Craft and Practice with Jeff Bowles – To Self-Publish or not to Self-Publish

Jeff

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.


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative short stories are collected in Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, Nashville Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, is available on Amazon now!

GB Cover

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“How to Become a Published Author”: Every authors reference to publication

how to become a published author

How to Become a Published Author: Idea to Publication by Mark Shaw is filled with information useful to authors in all stages of the publishing process. Although it’s aimed at aspiring authors trying to break into publishing, as a published author with an M.F.A., it gave me ideas and techniques to consider, as well. Shaw deals with the publication of fiction and poetry, as well as nonfiction. He touches on self-publishing as well as getting a foot in the door with traditional publishers, and offers a wealth of good reference materials.

Mark Shaw is a best selling nonfiction author, yet unschooled in the craft. He made his way into the traditional publishing world through the oldest method known to authors: good writing. And he practices what he preaches. Every book I’ve ever read by Mark Shaw has been well written, drawing readers in as his stories unravel in masterfully crafted ways which keep readers entranced to the end and make them think long after putting the book down. How to Become a Published Author is no exception, with the valuable information contained within presented in a clear and concise format that is easy to reference.

In this book Shaw walks us through the process for getting your books published, step-by-step. Sharing from his own experiences in traversing the pathways to publishing, using his own books and books of others as examples to illustrate his message, providing useful reference materials and links. This book covers practicle steps to becoming published from outlining in the pre-writing stage, all the way through to query letters and book proposals for those who aspire to be traditionally published. It offers marketing tips and advice useful to all authors, since promotion is a role which now falls on the shoulders of authors in many cases of both traditionally and independently published authors.

Much of Shaw’s advise could have come straight out of my M.F.A. in Creative Writing program, but he also offered suggestions for nonfiction publishing that wasn’t emphasized, or wasn’t offered through my program. It was helpful in getting me focused as I prepare to write memoir.

In How to Become a Published Author, Mark Shaw speaks from experience, delivering well founded advice on how to get your book published for authors in every stage of their writing careers. I give it five quills.

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Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.


Writing the Rockies through the years

WtR for real

Every event we take part in touches us in some way, helping to shape us into who we are. Our experiences change us, sometimes in small ways, and sometimes in more drastic ways. We live, we learn, we transform, and always there is movement and growth. Certainly, the 2018 Writing the Rockies Conference was one such inspirational event, although there were so many offerings, it would be impossible for me to touch on them all. The offerings which I did get to attend were very informative and inspirational.

WtR2018.DavidWelcomeDuring the welcome reception, the program director, Dr. David Rothman, talked about what it is that makes the Writing the Rockies Conference stand out among other writing conferences. Certainly, the fact that it leans heavily toward the academic aspects of writing should be counted toward the top of the list. Not that the writings explored are all academic in nature, but the intention is to educate us in how to tap our inner creativity and allow it to flow out onto the page. And every year that I have attended the conference, like everything else in life, it changes and grows.

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The Writing the Rockies Conference has expanded considerably since I first attended in 2012, and has even grown some since I last attended in 2016.In addition to the great panels and single day workshops, and their outstanding poetry symposium, which are offered every year, the 2018 line-up included an opera performance and workshop, three-day intensive workshops and seminars in all five concentrations, (creative nonfiction, genre fiction, poetry, screenwriting and publishing), which are available for an additional fee. And as usual, there were opportunities to sign up for pitch sessions and manuscript critiques, and social events such as Coffee with the Pros, where you have the chance to chat with professionals from the industry, both student and professional readings, as well as open mic events and a full day’s schedule of nature hikes in the Gunnison Valley, (one more thing which makes this Conference unique). While attending, there were also opportunities to attend a special presentation of Comedy is Hard by Mike Reiss and a one man play, Multitudes: An Evening with Walt Whitman by Kim Nuzzo, both public performances which coincided with Conference dates.

WtR2018.MarkKeynoteIn his Keynote, author, poet and educator, Mark Todd discussed Writing From the Edge of Nowhere, and why so many writers sprout from Colorado or are drawn to Colorado as a backdrop. Certainly, the breath taking scenery attracts the attention of writers and many have tried to capture the beauty of the Colorado landscape with their words. There are some who haven’t done a bad job of it. As a native Colorado author who made historic Colorado my setting in Delilah, I can tell you that the love for the landscape draws you and for westerns, the landscape plays a big part.

The publishing panel, moderated by Kevin J. Anderson, who has been traditionally published for many years and has founded his own WordFire Press with his wife Rebecca, was enlightening for me. As I’d been wondering if my own publisher was being fair with me. I learned what you should be able to expect from a small press publisher, and found that although perhaps my communication with my own publisher could be better, they are probably giving me a pretty fair deal in today’s market. Their panel also made me reconsider my own plans for publishing The Great Primordial Battle, which is book 1 of my Playground for the Gods science fantasy series. It’s been sitting on the virtual shelf after many rejections, and I was planning to self-publish it when it comes back from my beta reader, but now I’m thinking perhaps I should give traditional publishing one more shot before I go that route.

