Posted in Writing

Should authors self-publish or seek a traditional publisher?

It is said that everyone has a book inside them just waiting to get out, and thanks to advances in self-publishing, getting that book out is easier now than ever. Authors who have previously experienced slammed doors from the gatekeepers (agents, editors, publishers, etc.) are skirting around these middlemen by going indie. By doing this, they are experiencing a multitude of benefits. Authors who self-publish can:

– write about whatever they want instead of what a publisher deems marketable.
– own complete control over the book process from start to finish.
– keep up to 70% of their royalties instead of paying the majority of the book’s profits to the gatekeepers.
– can publish as fast or as slow as they want.
– aren’t under contract.

Of course there are plenty of downfalls to being a self-published author, as well. An author who goes indie is in charge of making sure their book is formatted properly, has an enticing cover and title, is professionally edited, and so on. As you can imagine, this process can be quite costly. Producing just one book can cost more than $1,000. On top of that, the majority of self-published authors, especially those just starting out, won’t make back that amount…often not even close.  (Check out northcoaststories.com for an example of services for self-published authors.)

Then there’s the purpose of those gatekeepers — there are many self-published books that should be edited and rewritten several times, but are still being published. Don’t get me wrong, there are so many self-published books that are wonderful reads. But there are also many that are, well, NOT. These books are the ones with the bad covers, the odd titles, contain spelling and grammar mistakes, and could probably use a few cuts.

Plus, self-published authors must do all of their own marketing, which is something that’s completely unnatural for writers. Often this can look like “Buy my book!” in a series of Tweets.

Finally, there are those who just believe self-publishing is an insult to the written word, as author Laurie Gough wrote on The Huffington Post in a controversial article that has since been shared thousands of times by irate self-published authors.

So what if you go traditional? The reasons to find a publisher are solid. With the backing of these book professionals, you get the golden stamp of approval that your book is quality. While a few lemons still squeeze by, in general terms, a traditionally published book has a good storyline, is free (or mostly free) of errors, and is an enjoyable read for those in its demographic. A traditionally published author doesn’t have to deal with much more than writing the book, as a team of professionals will edit it, format it, and give it a gorgeous cover. These authors have a straight shot to book stores and libraries, and they also land some pretty awesome speaking gigs, depending on the awesomeness of their agent. They have a team of professionals who want their book to succeed, as they all have a vested interest in this book.

However, traditional authors are not free of some of the harder aspects of the book business — namely, marketing. Both traditional and self-published authors must market their own books, and it’s in their best interest to have a solid platform (mailing list, social media followers, etc.). For traditionally published authors, this is even more important. I’ve heard some publishers refusing to even talk to an author unless they have at least 50,000 fans on Facebook. That’s a hard number just to get in the door, especially for an author who is just trying to get discovered.

A traditionally published author may find they have less control over their books than they want. They may be on contract to write a certain number of books, or to slow down their publishing process. They may be told they can’t write a certain book because it’s in direct competition with one of the publisher’s other authors. They may be told the story needs to lean in a different direction to match the market, even if the author disagrees. They may not even be able to write what they want at all, just to be able to continue working with that publisher.

Finally, there’s the money thing. Sure, there might be an advance, but it’s usually small. Plus, selling enough books to make up that advance is no easy feat. Once the gatekeepers have been paid, there really isn’t much left over for the author.

So which is better? As a self-published author myself, I still lean in that direction. Sure, I’ve yet to hit the big time. However, I love the control I have over my own books, and I can still see the possibilities. If I go traditional, I might make more money. But I just can’t fathom giving up that control.

But maybe I’m wrong. Whether you publish indie or traditional, share your triumphs and gripes in the comments below.

Note: This post is also published at books.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.

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If you’re looking for help with formatting, editing, proofreading, or other indie author services, I can help. Visit northcoaststories.com/about for more information. 

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Posted in Blog, Writing

Pregnant with a story

For the past few weeks, I’ve been struggling a little with this next book I’m writing in the Road to Hope series. As you recall, I wrote the second book during November (for NaNoWriMo), and realized there was so much more to the story I was telling. I ended the second book with a brilliant idea for the third, and I couldn’t wait to get started to write.

