Tag Archives: impossible dream

Self-Publishing Essentials – How Do We Measure Success?

Jun 26, 2013
© Cda2008 | Dreamstime.com

© Cda2008 | Dreamstime.com

And so, today we wrap up our official in-depth study of the essentials of self-publishing with the big question that lies underneath all of our efforts: How do we know if and when we’re a success? All that work, all the honing our craft and writing, the money spent hiring a professional editor and cover designer, the thought, time, and expense that goes into marketing … how do we know if that pays off?

Success is elusive, fickle, and varied. What defines one person’s success might be a whole different monster than someone else’s definition of success. The problem is, we can start to feel as though all of our blood, sweat, and tears are for naught if we make one big, subtle mistake. You guessed it, that mistake is comparing ourselves to others.

Comparing your successes to what you assume other writers successes have been is the quickest way to drive yourself absolutely crazy. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of looking at what other people are doing and assuming that they’re better than us. I’m not gonna lie, I’ve obsessively checked Amazon rankings and reviews for my fellow authors, and almost universally I’ve gone into a tailspin of depression if they have more positive reviews and/or higher rankings than I do. Continue reading

A Writer’s Calling

Jan 14, 2013

Yesterday was a big day at my church.  Our pastor was raised to the second degree of the ministry (which is not half as mystical as it sounds – it’s a church government thing).  As part of the service there was a lot of talk about being “called” to the ministry.  And as I sat there watching Pastor Ryan affirm that he was called, I thought about my own calling.

Careful SmallI was “called” to be a writer.  That’s all there is to it.  It’s the only thing I have ever really wanted to do since I was a kid.  Granted, there have been a great many years between here and there where I have somehow convinced myself that I should actually do something else.  But no, it always comes back to writing.  It has been my purpose, my entertainment, my escape, my solace.

But I think there’s more to it than that.

I was having a conversation with my cousin Phyllis, who works in the marketing department for Tor Books and whom I will be interviewing later this week, about writing.  She mentioned that YA (Young Adult) is really hot right now and suggested I write a YA novel.  I thought about it … and I had to admit that it’s just not my genre.

My calling as a writer is pretty specific.  I have a feeling most writers might agree with this. As long as I can remember, no matter what I write, it always turns into a romance novel.  Even my sci-fi stories, and there are plenty, lean heavily towards romance.  It’s what runs through my veins.  It’s what rattles around my brain.  I’m not just a writer, I’m a Romance writer (capital R!).

And you know, it goes further than that even.

I’ve always loved history.  Ever since studying the explorers in fifth grade.  There are some fantastic stories in history!  It wasn’t until the end of my high school career, though, that I began to realize that, hey, this stuff actually happened to people!  There have been countless lives lived before mine in a style that I would find unrecognizable.  People have lived and loved, triumphed and failed, for millennia before I showed up on the scene.  The possibilities of things that have already happened are endless.

© Aleksey Ipatov | Dreamstime.com

© Aleksey Ipatov | Dreamstime.com

Now, one might attribute this to me being an old soul who has been reincarnated so many times that I’ve lived through all of these times.  My imaginative side really likes that explanation.  My practical side, however, wonders if this love of history is a deep-seated form of coping with my disappointment in the modern world.  There are a lot of things we just don’t have right in the modern world, as fancy as we are.  People are disconnected, face-to-face interaction has been replaced by sci-fi-like electronic communication, and the media loves to bully people.  There are days when I would rather not have any form of communication beyond five miles of my home, like people did in the Middle Ages, than to know as much as I know about the world.

Funny, but my sci-fi series deals with a group of interplanetary colonists who find themselves suddenly cut off from the rest of the universe and who have to start a new civilization from scratch.  Sort of like history.  I haven’t actually strayed that far off track.

Now I will qualify all this by saying that I have ONE contemporary romance novel in rumination that might see the light of day at some point.  Ah, but that’s still Romance.  It’s still within the calling.  But that’s my point.  As writers, I feel like we come with an inborn sense of what kind of novels we want to write.  And as the saying goes, you should write the books you want to read.

