aha” understanding at long last, I would feel completely crushed by admitting I sucked at marketing my book and broken that what I wrote wasn’t an instant, intergalactic New York Times best-selling classic for eternity. I’d feel defeated, self-question myself into oblivion and completely agonize over every misstep or bump in the path. I’d want to blow everything up: close my blog, take down my book from Amazon, burn every extra copy and start over again from the beginning.
But I’d only be fooling myself! Self-deceived! Running aimlessly upon the hamster’s wheel, and wondering why I’m not moving anywhere at all.
Three years of wondering what it’s like outside of the glass walls, months and months running in place, self-publishing one debut book, penning hundreds of essays and blog posts, crafting hundreds of thousands of wordstrings and sentences later… I broke out of that horrendous, self-created cage, and only just realized that I’m free.
I have been free all along.
I was operating under this odd guise: a false belief that the work I do, the books I write, the work I create, that they were the mission. That they were my purpose. That what I created to share with others was my destined journey — but instead I see the mission, the purpose, the journey is my life, itself!
I enslaved myself to this conceived, contrived, long-entrenched assumption. We all do it. Why enslave ourselves?
Our lives themselves are our missions at hand. The journey is the reward, and every idea or product or book or job or action or intention is just one small, minute component to the bigger mission that is your life.
This should seem obvious enough. And yet we enslave ourselves to singular conception or idea, as if our entire lives will hinge upon their success or failure.
As I write these final thoughts, I realize how obvious this final take-away of a life lesson should really be. But that’s the nature of cleaning. You accumulate, stack and store away so much shit — so many thoughts and worries, ideas and conceptions, plans and plots, fears and insecurities, hopes and goals, assumptions and decisions — that sometimes you just need to go in and clean house.
Decisively. Definitively. And what you’re left with is precisely what you need.
So, What Comes Now for the Book?
First and foremost, I’ve rewritten the book’s official Amazon description and its sales page at daveursillo.com/lead-without-followers.
So many readers have thoroughly enjoyed the book to date (as much as I’ve come to accept criticism, I’m thankful for your enjoying the book too!). Over 400 copies have been sold in the last handful of months.
Naturally, I think that shoring up those descriptions to be the best representation of what the book’s 18 chapters will help loads to find the right readers who are interested in this alternative leadership topic — and how the book presents and frames the topic in its own unique way.
Next, I pose to you a few questions:
Do you think I should re-release the book with a bulked up, revised, all-around-sexier second edition?
I’ve been considering re-releasing the book in an updated version around the 8-month anniversary — May 26th 2012. Or, instead, I could re-release the book as a 2nd edition on its 1-year anniversary on September 26, 2012. What do you think would be best?
This revised edition would feature:
- A guest foreword and guest afterword from two Generation-Y thought leaders who would contribute their own thoughts and perspectives on leadership and becoming a part of bigger leadership change in our world;
- More significantly build upon and flesh out Part 2 of the book on how to develop your own style of personal leadership — the part that most readers have best enjoyed)
- A “Questions for Discussion” section at the end of the book, perfect to further help you develop personal leadership in your own life, and also function as a book club conversation starter
- A “For Further Exploration” section at the end of the book with both recent and ancient texts for readers to explore and develop a spiritual and personal sense of leadership in their lives
- More. What would you who have read it like to see more of?
To kick off the re-launch, I’d release this updated version completely for free on Amazon Kindle for 3-5 days to stoke a potentially big landslide effect that many self-published authors have experienced with this promotional feature.
What do you think? Comment below and let me know :)
Ahhh. Clean House.
The sun’s arc is dipping into the horizon now.
My big, goofy, pseudo-enlightened smile has receded — but the lightness within remains. I feel good. Refreshed. Maybe even a bit smarter? I’m always laughing at how I accidentally discover, realize or learn something new once in a while. I hope no one ever thinks its on purpose.
Maybe I’m lucky. Maybe I’m just a good listener.
Either way, I hope, as I always do, that sharing this with you has been valuable, insightful, and maybe even provided to you exactly what you needed to hear today — in your corner of this world, in your corner of life, wherever you are and whatever you do.
As the day recedes into night, I’ll begin to look forward to the goals and plots and plans of tomorrow. Clean house. Fresh space. Same room, different look and feel. And a new world of life to come.
* PS: I’ll be in Austin, TX for the first time ever during SXSW from March 7th through March 15th!! Will you be in town? I’m not attending the conference but just hangin around town, so I’d love to meet up! Beer, tea or coffee on me :) Tweet me or email!
* * PPS: I had a few interviews recently come out about Lead Without Followers. Here’s one at Art Commerce Life with the amazing Lisa Nicole Bell, and another with my pal Matt Gartland on self-publishing and the role of authors as leaders.
* * * PPPS: Also, here’s an interview I did with Penny C. Sansevieri on The Publishing Insiders about my book and how to self-publish like a pro (fits well into this post!).
I’ll embed the audio here for you here (if you can’t see it, click over to the blog post and listen in!):[audio:https://daveursillo.com/audio/publishinginsiders-lwof-show_2750779.mp3]