What is Writing – Publishing Success?

A writing friend recently called me successful. Her comment gave me pause. What is writing and/or publishing success?

I see author success in steps.

Step one: Write a good book. This involves taking classes, reading books on craft, attending conferences, webinars, workshops, joining critique groups – all to improve your writing. Every year you should be a better writer than the year before. If you’ve got a well-written story, you are successful.

Step two: Submit to and have agents and editors give you positive feedback about your work, even if they reject you as client or for a manuscript. When your story makes it through the initial reader, through the editor, through the editorial group, and to the acquisitions group, this all indicates that people in the publishing industry verify that you have been successful with step one. If traditionally accepted, follow that route, and I’d strongly recommend it.

If wanting to pursue self-pub, follow the next steps.

Step three: Partner with an awesome cover illustrator. Sales rank has proven that fresh covers make a difference even when there is no text change. You can judge a book by its cover. Traditional presses can pay $1,000 – $5,000 for a single cover illustration. That’s out of my price range. But if you know an illustrator whose work you admire, negotiate for a reasonable fee. Never accept an offer for a free cover. There could be legal and relational repercussions in the future. Finding a good illustrator match is success.

Step four: Learn how to self-publish. There are entire books on this subject. I could list a few hundred tips here, but it would be like a flood gate opening. Read as much as you can about how to self-publish. If this is the route for you, then do it. Having an ebook, or holding a physical copy of your book in your hands with your name on the cover, this, too is success.

Step five: Book sales indicate success. If only friends and relatives are buying your books, your success is limited to who you know. To me, when one stranger buys my book or does a review, this is success. To sell books, learn about marketing and promotion. Again, many books on this subject. Read. Read. Read. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Repeat what works and embrace your failures. I spent $92 on gas alone for a far-away book signing and sold a mere three copies of my book during the signing. I didn’t get paid for those books, not until, according to their contract, all their inventory of my books had sold, which they never did because they went out of business and donated my other 17 copies someplace. I can only hope that “someplace” wasn’t the dump. What is marketing success to me? Marketing success is when I sell books.

Step six: Write another book. If you make millions of dollars from your first and only book, good for you, but that’s not truly literary success. Being able to be creative enough to write more and more good stories – this is success.

Step seven: Having the strength and endurance to repeat these steps with each book, and to convince your friends and family that you really do have a job which takes up your time – this is success.

 

(Success to the successful thistle sifter.)

Reason #7 for Self-Publishing — Um

And my final post in this series, reason #7 for self-publishing, is… oh, fiddlesticks. I just had it. Um…Give me a moment, please. Oh, yeah: memory loss.

I believe I can deal with lots of normal old age junk, like my eyes taking thirty minutes longer to wake than other body parts, or my knees informing me when a storm is coming in, or my ears failing to pick up each and every word. (I mean, how important is Each. And. Every. Word?) But losing my keys… no, wait. I meant, losing my books. Rats! What’s the word? Oh, yeah. Losing my mind would really be the pits.

HOPEFULLY, I will be physically and mentally fine for many decades to come. But just in case I become old, old, old soon, soon, soon, I’ll self-publish my stories (until I get a better offer, that is).

Reason # 6 for Self-Publishing — Acceptance in the Literary Community

Reason # 6 I have for deciding to self-publish is that there is more acceptance in the literary community today for self-publishing v.s. even two years ago. This change may have come about by best-selling authors stretching out their publishing muscles and self-publishing. Although I do know some best-selling authors who seriously need an editor (e.g., an editor friend informed me when her author decided to publish without her input and how bad it was written without her).

Then there are still the horrid writers and topics at which I cringe with self-published books, or have no story in their stories. But that is them. I am me. I strive to be the best author I can be, constantly learning and growing and changing and becoming better each year. Will you find errors or typos in my books. Absolutely not… well, maybe. But without a copy editor, I’m working on there being nothing which needs to be changed for my story to be a good story.

