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self-publishing

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Are You Doing the Work?

I have been having a hard time lately getting my own writing done. I think you could say, in fact, that over the last two weeks, I have completely and totally stalled out on the great momentum I had been enjoying with this project. My mojo came, and then it went – and I am sure you know what happened next because I am sure you have been where I am: I started beating myself up for stalling out, feeling bad about it, feeling doubt that I have what it takes to finish a book, even though I have a pretty solid track record of eight books sitting on the shelf. I started telling myself, “That was before; right now, you have nothing.”

In the midst of this negative mind-spin, there was a funny little exchange in the Facebook group of one of my online classes, and it shone a bright light on my problem.

The writers were raving about Scrivener because there was a sale and everyone was convincing everyone else to jump on board. I bought Scrivener about a year ago and haven’t even opened it. I am eager to know why people love it, eager to better serve my writers who use it, and eager to learn new technology tools, but Scrivener has become just another one of the things I haven’t gotten done.

So I wrote, “LALALALALA not listening.” (Super grown up of me, I know.) One of my writers wrote this ironic little note in reply to me:

“Aww, come on Jennie Nash. Just because you're startup is running away from you, you're dealing with a blog, live Q&As, Lecture Videos, Course materials, dealing with Clients (who love you), reading drafts until all hours of the night, hosting more webinars with guests, trying to have a home life--no, wait, strike that, trying to finish you're own book...and you don't want to take on learning a spiffy new tool??”

That made me feel better about Scrivener and then it made me feel better about stalling out on my own book – and ultimately it gave me the kick in the pants I need to get back to work.

Yes, I am busy. Yes, I have a hundred irons in the fire. Yes, I have a thousand good excuses why I am not writing and they are all really excellent reasons. When seen reflected back to me like that on Facebook, my excuses, are, in fact, ironclad.

Except for the fact that the thing I want most is to finish this book I am working on. I love my client work, love building Author Accelerator, love teaching and doing live events and creating awesome partnerships. I love it all. But I also love my own work and I love the fact that I am not just a coach who tells writers how to write, but a writer who is down in the trenches doing it myself right along with you. So my actions are not in alignment with my desires. My priorities are messed up.

I was inspired by the Facebook exchange to ask myself why. And the answer was very simple and very clear: I’m scared to get it wrong.

I got it wrong last time with my novel, Perfect Red.  It was my seventh book and I was convinced that it would launch my career to great new heights. My agent set an auction date, we had six editors from six major houses poised to bid – which is the dream -- and then on the morning of the auction, none of them came to the table with an offer.

It was a very bad day. I decided to self publish and was convinced I would show them all the folly of their ways. I thought that having published six books gave me some sort of free pass to the head of the line. I thought every bookstore where I had held a signing would remember me, and every reader who had written me about one book would want to read another. I thought I had it made in the shade. I did not have it made in the shade because I hadn’t done anything to serve that audience, to engage them, to entice them, to connect with them. So my self-publishing efforts failed too.

I took three years off writing to focus on coaching. I took three years off to lick my wounds. Getting it wrong again now would feel like the death knell to my life as a writer. That may not be rational, but that’s what I feel.

But because of my work helping writers, I know better than most people that there are no guarantees in creative pursuits. There just aren’t. And falling into the trap of believing that there are – that if I do X, I will achieve Y outcome – is dangerous and counterproductive.

None of us can control how the world will respond to our work. All we can control is how we approach it, what energy we give it, and how we prioritize it in our lives so that it gets done – or not.

I don’t want fear to be in charge. So busy schedule or not, I’m going to face my fear, and I’m going to do the work.

What about you?

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What Wild Success Looks Like

"The Ninth Circle" by my friend  Doug Thielscher

"The Ninth Circle" by my friend Doug Thielscher

I ask this question – What does wild success look like? – of every writer I coach and every writer who comes into my AuthorAccelerator program, because I think it’s a critically important thing for us all to understand. If you’re going to spend at least a year pouring your heart and soul into something, you should have a clear idea of why you are doing it, and a clear idea of what you are aiming to achieve.

