The third Wednesday of each month, writer Jeff Bowles offers practical tips for improving, sharpening, and selling your writing. Welcome to your monthly discussion on Craft and Practice.
To Self-Publish or not to Self-Publish
I guess I’m a bit of a dreamer when it comes down to it. Head in the clouds much of the time, projecting myself right out of reality because, well, I take more comfort in worlds inside my mind than the world as it really is. I’ve always been that way, and it’s helped me enormously as a creative individual. Has it helped me much in life? That’s a conversation for another time. Or, you know, maybe never.
For me, the dream was always the most important thing, because I understood dreams become reality with startling frequency. I mean, that’s essentially what storytelling is, right? Making something whole, tangible, expressive, from nothing at all. It’s something I have to believe in order to do what I do. If I didn’t think anything and everything was possible, how could I convince you?
I like self-publishing. It’s a good speed for me. I made great efforts to publish short fiction in the traditional form for more than ten years, and I wouldn’t change anything about that time. But then I went off to earn an MFA in Creative Writing, and it slowly dawned on me that recognition, fans, and even money will only get you so far. If you’re dedicated to your craft, you can do it penniless. In no way does it make or break your enjoyment of the act of writing. In fact, achieving something like the ever-ubiquitous yet disappointing “best-seller” status often throws unsuspecting authors into a rut, one that can be difficult to climb out of. With success so comes stress and an urgent need to produce. I’m not good with stress, suffer from some anxiety and other mental health issues, and I somehow knew about myself that if I wanted to put my books out, I’d have to do it in a manner congruent with my everyday tolerance levels.
So when it came time to publish my first novel, I did it myself. I got the most amazing help from a friend of mine to render a cover and some gorgeous chapter-to-chapter artwork, I set the date, released it through Amazon, and then plugged it as best I could, also knowing I’m not a natural salesman. The truth is I would’ve made far more money if I’d snagged a traditional publisher. The truth also happens to be that I don’t care all that much either way, because I’m still the writer guy doing his writer thing, albeit at a somewhat reduced level.
I like controlling the whole process from beginning to end. The product I end up with, for better or worse, is all on me. The people who’ve read my first novel have enjoyed it immensely. Living the kind of life that’s cool and confident and down for lower-case “success”, simply because I’m not sure the upper-case kind is actually all that much fun, well it works for me right now. Maybe a few years down the line I’ll really push for the traditional publishing route. I’m not sure. What price success?
Given the choice, most writers would opt for more sales over fewer. I don’t think I’ve used the word “duh” since I was thirteen years old, but duh. The point is, you can write as much or as little as you want, and you can shoot for the stars or just keep your work on the down-low, but the real question is what fuels you? What keeps you satisfied? Is it money in the bank or pure creative expression? A happy mix of both? What do you want? What do you want? WHAT DO YOU WANT?!
If you’re working on a book or have recently completed one, first of all, congratulate yourself. You’ve done something most people on the planet want to do but never seem to get around to doing. Secondly, ask yourself the question in capital letters up in that last paragraph there. It’s harder to find sponsorship than to put it out yourself. That’s true no matter what you do, so consider it numero uno. Are you willing to risk rejection aplenty and month after month of waiting for an agent to reach out and tell you your work is magnificent (or abhorrent)? Or do you want to produce your book on the fly and handle all the publicity yourself later on? Know that for the vast majority of self-publishers, a hundred lifetime sales is considered superb. That’s a slow lunchtime minute in February for one of the major houses.
Work the traditional route, you’re likely to feel under-the-gun and underappreciated by your publisher. DIY it, and you’ll probably feel like you’re grinding your gears, working your butt off just to make a few lousy sales. Release your work through an established house, and perhaps struggle to earn out your advance and start bringing in those royalties. Put it out yourself, and claim your dividends immediately, meager though they may be.