So writing Historical Romance – specifically – is my calling.  It runs deep.  I can’t escape it.  Some people I know feel a calling to be a teacher or a mother.  Some people haven’t really felt called to do anything.  But for me it’s writing Historical Romance all the way.  It’s what I will write with every cell of my being and what I will be muttering when I’m old and crinkled and have lost my mind and the ability to distinguish between reality and my stories.  I’m looking forward to that, actually.

So what is your calling?  How did you know when the moment came?

My Wedding Speech

Jan 04, 2013

When my wonderful brother Stewart married my best friend Kristine last Saturday, December 29th, I was privileged to be the Maid of Honor.  As the Maid of Honor – not to mention the groom’s sister – I got to give a speech at the reception.  A lot of people came up to me afterwards and said it was a beautiful speech.  I am so flattered by that praise!  Although honestly, I was so keyed-up, overwhelmed, and exhausted at the time that it was all a blur to me.

So since I received so much praise for speaking the truth, and since there were a lot of people who weren’t at the reception, here’s as close an approximation to my reception speech as I can write, complete with the two things I wanted to say but forgot to in the moment…..

Me and Kristine

Me and Kristine

This is a story of Divine Providence.  Yes, Divine Providence.  For why else would a Pennsylvanian with a master’s degree in Theater from Villanova University decide to go to cosmetology school in Huntsville, Alabama?  But that’s where Kristine and I met, in cosmetology school in Alabama.  We became friends and ended up going to work at the same salon (eventually) when we graduated.

I also bought a house in Huntsville, and when I did I asked if Kristine wanted to move in and rent a room with me.  She did, and our friendship got stronger.  Except when things like The Potato Incident happened.  After that we almost weren’t friends anymore.  I’ll tell you about it sometime if you ask.  But even then, potatoes and all, I knew that Kristine was the sister I never had.

After a while Kristine told me that she wanted to go to college, but since she was home-schooled she wasn’t sure she could.  I told her, “Hey!  I know this great college in Philadelphia, Bryn Athyn College, that is fantastic with home-schooled kids.”  She applied, thinking that she’d never get in.  But lo and behold, she did!

It was then that I realized that I didn’t want to stay in Alabama without Kristine.  If she was going to Bryn Athyn, then I wanted to go home too.  So we packed up the house and moved up HOME.

Again, Providence came into play.  It was great to be home, but I’m a morning person.  I wake up early and I go to bed early.  But Kristine is a night person.  She likes to stay up and go out.  But she didn’t know anyone up here that summer.  School hadn’t started and she hadn’t made any friends yet.  The only person she knew besides me was my brother, Stewart.  So Stewart asked her, “Well, do you want to come hang out with my friends?”  And that was how it all began.

gardenStewart and Kristine were just friends at this point.  In fact, when I directed them in Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead many years ago and they played Hamlet and Ophelia, people kept asking if they were going out.  Kristine’s response to that was “Eew!  No!  That would be like dating Merry!”  Yep, everyone else always knows before the happy couple figures it out.

Then one day Kristine came to me and said, “Merry, I have something to tell you and I don’t think you’re going to like it.”  “Oh?” I asked.  “What’s that?”  And she told me, “Stewart and I are kind of dating now.”  And I was upset!  No, really I was!  Because what would happen if they broke up?  Who was I supposed to side with, the boy who broke my best friend’s heart or the girl who broke my brother’s heart?

Fortunately, they did the only sensible thing they could do and got married.

[and then I transitioned into giving a “sister of the groom” speech ]

Mom Stewart MeStewart and I have been through a lot together.  A LOT.  We’ve lost a lot of people from our life.  Most special of those people was our mom.  A lot of people here [at the reception] knew our mom and how wonderful she was.  She raised the two of us pretty much on her own.  People also know that our mom was a quilter.  She made the most beautiful quilts!

