Monday, August 19, 2013

Taking the Road Less Traveled

(This is part of a book I'm blogging, Indie Author Survival Guide. If you want to know when it releases, please subscribe to my newsletter.)

Ch 3.9 Taking the Road Less Traveled*
*Apologies to Robert Frost

I'm preserving the original flavor of these two chapters (Taking the Road Less Traveled, The Secret Ingredient: Confidencewritten just before my leap into indie publishing. Partly because they show what I was thinking before I knew self-publishing was going to give me monthly paychecks that would replace a job in engineering within a year. Before I knew people would give my books hundreds of five-star reviews on Amazon. It was before all the success I've been lucky and worked hard to have. And I think it speaks to the experience that many writers go through during that transition time when they step back, gauge the gap, get a running start, and make the daring leap into their author careers. Then we'll tie things up with a retrospective chapter on Making the Leap.

When It First Occurred To Me That I Might Self-Publish
[Ed. Note: I am scared crazy here.]
Sometimes I wonder what compels me to take that weedy path, the one that's overgrown because few people go there. Sometimes I tromp across a meadow that doesn't have so much as a deer trail, just because I think there should be a path there, and darn it, someone's got to be the first.

What is my problem? And more importantly, is this behaviour I would encourage in my kids?

I realize that I don't take chances in everything I do.

Wonderful, stable marriage? Well-worn path.
Running for public office? Road less traveled.
Owning a minivan, carting kids around? Paved road with lots of traffic.
Trying to write novels for a living? Weedy path.

So what makes me decide it's worth risking time/money/effort to pursue a goal (writing) that may end up snarled somewhere in a ditch?

The truth is that I agonized over that decision and still revisit it on occasion, as if I'm not finished with the agony just yet, needing to vex my conscience a little more. I'm relieved that 12 year old Dark Omen wants to be a physicist first and a novelist on the side, even as I abet his dream by uploading his novel to Smashwords so he can share it with his friends. I worry that 8 year old Mighty Mite loves Hip Hop dancing more than math, even as I can't resist putting up mirrors in the basement, turning it into his own private dance studio.

Do I really want to encourage them to be risk-takers, like Mom?

Never mind that it's worked out well for me, most of my life. My mom says I lead a charmed life, that things seem to go my way. Maybe she's right. Or maybe I make my own luck, by working hard to be ready when Opportunity comes knocking on my door. Either way, what seems like a calculated risk when I'm taking it, seems like crazy foolhardiness when it's my childrens' futures at stake.

So, I take a deep breath and whack down the tall grass in my way, with a machete I won online (being at the right place at the right time), and take the biggest risk of all: daring to be myself, even when the kids are watching.

(Four Months Later) Just Before Deciding to Take the Leap
[Ed. Note: The fear is still there, but I'm proceeding anyway.]
I've grown less worried about my children's forays into the creative arts and more concerned about all the children who don't. I've become less anxious that my risk-taking - in choosing to write children's novels rather than get a job with a paycheck - is some kind of foolhardiness that I will regret.

In fact, in these mere four months, I've grown in my confidence that not only is taking the road less traveled a wise choice for me, it may in fact be the only real choice.  There's a feeling of rightness, an intuition-approval (see Training Your Intuition) bliss-feeling that comes when I've made a choice that's right for me. I believe it has something to do with integrity, in the sense that all the disparate pieces of me are integrated and heading in the same direction. 

Where did this come from?

Sampling the Cloud 
[Ed. Note: this is summer of 2011, when indie publishing was just starting to go mainstream]
I've been reading a lot of blogs, talking to a lot of people, and reading books about changes in the publishing industry. I've been examining people who are successful, trying to discern what makes them unique. I think of the knowledge base of human experience like an amorphous cloud, shifting and gusting around, changing from minute to minute. You can easily get lost in the cloud, and it can drive you a bit crazy. But I've been trying to take large snapshots to find patterns and learn from them. 

