Psstâ€¦have you heard? Everybodyâ€™s doing it. Self-publishing.
Itâ€™s hip, itâ€™s coolâ€¦itâ€™s like winning the lottery.
Hmmâ€¦maybe. Maybe not. Itâ€™s the wild, wild west out in the land of Amazon, Smashwords and Nook. All you need is a dusty, old manuscript from under your bed, a sexy cover and a few .html codes and youâ€™re dancing with the stars.
Oh, what fools we writers be.
It ain’t that easy.
Here’s the deal: You’ve written a good story and your manuscript is in the best shape possible–critique groups, professional editing, etc. Now what?
No doubt you need a good cover and nearly flawless formatting, but don’t give up if you havenâ€™t gotten it all together. Before you push that old manuscript back under the bed with the dust bunnies, it is possible to hitch your wagon to the self-pubbed stars and join in the land rushâ€¦or should I say, digital rush.
I did it. I self-pubbed a holiday novella and a short story. There are many blogs that can help you with various aspects of the biz, from J.A. Konrath to Bob Mayer’s Write It Forward (I highly recommend both!), but here are a few tips I’ve learned along the way.
Jina’s 5 tips to self-publishing:
Be realistic about your goals. No one can predict how a book will do, but reading the Kindle forums and following other authors can give you an idea of how theyâ€™re doing. I follow OCC’s Dr. Debra Holland’s blog–she’s been open and forthright about her experience in self-publishing and her sales. Another OCC author, Jacqueline Diamond (author of 90 novels), has recently self-published books from her backlist and knows the value of promoting her books (she made the top 100 in Regency on Amazon).
Write another book or story right away. Quality and quanity are both important in self-pubbing. You need product to sell. Imagine if a shoe store opened and all they had to sell was one shoe style?
Which reminds me of Cinderella and her glass slipper.
Putting your self-pubbed book out there is like Cinderella going to the ball. She had a team of cute little mice to make her dress (editing, cover and formatting) and a fairy godmother (Amazon, Nook and Smashwords) to make the magic happen.
She also had the moxie to get to the ball. Thatâ€™s where you come in.
Be like Cinderella. Donâ€™t be late to the self-publishing party.
Youâ€™ll never know if the glass slipper fits until you try it.
Two Debras, Two Golden Hearts: Two very different paths to publishing
Debra Mullins is the award-winning author of over a dozen historical romances from pirates to cowboys to Regency England to the Victorian period. Born and raised in the New York area, she moved west as an adult and loves old swashbuckler movies, Star Trek and cats.
You are a previous finalist of the Golden Heart award for unpublished authors. How did that recognition set the course for your career as an author?
Being a finalist gave me a great way to approach editors to pitch my manuscript. I was a finalist in 1996, pitched my book to an editor at RWA in July 1997 and had an offer in hand by January 1998.
You sold several books without an agent at the beginning. Would you do it again? Why or why not?
At the time, I had decided it would be easier to find an editor than an agent. Agents might love your work but turn you down for representation because they are unsure if they can sell it. Editors can buy work if they like it. So yes, I would do it again, though I have been agented consistently for the past 12 years or so. As a first sale author, you have a limited amount of say in what can be changed in a contract because you have no sales numbers to back up your requests. As an established author, the game changes and there is more than can be negotiated, so I prefer having an agent at this stage in my career.
What attracted you to Regency Historical fiction? Will you / Have you ever tried your hand at any other subgenre? Would you like to sometime?
My first book was a pirate adventure, my next two were Westerns. At that point Westerns were dying, so my editor requested I switch to England or Scotland. I’ve always enjoyed Regency romances, so that was the time period I picked. My current series, however, is Victorian, and I am also contracted for contemporary paranormal trilogy for Tor.
Can you describe your writing processâ€”plot device first? or character first?
I am without a doubt a character writer. I start with characters and the internal conflict and theme, then have to find stuff for my characters to do for 300-plus pages (plot).
How do you develop a character arc for your hero/heroine?
I usually know what kind of internal conflict they have and where they need to end up, then work from there. A lot of what I do is gut instinct. If it feels right, it goes in, everything from the character’s name to his/her deepest internal issues.
What do you do to keep your ideas fresh and unique?
Keep up with current events. Technology may be changing, but people are essentially the same all through history. People today care about the same things people in past centuries cared about: survival, family, love, respect, etc. You can make that work in any sub-genre, and it resonates with the reader.
