Colleen Young on Self-Publishing her First Books
In my recent post about writing, I mentioned my friend Colleen’s self-published trilogy series (Book 3 is coming next month). She’s already had over 600 downloads to date and gotten a really great response from readers, so I wanted to pick her brain about the world of self-publishing and her adventures in writing.
I met Colleen my freshman year of college and we’ve basically been best friends ever since. This girl was there for many “firsts” of mine, with some of my favorites being our off-campus apartment that cost us each like $200 a month and which I immediately decorated with framed covers of Sex & the City seasons, our trip to New York City, when all we knew was that we wanted to “see SoHo” but had no idea what that even meant, and of course our first Mardi Gras, when we pounded a couple of hand grenades on Bourbon and vowed to be best friends forever.
Colleen is good spirited, loves to laugh, and is probably one of the only people I could go on a cross-country road trip with and remain friends with afterward. She’s always been a good storyteller, so it makes sense that she’d write an engaging story about three kids in flight school, especially since she was an Aviation major.
So I probably know too much about you – ha! – but tell me a little about yourself.
As you know, I’m not good with this question. Where to start? I’ve moved around my entire life. I can easily call at least five different states “home.” My entire family is crude and hilarious, and I love them with all my heart. I met my husband in the marching band our freshman year of college and made him chase me for a year before I agreed to be his girlfriend.
Twelve years later, here’s some stats on us:
Moved 5 times
+ Had 3 kids
+ Gone through 4 cars
+ Bought 2 houses
= at least 2 “mid-life crises” for me!
All jokes aside, my husband is a great man and I’m grateful for him every day.
You went to school for Aviation and I remember you doing all of your checkrides and flight hours when we lived together. It made me kind of nostalgic reading the book and seeing the characters do all that stuff! Did you always know you wanted to be a pilot?
I decided in high school I wanted to be a pilot. I thought it was cool and I wanted to be a bad ass career woman and fly all around the world. I was only 17 but had never imagined myself as a wife or mother. At the time, I’d barely even kissed a boy, so focusing on my career seemed like a more realistic goal.
After college, I wasn’t sure if I actually did want to fly airplanes. At some point in school, I’d lost my passion for it. I noticed my peers and how they seemed to absolutely love it, and I realized that I didn’t feel the same. So I looked for work in Alexandria, LA, where I’d followed my husband and his accounting career, and I got on with a quickly-growing construction company.
I worked for this company for a few years and then I had my first son. My tender heart had trouble sliding him into the arms of a daycare worker every morning. I only lasted a year after he was born, anyway – the company was hemorrhaging money and my position was eliminated. It was a good thing that decision was made for me because at that time, I fantasized about being that stereotypical 1950s housewife, taking care of my husband and home. I felt like I had no real passion, so it was an easy transition for me to go from working to being a stay-at-home mom.
How did you start writing in general? How did the Taking Flight trilogy start to shape up in your mind?
I’ve dabbled in writing since college. I still have a MySpace and Xanga still out there somewhere! I started a blog after I had kids because I was sure that my self-deprecating humor would catch on and people would just love to read about my kids slamming their shit-filled diapers against my bedroom wall. Turns out no one really cares about those things, myself included. I did the blog for two years. Then I turned 27 and that’s when I had this inkling that maybe I wanted to write a book.
I made a list of “Things to Accomplish Before I Turn 40” and writing a book was on that list. I had no idea what it would be about, though. I just knew that I wanted to creatively write.
When you’re a mother and, more to the point, when you pop out three kids in a five-year span, you simply don’t have enough time to think about anything other than food, cleaning, and oh, who smells like shit right now? At some point I got the rare opportunity to leave my kids and go visit a friend who was four hours away. That meant FOUR uninterrupted hours to myself. I mean, I might as well have been laid out on a beach in Cancun! While I was out of town, I started to reminisce about some of my college experiences, and then my mind got stuck on an idea: what if I wrote about some of the fun I had in college? I studied Aviation and pledged a fraternity with a bunch of dudes. How many chicks have lived a story like that? I pulled the car over on my way home and began to jot down ideas, characters, all of that. By the time I arrived home, I had several parts of the book mapped out.
Originally, this was not a trilogy. I had two books in mind, but I had such a visceral reaction to the characters’ stories and the love triangle I’d built that I felt like it all warranted further exploration. So now there are three books.
What was the scariest or most surprising thing you learned along the way?
The scariest thing for me has been exposing myself. I am not a trained writer and I know there are a lot of people out there that may read my material and call me a no-good hack. No one actually has – yet. Well, that’s actually not entirely true – someone did tell me something along those lines after reading one of my first drafts, and my reaction to that was to quit.
