Tag Archives: hope

My Decision to Self-Publish — The Emotional Component

I had half a post written and then scrapped it. It’s hard to write about being nervous. We do it to our characters all the time, but we don’t want to admit to it personally, except mabe to our closest friends. I think occasionally we ought to, just so others know they’re not alone.  Most of the blogs and books I’ve read about self-publishing focus on the changing face of tradpub and why that makes going indie a good choice for many. It worked for me.  I finally took in enough positive information that it outweighed the fear.

What fear?  The fear that I’d do it wrong, whatever that is. The fear that even with a professionally covered, edited, and formatted book, I’ll still only sell twenty copies to my friends and family. What if, despite the postitive feedback I’ve gotten from multiply published authors and professional editors, the readers don’t like it? What if, despite all evidence to the contrary, my stuff stinks on ice?  If I self-publish, everyone will know that I can’t really write. 

Irrational? Yes. Fear often is.

I don’t fear that anymore. It could still happen, but I don’t fear it.  But it took me a while to get there.  What helped?  Reading lots. Talking with people who’d already done it, and hadn’t died. Doing it simultaneously with a friend. A supportive and encouraging spouse. Recognizing that I was happy and excited about self-publishing. (Physiologically, anxiety and excitement are pretty much identical — it’s all in how you interpret events.)

What else held me back? Inertia. It’s hard to change trajectory even when the old path isn’t getting you where you want to go. Is it crazy to do the same thing over and over again and expect different results?  The funny thing is, sometimes the results are different. After collecting my share of rejections, I sold one of my novels, Veiled Mirror,  to a small press. Getting that external validation gave me that extra bit of confidence to go out on my own.

I know that every self-publishing effort isn’t a success story. My sales may be far less than I hope.  But not to try is to surely fail.

The funny thing is, now that I’m moving forward, I wish I’d started a year ago.


Filed under writing

The Job of Writing, Part 2

This week I finished doing some niggling revisions on my romantic fantasy, Forbidden Talents, the second book in my Vinlander Saga.  (FT is the sequel to Dangerous Talents which is under submission to a New York publisher.  Keep your fingers crossed for me!)  Then I moved on to amping up the sensuality in my contemporary paranormal, Lightbringer.  (Jill Knowles, who writes erotic romance, is helping me with that — thanks Jill!)  I’m also struggling with the question of whether to add to/change/enrich some of the primary character motivations.

This is part of the job of writing.  (Not the fun part).  I have to decide if the book is strong enough as it is, or if it really needs to be rewritten and if this is a good use of my time.  Or would I be better off working on something entirely new?

Time management is a huge part of the business of writing. At the most basic level, we have to get our BIC (butt in chair) on a regular basis.  Then we have to decide how much time we should spend wearing each of our many hats.

I had a great conversation about this recently with Janni Simner, who has commented here before.  Her perspective on time is that it’s better spent writing or revising than doing almost anything else.  She believes that writing and submitting to traditional publishers (large or small) is the best business model.  I’m not as convinced, even though that is the path I’m pursuing at the moment.

Questions we both would like to see answers to:  1)  What percentage of manuscripts submitted to traditional publishers are purchased?  (Quality aside, what are your chances of selling?)  I’ve heard numbers ranging from less than one percent up to four percent (for small presses).  But what is the average?

2)  What percent of self-published manuscripts sell a thousand copies or more?  I recall reading that only three percent sell more than 500 copies, but I couldn’t swear to that.

If the results of #1 are less than the results of #2, or even close, is it still the better business model?  In other words, is it better to keep hoping that you’ll beat the odds and get that New York contract, or is it better to get a small amount of exposure (most likely), and make a very small amount of money by self-publishing?

Of course, in earlier blogs we already determined that money isn’t the only factor to take into account when deciding which publishing model to pursue.  So maybe we should ask a third question:

3)  What percent of authors following either model are satisfied with their experience?  And of the few who have done both, what do they think of each model?

Inquiring minds want to know. . . .


Filed under writing

The Measure of Success, Part 3

As Galen (I think) asked in Babylon 5, “What do you want?”

I’ve always had trouble answering that question because my mind bubbles over with possibilities.  I joke that I’m like the mule that starves to death between two bales of hay.

But in order to set goals, you must know what you want, or what you want most, anyway.  Remember the old aphorism:  If you don’t know where you’re going, how will you know when you get there?

Do you want to make a lot of money with your writing?

Do you just want to hold a book of yours in your hands?

Do you want the ego boost that comes from having “made the cut” in New York?

Do you prefer knowing that you did it all (writing, formatting, design, promotion) yourself?

Keep in mind that none of these options exclude any of the others over the course of a long career.  I’m currently still submitting to both NY and small presses while studying self-publishing.

