Monday, August 27, 2012

Monday's Blog and a Couple of Birthday Pictures

Happy Monday, friends!

First and foremost, as always, I want to send out big thanks to everyone for helping make all the recent promotions such a huge success. I am also incredibly appreciative for all the Facebook posts, emails and other messages letting me know how much you guys are enjoying Regrets Only (and for all the requests for a third book! What writer could ask for more? Wow!!)

So here's what's happening in my authorial world, for those who are curious....

I'm taking a break from writing until early October. I know, I know, you guys are chomping at the bit for the next book, which is incredibly flattering. I am very much looking forward to the next one, too. But I have some other things to catch up on first, including some consulting/counseling work, making some changes here in cyberspace, and doing a bit of research for my next project(s). The Jewish holidays are coming up as well - a time of year during which we try to slow down and make room in our lives for spiritual reflection. Of course, with a three- and one-year old in the house, reflective time usually means falling asleep on the couch with an untouched glass of wine on the end table.

I'll be unveiling a new author's blog in the next few weeks; of course, this one will remain intact for those who like to read my more personal ramblings. In the new space you'll find my usual take on the world of self-publishing and writing, with some added psychological perspective for current and would-be writers. There may be some fiction posted there, too -- even a story or two stemming from the characters in TMP and RO. I'm excited about it!

In the meantime, I hope to keep you at least somewhat entertained in this space. Speaking of entertaining, my little Fozzie Bear turned one this weekend, and here are a couple of pictures from the small family party we had...

Fozzie Bear - plowing into his first cake with abandon

Monkey - distracting himself from the challenge of not swiping his brother's gifts

The Brothers Goofy

Have a great week, everyone! I'll be in touch soon. Keep those comments, reviews and emails coming. And let me know what else you're reading and enjoying, too!

Monday, August 13, 2012

My Freakout, Your Free Reads

So, here's the deal. After a restful week of visiting friends, working around the house and doing my best to piss off the literati establishment, it's back-to-school time here in lovely Marietta, Georgia. Since we also just voted to have Sunday alcohol sales (in the afternoon only - no drinking in church), parents in these parts have multiple reasons to celebrate.

I have mixed feelings today, because both Monkey and my little Fozzie Bear are going to preschool three days a week starting this fall. It's a wonderful little religious preschool where Monkey has always been happy and Fozzie is going to be snuggled and kissed all day, so I know they'll be fine, but somehow it's so much harder dropping my baby off in a new place than just sneaking out the front door while he's playing with the nanny in our living room. I'm getting more time to work, and write, which is great and empowering. But still.

How do I handle mixed feelings? Well, it's too early in the day for vodka (or at least, too early to publicly admit to drinking vodka), so I've decided to distract myself with a free book promo. Or two.

That's right, my lovelies. Both books, free, now. today and tomorrow only (until midnight-ish Tuesday the 14th), you can download The Marriage Pact free for your kindle AND Regrets Only, the sequel. If I had a third book, I'd give that one away, too, just for fun, but I haven't started writing that one yet. So this is going to have to tide you over for a while!

Think of it as my back-to-school gift to you. Or an end-of-summer gift for those of you who haven't started back yet. Or a "this doesn't impact me" gift for those who don't have kids in school. Think of it however you'd like, just download, read and enjoy, and please do post honest reviews about either or both if you get the chance.

In the meantime, I'm just going to curl up with a couple of my kids' stuffed animals and have a good cry. And maybe just one screwdriver, for courage.

Get The Marriage Pact here (normally 99 cents):

Get Regrets Only here (normally $2.99):

I'm predicting there will be very few promos for Regrets Only, so share the love with others while you can!


Thursday, August 9, 2012

'A' is for 'Arrogance': Legacy Authors and Ivory Towers

So I was doing my nightly Twittering and I came across this article in which traditional/legacy author Sue Grafton refers to those of us who self-publish as "lazy" and "wannabes," among other uncharitable characterizations. Remarkably ungracious for such an esteemed author, though I guess since she added "I'm sorry," to one of the lines and framed it as a hard truth, it was supposed to sound like tough love and wisdom. What's funny is, I've written maybe five blog entries about other authors, and one of them was this one about Sue herself, and what I was learning from her wisdom about a writer's work ethic and how time-consuming being an author can (and should) be.
Um, yeah.

