With my finished novel in hand, I set out to find the best way to publish. I learned about the differences in publishing from traditional to small press to the emerging world of self-publishing. Although I liked the idea of easy publication through self-publishing, I knew I wasn’t ready to go it alone. In a forum, I found two gentlemen looking to publish new books. I had a new book! I’d found my perfect match they would handle the editing, cover design, and marketing and I was excited to see my book published.
In less than three weeks my book was available on Amazon. There is something magical about seeing your story in print. I was so excited just to have it published, but what happened next blew my mind. My book became a bestseller. In one weekend my book went from the bottom of the lists to beating Stephen King and James Patterson. I finally had proof of what I always secretly knew: I was a genius writer. But that moment in the sun wouldn't last.This book was more than just a revenue stream it had saved me and transformed my life. Let me explain.>
I'd spent months preparing both my mind and body to enter the war. I woke up every morning and hiked five miles on the hills near my home with a 40-pound rucksack and 30 pounds of body armor. When I’d finish each journey, my muscles would ache, and my clothes were drenched in sweat, but getting my body ready was the easy part.>
How do you mentally prepare to enter a war?>
At the time my sons were two and seven, and I recognized that if I didn't live through this, they’d never know who I really was. Maybe they’d call me a hero, but it was just as likely they’d call me a selfish bastard for volunteering to fight when I had the choice to stay home. I wanted them to know the real me, the great parts and the terrible parts.
So I wrote it all out in a book they could have when they were older. The book detailed everything I’d learned in my life, all the mistakes I’d made, the success I’d had, the advice I’d want to give them, the encouragement to follow their own path, and the love I had for them. It was an experience of pure emotion and I thought by finishing the book for my boys I'd be able to set my feelings aside for the remainder of the deployment.
The night before we entered Iraq I sat on a green cot in a dusty camp somewhere in the Kuwait desert. In all the emptiness of the miles and miles of sand, I discovered myself filled with a multitude of feelings about my life, my family, what I was about to embark on, and so much more. I wasn’t sure what to do with them. The army has a nasty stigma against sharing emotions and making sure everyone thinks you’re good to go. Not sure what I should do I opened my notepad, and I started to write.>
Fiction is the truth you can’t tell.>
I was concerned with people picking up my notepad and reading my truth so instead of writing my unvarnished feelings I used fiction to camouflage the rawness. It was a win-win. I created characters and events based on the thoughts, feelings, and emotions I was dealing with, but if anyone picked it up, they’d read a thriller.
I’d found the perfect outlet. I carried my notepad in my cargo pocket, and in my free moments I was writing the story. I’d spent over a decade writing news articles but hadn’t written fiction since I was 18 (but that’s a story for another day). I had filled four notepads by the time I boarded the plane that would take me home a year later. Iraq had changed me both physically and mentally. Although I didn’t have everything figured out, I knew I wanted to continue writing fiction.>
Flash Forward To Me Being A Genius Writer>
After the amazing sales weekend I eagerly awaited the positive reviews to flow in. They didn’t. In fact, negative reviews stacked up. Readers commented on the terrible editing and my poor skills as a wordsmith. I was devastated. Didn’t sales mean it was good? Why would people buy a book that wasn’t amazing?
I reached out to my “publisher,” and after several lengthy emails from me and short replies from them, my eyes were opened. My book was part of gaming Amazon’s algorithms. Sure I sold a lot of books and hit the bestseller chart, but there was something that nagged on my heart:>
I never wanted just to sell books.>
Buried under my awkward prose was a story about the nature of goodness in a world of evil. I wanted to share that story, but to make that happen I needed to learn more. I spent the next two years studying the craft of writing but more importantly the psychology of why we read. The more I learned the more I was fascinated by the power of story. Did you know that when you read about action taking place in a story your brain activates in the same way as if you were doing the action? Reading is the ultimate virtual reality machine.We are all natural storytellers. Story is the most powerful form of communication we poses. From the funny things that happen to the most intimate of feelings we share them through story. When we want to educate or persuade use story. Story allows us to truly experience the old cliche of walking a mile in someones shoes.
