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How to Send Your Work Out Into The World

One of the myths unpublished writers tend to believe is that things get easier after you get an agent or after you get published or after you’ve made some good money from your writing. They tend to think of the “before” as frightening and frustrating and painful and the “after” as some kind of writerly heaven. But I don’t know a single well-published writer who would agree with this myth. The fact of the matter is that creating things and sending them out into the world, where they will be judged and measured and bought and sold, is never easy.

I am telling you this because yesterday I sent 93 pages of my novel-in-progress to my agent. She has not yet seen these pages, she has not yet agreed that this is a book that will be worthy of selling but we had decided together that I would send her the work when I had 100 pages.  My goal was to get her those pages by April 1. I didn’t quite make that deadline, but yesterday, after doing a round of revisions that felt very resonant, I decided that it was time.  Sure, I could have kept working on those pages and polishing them up until the end of time, but I decided I was ready for them to be judged.

It was hard to put them out there. In order to make myself do it, I had to close my eyes, hold my breath, say, “WTF,” and press the “Send” button as fast as I could before I changed my mind.

I immediately felt elated, imagining the phone call I would get when she couldn’t contain her excitement. I imagined the auction we would hold, the juicy deal we would nail down, the announcement we would get to make, the interviews I would do. I pictured, in other words, making the buzzer-beater shot to win the national championships – a moment of glory we got to witness earlier this week when Villanova beat North Carolina.

That moment of elation was followed very quickly by a moment of gut-wrenching terror, because I have had that dream before. I have gotten close to that moment of glory before – the ball in my hands, the dream within reach – and it didn’t happen, and it was horrible.

I understand that there are no guarantees.

Did you see any of the photos of those young men who lost that championship basketball game this week? In case you missed them, I put one at the top of the post – a shot of North Carolina’s Theo Pinson in the locker room after the game. I mean, it makes you want to cry. We can all stand back and say, “But that was just a college basketball game, it didn’t really mean anything.” But those players worked for that moment for most of their lives, just like us. They dreamed of that glory for a very long time, just like us. Not getting it, in basketball or in writing, hurts a lot.

When we send our work out into the world, we risk that pain. It is much easier to keep the pages safe on our desktop. It is much easier to share them with a small group of friends who will tell us what a good job we did.

But I am proud to be a writer who meets my deadlines. I am proud to be a writer who gets back up after a tough fall. I am proud that I keep working to get better, and that I am not afraid to have my work judged, even if it’s judged harshly.

I would rather be all those things than a writer who is too scared to share my work with the world.

I have no idea what my agent will say about the 93 pages.  She could say, “Love them, keep going, let’s DO this!” Or she could say, “I think you might want to shelve this for awhile.” Or she could say, “There are parts of this that are very good” (which means that there are part of it that need a lot of work.)

Since my last book died a quiet death, there is even a very real chance that she could say, “I don’t think I can represent your work anymore.”

That’s the dirty secret that published writers never tell you: that they live in fear of not being able to do it again. They live in fear that they have already hit their peak. They live in fear that whatever success they had before was a fluke and now everyone knows they are a fraud.

I think every one of those desperate thoughts.

And you know how I know I am not a fraud? How I counteract the doubt? Today, I will start work on Page 94 and I will figure out where that next scene fits into the whole, and what needs to happen to make it sing.

*****

I have an exercise that my memoir-writing class is doing this week called The Universal Constants of Creativity. It is a way to evaluate the places in your creative process where you get stuck.  If “letting go” and “sending your work out into the world” is a tough one for you, you might want to DOWNLOAD IT HERE and do the exercise yourself.

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Love at the Last Minute

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I had the great pleasure of working with Rhonda Hayes Curtis on her memoir, Love at the Last Minute, which she has just self published. When she first came to me, I knew that this was a story that could take the world by storm and soon learned that Rhonda was the kind of person who would settle for nothing less. She was one of the most determined writers I'd ever met -- willing to throw our giant chunks of pages to tell the best possible story, willing to go back again and again to get things right, and UN-willing, in the end, to take NO for an answer.

Despite a valiant effort, Rhonda's book was not picked up by a literary agent. I have to admit that I was truly baffled by this reality -- which is proof that there are simply no guarantees in publishing! But Rhonda refused to let other people's rejection stop her from her dream. She learned everything she needed to know about self publishing, hired some good advisors, and brought her book to life herself. She is having a big book launch celebration on Valentine's Day. 

