Okay, everyone, this is my last post in this series, and boy, is it a big pet peeve of mine. While I agree that everyone is entitled to their opinion, there are some very, very angry people out there who don't believe self-published authors deserve to call themselves "real". Don't believe me? There are two extremely awful articles in particular by a blogger named Michael Kozlowski on Good e-Reader. You can read them here (one and two), but if you're an indie author, I'd really advise against it: especially if you have high blood pressure. (See "you'll never be an author if your head explodes", several blog posts ago.)
The truth of the matter is: writing is just like any other profession. We start out by deciding that is what we want to do, and we begin to practice. A widely quoted axiom states, "If you write, then you are an author". You put words on the paper, and voila! A writer!
The trouble is, it may take you a while to think you're a real writer. Or even an author. (And that's before we even start talking about how others see you!) So you keep working, and get second opinions, feedback from fellow writers... maybe make a friend or two of some already-published folks. The more work you do, the more you live your life wanting to be a writer, the closer you come to believing it is true. And isn't that exactly what happened to ol' Pinoke, here? He had to prove himself brave, truthful, and unselfish to become a real boy. As for authors, I believe we have three different criteria to fill.
Prove your writing to be richly detailed, full of believable characters, and free of grammatical nastiness, and someday, you will know you are a real author.
Once you know that, you are your own Blue Fairy. You give yourself that spark: and no one will ever be able to take it away from you. If you need another pep talk, I can do no better than this one by long-established indie author guru Kristen Lamb. Go forth, prove yourself to yourself. I'll be here to cheer you on.
Until next week,
How many of you have encountered the opinion that independent, self-published authors are "taking the easy route"? I first became aware of it about twelve years ago, working in a local bookstore, when self-publishing was still a young concept. I still experience that overall attitude from some folks in the public eye, and I think it's time I broke down exactly what a self-published author has to do for themselves...
1. We do our own formatting. Every chapter starts on a fresh page, indented, maybe with a few fancy flourishes. There are separate pages for the dedication, title, and About The Author which are usually standard. All of that has to be coded in, and the manuscript document has to be carefully formatted so that its page margins are just right and the font size is reasonable. We take for granted some of the things which make a novel look "real", or up to professional publishing standards. True, self-publishing providers such as Lulu, Smashwords, and CreateSpace provide templates to work within, but it's the author who spends hours making it all look right.
2. We handle our cover design. Hiring others to design cover art is a luxury, and usually the one most independent authors are willing to spring for. Even with a helping hand, there's a great deal of collaboration involved. For those who won't or can't hire an artist, we're on our own for that, too: and covers do still get judged, no matter what the old axiom says. There are margins to contend with here, too, the same as with the inside - I had a SNAFU with the cover of In The Cards' first edition and had to work with Lulu's lovely support team to get it straightened out. Which brings me to #3 ...
3. We deal directly with our vendors. Printing, business cards, sellers, libraries, website tech support ... any issue that arises must be handled personally. Traditionally published authors have agents or other folks at their publishing house who take care of this, so the author can focus on their writing and their public appearances. The self-published author is on their own.
4. This includes marketing and social media. Some people are born marketers and networkers, but you'll find that by and large, authors aren't necessarily social butterflies. I myself am a right-brained person who has always considered the concept of "selling" to have a used-car salesman feel to it... and now, here I am, confronted with my own business plan and marketing strategy. I've recently taken an online course and begun to learn that marketing is much less ... er, icky ... than I once believed, and I'm excited to get started. It is, however, another case of hard work and more time spent away from the page.
5. It's not our main source of income. I know that this isn't necessarily true of traditionally published authors, either ... but their income system works differently than an indie author's, too. We get nothing up front, no promise of a fixed sum with each book we write. Our revenue comes in quarterly royalty checks from whichever publishing outlet we've chosen... and it depends on our sales, which depend upon all of the other factors I've covered here, in addition to how good the book itself is. Which means - yes - indie authors do all of this while balancing full-time jobs. I think of it as being a super-hero, with the day job as my alter ego.
When you break all of this down, it equates to about 50% time spent marketing and promoting, and 50% spent writing. This goes up to 100% marketing, promoting, design, and formatting when a book release is on the horizon. Consider how much time the average full-time working person has to themselves when the day is done, and you'll see just how much an independent author has to bust their butt in order to get their book out into the world. Lazy? Easy way?