How did you develop your writing discipline? What keeps you making deadlines when you have a job and family?
Debraâ€™s Latest, Too Wicked to Love is available now.
For more information, visit her website: www.debramullins.com
Necessity. In order to meet my contractual obligations, I have to schedule things. I put my kids and day job first, then my writing. It has to be that way so I can keep my household afloat. This means I don’t have much of a social life outside of the writing community, which is probably why I met my husband at work.
I would say get feedback on your work, but don’t try and incorporate every suggestion given to you, and don’t ask twenty people when three will do. This is something that I see time and time again. Beginning writers get advice from too many people, then try and apply every suggestion. The result is a book that has lost its spark and doesn’t sound like yours anymore. Take the feedback and try to drill down to the underlying meaning. Example: Let’s say several different people tell you your hero shouldn’t be a prince because he is coming across as too wimpy, that he should be an FBI agent or an assassin or a vampire. The real feedback here is not that your hero has the wrong job, but that he is coming across as too weak. Your beta readers can probably point out areas that made them feel this way, and by making the hero stronger, you resolve the problem while still keeping your prince.
Debra Holland wears several hats when it comes to writing. As a psychotherapist, she writes nonfiction books. The Essential Guide to Grief and Grieving is her first nonfiction book. Debra also writes fiction–Historical Western Romance, Contemporary Romance, Fantasy Romance, and Science Fiction. She currently has her award winning Historical Western Romance Series, The Montana Sky Series, on Kindle.
Debra publishes all her work under her own name. She lives in Southern California, with two dogs, two cats, and a boyfriend. She’s a second degree blackbelt and teaches martial arts. She also is a corporate crisis/grief counselor.
You are a former winner of the Golden Heart award for unpublished authors. Can you tell us a little bit about that experience?
I owe it all to the feedback I received from the Orange Rose Contest that year–2001. I revised the beginning of Wild Montana Sky because I had two judges tell me the hero and heroine met too late. In November, I entered it in the Golden Heart contest, and NEVER THOUGHT OF IT AGAIN! I didn’t know when calls went out–it never crossed my mind that I would final. The call was the BIGGEST surprise ever! I think I screamed because my boyfriend came running to see what was going on. He wasn’t sure if it was a happy scream or a bad scream.
Carol Prescott told me that being a GH finalist was like being on the Prom Court in high school. And she was right. It was my first conference, New Orleans, and I was also giving a workshop, “Understanding Men.” I had a BLAST. The friendships you can make with the other GH finalists are priceless. I’m especially close with the GH finalists from 2003, but that’s another book and another story.
I had several other finalists tell me they were not going to prepare an acceptance speech because they didn’t want to “jinx” winning. Since I’m a believer in positive, not negative, thinking, a few hours before the ceremony, I decided I’d better put something together. I was ironing my gown, thinking about what I might say, when I had this strong feeling sweep over me that I was going to win. I stopped ironing and went looking for a piece of paper, saying to myself, “I WILL be giving this speech. I’d better write everyone’s names down to thank so I don’t forget anyone.”
So many people told me that selling was the next step to winning, but it wasn’t for me.
Your book, however, languished unpublished for a decade due to marketing concerns for the genre you wrote in (i.e. Sweet Western). What gave you the impetus to self-publish?
By the time I’d finished the Wild Montana Sky (WMS) the historical market, especially Westerns, had tanked. Winning the GH led me to my first agent, and he couldn’t sell the book. Neither could the second, even though the historical market came back. The market is for sexy, not “sweet” books, that aren’t inspirationals. I was reluctant to sell to a small press because I didn’t like the covers on most small press books. (That has changed a lot in this last year or so.) I wrote another book in the Montana Sky series, Starry Montana Sky (SMS), which took second place in the Orange Rose contest.
In the meantime, I switched to writing fantasy, then, in the last couple of years, focused on nonfiction. While I was in â€œdeadline hell,â€ writing The Essential Guide to Grief and Grieving, a couple of my friends from the Wet Noodle Posse (GH finalists 2003) began publishing their backlist and unsold books on Kindle, Nook, and Smashwords and were doing very well. When I saw their success, I decided to self-publish WMS and SMS, but had to wait until I’d turned the grief book in. Because of my friends, I knew what to do (and what not to do.) We are sharing everything we know and learn about self-publishing with each other.
Can you describe the steps you took to publish the books in ebook form?