I predict that this book is going to sell like wildfire -- and that all the agents that turned her down will be kicking themselves. It's like a Nicholas Sparks novel but it's REAL!

I asked Rhonda to answer some questions about her book-writing journey so we could learn about determination, rejection, and how sometimes the path to publishing takes twists we never imagined.

 Here is the book blurb:

Rhonda Hayes promised to give her thirty-five-year-old dying daughter, Sherry, anything she wanted. When Sherry requested that her mother sign up for a dating site, Rhonda was panic-struck. What would people think? Only nine months earlier, Rhonda’s devoted husband, Greg, had died from cancer. Keeping her promise, Rhonda acquiesced to Sherry’s wish. Together they completed a dating profile; moments before hitting SUBMIT, Rhonda added these words: "My daughter has terminal cancer and she is my life right now. Why would I be on a dating site? She is encouraging me to move on with my life and what a treat it would be if you had the opportunity to meet her. She is an angel." Weeks later, Rhonda was immersed in two worlds: the exhilaration of falling in love and the despair of watching her daughter die. Love at the Last Minute is a memoir about finding courage, acceptance, and love. It’s also about how opening up to God’s plan can truly bring miracles into your life


You can read the opening chapter excerpt on Rhonda's website by clicking HERE.

And just to help you keep the people straight:

  • Greg was Rhonda's former husband.
  • Sherry was Rhonda and Greg's daughter.
  • Larry is Rhonda's current husband -- the one she met online in the last days of Sherry's life.
  • Chris is Sherry's widower.
  • And this is Rhonda:


Rhonda Curtis-Small.jpg



________

Q: Can you talk about what led you to want to write a book about your experiences?
You’d written an article that got a lot of attention – perhaps start all the way back there with the impulse to write that piece and how it led to the book?

 
I never dreamed or aspired to be a writer. In 2005, I began journaling during a difficult time in my marriage. I was trying to make sense out of my life.  It was September 2006, in my darkest hour, that I wrote: “Dear God, Please help me.” Looking back, I believe that’s when the first seed was planted. When I was called to write. That’s when things began to change in my life.
 
The article evolved organically.
 
In 2010, I wrote a short essay, “Life”
 
Around the same time, Larry sent eHarmony an email thanking and telling them about how we met. It was through this contact, that eHarmony asked me to do an interview with CNN
 
Then, Guideposts magazine contacted me, asking if I would share my story.
 
This article was selected as one of The Top Ten Most Inspirational Stories of the Year.
 
 
Q: At what point in the process did it occur to you that you wanted to write for a wider audience than yourself and your family?
 
It was June 15, 2009. The first thing I wrote in my journal that morning was:
 
“Well now I have the crazy idea of writing a book. I may be losing my mind, but I think it’s worth a shot.  The lessons I’ve learned along my journey are very different than most people will have to endure.”
 
Ironically, it was three days before I sent Larry the first communication. Little did I realize at that time, that my book was going to be a love story. I thought it was only going to be about the lessons that Greg, Sherry, and I learned along the journey.
 
Q: How did thinking about publication change your intention and your outlook on the writing process?
 
My intentions are always good in whatever I do in life. Writing, or not.
 
As far as the writing process, when I first began, I tried to make it perfect. That didn’t work. My writing was dreadful. Then, I wrote with no filter at all. I wrote about everything in great detail. That was cathartic. Then with the help of great editors, self-study, and the tenacity to revise, again and again, I eventually found a balance. I wrote the book I wanted to read. Writing has helped me in so many ways. Hopefully, my writing will helps others.
 

Q: What are some of the things you did to learn how to write your memoir? What worked well? What didn’t work so well?
 

First of all, I sat down and wrote. I wrote 10-12 hours a day. It was easy to transport myself back to the past, good and bad. I relived everything. Diligent about accuracy, I was grateful that I had journaled, kept calendars, and the writings of Greg and Sherry. All the text messages, eHarmony communications, emails, etc. were easy to document.  I was lost in my work. Larry would bring me food. When I wasn’t writing, I was thinking about it. It sounds like I was obsessed. I don’t know, I suppose I was. But I was doing what made me happy.
 
