Tag Archives: self-publishing

It always matters to someone. Always.

I just heard that today, April 27, is Tell a Story Day. So, in honour of that, here’s a little story-within-a-story.

Some of you reading this blog are writers and know how it feels to tell a story. For those of you who are not writers, this is a pretty accurate representation:

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It’s difficult to know, when you’re in the process of writing, whether a story is any good. It’s actually pretty easy to believe that no one will want to read it, or that people who do read it will wonder what you were even thinking when you decided you could do that. And sometimes, all that self-doubt becomes overwhelming and you begin to suspect you’ve lost the ability to tell a story at all. If you ever had it.

When I started writing this A to Z Challenge story, I said I was doing it to kick-start myself out of a creative slump. And that’s true. But the full truth is that I’d managed to convince myself I couldn’t write fiction. That any ability I had to tell a story had disappeared. It’s a scary feeling.

So I decided to write something this month that “didn’t matter.” Something completely outrageous and ridiculous and out of the ordinary, something I’d never done before. So, if I failed, I could shrug and say, “Oh well, it was ridiculous anyway.” My expectations for it to even make sense were very low.

I didn’t expect it to be so much fun. And I certainly didn’t expect all the lovely comments or the “likes” or the new blog followers I’ve gathered along the way. Every single one has been a delightful gift.

So, while I still have your attention, I wanted to say thank you. I’ve had a blast rediscovering my ability to tell a story, and it has been a privilege to have you all along for the ride on this unlikely adventure.

Several people have encouraged me to publish this story (someplace other than my blog) once it’s done. And probably I will. I can’t imagine this story is the kind of thing an agent or publisher would be interested in taking on, so most likely I’ll go the self-pub route again. [Did you know I have other books? They’re listed here.]

That will only happen after I complete the edit/re-write process, during which the story will no doubt get longer. Maybe even more ridiculous. Who knows.

If any of you are interested in hearing that news — and I totally understand if you’re not — I’ll announce it first via my mailing list. You should sign up! My intention is to only send out notices when new fiction is available, so you won’t be signing up for spammy ramblings of what I ate for breakfast or how the cat is doing. I limit that kind of stuff to my blog.

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Okay, so that’s it for my small contribution on Tell a Story Day. Now on to the bigger task of telling a story during the month of April.

I think I’ve almost decided on a word for the letter X and probably should start writing that post. I wonder what’s going to happen next . . .

 

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Filed under A to Z Challenge, creativity, writing

Five Things I Learned Writing A Place to Start

Chuck Wendig recently announced a new series over on his blog, where writers tell five things they learned while writing a story. I like this idea. I like it a lot. He’s only opening it up to traditionally published writers, and I get that. He has sound reasons for that. And honestly, I doubt the highly experienced crowd over there has much to learn from self-pub newbies.

But since I just finished writing a story, I decided to make a list of my own. Because I did learn some stuff that’s maybe worth contemplating.

I don’t feel qualified to give writing advice, that’s not my intent here, but perhaps some other embryonic writer will stumble across this someday and find it helpful.

1.) Deadlines are more effective with significant consequences

Obviously, not everyone has this problem. But I’m pretty much an expert-level procrastinator. I’ve set writing goals before, with mixed success. This time was different, for two reasons.

First, I publicly promised people I care about that I was giving them something for the holidays (goal: 12-25). Pretty sure they knew it was a story. Since it was supposed to be a short story, I figured I had plenty of time. HA! Writing short is hard and I don’t have the skill for it. I should have known this would be a longer piece, that it would take more time. I started writing it on December 3. What was I thinking? Talk about a ticking clock.

APTS cover pngSecond, I asked one of my sisters, a graphic artist, whether she’d make a cover for me. She not only agreed, she started working on it immediately. Even though I told her there was no rush, because I WAS STILL WRITING THE STORY. But no, she was off and running. Er, drawing. An original hand-drawn creation (and it’s gorgeous) is no small undertaking for an artist who has MG, as my sister does. No way in hell was I going to tell her I didn’t need a cover after all.

Those two things combined were a perfect storm of unacceptable consequences for not finishing. I hesitate to even say this, for several reasons, but I learned that I can indeed write 25,600 words in two weeks and spend a week editing it down to 27,000 words [sigh] and then publish the thing.

