To Self or Not To Self

As promised, here is my little tale of “Why I Might Have to Self Publish Whether I Like It or Not.”

As most of you know, I am currently actively seeking representation for “Moonlight and Moss,” which is not technically the sequel to Seven Turns, though it takes place in the same universe. And has the same main character. And happens chronologically just a few months after the end of Seven Turns. But still, it’s not a sequel, per se! I have been careful to make sure it could stand alone, if someone reads it who has not read Seven Turns. Beta readers have assured me it is in fact perfectly easy to follow even if they do not know what happened in Seven Turns.

Still… try explaining that to a literary agent. I mean without adding the above ninety or so words to an already-probably-too-long query.

Agents, as a rule, are not keen on picking up an author mid-series, and I can’t say I blame them. Some are OK with this, though, and I will continue to search for one.

But why not just publish Moonlight and Moss through my existing publisher, you ask? The one who published Seven Turns? Well, this is where it gets tricky. I like my existing publisher just fine, but they don’t have the capacity to give my work the kind of service I feel it deserves. They do not have a marketing department, for one thing, and yes. Yes, yes! I’ve already heard it a million times! “But today’s authors are expected to market themselves!” Yes, I know! And I do! I do All The Things. I’m not very good at it, but just look up at the top of this page and click the link to the previous post to find out why I am not interested in learning how to become good at marketing.

“Fine, then,” you say. “This means you are doomed to obscurity because unless you are published by the Big Five, the success of your writing is based solely on  your marketing skills.” This is not completely accurate for two reasons: 1) There are more than five publishers who don’t expect their authors to be the only person on the marketing team and 2) my work is, in fact, good enough for the Big Five. (But that’s a different discussion all together.)

The thing is, it’s not just about marketing – it’s also about distribution.

I had never heard the word “Distribution” before Seven Turns came out. Well, not in the context of publishing. I didn’t realize, until after I started trying to market my work, that bookstores do not like having to deal with Amazon. My publisher – like many other small, independent publishers – distributes only through Amazon POD. I noticed early on in my marketing efforts that the minute I used “the A-word,” as they called it, bookstore managers would grimace and shake my hand and wish me luck. I didn’t understand what was going on until the owner of my own lovely local indie bookstore explained it to me.

Apparently, Amazon treats booksellers like crap. Amazon considers its colleagues in the publishing industry to be competition, and Amazon does not appreciate competition. It wants to be the only game in town. For this reason, it does not offer retailer discounts on books, nor does it offer a return policy on unsold copies, as do the book distributors who work for other publishing companies.

Get Local at IndieBound.org
Buy books locally at IndieBound.org

Mind you: your local bookstore will happily order a book for you from Amazon, but they will not make any profit on it, and they will have to eat the shipping costs, as well, but they will do it for you because they want to be your friendly neighborhood bookseller. They will not stock Amazon KDP-produced books on their shelves, though some do happily stock them for me if I order them myself with my author discount, then carry them to the store myself and hand them to them to sell on a commission basis.

This works fairly well for me, for my local booksellers, but I am not going to be able to physically carry or ship copies of my book to every bookstore in the country, and that’s where I want my books to be available: in every bookstore in the country. For that, I need a distributor.

So what I am searching for, now, is a publisher who works with an actual distributor, so that booksellers can obtain copies of my books the way they do the other books you see on their shelves. I may be able to find this publisher on my own, or I may need to obtain representation from a literary agent to find one for me. I’d much rather have an agent, if I can.

Except that “the serial problem” mentioned above is making this already daunting task several orders of magnitude more difficult.

I have been advised by industry professionals to just scrap the entire Callaghan McCarthy/Woodley, USA storyline and start over with a new series, which agents will be more willing to look at. But I’m not gonna do that, y’all. I’m not going to pull a George R. R. Martin on you! I promise I will finish Cally’s entire story arc before I start writing the stories of some of Woodley’s other denizens.

This means that if I do not get some more traditional nibbles for “Moonlight and Moss” soon, I will go ahead and self-publish it, so that people who are clamoring to find out what happens next with Cally and Ben and George and Emerald are not left hanging. I had originally intended to release about one volume a year, when I set out, and I am determined to remain as close as I can to this schedule. If this means I have to self-publish the next two volumes, so be it!