WtR2018.Panel

I had the honor of sitting on the alumni panel for Western’s Graduate Program for Creative Writing, which offered the chance for panel members to toot their own horns about their individual successes and tout praises for the M.F.A. in Creative Writing program. On the panel with me were my fellow alumni, Chris Barili, Susan Spear and moderator, Steve Visel.

Although I did not purchase a meal card, I heard high praise for the conference cuisine, well worth the additional charge. The welcome dinner and ceremonies, featured delectable appetizers, a main course of stuffed peppers or mushroom chicken and all the accompaniments, and mouth-watering fruit pies for desert. All was well prepared and attractively presented by Western State Colorado College.

The one thing I was disappointed with was that I didn’t get to do the book signing I had anticipated due to scheduling conflicts. But at Writing the Rockies they are always looking for ways to improve their program, so I can always hope that next year things will be scheduled better. Over all it was a great conference and I look forward to watching it grow and develop in the future.


Interview with author Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture

Today I have the pleasure of interviewing an old hand in the writing and publishing business, author Tom Johnson. Tom has written stories from a young age. He has been publishing his writing for more than twenty-two years and has over eighty books in publication. He grew up reading comic books and pulp fiction, becoming a collector in adulthood and his stories reflect the fascination that those books held for him. He has also written numerous nonfiction books and is currently involved in writing children’s stories. Please help me welcome Tom Johnson.

Kaye: Hi Tom. Although in the past, you’ve written and published many different genres, you are currently writing only children’s stories. So, let’s talk about that. Tell me a little about your stories.

Tom: My children stories are about 1k and meant as bedtime tales, and to be read in classroom or library settings. They are short stories with little morals to teach children something about life.

Kaye: Are they a series or stand alone?

Tom: They are a series, and published in anthologies about once a year. There have been four anthologies so far. I was invited to participate beginning in volume  #3. The anthology is called Wire Dog Storybook. Here is the background. True story. A young girl, Ellen Walters, asked her father, David Walters, if she could have a dog, and he said, “No.” So she found an old wire hanger and shaped it to resemble a dog, and called it wire dog. David Walters was fascinated by her ingenuity and created the Wire Dog Storybooks. So the stories usually feature Ellen and Wire Dog, but always Wire Dog. Five of my stories have been published so far, and I’ve written three more for the 2018 yearbook when it comes out at the end of the year.

Kaye: What age group are they aimed at?

Tom: I feel that we should begin reading to our children by age one. With that in mind, my stories are aimed at the age group of 1 to 5. However, older children will enjoy the stories, as do adults.

To get a better idea of what Tom’s children’s stories are like, you can get a free copy of one here. They are short and can be read in only a few minutes.: Wire Dog Has An Ugly Mood Day Or The House of 1000 Mirrors https://wiredogstories.com/2016/01/19/story-40-wire-dog-has-an-ugly-mood-day/

Kaye: What differences do you see between writing for children and writing adult fiction?

Tom: Adult fiction usually means, “no holds barred”, while writing children stories you want to stay away from violence, horror, and adult themes. Keep in mind, young children absorb what they hear quickly, and some themes could have an adverse effect on young minds. When writing for children we must keep this in mind.

Kaye: What appeals to you about writing for children?

Tom: Do you remember the old radio show for kids, Let’s Pretend ? It produced shows for children that acted out fairy tales and light adventures – nothing as harsh as today’s cartoons that are aimed at our youth. Well, I have the chance to import my love for adventure in tales easily understood by young people; children who some day may also experience that same love to pass on to their children. Stories that give our children a moral to live by, not “It’s clobbering time!” Or Pow! Bang! Boom! It’s something my mother did for me when I was little, and now I have the same opportunity, and I’m not going to pass it up.

You can get the Wire Dog books here:

Wire Dog Storybook #3 http://www.lulu.com/shop/david-clyde-walters/wire-dog-storybook-3-in-full-color/paperback/product-22554849.html

Wire Dog Storybook #4 http://www.lulu.com/shop/david-clyde-walters/wire-dog-storybook-4-in-color/paperback/product-23424745.html

Kaye: You have wanted to write for children since you were little and your mother used to read to you.

Tom: Oh, yes. I hope that mothers are still reading to their children. They learn at such a young age, and we’re missing an opportunity if we fail them when they’re young. They will never forget what they learn as children, it’s when their minds are growing and grasping at everything. I think one of the first words they learn is, “Why?”

Kaye: What were your favorite children’s stories?

Tom: Really, I would have to look them up in the book of fairy tales on my shelf. There were so many she read to me. Knights saving young damsels come to mind. I remember one particular fairy tale where the princess was on a glass mountain, and the young knight had to save her. She watched each day as a knight riding brown horse attempts to scale the glass mountain, then a knight on a white horse, and so on, until the final day when a knight riding a great steed scales the mountain, and we find out that he was the knight on the brown horse, the white horse, etc. It wasn’t the color of the horse, but the persistence of the knight that finally achieved the goal.

Kaye: In what ways do the stories you write emulate those favorites from your childhood?

