Maybe This Isn’t For You

The great thing about self-publishing is how easy it is to do. If you really want to put your work out there you can. You can write it and format it and design a basic cover and publish all by yourself.

The horrible thing about self-publishing is how easy it is to do. Anyone can write a book, format it, design a basic cover, and hit publish.

The thing is, even though it’s easy to do and there are not gatekeepers holding you back, self-publishing is not something everyone should do.

I consider myself a resilient person. I’ve been able to handle a tremendous amount of stress in my life without batting an eye. (Terminally ill father while take four AP classes in high school and playing two varsity sports? Easy. Triple major at Stanford while working full-time? Challenging as all get out, but doable. MBA from Wharton while working a more than full-time job? Required a few meltdowns along the way, but done.)

I also really don’t care what 99% of the world thinks about me. There are maybe five people whose opinions mean the world to me and I could really care less what the rest have to say. I’m going to do me and you can take it or leave it.

I’m also in relatively good health, mentally and physically.

But I’ll tell you, self-publishing is a challenge for me. On all levels.

It’s a fight to keep those outside voices out of my head while I’m writing. (Every single time I use alright, I know there are people who will cringe and judge me for it. I mean, seriously?)

And it’s a daily struggle to get visibility for my books. I don’t advertise, I don’t sell.

And even though I know that not everyone will like what I write, it’s never easy to read a one-star review of a book I wrote. I don’t even like reading the three-star reviews.

And when success does come (I know this part more from observation than personal experience) there’s a whole new set of challenges. Do you keep writing what your fans want even though it’s not what you want? Can you really deliver what they want again and again and again? Do you even know what they want? And what do you do when you’ve experienced success and then lost it? Does that mean you were never good enough in the first place? Or that you’ll never achieve success again?

Self-publishing is one of the most mentally challenging things I’ve ever done. It is not for the faint of heart. And, yet, most writers have issues. We aren’t perfectly happy and contented individuals. There’s a reason we don’t spend our free time sitting on the couch watching television or playing video games. Many of us have a dissatisfaction with life that we need to explore through our art.

And when you’re off-balance to start with, self-publishing can destroy you. It can take what little self-esteem you had and crush it. And it can take someone who was already a little distrustful of the world and push them over the edge. I saw it happen this week with an author who became convinced that a promo site had deliberately sabotaged them.

That’s not the first author I’ve seen lose it either. How many public meltdowns over reviews have we seen? Too many to count.

The stresses of doing something so emotionally demanding and doing it in public are extreme.

And, you know what? It’s okay to say this isn’t for you. It’s okay to decide that you want to write, but not publish. It’s okay to realize that you’d rather go the traditional route of agent and publisher (which does have its own stresses, but at least it allows you to hold on to the fact that you were chosen). And it’s okay to realize that you’re perfectly fine making stories up for yourself and never putting a single word down on paper.

It’s all okay. You have to do what’s best for you.

Look. We all have our own challenges and demons that no one else sees. And if self-publishing brings those out for you, it’s okay to walk away from it. (And for every single person reading this thinking I’m talking about you, I’m not. Pretty sure the person who directly inspired this post doesn’t read this blog. And really it was more a general thought I’ve been having these days that I was triggered to write about when I saw KKR’s business blog today: Quitting)

And I’ll tell you one last thing: It’s even okay to walk away from this if you’re good at it…

Life is too short. Find what makes you happiest.

Sometimes You Just Are Who You Are

I know by now how to be a successful indie: Write under one pen name, ideally in one series of novels, hits the needs of a target market that is large enough to make a living, and publish on a regular schedule (four books a year or more)

But it’s not me.

This year I have written and published one YA fantasy, one contemporary romance bordering on women’s fiction, one dating advice book for men, three books for self-publishers (one on AMS, one on ACX, one on CreateSpace), four books on Microsoft Excel, two holiday romance short stories, and also revised and republished a series of seven erom short stories.

That adds up to 365,000 words so far and the year isn’t done. I still expect to publish at least two more non-fiction titles before the year is out.

Even though I’ve been seeing steady improvement in sales and income year-to year, my failure to just pick a direction and stick with it has been bugging the shit out of me. I mentally beat up on myself on a regular basis for what I’ve viewed as a failure to focus. It’s one thing to not know how to succeed (which was me for the first couple years). But to see how it’s done and still not do it? I mean, what the hell?

Turns out, though, that my writing across a ton of subjects and genres is actually just part of who I am.

I think I’d mentioned already that I took a course this month called Write Better Faster that’s offered through the Lawson Writer’s Academy (https://www.margielawson.com/lawson-writers-academy-courses). The course uses a variety of personality tests to see what kind of person you are and then talks about the best way for you to write or edit or plan, etc. based on your type.

Part of being me, for example, is being a pantser. And being an emotions-based writer. And needing my own workspace. And getting stuck in loops where I check on sales, internet, FB, sales, etc. and get nothing done.