How do you define success? What are you willing to give up to get it?

I’ve been advised to dream big, since a big dream is more motivating than a small one.  By inclination I’m a realist — a realist with an imagination.  A pure realist would look at the statistical chances of making much money writing and get a job at Walmart. (That only matters if you measure success by how much money you make — but that’s the American way.)

But like anyone who strives in a competitive arena, whether it’s acting, writing, or professional sports) I believe I can be one of the few.  Yes, I like writing for itself.  It’s challenging in a way few things are.  But I want recognition, too.

And so I keep at it.  Am I delusional?  Maybe.  But then so is everyone else with a dream of succeeding in a difficult field — until they do.  And until then, we still have the dream.

What does the road to success look like?  My road won’t necessarily have the same scenery as yours, but that’s okay.  Whether it’s wide or narrow, has trees along the side or cactus, is traveled by bus or bicycle, it doesn’t matter as long as you have some idea of where you’re going. (A career GPS would be helpful, though.)

And don’t worry if you find the road is under construction and you have to take a detour.  It just makes the trip more interesting.


Filed under Life, writing

Poetry Monday: The Journey by Mary Oliver

“The Journey” by Pulitzer Prize winner Mary Oliver (1935 – ) is the stunning first poem in Roger Housden’s anthology ten poems to change your life.  If you are anywhere close to making a change in your life, this poem will slap you awake.

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice –

As Housden observes in his remarks, “Any authentic movement usually requires a break with the past. . . .   Other people will feel the ripples, and they won’t like it.”  Nevertheless we must embark on our future when we feel its call. Plutarch said that, “before the departure of a ship in stormy weather, the captain would pronounce that, ‘to sail is necessary, to live is not.'”

It was already late
enough, and a wild night
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.

It’s not easy to change course, but when the realization comes that it’s necessary, time often feels short.  I like the imagery of a stormy night when the air crackles with energy and danger.

as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do —
determined to save
the only life you could save.

Making a profound course correction does feel like saving your life.  I’ve done it.  It’s scary, but not doing it is even scarier.


Filed under Life, poetry

Be Kind to Others — and Yourself

I came across a quote today:  “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”  Plato

This is something I try to keep in mind everyday, with mixed results.  Driving is the most obvious situation that brings out the beast in us.  Perhaps it’s because we can swear with impunity (unless it’s in front of the kids, and then they’ll remind you of your slip forever).  When other motorists do blatantly stupid, or unsafe, or merely inconvenient things I try not to mutter imprecations.  I remind myself that I’ve been behind the wheel when stressed or ill and have done bone-headed things on occasion.

What harm does it do?  Some suggest expressing annoyance in the privacy of our cars is a victimless act.  It doesn’t hurt anyone’s feelings, after all.

But it does hurt us.  It expresses and reinforces a mental tone of impatience that subtly affects how we interact with others, and our tolerance for our own mistakes.

I don’t expect to ever become as forgiving as Ghandi.  I do think a fair number of my fellow humans have failed to learn courteous behavior, or how to do their jobs properly.  But when I’m annoyed, I’m trying to remember that I don’t know what’s going on in most people’s lives.  I don’t know if their house is in foreclosure, or their mother or child is sick, or if they just got a divorce.

And I’m trying to be kinder to myself, too.   Several years ago I trained myself out of using negative self-talk (mostly).  You know what I mean:  thinking or saying something like, “You moron,”  when you make a mistake.  I realized I would never tolerate someone else saying that to me, and I would never say it to someone else, so I started saying, “Don’t talk to me that way,” whenever I did.  It worked.  I don’t say things like that to myself anymore.

My current project in self-kindness is to not limit myself.  I’m going to root out the lies I sometimes tell myself.  I’ll no longer say things like, “You’ve never succeeded at X before (not true), you won’t this time, e ither,” (also not true).  I’m not going to beat myself up when I make errors, I’ll just fix them if I can.

How can you be kind today?

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Review Wednesday – How Starbucks Saved My Life

For the half dozen folks out there who haven’t yet read How Starbucks Saved My Life by Michael Gates Gill, this book is about how losing his job in a New York advertising agency and taking a job at Starbucks turned a silver-spoon prick into a real boy.

Snarkiness aside, I liked this book.  It’s a reminder that circumstance and environment has a lot to do with how we behave — and that we have a choice about that environment.  It’s a lesson that indivduals are not just what we see on the surface.  The jerk who snarled at us may have just had a very, very bad day.  Or he may be a real jerk pretty much all the time, but  under the right circumstances, become a nice guy with a little guidance and patience.  (The obverse may also true, I suspect.  If you drop a nice guy in a crappy environment, how long will it take for him to become a jerk?  The veneer of civilization can be rather thin.)

