Self Publishing

January has been a tumultuous roller coaster of highs and lows, triumphs and epic failures. My blog tour was a huge success (which I’ll blog about in more detail later) but as it wound down, some emails slipped through the cracks, some information was miscommunicated, oh, and I discovered that the copy-editing for The Boy In Her Dreams still left behind some glaring mistakes. Having published four books prior, I thought I knew how to cross my Ts and dot my Is but getting this particular novel out into the world was a huge test of my patience. I struggled with the formatting the entire way through and once I did finally manage to get it online there were not only spelling and grammatical mistakes but also continuity errors as well. Luckily they weren’t entirely atrocious but were they enough to be distracting? Yes.

I’d never gotten a review for any of my previous novels mentioning problems with the copy-editing so as soon as reader feedback started coming in, of course I panicked! When it comes to self-publishing, whether I outsource some of the work or not, the final responsibility to put out a stellar product is always on me. Only me. And it’s my choice. It’s my choice to have total control. So far it’s been an incredibly rewarding choice but when something goes wrong it’s a reminder of how terrifying that choice really is.

I immediately took the book off sale and started researching copy-editors. The person I’d worked with in the past was a friend and therefore free and now I’ve learned my lesson that neither are good when it comes to doing business. Thankfully I found someone who came highly recommended via the blog of a self-publishing powerhouse who I so admire and I didn’t hesitate to email her. Because this person is actually a professional she got the edits back to me just a few weeks later and basically saved my life in the process. Overall the entire experience was smooth and stress-free and it left me feeling grateful that the entire calamity had actually taken place.

Because I’m indie and my books exist entirely online, I was able to swap out the new revised edition in less than an hour and it was on sale the next morning. I didn’t have to recall print copies or send out formal apologies to my distributors. Did I spend money to make the corrections? Yes, but did I “lose” money because of the original mistakes? No. I didn’t lose readers. I didn’t ruin my reputation as an author. Instead, coming face to face with this particular chink in my workflow has made me better. It’s made my book better and because of this experience, everything I publish after this will be better too. Not only was my learning expedited due to the stressful circumstances but it was also done in private. A few readers, who are total strangers to me, offered constructive feedback, and miles away, alone in my apartment, their words helped facilitate growth.

That’s the kind of direct relationship you get to have with readers when you’re indie. Because readers are not some kind of ephemeral finish line. They’re not just consumers, they’re people. Real people who don’t just read books but who have the power to make them better. If we just open ourselves up and actually listen to them. When you hit publish, you’re creating a real relationship between you and your audience whether you realize it or not. During the few weeks that The Boy In Her Dreams was off sale I was flooded with emails from people saying they’d loved the first book and wanted to know where to find the sequel. I went from feeling like a failure to feeling so incredibly validated and it changed my outlook on the entire situation.

I’m not saying that we should preoccupy ourselves with trying to make everyone happy. That would be impossible. But engaging and connecting and being open to having a relationship with our readers is one of the greatest things about being indie. We’re accessible and that makes us better human beings. They’re accessible and that makes us better writers. We are a team. Whether you’re the person crafting a story word by word or you’re the person indulging in it the same way, we’re all in this together. Creating and sharing and living. The life of a story doesn’t exist between point A and point B, it’s an infinite loop that connects us long after the final word is written, the journey starting over every time that very first word is read.


What To Do When You Realize Your Idea Isn’t Original

Motivation & Inspiration, Writing Process

I’ve kept the details of my upcoming release locked up tight, not out of fear that someone would steal my idea but out of fear that some blog reader might point out that it’s already been done. It’s an irrational fear because, let’s face it, there is no such thing as a truly original story. We are constantly recycling ideas from the smallest details concerning character and setting, to bigger ideas like central conflicts and plot points. It’s the unique combination of those familiar elements that creates a new story but even with this knowledge, I’m still terrified that I’ve spent the past year writing a series that someone else has already done better.

Confession: my upcoming series is all about dreams. And what new trend is popping up in this fall’s YA releases? You guessed it. I’ve discovered several upcoming novels that revolve around dreams or navigating dreams or dream boys or dream girls or falling in love in dreams. Each time I stumble upon another book that’s even vaguely similar to my own concept I feel like someone has just punched me in the stomach. I curse like someone has too. Because this is 400 days, thousands of hours, and countless sleepless nights we’re talking about here. I’ve devoted the last year of my life to this project and the thought that  upon publication, it might just disappear, buried beneath the other novels like it, is devastating to me.

