The Indie Experiment-The Truth

self publishing, writing process

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 thing about hiding, even if it’s just one small part of who we are, is that it doesn’t hurt anyone but us–I’ve been re-reading this line for the past half hour, trying to figure out a way to frame this part of my journey. It’s a scary part and a sad part and something I don’t know how to talk about because I never really have before. Not like this where anyone and everyone can hear me, not without ducking or dodging or hiding or making myself sick. I don’t want to talk about it but I have to. I know that. Because this is how it all began, how I wrote something down and it changed my life, how it changed me.

The Things They Didn’t Bury isn’t a story about a girl looking for her mother or a girl falling in love for the first time or a girl growing up and coming into her own. It’s about me and I didn’t even realize it until I was over 70,000 words and four drafts in. When I was sixteen I found out the man who’d raised me wasn’t my biological father. One moment I was whole and happy and safe and the next I was empty and full of cracks, pieces of me scattered in people and places and memories I’d never known. For a year I didn’t try to fill them or fix them; I didn’t acknowledge them at all. Instead, I did what my family did best, I buried that secret so far down that pretending it had never happened was almost as easy as breathing. But the thing about cracks, about pain, is that even when you can’t feel them there, even when you’ve convinced yourself that they never existed at all they still do. They are invisible and when they are invisible they are dangerous. Because when you can’t see the cracks you have no idea when they’ll split you in two.

A year after I found out that I was the family secret the man who’d raised me got sick. My father was dying and we didn’t even know it and suddenly that year of pretending was all waste. Because it only made losing him that much harder. I hadn’t dealt with things because I hadn’t known how and even when I started writing it wasn’t to pull me out of anything, it wasn’t to work through my feelings, or to serve as some kind of cure. I was writing for escape. And yet, I hadn’t escaped a thing. Because after finishing The Things They Didn’t Bury, after reading the final version of something that had been in a constant state of evolution for three years, I was faced with all of it. Everything that I’d felt, everything I didn’t want to feel, everything I thought and believed and worried about. I was faced with the truth of me. My truth. And I finally realized why I hadn’t broken down, why I hadn’t given up after being abandoned by one father and burying another. Because those things that were inside me weren’t strangling me anymore. They weren’t stewing and they weren’t ruining and they weren’t hurting me. Not like before. Because they were trapped somewhere else, in that story, in those words.

Words. That’s what saved me. Even when I wasn’t paying attention. Even when I was just trying to escape. They saved me anyway and they keep saving me. When I’m afraid of failing or I’m afraid of being rejected or I’m afraid of feeling. Writing lets me feel things without being cut open, without being destroyed. Writing lets me say anything and be anything. Writing lets me share and connect and discover. That’s why I write and why I can’t stop. Because writing frees me from the shame of secrets. Writing lets me tell the truth.

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Introducing The Indie Experiment

self publishing

I’ve blogged a lot about self-publishing, about how to know if it’s right for you, about how to keep your expectations in check, about how to make sure you’re absolutely ready to go indie. Because it’s tough out there. My first year as a self-published author has come and gone and the truth is I don’t have much to show for it except a bunch of real-life examples of what not to do and an insatiable, although some would say insane, desire to share those with all of you. So I shall. From beginning to end, every wrong turn and accidental success, every embarrassment and every dream come true. Because even though I’m not rich and famous that’s still exactly what happened. My dream of becoming an author came true and if that’s not a story worth telling then I don’t know what is.

The Indie Experiment:The Beginning

I wrote my first novel when I was in middle school and it was called “Screwed”, no sexual innuendo intended (Come on, I was twelve). I remember spending half an hour just picking out the right font–probably something swirly, probably something lime green. It was about a middle school, of course, and the main character just could not catch a break. I seem to recall something about a swirly and her losing her retainer in the cafeteria garbage. I spent all afternoon typing it up and at the end I was so proud that I did something that I’ve been reluctant to do since. I asked someone to read it. It was my mother. I think she’d been vacuuming and her clothes smelled like pine-sol, something I noticed because I was hovering over her shoulder as she read. I don’t remember what she said afterward. Something good, I’m sure. Something encouraging. Even though it was terrible. The next day I deleted it.

