Why I Don't Self Publish

A company I occasionally write for took a survey of its authors, asking our least favorite question.

The question that makes my ossicles* clatter?
"WHY DON'T YOU SELF PUBLISH?"

*Ossicles are those tiny bones in your ears. If they're crackling, you can imagine how the rest of my body feels. It's not that this isn't a good question. Heck, why not self publish and make millions like that Shades of Manatee author, or that famous author dude who went it alone, or that actress?

I'm not on this journey to make millions.

I'm writing because it's what I want to do. It makes my heart sing, even if it makes my eyes red and bleary when I'm working in the middle of the night on an idea that won't let me sleep. 

Less poetically and more realistically, I am not any of those people with an established platform. Okay, Shades of Battleship woman wasn't big before that book. Good for her. But for most of us, self publishing isn't that sleazy...I mean easy! Good for her. Nothing wrong with a little good hearted smut now and then.

I'm not looking for fame either.

Self publishing takes loads of self promotion. It helps immensely to sell yourself from a platform, a very high and recognizable one, as in you have 100,000 books already sold and want to sell your own quickly while the publishers take a couple of years to produce your next one. That's not me and that's not my road.

I'm on this journey for the sake of the journey. 

I'm here for the ride. For the ups and the downs. Not for being skyrocketed into space where the atmosphere is thin and my friends are too thin. I like life in all shapes and sizes, the fat, the thin, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Sure, if you plied me with enough pints of Guinness, I might admit I had visions of topping the NYT best seller list.

I don't write for end result...just for the next best draft.

Celebrity and money are not the gods I travel with. And at this point in my life, it is all about the journey. I write to because it brings me joy...and tears at times. That's part of the ride. I'm not looking for perfection. Just to live each day to its fullest. 

So why does it bother me when people ask why I don't "just" self publish? It's hard to explain what taking a ride is like to one who is already thinking of the destination.

Is Life Fiction or Non?

Sometimes life can get so bizarre or hard, I have to ask if it's real or am I part of a fiction plot? Is someone playing games with me? Am I a 'sim' that a malevolent being is toying with? If I was creating the Stefanie's life's story, I'd certainly throw her lots of problems, suspense, and drama. I'd also give her high points...if only to make the falling to the lows all that more painful. We readers want drama and trauma. It's what pulls the story forward. But I've found a way to beat the plot. 

Being a writer, I ponder plot a lot. (note: two books I highly recommend are The Writer's Journey by Christopher Volger , which is a masterful work based on Joseph's Campbell's work The Hero's Journey, and Save the Cat by Blake Snyder, which is snappy and succinct spin off of those two tomes.) Plot points pull a story forward because they mirror a rhythm we are used to, they reflect a pattern our minds are familiar with, such as after a high point, there comes a low, if we meet a shady character, and choose to engage with them, shady dealings will probably follow. For example, you date your married neighbor, don't be surprised when that doesn't end well. 

Though I haven't managed to make that social faux pas, one time when things got hairy in my life, my German grandma told me a saying from the old world,  "You run with the wolves, you hang with the wolves." Got to love Germans for going for the jugular. She was telling me that I created that drama. So according to her, our lives are non-fiction, we make choices and events ensue from them. 

But what about the sucker punches? The things that come out of nowhere? The car accidents? The bank failures (well that wasn't from nowhere...)? The choices your kids make despite your best efforts to teach them better? All these things could be what my yoga background calls the karma of past lives playing out, karma meaning just actions, as in the law of cause and effect, as in running with wolves, or building a straw house when there is a wolf about. Or it could be an unfeeling universe spewing random events at me. Or it could be a god or a sim master playing with me. Is my life fiction or non?

Whatever conclusion I draw, will create a different theme in my life. Even non-fiction stories have themes. I've been reading a lot of them lately, especially graphic novels because I am starting to write non-fiction for middle grade. They are rich in theme, using colors and tones to convey emotion and content. It's made me think a lot about these elements in my life. What texture do I want my life to have? Do I have any control over it? Yes. Somewhat. I may not be able to control all the events, but I can create my theme.

I've got a new theme: Stay centered while the pendulum swings. I can avoid the wolves, but I don't want to. It's not in my character. I like walking in the woods. I like wildlife, and given the chance to run my fingers through a wolf's fur, I will. It's as if someone wrote it into my DNA, into my nature. It's my archetype. So I know I bring a lot of my challenges onto myself. But I also am not so self-absorbed to think I am the center of the universe. Other forces are out there pushing my pendulum, swinging me about. But I can stay centered. To do this, I need to know my heart. It takes listening. Listening to its rhythm, to its needs, to its tone and texture. When I do, it's not just my heart that speaks. I hear other's. And like two metronomes set to different times, I can adjust my beating, my rhythm, my plot points, to better match what's happening around me.