Eventually, in the midst of my panic, I started to remember this age old rule of storytelling–that nothing is new, not completely–and this thought spurred me to think about my own reading habits. After all, readers are precisely who I was most concerned about in all of this. I was afraid that after reading three other novels about dreams this winter that people would pass over mine either because they didn’t like those other novels or because they liked them too much and didn’t think anything could top them. Again, another irrational fear. But when I stopped to think about how and why I read books, I realized that when I love a certain genre or a certain archetype or a certain setting, I tend to seek out books that share those qualities. And if the publishing trends of the last decade have taught us anything, it’s that other people, if not most people, tend to do the same thing.

The most famous example of this? Twilight. When I was sixteen they released the first movie in theaters and I remember that whole semester, every girl in my high school was lugging around those giant black books along with their textbooks. Around that time True Blood aired its first season and soon after The Vampire Diaries was turned into a television series as well. Vampire books had always been a popular literary vice among readers but they’d never exploded quite like this. During the height of Twilight’s popularity, not only were people devouring everything they could related to the books, but they were branching out and devouring anything and everything vampire-related as well.

Why? Because when we find something we like we can’t get enough of it. When Kettle Korn releases their holiday drizzle corn every fall I clean out the shelves at Walgreens pretty much once a week and when my birthday comes around and my boyfriend buys me a cake from marble slab I usually eat half of it in one sitting. It’s ridiculous and irrational but we are consumers. We consume things. And when we like something we consume it as much as possible. So maybe the fact that these other novels about dreams are being released around the same time that mine are, is actually a blessing in disguise. I’m indie, which means that I’m invisible. I can’t afford, nor do I have the clout to send out hundreds of ARCs or to put out press releases or organize a street team to share my book cover and host really snazzy giveaways. But traditional publishers do. And if they want to expose and promote this new trend for the sake of their authors, who’s to say that my work won’t be made more visible as well? Who’s to say that someone won’t read one of those other books, fall in love with the concept, and seek out more? Who’s to say that being a part of the emergence of this new trend won’t actually work in my favor?

The key to all of this is perspective. I can either live in fear and believe that everything happening to or around me is part of some cosmic plan to ruin my life. Or I can live in the hope that everything happening to or around me is actually working in my favor to make my dreams come true. I choose to believe in the latter. Why? Because optimism just feels better. So if you find yourself in a similar situation and you’re creating something that other people may have also created or doing something that other people might also be doing, don’t panic.

I repeat, DO NOT PANIC. Instead, breathe, relax. Realize that books are about the journey, both for the reader and the writer, and that whether or not someone has a read a book like yours before, whether or not they hated it, the experience they have with your story will be totally unique. Because you’re unique. And even if the plot may be similar to something that’s already been done, or the characters are slightly familiar, or the setting is just being revisited, your words can never be replicated. Your point of view and your vision are something that no one else on earth has the capacity to create or translate. It’s you. Your book is you and you are one of a kind.

Pursuing The Reader’s Standard

Motivation & Inspiration, Writing Process

Earlier this month I completed the final line edit for my fourth novel and this week I’m working my way through the final line edit for my fifth. It’s slow-going and I find myself mulling over the same paragraph for almost an hour or tweaking sentences until they don’t even read like English anymore. The fact is, my brain is exhausted but I still have two hundred pages left to go before it will truly, finally, once and for all be finished. Editing and revisions are always difficult but there is something about that FINAL line edit that is so painstakingly sluggish, I practically feel like I’m moving backwards. Probably, because in many ways, I am.

The library I work at hosted an author event this past Saturday and I got the chance to catch part of the Q&A session. Someone in the audience asked the author when she knows a book is truly finished and after responding the way that most authors do and admitting that she could work on a WIP until the end of time, she said something else that surprised me. This particular author did not have a degree in Creative Writing, nor did she study it in school, but by being a voracious reader first she came to realize something about writing and the way books are consumed by the general public.

When it comes to good writing, she spoke of it as if it were a wide canal and as if the outer banks represented the threshold or standard by which readers judge that writing. The more narrow the canal, the more limited the audience, and the wider the canal, the more versatile the book’s appeal. The author explained that readers will always have a personal standard when it comes to books but that pursuing that reader standard is not the same as pursuing perfection. In fact, the author might still be tweaking her upcoming release if she hadn’t abandoned the pursuit of perfection and instead simply focused on doing her best. That’s all readers really want. At one point she even told the audience point-blank that if she had spent a hundred more hours perfecting her latest novel, the reader wouldn’t even be able to tell the difference. Why? Because readers aren’t looking for perfection. They’re looking for a good story. They’re looking for a strong voice. A unique and authentic voice. And all of those things can be accomplished simply by doing our best.

I needed to hear those words now more than ever. I have a lot of anxiety built up over the potential success or failure of my next release and its a ball and chain so literal that I can barely make any progress on this manuscript. My production has slowed down on every WIP in my queue and even as I’m nearing the end of certain projects I’m still second guessing every single decision.