In the last year, I have probably read more 250 answers to this question, and I recently realized that almost everyone gives some permutation of the exact same two answers. No matter WHY they are drawn to writing a book, their vision of success usually includes some version of the following:

1. Wild success means being plucked from obscurity. This may take the form of being on Oprah, selling rights to a Hollywood movie studio, winning a Pulitzer Prize or getting on the New York Times bestseller list. Whatever the exact vision, it has to do with being recognized as being worthy. It’s not just ME standing here saying, “I can write! I have something important to say! I am good at this!” It’s some clear authority who has singled me out and said, “She can write! She has something important to say! She is good at this!”  Big, big difference, and it’s the thing we all want. To be validated. To be made legitimate. To have the inner vision of who we are, writer-wise, match who the vision of who the world believes we are.

2. Wild success means getting to keep writing. This often takes the form of people wanting to do well enough to quit their day job. Sometimes people cite getting a three-book deal, or a big advance, but the root desire is the same: you get to keep doing the thing you love and you don’t have to do all the other hard stuff you have been doing all your life. You get a free pass.

I bring up this up because the vast majority of us are never going to get the things we dream about. We’re just not. And I think it’s critical to look at this truth from time to time, because what writers often experience once they finish or publish their first book is despair and heartbreak.

I hate to break that news to you, but it’s just the way it is.

A teeny tiny fraction of writers get plucked from obscurity in a way that is life changing. Yes, you may land a great agent, secure a solid book deal, and score a review on the cover of the Sunday Times, but odds are still really, really good that you are not going to become Elizabeth Gilbert or J.K. Rowling.

That means that you still have to explain to people what your book is about and what you do and why it matters. You still have to fight for readers and money and airtime. You still have to think about what you are going to write next and find the time to write it amidst all the other hard things you have to do. You still probably have to keep your day job.

And as for getting to keep writing? To be invited back to do it again? And paid for the privilege? A very few number of writers win that prize. It usually has to do directly with how many books you sell, and most books don’t sell enough to warrant the writer getting ongoing support.

This is all in my head right now because I had a lot of writers this week feeling a lot of despair. These are writers who are just starting to take themselves seriously, as well as writers who have worked really hard to finish and don’t seem to be getting anywhere with agents or publishers or readers.

And it hurts to have to face that truth. It hurts a lot. Because it’s so easy to think that if you don’t win wild success, you have lost.

I heard a quote this week on the radio during a discussion about the NFL.  The guests were talking about what a successful football season is. Is it ONLY winning the SuperBowl? Do we believe that there is literally ONE team that is successful and 57 others that lose? The conclusion was that this kind of thinking is, of course, absurd. There a many, many ways to have a successful sports season – including being good sports, doing better than last year, building towards future success, being moral leaders to the legion of young people watching, breaking records, making money, and enjoying playing the sport.

The same is true with writers. It’s not just the people who win big and win publicly who succeed.

I think it would help all of us to reframe our notions about what it means to succeed.

  • Actually finishing, for example. Actually doing it and not just talking about it. THAT is a huge success and for many people, that is enough.
  • Learning the craft. Really understanding how books are made, how readers are hooked, what magic creates emotion on the page. It feels good to master something that other people don’t know how to do, to become good at it.
  •  Touching a reader. I know from experience that touching just one reader in a truly deep and impactful way can be enormously satisfying. Yes, of course, we would all like to touch thousands, perhaps even millions, but one is good. One is a good start.
  •  Not taking no for an answer. Not letting someone else dictate what you are going to do with your time and your talent. This can mean, in some cases, deciding to go ahead and publish your book yourself when everyone else says no. Is that as good as being plucked from obscurity? Of course not. But it’s also sometimes the difference between reality and fantasy. We live in a time where we don’t HAVE to wait for an agent to choose us or a traditional publisher to invest in us. We can bring our own books into the world. And perhaps sometimes that makes good sense.

I did an interview a few weeks ago with a writer who stopped waiting for an agent and self published her book. It made good sense for her.

Today at 9 am PST I’ll be doing a live Q&A with another such writer, who refused to take no for an answer and is making good things happen for herself. We’re going to talk about how you do that, and what it feels like and what the risks and rewards are. (If you want to join us or get the recording, sign up HERE.)

What I love about these stories is that the writers didn’t roll over and play dead just because they didn’t get the big juicy book deal. They re-calibrated their ideas about what wild success can really mean and looked at it a little more realistically.  They took control of their writing destiny. They looked despair in the face and said, “No thank you.”