Tom: Like the fairy tale I mentioned above, my stories will also have a similar moral – it’s not the color of the horse, or the knight’s armor, but his persistence that wins the hand of the princess. Do the right thing, for the right reason. Persevere. If you don’t succeed today, try and try again.

Kaye: You have written since you were a young man, for fifty some years, and you had your own small press for many years. Always, your life seems to have writing at the center of it. Looking back on your life, what does writing mean to you?

Tom: I think writing was always an escape to other worlds, other realms, and other dimensions. We could be anyone we wanted, go anywhere we wished, and experience great adventures. We create those worlds and people we want in them, and our heroes and heroines are who we want to be, or the friends we want beside us. We choose those things that mean the most to us. Whether we’re a cowboy or cowgirl, Conan or Xena, we bring the characters to life. That’s what writing means to me, to give life to my characters.

Kaye: How do you see the rise of digital publishing affecting authors of today?

Tom: Publishing has never been easier. When we were publishing the small press magazines, it was hands on. We did every aspect of the business, from reading, approving or rejecting, editing, set up and printing, then mailing to subscribers and bookstores that carried our magazines. Today we have Lulu and Amazon for all that. We just write, they publish. Anyone can be a writer or publisher now.

These Alien SkiesKaye: What is the strangest inspiration for a story you’ve ever had?

Tom: I had a dream one night. A young boy was in the woods dying when a strange being found him and comforted him as he passed. The strange being was an alien and I saw the saucer-shaped craft behind him. When I woke the dream stayed with me. Did the alien kill the boy? Why was the alien there? What was the boy doing in the woods? It wouldn’t let go of me. I wrote What Goes There from that dream. The boy was dying from snakebite and the alien took his pain from him so he could pass more easily. Then I made a mystery with the plot. The story is part of my book, These Alien Skies.

Kaye: Is there anything unique or unusual about your writing process?

Tom: When I write, I don’t want to be disturbed. No music, no background noise at all. My work computer is in my bedroom. I close my door from all outside communication, telephone, wife, neighbors, etc. I have to be alone when I write.

Kaye: You’ve written over eighty books in many different genres over the course of your career. Which of your books would you say are your favorites? Why?

Guns of the Black GhostTom: If we’re speaking of my fiction stories I would probably say my favorite is Guns of The Black Ghost, as it is my homage to Walter Gibson and his character The Shadow (remember him). The Shadow was one of my favorite radio dramas as a kid, and I met the creator of the character, Walter Gibson, in the mid-1970s and we were friends until his passing. I always wanted to write a Shadow novel, but copyright protection kept me from it, thus my own character, The Black Ghost came into being.

However, my non-fiction research books are probably my best sellers. I’ve written over half a dozen of them. A lot of work went into them. A lot of reading and studying, and I think it paid off, as fans have all bought the huge books for the data. These are books that don’t get thrown away, but have a special place on their bookshelves.

Kaye: So, tell us a little about your nofiction books. What is the subject matter and how did you come to write them?

Tom: As a pulp collector it was natural for me to become a historian. I had completed runs in many of the lead characters, thus had the opportunity to study the novels for research, identifying authors, plots, etc. At the time I was writing fiction and Introductions for ALTUS PRESS books, and the publisher wanted my research put into books. Some of those series were Secret Agent X Companion, Operator #5 Companion (History of The Purple Wars), The Phantom Detective Companion, The Black Bat Companion, Dan Fowler’s G-Men Companion, and Echoes 30. Several ran for twenty years, and 171 issues. Some not so long, but just as popular to the fan and collectors today. There may be others, my mind is slipping, but these were the big volumes. They covered the complete pulp series of each title. Echoes 30 covered conventions, pulp books, authors, artists, and publishers. All are in demand and have been good sellers.

 

Kaye: Are you a plotter or a pantser? Why?

Tom: I’m a pantser. I never could understand why you needed to write a fifty-page plot outline, just write the darn book. Once the words start flowing you don’t want them to stop. And they will, if you’re outlining.

Kaye: What do you think is the single most important element in a story?

Tom: Characterization. Make your characters come alive. You want readers to connect to them, feel for them, and be drawn to them. The plot will work itself out, but if your characters aren’t real I don’t care how much of a plot you have, it will bomb.

Kaye: If writing suddenly made you rich and famous, what would you do?

Tom: I don’t know that I would want to be rich and famous. What would be next? I want to always be reaching, always trying to entertain. If I set my goal for rich and famous I might forget about the entertainment and pleasure we get from writing. If I entertain one person, then I am already rich. Besides, we already have money, and fame is fleeting at best.

Kaye: What’s the best piece of advice you were ever given?

Tom: Write what you know. I’ve read a lot of books where the author is writing about something s/he knows nothing about, and it shows. I know information is at the tip of one’s fingers today, but if you haven’t truly experienced something you will come off as unbelievable if you try to write about the subject.

I want to thank Tom for joining us today on Writing to be Read and offering up some really great answers to my questions. I have really enjoyed having him. If you’d like to learn more about Tom Johnson or his books you can check out his website or his Amazon Author Page.