When the plot thickens around me, I can respond positively , creating a better story, or at least not adding to the drama.

SCBWI International LA Conferences Inspires

A whirlwind week at the SCBWI International Conference in Los Angeles left me inspired...and a little tired. It's a good exhaustion, the kind after a good long hike, the kind that makes me want to put my feet up. And my fingers on the key board. From Shannon Hale's keynote about breaking the glass wall between "boys" and "girls" books (yes, boys like Newbery  Honor "The Princess Academy) to Kwame Alexander's kapow, half-information half-rap half rap up–––yeah I know that's 150% but that's how much he gave us!–––I was left in wanting to hit the keyboard.

(Side note: Kwame says he says he doesn't why his poems are linked to rap, but if you've read this year's Newbery Winner "The Cross Over" you've gotten a taste of his amazing rhythm and in-your-face lyricism that's attracting young readers to poetry. And what is R.A.P? Rhythm and Poetry!)

The next day, I went to a poetry intensive with Kwame. I write poetry sporadically and really know nothing about it. In three hours, I learned enough to not hurt myself or my readers. I laughed when we tried to write a poem together, learning why it didn't work: we all had different mood, message, and objective. I cried a little when he encouraged a young author illustrator to believe in herself. I hope she is submitting that awesome manuscript as I type.

If you haven't gone to a conference in a while, do it. Sure, writing is the main thing. Sure, you'd rather stay being your keyboard being productive, but being around other writers, and illustrators, and talking to the "other half of the business," the agents and editors, is worth your while. You'll learn skills beyond how to put words together. You'll learn about the industry–––like what's selling, who's buying, and why. You'll learn how other people organize their writing life. And, like me learning poetry, you might learn about the "mystery and reveal" of you're own life, and find new inspiration.

Writing, Reading, Ice Cream

That trinity could be a lethal, or at least fattening, combination. In excess, anything is...but in moderation it keeps me typing and turning pages. Plus, I've found a great way to curb the calories, increase my tastebud joy, and save money: Make my own ice cream.

Does it work? Yes...I still need to get off my butt every day and exercise. But through experimentation I've created a relatively low calorie, cheap, and healthy recipe. 

First, I bought a cute, little, red ice cream maker for $30. That's less than the cost of 5 pints of Ben and Jerry's.

Second, I tried different combinations of milks and creams and sugars. I found I could halve the suggested amount of cream, and use a stevia and erythritol or xylitol (the friendliest sugar replacement with no cancer causing crap), and goats or cows milk. I will be trying coconut milk next. I also need only a fraction of the sugar most recipes recommend. I just don't need it that sweet.

Third, I trusted the new science that debunks the myth that fat is terrible for you. We need fat. Our brains love it. Our bodies crave it. It makes our guts happy. I healed my critic poor digestion by indulging in fat this winter...with no weight gain. Carbs do that. See more about Paleo Diet here and high fat theory or GAPS Diet, here.

Fourth, and last, I eat my ice cream and enjoy it too. I had to stop editing yet another version of the beginning of my middle grade novel, Nyghtmare's Code, to write about the super fuel that was getting me through the revisions: Homemade, sarsaparilla, fenugreek, garam masala goat milk ice cream. Funky, tasty, and full of fuel for the fingers.

The recipe:
1 cup goats milk
1 cup cream
1/4 cup sugar of choice, I use Smart Sweet
1/2 teaspoon each garam masala and fenugreek
1 teaspoon each sarsaparilla and vanilla
Heat on low milk and sugar until sugar blends in. Put this in a blender with all spices and blend again. Chill this. Add this with cream to ice cream maker and follow machine's instructions, which for me is 20 minutes of watching the blade go round and round. It made the fluffiest ice cream, ready to eat, or freeze for more firm texture. Yum! Now back to my work...

The Game of Love and Death

Everything about Martha Brockenbrough's new book THE GAME OF LOVE AND DEATH amazes me. It's fascinating to read, and intriguing to examine as a writer. This book's creative elements––-Original characters; Captivating, tense plot; Intertwining P.O.V.; Romance, and not just any romance but an interracial one; literary writing–––kept me reading way too late. Don't start this book the night before a final or a big day on the job!