This isn't the first time in the last several months we've heard legacy authors defending the old publishing system by pointing out how many bad self-published books are out there (because clearly all published works are well-written and worthwhile), and advising young authors to avoid the "career suicide" of self-publishing. But this is the first time I've heard the conversation get so pointed and ugly against self-published authors themselves.

In reality, the world of publishing is changing, has changed, in the last few years. Ready or not, like it or not. The accessibility of eBooks for kindle, nook, PC, iPad, etc. is forcing traditional publishers and authors to compete for your reader eyeballs (and dollars) with independent authors, editors and illustrators who have much lower overhead and nothing to lose. We're hungry, we're motivated, and we don't have a six-figure advance in the bank, a series of overpaid English majors weeding through manuscripts on the readers' dime, or a big shiny building that has to be paid for before we start making money on our work. In this brave new publishing world, we have an advantage.

I can sell you my books for 99 cents and $2.99 respectively because I believe that's a fair price to pay for a few hours' entertainment, and because the openness of the amazon platform and generous royalty structure allows me to recoup my costs quickly. I pay my fabulous designer for her artistry with the cover and my amazing proofreader for catching my mistakes. I pay to have a few early copies distributed to my beta readers and I pay some nominal fees for web hosting, marketing, etc. I don't have to pay an agent (don't need one), a marketing expert (what little I do, I do myself), a manuscript screener (you do that yourself when you decide whether or not you want to take a chance on my book), an assistant (I wish!), a president, an HR person, a custodian, an office manager, a courier, a blue-line reader, book tour coordinator, or an intern to get me coffee. Those are all me, me, me (usually), me, me, me, me and ME. Hubs doesn't even know how to work the coffee maker.

All those costs I just mentioned are built in to the legacy publishing system. Those, plus the costs of all the really bad books they choose to publish that no one buys. [Did you know that sometimes books make it through the many filters of traditional publishing and still totally suck? GASP!] That's why you can't buy Sue Grafton or Jodi Picoult (even the kindle versions, which would appear to have very few hard costs) for less than $7.99 or $9.99. Recent releases and bestsellers are generally $12.99 and up. It's why so many people are choosing to take a chance on unknown authors from the $4 and under lists, based on a few reviews or a recommendation from a friend.

No wonder those old guard authors are coming out swinging at their indie competitors, under the guise of giving 'helpful advice,' as bullying so often is.

But it turns out that while traditionally successful authors might be more polished from years of rejection and more layers of editing, many readers are discovering that they're willing to put up with a few comma splices or regretted purchases for the opportunity to get great reads at a great price, or to be the first person in their book club to discover a new gem. And as much as traditional publishers and authors complain about how the market is glutted with self-published crap, the reality is that truly, universally bad books will always be weeded out by negative reviews and bad press. In this market, readers have power and they're using it to create a credible and reliable system of reviewing. If a book gains any momentum number-wise at all, readers will speak the truth about it; and if it doesn't gain momentum, it won't show up in rankings or be recommended anyway. 

To some extent I understand why legacy authors might be bitter and confused, and why they will defend a system on which they are dependent (and locked in by both contract and habit). I think we can debate, if we're bored, whether the reading public are good enough judges of what 'good' is; or if we really need publishers and critics and academics to tell us what's worth reading. Maybe both views are valid. I'll concede there's at least some room for discussion about that. On the other hand, calling self-publishing 'lazy' and indie authors 'wannabes' shows complete ignorance of the self-pubbing process and, frankly, a professional arrogance that is beyond the pale.

The hard work is taking the rejection, learning the lessons, and mastering the craft over a period of time. I see way too many writers who complete one novel and start looking for the fame and fortune they’re sure they’re entitled to. To me, it seems disrespectful…that a ‘wannabe’ assumes it’s all so easy s/he can put out a ‘published novel’ without bothering to read, study, or do the research.

I'm a self-published author. I had a goal to write a novel by the time I was thirty, and events in my life delayed that until I was thirty-five. I have an English degree, two Master's degrees and a specialist degree (two of those in human behavior), and more than twenty years of work experience, much of which included writing. Not the fun kind of writing I dreamed of doing, but the kind that most of us end up doing when we have a mortgage to pay and people to feed. I've taken creative writing classes, I've done writing groups and blogs and written magazine articles. All in my spare time -- I guess because I didn't 'bother' to do the right kind of work.