Would I go with a traditional editor/publisher? In a heartbeat. Well, in a heartbeat after making sure we are good fits for each other. I certainly would not jump at the first editor who mentioned the C word (contract), and know it would take another 2-4 years before I’d see the book in print. But to have my stories combed through by someone who does that for a living, yes, that would be lovely. It would be awesome to focus merely on writing and revisions instead of the other twelve jobs associated with self-publishing.

In the meantime, I’m thankful for the growing acceptance in the literary community for well-written self-published books.

Reason #5 for Self-Publishing — Ding! Dong! My Stalker’s Dead!

In college, I dated a boy who threatened that if I ever broke up with him, he’d kill me. He also made similar threats to my original family. It was a very, very dark time of my life. Back then, he attempted to carry out his threats on several occasions, saying he wanted me to know that he had control over whether I lived or died. (How I got to this point and how I escaped him are two other stories irrelevant to this post.)

Flash forward from my college days, about forty years.

Last year, I told my cousin it was the fear of this man finding me was why I wouldn’t have anything to do with my high school or first college. Because of my husband’s job, our family moved enough to confuse even the best of our friends’ Christmas card lists. My cousin encouraged me to look up my bane and see where he was. It was such a casual, non-fearful suggestion. I said I didn’t want to know. But her comment nagged at me. As a Christian, I knew I’d always be free at death, but with this guy somewhere out there, there was a teardrop of his black threats quenching me, holding me back from doing anything very public. I never minded the quiet life. When I got home from my cousin’s, after decades of trying to ignore that deep-rooted fear, I finally googled my stalker’s name. His was a unique spelling, so it came up right away, in the town where I knew he last lived, doing activities I knew he’d loved. It was an obituary. There is no doubt this was my stalker. Plus, the obituary was only in the on-line paper for one more month. Had I googled his name a year before or a month later, I may not have found it so readily.

My reaction to this discovery (and you may ask my critique group to confirm my flood of relief): I felt like one of the minions after the death of the Wicked Witch of the West, jumping around, singing and shouting, “Ding! Dong! The witch is dead!” I hadn’t heard from this guy in forty years, but the memory of what he did to me and his threats — oh, those threats — were always buried somewhere deep inside me. At the news of his death, those threats flew away like a caged wild bird. I was free.

Along with the combination of reasons listed in additional posts in this series, this new-found freedom led me to not be afraid to have my name out there. Like, having my name on book covers! Hence, after a lifetime of writing and learning the craft of writing, I now am totally free to be published. I don’t want to wait the two to ten years to be traditionally published. I am free to be published NOW.

Reason #4 for Self-Publishing — A Vision

The fourth reason (although not in any particular order) which I list for self-publishing is that about fifteen years ago I had a vision — not a goal, not a dream, but a vision, a reality so vivid that it woke me right up from my sleep. This is what happened:

After I’d died, my grandson in his 20’s found my floppy disks and went to a “working museum” to look at them on an antique computer. He discovered hundreds of my stories on them, from picture books through adult novels, nonfiction articles to retold folk tales. My grandson reworked some of the stories, revise them, if you will. He then published them under both his name and mine.

I woke, feeling very peaceful. The pressure to be published was gone.

At the time of this vision, my own children were in high school, so there were no grandchildren in sight. What it did was free me from the fear of not being heard. Someday, I knew, my grandson would read my stories. My imagination and dreams and storytelling would be passed on, at least to him.

I have no grandson to date, but I still have lots of stories, many of them revised and rewritten many times over.

So, reason #4 for self-publishing — not only do you readers get an opportunity to share some of my stories, but they are sitting there, waiting for a like-minded descendant to pick one up and say, “Hmm. This is good. I can make it even better.”

Reason #3 for Self-Publishing — I Be Mortal!