Eighth grade I thought I’d try my hand at poetry. Well, more like I was forced by my English teacher. I think I was just relieved that we were finally going to take a break from grammar. I hated grammar. But luckily for me the school was having some kind of contest and everyone was asked to participate, the best poems from each grade being printed and bound in a collection that our parents could then purchase, because you know, schools don’t sell enough useless shit in the name of school spirit. I wrote two poems about dying and one about patriotism (that last one was required) and miraculously they were chosen to be included in the anthology. I thought I was the shit. Until we got back to learning grammar.

I wrote sporadically, usually just when it was required for class, but fast forward to my senior year of high school (because I really don’t remember much in between) and that’s when I really started to get the “itch”. No, not that “itch.” The writing “itch.” I can’t really pinpoint the first story or the first moment when I started thinking about writing again but we were getting assigned to read a lot more contemporary fiction and I really loved my teacher and I guess I was just thinking about my future a lot more and what I really wanted to do with it. My high school years had been mostly devoted to volunteering with the National Honor Society and I’d even gotten a scholarship for having the most community service hours. I was getting ready to apply for an internship at a local non-profit, expecting to work in some field where I could go to work every day and try to save the world. But then something happened. It crept up on me, I guess, and I’m not sure what to call it except the truth. Of who I was and who I wanted to be. And I wanted to be a writer.

I’d always loved to read more than anything. More than playing sports, more than socializing, more than…math. Okay I love everything more than math I just couldn’t think of another example that wasn’t already summed up by everything. But you get the picture. Reading is definitely to blame for my current affliction and I remember having an especially revelatory moment during my senior year while reading The Kite Runner. The book literally took my breath away. It was perfect in every way, in every way that I wanted to write and think and be. I wanted to write stories like that. Sweeping emotional stories about family and culture and love. And then, in the midst of me grappling with the decision between pursuing writing and social work I got an idea. It started with just two people, a boy and a girl, and that was all it took.

The Things They Didn’t Bury changed so drastically from those first scribbled notes I made when I was seventeen. It changed countries and even changed wars. But what remained the same was the love story and now whenever I get an idea for a story that’s always what comes to me first–the people, that central relationship around which everything else in the story orbits.

I spent a lot of my senior year in the library doing research and taking notes. But even though I’d always been a good English student and had always gotten good grades on everything I’d ever written, I still wasn’t sure that I could write a book. Sometimes, even after writing five, I’m still not sure. But so began my volatile relationship with self-doubt. It also didn’t help that during my last semester of high school they finally decided to add a Creative Writing class to the schedule, except it was “invitation only” and I wasn’t invited. I was secretly devastated. And secretly I still am. But I like to look at it as my first real moment of defiance. Because who cared if I wasn’t invited into their stupid little writing class? I was still going to write and more importantly I wasn’t going to stop. Not then. Not ever. And once I had that realization, that not writing was not an option for me, the decision was easy. So easy that I waited until the day of the deadline to turn in my declaration as an English major. And even though I’m sort of living proof at the moment (although I partly blame this damn recession) that what people say about majoring in the arts is true, I also wouldn’t change a thing. Not one second. Not one day. Not one word. Because when I’m off the clock and not busy making someone else money, that time is all mine, and without everything I’ve learned there’s no way I’d be able to spend it becoming the person I’ve always wanted to be.

Why I Write What I Write

writing process

During a brief period in high school I thought I’d wanted to be a journalist. I hadn’t really gotten serious about writing yet. I knew that I liked it but I didn’t do it enough to know which avenue I preferred. But I knew that I’d always wanted to travel. I liked the idea of having an adventure—of seeing things and doing things that most people haven’t. It sounded exotic and dangerous and terribly exciting, everything an introvert like me would spend hours fantasizing about but never actually gather the gall to do.

I’d also been a really socially conscious teenager—at least I liked to think so. That combined with my mild self-righteousness and know-it-all attitude made me the perfect candidate for future congresswoman or UN Ambassador. Except without all of the smiling and hand shaking and general pleasantness that accompanies public figures working in the humanitarian field. I was more of the overzealous, angry variety. To me every injustice was an outrage. I cared about the fate of humanity to such an extent that the only emotion I could manage most days was anger. Yes I was a very strange kid.