Over the years I've experienced rejection and criticism and growth, and I am aware those are a lifelong reality if I want to be any good. I wrote my first novel in snatches of time between graduate school classes, morning sickness, breastfeeding, working, and -- once in a while -- sleeping. I researched, wrote, and rewrote instead of watching TV or talking on the phone or taking a desperately needed nap. I wrote on the bus and in traffic and jotted things down when I got out of the shower. I made notes on a pad while I strolled my newborn around the park. I wrote on my laptop in bed while my husband snored next to me.

I may be a lot of things, Sue Grafton, but lazy isn't one of them.

When I completed my first novel, it was like giving birth. Just finishing it fulfilled what was, for me, a lifelong dream. I was sheepish when I handed it over to my friends to read and tell me what they thought. I was so proud of what I'd accomplished, and a little nervous that people would conclude I'd completely wasted my time doing it. And then there was this seed of hope, this presumptuous little suggestion in the back of my mind, confirmed by the feedback I got from friends and early readers: You know, this isn't half-bad. It's not Shakespeare or anything, but for a first effort, it's not bad.

Holding my finished manuscript and knowing what I do about publishing, I had a choice to make: send off query letters to agents and publishers and wait for months to hear back rejections, or try a grand experiment. Go ahead. Put it out there. See what happens. Maybe nothing will come of it, maybe everyone will hate it. Maybe they'll laugh at me for trying. Maybe Sue Grafton will call me a wannabe. But at least my friends and family will get to see the fruits of my labor in print, instead of just hearing me complain at parties about how misunderstood I am and whining about my latest string of rejections.

I was six months pregnant, chasing a toddler, and working in my other job as a therapist. I knew that for me, this was a now-or-maybe-never proposition. I chose now. Like hundreds of other indie authors, I stood at that fork in the road and decided to take a chance on myself, right then and there, rather than pursuing the elusive approval of the publishing industry. I decided to let readers decide what they thought of my book themselves. (And they did. And they told me about it -- for better or worse!) I didn't expect fame and fortune. I didn't demand attention or start wearing a beret and introducing myself as an 'author' at parties. I didn't ask to play Carnegie Hall with my Five Easy Pieces, as Grafton so condescendingly puts it. I just put it out there and went on my way, hoping only that someone would read it and not regret the experience. What happened a few months later was, as Hubs says, like catching lightning in a bottle. I'm still in awe of it.

My work is not perfect. I am still honing my craft. But instead of hearing the suggestions of someone sitting behind a desk in a publishing house, I get to hear the suggestions and criticisms of readers themselves through reviews and other direct feedback. They are not always as sophisticated, nor are they always as polite, as an agent's form letter might be. But I hear from them. Immediately.

Is it always pleasant? No. Do I learn what I need to learn? You better believe it. My second book is FAR better than my first, thanks in part to reader reviews and feedback, and I believe I will continue to improve. In the meantime, I've had the encouragement of all the positive feedback and the fact that thousands of people have downloaded and read my work, not just a few people to whom I've FedExed manuscripts. Over 100,000 have downloaded The Marriage Pact alone, actually, which is nothing to sneeze at -- considering the average 'published' book sells around 7,000.

And instead of paying my dues by checking the mailbox every day hoping to see publishing house stationery, I've actually made a little bit of money at this so I can re-invest it into my own career and give myself more opportunities to be a better writer. If I were trying to break into traditional publishing, I might not have made a dime yet. And, to be honest, I probably would have given up my dream of writing until we could afford to live on one income (which I would venture to guess is how many traditionally successful authors make it through the lean years before they are 'discovered').

I don't feel 'entitled' to anything, nor do I believe that being willing to stand up in front of the world and present my work for people to judge as they will is 'disrespectful' to anyone. My self-publishing has nothing to do with anyone but me and the people who choose to read my work. In fact, I would say that putting yourself out there to sink or swim in an ocean of unbiased readers takes a hell of a lot more courage than sending a query letter to an agent or publishing house.

When some legacy authors talk about what they've 'earned' by making it through the old system, I'm sure they have no idea how arrogant and entitled they sound themselves, and how little credit for their success they give to the real people who buy and read their books (some of whom are current or future indie authors). Nor do they pay much attention to how much of every international bestseller's success is owed to one big factor: LUCK.