2.) Sometimes speed is your friend

I don’t necessarily recommend writing and editing and publishing a novella in three weeks. Really. I guarantee you, there are sensible people reading this right now who are recoiling in horror at the very thought. Hell, I’m a bit horrified myself and I’m the one who did it.

However. If you’re like me and tend to take forever writing a thing and edit it to death as you go and then second-guess yourself into paralysis, this approach might be something to consider.

I didn’t have time to stop and edit. Each day, I’d briefly skim over the previous day’s work and wade right back into writing. At the end of the day, I’d jot a few quick notes about things to come. There were a ton of notes that said “XXfix this later.”

But I learned that my brain is doing things I’m not consciously aware of and that some of the things I would have deleted if I’d had time to edit as I went turned out to be important to the story. I’ve heard other writers say this, but didn’t quite believe my brain was doing that.

For instance, early in the story when Jo was lost in the snowstorm, she thought longingly about finding a loving family who would offer shelter. It was a stupid thought. If I’d had time, I would have deleted and re-written that part immediately. I realized later, much later, that finding a community of loving people who treated her like family turned out to be an important theme. That’s not something I set out to do.

There were a bunch of things like that, so many that it was sort of shocking. Little seeds planted unintentionally that turned out to be significant.

When I decided Jo wrote stories for children and then named the rabbit Steve, I added a note: “XXthis is stupid, fix it.” I had no idea at the time how important that would be. Or that Mac knew how to whittle. And it turns out people kind of liked that stupid rabbit.

And you know what? It was fun. I had a blast writing this story, free from the self-criticism of constant editing.

3.) Editing is SO important

Okay, this isn’t something I learned writing this story. I’ve always known this. But I can’t just not say this, in light of item #2.

I like to think the mechanics of my writing are pretty solid, in terms of spelling and grammar and (unless you’re overly fond of commas) punctuation. I’ve had years of practice. When I say I wrote the story in two weeks, what that really means is it took me a dozen-plus years of writing and studying craft and a lifetime of reading to write it that fast.

With the deadline I’d given myself, and it being right before the holidays, there wasn’t time to find a professional editor who wouldn’t try to have me killed just for asking. Possibly a dumb decision, but in this particular instance (see #4), I have no regrets. At all.

A week to edit a novella? That’s really pushing it. You can’t just run spell check and be done. That’s not editing. I did enlist the help of a very savvy reader friend and she gave great feedback on an early draft. But as a writer there are things I’m aware of, and responsible for, that a reader might never notice.

It helps that I know the type of stuff I tend to screw up. I skip words. Just leave them out entirely. It’s hard to catch that, even when you know to look for it.

I write things like, “She stood up and walked over to the window and looked out and saw…” GAH. That’s fine for a first draft, but you need to fix that crap.

Also, after reading so many romances, I tend to use familiar or clichéd phrases. It’s lazy writing. At one point, I wrote that Jo “wrenched away” when Mac put a hand on her arm. It sounded like he was being physically aggressive. Only he wasn’t. In the final version, she “shrugged it off.” Little thing, big difference.

And since my mind is always in the gutter and I see innuendo everywhere, I changed “he turned his phone on” to “he turned on his phone.”

Word choice, word order. It matters. I spent more time editing in the span of a week than I spent writing during the previous two.

That said, I am absofuckinglutely sure there are still mistakes in it, both large and small. Especially on the developmental, story structure level. I have no doubt whatsoever there are things in that story I’ll look back on in the future, probably next week, and wish I’d done differently or better or not at all.

3-1/2.) A bonus thing, since the last point wasn’t a new thing I learned

It’s a bad idea to publish a 27,000-word story in 11 posts on your blog. What can I say, it seemed like a good idea at the time. I was wrong. Don’t do this. It’s irritating and frustrating and breaks the flow and is not the way you want readers to experience your story.

4.) It feels so fucking good to “finish your shit”

Credit to Wendig for that particular expression, but it’s a universal truth. This story isn’t the first thing I’ve finished. It’s not even the first thing I’ve published. But it is the first time I’ve finished a piece of fiction and then shoved it out into the world. (I’m being quite literal here. I’ve never even sent out a query.)