I thought I was going to become this big time journalist working for National Geographic covering political prisoners and terrorist groups and the plight of the poor and I’d live out of a backpack and I would save the world. I mentioned I was self-righteous right?

But then I went to college and I took a news writing class and it was absolutely tortuous. There were too many rules. And while I understood that writing for a newspaper was not my ultimate goal and that there is room for narrative in journalism, I just knew that there was absolutely no way I’d survive that rite of passage let alone subject myself to it as an unpaid intern.

I was also taking Creative Writing courses around that time. I hadn’t declared it as my major yet but I was getting there. I had some amazing teachers. One in particular wrote both fiction and non-fiction and we really connected over the social bend to the pieces I was turning in. I was obsessed with South America and the drug war and all of the conflict in that region. I was writing about The Dirty War in Argentina and drug mules in Chile and the people living in the Andes whose native tongue was almost extinct.

There is something just so haunting and supernatural to me about Latin culture and there’s something terribly romantic about the way it clings to its traditions so fiercely, the past so intertwined in the present. Every Latino grows up knowing at least a few parables and old wives tales by heart, even ones as Americanized as me. It’s a culture built on stories. And what writer wouldn’t be drawn to that?

But I wasn’t just drawn to the subject by birth. I’ve always struggled with my identity. My mother is Hispanic and my father was white. My grandparents only spoke Spanish in the house when they were trying to hide something from their children. And even though my mom learned it anyway, she never spoke it with me—maybe because my father wouldn’t have been able to understand, maybe because she was trying to distance her new family from something I wasn’t quite aware of yet, or maybe because she just didn’t think it was important. But that cultural void was always there.

Growing up I was the only Hispanic girl in any of my AP classes. All of my friends were white. I was basically shunned by the other Latinas because apparently I thought that I was too good for them. Not only that but I didn’t speak their language. Something that I still feel a deep-rooted shame about to this day. The truth is people look down on you in the Latin community if you’re not fluent in Spanish. It makes you seem like you’re trying to distance yourself from your culture, like your ashamed of it somehow. And that makes them ashamed of you.

But even though I grew up, on the one hand feeling abandoned by that part of my culture, there always has and always will be this insatiable desire to feel like I’m a part of it.

That is the real reason why I’m so obsessed with writing about Latin culture. Because I just want to feel like I belong to it somehow. And when I started writing fiction and I realized that I could explore that same culture and those same social issues without following all of those ridiculous AP style guidelines I knew I’d finally found the right path.

My first book uses the backdrop of the Dirty War in Argentina to explore family, racism, and the concept of identity. My next book, set to debut this summer, delves into the complexities of family responsibility, good vs. evil, and the quest for redemption. But that’s not really all they’re about. Every book I’ve ever written, every book I ever will write is also about love. And while these two books may be violent and dark they are also about two broken people, their pieces so inexplicably tangled, trying to assemble what’s left of themselves into something new.

I’ve talked about broken characters before, about their importance, and about our draw to them. But when I talk about wanting to make readers feel recognized and connected, it’s much more personal than that. Because I want to be recognized too. I’m looking for a connection with my readers just as much as they are with my characters. Two books down and I’m still just looking for a place to belong in this world. Whether that’s within a culture with a sordid and seductive history, within a family that’s still drifting, our anchor lost three years ago this month, or in a community of pixelated strangers, all of us shouting into the void that is the internet, waiting to be heard. I’m still looking, waiting, and that’s why I keep writing. Because I’m still waiting to find where I belong.

KDP Update-The Things They Didn’t Bury

self publishing

The last day of my free promotion for The Things They Didn’t Bury expired last night at midnight and after three days of watching my rank fluctuate I topped out Sunday morning at #75 in the Top 100 Free Amazon Bestseller’s List!

AmazonRank050513

Downloads started trickling in Friday morning and by noon I was averaging 50 downloads an hour—which is pretty accurate since I was frantically checking throughout the work day every chance I got. At first I was like…is this real? Can they really be calculating it this quickly and are there really that many people digging through Amazon’s inventory five digits deep? When I started the free promotion my rank was around 30K and I was surprised that people had even found the book. But they did and over the weekend my rank just kept climbing higher and higher until I finally cracked the top 100 list!

