One of my absolute favorite things about being an independent author is the level of transparency I’m able to have with my readership. I have the extraordinary privilege of involving my readers, potential readers, friends, family, followers, and sometimes even authors aspiring to go indie in every single step of my writing and publishing processes — the idea, the writing, the struggling, the first draft, the second and third drafts, the cover design, the formatting, the goof-ups, the frustrations, the meltdowns, the breakthroughs, and everything else that comes with the territory.
When I self-published my debut poetry collection Amaranthine in December 2018, it was intended as a one-time deal before seeking out a traditional publisher. Back then, I knew next to nothing about other writers, contemporary art, or the publishing industry, so I was just doing whatever I could to bring the collection that had become my obsession to fruition.
The purpose of self-publishing for me was to test the waters, force myself out of my comfort zone, give myself freedom of verse without meddling by publishers or editors, liberate myself from some of my earliest adulthood work so I could finally move on, and get adjusted to the altogether terrifying sensation of others reading my work.
I didn’t even have an official #WritingCommunity Twitter account or know other writers, let alone artists or poets, back then. I didn’t know what “indie authors” were, or realize that I was already officially branding myself as one at the age of 23. I didn’t know how to even size a book, or set up a high-quality cover. In fact, my first book ended up being the size of traditional print paper; I received some complaints about it from readers and, later, one or two publishing industry experts, but I made the decision to leave it that way despite changing the cover a few times until I found one that worked.
The cover of Silk & Cigars also recently underwent a makeover, although the size dimensions remain unchanged. We live, we learn, and we improve, right?
Not only does the unconventional size (8.5 x 11, I believe) remind me of where I started, but I actually ended up liking the final product so much that I modeled my third collection, Armageddon, with the same dimensions. Not only do these two collections remind me of a little of fashion magazines and coffee table books, but I’ve actually discovered people who leave them on their coffee tables for aesthetic purposes.
What an honor!
Obviously, these details took time, and the first few months after the release of Amaranthine involved a lot of fine-tuning to make my book something that might reach people. I had pain, experience, and information I wanted to relay to others; I had things that needed to be said and, more importantly yet, heard.
Then came the day, I think about four months after I joined the ranks of writers on Twitter, when one of my tweets went viral in the #WritingCommunity.
Suddenly, the followers came rushing in, and my first book was actually selling!
More importantly, a handful of my new followers went on to become some of my best friends — not just on the Internet, but also in the world. They are who I, an extremely lonely-at-the time 24 year old and presently a brooding but far better-off 25 year old, first greet when I wake up in the morning (aside from my parents over Whatsapp), and they’re also who I return home to at the end of a long exhausting day.
I was loaded with mishandled anger, trauma, and distrust (especially geared at white people and men) when I met these people. However, between them and my new writing group, I slowly felt the damage chipping off just enough that I was able to form genuine human connections with fellow writers — the kind I’d grown to believe were impossible for me — and slowly become my best self.
Somewhere in all of that, immediately following the wave of my newfound, early stage #WritingCommunity C-list “fame,” I found myself carried straight into #IndieApril.
I didn’t know what this was, let alone what an indie author was. My followers, meanwhile, didn’t know that I was in the final stages of polishing two manuscripts: one a strange, experimental, poetic narrative, and the other a general poetry collection that unintentionally stemmed off Amaranthine (the “cause” to the “effect” that later manifested into my debut).
I really thought I was still at a crossroads back then, back in early April 2019, but I’d already made my decision without realizing it — the one that would shape the trajectory of my early, early mid, and maybe even later career. I decided to self-publish books two and three, Devolution and Armageddon, at the very beginning of my first ever #IndieApril.
And, just like that, I was hooked.
At the 2020 Los Angeles stARTup Art Fair in Venice, CA posing with my pre-April 2020 published books and a few of my photographs.
The reviews started to filter in for Amaranthine right around then and, wilder yet, I even had direct messages from people who had read my book and wanted to tell me personally that it meant a lot to them and they’re behind me in my journey. My book was actually impacting others and making a difference for those individuals who were brave enough to take a chance on me!
I knew then I had to keep on going.
I wasn’t sure about where my work in other genres was going at the time; I just knew that I had to keep on self-publishing my poetry. I had no idea if I was making the right decision, and I often had my doubts. I swore to myself that I would remain open to traditional publishing for my poetry, and at least publish my first novel through that outlet rather than my own.
I had to keep an open mind.
So, my first “completed” novel is still a first draft about 15% into its first editing stage, and here I am a year and a half later after self-publishing my debut collection. Amaranthine. By marketing standards, it went on to become a “successful” book by the one-year anniversary of its release.
I have the Twitter #WritingCommunity to thank for this.
I also unintentionally achieved “six by twenty-six,” self-publishing my sixth poetry book just last month, a little over ninety days before my 26th birthday. Needless to say, I’ve become a proud indie author and an avid supporter of other indie books.
I now have close to 5,500 Twitter followers (consisting of many good friends I made and continue to make through this exact platform). They make me feel valued, supported, and special every single day. These are the people who support me during my darkest hours when I can’t even make myself turn to the people in my “real life” (whatever that means), celebrate my achievements, gush over my selfies, and start reading my new books mere moments after they release and therefore download themselves to people’s Kindles. These are the ones who cheer me on during my best moments, encourage me during my worst ones, and sometimes even buy the print copies of my books despite already owning the digital ones just so they can have my work on their bookshelves.
Being an Indie author has formed me in more ways than one. The Twitter #WritingCommunity, Princeton Writing Group, my parents, and my first four published collections ended up being the bridge between the constant devastation and tragedy of my very early adulthood and the joys and successes of mid-twenties which followed.
Amazingly enough, the latter occurred right around the time I’d given up all hope of ever living a remotely normal or happy life.
I set my career in motion without even realizing I was doing so, learned the core essentials of publishing a book by doing every single step entirely by myself (writing, editing, formatting, designing, marketing, and more), and made the most random group of friends of many ages, experiences, backgrounds, and walks of life along the way.
Every single one of them is a blessing.
I became a happier person and a better writer than I ever thought I’d be, and I owe that to the Twitter #WritingCommunity and my decision to join the ranks of indie authors everywhere, and I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything in the world…
Not even another cup of coffee.