It’s not perfect. It might not even be particularly good. But, you know what, no one died. The sky didn’t fall. No one came to my house and kicked my cat. Well, not yet. Early days.

It feels indescribably good to just be done. I don’t mean “done” as in one more lingering done-but-not-quite-ready dark blot of indecision on the hard drive. I mean irreversibly done. No more endless editing. No more angst about whether to re-write that one part. Or that other part. Again. It’s out there and gone. DONE. I needed that. You have no idea how badly I needed that. Far more than I needed another edit.

5.) I have got to stop taking this whole writing thing so seriously

I struggle with this. Yes, I take it very seriously. Probably too much so. I feel an almost overwhelming obligation to the people who invest their hard-earned money and irretrievable time into the reading of a story. There’s a level of trust there and I’m trying my damndest not to violate that.

Plus there’s that ever present fear of failure. Or success. Or both. Whatever.

But still. It is just entertainment. It’s not open-heart surgery where someone could die if you get it wrong. And it’s as ephemeral as it is eternal. Every story is just one small drop in an endless flow. No matter how good it is, a story will never be so good that a person who reads it will feel like they don’t ever have to read another. They might re-read it, but there will always be another. Always. And I want to be the one who writes it. Now that I know I can. Without, you know, endangering the cat.

I’ll be working with an editor on the next one, so it will take more time. Perhaps not to draft, but definitely in the editing stage where the real writing happens. No doubt I’ll learn more than a handful of new things. Maybe I’ll even learn to write short. Don’t anyone hold your breath.

PS- The story in question is available here:

AMZ | BN | Kobo | Goodreads | Smashwords || Sony & Apple… coming soon

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Filed under A Place to Start, self-publishing, writing

A Place to Start, the cover

When I first started writing A Place to Start, I intended to just put it up on my blog. But it turned into a novella and it was cumbersome and irritating to read. I’m hoping that was just due to the format and not the story itself.

So I decided to publish it with all the various online retailers as well. But I’d need a cover for that. So I asked one of my sisters — Annie Gray, who is a graphic artist — whether she’d make a cover for me. To my surprise (and delight!) she said she would.

Why surprise? Well, the thing is, this sister has MG (myasthenia gravis), which makes it very difficult for her to do the time-intensive detailed work of drawing. And since she was determined that there were not going to be any copyright issues, this is not a photoshop cut-and-paste of stock photos. The entire thing is an original hand-drawn creation.

This led to dozens of emails back and forth (because I hate talking on the phone) in which I tried to describe the look I wanted, and kept changing my mind, and saying things like “remember that picture you took six years ago, I liked that colour red, I think,” and generally just proving what a pain in the ass I am to work with.

I had a vague idea what I wanted. You all know this is dangerous. I do not have any artistic talent. I told her sort of Christmassy, but not really. Simple, but not stark. Like winter, but with a warm feel. Red and green and charcoal. No, not that green. I can’t even tell you how many emails went back and forth.

She’d send me a rough draft and tell me to JUST look at the format. Or to ONLY look at the colour. Because it’s a process and you do one step at a time. Like layering. So, of course, I’d email back asking whether we could use a different font.

At one point, she said something like, “Are you sure you’re a writer? You’re not doing a very good job communicating. You know, with words.”

I swear, it’s a wonder she didn’t come down here and kill me in my sleep.

She was doing all this work while I was still writing the story and it turned out to be great motivation for finishing the damn thing. It’s likely she really would have killed me if all her hard work had turned out to be for nothing.

Here it is. It’s gorgeous and I absolutely love it. It’s everything I wanted, only better.

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Speaking of exciting events, it’s now up for sale in three places!

Amazon  |  Barnes & Noble  |  Kobo

I can only list it for free if I publish exclusively with Amazon, and I don’t want to do that. [Sorry! You can still read it for free on the blog.]

So, are there other retailers where I should list it? What other devices do you all use?

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The Power of Three

“I’m not dead yet!”

Sorry for the extended silence over here. I’ve actually written a small handful of posts in the past two months, but they were either too trivial or too whiny or involved too much navel-gazing. So I deleted them and decided to wait until I could fit all those qualities into one post.