And then I’ll start in on the story of one of Woodley’s other quirky citizens. Who would you like it to be?

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Rivers and Roads

or:
Why I Don’t Want to Self-Publish

River Under Moonlight

So, my dad was a writer.

He always called himself a writer, and whenever he did, people would ask him what he wrote, and he would say: “I write words.” He would laugh, and everyone thought that was pretty funny, at the time. Now I sometimes wonder if he really found it funny at all.

For most of the time I knew him, he wrote advertising copy. He worked for a number of advertising agencies, and once or twice he ran his own agency. (By the way: I don’t remember it being anything like “Madmen,” except for maybe the quantities of booze. To tell you the truth, it was more like Darren Stevens’s environment in Bewitched.) He wrote for Schick razors and Rockwell power tools and Coleman camping equipment, and in 1976 he wrote massive quantities of interesting historical stuff for the Pennsylvania Bicentennial, which is still in use by the Pennsylvania Tourism Board today. He wrote all this stuff to put food on the table and a roof over our heads.

One day, under said roof, I opened the little door in the alcove in my bedroom and began to explore the dark, cobwebby cubbyhole under the unfinished eaves. My parents had stashed several boxes there, the day we moved in. I rearranged these and, between them, I built a nest of blankets and pillows and stuffed animals and, taking the lamp from my night stand, turned it into my little reading haven. Mostly I read horse-stories, there, and my mom’s massive collection of gothic romances that I smuggled, one at a time, up from the cellar.

It was inevitable that I would open the boxes and nose through their contents. One of them contained old stuff my dad had written. This was not advertising copy, though. These were stories. Some of them were about growing up in the 40s with his brother, and one was a snarky satire about, apparently, a former employer with whom he’d had a falling out. It was titled “Alf the District Sales Manager and the Good Fairy” and was full of clever but acrimonious wit involving things like chopped liver and steam rollers.

One story, in particular, stands out in my memory. It started with the words “Let me take you to a place…” It took me to a place, too, right out of my little blanket-lined box-cupboard to a moonlit riverbank where mysterious characters, each of whom had a story of his own, paused beside the dark, glittering water to sip clear liquid from mason jars and let the river carry their cares away to parts unknown, if only for one night. This riverside retreat was presided over by a scrawny old black man cooking ribs on a half-drum barbecue grill. His name was Jerome, and he was famous for his barbecue sauce, which everyone called Hell Sauce.

Dad passed away at the age of 60 from a massive coronary. I found out some years later that Jerome and his Hell Sauce and his barbeque grill by the riverside were all actually quite real. One of my brothers brought some of Jerome’s famous ribs to share with us at a Thanksgiving dinner after-party at Mom’s house. They were still being made by Jerome’s son, who had inherited his dad’s operation and had moved from the riverbank to a bricks-and-mortar storefront in sight of the Monongahela river. I didn’t think the Hell Sauce was all that hellish, really.

I did remember Dad’s story, though, but the boys told me not to bother looking for it. The box was still there but, in preparation for selling the house, my old room had been remodeled and the cubbyhole paneled over without removing any of its contents. The house has been sold, since then, to someone who probably doesn’t even know there’s a cubbyhole under the paneling. My dad’s stories will be among the detritus that gets bulldozed into a landfill when the house is eventually demolished.

All this means that I am [quite probably] the youngest person alive who has ever been to Jerome’s by the riverbank under the moonlight (and almost certainly the only female, because women were not allowed. It was considered to be far too rough a place for the fairer sex.) I have been there only because I read my dad’s story, which is lost forever now because his stories, his real writing, had had to be stuffed into a dark, dusty corner to make room for the business of business, for writing the words he got paid to write.

He probably hoped that, someday, he would be able to retire from writing the kinds of words he didn’t really dream of, in order to write the words in his heart, but he never lived to see that day. Did he ever really mean to resurrect those old stories, anyway? I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that the spot on the kitchen floor where his heart exploded and he fell down and died was almost directly underneath the box stashed in the cubbyhole.