Once Dec. 1 came, I eagerly sat down to start writing the third book. In my mind, the beginning and the ending of the story were incredibly clear. The middle was a bit fuzzy, but the themes I wanted to convey were there. All I had to do was write them out and the rest would figure itself out.

Um, wrong.

The first part of the story, the part that was clear, I had no issue writing at all. I got it all down, re-read it a few times, and was pleased with how it turned out. I moved into the next part of the story, ready to keep going. Only thing is, I didn’t know where I was going. Correction. I knew the destination, but I didn’t know how I was getting there.

Here is where fear began to creep in. I’ve done this before. There have been times when I’ve been struck by a book idea that’s so strong it takes my breath away. I’ll feel this tug at my soul until I sit down and start writing it out. But when I do sit down, the story just falls apart. While the theme of the story is calling out to me, the pieces of the story are hidden in places I can’t find. I’ll end up losing momentum, and the novel inside me will just evaporate into thin air.

I did not want this to happen with this story! And yet, a week passed and I hadn’t written a word. Then the second week passed. I tried to be gentle with myself. I just finished writing the first novel! It’s okay to take a small break before diving in again. However, I was also panicked that this next novel, the one with themes I HAVE to write, would evaporate with the rest of them, and I’d be left with only part of the story told.

Here’s the thing about writing a novel—you can’t bank a whole book on just an idea. You have to have a plan. I knew I needed to sit down with this story idea and figure out where it was going. And so I did. And when I did, it became clear that I was not just stalling because the story was hard, I was stalling because the themes I was introducing are an uncomfortable part of me. This next book is diving into some truths I’m telling through fiction. This is scary to me! I’m excited to write these parts and get them outside of me. But I’m also terrified of writing these because it means I’ll have to revisit a few horrible moments from my personal past to get them down. This book will be as revealing as it can be without making it a memoir.

bookjournal
This little blue journal holds my whole story’s world in it!

The past few days I’ve worked out the storyline. In this, the journey my characters are on have become etched in my mind. I can now see their journey in a three-dimensional way. The characters are real, with real faces and personalities. Where they are is a real place. The bones of the story are there, now my job is to give it flesh.

In the meantime, the story and all its characters are consuming me. This is my favorite part of being a novelist. It doesn’t matter where I am or what I’m doing, the story is exploding inside of me. I can see it as I’m driving to work, when I’m hanging out with friend, and before I go to sleep at night. When I wake up, the characters are right there with me, ready for me to tell my story.

I heard Marianne Williamson recently describe this feeling as being pregnant with a book. You guys, I’m at that cute baby belly stage of book pregnancy. I can feel it kicking, and I have so many plans for it.

Winter break just started with school (one last final on Tuesday). I have 30 days until I start my next class. It’s the perfect time to start and finish the third installment of the Road to Hope series. I can’t even describe how elated I am about writing this story.

Stay tuned!

Posted in Blog, Life as I know it, Writing

The one where I reveal too much about my failure as an author

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I started writing the 3rd novel in my Hope series (still haven’t decided on a name, so this is what I’m going to call it for now) on Dec. 1. I came into the month with a clear idea on what I wanted to happen to Maddie, and what I wanted wrapped up by the time I reached the conclusion. But all the in between stuff, like the layout of each chapter and the steps it would take to get from the beginning to end, I left that to figure out later. I was just too eager to get started on writing, and I didn’t want to lose my train of thought to create the beginning.

And so I started writing. I created my epic beginning, and it was everything I envisioned it would be. Then I came to the next chapter, and I wrote the rest of what I knew about the setup of this novel. Now I’m on Day 3 of writing, and I’ve managed to do anything but write. I’m easily distracted, and I’ve found so many things to do during this writing time, the only time I have today to work on my novel.

The reason I can’t write is because I don’t have a plan. I know where I am, and I know where I’m going. But I don’t know the in-between parts on how I want to get there.

It occurred to me today that this is exactly what’s going on with my author business. This can’t be the first time I’ve realized this, can it? I’m sure I’ve realized this before. However, this epiphany struck me today, and I suddenly feel stupid.

I’m about to be more honest than I should be in this blog, so bear with me.