 IMHO...okay, I'm not so humble...I'm giving this book a huge shout because it catapults Martha Brockenbrough's writing into the ranks of my heroes of creative fiction for teens (and adults who think like a teen...or is that just me?), A.S. King, Robyn LeFever, Meg Rosoff, Ellen Hopkins...the list goes on. 

As a writer, I know how long it can take to craft a book like this, but I still want to ask her: What's in the works? When does the next one come out?

Crazy About A.S. King

I don't write reviews often, but I have to shout about A.S. King's books. All of them, though I just finished REALITY BOY. I want to make a witty metaphor about how with every obligatory page turn I felt I was in the room with the characters, living their reality. (Because of the circumstance of the main character, him being the unwilling star of a reality show.) But nothing I can write will compare with what A.S. KIng wrote. Just read her book. Now.

If I was 16, I'd scream OMG! how does she write such twisted stories so well?  Since I'm not 16, or even 18, or anywhere close, I've got to wonder why I love Young Adult fiction so much?

  • They're generally fast-paced, skipping yards of back story and eyelid-drooping exposition.
  • I have a short attention span.
  • The characters are exploring how to explore their world. They're wondering how things work in their world.
  • Maybe my horizons are a little broader after a few more miles under my boots, but I still say what the F is that about all the time?
  • YA fiction stretches boundaries, digs in, and gets to the meat of emotions.
  • I have a big appetite for that.

So here's to another late night of reading! Thanks A.S. King. Heard you have a new book coming out in September. Great news, because I've read everything you've published so far.

New Website Made Me Cry

Staring at the website manager, I felt 15 again. I knew what I wanted; I had no idea how to do. My son had already done the major revamping  (in exchange for a new Iphone), but it wasn't quite complete. My skills were beyond rusty, they had reverted to dirt. I felt overwhelmed and under capable. Stupid. I was about to cry.

I lie.

This is what really happened: I asked my son to help me for the millionth time. He said he was busy. I bitc---I mean pointed out that he hadn't done the work he said he'd do. He claimed he had and had an essay to write. I said he'd just been playing League of Legends. He raised his voice. I mimicked him. He raised the ante, swearing. I paused, remembering my vow to not argue with him or anyone. 

But now I'd stuffed in my feelings. The adolescent flashback really hit: the injustice of life; my son didn't understand; no one cared. Wah wah wah. So although I'd succeeded in not fighting on the outside, I was tearing myself up on the inside. 

I got up and grabbed the rake. I breathed. If I didn't want to argue with my son or anyone, I had to not argue with the way things were. So I didn't know how to fix my website. So my son didn't want or couldn't help. So what? That's the way it was. Right now. Soon, I had three piles of different colored leaves and fresh air in my lungs and a fresh perspective. I chose to be happy even if I didn't like what was going on.

Back in front of the computer, I buckled my brain in. A couple hours later, the website looked pretty good...and I think part of me grew up.

PNWA Literary Contest

I generally live by the motto "it's the journey, not the destination." But taking first place in the Pacific Northwest Literary Contest is mighty sweet. Was it the applause? Partly. Because after being finalist 3 of the past 4 years, my friends were cheering. Was it my daughter's squeal? Partly for sure. She jumped up and hugged me in front of 600 people. Was it knowing that the hard work had paid off. Definitely. 

What's funny, though, is that writing 10s of 1000s of words, the 151 word picture book
WHAT EVER YOU DO, DON'T THINK ABOUT A DRAGON
took the prize.

Synchronicity: Grab It

I'm receiving signals from the ether, and I'm not even wearing my tinfoil hat. I'm on a list serve with a current discussion thread about the merit of blogging and having a website if you are a pre-published author. Who would read it? How much time to put into it vs. writing? Is it important.

Made me wonder if any one reads my blog...and looking at the stats provided by SquareSpace, not too many. BUT––here's the synchro part––this week people actually emailed me after reading my blog. And now you are too!

I don't blog enough to probably keep your attention, so I'm going to put some effort into it. I've been meaning to make a calendar with target activities for each day to propel me into the published-author world. I'm s(lightly) published, but not in my new genre. I even bought a big calendar. Have yet to hang it and adorn it with to-do lists. Always would rather just write. But "sharpening the saw" (Steven Covey, 7 Habits of Highly Successful People) is important. 

