Category Archives: publishing

A plea to new writers, while treading carefully…

A certain author, on a certain online group, recently posted, with evident pride, a chapter of their work-in-progress. I looked it over. It was not a happy experience.

One of the greatest problems with online self-publishing, in all its forms, is that it makes it entirely too easy to put out work that is in no way, shape or form ready for public viewing. And in this instance it wasn’t just poor writing– the author obviously had no grasp of basic grammar or punctuation, the very things Stephen King calls the writer’s fundamental toolbox. Comma splices, run-on sentences, misused or missing capitalization, long interior monologues, and adverbs– dear God in Heaven, not just over-used, but used in bizarre and novel ways…you probably get the picture, and it ain’t gonna be hanging in the Louvre. It’s the sort of thing that gives ammunition to those who denigrate self-published works as amateur and unreadable.

It is a simple truth that, to write effectively in English, you must master– and not just master, but internalize– certain rules and nuances of the language and how it is expressed in symbolic form. You can’t get away from it, not if you want your work to be readable and to rise above the status of laughing-stock. You ignore those rules at your peril.

Now, having said that, you will notice that I have not named the author, nor their work, nor have I quoted any of the more wretched passages (a strong temptation, if for no other reason than to bear witness to those adverbs…). It is not my desire, nor my purpose, to denigrate or belittle any author, just as you would not denigrate a student struggling with a math problem (at least, I hope you wouldn’t). In the first place, we all have to start somewhere. The difficulty is that self-publishing allows thousands and thousands of neophyte writers to plunge straight off into the deep end, with the result that the self-publishing sea is layered thick with their corpses….

In the second place, I am not sure I would personally have many stones to throw. I think I write fairly effective sentences, and I have been at this a very long while (depressingly so), but, even so, I trip up all the time. The hard-copy edit of Princess of Fire has rubbed my nose in that fact (more about that below). And I remember quite clearly how long it has taken me to get to whatever level of competence I have achieved.

Here’s the truth– English is a hard language, even for native speakers. This bastard child of German and French, bespangled with a host of ‘loan’ words (more like, hijacked), is tricky and ever-shifting– and it hasn’t helped that formal grammarians have long insisted on imposing Latinate rules of grammar on an essentially Germanic tongue, which has basically gummed things up even worse for generations (but that’s another post).

To handle this language effectively, you have to learn the rules. You have to study. You have to read good writing, by good authors. I have already name-dropped Stephen King, so I’ll go the whole hog and mention his memoir, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, as an excellent primer on not just what tools a writer needs, but as an outline of how life influences a writer. Among other things, King hammers hard on the idea that to write effectively, you must read widely. And then you have to write, write, write, over and over again, figuring out what works and getting rid of what doesn’t.

And while I’m mentioning books, if you don’t have a copy of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style, stop reading this and go get one. Now. I’m not kidding.

All of this takes time. And time, I fear, is something many new or young writers don’t want to part with. Worse, they don’t understand that there is no other way to become a good writer than by putting in the effort and the time. Instead they charge ahead, afire with the enthusiasm of seeing their work online, on Kindle or Smashwords or Nook, and then wonder why the reviews are cruel, if they get reviews at all. This is, frankly, one of the downsides of the self-publishing revolution.

I’m saying nothing new here, but I think these truths need to be repeated every so often. More than that, though, I want to try end on a hopeful note. The fact is, everyone starts in the same place with writing, except for those extremely rare native geniuses who are born with pen in hand. Most of us have to do it the hard way. And that should be encouraging to anyone struggling to learn how to write. You need to write, and read, and persist. Therein lies your hope.

On another note–

Re: Princess of Fire , yes, progress is being made, but my first estimate of a week to put in the hard-copy changes was, unsurprisingly, way, way off. Part of the problem is that I am in the process of re-writing, from scratch, a climactic piece of action; also, the real life demands of being unemployed, of dealing with medical Cobras and unemployment insurance issues, having been seriously distracting. But I’m closing in….


