Self-published books are about as varied as you can imagine—and the top entries in the 18th Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards cover the gamut, from picture books about precocious chipmunks, to leadership lessons from long-dead war heroes, to practical guides on diabetes. But though all the books are different, their authors have a lot in common. The best are resolute and persistent. They are tenacious and confident. They have a durable will and an iron stick-to-itiveness. They are driven by a message, a story.
Weldon Long embodies these qualities—in his work and in his life. As a result, his memoir The Upside of Fear: How One Man Broke the Cycle of Prison, Poverty and Addiction beat out more than 1,800 books to take the grand prize in the competition.
After decades of drug use, crime and time in prison, Long turned his life around, creating a multimillion-dollar sales training business and building a deep connection with his family. Compelled by the loss of his father and inspired by wisdom gleaned from Stephen R. Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Long decided to share his intense story in a book of his own.
His path to publication has been similar to his new life: determined and bold. He completed the first draft about five years after his 2003 release from prison—in 30 days, averaging 2,000 words a day. And when it came time to publish, the independent route was his first choice.
“I wanted to be in control of my own publishing destiny,” he says. “I had no idea whether or not I could get an agent or a publisher—I still have neither—and I decided to spend the time writing instead of submitting letters to agents who didn’t want to be bothered.” Every step of the way, he sought out the best, from cover designs to promotion. For doing so, and delivering it all with a clear, distinct voice, he’ll be taking home $3,000 and other prizes from WD.
Long, 47, is now a motivational speaker and business owner who splits his time between Colorado and Maui. All told, his book has sold about 5,000 copies through speaking events, direct sales and boosts from television and radio interviews. He’s currently working on another book—one that he also plans to self-publish.
“The biggest mistake you can make is expecting others to make your dream happen,” he says.