I have always been a writer, for as long as I can remember. I wasn’t blessed with personality, or charm, or great conversation skills, but being quiet, shy and awkward doesn’t mean I have nothing to say.
I wrote all through my school years; mostly dumb stories in which I played the most unlikely heroines, always beautiful, brave and popular. But so what if they were dumb? I wrote those stories mostly for me and in them, I could be anything I wanted.
In my mid-twenties I took a writing class – Writing For Young Adults. We had to come up with a character to write about for the whole year, so I chose to write about a young woman joining the police force. (I know, not exactly a stretch.) But by going with the old adage of, “write about what you know,” I had no trouble coming up with material and was the only person in my class to have completed a manuscript by the semesters end.
After just three submissions, I had an offer from a publisher and less than two years later, my little book was a reality. Emboldened by my beginner’s luck, I started working on my next project – a children’s book.
I don’t know why I thought I could write a children’s book, because I couldn’t. It was absolute rubbish. Of the few publishers who would even look at it, only three or four could be bothered replying and not one had anything positive to say about it.
I’ll be honest, I took it very personally and it was years until I put pen to paper again and wrote anything with any heart to it. That was in early-2017, when I started therapy for PTSD and depression. Writing was how I communicated with my psychologist. It was how I processed 20 years of work-related trauma and how I was finally able to openly acknowledge my asexuality. It was a collection of pieces I wrote for my psychologist that laid the foundation for this blog.
I had reached that stage in my recovery where I needed to do something with the PTSD, rather than it just being a heavy weight around my neck. So I started to think about writing a book. When I was first diagnosed, I wanted to read as much as I could about PTSD, but most of the books out there were clinical and/or military-based. I couldn’t really find anything biographical. I think it would’ve helped me to know that a lot of what I was going through wasn’t so abnormal.
After about eight months, I’d written enough to put together a manuscript. I researched Australian publishers, to see who was publishing what kind of material and when they were accepting it, then submitted my work to three publishers. Not one of them replied.
Now at this stage, I didn’t have the blog and the only person who’d read any of my work was my psychologist. So it was a big fucking deal for me to send my manuscript out. But luckily, I was already depressed. Otherwise the lack of interest would have really hit hard. But this is what the publishing industry is like. It is a brutal industry that is not for the thin-skinned or the faint of heart. Rejection? Forget rejection. I wasn’t even afforded the luxury of rejection. What do they call it in the dating world? Ghosting? I’d been ghosted by three consecutive publishers.
So basically, that’s how the blog started. I had all this material and didn’t want it to go to waste, so a blog seemed like a good alternative. I could put it all online (where a lot of people do their reading nowadays, anyway), would have complete control and could add to it whenever I wanted.
But blogging brought its own hardships: some views, but hardly any followers and barely any likes. What the fuck am I doing wrong? I wondered. So I researched. I read blogs about blogging, I followed a heap of other blogs, I commented and gave other bloggers support. Still no improvement. So then I started looking at some of these other blogs in depth and that’s when I noticed something; there were blogs that had 2,000-odd followers, but fairly average content. In same cases, the content was very clearly copied and pasted from another source. What the fuck?
So I asked my friend, Simon, who is very knowledgeable about all things internet-related and he just smiled and shook his head, as if to say, “What an innocent child you are. Bless you.”
He told me about bots. He told me about fake followers and content farming and all these other things that made me feel both incredibly sad and angry.
I remember feeling the exact same way when I found out one of my colleagues cheated in the Melbourne Marathon. We both ran in the same event one year and he finished in quite a good time, despite the fact that he was in awful shape and had done no training. I asked him how he managed such a feat and he told me that part-way through the event, he’d jumped on a tram and bypassed a big chunk of the course.
He then went on to admit that it wasn’t the first time he’d done this. As the bile rose inside of me, I asked him why. Why? Why would he do such a thing?
“Because once you complete ten Melbourne Marathons you become a Spartan,” he said.
I feel the same way about him as I do about those who employ methods such as plagiarism, content farming, bots and fake followers. Why? It’s ego, I get that. We all have one. But you’re feeding it at what cost? Not only are you disrespecting all the people who are out there busting their guts, but in the end, you’re only cheating yourself.
Another thing Simon said to me was, “Why did you start your blog?”
“Because I want to help people,” I replied. “I want to try and reduce the strangeness of PTSD. To help create an environment in which nobody is afraid to speak up or seek help.”
“Well, alright then. So forget all that superficial crap, just write.”
But then this happened –
Having received no love for my manuscript from Australian publishers, I decided to send it abroad. I chose two UK-based publishers, both of which seemed perfectly legit. Two days I ago I received a large, thick envelope from one of them. I opened the envelope to find a slick folder bearing the words, “publishing contract” and inside, a two-page cover letter and two copies of a publishing agreement.
I’ll admit, I should have had a more thorough read. But in my own defence, I’ve been sick with the flu most of this week and at the time of opening said envelope, was riding sky high on my own personal cloud of pseudoephedrine.
Instead, I mostly skimmed over the letter, seeing only the words I wanted to: “your work was found to be a distinctive read, detailing your own experiences in the police force and exploring important and relatable issues” and “we would like to offer you a contribution-based contract…”
In hindsight, I should’ve waited until I was less-stoned before sending excited text messages to virtually everyone I know. How humiliating.
It wasn’t until the cold light of the following day that I sat down and had another read of the documents and saw the offer for what it was: vanity publishing.
In other words, “Sure, we’d love to publish your book. If you give us $4,000.”
I really don’t have the capacity to handle this kind of bullshit anymore. This is a hard enough venture as it is.
Writing requires introspection and contemplation. It takes courage. Unless you’re a complete psychopath (or a bot), it’s impossible to write something without revealing at least a little bit of yourself. Putting it out there takes guts. Sending your work to a publisher takes guts. To those of you who haven’t been acknowledged for your work, who’ve been rejected or “ghosted” by publishers, I’m sorry. To those of you who are wondering about your own blog, “Why do I even bother? Nobody’s reading it”, please don’t give up.
The world needs authentic, courageous voices – now, more than ever.
© Triggered, 2018