Ahem.

I’ve been busy writing. And deleting and editing and writing and deleting some more and . . . I swear, I will never participate in NaNo ever again. I suspect I’ve deleted or completely re-written every single word spewed forth in November. Mind you, I think NaNo is a terrific thing for writers if it works for them. I’d absolutely recommend that any interested writer give it a try, because you never know what might work if you don’t try it. But it’s just not a good fit for my writing process. Geez. I’ve never had to do such a major overhaul.

There, that takes care of the trivial whining portion of the post.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about marketing. Trying to think like a reader. Luckily, I am one! In fact, I am a voracious and highly experienced reader. So I’m the perfect person for me to ask about what works in terms of marketing books [just nod and agree as if that made sense].

What works for me? When I discover a new-to-me writer and read a book of theirs that I really like, the first thing I do is check to see whether they’ve written anything else. If they have, I’ll buy another book. If I like that, I’ll buy a third. And a fourth. And probably the entire backlist, provided it’s priced such that my budget can handle it.

But what happens when I read a book I really like and there are no more books by that person? Well, of course, I make a mental note to remember that person’s name. Because that works so well. Not. Sure, I could make an actual list. But I know how hard it is to write a book. I hope that person will write another, but I’ve seen dozens of writers disappear in my decades of reading. So I’m not counting on it.

Seeing an author’s name once or twice is not going to make it stick in my brain, no matter how much I might have enjoyed their writing. There are just too many other books and authors out there. And I read A LOT. But three times . . . there’s something memorable about that. Seeing something three times, searching Amazon three times, buying an author’s books three times, and — this is KEY — really enjoying something three times. That would leave a lasting impression, even with me.

Now, the importance of having a backlist is not a new concept. I’ve heard it from several sources, but probably heard it first from Bob Mayer. He has an uncanny knack for being way ahead of his time. Our time? The times? Whatever. I’m sure his prescience is a direct result of all those alien abductions. Anyway, I remember him saying there’s not much point in marketing your books until you’ve published at least three of them (there’s that number again).

I’ve decided to take that advice a step further. I’m not going to publish any of these stories I’m currently writing until I have at least three of them ready to go. Because if someone really likes a book I’ve written, I want them to be able to buy another one immediately. And, if they enjoy that, yet another. I might never get a second chance to capture that person’s attention. There are just too many other books out there.

I want that person to remember my name when future books are published. I figure three books ought to do it. I might be wrong. I have no statistics or publishing experience to back this up. All I have is my intuition and experience as a reader. But I’m pretty average in terms of remembering things [just nod and agree, humour me] and it seems to work for me. It makes sense to me.

As a writer, putting books out there as soon as they’re ready to go is a seductive prospect. Everyone does it that way, even traditional publishers. It would certainly satisfy my towering impatience. I also think it’s a mistake.

Yeah, I know, most of you reading this post already know my name (as well as my new pen name) and will argue that you don’t want or need to wait until I have three books ready. I know that, and I’m sorry to make you wait. Really, I am.

But I’m sort of hoping to sell books to more than five people. Looking at this from the perspective of an unknown reader, it just doesn’t make sense to rush to publication and do this piecemeal. The importance of seeing things from that perspective, being aware of the discovery process of the unknown reader, is something writers can’t afford to ignore in this new realm of DIY publishing.

So if you’ve been wondering why I haven’t published anything yet, that’s why. Yes, I could have. But just because you can do a thing doesn’t mean you should. And I believe there are compelling reasons why it would be foolish to do so.

Of course, none of this matters AT ALL if no one enjoys the books. So, back to working on that part of it.

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Filed under goals, marketing, self-publishing

Ch-Ch-Changes

There have been big changes in my life lately and I’ve debated and delayed writing about them. Some of this is difficult to say, but it seems silly to continue avoiding it.

Several things led up to these changes. Part of it has been a growing conviction that the thriller I’m writing (or not writing) is beyond my abilities to execute. I just don’t have the writing chops to do it justice. It took me too long to realize that and admit it. Along the way, I lost confidence in my ability to write anything and that has been horribly depressing. I feel guilty as hell and apologetic to the people who’ve been waiting FOREVER to read that book. I haven’t given up on it. I love that story. That’s precisely why I’m setting it aside. For now.