I was a little surprised that the top 100, though it definitely increased my visibility, didn’t necessarily increase my downloads. There was a huge surge of them all day Saturday but after I reached the top 100 list on Sunday, they started to finally slow again around 3PM. The last I checked before I went to bed I was #100, just about to fall off the list.

By the end of my KDP free promotion days I had a total of 3,855 downloads!!!!!!

I’m not sure if this is normal or if this is some kind of miracle. I can tell you that it sure feels like one. 3,855 people have downloaded my book. 3,855 people might actually read my book and half of them might even finish it. Half of those people might even like it. And half of those people might even tell their friends! Which is all I can hope for at this point. As of right now, almost 24 hours after the promotion has ended, I’ve only had 2 actual sales. Not sure if that elusive “bounce back” phenomenon is supposed to be instantaneous but it looks like word just hasn’t traveled fast enough yet.

I’m still crossing my fingers but, for me, this promotion has already been a huge success and totally exceeded all of my expectations. Honestly, I’m still stunned. I just can’t believe so many people were moved by the blurb, the cover, and the sample chapters to actually download a copy. Though, for me I think that trifecta was pretty essential and that’s the only advice I would give to anyone considering joining KDP Select and taking advantage of the free promotion days.

My essential ingredients to a successful promotion:

1.       Invest in a great cover. Writing a book is hard and it’s a little insulting when non-writers try to insinuate that it’s not. We should have just as much respect for artists and graphic designers who have invested both time and money in honing their skills and not assume that just because we downloaded Photoshop that we can slap something together just as good ourselves. Expect to spend in the triple digits. But trust me, it’s worth it. I can only assume that since my cover was the first thing people saw as they were scrolling through the ridiculously long list of free books on Amazon that that’s what enticed them to actually click on the link and read the description.

2.       Write a killer blurb. Writing blurbs is hard so take your time. Again don’t just throw something together. Examine blurbs of books that are similar to your own or just blurbs that really entice you to want to read more. It takes practice. I’m still learning how to get it right but I do understand that there’s a specific formula when it comes to writing a successful blurb and that if I do it right it can make the difference between someone buying my book or passing it by.

3.       Most importantly write a good book. Always be conscious of putting out a quality product. The Things They Didn’t Bury probably went through 8 drafts over the course of two years. Is it perfect? No. Nothing is ever perfect but I never tried to abandon it before it was ready; before it felt complete and before I felt like I’d use every skill in my arsenal to get it in the best shape I possibly could. But like I said, nothing is perfect and seeing as I am just a mere mortal nothing I write ever will be. But that doesn’t mean it’s not good enough. And that doesn’t mean that I didn’t almost drive myself insane trying to get it there.

Have patience. You will finish the book when you finish the book and daydreaming about how much money you’ll make once it’s published is the last thing you should be thinking about. It’s a waste of time and only distracts you from the most important part of being a writer—writing the damn book.

Last, but not least, I did submit the book to some websites that feature free kindle books. It’s hard to say how much this influenced the overall outcome of my promotion. I was tagged in a few tweets from people who’d seen the book listed on one of these websites and decided to purchase it so at least I know the book was actually visible and that the submission forms I filled out weren’t for naught. I found the link to a website called Author Marketing Club via Gwen Bristol’s blog. From the linked page you can submit to various websites with one click. Frankly it’s way too simple and convenient not to try it yourself. I even submitted to Booksy.com who hand select which books they feature. Luckily my book was chosen and they even sent me this cool badge!

freeboooksybadge

I’d love to hear if anyone has some comparative results from their own KDP promotion.  The only way we can really take advantage of information like this is if we share with each other so please feel free to leave any insights and/or personal testimonies in the comments!

Conquering The Funk

The Things They Didn't Bury, Writing

So a few months ago I was trudging through editing purgatory and making my FINAL revisions to The Things They Didn’t Bury—combing through every sentence and every word trying to get it as close to almost perfection as I possibly could before its publication in December. The first ¾ of the book I edited in a fury, diligently working on it every free hour I had for almost two weeks. I made some HUGE changes and added a whopping ten thousand more words. I was totally in the zone, every error or confusing bit of prose or problem with continuity jumping right out at me and the subsequent solution just as clear. Things were going great. In fact better than great! I was suddenly having revelation after revelation about a two year old manuscript that just a week earlier I was so sick of looking at that I was this close to ripping my hair out! I could finally see the finish line and was experiencing this new rush of confidence and excitement that seemed to have arrived just in time—you know just a few months before I planned on actually sharing this formerly solitary endeavor with the masses.

