Who’s Afraid of Self-Publishing? I Am!

Do I look excited? I’m actually terrified!

Self-publishing is an exercise in: “How much do you want it?”


Do you want it enough to hand-wrap so many books you want to scream and make twice-weekly trips to the post office to ship out books during holiday season? Do you want it enough to keep up with blog and social media accounts in order to develop a connection to your readers? Do you want it enough to uncomfortably ask for money, to shoot a Kickstarter video, to continually ask for favors both from close friends and from people you barely know?


I do want it that much. I actually believe in what I wrote in The Localist (that independent shops are important and worth talking about). And I’ve wanted to write a book for as long as I can remember. That’s lucky, because self-publishing seems equal parts uncomfortable and terrifying.


What’s been so hard for me isn’t the work — I like hard work. What’s difficult is putting yourself and your ideas on display over and over, to be so exposed to so many people over such a long time. The hardest thing for me about self-publishing? It’s really embarrassing.


Events and books signings are a really important part of the publishing process, but they can be pretty awful. Book signings are notoriously weird events that result in very low sales. It’s really normal for an author to be actively ignored for hours and end up selling zero books — REALLY normal.


This has never happened to me — I’ve sold a lot of books at my signings, and people have been kind and interesting and fun to talk to. But I’ve seen enough dreadfully awkward signings in my time in bookshops that I’m still afraid of it. It’s the constant fear — of failure, of embarrassment, of failing at something important to you — that’s my constant battle as I promote this book.


It doesn’t seem to matter how proud I am of an event or how much I’ve promoted it — I’m still scared no one will show up. Tomorrow night, I have a little party at Urban Standard where I’ll be signing and gift-wrapping books and a few of my calligrapher friends will be personalizing gift tags for free. I think it’s a great event, and Urban thinks it’s a great event, and I know a lot of people have said they’re excited about coming — I’m still terrified that no one will show up and I’ll end up looking stupid with a big pile of ribbon and some angry calligraphers to answer to. (I’m scared of them! Those pens are pointy!)


I’ve also been invited to the opening at Lowe Mill in Huntsville this weekend. There’s no reason this event won’t be lovely and wonderful — I’ll be at Piper & Leaf, which is one of my very favorite local companies and happens to be run by the nicest people in the world, and my friend Kelly’s going with me. But all I can think is: “What if I don’t sell books all day and I made Kelly drive to Huntsville and I look like an idiot?”


It’s true that those things probably won’t happen. But it’s also true that they might. (Well, the calligraphers will probably not mutiny. But the other things might happen.) My first terrible book signing could be just around the corner — but I have to go anyway. I’m brave in my writing, but it’s a whole different thing to be brave in real life, to constantly face the possibility of failure and looking stupid. That’s much harder for me, but I know it’s important. I’ve been reading Amanda Palmer’s The Art of Asking this week (more on that in a later blog), but one thing she points out that really resonates with me is that sharing is a vital part of art. It’s not the part that’s easy for a lot of artists — it’s not the part that’s easy for me. But it is an essential part of the process.


I’ll be sharing my book at a few more places before Christmas, and I’m happy to talk to you about it if you see me out at a local shop or if you’d like to comment here or on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. And if you do decide to stop by Urban tomorrow night or Lowe Mill on Saturday to chat (and to share the events on social media so more people come by), I know one nervous little writer who would greatly appreciate it.


Carrie Rollwagen is a Birmingham copywriter and the author of The Localist: Think Independent, Buy Local and Take Back the American Dream. You can buy the book in paperback or as an ebook.

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