But another part of being me is being a Strategic-Learner personality. (Strengthsfinder: https://www.gallupstrengthscenter.com/home/en-US/Index) And part of that is a desire to keep learning new things.

With my writing that’s manifested as wanting to learn something new (like AMS ads), writing about it once I feel I have, and then wanting to move on to something else.

(It also explains why some day jobs have been horrendous fits for me even though the pay was good.)

Does a part of me wish I were that single-minded writer? Oh, absolutely. Can you imagine publishing 365,000 words a year in a successful series?

But it’s not me and it’s not what interests me about writing. I like the challenge of writing and creating a world that works. Or of finding a way to take the knowledge in my head and put it in a form that others can understand and learn from.

Ideally, I’ll get to the point where I can be me as a writer and make enough to not stress about money, but it’s a relief to realize or reaffirm who I am and how I experience my world. Next step is to give some thought to how I use what I now know about myself to move up to that next level.

So that’s where I am today. Accepting who I am and what I need from my work to be happy.

(And I cannot recommend this class highly enough. Seriously. If you get a chance, take it. It is well worth it.)

On Editing

Editing is essential. Whether you do it as you write the story and loop back through prior chapters to smooth them out or whether you wait until you have a first draft in hand, you need to edit. (Especially as you get older. I seem to be dropping more words as I type these days than I used to, so at least one pass is needed just to see that that word I thought I’d included didn’t actually make it to the page.)

My own personal editing process involves a fairly substantial second draft on any novel. Two of the seven I’ve completed required a gutting and rewriting of 90% of the novel. The others required a more normal for me pass where I added description so readers could actually picture the scene and so dialogue scenes could actually include more than just the words that were said.

After that I do passes to deepen the point of view by removing filtering words (saw, heard, felt, thought, etc.) and also look for my own personal bugaboos (further/farther, lay/lie, etc.)

I also run spellcheck. It’s pretty much the only way I know to make sure that a character name stays the same name throughout the entire book. (I write each name down the first time spellcheck flags it and then tell spellcheck to ignore that word. If it crops up again and it isn’t in a possessive form or plural form, then I know I have a spelling error to address.)

I’m lucky that I spent a good fifteen years of my professional life writing reports for people with extensive vocabularies and an eye for the littlest mistake. They sit in the back of my mind as I write pointing out the proper usage of words like affect vs. effect so I don’t have to go back for most of those.

But, if you haven’t had that kind of “wonderful” training (we once spent an hour and a half in a business meeting debating whether you use its or their when referencing the compliance department), it’s helpful to read a few resources that point out to you what you may not know yet.

And one of those happens to be in the NaNoWriMo StoryBundle (which is only available for two more days and which you knew I had to mention at least one more time, right?). It’s called Blood From Your Own Pen by Sam Knight and it’s full of good advice. There are some points I disagree on because that’s just the type of person I am, but overall I think it’s a great resource for anyone who wants to learn more about formatting or editing. And, of course, me being the chatty type I am, I also liked the style it was written in.

It’s part of the base package for the StoryBundle, so  you could get it and three other books for just $5! But you have to act now. (And, really, if you’re going to buy the bundle why not upgrade to the full bundle? Just sayin’.)

It’s Okay If You’re Not There Yet

We’re about at the end of Nano and some will celebrating their victory of “winning” Nano, while others will be kicking themselves for failing to hit those 55,000 words. And even those who won nano will soon realize (one hopes) that putting those initial words on the page are just step one of a long process. (I think it took me nine drafts to finalize my first novel and the second draft was almost a complete rewrite.)

It’s easy to look around and see what others are doing and think you don’t have what it takes. Or to get defeated when things aren’t happening fast enough. And it’s normal. The key is to keep going. If you keep going AND keep striving, you will improve. You will get better. It will get easier and you will start to see little glimmers of success that pull you forward.

Let me share a little of my own journey on this one.

Often times in the indie world there’s a lot of “oh, well, obviously your problem is…” talk. Covers is one of the top targets of these kind of comments. Those who’ve been around a while can look at a cover and think “NO! That won’t work at all.” But for a newbie, that skill just isn’t there yet.

I had to buy a new computer last week because this current one has developed the habit of just turning itself off, and I figured before I transferred my files I would go through my GIMP files and delete all the many drafts that had led to each of my covers. (I’ll sometimes go through twenty iterations of a cover before I’m satisfied.) What this made me do is look at some of my oldest covers.

And, oh man, were they bad. The initial covers on Douchebag were hideous. I’d done enough research to figure out the basic color scheme for men’s dating books (black, white, red, yellow), but what I then did with those colors? Holy cannoli. Bad.  Bad, bad, bad.

But I didn’t know. I put ’em out there without hesitation. And, surprisingly, a few copies sold. Why, when the covers were that bad, I will never know. Trust me, they were BAD.

But I learned and I experimented and I swapped out the covers more than once and I slowly improved. Is the cover perfect now? No. But it gets the job done. And maybe someday I pay someone who does this for a living to put a really flashy cover on it.