I read lots of books. Mostly books about writing and other memoirs. I connected with other writers. When I attended my first writing conference (SCWC), I knew I was in the right place. The energy was amazing.
 
The hardest thing for me was that I needed help. It was frustrating to wait weeks, mostly months, for an editor to be available. And then wait that much longer for their feedback. By then, I had already revised and moved on. I’m a hard worker.
 
The least helpful thing was “read and critique” groups. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the social contact and some of the writers offered good advice. But sharing five pages a week, felt like I was trudging through quicksand. Especially, when someone was writing science fiction or poetry. I needed more. If I was rich, I’d hire a full-time editor.
 
The most helpful thing I did was work with you, Jennie. And I’m not just saying that because you’re my interviewer. I thrive on feedback and you always responded when you said you would. You never let me down. You are amazing! [Note from Jennie: Thank you, Rhonda! That is so sweet!]
 
Q: Was it emotionally difficult to return in your work to emotionally difficult topics?
 
Not really. There were so many good things to write about. It was actually fun bringing Greg and Sherry back to life. Especially, Sherry, because there was no dark side to tell.
 
Although, I have to say, I spent almost a year writing about my childhood. A whole new writing voice emerged. It was fun for a while. But as I started reliving and writing about the painful parts of my youth, I wondered if I had made a mistake. Maybe, I should’ve just left it buried. At one point, I regretted going there emotionally, but now I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Writing has answered so many questions. Writing has healed me.  It was great therapy. That’s why I encourage everyone to write.
 
Q: Did you have any pushback in your family about what you were doing? How did you approach that?
 
No. My daughter, Charlotte, and everyone else in my family have fully supported me in my writing efforts. Before Greg died, I had his permission to share that part of our lives. Of course, I had Sherry’s permission. I offered to let Chris read it, but he declined. I didn’t need anyone else’s approval.
 
Q: Were you surprised by how much effort it took to complete your book? How much time, effort, editing?
 
Yes. When I first began writing, right after Sherry’s funeral, I didn’t have any idea or expectations of how long it would take me.  By year five, it became very frustrating. My manuscript still wasn’t where I thought it should be. Good, but not perfect. After my last revision in year six, I was finally ready to let it go. It’s still not perfect, but no writer is that good. I glad it’s done.
 
Q: At what point in the writing process did you start to build your author platform? How has that been going?
 
That’s a funny question. I never think about building a platform. I think about building genuine relationships, even if it’s only one short conversation at a party.  I love to hear other people’s stories. The first few months after I began writing, Larry came home one day with a stack of books. Books I had no interest in­­–––books on how to find an agent, how to build you author platform, and how to write a query letter.  I didn’t concern myself with any of that. It happens naturally with me. I have no problem connecting with people.

Note from Jennie: Rhonda has done so many clever things to connect with her readers, including starting workshops with Larry in online dating for over-50 adults, teaching a course in writing your own story at Escondido Adult School, and honing her speaking skills at Toastmasters. See note about her book launch party, below.
 
Q: You tried to get an agent and it didn’t happen for you. Can you talk about how that process felt?
 
I’m really glad I took the time and energy to write a thorough book proposal and query letter. The education and experience was worth every minute. I picked thirty-three agents that I wanted to pitch. The first rejection (an exclusive) was hard to swallow. I sent out eleven more queries when a BIG agent became very interested, but he was torn. He shared my manuscript with his colleagues. They gave me great advice. Revise. So I quit pitching. I hired another editor and spent another eighteen months revising. 
 
Q: When did you decide to go ahead and self publish and how did you decide how to move forward?
 
After the revision, I hired another editor for the final line edits. I sent it back to BIG agent and he declined. I suppose, I don’t take rejection very well. I didn’t think it was worth the time to continue pitching to the rest of the agents on my list. People wanted to read my story. I kept getting signs from the Universe that it was time to let it go. Now, I’m so glad I glad I decided to self-publish.
 
Q: What has been the biggest surprise of the process so far?
 
The biggest surprise is that men seem to love my story as much as women.
 
Q: You have 200 people coming to your book launch party on Valentine’s Day. Are you nervous? Excited?
 

The number has grown. We’re up to 250 now. I’m excited and very grateful for new and old friends who want to come out and support me. What makes me nervous is that I won’t be able to spend the time I’d like to with each person. Some I haven’t seen in years.
 