Everyone has always told me I inherited my dad’s proclivity for words from him, and this is probably true. But I do not want to inherit his fate.

This is why my flesh absolutely tries to crawl right off my body every time someone tries to tell me how I should self-publish because “even though I insist I am not a good marketer, if I really work hard at it, I can learn to become really good at it and make a fortune!” My dad worked hard at becoming a good marketer – he did it all his waking hours for the entire time I knew him, while his real work, his stories, languished in a box under the cobwebs under the eaves. I have already wasted too many decades of my life making money doing things I am good at but which are not writing my stories. The old things I used to do: copy editing, technical writing, website development, are still, always, trying to suck me back in, and I fight them on a daily basis. I do not need to learn a new skill to fight off so that I can do what I’m meant to do.

I know I can never re-write Dad’s stories so they can see the light of day and give others the same feelings they gave me but, somehow, I have managed to retain Jerome. He’s taken on a new life in my work, beside a different river. A very different river. And yet, somehow, the same river…

Note: Women are allowed, now, at the real-world Jerome’s, though moonshine is no longer available!


Stay tuned for Why I Might Have to Self-Publish whether I Like It or Not, coming soon…

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New Year, New Story, New Plan

So I took a break, after finishing the final draft of Moonlight and Moss (working title – but probably actual title, too!) to clear my mind before diving into Query Hell once again.

During the month of November, I participated in NaNoWriMo and wrote a little (for me) vignette about what Christmas is like in Woodley, USA. I really like how it came out! It’s been fascinating to find out why it snows every Christmas in Woodley, in a part of the country that ordinary doesn’t get snow at all. And, I found out what happens if you don’t have a wish to whisper into Santa’s ear at midnight on Christmas Eve.

Christmas at Vale House

I’m so pleased with it I’m going to polish it up and self-publish it as a gift to my readers. Someday I’ll also include it in the boxed set once the third Woodley novel comes out. The title is A Midnight Clear. Chronologically, it falls between Moonlight and Moss and the third volume which does not, yet, have a working title.

Now that I’ve got all the Beta-reader input back on Moonlight and Moss, I’m going to comb through it one last time to make sure it’s as perfect as possible before I begin submitting it for publication. I have received some great coaching on querying from people in the industry (particularly from Meg LaTorre at iWriterly, who gives a great online class on query-writing) and maybe I’ll have better luck this time finding good representation for traditional publishing.

That was my New Year Resolution for 2019: to find a new traditional publisher.

And here I must apologize to you, dear readers. Since I am, in fact, looking for a new publisher for “Moonlight and Moss,” this means it will take longer to hit the shelves than I anticipated, had I stayed with my current publisher. I feel terrible about this, because I know so many of you are clamoring for the next story. Believe me, I can’t wait for you to see it, either! But I really do feel these stories at least deserve a publisher which has distribution and marketing capabilities, and I must do right by them and find one.

To make it up to you for this delay, I’m going make the story I wrote about Luke, the proprietor of Motherboard Pizza, available for free. I can do this for the e-book version, anyway, though Amazon does require I put a minimum price of $2.99 on paperback copies. It includes a map of Woodley and the floor plan of the ground floor of Vale House, if that sweetens the bitter pill at all!

Also, I intend, in the interim, to give you some sneak-peeks at sample chapters of Moonlight and Moss, here on my blog. Stay tuned…

I know that’s not what you’re asking for, though, and I do promise to get “Moonlight and Moss” out there as soon as humanly possible. Without taking shortcuts on quality or on carefully reviewing publishers’ qualifications, of course!

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NaNoWriMo Preptober 2018

Do you NaNo? If you’ve ever had even a hankering to try your hand at contributing something to the worldwide body of fiction, National Novel Writing Month is a good place to start. For one thing, you’ll get lots of support and encouragement, and afterward the whole idea of “writing a book” will seem far less daunting. It’s amazing, it’s true: you actually can do this. I am not kidding.