See? Plusses and minuses for both. Nice work if you can get it, but look, your best bet is to keep producing and put your work out however you can, whenever you can. That’s the shotgun method, and it works. I know what’s been right for me in the past several years, but I also claim the right to change my mind someday. In the grand scheme of things, it’s all benefit and no loss. Just keep doing your thing, and if you get the opportunity to publish your work in a major way, absolutely go for it. If you can’t, however, or you simply would rather not, don’t sweat it, because magnificent career legacies have been built on less. Just don’t sell yourself short, and whatever you do, remain true to your vision and your goals.
Now for a little practical advice. You knew it had to be buried in here somewhere, right? If you’re in the market for an agent, find yourself a good searchable database like AgentQuery.com, or if you’re so inclined, think about picking up the 2020 edition of the Guide to Literary Agents, which many writers throughout the years have found great success with. Your manuscript must be in tip-top shape before you send it to anyone. I know that seems like common sense, but you’d be surprised how often people mess this up. Tip-top means thoroughly revised, edited, and proofread. If you can make it any better, you’re not done with it. Remember to remain professional and courteous, even when you get shot down. Especially when you get shot down.
On the flip-side of the publishing coin, the final state of your book is just as important in self-release, perhaps more so, because you won’t get an assigned editor to walk you through the process. If you can afford one, hire the services of an independent editor, and if you’re not super artistic, hire someone to do the cover and book layout, too. A lot of people, like yours truly, release their stuff through Amazon and call it good, but this is by no means your only option. Vanity publishing, independent print-on-demand, and independent ebook distributors all exist, though do your homework, because some are more attractive than others. Vanity publishing, by the way, try to eschew it if you can. I like Amazon because it’s one-stop shopping, and their KDP publishing system is easy to use, but your mileage may vary, and you may have bigger plans for your work than I’ve had for mine.
Regardless of how you publish, just remember it’s incredibly important to put out the best work you can. You want words you can feel proud of. In the end, your writing legacy is completely in your hands. That’s it for this post, everybody. I’ve got an overdue book to edit, and you’ve got more awesome Writing to Be Read articles to peruse. See ya next time.
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The Long-Term Effects of Rejection – No is Never the Final Answer
By Jeff Bowles
Every month, science fiction and horror writer Jeff Bowles offers advice to new and aspiring authors. Nobody ever said this writing thing would be easy. This is your pep talk.
To begin with, this article is written with the upstart in mind. The midnight worker, the weekend toiler, the writer who’s still slaving away in obscurity, penning story after story, unpublished novel after unpublished novel, and for whom the word ‘rejection’ has become a special kind of poison.
When I seriously started writing almost fifteen years ago–and by “seriously” I mean “cared enough to finish a single story and try to publish it”–I discovered pretty quickly that receiving rejections was almost as common as losing at a rigged carnival game. I couldn’t figure out why my writing wasn’t good enough, in what areas it was deficient, and to tell you the truth, it would be several years until such things were even remotely clear to me. Regardless, the absolute worst part of it all was receiving the rejections themselves, because I’m kind of a sensitive guy, and damn, they really tended to bruise the old ego.
Writers vary pretty wildly in how we respond to rejection. Some of us never seem fazed by it. Regardless of how often, how impersonal, and how heavy a solid “no” is, these guys seem to take it all in stride. I’ve never been able to tell if the impressive shrug of their shoulders is a put-on, but I do know one thing for certain: I cannot count myself amongst them. When I got rejections, I’d mope and whine and pout for hours or even days. Just ask my wife, who was my new girlfriend at the time. I’d turn into a real bear, and it was because it hurt so much. Like I said, sensitive guy. Plus, no one could get through to me about one very crucial thing: this is the way it’s supposed to be.
If you’re like me, and you tend to take rejection hard—or even if you’re not like me, and moving on to the next story submission is the easiest thing in the world—might I recommend a little tried and true advice. Accept your rejection phase as a given, and if you can go just one more country mile with me, learn to welcome it as a friend. Your rejection phase is helping to make you the writer you’ve always wanted to be. Your rejection phase is purifying your desire to write, and in so doing, allowing you to really decide if a writing career is what you want.