Q: What is next in terms of marketing?
 
I don’t concern myself with that too much.  Larry is amazing in that department and he will help me. Ultimately, I think if my story is supposed to reach thousands, do I dare say millions, God is already taking care of that business. I’ve been asked to speak at numerous book clubs. I’m excited about that. I could talk about the writing process and my story all day long.
 
Q: What advice would you give to people who are burning to tell a story from their own lives?
 
Do it. Tell the truth. Writing matters. It can be life changing.


You can read the first chapter of Love at the Last Minute on Rhonda's homepage.

Larry and Rhonda

Larry and Rhonda

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The Wallflower at the Dance

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope everyone is enjoying their leftovers!

I wanted to take a moment today to write about the stories we tell ourselves, the common narrative about being a writer.

I have a client whom I shall call Georgia. She is a gifted writer who has written a truly magnificent book, and has also done the hard work of preparing a book proposal and writing a synopsis and making a list of agents and getting her queries in shape to send out. A few weeks ago, she began to send out queries – pleas into the cold dark night for someone to love her book, for someone to allow her to take the next step towards being a writer.

The first handful of queries came back as NOs, or as nothing. No response. Silence.

It devastated Georgia. She wept actual tears of pain – I know because I was on the phone when she cried them and it was horrible. She thought she couldn’t go on and send out any more queries. She thought she couldn’t stand the pain of rejection.

“I had no idea how hard it would hit me,” she said. “I felt like the wallflower at the dance who wasn’t picked.”

My mind flashed back to my days in dance class and in the high school gym when I was often that girl. My mind flashed to the beloved tale of Cinderella, which is all about a girl getting picked – plucked from the pain of her life and brought into the light.

It occurred to me that this narrative – of being chosen—is so deeply ingrained in so many of our psyches that we can’t even see that there is another story.

But there absolutely is.

The other story is a tale about giving yourself permission to be the writer you want to be.

Yes, of course you want an agent to pick you and you want a juicy book deal and you want a movie offer with a glittering red carpet opening. But if you step back from that fantasy, what you really want is to connect with readers. And if you look hard at that reality, you will see that the only want that ever happens is one reader at a time.

You have to be open to connecting with one reader at a time. While you wait for the agent – and send out 100 queries and suffer the nos and the silences – you look for ways to be the writer you want to be. You look for ways to connect, to be part of the conversation, to be open to the possibilities the world may be presenting to you.

I heard a story years ago in an interview with Patti Stanger, the Millionaire Matchmaker. I know – hardly a literary source, but it’s the truth. I was driving somewhere and heard her on the radio. She was talking about dating, and how people shut out the possibility of love.  She was explaining how so much of what she does is to coach them on their mindset. She said, “It’s like they're a taxicab driving around with the light off. No one is going to look twice at them.” The trick, she suggested, is to turn the light on. To be available. To let the world know you are someone who is open to connecting.

That imagine stuck with me – and reminded me exactly of the way writers need to be in the world. So many of us are approaching the world with our taxi light off and still expecting someone to flag us down and offer us a fare.

Turn the taxi light on. Be open to one reader at a time. Build your audience one person at a time.

The big deals may come – or they may not. We can’t control that. But if we are committed to connecting with readers, it won’t matter, in the end. We’ll find another way to get our book into readers’ hands.

We live in excellent times for writers. There are so many ways forward. But they all begin with ditching the idea that you have to wait to be picked.

Stop waiting. Turn the light on. And go connect with some reader.

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Newsletter Announcement + What's Hybrid Publishing All About, Anyway?

In the above video, I am announcing a slight change in my newsletter format. Fridays won’t change at all – on Fridays, I will continue to offer insight, inspiration and lessons about writing, publishing and the writing life.

The change is that I am adding a short post each Tuesday, starting next Tuesday. I have so many things coming up – free webinars and programs and courses and cool alliances with amazing people – and I didn’t want to bog Fridays down with all the news and announcements. So Tuesdays will be where I highlight all those events and opportunities. Feel free to ignore Tuesdays if you don’t feel like any of that applies to you right now.

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming…

What's Hybrid Publishing All About Anyway?

