Tag Archives: perseverance

No Guts, No Glory

I came across this blog post, and I want all my followers to read it. It’s titled, “Stop Sabotaging Your Own Success,” and it was just what I needed to read today.  I can imagine returning to it often to keep me focused.

I particularly like the answer to the question: how do we define ourselves? We are not just the sum of what we have done so far, but also who we aspire to be. We must not sell ourselves short, or stop before we have begun.

Failure is not (usually) fatal, and really, despite the saying, no one died from embarrassment. Going for it is so much more exciting than not trying.



Filed under Life, Publishing, writing

One Step

This is a great message. I’ve implemented it many times, but I seem to need to hear it on a regular basis.

One Step. It’s all it takes to begin to change your life. You have to follow it with another step, and then another, but it’s a law of physics: Bodies in motion tend to remain in motion. Once you take the first step–at anything–taking the next one is easier.

A little less than a year ago I took the first step of contacting a cover artist and an editor. Now I’m preparing my third manuscript for publication and having a blast.

A saying has been running through my head a lot lately:  “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll only get what you’ve already got.” Otherwise stated: “The definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

Take a step. Do something different. Enjoy.



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Baby Steps

Even though I’ve been writing for a while and have had short stories published, I’m still a newbie to publishing.  (I’m not sure when I’ll graduate from that category, or what the criteria are.) I’ve signed contracts before and killed my darlings at editorial direction.  But a short story is, well, smaller.  This is one of my books.  It took nearly a year to write, so I can tell you I read that contract carefully even if it wasn’t open to negotiation.  Especially since. It felt momentous signing it, like buying a house, irrevocable.  I was making a commitment.  I was finally taking that next step on the road of my career, a road I chose when I submitted Veiled Mirror in the first place.

Today I filled out the information sheet the artist will use to design my cover, and signed up for the publisher’s author group.  None of this was very complicated, though I had to go back to the manuscript to find out what color my hero’s eyes were.  To my dismay, I discovered I’d described them as green in one place and brown in another.  (They are now consistently green.)

Now I wait to hear from my editor what my next little step in the journey is.

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What I’ve Learned Over the Last Year

While I was waiting for my husband in the mall yesterday, I went shopping for shoes.  I was looking for some flats that would be comfortable and look good with skirts — comfort being the top priority.  Looking good with skirts was essential, but without being comfortable, it didn’t matter how terrific they looked; they were a no-go.  I found the flats, but I also bought a pair of boots.  They weren’t what I was looking for, but they met the criteria and all together I spent less than $70.

What has this got to do with writing?

Sometimes unanticipated opportunities present themselves.  We have to be open and set aside our preconceptions to take advantage of them – and we can do so without going astray as long as we’re clear on our priorities.

I love writing.  I enjoy putting words together in such a way as to convince or entertain, to enlighten or make the reader feel something.  It’s great when a story comes together, and hell when the right words are being elusive.  Some people can be happy writing in a journal and never showing another soul.  I’m not one of them.  I want to share my ideas with others and I want to be paid for it.  That’s why I’m keeping my mind open and evaluating all my publishing options.

When I started writing for publication there were really only two paths to take.  I could write short stories for print magazines, or I could write novels, and find an agent to sell them to print publishers.  But in the last few years a changing economy and technology has opened up more options to authors, each with own costs and benefits.

One of my priorities in writing this blog is to, in addition to reviewing interesting poetry and books,  share what I’m learning about the various forms of publishing.  To that end I’ve reviewed several books about independent-publishing and self-promotion, included guest blogs, and discussed the pros and cons of traditional, small, digital, and self publishing.