 

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Interview with author DeAnna Knippling

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This week, I’m interviewing Colorado freelance writer, editor, author and book designer, DeAnna Knippling. I first met DeAnna through the Pike’s Peak Writers when I was still serving as the Southern Colorado Literature Examiner. What struck me about her was her enthusiasm and willingness to help where ever she can. She treats her writing as a business and goes at it with a high degree of professionalism, yet she is personable and willing to share what she’s learned from her own writing experiences.

DeAnna Knippling writes science fiction, fantasy, horror, crime, and mystery for adults under her own name; adventurous and weird fiction for middle-grade (8-12 year old) kids under the pseudonym De Kenyon; and various thriller and suspense fiction for her ghostwriting clients under various and non-disclosable names. Her latest book, Alice’s Adventures in Underland:  The Queen of Stilled Hearts, combines two of her favorite topics–zombies and Lewis Carroll.  It’s the story of a tame zombie who told a little girl named Alice a story that got them both in more trouble than they could handle. Her short fiction has appeared in Black Static, Penumbra, Crossed Genres, Three-Lobed Burning Eye, and more.

Kaye: You created Wonderland Press to get your books out there. What all is involved in creating a press for your work and what are the advantages of doing so? I mean, why would an author do this rather than just throwing their book out on Amazon or Smashwords?

DeAnna: This isn’t one of the fun answers.  It’s stupid easy to make a “press.”  It involves no special equipment.  You look online, make sure nobody else has one of that name in your state, register a business name with your state or county (look up, “How to register a business name in [name of state]”), and Bob’s your uncle.  You might want to get more complex with an LLC or something–but I recommend leaving that for later, unless you already have experience doing that.  I am, of course not a lawyer and can’t give legal advice.  When you want to start looking at an LLC or corporation, I believe, is when you start having to worry about taxes and tax brackets.

I set up my press, “Wonderland Press,” because some publishing sites back in the day didn’t want you to publish books under multiple pen names under the same account without having a publisher name.  Then I realized that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with multiple blogs for my pen names, and moved the names to the same website (for now).  However, things are changing, and I may need to move back to multiple websites, mailing lists, etc.  The thing about business is that everything changes based on the scale of what you’re doing and how much time has passed since you set things up.  It seems like it’s more important to stick to a couple of core principles (bring customers back to a location you can control rather than social media–that kind of thing) and stay flexible in the details than it is to get wrapped up in questions like, “Should I set up a small press?”
Kaye: A lot of your books don’t fit neatly into a genre category or subcategory. How do you describe your books?
DeAnna: I’ve struggled with genre categories since I started publishing.  Part of the reason for that is that my subconscious loves to smash incongruous things together.  For example, I love puns and double entendres–two ways of seeing meaning at the same time–and I love stories that are really two things that don’t really go together being put together (like cowboys in space–Firefly).  The kinds of stories that I tend to write are kind of the opposite of sitting firmly within a genre and therefore being easy to describe.
I’m both looking into ways to get around this (by sneaking more solidly into genres) and finding out what parts of my genres I’m missing out on.  I recently finished up what I call “my cheesy ’80s genre novel.”  When I did the research to try to find out where to put it, I found that…it actually fits pretty solidly into the current Occult subgenre of Horror.  I keep trying to tell myself there’s nothing wrong with writing what feels cheesy (I certainly read it), but sometimes it takes a while for me to learn the obvious.
To actually answer your question?  Since I can’t copy my competitors, I describe my books by putting on the silliest movie announcer voice I can come up with and reading the blurbs out loud.  The more mock-serious the better.  Somehow it works.
Kaye: What’s the most fun part of writing a novel or a story? What’s the least fun part?
DeAnna: Most fun:  The fun parts. Least fun:  The parts that stick the fun parts together.
I get really bored at the least fun parts.  I think that’s where the books I write start getting weird.  If I plan a book, then I plan something at least a little bit more genre-specific than what actually comes out.  But then I get bored and jump the tracks.  I feel like writing a book is a process of going “Ooooh, shiny” over and over until I step into the circle of rope hidden under the leaves in the jungle, and the ending jerks me upside down into the air.
I wish it were that quick to write the end–it’s the slowest part of the book for me as I wrap up all the shinies that I’ve picked up throughout the plot–but that’s what it feels like.
Kaye: If your writing suddenly made you rich and famous, what would you do?
DeAnna: More of the same.  My major goal in life is to allow my wonderful spouse to become a pool boy at our eccentric castle in the mountains.  Travel more.  At least, I say those things.  Probably I’d still just begrudge the time I wasn’t reading or writing.  I’d go to exotic locations and just read a book.
Kaye: Why do you think some writers sell well, and others don’t?
DeAnna: Probably that stuff I mentioned about genre.  A lot of writers will look at a successful writer’s book and go, “What a terrible writer!  Why do they sell?!?”
But here’s my experience (based on ghostwriting so much):
The stuff that I’m forced to write to genre by my clients sells a lot better than the stuff I write for myself.
Granted, you still need to know what you’re doing.  But writing a book isn’t just about pretty sentences–it’s about making the constant readers happy, feeding their addictions.  The answer to why some books are massive successes when others aren’t is often, “Because they can see the forest for the trees–and you can’t.”  Cold but true.
Kaye: Any advice for upcoming authors who are trying to get a foot in the door?