GO SHARPEN YOURS! What do you need to do, besides writing, to prepare for the day you are published? Or your (next) book gets released? I'm going to revamp this website, blog regularly, and get that calendar hung...and put on my tinfoil hat.

Emotionally Weak Heroine

Can a female main character of a story be weak in a way that no woman wants to be? Can she be stuck in an abusive relationship when it's obvious that she should run away faster than a woman in a torn t-shirt woman with a chainsaw-maniac coming after her?

When it's a horror movie, we expect stupidity. But what if our literary heroine is living a normal life, seems relatively intelligent, and yet won't quit a man who is domineering, jealous, and mean? Is this character believable? I'm struggling with this question as I write Frankenesque. Some early readers say she is weak. That's the point. She's in an abusive relationship, but she's going to grow and learn to take care of herself. Plus, it's real; many woman are in these kinds of relationships.

It might seem like pitting readers against a main character, risking they won't believe the character could be real, could hurt an indie author’s book sales.

From Publisher's Weekly: "Try telling that to Gail McHugh, who, after selling almost half a million copies of her debut self-published romance novel, Collide, has seen the recent follow-up, Pulse, top the list of Amazon bestsellers—all while driving readers crazy over the relationship choices made by the series’ heroine."

I think it's important to portray woman who aren't making smart choices. I recently rediscovered a childhood heroine who I didn't even know I idolized: Lucille Ball. When I was sick around New Years, I watched the movie, Lucy, (click here to learn more about) and listened to an excellent podcast by Studio 360, too. (click here to read/listen) Wow! What a woman. Lucille Ball was ambitious, confident, and capable. And funny!

But even as I love her for her strength, I recognize that she was also still subservient to her husband…and the norms of society at that time. I think many of us struggle with a similar dichotomy today: capable yet surrounded by glass ceilings and walls, and psyches, too. I'm not going to go on a feminist rant. I ask that you support your girlfriends with sympathy,  rather than judge woman in abusive relationships. Most likely they learned to accept being treated that way by what they learned in childhood in the home, or from the media––today's or the past. And support books that portray weak woman, and how they got stronger.

 

 

Keeping Motivated

I thought I knew how to keep motivated when the rejection letters came in. I did…last year. The rejection letters were getting better and better. The agents and editors were writing comments. They were saying the stories were great, but just not right for their imprint. Or that my writing made the grade, but the story didn't grab them. But I was happy; they were writing personal rejections. Not form letters.

This year, I've been getting rejected by contests. Sure, lots of people must be entering them. But that's just rationalizing. Plain and simple: my writing wasn't good enough. The Zebulon judges slaughtered the latest iteration of the first chapters of "Nyghtmare's Code." After a week of gestating their critique, I realized they were right. But I'd already sent that version to two more contests. One of which, I learned today, didn't make it to the final cut. My friend's did. And I am happy for her. Really. I am. A high tide floats all boats!

How do I plug the holes in my ego, I mean boat, though?

  1. Submit again. Finish the rewrite and send it off again. This week. I rewrote a couple chapters already. Do more tomorrow. Edit the next day. Send by the end of the week.
  2. Repeat next week.
  3. Get up a master calendar with concrete writing goals. I bet those lawyer-turned-authors do that and that's why so many of them are successful.
  4. Rewrite. Rewrite. Rewrite.
  5. Read. Read. Read. Which I am going to do right now. It's 10:19 PM. I've been up since 4:13 AM. Time to get off the computer and snuggle up with my imaginary boyfriend who I get to read about in a good book.
  6. Decide if I am going to Crested Butte's Conference. It's the one whose contest I didn't final in. It's an awesome conference. It's a long ways from Alaska but I went last year when "Unigoat" was a finalist. It's be fun to go with my friend who might just win this year!

Indie Publishing vs Traditional

Publishers Weekly articles are thick and plenty describing how the traditional publishing world is embracing or at least co-existing with "indie publishing."

Here's what Entangled Publishing has to say: we believe authors who write great books should receive a majority of the profits. We also believe authors interested in the lucrative indie publishing model shouldn’t have to sacrifice quality editing, commercial covers, or the power of a New York-style marketing machine. Their model is one of many that is taking advantage of the digital age of publishing. 

I'm not the first person to say this 'age' is a game-changer like the Gutenberg Press. It's been exciting to hear the change at conferences over the past five years. Back then people were fearful of what e-readers would do to books: would they even exist anymore? Couple that with the recession, and it was all doom-n-gloom. New models are popping up to get your books in front of your audience. The tide has turned; surfs up!