Four years ago, I was polishing the manuscript that would become my very first published novel. I had this huge vision for the future, my success as an author at the very core. I was smart enough to know that my first novel wouldn’t make me millions. I’d probably only sell a few hundred copies or so. I’d heard that the third novel was the magic number, and I was banking on that one getting me out of my full-time job and onto a glittery path of being a literary celebrity. I was humble in this dream. I wouldn’t quite be J.K. Rowling. But maybe I could be as big as Liz Gilbert or Anne Lamott, or in the biggest of hopes, the next Ernest Hemingway.

That first book sold well in the first month. Of course, I had to lower my standards to see that it sold well. Amazed by my achievement of writing a book, many of my friends bought and read this novel. A portion of these friends even left reviews, prompted by my regular requests to help populate the reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. Over the next few months, I gave copies away and gained a few more reviews. To help speed along my plan toward success, I published two other books from writing I’d done over the years. The first was a memoir of essays on single parenting, and the second was a book on poetry.

Now I had three books! I waited for the money to start rolling in.

As you probably have guessed, my book #3 was not the magic number. I failed to recognize that you need three books to draw in the same group of people who were attracted to the first book. By publishing a fiction book, and then a parenting memoir, and finally a poetry book, I was speaking to three different crowds. I was all over the map.

And so I wrote the sequel to my first book. The first one, A Symphony of Cicadas, told of a mother who died, and her journey through the afterlife. The second book, Forever Thirteen, told about her son, a 13-year-old boy who died in the same accident. I love both of these stories. However, they should never have been written together.

Here’s why.

The first book was full of swear words and a few sex scenes. It was appropriate for the story, and I feel that stripping those parts out would take away from the story. However, the second book was written about a 13-year-old protagonist, and was definitely geared toward young adult. So, I have one book that is aimed at adults, and its companion book aimed at young teens. If these young teens want to learn about the other half of the story, they must read through a bunch of swear words and sex scenes, and grown-up situations that probably won’t even interest them.

Do you see the problem here? Because it took me a while to get it.

My third fiction book, The Road to Hope, was the literary fiction story I always wanted to write, the one where I got to write the truth in fiction. With this one, I suddenly saw a small spike in interest through sales and borrows.

My fourth fiction book, Come Here, Cupcake, bombed (note: I should not be admitting this). It’s supposed to be the start of a magical realism series, but I still haven’t brought myself to write the rest of the books because that one took so much out of me.

My fifth fiction book, Loving the Wind: The Story of Tiger Lily & Peter Pan, is my favorite book I’ve ever written…and it still hasn’t been noticed. I still have hope that it will pick up, because I truly feel it’s a story almost anyone could enjoy. But perhaps I’m just biased because I’m such a Peter Pan fan.

In between releasing those two books was my non-fiction book, Reclaim Your Creative Soul, my answer to anyone who wondered how to fit creativity into their lives when they also held a job, raised a family, or felt like they were just too busy to do anything they were passionate about. This one had the best of intentions, and a lot of vital information I’ve learned over the years. And yet, I have not been pro-active at all in getting it into the hands of people who need to read it. It’s like I thought I could just release it, and the magic would happen on its own.

That’s eight books in all over the span of four years. Eight books, and I am still working full-time at a highly stressful job, and now going to school so that I might be able to figure out what I want to do with my life that might make me happy because writing novels is not paying the bills.

I’ve spent a lot of energy lamenting my failure as an author. Again, I shouldn’t even write this. No successful author ever admits this. They write about how much they love their fans, and cool things about their book, and post photos of how awesome they are as people because they’re writing books and killing it. Me, I’m spewing my disappointment on these pages because I have 10 or less people who read this blog every day, and it’s way too long and self-loathing for anyone’s attention span.

I’ve spent thousands of dollars on covers, editing, advertising, and everything else it takes to create a book and present it to the world. I’ve spent so much time listening to podcasts, reading articles, and trying to absorb every piece of information I can gather to bring my author business to the next level. I’ve lost sleep in favor of writing, created and posted cool images for social media marketing, sent out newsletters to my mailing list, and tried to build my platform in hopes that I could grow the audience that reads any of my books.

And my sales have flat-lined. Even The Road to Hope, the one I used to see activity on every day, has been forgotten.

I realize now that I’ve spent a lot of energy on all the wrong things. Of my eight books, I have a two-book series that takes place in the afterlife—one that’s geared toward adults, and one toward young adults. I have one literary fiction book. I have a magical realism book. I have a young adult fan-fiction book. I have a parenting memoir. I have a non-fiction guide for creators. I have a poetry book.