I’ve learned a lot over the last year.  Here are the most important points:

•    Traditional, small press, independent publishing, online and print magazines.  Every form of publishing has its pluses and minuses, and which one you pursue depends on the project and your long-term and short-term career goals.
•    You don’t have to choose just one path.  You can pursue more than one avenue of publishing at a time with different projects.
•    Traditional publishing still offers larger advances than other forms of publishing.  It also has superior distribution to brick and mortar bookstores, and for a limited number of best-selling authors, to big box stores and airports.  The latter are still where the majority of book sales occur, though online sales are growing rapidly.
•    Only 1% of books submitted to major publishers are contracted for publication.  About 4% of books submitted to small publishers are contracted.
•    90% of the books in editors’ slush-piles really are pretty bad.
•    According to some sources, only 10% of traditionally published books earn out their advance and earn additional royalties (which are paid every six months after reserves against returns are subtracted).
•    Small publishers and e-publishers are generally more willing to take chances on books that don’t fit into clear market niches.  They may not offer an advance (or only a very small one), but they often pay more in royalties (which are usually paid monthly or quarterly).  Some are quite prestigious, but always check Editors and Predators or Writer Beware! before signing a contract (or better yet, before submitting).
•    Digital or e-publishing is still a small percentage of total book sales, but it’s growing exponentially.  (Some industry insiders are predicting that it will comprise 25% of sales by the end of 2012.)
•    Self-publishing, independent publishing, vertically integrated publishing, whatever you call it, can be done inexpensively if you do the design and formatting work yourself.  There are many companies that will offer to do it for you.  A few are honorable, but most just want your money and don’t care about quality or salability.  Do your research just as you would before buying a car.  Every dollar you spend is one you have to earn back before you break even and start making a profit.
•    The vast majority of self-published books don’t sell as many copies as traditionally published books, but the profit per unit, if you’re diligent, can be greater.  Non-fiction and niche books sell best.
•    If you self-publish, have your work professionally edited.  Every book I read on the subject said this.  (Alternative: at least a dozen beta readers.)
•    There’s a lot of prejudice against self-published books because most of them aren’t professionally edited and they just aren’t very good.  (Remember the slush-pile?) The only defense against this is to create an excellent product from cover to content.  Your book is your ambassador.  Don’t rush it.
•    Accept that part of your job as a writer is to promote your work.  Learn how to do this efficiently and effectively so you can spend more time writing.

•    Don’t give up and don’t give in.  There are lots of people who feel strongly about the superiority of one form of publishing over another.  Listen to them all, get the facts, then make up your own mind.

And finally:
•    Enjoy the process.  This may be your blood, sweat, and tears going onto the page, but it isn’t brain surgery.  If you make a mistake, it’s not fatal.

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Success is Messy

I read an article with this title today by Jane Pauley.  It’s another little bit of synchronicity.  I’ve come across this idea several times recently: the reminder that failure isn’t fatal.  It can, in fact, be the first step to success.

Most of us make plans, and plans are good.  But I know from experience that the old saying is true.  And when plans go awry, sometimes the alternative can lead to something extraordinary.

I don’t like to fail.  I don’t know anyone who does.  It’s especially hard when you don’t know why you came up short.  Anyone who’s received a form rejection from an agent or editor knows this.  Yet we persevere.  Persistence is honored.  “You haven’t failed until you’ve given up!”  So we examine our manuscripts for ways to improve them and then send them out again.

This failure to sell on the first or second or third try is a good thing.  Really.  Pretty much every new author out there in the history of writing (myself included) believed their first manuscript was great.  Getting rejected gave us the chance to take that second or third or fourth look at it, to make it better.

After a while though, it’s as good as you can make it without working the life out of it.  All you can do then is keep sending it out until it finds someone (an editor or agent) who will love it as much as you do, while working on the next project.

Or you can self publish, either digitally or POD or both.

Some people consider this a kind of failure because they think only naive and desperate losers who can’t get published the traditional way self-publish.  This is an insidious argument because most of us start out seeking to be traditionally published and we’d be pretty happy if we were offered a contract.  But not selling to a traditional publisher does not make all other alternatives into failure.

It’s good to have a plan, but sometimes well-laid plans don’t work out.  Someone moves your cheese. Is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results  insanity or perseverance?  (We’ve all heard the stories about how a Big Name Author collected a bazillion rejections before hitting it big, after all.)

What do you think?  Is self-publishing a concession of defeat or a clever adaptation to reality?