Whadda-ching bowie ding bada zingo!!!

Some readers of this blog may recall that, months and months ago, I related my determination to once again begin submitting stories for traditional publication, with an eye toward becoming one of that new breed of authors, the hybrid (trad and self-published). Partly, this is because SFWA membership is an item on my bucket list (and, yeah, I know SFWA will soon start accepting self-published authors, but I don’t meet the criteria for that option, either). While I was struggling with (or, depending on your point of view, despairing over) Princess of Fire, I didn’t feel as if I had the energy to launch this new effort. Now that I’m on the second draft, though, I feel I’m a little more at liberty to crank this puppy up and get it going.

So thinking, this past week I submitted three short pieces to an online venue (and, oh, brother, is that change from the days when the US Postal Service and I were on a first-name basis). I thought the pieces were pretty strong, although I admit that I am still shaky about my short, short fiction. These were basically my first over-the-transom submissions in perhaps ten years.

All three were rejected in less than forty-eight hours (another night-and-day change from the old days). Three neat little emails saying, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

Rejections. Man, I’d kinda forgotten how much those little suckers sting. Makes a flu shot feel like a hickey.

Sigh. I’m okay. This is far, far from my first stroll down Rejection Lane. In fact, it’s more like numbers 102, 103 and 104, or thereabouts. I can’t be entirely accurate about those numbers, unfortunately– complete records are unavailable, partly because I didn’t keep some of my earliest rejections (the first of which date back to the 1970’s), and partly because some of my ‘rejections’ (particularly from agents) consist of resounding silences. The point is, however, that I will be all right.

And more than all right. I learned a long time ago how to take a rejection, shake it off (sometimes with the assistance of dark chocolate), and move on. This is, in fact, just the first step in what I anticipate will be a long campaign. And as someone once told me, persistence is one of the most important habits a writer can have. Too many novices get a rejection and wither away. If you can paper a wall with rejection slips and still keep going, you will succeed at some point. Or, to put it another way, if you quit, you will never know whether that next story would have hit the jackpot.

So, onward. I plan to review the SFWA qualifying markets list and pick another outlet for the stories. And longer stories are ready to go on the assembly line. I will keep everyone posted.


How to make money writing…or destroy yourself…

At the moment there is an active thread over on Amazon’s Kindle Authors forum, debating the best way to make a living writing. I’ve restrained myself from commenting on the thread, because I would be tempted to use words like “hack” in my response to the original poster. Name-calling does not foster reasoned debate. Besides, there has already been enough of that kind of thing.

The more I read through the posts, however, the more I start to wonder if the OP isn’t on to something– not necessarily something nice, or useful to me, but perhaps just a spark of truth.

The poster’s point– which he presents as rock-ribbed truth, rather than as opinion– is that, to make money as a writer, we need to identify the “niche markets” that are currently “hot”, and write in those niches. Our personal tastes and desire to express ourselves in our writing must, according to him, take a back seat, if not get shoved into the trunk. He says, “Do you want to write what you love to write or do you want to write what sells?” which just about sums up his attitude.

My initial reaction to this sort of assertion is disgust. I have to admit, though, looking at the current state of publishing, and, in particular, self-publishing, it is hard to argue with his basic premise.

Erotica on Amazon, Smashwords and elsewhere sells well. The world of genre publishing is currently flooded with Hunger Games imitations. Supernatural romance/adventure, particularly involving vampires, zombies and werewolves, is everywhere. What’s left over seems largely occupied by people who want to be the next Diana Gabaldon or J. K. Rowling or Rick Riordan.

And, of course, we are all suffering through the Age of Fifty Shades of Grey, perhaps the greatest niche novel of them all. I recently saw a self-published author on Google+ advertise his novel as “Fifty Shades of Grey on Steroids!” The mind boggles.