I’d had the books edited years ago, but did another read through of both. I went to the Bowker site to buy ISBN numbers. (You don’t need them for Kindle or Nook, but you do for Smashwords, so you might as well do it). My friends assured me that converting to ebook formatting might be time-consuming and tedious, but doable. Just follow the steps in the Smashwords guidebook. Not for me. I got stuck early on. I contacted one of the formatters suggested by Smashwords and paid him the outrageous sum of $20.00 per book. (Couldn’t believe he didn’t charge more. Would have paid $100 not to have to do it myself! ) Once he was finished, I uploaded the books on the Kindle site myself, as well as the others. All the sites are all similar. If I can do it, anyone can. Each took about 15 minutes, but a less tech challenged person could probably do it faster.
Who designed those lovely covers? What was that process like?
Delle Jacobs, one of my Wet Noodle Posse friends, and the first of us to self-publish her books. Delle won numerous Golden Hearts, but could never sell to New York, although she did sell to some small presses. Now she has her rights back. She’s doing VERY well.
I’ve looked at covers for years, trying to figure out what I’d want on my covers if the books ever sold. (Not that I’d have any say in the matter.) I never found one. Then, a couple of weeks before publishing, while looking through a catalogue of science fiction and fantasy books, I saw a cover for a fantasy novel, and thought–this is what I want–clouds opening up to the sky. I showed the cover to Delle, then described a big white house, a rainbow in the sky, and the couple looking at the rainbow. For SMS, I wanted a night sky, stars, a moon, a horse, and a smaller house. She did a marvelous job.
Now a question about pricing. You had this finished product in your handsâ€¦ how did you go about deciding how to price them and how was that a factor in the success of the books?
I read a couple of blogs, but mostly followed Delle’s advice. She’s had fantastic success at selling a book or two at an introductory price of .99, then having readers go back and buy the rest at higher prices.
Self-publishing percentages are 35% for books priced below 2.99 and 70% between 2.99 and 9.99. Obviously, I make way more money on Starry at 2.99. However, I’m an unknown author. Why should people take a risk on my book? That’s why WMS is .99. However, if you’re already published and have a following, I’d suggest 2.99. WMS is outselling SMS at about 4 or 5 to 1. Because of the low price, WMS has also made some of the Amazon top 100 lists, both Historical and Historical Romance. (Making the list was a wonderful surprise!)
In your opinion, what is the single most effective marketing tool you used to promote your books?
I actually haven’t promoted it that much, just posted it on Facebook and Twitter. Just this last week, I’ve done a few blogs. I’ve had friends post on Facebook and Tweet, too. I have more blogs lined up. Reviewers, too.
One thing we can all do for each other is post 5 star reviews on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, whichever you buy your books from. Positive reviews make a big difference to any book, but especially self-published ones. For each review, my sales have risen a little to another level. I must confess that I’ve never posted a review until the last couple of months, but now I do every time I read a book I like.
And last but not least (I save this question for everyone!) What is the most important piece of advice you could share with an unpublished author?
|For more information, visit her website: www.drdebraholland.com|
Don’t give up! Trust that there is a publishing path for you, although you don’t know what it will look like or how (or when) it will come. Keep honing your craft. Keep writing.
Not selling Wild Montana Sky was very discouraging. It won the GH TEN years ago! Those first rejections hurt. Eventually, it happened enough that I shrugged them off when I got them. Now I’m SO glad I didn’t sell the books before. I guess there was a different plan for them, and I’m so grateful!
Interviewerâ€™s Note: Wild Montana Sky has sold 2,100 copies in 7 Â½ weeks.
Interviews conducted by Brenna Aubrey
Brenna is an aspiring author of Historical and Fantasy Romance. When not dreaming up people and worlds and writing them down, she is also a mom, wife, teacher, avid reader, a French-speaking Francophile, and lover of nature and beautiful sunsets.
by Debra Holland
Itâ€™s Autumn, the time of year for unpublished writers to consider entering the RWA Golden Heart contest. The entry forms are due on November 16. The Golden Heart is RWAâ€™s most prestigious unpublished contest. Finaling not only opens doors for your writing career, but is a LOT of fun.
When the GH call comes, the good news gives you a happy, bubbly thrill. Itâ€™s a great feeling to share with your family and friends. The high can last for weeks.
The days after the GH results are announced are a good time to send queries to agents and editors about your finaling manuscript. Finaling makes your queries stand out, leading to quicker responses. It also gives agents and editors more of a reason to request your book.