DeAnna: Just keep working.  Everybody’s in a hurry to succeed.  Success!  Millions!  Riches!  Fame! But, in the end, it comes back to the basics.  Did you read?  Did you write?  Did you learn something?  Did you talk to other people in the writing community?

“A foot in the door” is just the feeling that the universe owes you something, or that you can sneak something past somebody.  “How do I cut in line past the people who have been working their asses off for years?” And the only answers are:  Write a good story, network, value your readers, don’t be stupid about genre, work your ass off, don’t fail on purpose.  That last one is pretty significant.  I’ve seen a lot of people give up or just put things off until they’re “ready.”  The hell with waiting for “ready.”  If you’re going to do that, you’ve already failed, because this is a bootstrap industry–nobody gets the magic green light.  Even people who are going traditional start out by hustling for publishers and agents.  Make someone else tell you no.  Make them tell you no a lot.
I want to thank DeAnna for joining us here on Writing to be Read, and for sharing her knowledge with us. If you’d like to learn more about Deanna or her books, her website and blog are at www.WonderlandPress.com.  You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.

 

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How Do You Measure Success?

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There are many measures of success, especially in writing. Readers may look at whether or not an author has made any of the best seller lists. Authors may look at the number of books published, or number of sales, or even positive reviews. For rising authors, who are trying to get a foot in the door, like me, finding a publisher willing to publish even one of your books may be all that is required to consider yourself a successful. That’s where I’m at right now, as I just signed a contract for my western novel Delilah. But the point is, that success is subjective and there are many different levels involved.

You can see what I mean. My little contract for Delilah wouldn’t be a big deal for someone like Stephen King or Anne Rice, who sell books faster than they can write them, but for little old me, it’s a very big deal, even though it isn’t with one of the big five major publishers and there is no advance that comes with it. Although those things would be nice, signing with my small independent publisher, Dusty Saddles, makes me feel plenty successful.

What’s great too, is that it doesn’t end there, because of those different levels I was talking about. Sure, I feel successful now, with book contract in hand. But, I also have a feeling of success when I check my blog stats and discover that my readers are increasing. I feel it every time one of my poems, or short stories is published. I felt it when I earned my M.F.A. in Creative Writing. I’ve no doubt I’ll feel it again if Delilah starts selling copies and I find people are reading it, or when the next book contract comes along, or if I sell a screenplay.

Success is what we, as writers, all strive for, although your definition of success may be just finishing the book. That was my definition while I was earning my M.F.A. in Creative Writing, but after completing two novels, working on both simultaneously, I know I can finish a book, so I’ve moved on to the next challenge. Selling the book, and now it looks like I have achieved that success, as well.

But we have to be careful not to want that success so bad that we allow ourselves to be taken. There are a lot of scammers out there, who will try to steal your book right out from under you. Although I was excited about being offered a contract, I didn’t just jump into heart first, but used my head and went over it with a magnifying glass, being on the look out for all the fine print. I questioned different clauses and negotiated on any that didn’t serve my best interests, until the publisher and I came to an agreement that was fair and served both our interests. Although having a knowledgeable attorney or agent look over all contracts is always recommended, as a striving artist, I had no access to that type of professionals, but I did have someone knowledgeable in the business look it over. He confirmed that I was reading it correctly and helped my identify a couple of problems with it. Fortunately, none of them were deal breakers and the publisher was willing to be flexible.

Now, I’m ready to embark on a new publishing adventure and looking forward to in anticipation. Signing the contract holds a certain level of success for me, but the next level of success may be just over the hill, so I must press forward. My readers can help by buying the book, because the ultimate goal for me is for people to read what I write, (and the money from the book sales will be nice, too). Of course, I’ll keep you updated as to when it will be out. After all, I strive to create Writing to be Read.

How do you measure your success?

 

Want to know more about Delilah? Visit my Delilah Facebook Page

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Digital vs. Print Books

Digital vs. Paper Books

I recently read an article by Zoe Wood in The Guardian, which states that print book sales are on the rise, and may be making a comeback. I, for one, welcomed this news with open arms. For me, there is nothing like kicking back with a good paper book in my hands. I can get comfy with my Kindle Fire, but it’s just not the same. And I don’t know that I can explain exactly why that is, but it is.

When I first began doing reviews, back in 2010, as the Southern Colorado Literature Examiner, my ARCs all came via snail mail, in print form. Now days, an author can have an ARC to you in a matter of minutes, because they all send digital copies, and everyone publishes in digital format. Some authors also put out print editions, but it’s too easy to get a digital copy to the reviewer for them to want to give away the print ones.

Since my review books are now arriving via e-mail, I adapted by first getting an e-reader app. for my computer, which wasn’t always convenient, but got me by. Then, I won a Kindle Fire in a giveaway on Author Market, (where I now offer my editing and proofreading services for very reasonable prices). With the Fire, my review reading became much easier, because the Fire is small enough that I can carry it with me, so I can pick it up and read whenever I get a free minute.