(Doubtful. This class I’m taking now has taught me that I have far more interest in the writing of things than in the marketing of things and that I may always be one of those folks who spend far more time on creating a product or thinking about how it all works than on trying to find my audience.)

Anyway. Back to the point. I didn’t know back then what I didn’t know. And I could’ve had millions of dollars to spend and still not done it “right”, because there was a lot I needed to learn. (Still is, but I think I’m further along now than I was then.)

This is a journey. With a lot of steps. And some of us are starting out in Australia with ten bucks in our pocket, trying to make it all the way to London, or in Idaho trying to make it to Russia.

It’s okay if it takes a while. It’s okay if you go off course for a bit. The key is to keep going and keep improving. And if someday your old covers or your old stories make you cringe? That’s okay, too. It just means you’ve learned enough to see the flaws in your early work.

So chin up and keep moving.

 

Halfway Through Nano

So it’s November 15th. Which means we’re halfway through Nano. I have never actually done Nano myself. It’s not something that would work for me. (Although I have written 20,000 words or so so far this month so may actually hit the Nano goal. But when you self-publish, most months are Nano-style months. Or at least you wish they were.)

And I suspect at this point that there are some folks out there that have maybe decided that Nano isn’t for them either. If you’re one of those people, that’s OKAY. One of the joys and frustrations of being a writer is that there’s no clear path that we all need to follow. It’s like a million streams rolling down a hill, each one taking it’s own unique approach. So Nano didn’t do it for you? That’s fine. Just keep writing when you can and at your own pace.

I’m taking a great class right now called Write Better Faster (https://www.margielawson.com/lawson-writers-academy-courses) that delves into how different personality types approach writing and how they encounter different issues with their writing because of it. Today’s lecture reminded me why one of my best writer-friends routinely does all her writing in a bar and why I have to do my writing in a dedicated home office. And why I would probably be miserable trying to write in a bar and she’d be miserable writing at home.

We’re all different. So if one approach isn’t working for you, don’t beat yourself up or think that means you can’t do this. It just means you need to take a different approach– one that works for you. Along those lines, Patricia C. Wrede had a great post up today: Pavement Conditions. As someone who cusses out the California drivers every year the first snow falls in Colorado and who grew up in the mountains, I found her analogy here very apt.

You have to know where you are and what will work under those conditions. And realize that sometimes what worked before isn’t going to work now. The key is to just keep trying and moving forward.

(And if you find that you’re sort of kind of done with Nano at this point but still committed to writing, might I suggest you take a look at the NaNoWriMo StoryBundle. There may just be a book in there that speaks to you…)

Time to NaNo

And I have to say that Patricia C. Wrede’s post for the day, Looking for Perfection, is a must-read for any writer really, but especially anyone doing NaNo who isn’t quite sure of the ground under their feet.

Remember, with writing, there are no wasted words or bad directions, there’s just learning what works and what doesn’t and constantly improving one little step at a time.

(And, since it is the start of NaNo and you just knew I had to do it, a little reminder that the NaNoWriMo StoryBundle is still available and full of lots of wonderful writerly advice, some that will work for you and some that might not, but all of it worth considering.)

Some Great Writerly Advice

First, yesterday Chuck Wendig posted An Oubliette of Unconventional Writing Advice. Read it. It’s excellent. I particularly agree about the critique group point. His example is Tolkien (who is too slow for me as well), but my example is Nora Roberts. If I were in a critique group with her I’d tell her to stay with one point of view per scene and not to randomly move to another point of view for a paragraph just because she wants to.

But you know what? Nora Roberts has done just fine for herself without advice she would’ve received in probably 99% of critique groups. I’ve come to the conclusion over the years that what readers went is a good story that resonates with them emotionally and that as long as your writing stays out of the way of telling that story, you can do pretty much anything.

Sure, writers who are also readers may hate you and cite you as an example of horrible writing, but the standard reader like my mom won’t even notice.

Second, Joanna Penn has gone through some of the books in the NaNo bundle and pulled out a few gems in her post on how to win Nano. Definitely worth taking a look.

And speaking of Joanna Penn…

One of the perks of being in the StoryBundle is that I get all of the books for free. And the first one I decided to read was Joanna’s How To Make A Living With Your Writing. The first part is a good solid overview of your publishing options when it comes to books, but it was the second half of the book that had me thinking.  The second half covers other ways to make money with your writing, like affiliate income and providing courses.

I’ve been toying for about a year with the idea of putting the information covered in the Excel books either up on YouTube or as course offerings through a site like Udemy, and I think her book has pushed me to decide it’s time to do that. (Now it’s just a matter of prioritizing it all, but don’t be surprised if you see a tab show up on this page with Excel videos at some point. I just have to figure out the best software to use for recording the videos and where it’s best to post them.)

So that advice right there would’ve paid for the bundle for me. And if I were earlier on my publishing journey the first part of the book would’ve saved me hours of research. And that’s just one of the thirteen books in there. If you haven’t already, check it out: NaNo Bundle.