I quit for a couple of weeks but then I came back and started up again. I was determined to do better and take the few constructive things that person had said to heart. I wanted to utilize the feedback in a positive way. Ultimately, I know I’ve created something that I’m proud of and I had to come to peace with that before I decided to publish. That’s something any aspiring writer has to do – develop a thicker skin and know that people’s comments can help more than they hurt, if you let them. People’s feedback can make your piece that much stronger. And if their response is, “I hated it,” or, “It sucks,” you can ask, “Why?” But it could be that your genre and style of writing is just not that person’s cup of tea.
The most surprising thing I have learned is just how much work this is! I have no idea how traditional publishing goes, but as far as self-publishing, actually writing the book was just 25% of the total work I’ve done. The rest of my time has been spent rewriting, editing, marketing, and learning how to use things like .mobi and Twitter. I know that makes me sound totally ancient, but I had no idea how to do these things! Twitter baffles me.
One pleasant surprise is how supportive my community has been, from my closest friends to the church friends that I have. I was absolutely terrified of offending some of my more conservative friends, but everyone has been really great to me.
Honestly, being someone without a traditional writing background, I figured my chances of finding a publisher were slim to none. I tried, but not too hard. I sent out maybe 30 submissions and received a lot of generic declination messages. When I started to research what I should do next, most resources seemed to indicate I’d do better on my own than trying the traditional route. I will say that if a traditional press ever did want to take me on, I’d probably be interested just for the ability to actually write and not have to mess with Twitter anymore!
Would you do anything differently if you had to start this process over again, knowing what you do now?
I would have waited to submit my first manuscript to book agents until it was edited and perfect. Sending in a rough draft was a huge mistake on my part, but I figured they’d love my idea and pick me up. I might have also paid a company to put my books on all the sites like Amazon, CreateSpace, and iTunes because I spent a lot of time doing that when I could have been creating.
I mentioned earlier you’ve had more than 600 downloads, which is amazing! Are you happy with your sales?
My initial goal was to sell 50 books, which I quickly surpassed, and that number continues to grow. Shameless plug: go buy my books!
How do I feel about my sales? Well, have I made back the money I spent paying you to edit my pieces? No. Have I made back the money I spent on my website? No. However, in this house, we call writing my hobby, and in the hobby budget realm, I am doing very well.
We’ve talked about how we’re both kind of these perfectionists who always want to do better. Like maybe we’re never going to be able to please ourselves.
Yes! So naturally, I have high expectations of myself. Even though I met my initial goal, I wanted to know why I wasn’t selling more, more, more. I’ve come to learn that I will probably never be satisfied with myself until my books are on the big screen, winning Academy Awards. So there’s your answer: I’m proud of my sales and that people have responded positively, but I doubt I’ll ever be completely satisfied. It’s just how I am.
I feel like this process has been such an emotional one for you as far as making yourself vulnerable and learning to believe in yourself. You’ve gotten really involved in the local writers community where you live and, I feel, have really tried to make yourself feel comfortable being labeled as a “writer.”
I touched on this a little earlier, but I’m not a classically trained writer. I took one writing class in college in order to graduate, and that’s it. I have no idea what I’m doing and if I didn’t have you looking over my words before they go out to the public, people would be throwing tomatoes at me. That does frustrate me. But on the other hand, I have the talent to create an entire world – my characters have histories and lives in my mind that may never even reach the page, but I know them so well that I can effectively tell their story.
Sometimes I wish I had a degree in creative writing so I would feel more confident and perhaps have more skills, but I also wouldn’t have the experiences I’ve had in my life. I wouldn’t have been able to write this trilogy. Also, I am learning. I am leaps and bounds away from where I was two years ago when I started. Every day I learn something new about this art of writing. Surrounding myself with friends that understand that, like my writers group, has helped me immeasurably.
I put my daughter down for a nap every day at 1:00. From then until 3:00, I write. I edit. I shut out the world and call it my “Office Hours.” This is my time to be alone with my passion. I do consider myself a writer because I love to do it. It’s a part of me. My mind can take the old man sitting in the corner of the coffee shop and map out his entire life – lost loves, lost wars, lost socks. One thing I know for sure is that I have strong visions and stories left to tell.
Any last words of wisdom?
I feel like it’s important for people to have a passion or a hobby. Do something outside of your normal routine. Think of your life and how you want to spend it. Time is fleeting, and each year feels like a gust of wind – it’s here and then it’s gone. Don’t look back on a year of your life and know that all you’ve done with your precious time is binge-watch Netflix. Turn off the TV and experience the world. Travel, read, write, paint, ride a bike, jump out of an airplane! Just make it matter.