It is evident a lot of people are trying to jump on a number of different bandwagons. This is, however, nothing new. There was a time when every new fantasy book seemed to be a re-tread of The Lord of the Rings (many still are). When Mickey Spillane was big, everyone wanted to do violent, hard-edged detective fiction. You can, in fact, trace this sort of thing right back to Homer– we know that subsequent writers/poets elaborated on The Illiad and The Odyssey.

There is, in short, an instinct in many writers to want to imitate what has succeeded before. It’s easier, perhaps, to adopt the formulas of others than to create your own, especially if those formulas appear to be lucrative. Hollywood, in fact, nowadays largely runs on this principle. And there has never been a shortage of writers willing to slot themselves into formulas that appear to pay dividends– who are willing to create material, not based on their own creative vision, but on someone else’s.

This all raises a central question– why, after all, do we write?

Perhaps, however, that’s too broad a question. There’s no accounting for all the different motivations people bring to writing. I can really only talk honestly about why I write. And when I focus on my motivation, the answer becomes clear.

I write because I have stories in me. And I always have.

When I was six or so my father bought a plastic model kit for a KC-135 Stratotanker. I watched him as he assembled it. He did a beautiful job on the model, working hard to put it together just right. When he was finished, he mounted it on a stand and put it up where I could not reach it and told me, “Don’t touch.”

I remember going absolutely mad with frustration.

Because I didn’t want to admire the model as a piece of statuary. I wanted to take it down and play with it; to make it fly, at least as well as my pudgy little child’s hand could make it fly. I wanted to go adventuring with it, going on bombing runs (the distinction between “tanker” and “bomber” being fuzzy in my six-year-old mind). Maybe there would have even been an encounter with a UFO or a crash-landing or two.

In other words, I wanted to create stories with it.

Most of my childhood play was story-telling in one way or another, and when I grew older, my play simply transmogrified into actual narrative. My earliest tales were, of course, derivative of Star Trek and Lost in Space and DC’s Legion of Super-Heroes, and mostly narratives I told myself before I went to sleep, but they were explicitly stories, and before I was eleven I knew I wanted to write them down.

Eleven was a long, long time ago, and I hope that my tales have become a little more sophisticated and a little less derivative in that time, but they have all come out of the same story-telling impulse. And more and more, I have come to insist on writing down my vision, not someone else’s.

That is my basic motivation for writing. Would I like to make a living at it (or even just a noticeable amount of money)? Certainly, and at one time I thought that was a possibility. In the last year or so, however, that possibility seems to have dwindled away. It’s quite possible, putting it in the terms of the original poster from the Kindle thread, that my Divine Lotus series does not belong to any recognizable niche. In fact, as a novel about a teenage girl that’s not truly a young adult work, and a science-fiction tale that is as much about the impact of development and cross-cultural assimilation as it is about adventure, almost certainly not. It is entirely possible that this is why it has not attracted a noticeable audience.

If so, will I be re-writing these novels to fit some niche that’s currently selling?

$%#%@!%! no.

I could try to fit my writing to someone else’s scheme, but I can hardly think of a quicker way to destroy myself. I have written what I have within me; to try to do otherwise would be self-betrayal. Not that I have some tremendous artistic vision, worth of a Sistine Chapel– I just have mine, and that’s enough. And if that doesn’t attract an audience, well, I wasn’t planning on quitting my day job anytime soon, anyway.

So, perhaps there’s a grain of truth in the OP’s assertions. Making money from writing is not the same thing as expressing yourself, and never has been. We live in a cynical age in which a piece of garbage like Fifty Shades of Grey can, somehow, hit the zeitgeist’s happy button and make millions. If you come to writing just to make money, pick your bandwagon and hop on.

But that’s not for me. And I’m okay with that.


RAAANNNTT! Fifty Shades of Grey and the degradation of traditional publishing

(Arooogah! Incoming Rant!)