Because if it is, no amount of rejection will ever dissuade you. I thought I’d quit a million times. Now I realize there is no quit. No is never the final answer. And anyone who’s been publishing work for years and years will tell you rejection doesn’t end. Sure, you’re likely to receive less and less of it as you progress, but it’s not the kind of thing that disappears entirely. I know it hurts. Trust me, I’m with you on that one. But unless you plan on going all-indie, it really is a necessary part of your growth as a writer. Kind of a raw deal, I suppose. But then again, nobody ever climbs Mount Everest because it’s easy.
Now a brief word on indie publishing. A lot of older writers—and I don’t necessarily mean older in years, but rather older in experience level or maybe in their stance on traditional publishing—tend to believe that self-publishing inherently makes for worse writers. The idea being, of course, that without the resistance provided by steady rejection, a writer can never become all he or she is meant to become. I came up this way. I’d published dozens of times before I ever self-published on Amazon. The thing is, I don’t necessarily find it to be the case.
Sure, there is a lot of disposable material indie-published on the internet. And yes, I also believe adversity makes us better. But a writer can pick up all sorts of lessons and professional techniques in all sorts of different ways. Every time an indie author publishes something online and gets a few bad reviews, it’s not entirely unlike receiving a standard form rejection. In other words, the negative reinforcement can still become a positive.
All of this might lead someone to ask, what are the long-term effects of rejection? Well, this can go one of two ways. The majority of people who try their hand at writing will never even finish a single manuscript. Statistically, that is absolutely the case. Of those who finish, few will ever submit their work for publication. Now, those who do submit their work (or as the case may be, self-publish it) are likely to meet up with a little adversity. I’d say 90% of them will cut and run as soon as rejection gets too much to bear. But that remaining 10% will soldier on, and they’ll likely receive quite a bit more rejection in the months and years ahead. Is there a long-term legacy of rejection? Yes, there is, but it’s seldom a negative one. I think you’ll find one day that you treasure all those formal beat-downs you received.
Here’s what I would say. No matter how you ply your craft, regardless of whether you choose the path of the traditional publisher or the indie upstart, continuous work, practice, blood, sweat, and tears, are the only things that will make you better. Rejection is at times the name of the game, true enough, but it never has to be the final word on anything. Right?
Until next time, everybody!
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“This is available at the library, right?’ I get that question a lot.
You should know that I talk about my books. A lot. I get excited and that passion spills over whether I’m at a book signing or conversing with a coworker. Some people don’t want to buy books. They might not like the book, so they don’t want to invest in the purchase, or they don’t want to have books cluttering their homes. Whatever the reason, libraries are perfect.
If I’m asked locally, then I get to say yes, my books are available. Other places…well…not so much. That surprises people.
Here’s the thing about indie books. Libraries don’t normally stock them. They need a reason to purchase a copy. This could be because you’re a local author, because you did an event there, or because someone requested it.
The best way to help out an author is to ask your local library to purchase a copy. This is a sale for the author and exposure. People are going to borrow the book, read it, and talk about. There is no marketing tool as powerful as word of mouth.
Jordan Elizabeth is a young adult fantasy author. She’s often wandering libraries looking for something to spark her interest…or she’s squealing over a treasure discovered in a used book room. You can connect with her via her website.
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Everyone talks about how the rise of digital publishing has impacted the book industry and the effects it may have on authors. Some think these effects are good, while others view them as having a negative impact. It is true that digital publishing opened up opportunities for would be writers, making it so just about anyone can write and publish a book with no need to be discovered by an agent or publisher.
But, it is equally true that many brick and mortar bookstores have had to close their doors due to the competition from eBooks and the rapid growth and expansion of Amazon. And, it’s also true that because it is now so easy to publish a book and authors who publish independently are able to circumvent the traditional publishing gatekeepers, there are no gauruntees that the books we purchase will be of good quality writing. There is nothing in place to be sure the books we put out have been edited. So, it would seem that digital publishing had had both positive and negative effects, depending on which area of the business you work in.
