A Day of Firsts

Yep! Today is my usual day to blog. And I did blog…just not here. Why? Because today is my first day as a regular contributor on The Blood-Red Pencil blog. I’m over there blogging about firsts, in fact. More than that, one very important first that happened this past weekend. Won’t you come over and take a look?

The Blood-Red Pencil

© Uschi Hering | Dreamstime.com

© Uschi Hering | Dreamstime.com

“Self”-Publishing is a Misnomer

writer memeI was sitting in a workshop at the Romance Writers of America national conference this morning, listening to a panel of very funny, very successful authors, when one of them said something that came at me out of left field and hit me with a flash of insight. I’m not sure if the author in question was trying to be disparaging or if she just wasn’t aware of how her words sounded, but she strongly implied that self-published authors produce and publish (subpar) books all on their own from beginning to end.

Her words struck me because they made me realize that, in fact, there is very little “self” in self-publishing. The idea that a self-published author writes a book, edits it, formats it, designs the cover, uploads it, and clicks “publish” all by themselves as a solitary operation isn’t just inaccurate, it’s a little baffling. I’m a tad surprised that this author may (or may not) think that that’s how this whole thing works.

Here’s the reality. It takes a village to “self”-publish a book. For those who aren’t super clear on how the process works, I write a book. The first draft usually takes me about a month and a half on average. Then I go back and read through that first draft and take all of the really bad suck out of it. Once that initial suckage is removed, I send it off to at least three beta-readers. (Starts counting: ONE, TWO, THREE)

I personally need to let the book sit for a while before I look at it again. Ideally I don’t look at it for about a month. Sometimes I don’t have time to let it ferment that long. But while it’s cooking, I have my cover designed (FOUR). I know some authors design their own covers, but I don’t have that kind of talent and I find it much easier just to let someone else handle that end of things. Leave the art to the artists.

Once the beta-readers get back to me, I start my hardcore editing. That means another couple of weeks of third and fourth drafting. When I’m satisfied, I send it to my editor (FIVE). My editor is super awesome. She does a thorough developmental edit with a bit of line editing, then sends it back to me. I bow humbly to her skillz, then make the changes she suggests (or not if I can really and truly justify doing things my original way). Then she likes to do a thorough copy edit before I publish it. Some authors hire a separate proofreader (SIX).

Yep, I hired someone else to design this. And what a fine job he did!

Yep, I hired someone else to design this. And what a fine job he did!

Then and only then do I format the book (I do it myself because I’m a nerd and like that sort of thing, but many people hire a formatter, SEVEN) and upload it across all the various sites. Voila! Published!

But that’s not the end. I have a publicist, Badass Marketing – BAM! (EIGHT). Actually, I have my publicist, but she has two assistants who work with my various lines (NINE, TEN) and book blog appearances, reviews, and all sorts of other fun stuff for me. I really couldn’t do what I do without them.

So wait a minute. What’s this self-publishing thing again? Don’t self-published authors do everything on their own? Huh-uh. As you can see, any given self-published author could have as many as ten other people working on their book before it hits the magic land of book retailing. So many people are needed to produce an effective piece of published work! So many! And that’s not even counting the fabulous fans and readers who breathe new life into a work by reading it, loving it, reviewing it, and sharing it.

All of this makes me think that the term “self-publishing” is inaccurate at best and misleading, nay, even insulting at worst. We don’t just blithely take things into our own hands and ours alone to publish books that haven’t been through any sort of vetting process. We work as hard as anyone and involve as many people in the process before a book hits the virtual shelves. We’re all in this together.

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Would You Have Been a Colonist?

© CoreyFord  | istockphoto.com

© CoreyFord | istockphoto.com

Okay, in my newly released novel, Saving Grace, the characters were all on their way to Earth’s first extra-planetary colony when their ship explodes and they have to land (crash) on the nearest habitable planet (or moon in this case). They have to start over from scratch where they are. However, they were almost going to have to start over from scratch once they got to the planet Terra, as the colony there is only ten or so years old. So what does that make this? Yep, it makes Saving Grace a story about building a colony.

This is another one of those ways that this “Science Fiction” story of mine is actually a historical novel in disguise. I’ve always been fascinated with stories of the earliest colonists that came to America. What American kid doesn’t start learning about the Pilgrims every November by dressing up in black with big buckles and funny hats? It also doesn’t take us long to learn about the Oregon Trail and other intrepid pioneers heading West to set up a new life. Even European history is full of storied of colonists. Australia, Africa, India…every continent has stories of colonists to tell.

And of course the first thing we learn about colonists is how hard their lives were. Carving civilization out of the wilderness is a challenge, no matter what era you live in. The Pilgrims may have come to Massachusetts seeking religious freedom, but their first challenge was simply to survive the winter. They had a lot of material to work with—good land, tools, knowledge, and determination—but they had to apply all of that to a land and climate that was unlike the world they had left behind.