From this I've discerned a couple things: 1) people who are successful aren't successful because they've divined the secret code. They're successful because they made their own code, and 2) Their own code is an expression of the type of person they are, fully embraced and carried forward into the world with confidence.


John Locke is a savvy sales guy who made a bucket load of money selling books the same way he sold insurance. Could I possibly succeed this way? No more than I could sell insurance (which is to say NO).

HP Mallory is enthusiastic, cute, and fun, and has sold a lot of books by being ... enthusiastic, cute, and fun. And attracting readers who enjoy that (and her). Could I be that cute and whimsical? I have my moments, but that's not the main thing that drives me.

My path to success will be different from theirs, and only by embracing who I am (see Ten Things I Believe), making up my own code for success, will I find it. This is the very definition of traveling your own road, but like the Room of Requirement, you will only find it when you go forward with confidence in what you need. Confidence to tromp down that path, even if I'm the first one to travel it in exactly my way. Confidence that my path is not only an acceptable way to go about things, it is probably the best way for me.

Because that's the kind of person I am.

So, Mighty Mite is not only taking Hip Hop, we've added Voice lessons to his creative outlets (he also wants to take acting classes). Dark Omen is hard at work on the sequel of his novel, and Worm Burner has decided that he's a fan of both C++ programming and Shakespeare.

I'm not worried about these explorations anymore. I know they are following their own paths, ones that are expressions of who they are, and I'm grateful that they feel free to tell me, "Mom, I want to try this."

After all, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

But How Do I Find That Confidence?
It's not magic. It's not blind faith. In The Secret Ingredient: Confidence I'll talk about how confidence isn't found, it's grown.

You can follow the Indie Author Survival Guide as I blog it, or sign up for my newsletter to be notified when the whole thing is released in ebook form. 

Susan Kaye Quinn is the author of the bestselling YA SF Mindjack series. Her new Debt Collector serial is her more grown-up SF that she likes to call future-noir. She just sent off her MG fantasy to an editor, and now she's working on her steampunk fantasy romance. And she spends a lot of time playing on Facebook. Susan has a lot of degrees in engineering, which come in handy when dreaming up dangerous mind powers, future dystopias, and slightly plausible steampunk inventions. Mostly she sits around in her pajamas in awe that she gets make stuff up full-time. You can find her at, where she's blogging her Indie Author Survival Guide.


  1. This is fantastic Susan, I love it! I'm definitely going to be following along!

  2. Love your voice here! Very inspiring!

    1. Thanks Elle! So strange sometimes to go back and hear my "prior self" rambling on. :) I guess blogs really are like journals, capturing those moments in time.

  3. I have no problem with the confidence. My issue is with the yelling "look at me." I'm still working on all of it.

    1. You have to find your own style; if you convinced yourself (somehow) that yelling "look at me" was the way to go, my guess is you would not succeed (and you'd be miserable in the process).

      This is a common misunderstanding of how marketing works though - I think we're all trained to hate marketers and standing out (or we come by it naturally!). But reinventing what marketing really is, and how it works for you, is important - I think I need to address this in a separate post. Thanks for the great idea! :)

  4. Well, I didn't mean it literally. That's just the phrase I use for the process of getting people to notice your (my) work. I mean, at its heart, when you boil it all down, that's kind of what it is. Like a kid saying, "hey, hey, look what I did, look at me, look at me." I will say, though, that marketing is not my strong suit.

    But I do try the kinds of things I'm comfortable with and experiment with things that aren't much being used. Like serialization. Which, now, is being used way more than when I started doing it.

    1. I knew what you meant. ;)

      Was John Greene marketing when he made 600 vlogs on YouTube with his nerdfighter antics? Yes, but he was also having fun. It was his thing - his way of expressing his creativity and connecting with people. And then people noticed his work as well.

      I think finding the way you connect with people can be tough, especially for introverts. That's why focusing on the "fun" part is best - and through the magic of the internet, the people who find that fun as well will be attracted to you. And maybe notice your work as well.