I was hiking with my friend Bill on a hot July morning when we got to talking about the book I wrote. He’d already read it – he was actually in it – and gave me the kind of cool feedback you really dig as a writer. It was a fun way to keep the conversation going that morning as we put in a few miles on some of my favorite local trails.
Altitude wasn’t the issue, obviously. Bill was used to hiking at 12,000 feet and up, and nothing goes much higher than 800 feet in Tulsa. But he’d been kind enough to surprise me by showing up for an informal launch party the night before, so I figured I owed him a hike before he flew back to Denver.
“Hot,” was his main observation. Colorado gets heat. But not Southern Plains heat.
As far as the book? He noted how its title, “Outsider,” was appropriate to me. I’d orbited Colorado’s 14er hiking community for years but wasn’t really quite part of it. At least not in the way that Coloradoans are. The same could also be said for the local trail running community, one I don’t get to interact with nearly as much as I’d like because I work nights and they all have normal gigs that allow for plenty of night time, early morning and weekend get-togethers. So I orbit that group, too.
Not that I realized it. It took someone looking at that book, and at me, to point it out. As it turns out, there was a layer to “Outsider” that even I wasn’t aware of.
That’s the kind of thing writers live for, to see how something we create affects others, to see how readers interpret it, relate to it, and maybe even get moved by it. As of this week, I’m one year removed from when “Outsider” was published. You dream in your head it was like a countdown to a rocket launch, or some other big deal, but it was just a click of a button on my computer and presto! People could order it without the slightest bit of ceremony.
When a book comes out, I imagine a lot of writers fantasize about hitting that New York Times best-sellers list. Maybe getting interviewed on the Today show, or get chosen by Oprah’s book club. You dream about launching this new, big thing that will finally give you the freedom to do what you love for the rest of your life, and live out the rags-to-riches tale of J.K. Rowling. I know I did. But it usually doesn’t work out that way. It didn’t for me.
I told people I had three goals. First, break even. Even self-publishing has costs, and if you really care about your work, you’re going to invest in it. My hope in this regard was to at least recoup my costs. Second was to make enough money to fix my car. Years of deferred maintenance had piled up, and the price tag to cover this multitude of sins wasn’t small.
So far, check and check.
Third, I really wanted to make enough to get an adventure-worthy rig that could take me to the backcountry places I love. It would be nice to not always be the guy bumming rides from people with high-clearance, four-wheel-drive vehicles. I haven’t made that goal yet.
But those weren’t really my aims. And I knew better than to pin my hopes on becoming the next big name in the publishing world. What I really wanted to do was write something honest, something I could be proud of, and something that would affect people in a positive way. I hoped to communicate the way the outdoors has blessed me and describe how wonderful the people I’ve met and traveled with really are.
“Outsider” is about all those things, and more. It’s about family. About grief. And God. It’s about being lost, but finding yourself in the midst of wilderness, both physical and metaphorical. It’s about finding healing in those wild, difficult and beautiful places. That’s what I hoped to communicate, anyway.
On that note, feedback was more valuable than the money. My friend Matt brought a bunch of his California friends to town late last summer, and one of his buds had read it. She wanted to talk to me about it, particularly about the chapter on my oldest brother Mike. Reviews posted online were gratifying. And just this week, a friend of mine texted this: “Your book struck a deep chord in me.” These conversations, reviews and other messages help me believe that maybe I don’t suck after all.
That might sound a little sappy, but here’s the reality of writing a book: It’s a lot like anything else someone builds from scratch. You write a paragraph, then a page, then a chapter. You string those chapters together. You edit. Revise. Tweak. Edit again. And again. And again. Eventually, you check the last box, call it good, and send it to market, the same way a carpenter might take simple boards and end up with a fantastic piece of furniture, or a custom bike builder would take sheet metal, a frame, a motor and scores of parts and fashion a road-worthy machine. A lot of time, effort and love goes into that kind of work, and that’s what makes it meaningful. The hope is that the effort and meaning you place in that comes through with satisfied buyers.
And this is the point where I have to offer some gratitude. A good number of you all plunked down a few bucks to buy a copy of “Outsider,” and for that I’m hugely grateful. You invested in the thing that took me a few years to build. My sister and parents became a pro bono marketing machine, so there are a bunch of copies of the book floating around in Texas right now. And more of you helped the cause by word-of-mouth via social media and in person with your friends and family. It really does take a village.
So what now? Well, there’s always something on the fire. A few interviews done here, a few more to get there. A chapter written. I guess I need a little more time in the shop.
If you haven’t read ‘Outsider’ and would like a copy, you can order it here.