Pioneers heading West were faced with the same problems. Land was abundant, the soil was fertile, minerals waited in the hills, but the sheer vastness and wildness of the territory was overwhelming to the small bands of people who set out into it. Not to mention the fact that it was already inhabited.

Spoiler alert, the moon that Grace and her friends (and foes) land on has no other human inhabitants (well, that they know of, at least), but it has abundant wildlife, rich mineral resources, and fertile ground. The whole thing is just waiting for them to claim it. The biggest problem they encounter—and it’s a huge problem—is each other.

© Americanspirit | Dreamstime.com

© Americanspirit | Dreamstime.com

Grace and company aren’t the only colonists who had that problem. One area of history that I am dying to explore more of is that of the initial colonization of Australia by the British. What I know of it paints an odd and exciting picture of ships full of convicts turned loose on the virgin landscape, surviving, evolving, devolving, causing chaos, and somehow, amidst all of that, eking out a living and creating a vibrant culture that lasts today.

This is what really excited me about writing the Grace’s Moon series. Taking what I learned in my history classes and studies about how colonies form, who the brave souls are who tend to start them, and the reasons they were founded formed the bedrock of the world on which this series is built. What would these advanced, clever people do when they suddenly had all of their technology taken away from them? How would they deal with the problems and conflicts they brought with them from Earth? Is it even possible to form a Utopian society, even when the landscape around you is rich with promise?

I wonder if the waves of colonists we have seen on Earth asked these same questions. Certainly the Puritans came to New England seeking a Utopia, but further south, in, say, Virginia, it was more of a “get rich or die trying” sort of inspiration that drove people.

Incidentally, I have an ancestor, a carpenter named Jonathan Lax, who was a settler at the original Jamestown settlement in Virginia. I don’t know much about him, but I wonder what made him leave his home in the Lake District of England to risk his life in a land that was as far away to him as the fictitious moon Grace and her people land on is to us today. Would I have been that brave? Would I have been a colonist?

You know, I think I would have. In fact, given the right promise, I think I might volunteer for a colonial mission to another planet myself. How about you? Would you leave everything you know to start over in a virgin land?

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Release

© Dreamstimepoint | Dreamstime.com

© Dreamstimepoint | Dreamstime.com

Ah! There’s a reason why the day a book is published is called Release Day! It may mark the day that a book is released to the public but to the author it represents a great big exhale and release from the intensity of that final phase of a writing project.

Don’t get me wrong. Writing a novel is a long process that certainly doesn’t end when the book is published. Writing is one thing, editing another thing entirely, and marketing the book so that it finds its way into the hands of eager readers is a whole different can of worms. Every different writer has a different opinion about which phase of the process they love or hate more or the others, but any way you slice it, the sheer liberation of clicking publish and moving on is the biggest release of all.

I published two books—Saving Grace and Fallen from Grace, the first two books in my all-new Science Fiction series, Grace’s Moon—on Tuesday. The first drafts of the books were actually written as long as five years ago. I’ve tinkered with them over the last few years, but the serious work of revising them enough to show them to other people has absorbed me for the last three months. And believe me, it’s been an intense last few months! But Tuesday I clicked “publish” and sent those books out into the world.

And now here I am on the other side.

There’s an important lesson to be learned in the aftermath of publishing a book. After putting all that effort into producing a product that is presentable to an outside audience, we can be tempted to fall too far to one side or the other of the fence. On the one hand, it’s so easy to let out that last great breath and collapse back, completely spent…and to do nothing. I mean, at this stage of the game we’re so done with the damn book that we may very well want nothing to do with it ever again.

The problem is, though, books don’t sell themselves. Publishing is only the beginning. Unless we’ve already made a huge name for ourselves (and really, how many writers can say that? 5%?) we still need to work on finding promo opportunities, lining up guest posts, and seeking out places to talk about the book and sell it to new readers. If left on its own to find its way in the world, your book will die. And nobody wants that.

woman readingOf course, there is another side to this whole post-pub coin that can be equally as dangerous. This is the pit I fall into after every book. It’s important as a writer to stop and rest now and then. Yep, sometimes once you click “publish” you actually have to flop back, take a deep breath, and close your eyes. I tend to want to jump right into writing the next book in the series or to start a new series all together. It’s an admirable impulse and one that will keep any given writer brimming with possibility for years to come. But as Seven Habits of Highly Effective People says, you have to sharpen the saw for a while before you can go back to cutting down trees.

My weapon of choice when it comes to combating post-pub burn-out is to read. There’s nothing like a good (or even a bad) book to mellow you out after all those months of frantic work. It’s not just a method of relaxation, it’s a way to work on your craft through the art of observation. It can even be a way to get new ideas. I’m not talking about the kind of ideas that get you in trouble with readers later for imitating the masters, I’m talking about methods of showing backstory, character nuances, and even good old sentence structure. There’s a lot to be learned from reading, as we all well know.