But, it’s still not a print book. I can’t help but miss the physical act of turning the pages one by one as I advance through the story, the anticipation as the pages left get thinner and thinner. For me, there is something comforting in that small act. My Fire has a feature that makes it look like a physical page is turning, trying to simulate it, so I must not be the only one who misses it. I know I get downright excited when I agree to review a book and the author asks for my street address instead of my email.

Gaby Wood talks about the differences in the way we read with the rise of digital publishing in her article in the The Telegraph. There’s no getting around it. Reading a digital book is not the same as reading a print book, and it never will be. However, we are a resilient bunch, and I have no doubt that we will adapt to the changes that are thrown our way where our reading material is concerned. Already, a new format is gaining popularity in the form of audio books. They aren’t new, but they are rising in popularity, so who’s to say they won’t be the next rising trend?

 

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Image Credit: The Awkward Yeti. theawkwardyeti.com


Ah! Sweet Rejection

rejected

Last week, I received a rejection letter for Delilah from a publishing house I submitted to back in October. Although I know it sounds odd, I was elated. “Why?” you may be asking, and with good reason. Rejections are not something writers are usually pleased about. In fact, just the opposite. But I was pleased with this rejection letter for one reason. It was not a form letter. In fact, the editor took the time not only to read the sample I submitted, but to give me constructive criticism and suggestions as to how the manuscript might be improved.

As a graduate student, my professors drilled the idea into our heads that a personal rejection letter, means your manuscript made it past the slush pile and actually received some attention from the editor. It was good enough that they actually read what you sent. And a rejection letter with personal feedback is even better, because then you don’t have to wonder why they rejected your work, and you can strive to fix anything that needs fixing before sending it out again.

Writing Process 2

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My rejection letter was personal, rather than form, and it offered feedback. How sweet is that? I mean, I’m not happy the book was rejected, but I am happy that somebody read at least part of it, in this case, the first fifty pages. My reaction to this rejection is to study the personal feedback and then really look at the manuscript to determine the validity of the comments. Then revise and resubmit to the next publisher on my list for Delilah.

 

For those not familiar with me or my writing, Delilah is my 60,000 word western novel about a strong willed young woman, who served two years in the Colorado Territorial Prison, in the late 1880s. Delilah thought that time had hardened her against the cruelties of the world, but she wasn’t prepared for the trip back home and the hardships of the Colorado frontier. She heads to her home in San Luis, with sixteen year old, Sarah. An encounter with two outlaws, who take the girl captive, sets Delilah on a journey into the high country of Colorado mining towns. Along the way she faces wild animals, outlaws and Indians, makes colorful friends, and learns to love again. Delilah is a novel with the true flavor of the Colorado frontier.

A while back, I also had a hybrid publisher, who expressed interest, but wanted me to provide other western authors that would be interested in publishing with them. (To get a better idea of what I’m talking about when I say hybrid publishing, see my article, Hybrid Publishers – What are they all about?). I posted in a few places on Facebook, but did not come up with any other interested authors.

So, this is actually the second personal, (non-form) letter that I’ve received on Delilah. Of course, it would have been better if I had received an acceptance letter, but I believe in myself, I believe in my writing, and I know that one day, that acceptance letter will come. And, if not, I am not beyond the idea of publishing her myself, because I know she is that good.

To learn more about and read updates on Delilah, go to my Delilah Facebook page.

 

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Pros and Cons of Traditional vs. Independent vs.Self-Publishing (Part 10): Conclusions

Red Quill

This series on publishing has been a lot of fun to create, and I hope maybe there are some of you who have read all of parts 1-9. I started it because I found that while those in my academic career seemed to be in favor of traditional publishing, with many instructors providing information about self-publishing as an option only reluctantly, while authors all around me were getting their work out there by self-publishing their books.

As I looked into the topic more, I found that some folks used the terms independently published and self-published as if they were interchangeable, while independent publishers are really smaller independent publishing houses that are not among the “big five” traditional publishers. As stated in Part 2, for the purposes of this series that is how I will refer to and view independent publishers.

One of the reasons I enjoyed writing this publishing series was that I am fortunate to know many authors, from all three publishing models, and I was able to gather many different viewpoints, examining it from all sides. Overall, I was able to obtain a pretty healthy balance between the three models. I interviewed self-published authors Jeff Bowles, Tim Baker and Arthur Rosch. In the traditional publishing arena, I talked with children’s author, Stacia Deutsch and historical and biographical author, Mark Shaw. I was only able to interview one independently published author, YA author Jordan Elizabeth, but to even it out, I also interviewed two independent publishers, Curiosity Quills Press and Caleb Seeling, owner of Conundrum Press. And for a nice rounded point of view, I spoke with my friend and children’s author, Nancy Oswald, who has published under all three models.

Now is the time to look at the series as a whole and see what conclusions can be drawn. While I think all authors secretly long for a traditional publishing deal, because being picked up by a major publishing house is ingrained in us as a symbol of success, I see independent publishing houses as a feasible alternative to holding out for the big boys, which can take a long time and for some of us, may never pay off. In some instances, debut authors have a better chance of being picked up by a smaller independent press. With both these options identifying markets which would be a good fit for your work, preparing submissions, writing cover letters and queries, synopsis and outlines will take up a lot of time which might be better spent on writing stories. Once accepted by either a major or a smaller publishing house, the author may be expected to do a good portion of the marketing and promotion, as well, although services such as editing  and illustration may be provided.