My local newspaper has a review of Fifty Shades of Grey in this morning’s edition that just about sums it up.

Moira MacDonald is one the funnier, and more dependable, film critics around. If I had known nothing about the book from which the movie is derived, I would be well-advised by her review to flee to the hills. And even if I had missed her review, a quick perusal of Google results for the book would have brought this assessment to my eyes–

“I’ve never read anything so badly written that got published. It made Twilight look like War and Peace.” — Salman Rushdie

Oof. (“Torpedo amidships, Cap’n! She’s going doowwnn!”)

(Nothing off-color intended. Really).

It’s depressing to see this steaming pile of offal made into an actual film with an actual budget with actual actors (although, of course, Hollywood will do anything for a buck. No surprise there). The only thing more depressing is that the movie is based on a book that the publishing industry rushed to publish purely (there can be no other reason, least of all literary merit) because it had sold a ton of copies online. I am far from the first person to suggest that this one fact alone obliterates traditional publishing’s claim to be an arbiter of quality. Instead, it reveals trad publishing to be the soulless business it always has been.

Needless to say, I am not going to see the movie. I’ve got better things to spend the nine or ten or twelve bucks on. But inevitably I will be depressed for some time over the whole sorry business.

Of course, there’s always the chance that the Nostalgia Critic will review it. What a happy thought– maybe there’s hope yet….

A new normal

The last few posts I’ve hinted at coming changes in the way I write, blog and publish. It’s time to stop hinting and lay out the new normal.

The last nine months or so have been rough in a lot of ways—unemployment, financial worries, ups-and-downs in the personal space, some health issues which, despite being minor, nevertheless dragged on for some time. When I got a new job, it turned out to be very demanding, rather frustrating, and with a long daily commute. I spend a lot of my time tired and distracted, and all of this has affected my writing.

The period has not been all bad—in that span of time I re-edited two previously published novels, published a third, and made significant progress on a fourth. I also started writing more short fiction, mostly for flash fiction challenges, and found it an enjoyable exercise, especially since I have previously told myself that I couldn’t do short fiction. Even so, the last three-quarters of a year has seen a lot of wasted time, frustration and second-guessing.

I also recently passed my third anniversary as a self-publisher. I’m big on landmarks in my life, so this seems a good time to step back and assess where I am with this part of my writing adventure. And there is no point in beating around the bush.

By most measures, my self-publication effort has been a failure.

Certainly it’s a failure in financial terms—my sales have been typically just one tick about non-existent. Forget paying the mortgage, I’m nowhere close to paying the electric bill. Last month, when some wonderful individual in Germany bought all three books in the Divine Lotus series on the same day, it instantly shot my monthly sales up by about one hundred percent. And, believe me, I was grateful.

Consequently, self-publishing is also a failure for me in building an audience. Very few people know of my work. I’ve gathered only a few reviews, albeit mostly positive. My books haven’t made a splash at all; in fact, there hasn’t been even a noticeable plop.

Whatever the reason for this failure– lack of marketing skills, bad writing, not writing in a hot genre, an Illuminati plot– it’s become apparent that one of the hopes I entertained when I started self-publishing, to earn at least a supplemental income, is not in the cards and probably never will be.

As a result, there have been moments in the last few months when I’ve gotten pretty blue over my self-publishing, to the point that, once or twice, I’ve considered abandoning the effort altogether. Worse, in my darkest instances of self-doubt, I wondered if I should be writing at all. Each time I have managed to talk myself off the ledge—but I am ready for a change in direction.

The plain fact is that, whether I am paid or not, I still want to write. Story-telling is one of things I do, one of the things I care about. And I still have a lot of stories in me, whether or not I have the skill to tell them well, and whether or not anyone will ever want to pay me for them.

So, here’s the new plan.