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Defying Conventional Wisdom

Just about every unpublished, or little published, author wants to know “the Secret,”  that combination of actions that results in “the call” from the publisher offering to publish their baby.  Those of us who belong to writing organizations or who go regularly to conferences (in order to learn the secret, of course) have heard many times that there is no secret.  None.  Zippo.  Nada.

We hear over an over again that the only way to succeed is to write the best book we can, format it correctly, and then keep sending it out to publishers and agents until it finds the right person who will fall in love with it and offer a glass slipper in return.

We hear rumors of authors who have defied the words of the wise ones and left the beaten track to strike off on their own into the woods, but something in us holds us back.  The wise ones tell us that leaving the tried and true path will result in disaster.  Self-publishing will cost us money we’ll never recover.  Digital publishing is still in its infancy.  Only traditional publishers can give your book the exposure it needs to succeed.


I’ve been reading the blogs of Michael Stackpole and J.A. Konrath.  These guys are serious about their careers and hyper-aware of what works and what doesn’t.  They’ve been in the game for a long time, and both of them are embracing digital publishing.  (In particular, check out Konrath’s post, “You aren’t J.A. Konrath” of 10/3/10.)

Yes, as Tim Ferris points out, his Kindle sales are only a fraction of his total book sales.  But I’ll point out that his book is non-fiction (which generally enjoys larger sales numbers than fiction), and his Kindle sales are still significant.  Low sales numbers don’t seem to be a problem for J.A. Konrath, however.  If an author can approach even a fraction of what Konrath has acheived through digital sales, then that’s still a pretty good career, and you aren’t waiting around for the gatekeepers to bestow their blessing.

Does this mean I’m going to pull my books from the traditional publishers who are considering them?

No.  As Stackpole advises, I’m pursuing all options.  Does this mean I’ll self-publish future books?  Quite probably.

Here is the truth as I see it:

You need to be brutally honest with yourself, and you need to find readers who will be brutally honest with you so you can make your book really, really good.  That is the ONLY hard and fast, immutable truth.  Your book must be the very best you can make it.  No typos.  No awkward phrases.  Consider hiring a professional editor if you don’t know readers up to the task.  Yes, it takes time, and possibly money, but you’re planning a marathon here, not a sprint.  Don’t stumble in the blocks.

If you want to self-publish fiction (either Print On Demand or digital) you need to have a good cover.  Aaron Shepard makes a living off his non-fiction, independently published books and they have plain white covers with just the title and his name, but I believe (with no evidence to support my belief other than an informal unscientific survey) that for fiction, a good cover is helpful to capture the eye of the reader cruising down a list of thumbnails online.

Be smart.  Take your time.  Educate yourself.  Learn from others.

Hold on to your dreams.


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Interview: Lisa Cottrell-Bentley, Part 2

Last Friday I posted the first part of my interview with Lisa Cottrell-Bentley, the owner of Do Life Right, Inc. which publishes fiction for home-schooled children.  Here’s the second part:

Tell us about your process of preparing a manuscript for publication.

For my own work:
(1) I write the very best manuscript that I am able.
(2) I set it aside for at least a month, ideally much longer.
(3) I self-edit heavily, multiple times.
(4) I have my family (husband and two children who are really good editors)
read it and edit it.
(5) I self-edit again (and/or put it through a critique group).
(6) I have a team of teen and tween readers read the manuscript and give
their comments and suggestions.
(7) I hire a professional editor to fully professionally edit it.
(8) I decide on an illustrator, cover designer, and interior formatter. I
work with them individually as needed in order to make the vision for the
book come true. I actually start this process as soon as the professional
editing begins, as it usually takes longer than editing.
(9) When all the editing and formatting is complete, I put the final
digital version through a rigorous copy editing process with at least four
people (editors and readers) looking over it for minor and major mistakes.
I then fix everything that is found, or have one of my copy editors do this.
(10) I assign the book an ISBN from the ones I already own, I purchase an
LCCN, and I hire the printing done.
(11) I write up the back cover copy, and 25 word description for various
marketing avenues and distributors. This is then professionally edited.
(11) I thoroughly look over the printed version for errors, then either
reject or accept the book.
(12) I make the book available for sale, inform my distribution channels
that it is available, and order a large stock for myself to have for
in-person sales and author signed copies for sale on my personal websites.
(13) I make a Kindle version available. [This will include other formats
very soon.]
(14) I accept the money as it flows to me monthly (although I’m currently
pouring all of it straight back into the company to help Do Life Right,
Inc. grow).
(15) Marketing, interviews, speaking engagements, etc. are done at every
step of this list as well. In addition, review copies are sent out as soon
as the books are available.