I have eight books aimed at eight different audiences. There’s nothing for each audience to come back for, as I keep speaking to a new audience and forgetting the old. Readers can’t figure out what to expect from me, because I haven’t been clear on what I write.

And this is why I’ve failed.

Here’s the truth. I love writing literary fiction. I also love writing magical realism and young adult. I know I can write all of these. I also know people love reading across the genres. However, I need to stick to one at a time, and really build that genre up. Right now, my focus is on The Road to Hope and building that story out into a series. I have an exciting idea for it that will create a series of at least five books, and I hope it generates the same enthusiasm I feel about it.

Back to that plan for the book I’m writing now. To make this book a success, I need to pause and really think about what steps need to happen to get from beginning to end. It takes more than a good idea to write a novel. I need to plot out the story so that I don’t lose my focus as I write.

As well, I need a plan for my author business. I keep wishing for success. I keep getting distracted by all the millions of things I should be doing to gather attention toward my books. I keep begging my family and friends for support, but I don’t know how to reach beyond the people I know and hold on to them as readers. I keep lamenting the fact that I’m still a full-time employee, and my books are costing me more than I make from them. I keep wallowing in depression that things aren’t happening the way they’re supposed to happen, and then wasting my time on things that don’t work…or worse, doing nothing at all because I’m so overwhelmed by too much information, lack of energy, and the weight of failure that remains on my shoulders.

I realize now that, just like my lack of focus in writing to an audience, I’ve also developed a lack of focus when it comes to growing my business. I’ve thrown a lot of things at the wall in hopes that they’ll stick. Goodreads giveaways. Facebook advertising. Promoted Instagram posts. Paid mailing lists. Promoting to friends and family. An occasional call-out to join my mailing list. A weekly newsletter that’s opened by only 20% of the people I send it to. It’s all well and good, but there’s no focus.

So yes, I need a plan. I don’t know what that is, but I do know it needs to be more than just a few sporadic actions with no backbone. On the writing side, my focused plan is to stick to a series, and then build from there. For growing my platform, I still need to figure that out. I’m tired of writing my soul, and then releasing it into oblivion. I’m not just writing for me. Writing is my way of communication. I wish to change people through my stories, to give a new perspective, and to offer inspiration though my characters’ journeys. But that won’t happen if no one is reading my books.

If you’ve read this far, thank you. I know this is just a lot of word vomit on the page. This post is way too long. I shouldn’t even publish this. But I will for several reasons. First, if there are other authors who come across this and are frustrated by the process, I hope to offer my own warning about how lack of focus can kill your business. Second, if I ever do become successful, I want to have something I can look back to so I can remember how hard this was. I want clear evidence of the time when I was ready to throw in the towel so I can be grateful for where I’m at. Third, if I’m ever successful, I want there to be clear evidence to other authors just starting out that it’s not unique to feel lost in this crazy world of novel writing.

If you’re in the same camp as I am—wanting something so bad, feeling like it’s just out of reach, and ready to make a change to get to the next level—please let me know in the comments. I need support today, and I want to connect with others who need the same support. I want to hear from you so that I know I’m not alone. Let’s be miserable together, and then let’s cheer each other on as we move forward in building our businesses.

Posted in Blog, Writing

10 gift ideas for book lovers (plus, some exciting news!)

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What I look like when I wake up at 5 a.m. every morning to write. Zzzz…

After 30 days of writing furiously during National Novel Writing Month, I’ve done it. I’ve finished the rough draft of my next novel! Rough, of course, is the operative word. Unlike last year’s novel that just sort of flowed onto the page, this year’s novel has a few rough edges I plan to smooth out in the editing process. But that’s the beauty of writing a rough draft. It’s not about making something beautiful. It’s about creating the bones of a story, and then chipping away at it until the magnificence of the story is revealed.

One thing became clear as I neared the end of writing of this first draft: this story cannot be told in one book. Around day 25, I realized that there was a bigger issue my characters hadn’t realized, and it needed to be addressed. So when I wrote my last word to the first novel on Nov. 29, I took the next day off to plot my course. Then, on Dec. 1, I began writing the sequel.

