The Indie-Trad Argument, From My Perspective, or Yes, I’m Self-Publishing

cadence coverThe cover for my new book.

If you want to be thoroughly entertained and crave a shower of fireworks on the Internet, one might be better served to stay away from the political realm and follow authors and agents embroiled in the brouhaha over self vs. traditional publishing (or as Barry Eisler would say, as he did during the 2014 San Francisco Writers Conference, the indies vs. legacy options). It’s a virtual shit show of information and misinformation, competing opinions, mud slinging, happy and less-than-happy endings, spreadsheets produced with dreamy algorithms, and nightmarish anecdotes. Both factions are passionate. Both have valid points. Both are loud and proud.

Beats TV. With. A. Stick. Yes, even House of Cards.

Even with the path fraught with pitfalls of evil operators (including some small presses) who want to drain the unsuspecting writer of every dime they can scrape together, indie publishing is an option that the modern writer can’t take off the table.  “Eyes wide open,” I always say. It is why I have decided to self-publish my next book, Finding Cadence.

It’s not just the successfully indie-published authors like Eisler and Konrath or the Create Spaces and Author Houses who think this way. I’ve spoken to plenty of literary agents, some of whom encourage self-publishing, for various reasons.

My PRO reasons are many, including this brief Cliff Notes version:

1. I have a story to tell. In recent days, I’ve picked the brain of many an artist, including visual artists and musicians. My informal poll shows most artists want their work OUT THERE. Sure, they want gallery time and recording contracts, but reaching that level does not confirm (in their minds anyway) the fact that they are artists. Example: If you create a painting and it sits in your closet, or if you write a song and you never play it in public, is it art? Probably. But art is meant to be enjoyed. If it’s not being enjoyed by a wider public, is it worth the effort?

2. I have limited time with which to get my story out. I’ve read some very depressing stories of late of writers working for twenty years or more before they received a traditional book deal. Twenty years? In twenty years, I’ll be dead, no probablies about it. I’d just as soon begin the next WIP and worry about my next story than to spend that time wishing and hoping and praying for lightning to strike me.

3. The technology is there, why not use it? Back in the day, hell, only ten years ago, e-pubbing and self-publishing books weren’t even options, or they were limited in scope. Aspiring authors had to send out queries, and wait, and wait. And go to church and make offerings to the literary gods. It’s different now. Most people (even dinosaurs like me) are Internet savvy, and if they’re not, there are other people in the world who are. Even after paying for help, in the form of editing services, book cover design, and file conversions, you realize it’s not going to drain the bank.

4. The process is quick. Instead of taking two years from agent deal to finished product on the bookshelves, the indie author can complete the job in two months.

The CONS? There are a few:

1. The stigma of “vanity.” Yes, we’ve all heard the term. Self-publishing equals “vanity” publishing. Vanity publishing calls to mind anyone with a pen (or word processing program) who hastily writes a book and puts it out there for the world to see. Vanity publishing was often full of grammatical errors and/or sported horrific covers. However, the new breed of indie author is different. They’re excellent writers with great stories, and they realize that the finished product reflects on them and the sales of now and future work.

2. It’s nice to have an agent on your side. Yes, having an agent working for you is great validation, and I hope to be on the agented bus soon. Scoring a literary agent is just the first step; next comes selling to a major house. And even though you might have landed an agent, that doesn’t leave you, the writer, to sip scotch while you’re pounding out the next novel. You’re expected to market your work as well. (And remember, days of BIG advances are long gone.)

3. The expenditures of time and money, or “you should get paid for your work, not the other way around.” Yes, it costs a little to self publish. Yes, you’ll be pulling the hair out of your head trying to imagine marketing ploys that won’t leave you looking like a common shill. Yes, writing checks or begging people to buy your book is less than pleasant. I know agented authors who sell 100 books and think this is a good thing. (Yes, it is.) They don’t make enough from writing to quit their day jobs.

4. If you self-publish, you’re just adding your drop to an ocean filled with books, and no one will see your work. Yes, and if you don’t self-publish, no one will have a chance to see your work, EVER. (BTW, the traditionally published authors suffer that same predicament now, competing with a tsunami of books, some of which are interesting and just as entertaining as those traditionally published.)

This is my take: I’ve been writing online for nearly ten years. I’ve gotten paid for some of it, and I’ve not been paid for the rest. If you look at PRO reason #1 above, you’ll see that I’m not writing because I’m thinking I’ll make a windfall from my words. I write because it’s my art of choice.

Does this mean I’m going to stay an indie publisher?

Hell, the no! I’m going to always write, and I’m still going to query what I’ve finished writing. In fact, my dream agent would be Donald Maass and my dream publishing house would be Simon and Schuster. In the meantime, I’ll choose a parallel path and keep to my goal. As long as there are viable options, I might as well explore all of them.

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There’s a Reason I’ve Been Mostly Quiet…

It has to do with the fact that I’ve been busy getting my novel ready for release.