Even though it’s pointless.

I know that I’ve done my best. In fact, it’s the only thing I do know for sure, and maybe it’s the only thing I need to know in order to declare that I’m finished. Truly finished. I’ve done my best and that’s all I can do. That’s all any of us can ever do. But the good news, or more accurately, the GREAT news is that our best is good enough. We are good enough. For the people who matter most, readers, our best is good enough.

Indie Authors Quitting Their Day Jobs

Self Publishing

I know I spent the majority of July blogging about the harsh reality of being an indie author but after exposing you to the awful truth, I thought I’d expose you  to another truth, this one sweeter and, believe or not, just as possible. I haven’t sold enough books to make writing my full-time gig just yet. In fact, on top of writing every day I also work sixty hours a week between my two jobs. It’s exhausting and I long for the day when I can give it all up and just live in my yoga pants in front of my laptop. But even though that might sound like a pipe dream coming from someone who has sold less than a hundred books in the past two years, the truth is it’s not. The truth is being a successful mid-list writer isn’t just attainable, but if I continue to put out quality books and build my readership one person at a time, it’s actually inevitable.

If you’re a follower of The Passive Voice then you’re probably already aware of their popular post, Indie Authors Quitting Their Day Jobs. It’s pretty infamous among aspiring and experienced writers alike because it’s a running list of indie writers who have had the pleasure of leaving the drudgery of nine to five behind. More than 500 comments have accumulated just in the past couple of months from indie authors who not only make a living wage from their writing but from writers who were able to pay off their mortgage, or bless their spouse with an early retirement, or build their dream home, or get out of debt all because they took a risk. Because they had the guts to publish their work on their own. Because they had the guts to believe in themselves.

I know I’ve often warned those new to self-publishing not to let their expectations get out of control or to craft a dream that relies more on luck than hard work but I also don’t want any of us to stop hoping. Because this is what can happen when we hope. When we believe in something so strongly that we’re willing to risk everything in order to make it happen. Not all of these indie authors are mega-rich. In fact, most of them don’t make much more than what’s required to pay their bills. But whether they’re selling thousands of copies a month or just a few hundred, these authors are still living the dream. Because they’re writing every day and no one is telling them what they should write about or how or when or to hurry or slow down or change this or change that. They are in control of their words and because they’ve stayed so true to them, they are in control of their lives.

Creative and financial freedom can go hand in hand, all it takes is a lot of drive and a lot of patience. For some of these authors it took years to build their readership, their backlists in the double digits before they finally started generating steady sales. For others it took even longer. But they kept going, hoping for success but never wishing for it. And then it happened. It can happen for us too. If we just keep writing, every single day, it can happen for us too.

The Indie Experiment-The Reality

Self Publishing

My Indie Journey From Start to Finish:
The Indie Experiment:The Beginning
The Indie Experiment:The Decision
The Indie Experiment:The Teacher
The Indie Experiment: The Truth
The Indie Experiment: The Dream

The Indie Experiment: The Reality

Hitting publish on my first novel wasn’t just an act of defiance, it was a dream come true. My book was out there, drifting in the bowels of the internet, just waiting to be discovered and the freedom of that was more satisfying and more terrifying than anything I’d ever done. But even though the dream may have started small, the very act of self-publishing making it come true, somewhere along the way that dream grew exponentially. Like any other newbie I spent the majority of my time, not working on my second novel, but researching every self-publishing success story out there. I read about people like Amanda Hocking and Hugh Howey and Joe Konrath and with every new article and bit of data I manufactured this new dream. This bigger dream that was more than just making money from my books and more than even making a living. I actually let myself get lost in the possibility that I could win the indie lottery and become a millionaire.

I was twenty and I was naive and I was greedy. Most young people are, which is why when absolutely none of that happened I was crushed. Yes, I was actually crushed that my book hadn’t sold a million copies and that I was still living in my shoe box apartment with a poltergeist toilet and rabid raccoons that liked to sleep on my doorstep. I know a lot of writers out there, inexperienced writers in particular (who may or may not have stumbled upon this blog post in search of the very same self-publishing insight as I did three years ago) will find it really difficult not to indulge in the dream of huge world dominating success. Let’s face it, who doesn’t want to be rich doing what they love? It’s the ultimate dream and the more indie success stories that continue to crop up, the more attainable it seems. The more it seems less like a fantasy and more like an achievable goal.

