Curiosity and Courage: Craft Care Interview with John Weirick
Publishing is weird. From identifying a target demographic, to pitching yourself and your idea to industry heavyweights, to building social media platforms, to sitting down and doing the writing, itself --- all if it is work, and there are plenty of days that it doesn't come easily, even to the most well-regarded contemporary authors. Self-publishing presents its own list of riddles: How can I market myself without being obnoxious? Is there a way to make my content more appealing to people I don't know? What am I going to do to pay for editors and designers? And the biggest question of all: How do I know that anyone even wants to read this? What if this is all a waste of time?
John Weirick decided that he would take the risk. His first book, The Variable Life, launches today.
Since the book tackles themes of longing, self-actualization, and having the guts to make tough life choices, Weirick's decision to self-publish dovetails perfectly with the book's mission. We were curious about the specific experience of crowdfunding and marketing one's own memoir, so we asked him some questions about what it's like to be a self-publishing author that values craft.
Asked about how he came to choose his publishing path, Weirick is pragmatic: "I chose self-publishing because I’m a relatively unknown writer with a small but dedicated community of people who engage with my work. I wanted the creative control and timeline to release The Variable Life after I had carried it around for four years. Once I knew that, I didn’t feel the need to shop it around or secure an agent, though I’d like to explore that with future books."
His mind made up, Weirick ran a 23-day Kickstarter campaign to raise $8,500 in order to finance the costs of making The Variable Life viable. How did he come up with that number? "I calculated costs for editing, design, video, a website, promotional materials, printing and shipping books, and even the fees and taxes associated with the crowdfunding campaign." This was a tricky business, he recalls. "The crowdfunding campaign was an emotional roller coaster, a mix of delight, dismay, and trying to avoid getting caught in either extreme."
Those interested in crowdfunding similar projects might benefit from the exhaustive research that Weirick did before launching his Kickstarter. Kickstarter's own website reports that only 35% of projects on the website reach fully-funded status. When money is what's standing between your passion project and the rest of the world, the stakes are high, and very personal. Weirick learned that "crowdfunding eats into any funds you collect from your supporters because of basic fees and operating costs. Some of the research I did before launching the campaign warned creators about the impulse to add more rewards to entice backers, but the more products or services you add, the less attention and money goes to the original product you’re actually trying to crowdfund."
Weirick considers the success of his crowdfunding campaign to be a kind of litmus test for the market for the book. "The blessing and the curse of crowdfunding is seeing if your creative project has legs beyond your few family and friends who support you," he observes. "I see that as a major strength, because if I had a book idea that wasn’t thought out, or the writing just wasn’t relatable or interesting, I wouldn’t want that kind of project released into the world. There’s plenty of well-intentioned, lackluster art out there because someone’s family and friends wouldn’t tell the hard truth that art requires work, reworking, and some level of professional feedback."
So who is his target market? "The book is for people, especially 18-to-thirtysomethings, who sense the urge to get beyond the status quo of their lives and move toward a greater sense of purpose and connection with themselves, with God, and with others." Listing Donald Miller, Rachel Held Evans, and Anne Lamott as major creative influences, Weirick was incredibly intentional from the outset about why he was writing. "We live in a culture that values self-protection, safety, comfort, and external measures of success, which are often barriers to personal growth, and even relational and spiritual growth. We each go on a kind of journey to discover who we really are, the kind of person we want to be, and what that looks like on a day-to-day level, so I wrote the book to invite people to take a few steps further on their path and gain clarity and confidence."
Without an agent or publishing house invested in the completion of the project, Weirick took his time tinkering with the manuscript. Though the initial of the concept of the book was four years in the making, it wasn't until Weirick moved across the country with his wife that he was able to finish what would become his final draft.
His writing process involved leaning in to his naturally introverted tendencies. "I would stay up late, sitting on the porch if it was a cool Oregon evening, just trying to string together a story that meant something to me and might mean something to others. I blogged 2-4 times a week for the better part of a year, trying to find the topics and questions that resonated with people on the Internet. My wife worked overnight shifts when we were first married, so after work, I had big blocks of uninterrupted time alone to think and write. Because I’m such an internal processor, I need lots of solitude to recharge socially, but also to reflect on what was happening in my life, to my friends and family, what I believed, and what mattered most. Those nights alone in the quiet house, with dim lights and ambient music, got me into a really inspiring and freeing headspace to be able to process those things through writing."
Once The Variable Life reached the editing phase, he learned that the creative process was far from over. Weirick says he realized that "Subtraction, not addition, is the best editing." Employing a team of professionals, including the design team at BRDDG, was an essential component to putting together a product that Weirick felt proud to put his name on.
What advice would Weirick give to other people looking to self-publish? "Proceed at your own caution—but if you know it’s for you, jump in. Self-publishing is not for someone who only wants to write. It’s submitting to the process of stubborn dedication for a long time, if you want the final product to have some level of quality." Reflecting as a first-time author observing the publishing industry, he says, "Now, I can see how a lot of great writers don’t enjoy commercial success, and some mediocre writers do, so the traditional publishing and self-publishing industries may simultaneously overinflate and undervalue good writing."
The lesson, both of The Variable Life itself and of its journey to publication, is to look bravely into the face of what we were meant to do. That's the essential message that Weirick says his book is meant to share. "It’s impossible to avoid change, conflict, and challenges, so learn to embrace them with curiosity and courage."
People can learn more about the book, find free downloads of The Variable Life soundtrack and a reading guide, and start reading the first chapter right away at thevariablelife.com. You might also want to check out John's Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.