First, for the time-being, my Divine Lotus novels will remain on Amazon, and I will publish Princess of Fire and Princess of Stars there when they are complete. I don’t anticipate publishing them on any other platform in the foreseeable future (Princess of Wonders was on Smashwords for a time, but the returns there were even worse than on Amazon, so I pulled it). My best guess at this point is that publication of Princess of Fire is nine months away, and that of Princess of Stars at least three years, and I have no clear idea what project will follow them.

Whatever novels I commit to writing after Divine Lotus will probably go on Amazon, as well. I certainly have no plans to start submitting them to agents or publishers again. I have been down that rock-strewn, washout-riddled road too many times before, and unless some agent/publisher comes looking for me with a truckload of money, I will not consider it. Instead, I have decided to try my hand at writing short stories for traditional publication.

This is where I started writing for publication, years and years (and years) ago, and I was a miserable failure at it. Part of the problem was my native tendency to write long; the other problem was that in those early days (BCP—before cell phones. I’m not kidding) I had not learned the basics of telling a story. Since then a huge amount of prose has passed through my word-processor. I have also made a conscious effort to study writing, both in my reading and by sitting at the feet of some very talented people. Now I want to try my hand again.

Whether or not that effort pays off, I also intend to expand my fiction on this blog. I have been doing a fair amount of flash-fiction lately, and the response has been encouraging. Dinosaur Planet, sadly, appears to have petered out (I couldn’t quite capture the B-movie quality I was looking for), but I may rethink that story line. More to the point, I’ve discovered a great deal of freedom in blogging. Somehow it gives me implicit permission to try new things. I might try publishing in serial form some of the other ideas romping around in the back of my head. I might even do—not too loud, now—more poetry.

Okay, that may be going a little too far. Forget I said anything about poems. Just us prose authors here….

But that’s the new plan. I’m kind of excited about it.

More bulletins to follow….

A quick emergence from my cave to squint at the sun…

And we’ve been having entirely too much of that sunshine stuff here in Seattle lately. I have a mind to the tell the Sun to knock it off.

A quick note, just in case anyone wondered if I had been kidnapped by aliens (I wouldn’t mind, if they looked like Gwenyth Paltrow)– other matters continue to pull me away from the blog, but progress is being made on Princess of Fire. I think I’m re-engaging with Kathy in a way I haven’t been able to the last few months. She’s starting to deal with the Deep Serious that’s about to land on her and the people she cares about, and the pace is picking up as I get excited about what I am writing.

On another matter, which I may talk about at more length in a near-future post– I have made a decision to resume the effort to seek traditional publication, in a small way. There are a number of reasons for this, one of which is that self-publishers are not eligible for SFWA (Science Fiction Writers of America) membership. As irritating as that is in one way, in another I totally understanding the logic. SFWA doesn’t want the slush pile to come knocking on their door….

This re-entry into the pursuit of trad publishing doesn’t mean my novels will be leaving Amazon– I plan to try my hand at short stories. And the first might be based on an idea I got from Chuck Wendig’s challenge from last week, which I started to write, and then realized I might be able to do something more with. Mixing and matching sub-genres is fun, and the two I got out of the random selection was “dystopia” and “superhero”.

I can do something with that.

More later, when it’s not my bed-time. Good night.

Writing plans for 2014

As is typical with me, I’m late marking the turn of the year. Yah, 2014. New opportunities, etc.

Okay, that’s done.

I have some definite plans for what I want to accomplish with my writing this year. Firstly, unless something goes very badly wrong, I should be able to complete and publish Princess of Fire this year, perhaps by late summer or early fall. Publishing two novels within a twelve month period would be a first for me.

There will be a downside, however. I anticipate Princess of Stars, the last part of the series, is going to be mammoth, probably somewhere north of 200,000 words, which will almost certainly mean I will need to eventually break it into two separate books. I want to write it as one narrative stream, however, so at the moment it is a unity in my head. Because of the length, there will probably be a long gap between the publication of Fire and of Stars, especially since there are things in Stars that may stretch my skills to the breaking point. I need to make Fire fairly memorable, to keep people engaged during what promises to be another long hiatus, and that is what I am working on at the moment.