If your manuscript is already with an agent or editor, itâ€™s good to call or email with the news. This can motivate the agent or editor to hunt through their slush pile to find your manuscript, instead of waiting the months, or even years, it might take them to get to it.
Itâ€™s not uncommon to have five to ten finalists sell their books in the months between the announcement and the national conference. During that time about the same amount of writers also sign with agents.
Sometimes an editor who is judging the contest likes what he or she is reading and directly buys the entry–before the winners are even announced at the awards ceremony in the national conference.
The finalists organize themselves into a yahoo group and begin to get to know each other. They share stories of their â€œcallâ€ and of their books. They support each other through rejections and acceptances and celebrate if one of them sells. By the time the conference rolls around, the group has become friends.
At the national conference, GH finalists get to wear pink finaling ribbons on their name badges and be princesses for five days. The ribbon identifies them to other conference attendees, agents, and editors, and they get a lot of people asking about their entry. There is also a special reception for the GH and Rita finalists.
At the awards night, the finalists dress up in beautiful formal gowns and sit in reserved seating in the front of the theatre. As each finalistâ€™s name is announced, two overhead screens show her professional photo and the name of her book–a great way to build name recognition.
Winners receive a beautiful necklace with a golden heart. Once a winner places that necklace around her neck, she is forever a Golden Heart winner. The necklace is a symbol of her accomplishment that other writers can recognize whenever she wears it. However, itâ€™s also a tangible reminder when future doubts creep in–yes, she is a good writer.
As I see it, thereâ€™s only two cons to entering the GH. One is the entry price. $50.00 can be a bit steep on an unpublished writerâ€™s budget, especially in this economy. Multiple entries can really add up. Make sure you follow all the rules. If you break a rule, your manuscript will be disqualified, and your money wonâ€™t be refunded.
The second drawback of the GH is that the only feedback you will receive are numerical scores. Youâ€™ll never know why you received a 9 from one judge and a 4 from another.
How do you know if you are ready to enter the Golden Heart contest?
Is your manuscript completed or nearly completed? A completed manuscript is a requirement for the GH, making it different from RWA chapter contests. This weeds out the people who have completely polished the first few chapters and synopsis of their books, and enter them in all the local contests, but have never completed the manuscripts. These entries might be multiple winners in local contests, but the GH is for finishers, which gives you a different caliber of competition, and much more respect when you final.
I have used entering the Golden Heart as a spur to completing a manuscript. As a finishing-the-book tool, this has worked very well. Actually there have been several years when I was writing right until the deadline to overnight the entry in order to have it arrive the next day. In other words, the ending was done, but not polished. However, one of these books still finaled, and the other finaled the next year when it was polished. But donâ€™t do this unless you are confident you can finish. Otherwise, your entry will be disqualified.
Make sure the first fifty-five pages, including your synopsis, are polished. Have a critique partner or two or ten go over your entry. In the first round, it wonâ€™t matter how much youâ€™ve edited the rest of your book. The first round of judges only sees the first fifty-five pages, which includes the synopsis. You probably wonâ€™t win if the quality of the rest of the manuscript isnâ€™t as good as the beginning, but winning is just a bonus to being a finalist.
So challenge yourself. Get out those manuscripts, finish them, polish them, and enter the Golden Heart Contest!
Debra Holland is a three-time Golden Heart finalist. In 2001, her book, Wild Montana Sky, won the short historical category. Debra’s website is www.drdebraholland.com and you can also follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/drdebraholland
At this time of year, magazines start running articles on dealing with holiday stress–a very worthwhile topic. These articles discuss simplifying the holidays and doing as much planning and work in advance–both useful for managing holiday stress. But my article is not going to be like the traditional ones you read in December.
I had an experience a few years that prompted me to write this blog, using my own situation as a teaching tool for stress management, both during the holiday time, and throughout the rest of the year.
On my way to a meeting in Hollywood, I received a call asking me why I wasnâ€™t at the seminar I thought I was going to be teaching NEXT week. Fifty people had been waiting for me for 20 minutes, and the manager was IRATE!
Guess what my topic was? Stress Management.
I was horrified! I couldnâ€™t believe Iâ€™d mixed up the date. I was also ashamed. Itâ€™s not like me to make mistakes like this. And, I hadnâ€™t even studied the material Iâ€™d be presenting for four hours. Shaken, on the verge of tears, I called in to cancel my appearance at the meeting. Luckily there were others there who could take my place. I turned around and headed home to pick up the powerpoint program and the training and student manuals.