Hybrid publishing is a new way of publishing that has developed in the gap between traditional publishing and independent or self publishing. I have had three clients take this path recently, and it wasn't so long ago that I had never heard of it! The time seemed right to do a post on it.

This post has two parts: Part 1 is a summary about what hybrid publishing is all about (a huge thanks to Jade Eby, my assistant, for her research and work on this piece.) Part 2 is a Q&A with Author Accelerator member John Robin, who has a book in the pipeline with hybrid publisher Inkshares. This interview gives great insight into why an author might choose this path, and what they will encounter once they’re on it.

Part 1:

 Hybrid Publishing is a term used to describe an alternative way to publish.

  • Traditional Publishing is done through a publishing house like Random House, Penguin or Simon & Schuster, and in conjunction with a literary agent. Authors get an advance up front and are paid a percentage of sales as a royalty. The publisher produces the book and participates in the marketing, but authors are also expected to contribute to the marketing of their books.   
  • Self-Publishing is where you, the author, take on all the financial risk and all the roles typically performed by the publisher. You, in effect, become the publisher, and as a result, you reap all the profits.
  • Hybrid Publishing is thought of as being “in-between” these two extremes. Some people refer to it as having more flexibility than traditional publishers but more support and guidance than self-publishing. There are several different types of hybrid publishing. Below, we’ll take a look at the most common.

 

Agent-Assisted Publishing

Some agents have started offering services to help publish books from their clients that may not have sold to a traditional house or that may benefit from a non-traditional publishing approach. In the past, the agent’s job was very distinct from the publisher’s job, so this new approach is blurring the lines a bit. An agent obviously knows a lot about the publishing industry as a whole, but doesn't typically have the production or marketing capabilities of a publisher. As they add these capabilities, this will be an interesting development to watch. Example: Trident Digital Media and Publishing

Partnership Publishing

A partnership publishing model means the author pays to publish under the publisher’s imprint. While the authors receive a high percentage of royalties, they also take on most of the financial risk that is associated with publishing. The publishing company will offer benefits that most self-publishing ventures can’t, such as print distribution, bigger and better marketing efforts, and the ability to submit the books to traditional and popular review outlets such as Kirkus, Romantic Times, Booklist, Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly. Examples: She Writes Press, Ingram Publisher Services

Reader Powered Publishing

Recently, there’s been a new model in the hybrid publishing space -- one where authors get some of the traditional support of a publisher, but where they do not pay as much upfront. There are even several versions of this model:

  • Model #1. This is where the readers become the ones to decide which books get published and which don’t. The publishing company may absorb the cost of publishing the book and offer slightly lower royalties. Examples: Kindle Scout, Swoon Romance
  •  Model #2. These companies crowdfund your book by asking readers to pay a certain amount for the book within a certain period of time. If the book reaches its “goal” they will use those funds to publish your book. If the goal isn’t met, none of readers end up paying anything and your book doesn’t get published. Think Kickstarter for books. Examples: Inkshares, Unbound.  NOTE: This is not the same thing as using crowdfunding platforms to raise funds to publish yourself. PubSlush, Publishizer, Indiegogo and Patreon are examples of this path, but they are only the intermediaries that help you raise the funds. They do not help you publish.

Team Powered Publishing

This is where an author submits a book to the publishing company and upon their acceptance, chooses their publishing team of professionals. That means an author will select their cover designer, their editor, proofreader, marketing manager, and formatter. The team works together to produce a quality book to release. The catch? No one is paid and no one pays in until the book is released. Then, as the royalties come in, they are divided up in pre-determined percentages to each of the team members.

The theory behind this type of publishing is that it allows an author to publish without investing a dime of their own money and with the support and benefits those at a traditional publishing house usually receive. This type of publishing also ensures that every team member is invested in the success of a book. They are not getting paid for the work upfront so they must work hard to ensure that royalties come in. This keeps everyone accountable and competitive. The downside is that even if hard work is put into a book, there is a chance that it might never make money. Example: Booktrope

Traditional Publishers Offering Hybrid Deals

Some traditional publishing companies are making deals with authors that are out of the “norm.” For example, a publisher may make a deal with Jane Author that she pays X amount upfront to help with marketing costs. Not many traditional publishers talk about these kinds of deals so there is not much known about what types of agreements or standards to look for.

Now that we have a sense of what hybrid publishing is all about, let's hear from an author who is in the midst of doing it.