In addition, you’ll discover a community of writers you never knew existed all around you, and you’ll find out another thing I was amazed to discover: Writers, as a body, are really amazingly nice people! Most nerds are. (Oh, yah, if you’re a nerd, you’ll also find, among writers, a much higher percentage of nerds than you’ll find anywhere else. What’s your nerddom? Doctor Who? Night Vale? Local indy bands nobody else has heard of? Chances are, everyone in your local NaNo group will also have at least one of these interests – and some of them might share all of them with you. It’s mind-boggling!)

I started Moonlight and Moss as my 2017 NaNo project, though I knew it was going to run well over the requisite 50,000 words required to “Win” NaNoWriMo. This year, I am going to work on a short (well, short for me!) novella revolving around what it must be like to experience the Christmas season in Woodley, USA. I can well imagine that, at Vale House, Santa Claus really does slide down the chimney on Christmas Eve. He probably hangs around eating hors d’oeuvres (I wonder if Katarina will finally make tacos?) and drinking the special Christmas brandy.

This won’t really be part of the current “trilogy” featuring Cally, Ben, and Emerald, though they will be present for Christmas this year. Maybe someday I’ll include a bound copy of the story as bonus content with the boxed set.

Best of all, NaNoWriMo is for a good cause, whether your participate as a writer or by supporting an aspiring writer you know. Proceeds from donations to National Novel Writing Month provide the structure, community, and encouragement to help people find their voices, achieve creative goals, and build new worlds—on and off the page. Their Young Writers Program promotes writing fluency, creative education, and the sheer joy of writing in K-12 classrooms by providing free classroom kits, writing workbooks, Common Core-aligned curricula, and virtual class management tools to more than 2,000 educators from Dubai to Boston. For more information please visit their web site: NaNoWriMo.org

 

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Writing is a Collaboration

Yesterday a lady said to me: “I think writing must be the hardest form of art. With painting or sculpture, at least you can see what you’re making but with writing you have to imagine it all in addition to writing it.”

My first thought was that writing is certainly easier for me than, say, basic arithmetic. Seriously, I get anxiety symptoms just thinking about adding two two-digit numbers! But I also found myself thinking that readers, also, have to imagine everything they’re reading.  Reading is not just a passive form of entertainment that is merely presented to you wholly formed: you are required, also, to imagine everything the written words are telling you.

I wonder why we do this? It sounds like work! Yet we eagerly take it on. It really doesn’t feel like work at all, to me, and I’m sure it doesn’t to you, either. We may be nuts, but we are happy nuts!

Storytelling, whether written or oral, is a collaboration between a storyteller and a listener. I don’t know about other forms of art, but this one, at least, requires input and the capacity to imagine from both ends, in order to happen at all. I find that very humbling. I recognize my responsibility to my readers – and I have complete faith they will not let me down on their end, either.

So I want to tell you flat out: Readers, I appreciate you! Without you, the art of writing would be incomplete. Your imagination, in addition to mine, is not just appreciated but necessary in order to make the story happen. Without you, your mind and your imagination, everything I write would be nothing more than a bunch of letters on a page.

 

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Hurricane Drinking Game

In honor of The Captain, who (with no prompting by the author) made up a drinking game for whenever your house is being crawled over by Paranormal Investigators, I hereby present this drinking game for when Hurricane Florence is bearing down on your haunted or non-haunted house,:

(PS: To everyone in the path of Hurricane Florence, please be safe!)

Hurricane Drinking Game

Take a sip of whatever you’re drinking every time:

  •  you hear the word “flood”
  • the newscaster says “feeder bands” or “hunker down”
  • they change the storm’s trajectory
  •  you see a satellite image wherein the storm system is larger than the state
  • a news reporter interviews someone on the beach
  • the TV shows images of storm surge; drink twice if the surge splashes onto a roof.

Every time a Northern relative calls and asks if you’re okay, finish your drink and get a new one.

One sip for every inch of rain that’s recorded each hour.

Salute and drink whenever there’s an announcement for a shelter that takes pets

Drink if there’s an announcement for a shelter that’s full. Put your drink down if it’s the one that took pets.

Chug a beer every time the lights flicker.