Another factor is that, like anyone else who’s been paying attention, I’ve watched the growing audience for ebook erotica and erotic romance. And, yes, the growing sales figures. Way back in January, long before the recent blockbusters, I started thinking maybe I should give that genre a try. But work demands were . . . fucking unreasonable demanding and my confidence was in shreds and I never quite got around to it.

And then I lost my job. Yep, I got fired. And in the next breath they asked me to stay on for a month to help with the transition. Craziest damn thing I’d ever heard. I declined. All I’m going to say about that situation is that nepotism should be a cardinal sin in business. Don’t do it folks. It will cloud your judgment and cause you to make stupid disastrous decisions (not me, the head honcho).

At first I felt a bit panicked. But at the same time I was vastly giddily overwhelmingly (there aren’t enough -ly’s to express it) relieved. I knew the job had become stressful, every morning filled with dark suffocating dread, but I hadn’t realized how bad it had gotten until it was just . . . gone.

It was like William Wallace in Braveheart: “FREEDOM!” Of course, that didn’t end well for him. Ahem.

I gave myself a couple weeks to just think and de-stress. The prospect of taking another job crunching numbers filled me with that same awful dread. I’ve done that for decades. I’m very good at it. And I don’t want to ever do it again.

But I need an income. I’ve got a bit of a cushion, but that won’t last forever. I found myself wondering about the possibility of making money from writing.

And then Ray Bradbury died. I know, that sounds totally random.

Totally random picture of my daughter’s cat.

That sad event led me to a blog post by Hannah Tinti that featured an embedded video of a Bradbury speech and her condensed list of his writing advice (watch the video, it’s entertaining and educational).

One piece of advice was to write short stories before you write a novel. That sounded wise. It also sounded like something I could do. He admonished that writing should be joyful. That you should surprise yourself. And don’t do it for the money. ACK. Sorry, Ray, some of us have no choice but to at least try to earn an income.

He also said to write something you’d want to read. And to follow your intuition. So that’s what I’m doing.

With apologies to my mom and everyone else who expected something different from me, I’ve decided to write erotic romance. Yes, I’ll be self-publishing it and there will be a different pen name and all that goes with it. More on that some other time.

I’ve already spent the past seven or eight months (really, this idea has been percolating) reading erotica and erotic romance. Because you should never try to write something you haven’t read extensively. I’ve now read a lot of it. Like any genre, there’s a whole spectrum of good, bad and incomprehensible. There is also a wide range of diversity. From light and fun to dark and angsty, from mild to wild and everything in between. And I do mean everything.

The stories that appeal to me, the kind I think I can write, are the type that are more about the characters than a laundry list of physical acts. Stories, regardless of genre, resonate because of compelling characters and the emotions they evoke.

You might be wondering what makes me think I can write erotic romance when I can’t even finish a final draft of a thriller. Fair question. It’s one I ask myself often.

Years ago, back when I tried and then decided not to write romance in spite of reading and enjoying it, there were two primary reasons. One was the whole “I’ve known you three days, let’s get married” thing. I’m not capable of writing that kind of HEA ending. The other was that the scenes I wrote involving physical attraction and sexual tension were a little too, um, intense for what contemporary romance was at the time. In erotic romance? This is not a problem.

Apparently, I suck when it comes to plotting an entire complicated novel-length thriller and writing action scenes (yes, I know, sex scenes are action scenes, hush, it’s different). But I think I’m pretty good at creating believable characters and I seem to have a good ear for writing dialog. And sexual tension.

More importantly, I’m seeing results. I’m not saying it’s easy. Writing is hard work. But I’ve been working on a novella for the past month and a half (with a two week break while my daughter was here visiting) and I’m having fun writing again. My productivity has gone through the roof. I’m not a fast writer by any measure, but I’m astounded by how much I’ve written in such a short time. My creative energy has exploded and I’ve made extensive notes for two more stories I want to write after this one. My confidence is making a slow but steady comeback. And I wake up every morning filled with an odd realization.

I’m happy.

I can only hope that translates into fiction people will want to read.

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