 

 Interview with Author John Robin

John Robin is an Author Accelerator member who is writing an epic fantasy called Blood Dawn that currently stands at 760 pages. He is planning to publish with Inkshares if he gets enough votes.

Jennie: This is a test, John: can you give us a one-sentence description of your novel?

John: A weaver discovers that her gift is a gateway to magic and the key to restoring light to a fallen empire, but in order to do so she must leave behind all that she was and face a future where comfort and safety are uncertain.

Jennie: Nice job! Would you like to say a few words about how you have used Author Accelerator to develop your book?

John: With Author Accelerator, I’ve written a set amount of pages every week, knowing that I can submit them to an editor for review and feedback aimed at helping me stay on track. The brilliant thing about the Author Accelerator method is it works for outliners or discovery writers – I’m a bit of a hybrid of the two. The editor’s goal is to ensure forward narrative drive, which is necessary no matter what method you use, and that’s allowed me to write my draft with confidence every week. It’s also allowed me to set a predictable goal for completion, and a sense that there is an end to the novel-writing process, rather than the guesswork of drafting alone and waiting for feedback until after I’ve invested a lot in various story choices. Author Accelerator has kept me open as I carefully balance the tug of war of editorial revision with new drafting. Simply put, it’s accelerated me in a process that otherwise might have no real feeling of an end.

Jennie: I love that! Thank you for that. Okay, now let’s get down to hybrid publishing questions: When you were doing research on your publishing options, what drew you to hybrid publishing in general and to Inkshares in particular?

John: I read about hybrid publishing in a Writer’s Digest article, in particular, a model called partnership publishing. In this model, traditional publishing services partner with authors, meaning that authors can pay for editing, design, and distribution on par with what they would receive through traditional publishing.

However, these services are expensive – tens of thousands of dollars. In doing my research, I found Inkshares, which uses a crowdfunding model similar to Kickstarter, to raise these funds. What drew me to their company was their basic philosophy: writers write, readers decide, Inkshares publishes. Instead of allowing in-house editors or agents to decide which books get published, Inkshares determines if there is enough reader interest by allowing reader’s to “vote” on prospective books through placing pre-orders. Books which reach their pre-order goal will go to publication.

Jennie: What do you believe is the advantage of publishing with a hybrid publisher versus self-publishing or traditional publishing? What was the defining point for you?

John: Unlike traditional or self-publishing, Inkshares allows authors to connect to readers for their book well before it’s published, even during drafting. Their goal is to create an interactive community where readers can get excited about books right from initial idea, all the way to final, published title. Being with Inkshares has allowed me to build a platform around Blood Dawn and build a fan base unlike if I toiled away on my book and kept quiet about it.

What’s also great about Inkshares’s model: should Blood Dawn reach its funding goal and go to publication, that will mean I already have 1000 copies sold and several hundred relationships with readers. And this is all before the book even goes to production. After it reaches its funding goal, I will have the time the book is under production to continue pre-selling copies. This seamless interface between author and reader is, for me, what makes Inkshares such an excellent place for an author to get started.

Jennie: What is the process like when you publish through Inkshares?

John: When a project reaches its funding goal, it goes to production. At this point, Inkshares connects the author with the editing, design, and marketing teams. Inkshares values the titles it puts out, much like a traditional publisher, wanting not only to build a high-quality catalog, but to also release bestsellers. Inkshares also connects successful books with reviewers, including the NYT, USA Today, and the Washington Post. Inkshares also has relationships with numerous independent bookstores and distributes through Ingram, with titles ending up in Indigo and Barnes & Noble.

Jennie: What do you think about the fact that if your book does not reach the “goal” set by Inkshares, your project will not be published (at least not through their company)? Do you think this is a downside to their business model? To hybrid publishing?

John: I think even if a project fails, there is still a great opportunity for success.

During the funding process, I will gain numerous fans and prospective readers who have followed the project and subscribed to my newsletter – fans who will be eager to follow Blood Dawn’s progress while I decide what my next steps will be. Whether I choose to self-publish or submit Blood Dawn to agents and try to publish it traditionally, I will already have a very active platform and fan base for the book, making success in both those cases much more likely.

Jennie: Do you feel better knowing that Inkshares will take care of things like copy editing, cover design, and distribution or do you wish you could retain control over some of those aspects of the publishing process?

