distressed woman sitting on lakeside and touching face in despair
Writer's Life

Remember the Time I Thought I Ruined my Writing Career?

I do. It happened during my second year of college before I even had a writing career to ruin. But I had an idea that, at the time, seemed pretty great. Take some of the short stories I wrote from class that people loved and publish them as free ebooks. Sounds smart, right? You’d Google my name and find short stories! That can only help when I start trying to get my novel published, right?

Well, no.

Back then, I expected mostly silence out of this stunt. I did ask people in my network to leave reviews if they felt comfortable doing so. But I didn’t think many others out in the world would bother reading them.

I published three short stories as standalone pieces of flash-fiction via Smashwords. Two of these stories were about 10 pages long. One was only 500 words. I wrote about the feedback I got during critiques for all three here, here, and here. Again, because these stories were so short (and I was only 19 at the time, with zero comfort with associating my creative work with money), I made all three of them free.

Wouldn’t submitting them to magazines have been better for my writing career?

Definitely. In fact, I received a lot of encouragement to do just that. Unfortunately, I couldn’t afford submission fees. Plenty of publications claimed to be eager to publish writers 25 and younger, but all the ones I found charged my weekly grocery budget for a single submission.

So I whipped up some simple covers in Photoshop for those three stories I was proud of and published them. And Smashwords sent them out to places like Amazon and Barns & Noble.

Then Came the Reviews…

While the readers on Smashwords left great reviews, the readers on Amazon and B&N were not so kind. Flash-fiction, apparently, was a foreign concept. Some of the cruelest things ever said about my writing are in those reviews.

One star review that says "its stupid just stupid"
One of the dumbest reviews I’ve ever seen. Still stings.

Obviously, this was very upsetting. I went to one of my writing professors to ask if this had been a stupid idea and whether I was wrong to think those stories were worth publishing.

Like most of my professors, this one did not have a high opinion of self-publishing. In his opinion, since anyone can self-publish, putting my stories out there wouldn’t do anything for my writing career except maybe make people take me less seriously.

Oh, and all those scathing reviews would come up when people Googled my name.


To Unpublish or Not?

For the next year, I waffled back and forth between whether I should unpublish those stories on Smashwords or just leave them alone and never speak of them again.

I did end up unpublishing them. Then re-publishing them with no changes. And unpublishing again. And restoring them again.

Frankly, I wasn’t sure what their status was until recently. I had decided the best thing I could do was just forget about them and move on, which I did for the last few years. But then I got a Google Alert that let me know my short stories ended up on another bootleg ebook site. Back in the days when I paid attention, this happened several times. People decided to make pirated copies of ebooks that were already free.

After peeking back in time at those reviews for this post, I unpublished them again. For the last time. Why bother, you ask?

Because it makes me feel better.

Compared to what I’ve done in recent years with my actual profitable writing career, the stuff I did as a student isn’t relevant anymore. I’ve already removed most of my student-era work from my resume and portfolio. Why was I still letting this thing stick around?

Plus, in hindsight, publishing those stories as I did wasn’t that great of an idea. It wasn’t a bad idea, but it wasn’t the best. If I was considering it now, I’d have either expanded each story into novelettes or written more related short stories to publish an anthology.

So Did It Ruin My Writing Career?

It had zero effect whatsoever. Except maybe putting my name and the 2013 version of my writer bio all over the internet.

But the good news is that if you Google my name, you’ll find my blog or my portfolio site first, my social media pages, and articles published in the last couple years. As it should be.

But hey, if you really want to read those stories, there’s tons of bootleg copies available. Go nuts.

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