Every time you see a TV correspondent trying to talk into their microphone while nearly being blown over by hurricane-force winds, drink. Drink twice if they actually fall over. Drink three times if you can hear them swear.

Whenever the TV shows a traffic jam with thousands of cars heading in the same direction, drink. Drink twice if you see one car heading in the opposite direction.

Drink if they show images of traffic signals swinging from a wire in the middle of an intersection. Drink twice if you recognize the intersection.

If you hear a tree fall, put your hand over your heart and drink to it.

If you can see rain moving sideways, drink – and stop looking out the window.

If you can see rain moving sideways and you’re looking out a hole in your roof, grab all the booze and move to a safe place in your home.

Drink one shot every time a car alarm goes off

If it’s your car alarm, drink the rest of the bottle and go outside.

When the power goes out – finish all the beer before it gets warm.

Helpful hint: Make sure you save some of that emergency water for the next day’s hangover.

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Cats Never Cooperate

I have reached the Beta Reader stage with Moonlight and Moss! This means the story is complete and I have combed through it dozens of times, ironing out plot conundrums and making sure what I’m trying to say is clear to the reader. Probably. The only way to know for sure is to ask some actual readers.

Fortunately I have a wonderful group of highly literate friends who don’t mind being brutal if they have to, and who will absolutely tell me exactly what they experience as they read my, what, I guess it’s twentieth draft, now.

I’ve only sent them the first half of the manuscript so far, though. You see there’s this cat. I know this cat needs to be in the story, I just can’t figure out where it belongs. Should it come sooner in the story? But then if it does, what shall I do with it when the Really Bad Guy is on the loose? I don’t want it to get hurt! (No. I will never, ever, ever write a story where an animal or a child suffers. Nope. Ain’t gonna do it.)

It would also work just fine if it jumps in at the end of the story, but it’s just so darn adorable, I really want to see more of it. So, I keep moving it around. And, of course, every time I move it I have to change the scenery around where it was, and also the ones where it went later. It is this one, final detail that is driving me bonkers and keeping me from being able to say my manuscript is complete!

So, well, if you are one of my Beta Readers and you finish the first half and want to know where the second half is, all I can say is: It’s the cat’s fault!

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Luke’s Tale

When I first created Luke, near the beginning of Seven Turns, I really didn’t mean for him to be anything more than a one-time walk-on character who would say a few lines, serve his purpose and exit stage left. Apparently he wasn’t satisfied with a bit part, though. By Chapter 24 he had decided to stick around, and had developed a personality of his own. I discovered he was into computer repair, gourmet pizza toppings, bad jokes and winding up the town elders. Who knew? Certainly not I.

As I began work on Moonlight and Moss I learned that he also plays keyboards and that he, well, he understands a lot of things about Woodley that most of its denizens just turn their heads and avoid talking about. When I ran into a few plot conundrums, I decided to interview him to get his perspective on the story. (I had done this with Seven Turns, at this point in crafting that story, as well. That time, I had asked Foster to tell the story from his point of view and, let me tell you, I was constantly worried I would end up in jail if I ever got pulled over and the cops found that notebook on me!)

Turns out, young Luke had quite a lot to say. He’s really a remarkable young man, and Woodley is more fortunate than it realizes to have him around. He took the ball and ran with it, and he not only helped me find the answers to the plot holes that had been plaguing me, he gave me a lot of other insights, as well, into what makes Woodley tick.

The fact is, all characters will do this sort of thing if you let them.

I found Luke’s voice so delightful, though, that I decided to write it up as a short story to give as a gift to my beta readers and my initial fans. This was my first foray into Self Publishing and, I have to say, it was kind of a rush! I can totally see why everyone is so enthusiastic about it. I don’t have any intention of making a profit from it at all, of course, so I have priced it at the absolute minimum Amazon allows. Of course, if you have Kindle Unlimited, it’s free with your monthly subscription anyway. Oh, and if you were one of my beta readers, I’ve already ordered you a copy – look for it soon in a mailbox near you!

I also put a map of Woodley and a floor plan of Vale House inside the front and back covers, because I thought fans of the series would appreciate being able to see those. I hope you enjoy it as much as Luke enjoys wild mushroom and artichoke heart pizza with cave-aged gorgonzola!

