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Today, I have a treat for you. I met Frieda Kilmari through a Facebook group for writers, and we chatted online. Then, I found out she's written a book about mental health. Seeing as the novel I'm working on is about post-natal depression, I pounced on the opportunity to learn from her experience. I've yet to read Man vs Happiness (for various reasons), but I promise you a book review once I do. In the meantime, as part of the launch of the book, she agreed to write a guest post for me. I stole like an artist from Chuck Wendig, who runs many "five things I learned from" guest posts. So, without further ado, here, in her words, is Frieda's wisdom.
Five Things I Learned from Writing & Publishing Man VS Happiness
by Freida Kilmari
Over the past 18 months, I have written and edited 31 pieces of poetry, three short stories, and one main narrative, and collated it into one singular narrative and flowing book. The topic of mental health through a science-fantasy lens has been a troubling and enlightening subject, but I could not have asked for a more rewarding debut experience. It has been not only a challenging premise but an emotional rollercoaster. I have cried so many tears of sadness and frustration, suffered from lack of sleep as I lay awake writing, and ground my brain into mush on more than one occasion, but I have learned so much form this process, not only in my professional life but in my personal one too. Here are five lessons I’ve learnt throughout the process of Man VS Happiness’s creation.
1. People are more complicated than you think
When I started out on this journey, I had handfuls of personal pieces from my own battle with mental health, but I realised they were all sounding the same, covering the same topics, being in the same mental place, etc. That isn’t very diverse, nor is it very representative, so I went out on my journey to find as many mental health stories for inspiration as possible. And what did I find? That no one person’s journey is the same. No one person’s mind works the same way. And no matter how often we might see people struggling in the same way, their journey is not our own, and cannot be treated as such.
What might be a big deal to you, might be something tiny to someone else, but what might be small to you might be a big deal to them. This varies based on our own personal lives and upbringing, and since that differs depending on who you’re talking to, everyone’s experience of troubles and stresses throughout life is different. This is something I thought I understood, but boy was I wrong. To see the variety of struggles and journeys represented, and even speaking to people who have yet to be represented, gave me a good shake-up, and a good look in the worldly mirror. It’s never as simple a situation as A affected mind B causing mental illness C. Sometimes, there is no reason for people being the way they are, but sometimes there are. Sometimes it’s simply a lack of ability to deal with extreme stress, sometimes it’s the lack of ability to feel stress, and other times it’s nothing in particular. What I’m trying to say is this: Everyone is different, we are all unique, so never judge someone else’s struggle, because you don’t know what it’s like to live in their head.
2. Getting your work critiqued sucks!
I knew this. I mean, I really knew this. I’ve had pieces critiqued in the past, but never on this scale. When I originally wrote Man VS Happiness, it had a completely different premise and direction, but through a wonderful beta reader, and a few other opinions, it took on a whole new identity. I managed to vary the structure and tone of each poem to show off my skill, I managed to thread the Scholar’s Legacy narrative throughout the book to create something I hadn’t seen in a story before, and I managed to have something truly unique in the palm of my hands. However, as special and important as this process was, it sucked. It well and truly sucked. I’m not sure if I’ll ever get better at reading feedback, but for now, it breaks me every time. I cry, no, I full on break down sobbing. But I guess it’s fitting that this book should be difficult to gain feedback on, because my journey, and the journey of so many others, is hidden within the pages. Meaning that good old saying, “Never take criticism personally,” didn’t really apply to me. Because it was personal, more personal than anything else I had ever written.
I imagine the same issue can be said of those writing memoirs and gaining feedback on personal poetry pieces. It’s difficult having your emotions and mind ripped apart by readers. I’m also aware that it won’t end there: I will continue to gain feedback on this piece throughout its release and into the far future, and it won’t always be pleasant. But at least the book is now as polished as possible, and the feedback will be on something I can be proud of, no matter what anyone else thinks.
3. Don’t self-publish without a marketing budget
This is more to the aspiring authors reading this, but let me give you a good piece of advice: Do not self-publish without a decent marketing budget, especially not when, like me, you’re aiming for sales. I had all the financial side of things planned for the cover, the editing, the illustrations for the physical copies, and everything was going well. Until I hit a little snag called marketing. Thing is, those first thirty days of release are vital. If you can’t afford to pump at least some funds into marketing, chances are you’re going to struggle. I learned this the hard way. Ideally, I would have liked to have run BookBub campaigns, a Goodreads giveaway, Amazon ads, lots of social media ads, a more extensive blog tour, give away more physical copies, and run a real-life launch at my local library. Unfortunately, I’ve had to back out of a lot of that because of funds.
That being said, this was a good lesson to learn, because now I have a plan for the other four-five books I’m nearly finished with that are being released next year (after my wedding—not smart to try both in the same year). Plus, I can use this book as a guinea pig for what worked and what didn’t, and what I can improve upon for next year. The other releases are for my Ennea Vasíleia Universe, and I don’t want to mess them up as they link to my other book series.
4. It’s OKAY to be weak
This is something we hear all the time, but how many of you actually believe it? Yeah, me neither. Or at least, I didn’t, until I had finished researching and writing this book. I realised that people all over the world are weak, and just because we don’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not true. Everyone is weak because we are all human. So all those times I try hiding my tears in the cinema, or when I’m being lame and watching the childish/most stupid anime show on the planet, that’s okay, because there’s plenty of me that is more “normal”, and even if there weren’t, I would still be me. I would still be my normal.
I had to be strong growing up, and it was hard hiding my emotions from everyone, including those closest to me, and I reckon I accidentally hurt a lot of people doing so, but the important thing is that now I can be me. And being me is the best thing I ever started being because I’m comfortable in my own skin, I’m happy with my own weirdness, and I’m okay with myself when I feel guilty or depressed.
5. Writing is hard!
I’ve been writing since I was 12, but I’ve never taken it seriously. Sure, I dreamed of publishing, but it wasn’t a reality. All of a sudden, I’m being plunged into a world where my every written word matters, where I can’t make public mistakes in my work, where I’m scrutinized at every step. And that life is hard. It’s stressful, it’s tear-jerking, and it’s honestly not a great environment to be creative in. And this alone makes the writing process 1000x harder than necessary. When I’m giving feedback to other writers, either as a beta reader, editor, or critiquer, I try to be as polite and encouraging as possible, because I know what it’s like to be weak on the other end of that screen, to struggle with feedback and knowing that not everyone will like your writing; hell, some will damn well despise it. But it’s all part of being a writer.
I remember a piece of feedback I gained from a beta reader during the editing of this book, and it broke my heart. I honestly wasn’t okay again for a good week afterwards. Alongside being a writer, I’m also an editor, but just because I’m good with grammar, doesn’t mean I can spot my own mistakes. It’s a whole different ball game when it comes to editing your own work. I knew that. It’s part of the technical theory behind editing, and it’s part of my job to understand that. But that didn’t stop other people from not understanding that. One piece of feedback, in particular, stated something along the lines of “you should quit your day job because you can’t write, let alone edit, and I would be horrified to find out you’re my editor”. That hurt. I mean, that really hurt. (It also isn’t very good feedback, because there was no reasoning or pointing out what they didn’t like). But getting over that was a big hurdle for me. It also taught me that I had a lot to learn in the writing world because being an editor is not the same thing as being a writer: they are different skill sets. And I’m ready to master both.
You can get the book Man Vs Happiness here: www.amazon.com/dp/B07MVNQ48C
Follow Frieda on Twitter: AuthorKilmari
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/penmanshipediting/
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