I'm back from book release recovery and rolling up my sleeves, friends. I was going to ease my way back into my weekly routine with something nice and easy, but kismet had some other plans. Let me blow the dust off my soap box ...
I recently stopped by one of my local bookstores - a place I've frequented and enjoyed for decades. The manager is a good colleague, and she recommended a new company she learned about at a recent book expo: DartFrog Books. They are the first distributor geared exclusively toward independent and self-published authors, so my interest was piqued. She gave me a bookmark with their URL and the not-so-subtle hint that if I were to say she referred me, she'd get a finder's fee. So I went on my way.
It took me a few days to get around to looking DartFrog up. Something about the interaction gave me a strange vibe, and I was right, but I'll come back to that. Here's their mission statement: "Every year there are an estimated 450,000 self-published titles released into an overcrowded literary marketplace. Unfortunately, most of those books will live forever in total obscurity. But, there are within that mass of self-published books, some real gems. DartFrog finds those gems and distributes them to our partner bookstores."
O-kay. So, sounds good, but how does it work? I clicked on every link that looked as though it'd give me a straight answer. "About Us"? Mission Statement and glamour shots of the staff. "Why Dartfrog"? Buzzwords and all the stuff that sounds too good to be true, no numbers or details. "Our Standards"? Some stuff about quality control that's just a little bit condescending, if you ask yours truly... and it had typos. (I laughed. A lot.)
Oh, wait. "Author Agreement". Finally, I thought, something that should lay it out in black and white. Click: "The author agreement is a straight forward document that seeks to remove all the legalese that most of us don't read or understand anyway! But there are a few highlights that you should know." Not only is that on the edge of condescension ... but the full, actual text of that agreement isn't anywhere I could find on the website. Presumably, you only get it after you've started the sign-up process.
So I made a mock order for In The Cards. It asks some straight-forward questions about your book: did you edit/format it yourself, how long is it, what's the ISBN/genre, etc. But it doesn't even tell you what your order form is doing. Or how much it'll cost. I hit "proceed to payment" and was hit with the sticker shock: $350.
Let me reiterate: I still don't know what, exactly, I'm paying for, here.
I clicked back out of the cart - or, in the vernacular, "noped out like nobody's business" - and tried to dig a little deeper to see what that price tag entailed. The closest thing I could find to ANY detail about what my money would buy was on "Why DartFrog":
DartFrog evaluates your book to ensure that it meets a standard-of-excellence bookstores require. Those books that do, we make available for distribution to our network of partner bookstores. If your book is not ready for distribution, we will tell you what needs to be fixed and allow you to re-submit when the changes have been made. We do not charge an additional fee for a second evaluation.
Oh. So I'd be paying DartFrog $350 to pat me on the head and tell me my book is good, and then add it to a catalog they give to a (so far) very small list of indie stores. How is that any different than an agent or a publisher? I don't really think it is. Sure, that 70/30 split afterwards is pretty nice, but I'd have to spend an initially HUGE chunk of money that I don't have. There's very little about their evaluation team, so I don't even know if the people I'm paying to vet my book would be fair or unbiased.
Given that I had to do a half hour's worth of web surfing to find all this, I'm pretty unimpressed. If you're a web-based service, you're catering intrinsically to people who are used to very fast service: go to the site, find what you need, get it, get out, move on with your day. I know I'm preaching to the choir here, but self-published authors' time is precious enough without having to constantly verify and vet their potential allies and business collaborators. I could have spent that half hour connecting with my peers, making marketing graphics, preparing for my new collaboration release, or - oh, hey! actually writing more. Instead, I'm here. Because I get the increasing feeling that I need to share these experiences with you all, to save you the time and make your life as fellow authors a little easier.
We're all in this together. I've never felt that it's about the money - but saving it where and when we can is crucial. Being transparent and communicating about what works, what's fair, and what things really are is even more important.