What people might not know is that Kristine’s mom, Jodi, is also a quilter.

One of the things I inherited from my mom was a big chest in which she kept all of our school projects and mementos and her quilting projects.  What people don’t know is that before she passed away, Mom finished piecing together a quilt top.  But then she put it away because she knew she would never be able to finish it and quilt it and put the binding on and all that.

So when Stewart and Kristine got engaged, one of the very first things I did was to call Jodi and ask her if she would be willing to finish the quilt.  Well, she said yes.


So at the rehearsal dinner Jodi and I presented Stewart and Kristine with this beautiful quilt, made by both of their mothers together, even though they never met.

I ended my speech there, but there was one other thing that I wanted to say but forgot to:

Okay, Stewart.  I found you the perfect wife.  So now it’s your turn.  You’ve got to go out there and find me the perfect husband!  So get on it!

Congratulations to Stewart and Kristine, the two people who I love most in my life.  May every happiness come their way!


Selfishness and the Writer

Nov 21, 2012

It takes drive and dedication to write and publish a novel.  That much everyone knows.  If you’re going to reach for the brass ring and write something that people will want to buy, that they will want to tell their friends to buy, you’re going to have to put in some serious hours.  You’re going to have to learn the craft, figure out the mysteries of grammar and punctuation.  You’re going to have to put in the time to get the entire story plotted, whether you do it in advance or as you write.  And you’re going to have to be painstakingly honest as you carry your novel through the revision process to make it the best work it can be.  And that’s all long before you start to market it and yourself.

But lately I’ve been thinking about one other aspect of what it takes to be a writer.  Did I say thinking?  More like I’ve been wallowing in guilt over it.  Because as painful as it feels, as much as it goes against all of the things we’re taught about being a good person, to be a successful writer you have to spend a huge amount of time being selfish.

Yeah, I know!  It came as something to a surprise to me when the epiphany hit.  I was driving to work one day, feeling guilty about all of the emails I haven’t had the time to respond to.  I’ve made so many great friends through my writing, fellow writers and readers alike.  They’re awesome people.  Everything fun and friendly inside of me wants to respond instantly to their emails, write all of the short stories and blog posts that they’ve requested I write, and keep in touch on a daily basis with these people.  But my energy only goes so far.

© Robtek | Dreamstime.com

The problem with being a writer is that in order to be successful at it you have to write things.  Stories may pop into our heads fully formed – or not – but in order them to take on life and be shared with other people, at some point we have to sit our butts down at our computers and write the damn things.  Trouble is, that’s a really time-consuming prospect.

Maybe I shouldn’t look at it this way, but I see each of the books I am writing or that I have immanent plans to write (I’ve got four of them right now – and those are only the immediate ones) as plates spinning.  Have you ever tried to spin plates?  It takes hard-core concentration.  Just like writing.  The problem is that my nature is one that likes to stop and chat with people, to make friends and exchange ideas.  It’s difficult to do that while spinning plates.

And so I write.  I write and I feel guilty.  Because there is a very large part of me that things, that knows that I should be networking.  I should be supporting my fellow writers to the full extent of my capabilities.  I should be supporting my fans and connecting with them.  But there I am, sitting at my computer, listening to Yoga Radio on Pandora and writing.

It’s selfish.  It’s uniquely selfish.  Selfishness means focusing on yourself, turning inward and putting your own concerns above the concerns of others.  It’s also necessary.  Writers exist in a distinctive space of needing to close off to the outside world in order to plumb the depths of our inner lives and record it on paper.  We have to tell people that we’re very sorry, but we can’t hang out with them or respond right away to their email or return their phone call.  What we do depends on being selfish.

At the same time, not all selfishness is a bad thing.  Time and again we tell people that they have to take care of themselves before they can be fit to take care of others.  That kind of selfishness is a healthy thing.  It keeps us from falling apart and taking people down with us.  Sometimes it’s all that stands between us and the cliff of insanity.

