My partner is a rather well-known sex-educator. He tends to attract straight, single women looking for partnership to his workshops. Sometimes, when I’m introduced as his partner, these fans will pile-on with questions about how I found such a great catch. I used to hate this line of questioning, because it implied there was some sort of game or magic formula. As if by reading the right combination of Cosmo articles, wearing the right clothes, and behaving in a certain way, I found a great partner.
For a while, I didn’t know how to answer their questions. So I just shrugged and said, “He found me” which is a true answer, but not a very satisfying one. But I know the answer. And it’s the same answer as why I chose to self-publish.
I attracted a great partner in the same way I’m attracting readers: by just doing my thing. Does that sound flippant? Disrespectful of struggle? Here’s what I mean: When my partner found me, I was at work, on a break, writing a play. I was sitting by myself, completely content, with coffee, sunshine, wearing a comfortable pair of jeans, doing my own thing. I didn’t notice he was there. I didn’t really notice anyone around me. I’m sure he liked the look of me, but when he approached me to talk, I just talked to him. At the time I identified as a lesbian and had zero interest in flirting with men. So instead of running any sort of game, we had an awesome conversation about the gender politics of prevention. He may have been flirting but I didn’t notice. I didn’t flirt back, I just spoke. He listened. Then I went back to work, until we decided to sit together and talk more. And we did. It was great. We had a lot in common. We disagreed in jovial ways. We treated each other like human beings. And the rest is 6 years of history.
When I wrote my first novel, Lunatic Fringe, I was thinking about self-publishing, but I wasn’t sold on it yet. I did plenty of research and asked a lot of questions of my peers. But still, not sure. Then I went into the submission process– the often-bemoaned series of queries and rejections. What I hated about this wasn’t that I was getting a lot of rejection. Instead, I resented the fact that I was having to ask for permission to do my thing, that somehow Lunatic Fringe wouldn’t even be allowed to exist in the world without a Publisher Charming sweeping it off its feet. The submission process felt like standing a singles mixer with a sign on my chest saying LIKE ME PLEASE!!! I don’t get to talk to anyone, I can merely approach them, wait for them to notice me, hope they like the look of me, and then start talking.
That’s just not my style.
Most people like feeling chosen. There’s nothing wrong with that. Some people, however, need it. The publishing industry– until recently– taught authors that we needed to be chosen. Kind of like dating before feminism, wouldn’t you say?
The problem with needing to feel chosen is that when you’re not chosen, you feel miserable. Undesirable. Unloveable. Undeserving. To one who is taught we need to be chosen to have value, when a potential date says “No thanks,” it’s impossible to hear it as anything other than “I’m not worthy.”
When a publisher/agent/editor says “Sorry, your book is not what we’re looking for right now,” the writer who needs to feel chosen can only take this the same way: “I suck.”
I self-publish because I’m not interested in waiting to be chosen, just like I’m not going to stand around with a sign around my neck saying “date me!” Would I be interested in a publisher taking an interest in me? Sure, but it’d have to be the right fit. It’d have to be someone who was attracted to me because I was doing my thing, not because I was waiting for permission to be myself.
In the meantime, I’d rather being writing and finding readers. If I’m ever chosen, I’d like it to happen while I’m knee deep in my own thing, not because I sent the right email at the right time to the right agent who was in the right mood. I’d rather be developing my craft, getting feedback from sharp minds, finding community, putting myself out there and flailing, finding joy in small successes, and, above all, continuing to write books I like and sharing them with the world because it makes me happy.
The best advice I can offer to those women who just don’t get how I could land such a dreamboat is the same I offer nascent authors: Do the things that make you happy because they make you happy. Be the person you want to be because you like being that person. Write the books you want to write, or cook the foods you want to cook, or travel to the places you want to visit, or whatever the fuck you want, because it makes you happy. Odds are, you’ll meet the people who enjoy those things about you and enjoy them in similar ways. The best part of this, beyond finding love or fans, is that you didn’t have to compromise one whiff of your self-expression to land your dreams.