Even when you enter into self-publishing with a clear head and realistic expectations it’s almost impossible not to hope. In fact, that unwavering (albeit at times, unrealistic) hope is actually necessary. Being successful in the arts or entertainment industry takes a certain amount of blissful ignorance or else we’d all give up at the first sign of failure–another necessary ingredient to success. But sometimes that hope can also hinder you because having unrealistic expectations has a tendency to turn normal setbacks into failures when in reality they’re just necessary growing pains. When I was binge-reading every indie success story I could find, second-hand sources had a tendency to make it sound like all of these people I admired had only toiled for mere months before hitting it big. There was nothing about the education that came before or the years of rejections via traditional publishing or the mental and emotional demons each writer had to slay before they were actually able to hit publish. Subconsciously I knew they’d put in the hard work because, as a writer myself, I knew all that it took to write a novel start to finish. But still, there was something distilled about these success stories, shallow and…too easy. When I self-published my own novel I certainly didn’t think that it would be easy to find readers but I also didn’t anticipate it being near impossible.

These days writers are a lot more forthcoming about how hard it really is to find indie success but that still doesn’t stop people from having unrealistic expectations. Everyone thinks that they are talented enough or deserving enough to be the exception to the rule but the truth is success isn’t guaranteed to anyone. The truth is, even after putting in the work, you still might not sell enough books to buy a pack of gum. But despite this fact people are still trying to discover some kind of secret formula. Some people claim that sales automatically pick up after you publish your second or third novel. Some people claim that the right price point is key. Some people swear by using certain promo sites. Some people suggest writing only series or connected novels that revisit the same characters/setting/etc. There are a lot of assumptions and opinions out there about what sells books and I can tell you from personal experience that I have yet to obtain the proof that supports any of them.

Despite having some pretty lofty expectations when it came to publishing my first novel, I also wasn’t the type to just sit around and wait for lightning to strike. Instead I wrote. Like crazy. It was all I did for the past two years, and literally it’s all I do now. I know no one wants to hear about the months I spent in my pajamas on the couch, never seeing the light of day but I imagine if you took a snapshot from the first few years of any successful indie author’s career you’d discover them doing the exact same thing. There is nothing I want more than to make a living as a writer and even as someone who doesn’t make very much money self-publishing, I still devote at least four hours a day to writing. Just writing. And it’s the reason I was able to publish three novels during my first year of self-publishing. Unfortunately, the reality of my situation was that that momentum just wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough to just write three novels and put them online. It wasn’t enough to just wish that someone would discover them and share them with their friends.  So I took the plunge into marketing.

I’ve always been a fairly private person and even though I started dabbling in blogging around the release of my first book, marketing absolutely terrified me. I attempted putting together some kind of blog tour but after the past two years of soliciting reviews from book bloggers and sending out close to a thousand emails, I only have about thirty reviews to show for it. Thirty. That’s the reality of being an indie author. You will work your ass off and the profit will be minuscule or sometimes even nonexistent. Luckily though I never let these things get in my way and my main focus was always on writing. Seven months after I published my first novel, I published my second, the third draft of which was already complete by the time I published The Things They Didn’t Bury. This time around I did absolutely no marketing and didn’t solicit a single review. I guess I just had my fingers crossed that that myth about 2 being the magic number would hold true. It didn’t.

But I was still writing. Even though no one was actually reading my books I was still writing. One of the things I’m really proud of as I look back on my writing journey over these past couple of years is my ability to put the blinders on and just keep working. It’s a necessary trait of every good artist because staying focused on the present moment is really the only way to finish. And finishing is what separates the dreamers from the doers. I’ve always been a dreamer but I’ve also always been a doer, which is why my unrealistic expectations didn’t cripple me like they could have. Instead I looked at every month that went by where I didn’t sell a copy of my novels as just one month closer to the day I would.

In my first 2 years of self-publishing I have sold less than a hundred copies of my novels. And unless you are extremely lucky (as in win the lottery, get struck by lightning, survived a near death experience more than once lucky) your experience will probably be pretty similar. The good news is, after everything I’ve learned, I still believe that hard work and patience will always be rewarded. Maybe not in the way we want or expect but I believe that always doing your best is the quickest way to success. So what does all of this mean for anyone considering self-publishing? It means don’t be an ignorant fool. It means that for a while you are going to have to erase all of your expectations and find something else to motivate you every day other than financial freedom. And most importantly it means that we shouldn’t believe in things as insubstantial as luck, but instead we should choose to believe in one thing and one thing only–ourselves.

But don’t stop dreaming and don’t stop hoping. I still haven’t. After selling less than a hundred copies I still hope every day that things will take a turn for the better. But I also don’t rely on that hope. Instead I rely on myself, on my hard work, on my passion, on my drive. In 567 days I have yet to take over the world but despite my more realistic expectations these days, I hope and I know that that doesn’t mean I never will.