That’s the kind of selfishness writers need to develop.  Yes, we need to turn off the phone and make our relatives wonder what happened to us sometimes, but we’re so turned inward because we’re creating.  We need that time in our heads so that we can produce something beautiful to share with the rest of the world.

Some of my cousin Christina’s artwork

It reminds me of pottery, actually.  I have a cousin who makes the most beautiful ceramics you’ve ever seen, bowls, mugs, plates, you name it.  Not surprisingly, her studio is separate from the area where she (and her kids) live most of their lives and she has to make time to work.  Not only that, you can only do so much with clay out in the open, in public, as it were.  Eventually you need to pack it all into the kiln, close the lid, and walk away.  What happens to that clay when it’s alone, when it’s deeply immersed in itself and the creative process, is magic.  But it can only happen in that high-heat, isolated environment.  The results are stunning.

So should I be feeling so guilty as I run through the list of people I need to email or call back or the pieces I’ve been asked to write that I haven’t gotten to yet while sitting at a red light?  Probably not.  I do the best I can.  But I also dream of the day when I can hire an assistant to keep me on top of those sorts of things.

Self-Publishing: What You Need to Know Before You Start

Sep 26, 2012

Congratulations!  You’ve decided to self-publish.  Welcome to the wild and wonderful world of the fastest-growing segment of the publishing industry.

Fastest-growing, eh?

Yep.  Seems like you can’t turn around these days without someone sprinting off to publish the manuscript they’ve been working on for years.  Or months.  Or a couple of weeks.  But does that mean that if you self-publish the rest of the literary world is going to “dial you down to dumbass”, as my Dad likes to say?  Does that mean you’ve forever separated yourself from the realm of the serious author?  Not anymore it doesn’t.  But it does mean that you get to navigate a minefield of potential mistakes and problems, and you get to do it all by yourself.

Now, I consider myself to be a successful self-published author.  I’ve got three books out and one coming out the first weekend of November.  And I’ve learned a lot of things during the process of publishing those books.  I’ve made some mistakes and I’ve had some extraordinary good luck.  I’ve also watched other writers make some mistakes and do things right.  These things are super important to know.  So in no particular order, here we go….

© Jasonyerface | Dreamstime.com

The first thing you need to know about self-publishing is that you’re not the only one who has this idea.  In fact, right now the market is flooded with self-published authors eager to impress the world with the fruits of their imagination.  There are now millions of books out there just waiting to be read.  What does this mean for you?  It means that you have to figure out a way to stand out from the crowd.  Think writing the book was a challenge?  Try getting it noticed above the sea of other books whose eager authors are trying to do exactly the same thing.  The sad thing is that the majority of these books will stay right there in the sea.Now I’m not trying to discourage you by telling you this.  Quite the contrary.  I want you to be well aware of what’s ahead of you so that you can tackle the challenges head-on.  Because this whole thing is an incredible challenge.

Right, so what do you need to do as a self-published author to stand out and catch on?

The first and most important answer is the same thing that everyone out there has been telling you.  You have to write the best book possible.  There’s no getting around it.  So for those of you who are tired of hearing that, here’s a few things that will help you get there.

Patience.  Patience is the only way to write the absolute best book possible.  It takes a lot of time to write a first draft.  It takes even more time to write the second and the third and the fourth drafts.  Words can’t be rushed onto the page.  Yes, it’s a great idea to set yourself a word-count goal for the day and to make it consistently, but that first flush of story is going to deserve to be flushed until you put some more work into it.  That work takes patience.  It takes letting it sit, handing it off to beta readers, and most importantly of all, it takes shipping it off to an qualified, professional editor to whip it into shape.  Don’t skimp on the editor, people!

