Getting That First Book Published

My first book comes out in 3 days.
--->me doing happy dance<---
And yet, I have to pause and reflect on the journey it took to get here, a journey that some would say remains incomplete. But I'll address that in a moment.
First, I think back to when I was in elementary school and it first occurred to me that I might be a writer one day. I had written a descriptive essay for my 4th or 5th grade English teacher about my first time diving in the water. I did my best to describe every moment - the bated breath, the burn of muscles, the desire to reach the object lying on the bottom of the deep side of the pool that no one else had previously been able to reach. Unknowingly, I succeeded in not just capturing the moment, but impressing my teacher. And it was her reaction that first made me realize I had stumbled on a new passion. 
A few years later, in the summer after 7th grade when I was 12, I started writing a book. Two books, in fact. But though half-written many times, they languished for years, submerged by my other passions.
When I was in grad school, I won 2nd place in a non-fiction essay contest and was officially published (and paid!) for the first time. That made me remember my first book and desire to be a writer. So I started writing again - not just short stories, but also that long-planned book. I decided to attend a writing conference with my writer's group to learn more about the business of writing, and on a whim, I submitted a story to their short story contest. To my utter astonishment, I won 1st. That amazed joy provided the stimulus for me to keep writing. Thus, 18 years after beginning, I finished writing my first book, an idea that somehow became a grand draconian epic spread out through a planned 9 books... but that is not the book getting published in 3 days.
The following year, I won yet again 1st place for a short story, which, as before, provided the impetus to work on a series of short stories. One of those stories turned into a book, my second complete book, a comedy about zombies, two subjects I never thought I'd write, but I thoroughly enjoyed them... yet that is not the book getting published in 3 days.
That same year, I saw an ad for a publishing company looking for short-story writers. With my first two books subbed out to potential publishers, I thought it would be a good opportunity to started building up my name and a fan base. So I applied and was accepted, and shortly after, began my first writing assignment. I finished writing it and turned it in, certain that I would never hear of it again. Then a few months later, I was told it was getting published in an anthology with two other writers. I was thrilled! 
But to my greater surprise, it was after the anthology came out that I was asked if I could write a part II and III. Though I had previously thought about writing more to the story, I hadn't written a single word. But I went ahead and agreed. When I was halfway through part III, I realized the story still had so much more to say. So it turned itself into a 5-part book. 
And that is the book getting published in 3 days.
But the biggest question I've gotten since this was announced is this: "can I get an autograph?"
My answer - "Uh... not exactly."
You see, my publishing company is exclusively online, so my book will not come out in print, only in downloadable book form(at). And therein lies the crux of the matter - does not having my book in print exclude me from being a "real" writer? 
The short answer is no.
Writing is not a hobby for me. Writing is something that I finally convinced myself to dedicate my time fully to, an art with words that, like any other skill, increases with time and practice. Though there may be only an electronic device to hold from which to read my book, I am still proud and overjoyed to finally publish my own book.
Do I want a book in print? Certainly. But as my journey in life has taken many unexpected twists, so, too, has the path to getting my first book published. My life after undergrad took me in many directions - some of which I truly wanted to refuse. And yet, even so, they brought me to this moment, which is firmly where I want to be. Thus, though this first book may not be in "print," I am truly content with where I am in my growing writing career. To me, the journey is "incomplete" only because it's just beginning.
So I leave you with this: whatever happens, just keep writing. And in time, you'll get that first book published, even if it's an unexpected one. 


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