About eighteen months ago I had a painful constricting around my chest. It lasted for a couple of hours and then abated. I saw my doctor two months later. (You must realize that I don’t get sick or injured outside of my annual case of poison ivy and an occasional cold.) My doc was alarmed by my symptoms. She told me I probably had a stroke, and the next time I feel anything like that to call 911.

It took me over a year to get back to moving or walking like I had before the squeezing incident (without medical care, because, you know, me and doctors…). I went from before this and mowing our entire yard at one time, to mowing four swipes before having to go inside and lay down for a while. It alarmed me, too.

The biggest result of this episode and recovery was thinking I’d really be ticked off if I got to Heaven and hadn’t had a kid’s book published. Not that it will really matter to me once I’m there. Still, I’ve been storytelling and writing for my entire life. There had to be more to it than keeping the stories on various storage devises (and sending them through my critique groups, etc., to become a better writer).

Also, looking at my high school class reunion pictures from this summer, and people making sure they get all the obituaries together before sending out the next class list…! What?! Wait one minute. Who are these old people claiming to be my age? As my writer friend Rose says, I’m only 12-years-old – the age of my main characters in my stories. But looking at my former classmates, I realize this mortal body isn’t made to last forever. My eyes will dim, my hearing will fade, my muscles and bones will grow old. Sad, but true.

I don’t need to be immortal in this life (e.g., by letting my books outlive me). I just want to be a storyteller, here and now, until I die. I want to be a good storyteller. I want to be a moral storyteller where right is right and wrong is wrong, but also letting kids know that sometimes things don’t always work out the way they’d hoped or the way they should.

So reason #3 for finally chosing to self-publish: I want to be a story-teller until the day I die; and by publishing, to reach as many little ears and eyes as I can.

Reason #2 for Self Publishing — My First Readers

My second reason for choosing to self publish is my first readers, or I should say, first listeners. About thirty years ago, after reading lots of fantasy to my boys, I decided to read them MY fantasy, STAR OPENING. The loved it, naturally. Sweet little boys.

For the past three decades, every once in a while one of my sons tells me I ought to publish that story. I keep telling him, “I’m trying.” In the past three decades, the fantasy genre has also changed a great deal as well as been swamped. Our family still likes fantasy.

After several revisions, I mailed it (yes, those poor trees) to an agent who ALSO loved it and sent me a contract for the SERIES. I had several other manuscripts written with the same characters, but knew they needed revisions. The original (no copies) one-page contract was on her husband’s business letter-head paper, with only a line on a second page letter-head page with my name typed under it, saying, “sign here.” I decided to take the contract to a lawyer who said it didn’t look like any contract he’d seen before, and could he could write them. I said yes. Within a week I received my manuscript back with a “no longer interested.” I’m guessing I was her first client contact, because I now know the story really needed work, plus she was new back then and has been in the agent business ever since, probably not sending out contracts on her husband’s letterhead.

In the past twenty-five years, that story has undergone tons of changes. I’ve taken classes, attended conferences, read a semi-load worth of books on the craft of writing, followed blogs, listservs, and forums. The story has gone through two critique groups, one group twice, and several beta readers. At each writers conference, although I had written many others over the year, I usually pitched this story — my first love — to the editors and agents. After each conference, I took their advice and rewrote the novel according to their suggestions… with a “no, thanks” about ten months later. I totally cut out one of the main characters — my own conclusion. I changed the names of the characters and title, many times. One editor told me the alien speach sounded too earthly, so I changed it. Rejection. When an editor told me most writers he critiques he needs to tell to cut out the frivolous first chapter or two, but I needed to “ground” my readers before getting right into the action. I added, then deleted, two first chapters. Then two other first chapters, and deleted. I changed from 3rd person to 1st person to alternating POV chapters. About four years ago, a man told me his 10-year-old daughter loved fantasies. She read the manuscript and told me it made her top ten list of best books, booting out LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE. (Yet another sweet little kid.)