Surviving Contests

I'm giving another contest a try: Dear Lucky Agent Contest (click here), for contemporary middle grade, judged by an agent, and hosted by Writer's Digest. Chuck Sambuchino, in his blog "guide to literary agents" says that the last Writer's Digest Contest resulted in a writer getting signed by the agent, and selling two books!

Even though I was shocked by the critique I received from the last contest I entered, I'm going for it again…with refreshed, revised, and better-than-before first pages. After the initial chock wore off, the wisdom of the advice in the critique became apparent.

Admission: some of that advice I heard years ago. What I learned: when someone picks out something that they "don't get" in my story, maybe i need to change the way I'm telling the story because what I thought was a cool idea, simply isn't. In particular, In Nyghtmare's Code I really wanted the dad to be a bit weird. But reviewers keep saying he's coming across distant and mean. This last reviewer said she didn't understand why the boy even wants to save the dad. Ouch!

So I dived in and rewrote the beginning for the 30th time. I tried a different approach. I want the story to work for readers more than I want to stick to my vision, because apparently my mental vision is as obscured as my astigamtism-challenged eyes.

 

Wattpad Progress

As I mentioned on my last post, I am going to publish my YA story to the online site Wattpad.com, where readers rate the books. Today I logged on, uploaded my first chapter, and even created a book cover all by myself on Picmonkey.com. Amazingly easy. I made one mistake: I chose an R rating for the book, and now must wait for the Wattpad team to change it to pg13. Then it will up and running, or really up for reading. Can't wait to see what happens!

ebook world part 1

While my recently re-edited, revised, and super ready to-be-picked-up by an agent middle grade novel, NYGHTMARE'S CODE, is touring agents' desk, I've decided to try my hand in the online self-published world. I will be putting parts of the book I wrote during 2013 NaNoWriMo online, probably in short serials, FRANKENESQUE.

In FRANKENESQUE, when an eighteen-year-old girl mixes desire and alcohol with an abusive boyfriend, their a messy, mixed up relationship threatens to kill them both. He's got a monster inside, she's got two guardian spirits who've got their own problems. She's got to choose between her passion for her boyfriend and love of herself.

I'm going to check out site Wattpad.com to serialize the novel. From the site:

Wattpad is a New Way to Read

An unlimited, ever-growing library of free books and stories all in the palm of your hand! On Wattpad, millions of people are discovering great fiction, sharing stories with friends and following their favorite authors chapter-by-chapter.

Get started with Wattpad and find your next great read!

The Power of Negative Thinking (November Theme: No-vember)

Saying NO is important. It sets your personal boundaries. Getting a NO is also good. It can force us to work for the YES. 

SmackDab.jpg

Author Tracy Barrett explains: Sometime NO can be a force for good. If a string of editors hadn’t said “no” to my second attempt at a novel and if one of them had instead said “yes” and acquired it, I would be embarrassed today that my second published novel was so mediocre. Instead, those editorial “no’s” pushed me to improve my writing and led to a “yes” (on a different, better manuscript) from an editor who published that different, better novel and then seven more... read more click here.

NaNoWriMo Why?

NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month and it works. You can write a novel in a month. I am. It may not be readable by anyone but you. Mine isn't. But to write your 50,000 words in 30 days, you will need to be swift and not judge your writing. This is the surest way to overcome writer's block.

nano.png

From the NaNoWriMo.org  reason #3: Art for art’s sake does wonderful things to you. It makes you laugh. It makes you cry. It makes you want to take naps and go places wearing funny pants. Doing something just for the hell of it is a wonderful antidote to all the chores and “must-dos” of daily life. Writing a novel in a month is both exhilarating and fun, and we would all do well to invite a little more spontaneous whimsy into our lives.

November is Alaska Native Heritage Month

Did you know that only 0.6% of all children's books feature a Native American protagonist? As we celebrate Native American and Alaska Native Heritage Month, help us promote the reading of these books. Today and tomorrow, November 15 and 16, download the Kindle version of Deb Vanasse's young adult novel A Distant Enemy for FREE! http://tinyurl.com/k6mbgh8

dist enemy.jpg

"Coming of age in a remote Alaskan village, a mixed-race boy lashes out in anger—at his father for abandoning his family, at outsiders for forcing change, and at his teacher, who holds over him a secret Joseph would rather forget. Publishers Weekly called this sensitive novel "a vivid portrait of modern Eskimo lifestyles, conflicts and fears."