As I’ve said before in this blog, two concepts I try to incorporate into the way I approach life are balance and perspective.  The angle from which you view the world makes a huge difference in what you see.

This book provided a nice reinforcement of that idea and a guide to how to get back in balance.  Gill had his perspective on the world and his place in it radically rearranged and he became a better man because of it.

I’d like to think we can all become better people from reading books like this.

This is a quick and worthwhile read.

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Filed under Book reviews, Life

Critique Groups

Last time I wrote about hope, and how necessary it was to a writer.  Something that has made a tremendous difference to me over the years is belonging to a critique group.

I’ve been fortunate to be a member of four critique groups.  I organized the first one and it included my husband and three friends who were trying to break in.  That group taught me the first three lessons of CG’s.

1) Decide from the start how you want to run the thing.  In our case, we decided to use a relaxed version of the rules used at the Clarion writing workshops.  We handed out our chapters, read through them, then brought them back and read our comments aloud.  For the most part, we tried to keep our comment time as close to five minutes as possible, so we could a) get through in a reasonable time, and b) not seem like we were belaboring a point.  Authors were to listen and not interrupt or defend.

2) It’s best if you all are striving for the same thing.  In our case, we were all working toward professional publication.  None of us were writing for our own amusement or memoirs for our families.

3)  If one person says something, it’s one person’s opinion.  LISTEN!  (Especially if you don’t like what you’re hearing.)  Evaluate it.  Then take it or leave it.  If several people make the same observation, you should look long and hard at the problem area.

My second critique group, eventually named “Working Title” taught me four  more lessons:

4)  It’s good if all members of the group are familiar with the genres being written.  It’s not absolutely necessary, but it helps.  Science fiction, fantasy, and romance all have conventions specific to the genre.

5)  Mention the good things as well as the mistakes.  As Emma Bull said on a panel once, “If you don’t tell me what I did right, I may revise it out.”  Besides that, we all need encouragement.  As wonderful as writing is, this can at times be a soul killing business.  Put a smiley face on the page.  Give applause where it’s due.

6)  It’s good if the members are not too far apart in skill level.  I was blessed to receive guidance from others who were better writers than I was.  It accelerated my improvement considerably.  Fortunately they didn’t have to bend down too far to give me a hand up.  Even a rank beginner can read and say “this isn’t working for me,” even when they don’t know why.  But if the disparity is too great, the better writers aren’t getting the help they need.

7)  Keep it small.  More than six and it become unwieldy.  Four or five is better.  Three is doable, but almost too small.  You need a diversity of opinion (see #3 above).

The third group I joined, simultaneously for a while with the second and fourth groups, is the “Tanque Wordies.”  I’m still a member.  This group reads aloud instead of handing out pages at the previous meeting.  From this group I’ve learned:

8)  Read your work out loud.  You’ll hear things that your eye misses.  Repeated words, bad dialogue, etc.

I was in the fourth group for only about six months.  That group focused on writing romance, something I really wanted to be in.   It taught me a difficult lesson:

9)  Listen to your gut.  No matter how much you like the individual members of a group, it may not be the right one for you.  Depending on the problem, you may be able to talk it out.  If not, your best bet may be to leave graciously.

I’ve had (mostly) good luck, but some people don’t like critique groups.   There is a risk of being swayed away from your natural style.  But in my experience, if you find the right group it can help you grow, help you stay motivated, and keep you hopeful in between those elusive sales.

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Hope springs eternal

I had a nice experience today.  I’d written the URL for TusCon on the back of one of my cards for a favorite waitress a couple of weeks ago (she’s a Harry Potter fan).  Today she said she’d been to my website.  “I didn’t know you were a writer!  I want to read your story Debts.”

That felt pretty great.

I’m still a newbie to publishing, even though I’ve been writing for several years.  I’m one of those writers whose name (I hope) will be invoked to newbies in about 20 years:  “Do you know how long it took Frankie to make it?  Don’t lose hope.”

I do get discouraged sometimes.  I question.  Drive myself crazy.   Should I try to follow a trend?  Put more sex in my stories?  Less?  Write historical?  Contemporary?

I know I’m not alone in asking these questions.  From rank beginner to experienced pro every writer has doubts.  The publishing industry almost seems to be designed to foster insecurity in writers.  As a friend said recently, “If you’re not neurotic when you start your career, you will be shortly.”

I’ve given up trying to follow trends.  From now on I’m writing what I’m passionate about.  I’ll do what I can business-wise to further my career, and keep trying to improve my craft, but the writing has to come from the heart.

This business (and it is a business) is too hard if you don’t enjoy the journey.


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