In the end, I passed on BookFrog because I just can't spare that kind of money for a random person's validation. If you can, I don't judge: in fact, I'd love to know what you think. If you've had experiences with BookFrog, yourself, please leave me a comment or shoot me an email. I want to be proven wrong: I want to believe that there really are people out there who genuinely want to help find the good indie books, give them the love they deserve, and build a mutual relationship ... not just take our money and laugh all the way to the bank.
Until next time, dream on, write on, and stay amazing!
Story time! Are you sitting comfortably? Good. Then we'll begin.
Once upon a time, there was a young(ish) girl who had loved books since kindergarten. An only child, she made some of her earliest and oldest friends between their pages: precocious girls like Pippi Longstocking and Anne Shirley were her favorites, but she soon grew just as fond of super-sleuths Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden, and went on adventures with the brave mice of Redwall and discovered the creeping, delightful horrors of Edgar Allen Poe and Christopher Pike. Around that time, she was also beginning to discover the prospects of responsibility, as her teenage years loomed on the horizon, and her parents, wanting to coax her into it in the best way possible, suggested she get a job at a bookstore.
The bookstore was tiny, tucked away on the shores of a nearby lake, and catered mostly to tourists looking for summer beach reads, but our heroine loved it nonetheless. She learned how to open up shop, run a register, and create workshops for the kids who came in to amuse themselves on lazy summer afternoons. (One particularly memorable afternoon was spent teaching them how to draw Mushu from Mulan... which might tell you how long ago this was, if you're very clever and know how to use IMDB.) She discovered the joys of coffee, classic literature, and mystery novels, but more importantly ... she discovered the concept of book signings.
She was only able to work at one of them, but one was enough. The author, though no one she had previously heard of, was a mystery author, just like the books she was starting to love so much, and was willing to talk to her at length about her craft. Not only that, but she signed a book for her:
The advent of the internet (yes, this IS an old story, isn't it?) meant that she began to meet other people who wrote their stories in secret, same as she did, and one of them, a little older and a little braver, convinced her to share her own stories with the rest of the world. The wide anonymity of the internet made this all seem so much safer, and she began to gain a little following, which made her think that maybe her writing wasn't so terrible after all. College and the so-called "real world" took their turns at her confidence, but eventually, she began to share stories which were entirely her own, and discovered self-publishing, and all the freedom and challenges that came with it.
There's no neat dovetail to the end of her story - of course, she's sitting here typing it to you. ;) I will say that things have managed to come full circle: later this month, I will have my second-ever book signing at the store that started it all. I invite those of you who are able to come and join me ... it's not quite a Happily Ever After, but as far as I'm concerned, it's damn near close enough.
I hope you'll come back next week, when I'll drop some exciting stuff: the cover reveal for The Proper Bearing, and the party schedule for the month leading up to its release! Until then, I'll see you in the stacks...
The more independent authors I meet, the more I realize just how diverse yet wonderfully alike we all are. No matter what the genre, no matter what our involvement in social media, our politics, our personal lives ... we all have stories to tell which we are incredibly passionate about. When an author's passion combines with a long-simmering desire to share those stories, the results often touch the heart: and Timothy Savage's debut, Davey's Savior, is no exception.
The eponymous Davey is a four-year-old growing up in Avila Beach with his single father, Sketch: and from the first chapter, we know they have secrets they are keeping from the community. Sketch goes out of his way to keep a low profile: it becomes clear fast that no one in Avila actually knows his full name. Davey's curious and outgoing nature is a dangerous counterpoint to this secrecy, and secrets begin to come to light when a whale shark is found washed up on the beach.
The owner of the local coffee shop, Anthony, is convinced that a blemish on the carcass looks like the face of Christ, and manages to make a photo of it go viral, drawing more and more people to the town. Among the visitors are a trio of Mexican nuns on a pilgrimage and a marine biologist, each with their own problems and challenges to face. As Davey and Sketch's secrets come to light, every one of them comes together in a climax I did not expect.