John: One thing that steered me away from the idea of self-publishing was the overwhelming odds of producing something substandard. The other angle was reach: I could self-publish a book with excellent editing and design, only to be stuck with a book that I have to do all the legwork to get into bookstores.

For this reason, I would gladly give up full control if it means I can focus on writing and connecting to my audience, while a company rooted in the tried and tested editing, design, and marketing know-how of the traditional industry does the backend work. This feature is what drew me to Inkshares and why I feel I’m in good hands with them.

Jennie: Your book, Blood Dawn, is currently in the Inkshares funding process, which means you’re taking pre-orders. Can you tell us what marketing efforts you’ve taken to get people excited and interested in your book?

John: What’s worked well for me has been the process of reaching out to other Inkshares authors with an offer to help promote their books. In doing this, we’ve slowly formed an author co-promotion community that now has grown to about 500 members (and moved onto a Goodreads discussion group). I’ve connected with numerous Inkshares authors and helped them, expecting nothing back in return, and found that not only have several authors stepped up to help improve my project (i.e. one author made me a better cover, one helped me make a trailer, another made me a dragon emblem), they’ve sent several readers my way as well. I’m now at 316 pre-orders, and counting, and am finding that having a higher pre-order count is drawing in random catalogue browsers too. In fact, about 3 out of 4 pre-orders now are from people I don’t know.

Jennie: What has been the most challenging part of the Inkshares process, thus far?

The most difficult part has been finding a way to get beyond my personal network and start reaching general readers. Because Inkshares is a new and unfamiliar publishing model, I’ve had to learn to develop not just a Blood Dawn pitch, but an Inkshares pitch as well. I’ve brought in terminology like, “Traditional publishing meets Kickstarter.”

I’ve found that sending people to my Inkshares page has had little effect if I’m telling them to check out my book, because they think I’m trying to pre-sell a book that’s not published yet. Whereas, if I tell them that my book will be published by a stellar publishing company, but only if I can get readers to back it through pre-ordering a copy, I often have them asking where they can find it and, about a day or two later, I see that they’ve bought a copy (or three, or seven).

Jennie: What has been your favorite part of the process so far?

John: I’ve loved connecting to readers. Inkshares notifies me of every pre-order, giving me the option to email my backers. I take the time to email everyone, thanking them and inviting them to sign up for my newsletter (where I offer the first 13 chapters of Blood Dawn to subscribers only), as well as telling them where they can connect with me. Many of these readers have emailed back telling me how excited they are about Blood Dawn. I’ve had more than 60 readers sign up for my newsletter, and I’m receiving random fan email. One of my favorite, humbling moments was when a published Inkshares author emailed me one morning saying he’d read my opening chapter out loud and recorded it for me. Listening to someone read my opening chapter – just knowing they’d been fascinated enough to make the effort – really meant a lot to me.

Jennie: What advice would you give to authors who are just learning about the different alternatives in the publishing industry?

John: There are many opportunities out there for you. Inkshares is a great starting place, because regardless of whether or not you reach your funding goal, you have the opportunity to get feedback on your work from readers and other writers, and you get a chance to practice book promotion and build an audience.

I think it’s a mistake to believe you can build an audience out of a vacuum. While it’s true that some books get hyped up by publishers before release and an author with no platform whatsoever can become big just from the publisher’s efforts, I think it’s a mistake to rely on this. It’s smart to expect that no one is going to know who you are or have any reason to believe they should be interested in your work. Your job is going to be to determine: how you can connect with them? How can you build your readership? How can you brand yourself? And you don’t have to wait until you’ve signed a book deal to figure that out.

Whether you self-publish or seek a traditional route, I’m a strong advocate for Inkshares because it’s a great place to get some exposure and start building a name for yourself.

Jennie: Where can people find/support you and your novel, Blood Dawn?

John: http://www.inkshares.com/projects/blood-dawn

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How to Write a Sentence

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I am such an evangelist for thinking BIG about books – for knowing your audience, for knowing the marketplace, for understanding how your structure serves your story-- and as a result, I spend a lot of time in this newsletter talking about these big picture ideas.

I also spend a lot of time on the realities of the writing life – the habits you need to do good work, the kind of support that helps and hurts, the ways you can shake off doubt and despair so you can get the words out of your head and onto the page.