When I receive a submission, the process is very similar except that I am
able to do much of the editing myself since it’s not my own writing. I like
having several books going at once so this process can be streamlined, and
it allows me to move back and forth between projects with pure excitement.

Do you think there are projects that aren’t well suited to independent publishing?

Yes and no. It’s more like I believe there are certain people who aren’t
suited to self or independent publishing. If an author doesn’t want to have
input into covers, illustrations, overall cover design, marketing, cover
copy, etc., then s/he probably isn’t well suited for anything except
traditional publishing. With the amount of promotion all authors need to do
to become noticed these days, I don’t quite understand this thinking.

How do you define success for yourself?

Am I happy? Am I fed? Is my family with me (and happy and fed)?
Then, I am successful.

I do, however, set both large and small goals to accomplish based on my
dreams and aspirations. Continually reaching these and striving for more,
is an important part of my “keep moving forward” philosophy. Doing this is
very joyful for me.

What three qualities or behaviors do you think an author needs to have to achieve success in publishing today?

(1) Tenacity
(2) Forward-thinking (ability to go with the flow as well as change things
(3) Ambition

Is there anything you wish you had done differently?

Yes! I wish I had started my own publishing company sooner. I do a lot of
things “against the grain” with my life, but for some reason this one was a
tough one for me to embrace. I’d heard too many naysayers, and they swayed
me against it for years. Doing what I knew I could do, and succeeding at
it, inspires me to do more and to inspire others to live their dreams.

What advice do you have for authors considering independent publishing?

Don’t make this decision lightly. If you only have one book in you, and
it’s not a book that will appeal to more than your family, then a quick
non-professionally-edited book may be your answer. If you want to make a
business of your writing, then you need to approach every step of
publishing in a professional manner.

Beware of vanity publishers who will publish your manuscript unedited and
unpolished (and charge you a bundle). These are who give self-publishers a
poor reputation and they can sometimes be scams. Ask for advice from
others, but ultimately do what is best for you–only you know what that is!

Keep your dreams!

Thanks again, Lisa, for taking the time to share your experience with us!  To learn more about Lisa’s many projects, you can visit:
Lisa’s KickStarter campaign for homeschool fiction
Lisa’s publishing company
Lisa’s children’s chapter book series
Lisa’s Rich Author page to help you make your publishing dreams come true

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Interview: Kris Tualla

Kris Tualla‘s first book, A Primer for Beginning Authors came out in April of this year, and her first novel, A Woman of Choice was released earlier this month.  A retired high school teacher, Tualla is pursuing her dream of becoming a multi-published author of historical fiction. She started in 2006 with nothing but a nugget of a character in mind and absolutely no idea where to go from there. She has created a dynasty – The Hansen Series – with six novels currently in line for publication. Norway is the new Scotland!

1.  What is your latest project?

I am finishing the editing on my trilogy; “A Prince of Norway” is coming November 8, and “A Matter of Principle” releases January 8, 2011.

In between, I am writing “Loving the Knight” – the sequel to “Loving the Norseman” – which is currently waiting on traditional publishers’ desks.

2.   What made you decide to buck tradition and pursue independent publishing?

Traditional publishers did. “We don’t do American historicals… no one can sell Scandinavia… write Scotland BUT Scotland is a very crowded market… cut 15,000 words then I’ll look at it… publishers LIKE their boxes…” I’ve heard it all.

3.  What response do you have to those who feel there’s not enough money and exposure in self-publishing for the amount of effort, and that the quality of self-published books is poor?

It’s true: indie-pubbed authors have to work twice as hard or more at promotion. That is one heck of a lot of effort, make no mistake.