All this is to say, my #2 reason for self-publishing is for my first reader-listeners, my two wonderfully encouraging sons, and for any other sweet little kids who love fantasy.

STAR OPENING is now available on Amazon and Kindle.

Marketing Plan for Self-Published Authors, Amazon and KDP

By doing a three-month crash course on marketing and promotion and publicizing, I figured I would be prepared for when my first children’s novel, THE TOWN THAT DISAPPEARED, came out last month. These past decades, I’ve focused on becoming a better writer, and each new story, I feel I accomplish some better piece of literature. But marketing is new to me. It’s like learning a foreign language. I’ve learned enough over the past four months, that each morning when I wake up, I check my pillow, certain things leaked out of my ears overnight.

I don’t know that I’ll ever be prepared, but so far these are the things I’ve learned:

1) Get over yourself. In other words, talk about your book whenever you can. After all, it’s an awesome book! Share about it with others, even if you are the author. Personally, I find it simple to be social and can easily talk to anyone and nearly about any subject. What I find difficult to do is talk about my book and me. I reiterate: Get over yourself.

2) Get your domain name, web host, and website up so you have something to point to for curious or interested parties.

3) Bite the bullet and plan on doing a lot of freebies A certain American soda pop became very popular about one hundred years ago because in the beginning, the majority of income from the product was reinvested into advertizing. How does this translate to a self-published author? Do free school visits, donate copies of your book to both schools and public libraries, advertize free Kindle days with Amazon,  etc.

4) Get reviews. Ask for several — like from the people you’ve given your free books to — and expect to have a few do it. If you have the money, pay some of the big reviewers to do it.

5) Aim for a book promotion once a month, e.g., a book launch, a book signing, a blog tour (with book giveaways), making a book trailer, and certainly use your free Kindle days under the KDP plan.

6) Start locally, and then spread out. Locally may include newspaper, magazines, radio and TV, as well as schools. (Keep in mind point #1 when you do this.)

7) Contact places relevant to themes in your book. For instance, if your book involves horses, contact riding stables, camps, horse supply stores, etc. to see if they would stock your book.

8) Prepare presentations for various ages or various topics. For me, as a former literacy teacher, teaching about writing comes naturally. My book also deals with history and ecology issues. I have eight separate presentations for kids K-8 and one for teachers. The talks, of course, vary with the age group. Plus, I like to ask the teachers ahead of time what they would like to see presented to their kids. I also give the teachers a presentation evaluation sheet so I know what worked and what didn’t. Just as with writing my stories, I also need to revise my presentations.

9) Make reasonable goals: contact X number of bookstores to stock your books; contact 100 schools in a year for author visits; follow-up on every bookstore and school you contacted. Realize that this goal is only the number contacted, not the number who agree.

10) Do not neglect contact with your fellow writers. The nature of writing is to do it alone, but we are not alone. If you are not already a member of a writing organization (like SCBWI, RMA, etc.), join one. Learn from those who have gone before.

And always remember, you are a writer. You may give yourself permission to take a writing break in order to learn new things, like researching the marketing field, but do not neglect that next story which you are sending through your critique group. Keep on writing.

My Self-Publishing Trip – A 30-Year Rush

The Town That Disappeared 333x500 Sandys
A newspaper journalist interviewed me this month about my writing and writing process. His first question started with, “So most writers are in a rush to see their name in print when they self-publish–” I laughed and said, “It’s been a thirty-year rush.” I explained that I’ve been learning about the craft and keeping up with the industry and writing lots of stories, articles and novels over the past thirty years; that I attend writers conferences, take classes, read books about writing; and that I’m a member of several writers groups and several critique groups. One critique group has been going on for over twelve years.

I explained to the journalist that my book, THE TOWN THAT DISAPPEARED, took me four years to write with twenty-five rewrites or revisions, and that an editor from a traditional press told me that “everyone in the editorial group loves it and sees it as a series.” The rejection came after one bookseller in the acquisitions group convinced the rest that historical novels don’t make money. After a year of depression, and after the change in attitude towards self-publishing by professionals in the industry, only then did I decided to self-publish.