It won’t be just the size of Stars that will be tough; I expect the book will be internally complex, as I pull together all the threads that I have been developing in the previous four books of the Divine Lotus series and resolve them in what I hope will be an epic science-fiction story. The size and complexity of the novel may well push me during this year to do something I usually don’t do for my stories– write an outline. That, or the equivalent of a movie treatment. Either way, I anticipate having to plan for Stars at a level I usually don’t attempt. I am normally a pantser, but this book feels as if it will need special treatment.

At the same time, while I work on Fire and prepare for Stars, other projects are romping around in the back of my brain. I have talked about some of these projects in previous posts, and at different times one or another of them looms larger in my consciousness than others. At the moment I am thinking about a historical novel set in 1900 (there was a lot going on that year) that I have had in mind, but it is actually an open question which project I will take on after the completion of Stars, which is, more than likely, at least two years away. Meanwhile, I am basically reading and researching for the other projects on an ongoing basis.

The last major piece of my writing plan for 2014 is to continue blogging, diversifying what I blog about (more reviews, less whining) and staying engaged with the online community I’ve discovered. 2013 was the year I began to blog in earnest, and I plan to keep it up. Aside from that, I will probably doodle away on pieces on the side, such as Dinosaur Planet (a new episode coming soon), more abandoned fragments, and assorted topics as they come to me.

Looks like it’s going to be a busy year. Then again, life has a way of throwing me curve balls. Or avalanches. We’ll see.


The Writer’s Needful– Part Three– The Core of Persistence

In my previous post I talked about writers needing courage. This post is about persistence. I do believe for writers persistence and courage are linked, but I do not believe they are identical. Courage is about overcoming and surviving discouragement and disappointment; persistence is about the daily discipline that writing requires.

Persistence is actually a well-worn topic among writers and those who instruct others on how to write. Lewis Shiner once said that if someone can be at all discouraged from writing, then they should be. Bridget McKenna, years ago in a writing panel at Norwescon, told all of us eager young wannabe writers that getting published is 90% persistence (and if you can’t trust Bridget McKenna, damn it, who can you trust?). Google “writing persistence” and you’ll get a screenful of links to websites and videos on the topic.

But hold on– many of these sites talk about persistence in the context of getting traditionally published. Keep submitting, keep sending out your work, that sort of thing. But this is the new, glorious age of self-publication. Does perseverance mean anything when a new writer can take their very first ever short story and publish it online within 24 hours?

Yes, because persistence in writing has more dimensions than simply getting published. And it always has.

First, for the overwhelming majority of writers, learning to write takes time. Lots of time, lots of words, lots of trunk novels and short stories. Most of us learn to write by writing. To become competent as a writer, most of us need to persist and persist, through bad draft after bad draft, lousy grammar, awkward sentences approximately the length of the Great Wall of China, failed short stories and novel. The cliche is that your first million words are crap. The only variant I have seen on that is that it’s actually your first two million words that are crap.

The new opportunities for self-publishing have not changed this reality. If anything, this is proven by the quite simply enormous (and growing) pile of terrible-to-poor self-published works out there. If a writer wants to be other than a sad joke, they still need to learn the craft of writing.

Persistence is also part of the daily- or as near to daily as you can manage– discipline of writing. This is one of the hardest things a writer has to internalize. Writing is not dependent on inspiration or mood– it is a task you take on and do, the same way you go to a job or brush your teeth every day (at least, I hope you brush your teeth daily….). It took me years to learn this lesson myself, which is largely why I didn’t start writing in a serious way until I was well into adulthood.