Are many of those authors talented? Yes, of course. Do they work hard? Certainly. Is it grueling to make it through the process of winning publishers' approval, and do they persist when others give up? Of course.

Are they also damn lucky that they got introduced to the right person at the right time, or landed a manuscript on the right desk of the right agent on the right day? Absolutely. Do many of them have connections through friends and family that have helped them along the way? Or spouses or parents who supported them while they were busy getting rejected and trying again? The benefit of socio-economic status and education and time to write rather than working two jobs to make ends meet? Often, yes.

Does any of that matter when you pick up a book? Of course not. No more than it matters whether a person is self-published or traditionally published. I don't begrudge traditional authors their success, nor do I judge them for how they've chosen and/or fallen into their career path. I will continue to read, enjoy and learn from both traditionally-published books (when I can afford them) and self-published/indie authors. But if traditional authors want to continue their success in today's new reading market, they are going to have to do more to adapt than simply look down their noses and make elitist, insulting comments about self-published authors.

Because we are honing our craft. We're banding together and learning from our mistakes and each other. We're publishing and learning and starting over. Unlike traditional authors, we have the necessity of close relationships with our readers. We appreciate emails, listen to feedback, and we take time to tweet back whenever we can. We fight for every sale and we read every review. We're invested with our blood sweat and tears and stand on the precipice of public opinion with no kindly agent or editor to protect our egos. Our readers, bloggers and amateur critics are smart, too, and they know what good reading is -- with or without the blessing of a Big Six publishing imprint. 

So traditional publishers and authors, you'd better watch your back (and your sales figures), because we indies are getting stronger and we're not going away. We don't need to put you down or belittle you. We are not afraid of failure or a little friendly competition -- even if your approach to us is sometimes less than friendly. We don't have time to squabble about whether we deserve our successes or whether you approve of our decisions.

We're too busy working our tails off and bringing our A-game.

And "A" is for Author.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

5 Things I Learned in July 2012

Whoever said you learn something new every day obviously already knew a good bit more than I did to begin with. I'm finding the older I get, I realize the less I know, and I learn an average of about 400 things a day, usually in some comically painful manner. Some of these things are actual new information, others are things I am re-learning. Again. And again.

For example, while I wrote the above paragraph, I learned that my 11-month old DOES fit under my husband's nightstand if properly motivated by the lure of electrical and phone cords. True story.

So I thought it would be fun to try to recap each month with some of the things I've learned, so that you all can learn with me, or at least have a good laugh at my expense. Here goes for July:

1. I learned that my two boys are astonishingly different in so many interesting ways; yet at three and almost-one, they already have a closeness I would never have imagined. Turns out they are even okay sleeping in the same room together, one of this month's grand experiments at our house.

2. That IS poison ivy in the backyard, and yes, I am allergic to it -- far more than I was as a kid. Seriously allergic. Also, taking six prednisone over a six-hour period will keep you up all night so you can format your novel for Kindle.

3. You use "one another" if there are more than two people being discussed, "each other" if there are only two. (Thanks, Faith). It's funny how we latch on to things we're taught, because I once had an English teacher tell me that "each other" is NEVER correct. Even though I learned soon after that she was wrong, and use it regularly in speech, I still cringe when I write it. Even to the point of being incorrect. Teachers, beware....

4. I learned that I have been completely under-utilizing and in many other ways misunderstanding Twitter as a social marketing tool. I'll probably do a separate post about that at some point, so if you're Twitter-clueless like me but want to be able to start using it for marketing or networking, stay tuned.

5. Finally, I learned that when you are potty training a little boy, you are guaranteed to have one bathroom that ALWAYS smells like pee. It doesn't matter how often you clean it, how many air fresheners you use or what kind of hard-core environment-destroying chemicals you enlist. I'm calling this the Law of Urinespraylocity. There's an equation and everything, including variables like distance of reach beyond the toilet, time allowed between "gotta go" and "going," and miles of paper shoved into toilet while parent's back is turned; but trust me, it all ends in PEE. It's a joyous time. Really.

Feel free to post what you've learned this month in the comments section. And if anyone blogger-educated knows how to get blogger to notify me of new comments, would you let me know? I swear I'm not ignoring you guys.

Have a great August!