For the first time, I worked with an editor that could do more than just push F7 in Word. She helped me me polish my story for publication but there was something that continued to nag her. The ending.
My F7 editor felt the original ending wasn't happy enough for an American marketplace. So I'd written a new ending. It was sweet and full of hope. On her request I sent my new editor my original ending. She called me in the middle of the night. My original ending struck such an emotional chord with her she couldn't wait to talk to me about it.That's what I wanted my readers to feel. I formed a small press publisher in Idaho with two other veterans I knew and republished the book under a different title, Another Day Another Name, and even though it hasn’t beat King or Patterson yet, I’m proud of the work.>
Souvenirs from Iraq>
I started noticing my irritability increase in the first few months when I’d returned from Iraq. I was attending college and when the workload increased, I’d find myself having debilitating anxiety attacks. I couldn’t work, I couldn’t think, all I could do was shake and not in the good Taylor Swift way.
It seemed I, like so many other veterans, had returned with a suitcase full of PTSD. I knew I needed help, but since I was still serving part-time in the Army, I gave into the stigma of being the strong soldier and didn’t seek out help through the proper channels.
If you are a veteran suffering from PTSD and have not yet sought help, please do so today. You owe it to yourself and loved ones.My personal physician gave me a prescription to help when an attack would occur, but it didn’t make them go away. Three years went by, and I was still in the same boat except now instead of struggling to get through school I was struggling to get through work. Two weeks before Christmas 2014 my boss called me into her office. She had a difficult time making eye contact, which was weird, and then I saw it. An envelope was sitting between us. My heart sank. I knew my performance had continued to drop at work, but I didn’t see this coming. She politely fired me.>
I was at a crossroads. I could find another day job, or I could go all in with my writing. Both options had pros and cons. On the one hand I could take the safe option and work for someone else. I'd get a steady paycheck and could still work at nights on my writing. That option still held the chance that my PTSD could get me fired again. On the other hand I could dive head first into my writing. I'd already received great reviews fro my book, and my online course Punch them in the Gut: Writing Fiction with Emotional Impact had changed the lives of hundreds of authors. But the truth was neither the online class or my book sales could pay my bills.
Both options held the real possibility that I might fail. Like so many fictional heroes before me I had to choose if I would answer the call or sit back in relative safety. I made the decision to chase what I love.
The small press I helped form, Raven International Publishing, was just that: small. All of us had day jobs, well at least the other guys did, and we didn’t have a solid direction on what we wanted to do with the company. The bottom line was RIP wasn’t making any money, and I needed to have money.
I had been reading a lot about Kickstarter and had a wild thought. I took every story idea in my head and created proposals. I used my journalism skills to research a list of potential investors and then I sent them the proposals. I had no idea if anyone would respond. Days turned to weeks, and I felt like the guy sitting by the phone hoping the cute girl would call him. The phone didn’t ring.
It was a Hail Mary Pass, and as I watched the ball travel down the field, I started looking for a new day job. And then the phone rang.
I found an investor and Hank Hudson was born.>
Although I had the advance money from Hank Hudson, I knew it wouldn’t last so to help RIP grow and get my name in front of people I started a podcast with Peter Turley. It felt like there were over a million on writing, so if my voice was going to be heard I'd have to take a different approach. I created The Book Editor Show and each week we’d speak with editors and examine the craft of writing through the lens of editing.With each new topic, we covered I’d study and learn more. It helped to consistently elevate my writing and connect with more readers. Something else happened: I got emails from people looking for editing. It had never been my intention to become an editor. Each new client I worked with gave me a deeper love for editing, especially developmental editing. I was still a little gun shy from my first book debacle, but I couldn't argue with the hundreds of students and clients continuing to return for assistance with their stories. I'd become a story expert.
Today I’m editor-in-chief for Sterling & Stone where I get to work with the most talented people in the industry. It's an amazing opportunity that I am so fortunate to be a part of, but it wouldn't have happened if I hadn't been willing to admit what I was good at and pursue it.