If you've stumbled upon this post as a budding independent author, I don't want to discourage you by any means. Be proud of the choice you're making. Yes, independent authors do a LOT of work ... but we do it because we believe in what we're doing enough to devote ourselves to the work. We know where we're happiest: writing. We know that our creativity makes a difference in the world. We're not willing to jump through hoops or only "write what sells". We are making good art on our own terms, and for every person who says "hey, I'm reading your book", our spirits soar.
Every bird had to fall out of the nest and flap its wings like hell in order to learn to fly. Don't let a little hard work stop you from knowing how it feels to soar.
'Till next week,
As an independent author, I encounter the same stereotypes, repeatedly:
Ouch, right? So I’ve decided to do my part by creating my own little toolkit to help fellow indie authors ensure that their writing shatters those stereotypes into tiny little splinters. I know there are a million other blogs and e-books that hand out this advice, but everyone does things their own way … why not document mine? This week, I’m going to start with the most technical of the three: Your Writing Must Not Be Good Enough.
In order to debunk this, we indie authors must first define what constitutes “good writing”. For my own part, when I review a book, I look for the following benchmarks:
This can be subjective. There are some very famous authors (I am looking at you, James Patterson and Danielle Steel) who can use almost cookie-cutter elements like sex or action scenes to string together the weakest of plot points. They have found something that works for them. The trouble is, if you want to be truly noticed as an indie author, cookie-cutter is not going to, well, cut it. Your plot should have a good, sharp hook or a unique element to it. Take a look at your writing, and if you can compare its plot easily to that of a famous author, try to find what makes it uniquely yours. Are you telling people “it’s just like (insert best-seller here)”? If they want Best-Seller X, they can just go and read it again. Tell them why they want YOUR story.
Well-defined Characters We Can Care About
I’m not just talking about lengthy, detailed descriptions of their hair, eyes, body, and clothing. What makes them tick? What do they fear, love, or have inside jokes about? Give your readers a glimpse of this before you’ve ended Chapter One - even on page one, if you can manage it. Also, I cannot stress this enough: character is not plot. If your main character is in trouble because they have to evade fifteen unpaid parking tickets and the police in their dystopian future consider this punishable by death? That’s plot. If they didn’t pay their parking tickets because they lined their guinea pig’s cage with them as a form of protest, and/or donated the money to the homeless guy on the corner of their block instead? That’s character. They can run from the cops all they want, but unless I know about that guinea pig and/or homeless guy, I’m not gonna care, even if they are gorgeous.
No Typos, Excessive Verbosity, or Overused Words
This one is pretty self-explanatory. Unless you are Lemony Snicket, if you say “The bomb covered in multicolored wires of various lengths and thicknesses like a spaghetti casserole from hell was getting closer to detonation. Esteban opened the junk drawer of the oaken hutch that his Great-Aunt Hattie had left to him in her will before she died of dysentery and gave it a thump to keep it from sticking, before pulling out the neon orange tool set at the back right corner of the drawer and opening it. He popped the latches and pulled out the smallest pair of tweezers with their red rubberized handles and whirled back around to face the explosive device with fervent determination” … your readers are going to be praying for that bomb to go off.
Consider, instead: “Esteban pounded on the junk drawer, cursing. Behind him, the bomb ticked on. He wrestled out his toolkit, almost dropping it in his haste to pop the catches. The pair of tweezers shook in his hands as he turned back to his work.” Sentences of mixed length help the prose flow more naturally, but leaning on short phrases with sparse description help create the sense of urgency Esteban is probably feeling as he’s trying not to get his apartment blown up.
Few to No Cliches
Unfortunately, the genres I see most in self-publishing are those which fall prey to the most clichés: romance and fantasy. Yes, I know that clichés and tropes exist for a reason: we love them, they’re fun. But they’re also super-predictable. If your reader knows what’s coming, they’re not going to want to bother reading it… unless, as with your plot, you give it that little dash of spice that makes it uniquely yours. Exhibit A: The brooding love interest who has to do That One Big Epic Thing to redeem their reputation. Make them less than perfect in the looks department, or completely unable to resist a sing-along. Give them a life-long dream of raising hedgehogs. It all goes back to the first two points: plot and character. Make them as indisputably yours as possible, and you’ll be well on your way to shattering the first Indie Author stereotype.
Thanks for joining me Between The Lines! Please share your thoughts below, and I hope you’ll join me next week, when I’ll bust the stereotype of The Lazy Indie Author!
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