The novel starts out at a slow burn: Savage makes it very plain that Sketch and Davey have things to hide... big, potentially dangerous things. Aside from the discovery of the whale shark, this is the major thrust of the first third of the book. I admit that at first, I was frustrated by how much The Secret was dangled in front of my face: how often Sketch would fret and worry and obscure, despite any further clues to what he was hiding. I was so preoccupied with this that I missed the artful, tiny clues peppered throughout the story which foretold the climactic moments of the book. In retrospect, then, my frustration was negated, and I feel like I owe Tim Savage an apology for judging him a little in "stringing me along". What he did with his story is masterful: not just in its obfuscation of the plot twist, but in completely leading this reader in one direction at first, and then turning my expectations upside down in terms of theme, as well.
There were a few rough patches: notably the text conversations of Kendra, the marine biologist, which were a little jarring next to the prose, and some of the build-up between the whale shark's arrival and the furthering of the plot. But for those willing to forgive the novel its flaws, it has a fine reward.
When Anthony first hatches his plan to draw in customers through the miracle of the whale shark, readers may assume - as I did - that the titular Savior was meant to be Jesus Christ, and that the novel was about to take a heavily religious turn. The trio of nuns reinforced this ... but each character's own personal challenges eventually make it clear that this is not a novel about the saving power of Christianity, but the role of any form of faith in life. By setting the reader up and then dropping his twists and turns, Tim Savage makes them think right along with the characters ... connecting them to the book even more deeply. The book I found so slow to start was impossible to put down by the time I reached its second half. Davey's Savior is the literary equivalent of a log flume ride: you drift along for most of it, but the climb and the plunge at the end are so satisfying that you'll end up wanting to go again.
You can get your own copy of Davey's Savior here on Amazon. Tim Savage can be found most often on Twitter, and occasionally at his blog, Extemporalia.
I hope you've enjoyed my two cents this week, and that you'll join me again next Wednesday for whatever the moment brings!
Until next time, I remain your hostess,
It's editing season for yours truly, and since I'm about to dust off The Proper Bearing after its hibernation for some fine-tuning, I thought it was a good time to talk editing. As I've said in previous posts, it is vital to edit before self-publishing, and not just with a peer. If your budget for editing is non-existent, you have to be even more critical of your writing ... but with time and practice, good self-editing can become second nature. Without further ado, here are some of the resources I've used in the past to build my own habits!
Starting with the basics, ReadWriteThink has a checklist that's meant for classroom use, but still has some great starting points. It's also printable for use in writers' groups, workshops, or NaNoWriMo Write-Ins!
Fiction University has two great pages: The Spit Shine, which is a great last run-through, and more importantly, Crossing Words Off Your List, which covers the author's most important self-editing tool. The "Bad Words" list, which goes by many names, always serves the same basic prinicple: to help remove words which are either unnecessary or overused. Every author has a handful which are unique to them, and sometimes they aren't even words. (Confession: In The Cards had a lot of unnecessary ellipses before the final edit.)
Though those words are a good first step, they aren't everything. Grammar Girl's Editing Checklist covers the bases on ... you guessed it, grammar! This one is laid out simply, and yet very comprehensive, which makes it a good one to print out and keep in your editing binder if you prefer to edit on paper (like yours truly).
WordStream's Self-Editing Checklist includes talking points on all of the above, with an extra dose of humor. I take their final point with a grain of salt, however: they stress paring down your sentences as much as possible. While I'm a fan of a tightly written sentence, I also believe that keeping some of the proverbial meat on the bone helps you define your writing voice. Your mileage may, as with most method advice, vary.
Finally, there is my own Rainbow Editing Method, which I use in conjunction with my personal Bad Words file. I developed it while I was working on From The Desk of Buster Heywood, and it's gone a long way toward helping me identify my own problem areas. You're welcome to use it, too! There's a wrap-up post with links to all the sections right here.
Now, I'm about to dive into my own manuscript, so I'll see you all next Wednesday! Should you be up to the same task, happy editing ... and I hope you all have a great week!
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,
Last week, I was looking through my Twitter feed, when the tagline for the latest entry on my colleague Colleen's blog, Writer On Wellness, made me slam the brakes on my scroll bar.
