Four Years Later

Four years ago, I self-published Alpha, and if I’m perfectly honest, it was an admission of defeat.

I wanted to publish through one of the Big Six. I wanted an agent who would book interviews with Craig Ferguson and shop movie rights to Wes Anderson. I wanted the book to be a smash hit that turned me into a celebrity author, and why not? If you’re going to dream, dream big.

Of course, things didn’t turn out that way.

I barely even got a nibble on that story. I got plenty of form rejections and non-responses, and I can count on one hand the number of agents who expressed even the remotest interest in my work. I’d been sending multiple query letters a day for six months straight when I finally came to a realization: As much as I wanted to reach Celebrity Author Status, what I really wanted was much easier to attain. What I really wanted was for people to read my book and to enjoy it. I believed in what I’d written, even if none of the usual gatekeepers did.

And so I self-published. It felt a bit like defeat, but at least my work was out there for people to read.

Looking back, all those literary agents were right about Alpha. It’s not a perfect book by any stretch of the imagination. It’s a weird tonal blend of goofy rom-com and over-the-top action, the pacing is clumsy, and the ending is a little forced. If I were in those agents’ shoes, I’d probably pass on it as well.

But I was also right about Alpha. For all its imperfections, there are some cool moments in there. And people who aren’t even related to me have read it and enjoyed it.

I’ve grown a lot since writing Alpha. If I went back and did it again, I’d end up with a much better product. For that reason, I’ve debated making it a freebie or even unpublishing it altogether. I just can’t bring myself to do it, though. If I went around deleting all the old projects that I could do better, I wouldn’t have many books to offer.

And that’s good news, right? I’m still growing. I haven’t peaked.

I was surprised to learn it’s only been four years since I published Alpha. It seems like it’s been much longer. I’ve written three books and two short stories since then, and I really believe each was better than the last. Four years from now, I might look back on all those books and stories with the same cringing nostalgia I have for Alpha. To be perfectly honest, I kind of hope I do. That would mean I’ve gotten even better.

That’s an encouraging thought to me. I’ve been a little down on my writing recently. I started work on an ambitious project, only to realize it’s outside my abilities as they are now. So I’ve gone back to the drawing board to come up with a story I’m capable of executing, and the exact thing I needed was a reminder of where I was four years ago. The exact thing I needed was the hope that four years from now, I’ll be even further along.


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