I’ve been working on the sequel to THE TOWN THAT DISAPPEARED for the past two and a half years, but have basically given up on all my WIPs for the past three months in order to first, research self-publishing, and second, research marketing and promoting.

Four years ago, I dipped my toe into the self-publishing world and published three retold folk tales. I also had traditional editors interested in these, but then came the recession of 2008. I’ve sold about six copies of these tales. Why so few? Because I merely published them and foolishly thought people would find the title through my interesting tags to spend the ninety-nine cents to buy them.

Research. It’s not just about researching for your novel writing. With self-publishing, it’s vital to research promoting and marketing as well.

I’m still a newbie at this process. But this I do know, and it’s the best advice I can give: do your research.

One Week Closer to Goal

Last week I confessed — I mean, posted — that this year I was going to experiment on an Indie self-publicating adventure. Here is my update.

I chose to start with a middle-grade Michigan historical fiction which I wrote three years ago. I figured this type of book might be easiest for me to personally market, living in Michigan and all. The story had gone through my critique group and others before sitting at one publishing house for 16 months, from where I’d earlier received “the call” from the editor; well, except that even though “the entire editorial staff loves it,” it had go through the acquisitions group. This editor later informed me via email that one man in the group convinced the rest that historical fiction doesn’t make any money, so they dropped my story. (Visit a flash from my past with me face down in the dirt swearing I’d never write another word again for my entire life. Just take me now, Lord.)

However, I figured if several editors had already given their stamp of approval to the storyline, that it might be a nice place to start with self-publishing. AND, since a friend’s agent offered to help her self-publish if she wanted, I figured this route is no longer the taboo it once was even a couple years ago.

So this past week I set up an account with a POD; spent some time surfing over their community forums to get a feel for it; uploaded the book title; got an ISBN; spent about seven hours on the front pages (title page, dedication, acknowledgements, copyright, disclaimer, table of contents); did a quick revision changing all my underlined words to italicized ones; and finally uploading it. Now I’m waiting on two things: 1) my fabulous illustrator to send me samples of the cover; and 2) a follow-up from a traditional editor, whom I only remembered after starting this process, that he still had my manuscript. This manuscript. It was easy to forget that fact with eight months silently passing since I sent it to him. And I do appreciate editors’ busy-ness and feeling of being overwhelmed. Thank you, all you editors, for all you do. I do not envy your job. My quick inquiry of status to this particular very sweet editor, came back the next day with a simple, “Sorry to be so slow. Still on the pile.”

SCREECH!

I think I would have preferred a “Sandy who?” response.

Switching gears, I followed the same process as above with another book I’d revised and rewritten more times than anyone should have to do in a lifetime. It’s not a Michigan historical fiction. It’s a middle grade fantasy. I actually had an agent send me a contract for this story 20 years ago, but when she told me not to contact a lawyer — I think I was her very first client — I did, and she dropped me, saying she was no longer interested. There were several other odd and unprofessional things about this one-page on letter-head contract. BUT, since someone liked it once upon a time, and since I recently (a couple of years ago) revised the story yet again, I choose to try that story with my new POD. I’m now waiting on the cover for that one, too. (No worries, no hurries, sweet illustrator. Really.)

And that, dear readers, was my writing adventure for this past week.

Thinking forward while I wait — there are always projects on backburners — my writing goal for this coming week is to work through the plot and write more raw writing on the sequel to the historic fiction story mentioned above. Two years ago I vomited out the tale during a NaNoWriMo. It’s nowhere close to even going through a critique group at this point, except chapter by chapter each month. We’ll see how the muses strike me this week. So far this morning, I’ve rearranged my chapters and scenes several times, and added two new scenes. Back to work.