"The Devil On My Shoulder Says: Was Self-Publishing Worth It?"
My immediate reaction was almost visceral. I clicked through, expecting a long guest post extolling the virtues of traditional publishing: yet another diatribe on how those of us who self-publish are wasting their time and producing sub-par work, simply because we do not all have contracted agents, editors, or book deals. I have strong feelings on that sort of judgemental opinion, so I read the article, knowing I'd want to formulate my own response. The guest poster, fellow indie author Sara Secora, actually uttered that phrase while describing one of her darkest moments. Context made me breathe a sigh of relief: she wasn't putting down self-publishing, simply acknowledging its realities, and how they had caused her anxiety.
I immediately did two things: utter a silent apology to the universe for making dreadful assumptions, and message Colleen and Sara. I asked if they'd mind my writing my own blog on the subject, and they were gracious enough to agree. So, here I am, about to share my thoughts on being a self-published author, two books on.
The internet had a lot to say about self-publishing when I started my journey, but what I've found that I wish to share with you is a variation of a popular social media game: Two Lies and a Truth.
Lie #1: You Have To Do Things That Cost Money To Get Noticed. Editors! Cover designers! Primo webspace! ADVERTISING! SO MUCH ADVERTISING! *buzzer noise* Nope. In my opinion, word of mouth and proper networking can get you just as far, if not farther in some respects. Get to know your fellow indie authors. Facebook author groups and other groups (Google+, Goodreads, independent websites) have been hit or miss, with me ... everyone has certain types of social media which "work" better for them than others. Mine have become Twitter and Instagram, inarguably. Connect with people, and they'll want to share what you have even more. (Yes, I'm going to refer you to Amanda Palmer's Art of Asking again. Unashamedly.)
Lie #2: Traditionally Published Stuff Is Better Than Yours, Always
Bullshit. Maybe that's just my ego talking, or maybe it's the fact that almost half the books I read in 2016 were by indie authors. Two of them held court at the top of the list with Stephen King's "Doctor Sleep" and Iain Reid's "I'm Thinking of Ending Things" ... L.M. Bryski's "Book of Birds" and Jette Harris' "Salvage", both of which I've reviewed in older blogs. Indie authors are just as good as any other authors. They just choose to do things their way. (Also, um, I've read indie authors who wrote circles around trad-pub stuff. Looking at you, A.B. Funkhauser.)
Truth: You Gotta Do A LOTTA WORK. And this isn't limited to cover art and editing and fancy formatting. You're your own marketer. Your own accountant. Your books don't get sold unless you make people want to buy them. I'm still on very wobbly training wheels when it comes to marketing - I'll be the first to admit it - and I'm looking for ways to extend my knowledge and make this work a little better for me in 2017.
So, if you don't have to lay out the bucks if you do the legwork, and your stuff is as good as anyone else's, if you work at it like any other craft... IS it worth it to self-publish?
My ultimate answer is this: it depends entirely on how you define wealth. Like Sara Secora, my stories are my passion. If I had gone the route of traditional publishing, I would have felt as though I were a donkey endlessly chasing a carrot on a string... plodding along, submitting letter after letter until they stopped coming back with some variation on the word "no" in them. There's never any telling how long that could take, and I have too much to say, too many things to spin into words, to wait. I publish my novels for their own sake. I hold them out into the ever-growing sea of works to readers, like a vendor selling papers on a busy city corner, and if even one person picks them up and says "Hey, this made my day a little better", I'm over the moon.
Yes. It's worth it. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got a devil to flick off my shoulder with extreme prejudice, and a fourth novel to start.
Until next week, I remain your hostess,
This has to do with my writing. I promise.