One area of impact that many authors don’t realize or appreciate, is the fantastic promotional opportunities the digital era has supplied for us. Due to social media promotion and email, we are able to access direct communication with fans and followers that via means which weren’t available in the pre-digital era, and this is a great plus for us. We need to take advantage of these great opportunities and listen to our readers, when we’re fortunate enough to get a comment or a review. I try to respond back to every comment readers leave me, and check my reviews for new ones frequently. And yes, these days posted reviews can make or break a book’s success, influencing potential readers, so reviews do matter.
Today’s author doesn’t have a fan base of faceless readers. Today’s authors have the opportunity to make connections with their readers. Some authors have found ways to take advantage of this by gathering their followers together in Facebook groups or put together street teams who actively promote their writing or go out and get reviews for them.
I can see how beneficial these practices are, because I know how much time and energy I have to put into marketing and promotion. But even though I don’t harness my fanbase as a promotional asset, I still appreciate the chance to reach out and chat with my readers to find out what works for them and what doesn’t. And while I don’t have a gazillion reviews on Amazon or Goodreads, the ones I do have are good ones, making Delilah a four and a half star read. It’s all because of you, my readers. So, I can appreciate the impact that digital publishing has had in this area.
The negative impacts, the fading of brick and mortar bookstores, the increase in the number of poor quality books put out. They are still there and likely will be for time to come, although I’ve heard the trend for print books is rising again. Unless digital publishers implement some type of quality control system, or all authors act professionally and create quality writing that’s been edited before publication, a poorly written or unedited book is liable to pop-up here and there, being generally unavoidable.
I don’t have all the answers, and I can’t change trends that I feel are negatives on the industry, but I can appreciate the positives that digital publishing has brought with it. I like getting to know my readers. So, before I sign off on this post, I’d like to urge you to reach out and let me know who you are and what you like, or don’t like, about my writing. It only takes a moment to leave a comment, and I promise to respond to each and every one.
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Normally Fridays bring you book reviews on Writing to be Read, but as often happens, life got in the way last week and I don’t have a review ready today. So, I thought I’d take this opportunity to talk about the importance of reviews for today’s authors. You see a lot of hubbub on social media these days asking for reviews, and it’s one of the top goals for authors, in part because acquiring reviews has become one of the biggest difficulties today’s author faces. First, let’s look at how reviews can help authors, and then we’ll look at why they are so darn hard to get.
So, what’s all the fuss about? Why do author’s even need reviews? What good are they?
In the world of digital publishing, it’s not sales numbers that puts your book at the top of the best seller lists, but the buzz which surrounds it. Reviews drive books to the top, or not. But, even poor reviews are helpful to authors. I know that doesn’t sound right, but it’s true. Author and freelance writer DeAnna Knippling explains it well:
“Amazon’s algorithms are not human, do not have feelings, and don’t actually understand that you’ve just been torn in two by a critical review. What those algorithms see, as far as anyone can tell… is that someone read your book.
“In my opinion, indie writers should treat all stars as good stars. Total stars = success #1.
“Second, indie writers should worry about their average star rating. Higher average = success #2.
“Third, indie writers should worry about their average rating being too universally positive, an indication that reviews were either begged, borrowed or stolen. Variety of star ratings, (obviously heavier on the 4\5 ratings) = success #3.