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It’s what they call timing…

On Wednesday I penned the last lines of the sequel to “Seven Turns” (working title: “Moonlight and Moss“.) Looking at my Twitter feed in retrospect, I found it a bit remarkable that this happened at about the same time as the Launch Party for Seven Turns, and I wonder, now: is it just me, or if there really is some kind of synergistic synchronicity that happens when we write, whether or not we are aware of it?

Probably it’s just me noticing things that happen to be coincidental if you look at them in a specific light. (You may recall my blue funk, about this time last year, over the passing of the mighty Gregg Allman at about the same time I was penning the dénouement to Seven Turns.)

The fact is, I am making a deliberate effort to have this arc of stories about Woodley, USA come out approximately one year apart. I still lave loads of editing and adjusting to do, and then the beta reader phase to go through, and then the very special hell of appealing to agents and publishers to please, please, please take on Moonlight and Moss as a project but, considering how crazy my life has become since the publication of Seven Turns, I’m really only a couple of months behind the curve here. As any writer will tell you: a novel takes exactly as long as it needs to take to be completed: no more, no less. I think this little coincidence is a definite sign that I am at least almost sort of meeting that goal!

And, after all, this is part of why I started keeping a blog and a Twitter feed and a Facebook in the first place: to document the history of this contribution of mine to the world of literature, so that I and perhaps others might look back someday and say, “Oh, hey, did you realize…?”

As the equally (perhaps, someday) mighty Johnny Sinatra has lyricized: “I’ve seen it a thousand times before – it’s what they call timing.”

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Launch Party

Kay Watley (editor of the Gray Area News and author of Making Corrections) and I at the Literacy Day event at the Zebulon Farm Fresh Market

Kay Watley (editor of the Gray Area News and author of Making Corrections) and I at the Literacy Day event at the Zebulon Farm Fresh Market

I thought I didn’t like “Marketing,” and maybe I don’t, but seriously, the marketing and networking stuff I’ve been doing lately doesn’t feel like work at all. I’ve been meeting so many wonderful people, and through them, other people. I’ll tell you what: Writers are Nice! I never really knew any, before, and I had no idea they were such great people. Maybe I have finally found my Tribe?

First off, on Saturday, I went to the Zebulon NC Farm Fresh Market, where a lady from my local writers’ coffee-clatch (via the Franklin County Arts Council) was hosting a booth for Literacy Day. I got to meet more fellow authors, some newspaper folks, and librarians … AND! I got a free cantaloupe! How can a day get any better?

Well, there was still more in store. Saturday evening, the long-anticipated Launch Party for Seven Turns went off at the Wake Forest Coffee Company, where most of Seven Turns was written (and where the first draft of Moonlight and Moss is about to be completed. I’ll blog separately about that later!) I had been sweating this for so long: I was so sure I’d forget something, or that nobody would show up, or that I would drop the cake…

Oh, yes, the cake! That came out great! I showed the fine folks at Sweet Traditions the cover of my book and asked: “Can you make a cake to look like this?” and they said “Challenge accepted!” I think it came out fabulous! (It tasted pretty good, too!)

I really could not have pulled it off without all the help I got, though. I am so grateful for the support I have received all along from the Wake Forest Coffee Company, where most of my writing gets done due to both the peaceful atmosphere there and (or, perhaps, especially due to) the great coffee. My wonderful husband, who speaks for a living, emceed the event so I could concentrate on signing books and sucking up to potential fans. My wonderful daughter operated the camera for the Facebook Livestream of the entire event. An amazing local band, Clairvoyance, provided background ambiance (to tell you the truth, they have provided much calm and inspiration all along for my writing at the coffee shop, where they play almost every Sunday morning.) Even my grandson took care of making sure everyone had a program and a door-prize ticket.

I was so nervous before this event, but now that I have safely got over this hump, I am hoping upcoming book signings (next up: Book Signing at Page 158 Books) will start to feel more like just going to work every day. Or, wait… maybe I actually hope I never start to feel like any of this is “just going to work!”

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