And then in the midst of my triumph and accompanying victory dance came the funk. Fast and furious it took over and ruined everything. I have no idea where it came from or why or how. But I hit a wall. A really thick wall that I couldn’t tear down, scale, or even tunnel under. I only had 20,000 words to go, just six more chapters to revise and then I’d be done. Forever. Then I could finally move on to editing the next book and finishing up the rough draft of the 3rd. But all of that was still in limbo, so much time wasted all because I couldn’t get through those last 20,000 words. And it wasn’t like normal writer’s block where I just couldn’t find the words. This funk had more than just my creativity on lockdown, it also somehow managed to completely arrest any kind of motivation I had to even open up the word document and stare at the screen.

I was so sick of that manuscript, I mean literally sick; just the thought of it made me want to vomit. Sorry for the mental picture but I’m just trying to be honest. I mean I wasn’t just tired of working on it I actually loathed the thing. Which was scary because just a month earlier I was still totally enamored and all giddy every time I opened up the word document. So obviously this was bad, I mean really bad, so bad that the fate of its publication literally hung in the balance.

This had never happened to me before. Sure I’d had my days where I just didn’t feel like writing, not because I couldn’t come up with anything, but because I just wasn’t in the mood. But this wasn’t about just not being in the mood—moods are fleeting and for me a bad one never lasts more than a couple of days. But it had been three weeks, going on four and I just couldn’t afford to waste any more time. I felt like I was moving backwards. I started brainstorming remedies and trying to clear my head, which resulted in watching a lot of True Blood, and pinning a lot of cheesy inspirational quotes on pinterest, the sentiments of which I couldn’t seem to adopt. But none of it was working. And then one day I made a breakthrough.

I wasn’t any more interested in getting back to editing than I had been the day before or for the past two weeks for that matter but I did realize that maybe this psychological stalemate I’d been having with my manuscript had nothing to do with my creativity or my abilities but it had everything to do with how long I’d been working on this one story and my subconscious, as afraid of change as always, just wasn’t ready to let go of it. What if subconsciously I wasn’t ready for the end and therefore was putting it off. The closer I got to the publication date the more nostalgia and self-doubt and fear and all of these conflicting emotions began to impede my creative process.

But it wasn’t just my fear of finally being finished and having to move on to the next thing that was holding me back but it was also my fear of failing.  Of course when I hit publish at the end of December that was an incredibly realistic possibility and so I had been purposefully trying to evade the inevitable—not that I’m going to fail as an author or that the book is going to fail in general but that for some readers it will.  Because some readers just won’t like it.  I will not please everyone or even most everyone and those are the facts.

So what was really stopping me from writing?  The very cliché quest for perfection.  We all do it (even though I didn’t realize how much so until recently) and it’s that fear of being imperfect that was getting in the way.  I was trying to combat it any way I could by brooding over the same paragraph for four days, or spending hours plotting out projects two years in the future, or trying to come up with a completely ridiculous writing schedule that detailed my itinerary every day for the next year.  Yes I am that crazy!  So once I realized that ALL of my stress was SELF-IMPOSED I had to stop.  I mean how stupid?  So I got rid of my ridiculous deadlines and I took a break—at the end of which I was chomping at the bit to get back to work.  There will be enough pressure on me when I’m finally a working author (you know the kind whose writing actually pays their bills) that I might as well enjoy the process now that I’m still a nobody who only writes for fun.  That’s what it’s all about anyway.

So if you’re suffering from your own funk here is my advice:

STOP.

The problem is not your ability. The problem is you’re imperfect and you haven’t accepted it yet.

The story will still be there whenever you decide to get back to it and if you’re good at what you do, you’re not going to spontaneously wake up one day and have somehow lost your talent—if you’ve spent time building up those skills, they aren’t just going to go away. So don’t panic.  Just because you’re having an off day or an off month it’s ok.  Just be patient.