The upside to signing with a traditional publisher is that the major publishing houses pay out an advance on projected royalties, so major money can be seen in your near future. Independent houses may also pay out advances, but they won’t be nearly as big, and some do pay out a higher percentage of royalties. Of course, as Tim Baker pointed out in Part 2, the flip side to collecting a sizeable royalty is if your book flops. It would be a drag to have to pay it all back. Independent houses may also pay out advances, but they won’t be nearly as big, and some do pay out a higher percentage of royalties.

For self-published authors, there are no advances, but they keep a higher portion of their royalties than with traditional or independent publishing houses. Still, there is no big money now, and no guarantee that there ever will be. Authors may be waiting a long time for their writing to pay off.

As Stacia Deutsch mentioned in Part 4 of the series, traditional publishers provide professional editing and illustrators, to be sure your final product is of good quality. I believe this is true of independent publishing houses, as well, but you won’t find it available through the self-publishing process; one reason self-publishing carries with it such stigma. Gatekeepers insure the book you put out will be the absolute best it can be.

Despite the stigma surrounding self-published authors, due in part to a few self-publishers who like to take short cuts in lieu of putting out a quality product, there are some very good self-published authors out there.  As Jordan Elizabeth pointed out in Part 6, self-publishing has a lot to offer. Self-published authors have a lot more control over their work than traditionally published authors, who do not chose their own cover art, and may not even get to keep their own title.

As Jeff Bowles pointed out in Part 1, another possible advantage to self-publishing is the ease and relative inexpense for today’s authors. You can publish a book with Amazon almost for free, and collect either 35% or 70% of your royalties, depending on the price you place on your book. I can attest to this as it is what I did with my short story, Last Call, and it didn’t cost me one cent. At least that way, if my story doesn’t rise to the top of the best sellers lists, (which it hasn’t), I really haven’t lost anything. The important thing to remember when self-publishing is that you need to put out a quality product. It is worth it to find a good editor, and for all of us starving writers out there, an editor can be employed for a minimal expense. I also suggest utilizing a good critique partner when funds are low, but be sure to have some type of editing done, by someone other than yourself, before publishing your book.

Although Amazon has made publishing extremely easy and inexpensive for authors, they have also monopolized the industry and are making it more difficult for independent publishers, as Caleb Seeling explained in Part 8. Learn more about the negative effects Amazon has had on the publishing industry in the Institute for Local Self Reliance’s report, which emphasizes, from a consumer standpoint, the need to buy local and battle monopolization. If readers heed this warning and buy their books from local independent, or chain, bookstores right down the block, the publishing industry may change yet again.

Amazon’s monopolization affects authors and reviewers as well, as is discussed in What Amazon’s New Review Policies Mean for “Writing to be Read”. As much as Amazon’s review policies effect the reviewer, they also effect the authors who are depending on those reviews to get their books sold.

Author Mark Shaw gave us a heads up about vanity, or subsidy publishers, charging unsuspecting authors exorbitant fees to publish their work as Mark Shaw warns in Part 5. They prey on authors who desire to get their work published so bad that they are willing to empty their coffers to do so. These publishers can get outrageously expensive for authors, so don’t be drawn in. The kicker is that even if you publish on Amazon or Create Space in order to fit your budget, you still may need to spend quite a bit of time and/or money on marketing as Art Rosch tells us in Part 3.

Independent publishing houses, also referred to as small or medium-sized presses, work along the same lines as traditional publishers, but they don’t publish as many books each year as the big five do. In addition, they tend to be more specific in what they are looking for, with most having very specialized niches that your book must fit into to be published. Although all independent publishers may not follow this practice, publisher Caleb Seeling says he actually seeks out authors whose work fits into his niche. In any case, authors should be familiar with submission guidelines of the publishing house they are submitting to, whether large or small. In her article, How to Smartly Evaluate a Small Publisher, Jane Friedman, of The Hot Sheet, (the publishing industry’s news letter for authors), offers some great tips on what to look for.

In Part 7, Nancy Oswald points out one of the big advantages to publishing with a small press is the more personal relationship between author and publisher. Whereas a traditional publishing house may not be able to put a name with a face, independent publishers work closely with their authors because they only have a few at any one time. Independent publishers may also have a shorter wait time for publication than traditional houses, which can be quite lengthy.

And then there are the new kids on the block, like Curiosity Quills Press, which are hybrid publishers, offering various combinations of traditional percs with self-publishing author responsibilities. These small independent presses may charge authors for some services, like subsidy publishing, but they also provide a certain amount of author copies at no cost, provide author support, and the services they do charge for are optional. You can find out more about this new model of publishing in my post, Hybrid Publishers: What are they all about?