I first heard of Amanda Palmer back in 2003, via word-of-mouth on DeviantArt, where I was posting some of my earliest Aviario portraits and some pretty ridiculous fanart (it's mostly just the portraits, now). One of the artists I followed was a fan, and would blog about her far-between experiences at the Dresden Dolls' live shows. I hadn't heard the music yet, but said artist was absolutely blown away by how personable the two folks in the band were, and I thought: "They actually got to hang with the band? They must've really been something." (As it turns out, the band hung with everyone, because they're just that connected to their fans. Which is amazing.)
Fast-forward to when a dear friend, Damien, gave me a mix CD for my birthday, because we are soul sisters when it comes to that sort of thing (she was also one of the inspirations behind Crowley, and if you're reading this, Damien, I love you dearly). On it was a song called "Half Jack" by - oh hey, those Dresden Dolls again. It started out quiet and sinister and sad and turned into this absolute cacophony of anger and pain and desperation, and I thought I'd never heard human emotion turned into song so well in my life. I had to find more. So I went to their website, and magically, they offered some of their stuff for free, because they believed in that sort of thing. I devoured it all, and fell in love with the lead singer, pianist, and lyricist, as much as you can fall in love in that idealistic sort of way. (Well, maybe not quite as much as I'd fallen in love with Danny Elfman, but she's a close second. If she ever reads this, I hope she knows that's pretty damn high praise in my book.)
Amanda's music is not for everyone. And she is one hundred percent okay with this. She creates what she wants to create, she is equally tender and vicious, and that really touches me: the thought that someone can both be empathetic and angry as hell, honest and raw and sweet. She makes music for people with artistic souls: she gets what it means to be creative, how it feels.
She also broke away from her major label after it treated her like crap, and is now supported almost entirely by her fans. When the story of this got out, she did a little thing called a TED Talk, and titled it "The Art of Asking". You can watch it here. I highly recommend that you do. It only takes twelve minutes out of your day, and it will change how you think about busking, art, artists, giving, and human connection. I'd already had some of the ideas she set forth in this talk, but hearing them validated by an artist I admired so much set off something inside me. It lit a candle. And now I feel like a lantern. I have light worth reading by.
The point is, long story short (too late?), that I know that my writing and my art have worth, far beyond the $16 or $3.99 per book. That worth is the look on people's faces when they say "You wrote a book? Wow!", the handwritten note from my neighbor which says "You are amazing Angela! Thanks for sharing", and most importantly, the young people who have approached me, online and at signings, to say that it is their absolute dream to write, and ask how to do what I have done. My writing has the greatest worth of all, because it is my calling. It is what I was meant to do: not sit in front of a desk quality-checking data and writing procedures.
I want to be able to spend my entire life doing this, as much as I can. I want to give you places to escape to, characters to befriend, stories that resonate. And I'm realizing that I cannot do that in a larger capacity without your help.
There is a site called Patreon, which mimics the old Renaissance concept of creators having patrons who help support them while they create. I have an account there, now: and if you become one of my patrons by pledging a monthly amount toward my work, you will receive lovely things - even if you can only spare a dollar a month. A dollar a month pays half of my domain fees. Five dollars a month buys three copies of my book to bring to signings. It adds up, far more than the $8 I receive for a paperback book... and by helping me create, you receive so much more. Less stress over money for me means better content for you, in addition to my undying gratitude.
The best thing about all of this? If you and I spread the word, and enough people are kind enough to help me, I won't have to sit in front of a desk, quality-checking data and writing procedures. Instead, I can sit in front of a desk writing beautiful, terrible, real-as-life things and sharing them with all of you. I can spend more time connecting with all of you, hearing what you love, what you want to see, telling you how much I appreciate you ... getting to know you.
Art has always had the deepest purpose of bringing people together, of telling them something about each other and about the world... of bringing solace and joy in times when it is needed. I think we're going to need an awful lot of that in the years to come, and I can think of no better thing to support than the nurturing of the human soul. I've pledged what I can to Amanda, and when a friend begins his own Patreon next year, I'll be pledging to him, too, and as many others as I can.
If you've been moved by what I've written, I ask you as humbly as I can: please come and be my patron and my friend. We can do great things together.
Until next time, I remain your hostess,
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