If you are pursuing traditional publication, persistence is, indeed, needed, and, given the state of trad publishing, more than ever. If it was hard to get published thirty or twenty years ago, it is orders of magnitude more difficult now, as the publishing world petrifies into a living fossil, stuck in the adaptive rut of doing the same thing over and over again because it sold last go-around. The inability of traditional publishing to break out of that rut is leading thousands of authors to abandon trad publishing for self-publishing. It is very much like a torrent of water, dammed in one direction, finding an outlet in another. Another way to think of it is to say that people’s patience with a log-jammed process is not infinite.

Self-publishing, though, is not a golden road. Getting your writing in order, formatting everything correctly and uploading your story to Kindle or Smashwords is, unfortunately, no guarantee of winning an audience. The dirty secret about self-publishing– which isn’t much of a secret– is that getting noticed in the ever-widening sea of self-published material is very, very difficult. There is no sure-fire way to publicize a self-published work, certainly no one way that works for everybody, and building an audience takes time and patience– in other words, persistence.

Part of that audience-building is creating a body of work, instead of publishing a single story and retiring. That means more writing, and probably re-writing (certainly it does in my case). And so we come full circle back to the need to keep writing and to keep on learning how to write, because hardly anybody ever completely perfects this craft. In other words, once you’ve signed on as a writer, it’s for life.

Personally, I can’t imagine doing it any other way.

Next topic: Study.


Self-publishing– the naked truth

I continue to work on preparing Princess of Secrets for CreateSpace– doing a line-by-line reading takes time. I hope to have Secrets ready for CS in the next couple of days; the edits I put in will also be added to the Kindle edition. Then I will turn my attention to Princess of Shadows, with the intention of having it ready for publication by December 1st.

I’ve had some ups-and-downs getting these novels re-edited, including a truly spectacular frak-up with find-and-replace on Wonders that I had to repair in a big, fat hurry. Editing my own work is the quickest path I know to humility. Or maybe it’s humiliation. For me there’s not much distance between the two.

No one should construe, from my previous ardent defenses of self-publishing, that I think I’ve achieved perfection with my own work. Hardly. As in, what a laugh. Every time I revisit my work, I see new items to fix, or to improve.

Let me be honest here– when I first self-published, two and half years ago, an objective observer would have probably classed me as one of those “not ready for prime time” self-publishers. I started out publishing some of my novellas and novelettes, and I spent months wrestling with issues. When I went to publish my novels, I thought I had cleanly edited copies. But my readers let me know that there were still issues, and I’ve had to revisit both Wonders and Secrets on several occasions (see my previous posts as evidence).

What this proves is that there is an “on the other hand” truth about self-publishing. A downside, a fly in the soup, a cloud obscuring the bright sun of our gloriously published state.

Ready for it? Here it is– self-publishing is hard.

Let me amend that– self-publishing is back-breakingly hard. Heart-breakingly hard. “Will this bastard ever be done?” hard.

At least, if you’re trying to do it right. If you’re not– or worse, you’re sure you’ve achieved perfection already– then forget what I just said. Sit back in the warm glow of your own self-sufficiency and the certain knowledge that it is only the stupidity of the rest of the world that prevents them from recognizing your genius. I have nothing useful to say to you.

For us mere mortals, though, the simple fact is that, when you self-publish, you take the whole weight of getting a book written and ready for market (two separate, if conjoined, tasks) on your own back. You may be helped by beta readers, you may hire a freelance editor, you may purchase a professional cover from an artist (God, I hope you do– there are some amazingly stupid self-published covers out there), but by-and-large this effort is all on you. You’re it. If the book succeeds, you get the glory. If it fails, or if it is an unreadable mess of misspellings, bad grammar and screwed-up formatting, you got no one to blame but yourself.

I can’t speak for other self-publishers, but for me, the whole experience of self-publishing has been one of learning, sometimes the hard way, sometimes by “oh my God, I can’t believe I did that!” Learning to edit, learning to format, learning how to promote (my personal downfall at the moment). And that learning process is still going on. It didn’t happen all at once, and I am beginning to suspect that it will actually never end.