After hearing from the experts, it seems no matter which model you choose to publish under, there is still a lot of non-writing activities required of authors, including marketing and promotion, resulting in the need for Today’s Authors to Wear Many Different Hats. Of course, you can also do as author Jeff Lyons suggests in his interview with Arwen Chandler, and hire a third party to handle such tasks, so we, as authors can get down to the business of writing. The only problem I see with this is that you must make money before you can spend money, paying someone else to do the tasks that don’t come as naturally as writing does.

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Pros and Cons of Traditional vs. Independent vs. Self-Publishing (Part 9): Interview with Curiosity Quills Press

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This series has looked at three models of publishing from every angle. We’ve heard from independent authors Jeff Bowels, Tim Baker and Art Rosch, and traditionally published authors Stacia Deutsch and Mark Shaw, independently published author Jordan Elizabeth, and an author who has published under all three models, Nancy Oswald. We’ve also heard from Caleb Seeling, the owner of the independent publishing house, Conundrum Press.

This week, we hear from a small independent hybrid publisher that specializes in genre fiction of the highest quality. I have been privileged to review two Curiosity Quills anthologies, Chronology and Under a Brass Moon. I have also reviewed several books by Curiosity Quills author Jordan Elizabeth, who we heard from in Part 7, and Keepers of the Forest by James McNally.

Founded in 2011 by Eugene Teplitsky and Alisa Gus, Curiosity Quills was created as a resource portal to help writers, such as themselves survive the publishing industry, and quickly morphed into a publishing press which today, has solidified it’s share in the market. They work with major retailers such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Audible, and publish six new titles every month. Curiosity Quills Press offers the some of the advantages of a traditional publisher and offers their authors a chance to participate in the publishing process.

Kaye: How did Curiosity Quills Press come about?

CQ: Back in early 2011, Alisa and Eugene were an aspiring author couple working on a little MG project called Gatecrashers. In an effort to build up our socials and gain a following prior to release, they created a blog called Curiosity Quills (which was nearly called Curiosity Kills… dodged a bullet there!). Throughout that year, many guest authors and industry pros were hosted on the CQ blog to share their stories, wisdom, and experiences with the world. Before they knew it, a sizeable community formed around the CQ blog – and A&E had the brilliant idea of being more hands on about helping the authors hanging out on the site. It wasn’t long before Michael Shean and Rod Kierkegaard, Jr. became the first published authors of Curiosity Quills Press. Unfortunately, this was also the death knell for Gatecrashers or any other further writing project for Alisa and Eugene – turns out running a traditional publishing house is a HUGE time-suck!

Kaye: What are the publishing goals of Curiosity Quills?

CQ: We have a number of goals at CQ, and these can be broken down into the following points:

  • To bring the highest quality genre fiction to the masses, at affordable prices.
  • To spotlight genre fiction that some traditional publishers might find too unconventional; instead of following genre trends and the mainstream in what is popular, we try to stay ahead of that, anticipating gaps in the market.
  • To diversify genre fiction, by publishing stories featuring characters of all race, sexuality, gender identity, social standing etc. While we want to stay ahead of the mainstream, we also want to be inclusive and representative of the ever growing, expanding world we live in.

Kaye: What do you see as the advantages of independent publishing over traditional or self-publishing for today’s authors?

CQ: Independent publishing offers the best aspects of both traditional and self-publishing. On the one hand, we’re able to offer the highest standards of cover designers, editors, proofreaders etc. on par with any traditional press.

We also offer authors access to a wide rage of services, such as NetGalley and features on sale subscription sites like Book Bub. And, as with traditional publishers, we are always focusing our efforts to get our titles into chain bookstores, like Barnes & Noble, as well as selling the rights for our titles to audiobook publishers, and film companies.

But, unlike traditional publishers, we offer a closer, more family-like community for our authors, and try to involve them in the publishing process as much as possible, getting their input on cover design, marketing campaigns etc.

Because of our close-knit community, there are always over authors – at various stages in their careers – on hand to answer questions, help promote each other’s works, and collaborate with.

Kaye: How has the increasing trends in self-publishing affected the role of independent presses?

CQ: Authors want to be much more involved in the process, and on the whole, we’re more than happy to accommodate this. We view publishing as a partnership, where both the publisher and the author bring different things to the table.

As mentioned above, the close-knit community leads to a family of authors all striving together to make CQ the best it can be, which is something you don’t always find with self-published authors. While there is still a level of camaraderie there, all self-published authors are competing against each other, in ways authors of independent presses aren’t.

Kaye: What do you see as the future role of independent publishing houses within the changing publishing industry?

CQ: Independent publishing houses will continue to bring readers what they want, know and love, while also broadening their horizons and opening them up to a wealth of new stories that might get overlooked by the mainstream.

At the same time, independent publishing houses will strive to bring authors an experience they won’t get anywhere else in the publishing industry, with all the benefits of traditional and self-publishing, but less of the drawbacks.

I want to thank Clare Dugmore and Curiosity Quills for sharing with us here on Writing to be Read. I know they are busy people and I appreciate them taking the time to answer my interview questions. Next week I will follow up with conclusions on the series in Part 10 of Pros and Cons of Traditional vs. Independent vs. Self-Publishing.

 

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