But patience isn’t just about time.  Patience is about keeping the lid on yourself.  It’s about being diligent.  One of the things that draws people to the process of self-publishing is the speed with which we can get something published.  It’s so exciting to think that in just a few short hours people out there in the world will be able to buy your imagination fruit!  But be careful not to fill up the apple cart before the fruit is ripe.  One of the biggest mistakes I see self-published authors make is focusing too much on getting out there and not enough on refining and perfecting the product.  I’ve been guilty of it myself.  And I’ve had to go back and publish updated editions with all sorts of embarrassing corrections.

You’ve worked hard on that book.  That book deserves to be ready before it bursts out into the world.  If you’re going to self-publish the onus is on you and you alone to set aside the writer part of you in favor of the editor part.  You are your own quality control.  This takes so much honesty and self-awareness that it boggles the mind.  Don’t rush it.

Moving right along….

The other biggest mistake that I see self-published authors make is in the way they use social media.  You might hear the message that in order to succeed you have to be on every platform all the time posting public service announcements about the worldwide benefits that buying your novel will bring.  Um, the only thing you’re going to accomplish by attempting that is burning yourself out on social media and annoying a lot of people in the process.

© Abdone | Dreamstime.com

Trust me, I’m speaking from experience here.  When I first got into this gig last year I went nuts with the whole blog, Twitter, Facebook, Google+ thing.  I tried to be all things to all people all the time.  Not only did I end up with a sour taste in my mouth over so many of these social media tools, I didn’t see any results from them.In the end I switched to as two-part strategy.  I focused my attention on the social media tools that I actually enjoy: my blog and Facebook.  As a side note, I made a mistake within a mistake of joining every Facebook author group under the sun only to find that I wasn’t able to give most of them everything they deserved.  I learned that it’s far more effective to give your all to a smaller amount of people within a circle of activities that you really enjoy than to try to master all forums.

And you know what ended up happening?  Part two of the two-part strategy.  I made friends with people who like the tools that I don’t like so much.  This meant that when I had news, like the fact that I was running a promo of The Loyal Heart in July, some of those dear friends I had made posted about it on forums I didn’t even know existed.  50,000 eBook downloads later….

Concentrate on what you love.  Pace yourself.  Interact on a genuine level with people who are on the same path that you are.  Help them out without expecting anything in return.  And watch and see what happens.

Of course, you have to be patient while you do this.  It took me a year’s worth of cultivating these connections and friendships before I was able to have the success I had with my promo.  The good news is that I’ve made some fantastic friends along the way.

And that brings me to the biggest potential pitfall, the biggest message self-published authors or authors considering self-publishing need to hear.

Be careful about how you define success.  I know you don’t want to hear it, but the likelihood of you being the next J.K. Rowling or Stephen King or even E.L. James is about the same as your chances of winning the Powerball Lottery.  It’s okay.  You’ll get through this.  Take a deep breath.  Just because your debut self-published novel does not instantly get optioned by Hollywood doesn’t mean you aren’t a success.

© Elwynn | Dreamstime.com

It’s time to redefine success.  I consider myself a successful self-published author because since I made the decision to take this road I have worked hard and produced consistent results.  I have published.  I continue to publish.  I also continue to learn.  My writing has improved by leaps and bounds.  And yes, I’ve sold books.  Enough to pay for a new transmission when my car died earlier this month (although I really wanted to spend my royalty money on something a heck of a lot more fun).  I’ve also begun to have my fellow writers at events here in Philadelphia come up to me asking for help and advice with self-publishing.  When your peers ask for your advice, that’s success.But just because I consider myself a success right now doesn’t mean I haven’t raised the bar for myself.  Yes, I love self-publishing.  I intend to keep on doing it.  But now another bee has flown into my bonnet.  I want to see if I can get a couple of books in my “backlist” published by a small press.  And I’ve got a couple of ideas for novels that I want to write in time to pitch to agents during next year’s conference season.  And my long-term goal is to just be a writer.  I’m starting that journey by self-publishing.  It’s not an either/or prospect.  It’s a stop along the way.

So huzzah!  You’ve made a great choice to self-publish.  It’s a lot of fun.  Consider this the first step in a fantastic journey that will teach you to be a better writer all around.