Believe me, I’m the first to raise my hand and say I want to be plucked from obscurity and handed a three-book deal with a crack traditional publishing team that would mean I never have to do anything ever again except write whatever comes into my head.

The yearning for that never ends…. unless you realize how rarely that Big Win happens. And unless you realize that the Big Win is not really why any of us are writing.

As Madeline L’Engle said, “What matters is the book itself.  If it is as good a book as you can write at this moment in time, that is what counts.  Success is pleasant; of course you want it; but it isn’t what makes you write.”

We all know L’Engle as the author of the classic, A Wrinkle in Time. But before she wrote that book, she was a frustrated housewife trying to be a writer and wracking up rejection after rejection.

On her fortieth birthday, upon receiving one more rejection, she wrote this:  “I uncovered the typewriter.  In my journal I recorded this moment of decision, for that’s what it was.  I had to write.  I had no choice in the matter.  It was not up to me to say I would stop, because I could not.  It didn’t matter how small or inadequate my talent.  If I never had another book published, and it was very clear to me that this was a real possibility, I still had to go on writing.”

If you are feeling any sort of despair around your work today (or this week or this year), take a step back from that agony and take a deep breath and try answering that question – What would wild success look like? – in a way that is a little less grandiose.

And think about why you are writing.

Do you have to go on writing, no matter what the world offers you in terms of success??

Good, then do it, and do it with joy.

If you don’t have to go on writing? Also good. Now you know, and you have time for other interesting pursuits.

 

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Love at the Last Minute

rhondahayescurtis_loveatthelastminute_ebook_final.jpg


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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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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The Writers' Guide to Agony and Defeat: Intro

The Writer's Guide to Agony and Defeat

Writing a book is like childbirth: no one ever tells you exactly how painful the process is going to be, and when you are in the middle of hurting you wonder if you are, perhaps, the only person in the history of the world who has ever felt exactly this awful. I’ve been a writer for 25 years, and a writing instructor and coach for seven, and I have either witnessed or experienced every possible kind of writerly pain. The possibilities for agony and defeat are everywhere – at the start of the process when a book idea is forming in your mind and doubt is pounding on the door; in the middle of the process when you begin to show your words to the world and fear gnaws at you like a dis-ease; and at the end of the process when you hope your work will find an adoring audience and must come face to face with how much greed and envy have taken up residence in your heart. It can be a brutal business – but like childbirth, the deep satisfactions on the “pro” side tend to outweigh the long list of “cons,” and so we forge ahead, writing our stories and often suffering our heartache.

I recently endured a seventh-month wait for my seventh book to find a publishing home. Every day my novel failed to sell, I imagined that my writing career – this thing I had nurtured since fourth grade and that I thought had grown unshakably strong – was coming to a quiet, bitter, wretched end. I’d had a good run, but it was over. I thought I might never get to write again. When friends would ask how things were going, I would shake my head and say, “Not well.” But people don’t empathize with a writer’s private agonies – it’s not like it’s cancer or global financial meltdown – and they would quickly move on to talk about the latest Bourne movie or the beauti-ful heirloom tomatoes they got at the farmers’ market. This made me even sadder, because now instead of just feeling like a tortured art-ist, I felt tortured and ridiculous. I had, after all, chosen to be a writer.

The enlightenment gurus say that you should “feel what you feel” so I began to wallow even deeper into my misery. I began to catalog the specific agonies of the writing life. I came up with 43. I figured I could turn my pain into something useful for my fellow writ-ers who might feel less bleak about writing when they recognize their own particular moment of wretchedness set down on the page. I thought we could all feel a little less alone. 

My story did not have a happy ending. My seventh book did not sell. I have published six books with major New York houses but book number seven turned out not to be so lucky. The irony is that it is far and away the best book I have written. The first six books helped me get to the place where I could write a much better book, but their less-than-blockbuster track record hamstrung me. I’m a midlist writer with modest sales numbers, and so now I am a writer with a book that has no home. Yes, of course, I have choices about how to proceed – self publishing, e-book publishing – and those things are happening. It’s a good time to be a writer because there are so many more opportunities available to us than there were in the days of the Algonquin Roundtable. But opportunity is not what this story is about. This is a story of pain – of the precise kind of pain writers are heir to. 

I will be posting the 43 moments one at a time here. The complete collection is available for purchase as a download HERE.

 

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