And then, of course, there is the selling – how to connect with readers, how to hook agents, and all the rest of the noisy work of publishing.

What often gets overlooked is the power and beauty of a well-crafted sentence. It’s often the very last thing we care about – because if you don’t know your point, and you haven’t chosen an effective structure, and you don’t have the habits to sustain the writing of a book, what difference does it make how your sentences sound? Crafting a sentence is often the very last thing a writer – or a book coach -- pays attention to.

And yet when we read a book, when we fall under its spell, oftentimes, the thing that most stands out are the sentences.

I am in the midst of reading H is for Hawk, the award-winning memoir by Helen Macdonald, and I am completely dazzled – by the story, by the structure, by the content (so many new things to learn about training falcons and the British aristocracy and grief!) It is taking me forever to read because I can only manage a few pages at a time. There is just so much happening, so much depth and nuance, and I want to enjoy it and also figure out how Macdonald has done it, and in addition to all that, there are her sentences.

They are breathtaking. They startle and delight and prod. They have wit and wisdom and rhythm. These sentences are so good it seems as though you could eat them.

I want to show you just one. It comes on page 16. This is a story about a woman who has been unhinged by grief – her father has died – and she is going to deal with her grief by training a new hawk. But on page 16, the grief is brand new, and this is how she describes it:

 

Sometimes, a few times, I felt my father must be sitting near me as I sat on a train or in a café. This was comforting. It all was. Because these were the normal madnesses of grief. I learned this from books. I bought books on grieving, on loss and bereavement. They spilled over my desk in tottering piles. Like a good academic, I thought books were for answers. Was it reassuring to be told that everyone sees ghosts? That everyone stops eating? Or can’t stop eating? Or that grief comes in stages that can be numbered and pinned like beetles in boxes?

 

The sentence I want to talk about is the last one.

 

Or that grief comes in stages that can be numbered and pinned like beetles in boxes?

 

What’s fascinating is that it’s the fourth sentence in a series. So often, we stop at three. Our ear is trained for three. But Macdonald drives on here with a fourth sentence, and it really feels like it’s driving through – like a freight train or a semi truck. It hits the reader in the gut.

What makes this sentence so powerful?

First, there’s the internal alliteration (comes/can) and rhythm of the opening phrase. “Grief comes in stages that can be numbered and pinned.” Just say that out loud and HEAR how it rolls off the tongue.  Emphasize comes/stages/numbered/pinned and you get it even more.

Then there are those two incredibly specific terms – numbered and pinned.  Not simply counted and named, but bound to a number, pinned to a particular spot. The second we read those words, our mind’s race ahead to think of things that get numbered and pinned and without the author’s help, we can’t quite get there, we can’t quite figure out what she means, and then she gives it to us – “like beetles in boxes.”

Readers are constantly trying to stay a step ahead of the author in this way – on the level of a sentence, a paragraph, a scene, a chapter and a story. We’re in a dialogue with the author, in a relationship with them, interacting with them at every moment, and this is a perfect example of how it works. We’re stretching, yearning to solve this little puzzle of how grief gets numbered and pinned, or what else gets numbered and pinned.

When she gives us the “beetles in boxes” image it’s so satisfying. It sounds great, for one thing because of the alliteration. Beetles in boxes! She didn’t just stop at the thing that is numbered and pinned – beetles – but she gave them a context, a grim reality: boxes. This evokes something very specific and macabre – dead bugs, displayed bugs, bugs kept under glass for human pleasure. You can’t help but see it – I pictured intense jewel tones, creepy bent legs, shellacked backed bugs, and those terrifying pins -- and you can’t help but feel it, the finality of what has happened to those beetles and to the author’s dad.

The author has been talking about ghosts and the wrecked relationship with food – things that are far from benign – but with that final image of beetles in boxes, she slams us with an image that we can’t shake. It echoes. I read the passage two, three, four times, just to experience the satisfaction of that sentence and the pleasure of that image – gruesome and beautiful.

We all want to engage our reader, to speak to them, to connect with them, to hook them, to move them, and although emotions and expectation and curiosity and desire are underneath everything, making it all work, the tool used to deliver all that is just a few words woven into a simple sentence.

When you think about it, it’s some kind of serious magic.

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