So be warned– if you want to self-publish, and do it right, then you have to be prepared to commit to long hours of picking through prose, finding mistakes and sweating over whether this phrasing is better than that phrasing, to learn how to upload an html file and what it means to link your TOC correctly– and then to take the one and two star reviews, think about what they mean, and apply them to your text. You will need a thick skin, including on your behind where you’ve sat for hours editing a passage for the fourth or fifth time. You’ll need to be willing, after you’ve uploaded a novel, to turn right around and re-edit it and upload it again to fix one misspelled word on page 231.

There is, however, a positive to all this labor and pain– my work is better now than it was when I started. Perhaps much better. And I’ve learned how to make the next novel better to start with. For me, that makes the whole business worthwhile.

Not to mention, it’s better than doing yard work. That’s really unpleasant.


(PS– I have now edited this post twice to fix issues. QED.).

Trying to find the silver lining…a brief update on my lack of progress

I’ve never been someone who is naturally cheerful. Somebody says, “Good morning!” with a bright and happy smile on their face, and my tendency is to say, “Let’s not jump to conclusions” even if it’s 11:55 AM and the planet hasn’t yet been invaded by right-wing mutant zombies from outer space (the homegrown varieties are quite enough, thank you). This has been, at times, a problem in my church circles; some Christians seem to think you’re supposed to paint a joyful grin on your puss no matter how miserable you actually feel. Not me– somebody asks me how I’m doing and they’re liable to get a response similar to, “Well, I’m not dead yet, but give it time.”

And at the moment, life’s not exactly handing me sunshine, either.

Chiefly, I remain unemployed; I haven’t heard back from either of the companies I interviewed with two or more weeks ago, so it is not looking hopeful. Both interviews seemed to be fairly positive, but my natural pessimism (here shading over into paranoia) assumes that the people who interviewed me showed me to the door with smiles, and then burst out laughing when I was gone. Pretty soon I am going to have to start looking for temporary gigs, which I hate.

In addition, there is this thing and the other thing, most of which are trivial annoyances that altogether come to a lot of time on my hands, doing chores I don’t like, and probably snacking more than I should. There are stresses and strains and tensions because of the uncertainty of my immediate future. There’s personal stuff that would be embarrassing for me to talk about and which probably needs a therapist’s touch (or sledgehammer).

The holidays are coming, too. I have complex feelings about the season from Thanksgiving through New Year’s, which I will not try to unpack here and now. Suffice to say that I usually feel out of step with the whole commercial business of false cheer and merriment. Somebody says, “Merry Christmas!” to me, they’re liable to get the finger.

And then there’s my lack of progress on Princess of Shadows.

It’s beginning to look as if two out of my three beta readers are not going to be finish their reading-throughs in time for my drop-dead goal of having Shadows published before Christmas. I have almost decided to just do another read-through on my own, make final changes, and publish. I’m not happy about that, but I think it’s something I need to do. This book has been hanging around my neck for far too long.

Now, in view of all the preceding, it would not be unreasonable to assume that I am completely in a pit of despair and hopelessness. Or even more than I usually am. Strangely, though, not so much.

Uncharacteristically, I think I’ve found a silver lining or two in this whole situation. The extra time on my hands has allowed me to complete initial research for Princess of Fire. My enforced idleness on Shadows means I’ve had to put it aside for a month and focus on other things, which I have heard often recommended as a way to see your own work with fresh eyes when you do take it up again.

Lastly, I’ve used the extra time to publish Princess of Wonders to CreateSpace, Amazon’s print-on-demand service. It’s now available on Amazon and in the CreateSpace e-store. I’m in the process of doing the same for Princess of Secrets, and when I publish Shadows, I’ll be doing it simultaneously for Kindle and CreateSpace. This is a new venture for me, and, as good as Kindle has been for me, the idea that my work will be available in print still makes me smile.

It’s an odd feeling– I don’t think my face is used to it….