Inspiration | Self Publishing | Writing

Writing for Mental Health: Self-Publishing is No Failure

April 14, 2016

This week, I’m excited to share a guest post written by fellow Gravity Imprint author, Apryl Pooley. Apryl’s memoir, Fortitude: A PTSD Memoir, was published by Booktrope in September 2015. You can find out more about Apryl at the end of this post, but first:

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Even with predictions that traditional “book publishing as we know it is dying,” traditionally published authors still claim that “real writers don’t self-publish.” Self-publishing is stigmatized as a playground for amateurs or a consolation prize for failed writers. And this made sense to me, at least until I wanted to publish a book.

When I first started therapy for sexual trauma and addiction, I couldn’t talk about what had happened to me without getting completely overwhelmed, so I started writing. I wrote every day about what I remembered from my years of trauma, and soon enough, I noticed that my nightmares had become dreams, and those dreams weren’t scary anymore. My memories had become stories, and I knew those stories were no longer happening to me. Eventually, I was able to speak freely about my trauma, which helped me benefit from my therapy and connect with those closest to me. Writing gave me the words that gave me the strength to speak.

I knew that if I would have read something years ago like what I’d been writing, it would have saved me a lot of suffering—so I knew I had to finish, and eventually publish, a book. If I could prevent someone else from feeling so confused and alone, then everything I’d been through would have been worth it. After just a couple months of writing, I had a 40,000-word draft of my memoir written. I sent it to friends who gave me feedback, I kept writing and re-writing, editing, perfecting, and one year after finishing my first draft, I queried my first literary agent.

I knew nothing about the publishing process, so I talked to a friend who’d just published a book and Googled the hell out of “how to get a book published.” I learned that authors cannot solicit most publishers directly, so they have to find an agent to represent them first. The process went something like this: I’d send a short query letter to an agent describing my project, and if they were interested, they’d respond asking for a book proposal, which turned out to be a 40-page monstrosity with everything from an analysis of the books mine would competing with to synopses of each chapter to a marketing plan. Then, if they were still interested, they’d ask for the full manuscript. After reading the manuscript, they’d decide if they wanted to represent me in soliciting a publisher (where this process would start all over again).

I did that forty-two times over the course of the next two years, and only twice did I get requests for my full manuscript. But I was determined to get my story out there, and with each rejection, my resolve grew stronger and my purpose became more focused. I had forty-two opportunities to make my book better, and for those I am grateful. But I didn’t want to succumb to the self-publishing failure option for people who weren’t good enough writers to get a “real” book released. I never planned to be a trade book author—I was a trained scientist—but I practiced the craft of writing every day and I wanted to be a writer, a real writer. I fantasized of being interviewed by Teri Gross on NPR (I know, dream big…) and thought the only way this would be possible was if I got published by a big publishing house.

But after all those rejections, my memoir was as polished as it had ever been, and I resolved to publish it myself, which of course started by Googling the hell out of “how to self-publish a book.” After a relatively simple process, my book was available for sale on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and some local bookstores. As soon as people started reading my book and giving me feedback, I knew I’d made the right choice—it was helping people. But I didn’t know how much it was helping me, too.

Self-publishing was an incredibly empowering experience for me. I created official author pages on Amazon and Goodreads, began marketing through local media outlets, held book signings, secured book reviews, did an interview on NPR, and gave a TED Talk. Self-publishing wasn’t a failure, it was me taking control of my story and not accepting no for an answer—and it was completely liberating. By sharing everything I had been so ashamed of and guilty about—and having people still love and respect me—my shame and guilt melted away, and it was one of the best things I’ve ever done for my mental health. By making myself so vulnerable, I found so much strength. I didn’t need a publisher to help me do that.

But just a few days after self-publishing my memoir, I received an email from Booktrope, a publisher that I’d queried two months prior, with a letter stating that they wanted to publish my book. They informed me that they opened a new imprint called Gravity that publishes books about trauma and recovery. Gravity is committed to helping people learn the truth about the impact of trauma and the path of recovery. I found a dedicated team of authors, managers, editors, proofreaders, cover designers, and administrators who all support each other, not just in promoting books, but promoting this cause that is so important to me. Gravity’s mission aligned with everything I wanted to do with my career in helping people affected by trauma, so I signed a contract with Booktrope Publishing.

While self-publishing was important in my own healing, publishing with Booktrope helped my story reach its full potential. It took two-and-a-half years from the time I queried my first agent to the time my book was published in finished form by Gravity, and I wouldn’t have changed the process I went through for anything. Forty-one rejections only made my voice stronger, self-publishing empowered me and reassured me that I wasn’t just doing this for some kind of validation, and working with Gravity helped me develop the book into something that will reach a lot more people than I ever could alone. But what about writers who don’t have an “agenda” (to help people, to educate, etc.) and just write for the art of writing? Don’t they need traditional publishing to reach their goals of being a “real writer?” Just because someone uses their writing for a purpose, doesn’t mean they’re any less committed to the art of writing—and just because someone self-publishes doesn’t mean they’re not a real writer.

Author Bio:
AprylApryl Pooley is a scientist by training, a writer by practice, and an artist by nature who strives to make sense of the world around her and help others do the same. She is a neuroscientist at Michigan State University where she researches the effects of traumatic stress on the brain and is author of Fortitude: A PTSD Memoir. Apryl lives in Michigan with her beautiful wife and two rambunctious dogs, Lady and Bean. Read more about her at http://www.aprylpooley.com. You can also find Apryl on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

  • Thelma Nicholls

    Hi. I just finished reading this article which gave me some hope. I have a dissertation I would like to publish as a book. I called a few publishers but was told I needed an agent – Bummer. I have no idea how to even begin this process. Do you have any suggestions?