On the other hand, indie-pubbed authors make 35%-70% in royalties per book, not 10%. And sales numbers never determine whether or not another book is released. And indie-pubbed books never go “out of print” creating a perpetual backlist.

As for the quality, it often IS poor. Ignorant authors charge into publishing without 1) learning how to write well, 2) learning to format professionally, 3) researching their options. It’s sad, really.

But there are plenty of us who ARE doing it well. I have to believe that the cream will – eventually – rise to the top. I’ve got time. Years.

4.  How do you see the publishing industry changing (if at all) in the next five years?

  • E-books, e-readers and used bookstores will continue to grow.
  • POD is the only print model that is viable.
  • Big-box bookstores and traditional publishers will need to rethink their business plans. Jobs will be lost.
  • National writer organizations will have to accept indie-pubbed authors, setting a bar of either total copies sold or royalties earned to qualify as “official” – or lose new authors.
  • New business models (such as my Goodnight Publishing) will appear to support the indie-pubbed author.

5.  Tell us about your process of preparing a manuscript for publication. (Choosing a print method, editing, etc.)

I use CreateSpace by Amazon because there is no contract, no required purchases, and fabulous distribution. I print completed books and give them to readers to be edited (this costs no more money than printing manuscripts at Kinko’s and is so much more productive!).

I go through 4 rounds of printed-book edits until 12 sets of eyes have picked the books apart. When I’m done I publish through Amazon, Kindle and Smashwords. Still waiting for Nook’s PubIt! to go live…

6.  Do you think there are projects that aren’t well suited to independent publishing?

Yes – anything that should be in hard back like big, glossy coffee-table books. Or children’s books that have cute quirks like shapes, holes, fuzzy stuff, etc. Or little, cheap, series books like Harlequins.

7.  How do you define success for yourself?

In baby steps:

A book signing with 30 people. A good review here or selling six more books there. An interview on internet radio. Buying an ad in RT that leads to a promised review. A request to speak.

I can’t look too far ahead, I only look at what I can do NEXT. And if I do the next thing well, then I’m succeeding.

8.  What three qualities or behaviors do you think an author needs to have to achieve success in publishing today?

No ego.

No saying, “I can’t.”

Never turning any opportunity down.

9.  Is there anything you wish you had done differently?

Sometimes I think I should have submitted to e-publishers that would have taken me in a heartbeat. Then RWA would consider me “published”…

But I LOVE being able to write what I want and having control over my product. And working at my own (quick) pace. And problem-solving. And learning SO much through the process. And promoting myself. And helping other authors who want to indie-pub. I’m having a blast.

So, I guess the answer is “no.”

10.  What advice do you have for authors considering independent publishing?

DO NOT DO IT IN A BUBBLE! Find a mentor who has walked this path and done it well. You must have both input and editing from readers and other writers on EVERY aspect of the process.

Thank you Kris, for taking the time to share your experience with us!


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Desert Dreams

I’m skipping the poetry today to recap my experience at the Desert Dreams Conference.  The short version:  It was great!

I went to several very informative panels, about topics as varied as writing erotica to the legal and money issues of being self-employed.  All of the presenters were excellent.  I was lucky to hear Jodi Thomas talk about writing historicals and Jennifer Ashley discuss the progression of a writer’s career.

The panels weren’t the only good thing either.  I had the good fortune to have great conversations with several authors who gave me tips on where to submit next and one who shared her experience as an independent publisher.  (Check out Kris Tualla’s A Primer for Beginning Authors.)

I also had the pleasure of meeting Kate Seaver of Berkely Publishing.  She’s a lovely, gracious woman, and I’m not saying that just because she invited me to submit Veiled Mirror to her.  🙂

The keynote speakers, Linda Lael Miller and Brad Schreiber were funny and inspiring, and some of the stories told by the editors and agents were absolutely hysterical.

If there was one theme that I had to choose to describe the conference, it’s that writing is hard work, but it’s worth the effort.  To quote Jodi Thomas (who was quoting a headstone), “Triumph comes through perseverance.”

So, I’m giving a big round of applause to the organizers of the the conference.  They did a fabulous job.

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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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