Becoming an Independent Author: Reflections Along the Way

Pictured: New front and back cover of Pedaling Home: One Woman’s Race Across the Arizona Trail

Last year I self-published my first book, Pedaling Home, about my experience bicycle racing the Arizona Trail from Mexico to Utah. I completed the 100-page book in five or six weeks of full-time work. I created my own book and cover design, learning the ins and outs of self-publishing platforms like Kindle Direct Publishing and IngramSpark. I enlisted my (gifted!) friends to help with editing. I read manuals and watched instructional videos. I studied the basics of Amazon advertising. After the book came out, I agreed to speaking engagements, where I sold books in person.

It was terrifying. It all happened so fast, perhaps too fast. Yet I was able to face my fear of public speaking, as well as the hatred of my own artless handwriting, scrawled into the books I signed.

Recently I walked into a local business, where I was taking a yoga class. To my surprise, my book was on display, though I never approached the business. It was an important moment for me, not because I was flattered (though I was). It was important because it helped me recognize my own yearning to connect and share ideas with people beyond a small group of academic specialists.

Though the book was “garage band” quality, I got my story out there. And people liked the story. Nearly every week somebody reads the book, in countries all around the world. I have yet to make a substantial income from it, but it is a job I take more and more seriously. For stories are powerful, and our culture needs better stories. Whenever I feel as though I am alone in the way I see the world, I find a kindred soul in an author, narrator or filmmaker. At other times stories help me see the world in a newer, better way.

In November I will release a revised, expanded and redesigned version of Pedaling Home — a book I will more wholeheartedly market, something more within the realm of professional quality. In the spring I will sell and sign copies at my city’s annual book festival, where I will meet readers and other indie authors. Already I more often spend weekends at an author conference or workshop than at an academic conference. I still read philosophy books and articles; but I read a lot more besides that. Next year I will write (and hopefully publish!) fiction, while teaching philosophy part-time at my local community college. (Altering your career path does not require giving up the parts of your former job — or life — that you find meaningful! Quite the contrary.)

This is a new track, different from the tenure-track. I am excited to see what it holds. Unlike my academic career, the path forward is less clear, less certain. So, I try to enjoy each day of writing, revising or business strategizing. One thing I have learned through my bikepacking adventures is how to enjoy the ride. And that is what I am doing right now. I try to bring that adventurous spirit to each and every day.

Peace and Love on your own Career Voyage!

Sarah