Can we say “YAY” or SQUEE? Or sympathize and pray for my soul? 🙂

Yes, I’ve decided to publish FINDING CADENCE myself and I’ll go into the reasons why in a later post (I keep saying I’m going to do that, but my notes keep getting larger and larger and I might have to chop my one post into three more manageable ones), but today I will tell you a little about my book by using the world-famous Chuck Wendig’s Ten Questions About [Fill in the Title]. I hope he won’t be mad that I lifted his device from his web site, but I figure if an author can’t answer the ten questions, he/she should probably find another line of work.

So without further ado, I’ll get on it.

1. Tell us about yourself; who are you?

Wife, mother, business owner. I MAKE time to write. I began writing as soon as my mother put a pencil in my hand. (Cliche, I know. She regretted it, especially after I was expelled from Catholic school for…writing.) I enjoyed some local success in high school, some journalistic endeavors in college, 100 pages of a first novel (still in my basement – somewhere).  Then came life and I figured eating and putting a roof over my head was more important than art. Marriage, babies, when the babies went to college, I started writing again. It’s a full circle.

2. Give the 140 character pitch.

Recent widow learns ugly truths about her husband, her best friend and herself. She overcomes financial and personal hurdles to find peace.

3. Where does the story come from?

While obviously the story is fiction, you may pull threads of it from my life. I drew much on what has happened to me, my time in Michigan, Colorado, and my love for San Francisco. How music has played an important role in my life. There are parallels with the son in the story and my own son, both classically trained pianists, both attended the San Francisco Conservatory, both with a soft spot for Rachmaninoff. The list goes on and on, but remember…this is fiction.

4. How is this a story only you could have written?

See #3. Plus I’ve felt that ultimate betrayal in the way Cadie experiences it – enough of a blow where it leaves you incapable of functioning. I wanted to get that across, as well as the healing.

5. What was the hardest thing about writing FINDING CADENCE?

There were many. The first one, getting to “The End.” It took two years. After that, cutting and editing. My first draft was 175K words. It took some convincing for me to see I didn’t need all the words. After that, editing became a matter of tightening.

6. What did you learn by writing this book?

Everything! This was my first completed novel and I made all the rookie mistakes you can think of. I took classes, I bought reference books. Somehow I turned a mindless stream of consciousness blob into a story with an arc, a reveal, and everything!

7. What do you love most about this book?

It’s cohesive and makes sense. It’s a book about adversity and hope. I love how it’s finished (finally!) and I can move on to other projects.

8. What don’t you like about it?

Dare I say it? I don’t know if it’s “literary” enough. I know it shouldn’t matter, I should write my best story and let it go. I went for literary with this one, and don’t know if I succeeded.

9. A favorite paragraph from the story (the fourth paragraph):

Carter, consistently late, would be later still because of the storm. A fine pinot, first a glass, then more, kept me company. Hours of waiting on my husband turned my annoyance to vexation. Outside, my wind chime collection banged hard against the garage wall, the once soothing tinkles replaced with dissonant clatter. I remember thinking, if Jackson were here he could name the pitches of each steel and copper rod, contralto A flats clanging against high C sharps. Behind the discordant score, the wind’s relentless, anguished caterwaul vying for attention.

10. What’s next for you as a storyteller?

I have two completed manuscripts to edit and query. One is Virtually Yours Forever, the sequel to my first novel, and a YA tentatively titled Acorns and Oaks. There are other 100 page starters that beg to be completed too. I’ll be busy, no doubt.

Querying…Again

OK, so I’ve been over this manuscript, what? A million times? Rough draft, second rough draft, third rough draft, final draft, three edits with MR ED, after which, a year of self-imposed edits, one edit with a completely different, third party editor, several contests, a half dozen SmartEdits, another edit this month, and finally a proofread or two. I even thought of a scene that I’d forgotten to put in, and have bookmarked a scene to take out in case I can’t get permission to quote two lines of lyric. This baby about as tight as it’s going to get.

And so today, with tentative fingers, I decided to open my query (newly polished from a LitReactor query class I took in December). I spiffed it up, and then opened QueryTracker and scanned down my list of agents (since it’s January, thankfully many have opened to queries again), studied their web sites, including the types of clients they represent and the titles of books they’ve helped get published, and, OH MY GOD, I clicked SEND on three of them.

“No big deal,” you say.

Are you shitting me? I started hyperventilating after the first one.

Especially when I saw my email after I sent the first one. Why is it my formatting is so wonky? Many agents want the first few chapters imbedded into the email. Once I copy and paste, the formatting goes right to hell and stays there. I’m not a newbie, I know how to format a manuscript now. I’m doing it the right way. And this story is so straightforward; there are no text messages and very few email, only some italics, so it’s not like I’m trying to perform literary gymnastics.

It’s not just the query letter, or my email server problems. I’m well acquainted with my story, and it think it’s a good  great one. I’m well-versed in penning business letters, I do that every day. I’ve married the pitch to my business style in a beautiful ceremony that’s not too staid and not too sappy.