“Forth, although maybe this should be higher, indie writers should be worried about reviewers going on to buy similar books to yours. If your book is bought and possibly liked by people who normally buy that kind of book, it will be shown more often to people who buy that kind of book. Also bought = success #4. ”
So, reviews not only boost your book up on the best seller lists, but they also direct the audience who views it, which theoretically, can boost your sales. That’s why I post my reviews, or at least a portion of them, on both Amazon and Goodreads. Amazon doesn’t always allow my reviews to stand because I’m not a verified sale. (I do my reviews in exchange for ARC copies.) However, Goodreads even allows me to include a link back to the original review here on Writing to be Read. If an author requests it, I will also post their review on Smashwords, B&N, or any other site that carries their book, if I’m able. After all, the reason I do what I do is to help out my fellow authors. The rules placed by the different sites on who can post a review and what can be posted can be daunting, but they can be worked around.
Something else I have run into is getting people to download my book, even when it’s free. I offer a free ebook of my paranormal mystery, Hidden Secrets, when you sign up for my monthly newsletter. I’m getting people to sign up, but for reasons I don’t understand, not many are claiming their freebie. I’m not sure why this is, but I know other authors who have experienced the same thing. If you can’t get people to read your book for free, how do you expect to get them to pay for it? And then, if you do get them to read the book, how do you get them to take the time to go back and leave a review?
To find out what problems other authors have in acquiring reviews for their books and learning what works, I did an informal poll of authors that I know, and here is what I found out:
Jordan Elizabeth: Getting reviews is hard. I don’t think I’ve only had 1 or 2 people ever leave a review after purchasing. I’ve tried blog tours, but haven’t had good luck. The best way for me is to seek out blogs and send a personal email.
Tom Johnson: It’s hard to get reviews. I sell a lot of books, but few receive reviews. Readers just don’t want to write them. The easiest way is to sign up for a Blog Tour (there are many tours available, but they charge). However, you will get reviews on the Tour. I review books, and would be interested in reading the first Oracle novel.
Amy Cecil: I have my own personal ARC TEAM, that starts the reviews when a book releases, then I have bloggers and the rest trickle in.
1) ask friends and people you have been in contact with lately and kindly ask them if they would read and review your novel.
2) engage with possible audience in social media and ask them for reviews in exchange for free giveaways.
3) contact students and people who are new in the area and ask if they would be willing to do it.
4) I have been advised and therefore passing it on “never buy reviews” – readers do know it’s fake news lol.
5) last but not least, patiently wait for surprises and if they do not come, keep no worries Shakespeare had no reviews as all the other masters (lol).
There doesn’t seem to be any clear cut answers. I can remember when the only people who wrote reviews were columnist, who wrote for the newspapers and magazines, and that’s the only place that you found them. But the industry is changing and now days customers want to hear from customers who bought before them before they buy, so that’s who writes, or doesn’t write reviews, and they appear on every book distribution site where they are available.
Although it sounds as if Amy Cecil might have something going with her ARC TEAM, many authors struggle as much to get reviews as they do to make sales. I don’t see anything wrong with simply requesting folks to read your book and write a review, but it appears this methods lends only minimal results. There are reviewers such as myself out there, but finding them isn’t always easy,
Something I’ve seen in recent ebooks I’ve read is an appeal to the reader at the end of the book, asking them to write a quick review before putting the book down for another. It seems to me that this reminder is strategically placed to catch the reader’s eye just as they finish the story, requesting the review while the tale is still fresh in their minds. It might just work.
As authors, we should be reading as a part of our pre-writing preparations, saturating our brains with whatever genre we plan to write in, as well as factual research for nonfiction or historical works. As authors, we also know that reviews truly are important, so take the time to write a review for every book you read. It may take me a while to get my reviews posted on sites in addition to my blog, but I do eventually get them there. Reviews don’t have to take long to write. A couple of sentences and a star rating will do. But write the review.
Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs at no charge. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.