This means there is some exciting developments for those of you who are fans of The Road to Hope (or are gearing up to read this novel). There will be not one, but TWO books to look forward to reading in the next year that continues Maddie’s story! I plan to release the books close together to ensure there’s no long wait between stories. My goal is to publish by summer of 2017, but really, there’s no set date yet. As soon as I have a date locked in, I will let you know.

In other news, with Christmas coming around, I encourage all of you to put a few books under the tree. Here are 10 gift ideas for book lovers:

Happy start to the holiday season! And happy reading!
loving
Posted in Blog, Life as I know it, Writing

Life stops during NaNoWriMo

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In the past 17 days, I have discovered that I am not very good at keeping up with the regular parts of my life during NaNoWriMo. It’s been over 2 weeks since I’ve blogged here. My Facebook and Instagram pages are a bit neglected. My house could use a little sprucing. I ran out of towels two days ago because I desperately need to do laundry. My dog keeps looking from me to the door, wondering when I’m going to take him for a walk.The dinners I make my family are of the quick kind (what? leftovers again???). My gym membership is laughing at me….

But, I am almost 30,000 words into my novel, and I love how it’s turning out.

So, I’m giving myself permission to suck at every other part of my life while I wrap this novel up. In December, I can rejoin society. But here in November, I’m lost in my fictional world as I write my characters into a hole and watch them try to get out.

Talk with you soon!

Posted in Blog, Writing

Prepping for NaNoWriMo

nanowrimoEvery November, hundreds of thousands of writers commit to a month of solitude for a national (even worldwide) phenomenon known as National Novel Writing Month, aka NaNoWriMo. The goal is to have a 50,000-word story at the end of 30 days.

I have taken part in NaNoWriMo since 2010, and it’s a big reason why I am now a published author. I don’t think I would have had the stamina to finish writing a novel if I hadn’t been writing alongside (virtually) all the other crazy writers taking part in this insanity. Now, 4 of these NaNo books are published, and my writing process has been affected by this fast-paced way of penning a novel. In fact, much of what I learned through NaNoWriMo has been applied to the tips I offer in Reclaim Your Creative Soul, my guide to creating more time in the day for your craft.

I often hear from other people, I wish I could write a book. Or they’ll say, I wish I had the time to write. Or, I’ve always wanted to write a book, maybe someday.

Someday is this year, this November. I encourage you to try writing a 50,000-word story during NaNoWriMo (it’s only 1,667 words a day). Aim to finish, of course, but even if you don’t, you’ll have started that thing you’ve always wanted to do.

Here are 3 tips to get you on your way.

  1. Start plotting NOW. I know there are writers out there that swear by “pantsing” (writing a story by the seat of your pants with no plan whatsoever). But if you are just starting out as a writer, plotting is the way to go. You can’t just go in with a good idea and wait for the magic to happen. You need to make a plan on how that good idea is going to work, who will be the characters that will fall victim to this good idea, and what the repercussions of this good idea will be. My suggestion is to jot out a simple story plan, start to finish. Then, dig a little deeper and create outlines for each chapter. Trust me, when you’re faced with needing to write 1,667 words every single day, it’s a lot easier to write from a plan than to battle chronic writer’s block.
  1. Make writing a priority. The best way to do this is to set the same time every day for writing. I like to wake up extra early and take two hours for writing. If you’re a night person, you may find inspiration hits after everyone has gone to bed. Whatever time you like for writing, make that time sacred. No TV. No cellphone. No Facebook. No family. Just you and your story, making things happen.
  1. Don’t give up! There will be days when the writing is crap. Let it be crap. There will be days when you’re tired of writing. Write anyway. There will be days when you wonder about your sanity. Embrace your craziness. There will be days you miss going out with friends or kicking back with your favorite TV show. They will be there in December. If you keep writing, you will have written a novel by the end of the month. That’s a major accomplishment, and a serious bucket list item. But if you throw in the towel before the month is over, you’ll only have regrets. Keep plugging away. Trust me, your whole world will be changed once Dec. 1 is here.

Ready to start planning your novel? Start with signing up at NaNoWriMo.org. Then find me and add me as your buddy.

P.S. Want more tips? Read my list of 11 tips to “winning” NaNoWriMo.

If you’ve participated in NaNoWriMo, what would you add to this list?