I called the irate manager (who by then had calmed down a bit) and profusely apologized. I told him Iâ€™d be there in about 45 minutes. I was a little relieved to learn they could move a part of their program that was supposed to come after my talk into the morning time, so they werenâ€™t sitting around twiddling their thumbs and waiting for me.
I was also upset because this was only the second job Iâ€™d done for this consulting company, and I figured Iâ€™d just blown the opportunity for future work.
On the race back to my house, and then to the site, I knew Iâ€™d have to apply all the stress reduction techniques I was scheduled to teach my students, or Iâ€™d arrive at the hotel a frazzled mess, and have lost any credibility I had left. Plus, I knew Iâ€™d potentially alienated everyone whoâ€™d be listening to me, and I knew Iâ€™d have a lot of ground to regain–not something Iâ€™d be able to do if I was stressed and anxious.
Hereâ€™s what I did to decrease my stress level:
1. I began to take deep centering breaths. Centering breaths are when you breathe to the bottom of your lungs, pushing your belly out when you inhale, and pulling your belly in when you inhale.
2. I prayed. I knew I needed all the help I could get, so I asked for Divine guidance for the situation to turn out in a positive manner.
3. I began to list what I had control over and what I didnâ€™t have control of.
* Have control over going back in time and fixing my mistake.
* Have control over the traffic.
* Have control over what was happening at the hotel, and what the people involved currently were feeling or thinking about me.
* Have control over the fact that I hadnâ€™t even glanced at the materials.
* Have control over my attitude–negative or positive thoughts.
* Have control over my body–taking deep breaths.
* Have control over remaining panicked or preparing myself to teach a class by deciding what to do, and how I could use what I already knew about the topic, along with what was in the actual program from my consulting company.
4. I focused on letting go of the circumstances I didnâ€™t have control over, and concentrated on what I did have control over.
Letting go meant not dwelling on them, and especially not magnifying the negative situation by building up more fearful fantasies in my mind.
By doing these four steps, I became more (although not completely) relaxed, and my mind started working on creative solutions. I was able to gear up my energy, knowing I had to go in and give the best teaching performance of my life. So when I arrived at the hotel, an hour and 15 minutes after I was supposed to have started my presentation, I was ready to hit my mark.
And I did.
What followed was an amazing experience, one that taught me more than I taught my class. I walked in, apologized publicly to the audience, and used my own example–what happened, all my reactions, and how I handled them–as the opening to the class. They were laughing and relating, and in five minutes, I knew I had them hooked. Even the manager (whoâ€™d greeted me politely, but had silently made it clear that he was mad) relaxed his stiff body language and joined in the laughter.
So I relaxed, too. I put the negative experience behind me, and rode the wave of laughter into a positive, energy-filled presentation. I was able to navigate through the material, maybe not the way I would have if Iâ€™d been prepared, but in a way that still worked. And we ended up having fun. They were a close-knit group with a sarcastic sense of humor, and that helped. We laughed a lot.
At the end, when we were discussing how to learn from our mistakes, I again used myself as an example. â€œOne,â€ I said, â€œwas that Iâ€™d learned to triple check future speaking engagement dates. But two, was that I have learned I can make a spectacular mistake, be VERY upset about it, yet meet the challenge and turn it around. How valuable is that to know about myself?â€ As I was speaking I could feel the positive boost Iâ€™d given to my self-esteem. I laughed and told the class, â€œIâ€™ll have to fill out an evaluation form for myself.â€
The class evaluations came back very positive, and my consulting company was very pleased.
What a lesson. (One Iâ€™d prefer not to have to learn again.) Iâ€™d stepped up to a challenge and mastered it. If Iâ€™d given up and avoided the situation, this experience would be forever branded in my consciousness as a shameful failure. But instead, I have a positive experience that I can always use to motivate myself when Iâ€™m confronted with a new challenge.
Since that time, Iâ€™ve given many trainings for that company and continue to have a positive (and lucrative) relationship with them.
So, as the holidays approach and youâ€™re dealing with challenging situations, remember to take deep breaths, pray, decided what you have control over and what you donâ€™t. Then release the anxiety about what you have no control over. Focus on the positive–especially love and gratitude for all the wonderful people and things you have in your life.
I hope your holidays are relaxed, filled with special family and friends, laughter, love, and joy.
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