So yay and congratulations to anyone who finishes a book and publishes it! Way to go! And I wish you all the best in navigating that treacherous balance between taking on too much work after you’ve clicked “publish” and not doing enough. It’s a fine balance, but listen to your writer’s heart. You’ll know when you’ve done enough and need a rest and you’ll know when it’s time to get back in the saddle and write again.

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Tiger Writers and Dolphin Writers

© Caan2gobelow | Dreamstime.com

© Caan2gobelow | Dreamstime.com

There are days when I swear that I’m far too insecure to be a writer. I mean, if there was a World Cup for stressing out about things, I would beat all y’all the way Germany beat Brazil! I may not give off those vibes all the time, but believe me, they’re there. I think they’re there with all of us creative types. My particular anxiety lately has been over what type of a writer I am.

As far as I see it (as determined by observation of my peers, particularly in the Romance world), writers are either tigers or dolphins.

Dolphins swim in packs (well, pods, to be precise). They are swift and beautiful and daring. They leap out of the water and do fabulous tricks, sunlight glittering off of the trail of water droplets they leave behind them. They are social animals and enjoy talking to each other, making noise, and entertaining crowds. Dolphins are awesome.

Tigers are loners. They pad through the jungle on silent feet, going after the things they want intensely. They hunt alone, preferring to stay hidden in the underbrush. But when they move in for the kill, boy do they get what they’re after! Tigers are beautiful animals, colorful and glorious, but they are solitary, maybe a little temperamental, and passionate. They don’t play well with others.

I, Merry Farmer, am a tiger writer. I absolutely thrive doing things on my own. This is the main reason I chose to self-publish instead of going the traditional route. I prefer to write on my own, edit with the help of a very few trusted professionals, and market through my brilliantly talented publicist. I enjoy writers conferences, but they sap every last ounce of my energy. I am not the writer you will find staying out late at the bar every night of a conference and whooping it up with other writers.

The thing is, I have a lot of writer friends who are dolphins. They excel at networking. They have formed author co-ops and pitched in together to create multi-author blogs. They cross-promote each other with their whole hearts. I love following the Facebook conversations they have with each other and seeing how well they get along. It’s so awesome!

I am completely incapable of having that kind of professional relationship with that many people. I am extraordinary wistful about the awesome bonds they have created. I totally want that…and I totally don’t.

Ah, the life of the contradictory artist! My big, stripy, tiger writer heart sighs with envy while at the same time being grateful I don’t have to expend that sort of energy being social. Where I start to stress out about the whole thing, though, is when I stop to wonder if the dolphins have the right idea.

© Lukyslukys | Dreamstime.com

© Lukyslukys | Dreamstime.com

Writer co-ops and author conglomerates are very in right now. With all the uncertainty in the publishing world, it can be comforting to band together with a group of like-minded peers. I have seen these groups accomplish some really snazzy stuff. They are able to position each other in strategic ways that solitary writers don’t have. I am a great admirer of the writer peer group.

So does this mean that writers should all join together in groups? Does it mean that we won’t find success unless we are dolphins?

That is exactly the question that stresses me out so much. Should I be making a bigger effort to go against my nature and become a part of one of these groups? Should all writers?

Ah, but here’s the thing. I also have a lot of writer friends who have found great deals of success going it on their own. In fact, a few of my fellow tiger writers are the ones who have hit the top of the Amazon charts, have garnered the most fans, and have landed on the USA Today Bestseller list. They didn’t do it through fostering connections with other writers, they did it by working hard on their own for the goals that matter to them.

So which type of a writer should any given writer try to be? Are tigers more successful than dolphins or vice versa?

Honestly, I think that comes down to the style of working that fits best with the individual writer in question. As for me, I think I need to learn to embrace my tiger-ass self. That’s the working style I feel most comfortable with and that allows me to do my best work. Another writer might feel exactly the opposite. They might work best with the accountability and support of their own pod. It really depends on who you are.

And so here is my advice to myself and to the other writers out there wondering if they’re “doing it right.” Stop stressing out about it. If you’re a tiger, embrace your tiger. If you’re a dolphin, live it up with the dolphins. A tiger wouldn’t survive for three seconds in a dolphin’s habitat and a dolphin couldn’t live a tiger’s life. There’s no need to spend energy wishing you were the other kind of writer when that energy could be put to better use WRITING. Because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how you got the words on the page, it matters THAT you got them there.

But just out of curiosity, which kind of writer are you?

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Like what you’ve read? I love the fact that you read it! I’ve got more for you too. Sign up for my quarterly newsletter to receive special content, sneak-peeks, and treats that only subscribers are privy to. And thank you!