I’m supposedly old and well-adjusted enough now to understand when I need to ask for help. That said, I’m also apparently old enough to make the same mistakes I did as a younger person.
What a time to be alive!
In all seriousness I learned a valuable lesson this week, one that I hope I will continue to use as I move my writing and my publishing business forward.
I’ve been working on my upcoming novel, The Last Good Day for the better part of six years. Now, I wasn’t working on it at the beginning the way I am now. There were periods of dormancy in the middle years and there were times I was focused on other projects. Over the last two years, I decided to really focus my energy, attention, and most recently, my resources onto completing and publishing this book. Along the way, I asked for help regularly from friends and family and people in the industry. My team of Beta Readers is a wonderful group and they’ve been remarkable. I’ve asked everyone I know at one point or another to either review something or give me a general opinion. Heck, if we’re friends on Facebook, you may have even named a character along the way. It’s taken a village to be sure.
As we get closer to book launch I find myself looking more deeply at things I can do myself and things I need to hire someone to help me with. My company is small and we are just starting out so, the budget is somewhat limited. Wherever I can learn something new and save myself money, I try to do just that. Learning new things at my age is pretty exciting and occasionally intimidating, but it has saved me money.
So, when it came time to design a cover for my novel I figured, sure, I can do that! I had an idea what I wanted it to look like and there was a template to follow so I gave it a whirl. I liked what I came up with and felt so good about it that I shared it in one of my online writing groups. I didn’t exactly ask for critical feedback but I sure got it, in the kindest and most supportive and positive way possible. That made a real difference.
The group, “Create If Writing,” operates on Facebook and it’s one of several such groups I’m a part of. This one has been particularly helpful over the last year. The people are kind and encouraging and we run the gamut from people just starting out to others who have been in the game for many years. This is significant because there are many such groups online and they all have their own, well, let’s say they have their own “flavor.” Some are very aggressive about marketing and using data analytics. Some suffer no questions from “newbs.” Others are focused on self-promotion and still others are all about writing. They all have their place. The “Create If” group has simply occupied a very helpful place in the process of this book and that was nowhere more evident than when they got me to hire someone to design the cover of my novel.
After I posted my cover pic on the group site, things started out nicely, with several “Congratulations” and “Yay!” comments. There were a few questions about what genre/audience the book is aiming for but discussion remained pretty basic until the comments moved, very gently into: “have you looked at the top-selling books in that genre?” and “It’s pretty, but it looks more grown up than a YA book would usually be, but, hey, good for you!”
They were right. Once I read their comments and really thought about it, I knew that my cover wasn’t right for a book targeting John Green fans. Young adults and the people who love them weren’t going to see my cover and say “gotta have this!” But I didn’t WANT to hire someone for this! I didn’t WANT to have to pay a brilliant artist at this point! I just wanted to be done!
But I wasn’t done. I was just getting started. I didn’t want to hear it. They told me anyway. As a result, I realized that I needed help. It just took a while.
The leader of the group actually messaged me and said something like “Listen, send me your basic cover photo and give me five minutes.” She created a mock-up of a new cover using my image and it was so much better than what I had made. My first response was “Wow, that’s way better!” Then I had a brief moment of “Man, what I had really stunk! Aw…” And then, I had a moment of clarity. I realized that over the days that this conversation went back and forth on the group page, everyone had been trying to help me, for no other reason really than that they could. And they wanted to. I clearly needed the help but I don’t know most of these fine people in real life. I only know them as part of an awesome community of writers. I clearly hadn’t asked for input and honestly, I was really just hoping everyone would love it so I could move forward.
But I clearly needed help. Once again, I had to get out of my own way and let others, who knew better, help me. That seems to be a theme I keep coming back to, over and over and over again, not just asking for help with the book cover, (which I’ve done and the initial proofs look great. I’ll share it once it’s perfect. We are close.), but the idea of getting out of my own way. That one keeps popping up for me.
I made a big move in founding Four Leaf Publishing and it’ll be another big move releasing The Last Good Day. Big moves have always been easier for me. They are big! They are dramatic. They are easy to get behind in the moment of passion and inspiration that defines them. The everyday moves, the day to day moves, the learning and the moments when I’m faced with crippling self-doubt; those are the ones that are more challenging. Those are the ones I need help with and it was really amazing to find that help, unsolicited from the Create If group. It was a truly effective reminder of the fact that I simply can’t do it all because I can’t be good at everything, no matter how much I might want to.
The bigger learning is that I don’t have to be good at everything. I’m not knee-deep into all this only to publish this one novel. I’m in this to build a company and a platform that means something. I know I’m at the starting line now but this is not a sprint. I’m already working on book two and three and beyond. I’ve got more stories with Avery and Angela and other stories with characters that are dying to get out into the world. My goals are modest in scope but go far beyond this one quirky little novel but I won’t get anywhere going it alone. I won’t learn anything that way either.
I have a lot more to learn and I will need help along the way. I’m going to fail at things, but as Philadelphia Eagles Super Bowl MVP quarterback Nick Foles said, right after winning the Super Bowl, “Don’t be afraid to fail…without failure, who would you be? If…you’re struggling-embrace it, because you’re growing.” (Fly Eagles, Fly!)
It’s been an interesting time getting ready to release this novel. When it’s finally ready I hope it does well and I hope people enjoy it. There were many hands and many hearts that led this story to the page. It’s a big step, but it is in the end, only one step of many. I am humbled by the good fortune that I’ve had to surround myself with good and generous people, all of whom seem willing to tell me the truth. I appreciate that more than they know because I needed their help. I didn’t ask for it at first but it was given to me anyway. It made a real difference.
I hope that I’m the guy that just asks for help next time.