As I mentioned in last week’s post, An Adventure in Book Marketing, I will be sitting as a panelist at Western’s Alumni Roundtable at the Writing the Rockies Conference in July. There I said that was my next experiment in marketing, but to be honest, although copies of Delilah will be available at the book fair, run by Crested Butte’s Townie Books, I’m not expecting my sales to suddenly shoot up off the charts. Writing conferences, as a general rule, are not places where you sell a lot of books, but I’m exciting to be going and representing Westerns M.F.A. in Creative Writing program, (I’m actually representing both of my concentrations, screenwriting and genre fiction), for other reasons. What writing conferences are generally good for is making connections within the writing community, and Writing the Rockies is no exception. It seems Western, or maybe even the Gunnison Valley is especially prolific in this area, because you begin to feel yourself being pulled in to fantastic world of writing and publishing as soon as you step onto the Western campus. And the connections I’ve made at Western and at the conference have been very useful to me in some unexpected and surprising ways. Never have I attended this conference without coming away with some valuable new connections, some of which have turned into long lasting friendships, as well.
This year, it looks like they’ve got a great line-up, including fantastic opera workshop performance of Lottie Silks, with music by Jay Parrotta and libretto by Western Poetry and Genre Fiction student Enid Holden, directed by Ben Makino and Andrew Sellon, to go along with their infamous and very intense poetry symposium. They also have some not to miss Keynote speakers lined –up: Mark Todd, author and founder of Western State’s M.F.A. in Creative Writing Program, for the conference Keynote; award winning poets Ned Balbo and Jane Satterfield for the poetry Keynote; Kevin J. Anderson, author of over 140 novels, publisher at WordFire Press and a member of Western’s M.F.A. program staff for the publishing Keynote; Patrick Pexton, former ombudsman for the Washington Post for the creative nonfiction Keynote; and Emmy Award winning screenwriter, John Bowman for the screenwriting Keynote; and Michaella Roessner, published author and M.F.A. program faculty for the genre fiction Keynote. Other presenters in the publishing track include Darrin Pratt, Editor of the University of Colorado Press and immediate past president of the Association of American University Presses, D.H. Tracy, Editor of Antilever Press, and others.
In addition to their always informative workshops, sessions and panels, pitch sessions and manuscript critiques are available, their annual hike above Crested Butte will take place, three day intensive workshops, and full day seminars. Special presentations of Comedy is Hard, by Mike Reiss, directed by William Spicer; and Multitudes: An Evening with Walt Whitman by Kim Nuzzo and Valerie Haugen Nuzzo. Film screenings including How Murray Saved Christmas, by Mike Reiss and the highlights from the Crested Butte Film Festival with festival co-director, Michael Brody will also be available.
As you can see, Writing the Rockies is a conference promises something for everyone. I’m excited to be a part of it and I hope you will join us. This is the 19th year running for this wonderful conference and it grows with each passing year. This year the conference will run from Wednesday, July 18th through Sunday, July 22nd. The cost is $300 for the entire five day event if you register before July 1, and $350 after that date. The good news is, although the conference is fully open to the public, every student of Western’s M.F.A. Program in Creative Writing goes as a part of the curriculum, and there are scholarships available for alumni, K12 educators, and Gunnison Valley residents, as well as anyone else who wishes to apply. You can sign up for the 2018 Writing the Rockies Conference or apply for scholarship here:
For more information contact:
David J. Rothman, Conference Director / 970-943-2058 / firstname.lastname@example.org
Mark Todd, Conference Coordinator / 970-943-2016 / email@example.com
Michelle Wilk, Office Support Coordinator / 970-943-2163 / firstname.lastname@example.org
On a similar note, Western State Colorado University still has a few spots open for their low-residency M.F.A. in Creative Writing Program, which begins in July. If you have an undergraduate degree and you’re interested in persuing a career in writing genre fiction, poetry or screenplays or a career in publishing, their program may be just what you’re looking for. Low-residency means you must attend physical class on campus for two weeks each summer and the rest of the courses are online. (Remember, if you’re in the program, you get to attend the Writing the Rockies Conference as a part of the curriculum.) Their faculty consists of successful published authors, successful screenwriters, and distinguished poets. Looking at the successes of myself and my fellow alumni, I have to say they offer useful skills and knowledge that can be applied in the writing industry.
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