That part doesn’t bother me. My (now) angst is the result of moving on to the next step. This story is finished, complete, as good as it’s going to get. Now I leave the artist phase and enter the hopeful-for-an-agent phase, to be continued on to the product-selling phase.

I queried three agents today.

*deep breath*

I’ve done it before, and it’s not any easier now than it was then. It’s like getting on a roller coaster and realizing your seat belt isn’t secure. WHEE! and oh, shit.

This part of the process takes time, and you can’t take it too seriously, or you’ll lose your mind. I have a plan, though. I’ll distract myself by working on the next edit. It’s been nagging at me for a long time.

And maybe I’ll query someone else tomorrow.

And Now For the (Semi) Good News…

As you know, I’m lucky enough to have a permanent editor, i.e. my Editor for Life. He’s a nice guy, is personable, does good work. Seems to even care about me. 🙂 I also take online classes (currently taking a LitReactor query class), and have many eyes both professional and not reading my manuscripts.

I’ve taken Finding Cadence down a very long journey, from conception on a windswept beach in San Francisco, to bits of prose jotted on napkins, slips of paper, and backs of deposit slips, to a bloated manuscript (170K words) clogging my hard drive, to a complete re-write, to major editing (over and over and over…and over), to the lean and mean 120K words it is today. I’ve sliced and diced and eliminated adverbs and adjectives and junk and chaos, reworded my cliches, showed more and told less. I’ve entered it into contests (positively received). I’ve toiled over this novel for SIX YEARS. (I know, that’s forever.) The last ten months of my writing life have been dedicated specifically to this story.

After this last edit – completed December 3 – I sent the manuscript over to my alternate set of eyes. When I called her Thursday for her opinion, she intoned the words I never thought I’d hear; “I can’t tell you another thing to do. This book is ready.”

It’s ready?

As in, I have nothing else (except proofreading for typos, and the dreaded query) to do?

Whoa…

To hear news such as this is a double-edged sword. You’re giddy, because finally there is validation from a professional that your life’s work (and believe me, it’s my life and it’s been a labor) is complete. You can finally move on to another project, another edit. You reach for the champagne (which you’ve kept in constant state of chill just for this occasion) and vow to down the entire bottle. You want to tweet it from the rafters (or wherever tweeters tweet), and yell it until your throat is sore.

On the other hand, a certain sadness falls, fast like a winter dusk. Your baby has grown up, sprouted wings, taken off without so much as a backward glance. You won’t have to spend three or four hours at a time studying your characters, layering into the story psychic suffering and the resultant scar tissue, smiling at their triumphs and crying at their heartbreak. Your characters are your family, your friends, and to finally (and literally) close the chapter isn’t easy.

It’s a somber goodbye, but it’s also a new beginning. Writing a book, like any art, isn’t just the idea hatched in the artist’s head. It’s also technique and time, and later, marketing.

Now I must gather the strength and courage to start the query process, and hope (and pray) some agent somewhere will feel the same as I (and my alternate set of eyes) do.

Fear not, I’m not out of ideas. You (and I) might see these same characters again, someday, in a new situation.

That’s the beauty of storytelling.

NaNoWriMo 2013: I Failed, But I Prioritized

I wish I could say I completed the 2013 NaNoWriMo with 50,000 words written easily and under my belt, but it was not to be…

*sigh*

Oh, I had good intentions. I started out with a bang. I knew the story I wanted to tell. I racked up a worthy word count within the first week – even exceeding the minimum daily count. But something else happened.

One, I really wanted to finish my edit of Finding Cadence. NO, I REALLY WANTED TO FINISH IT, ASAP. This is a story that must come out, somehow. I’m not getting any younger, and this novel has languished in various stages of disrepair since 2007.

After you’ve stripped and layered a manuscript for nine months (funny, that gestational metaphor), after you’ve taken classes specifically for this MS, after you’ve deleted and inserted, sweated, re-inserted what you deleted two weeks before, ran the thing through SmartEdit a couple of times, and let two editors and a couple of BETA readers have a go, there was only one thing in my sights: Finishing this sucker.

This is where I tell you that 2013 NaNo was a bust. Yes, I’m an abject failure this year. I had to suspend my new story – which is going to be great by the way, once I get going again – to polish my old (very old) story.

I had to make a gut-wrenching decision, one that didn’t come easily. I decided to prioritize.

I fretted over it for days. I like to write while the fire is hot, because there is nothing more motivating than passion. I had a burning desire to begin the new story, but I had a bigger urge to finish the old. That’s because by hook or crook, if I have to crawl over shards of broken glass, I’m going to get this story out of the edit stage of its life and into the final production stage of its life.

This is a huge move for me. After years of cobbling together a writing schedule, I realized I can’t flit from one work in progress to another. Maybe other writers can do it, but I can’t. My novels are so different from each other, i.e. they don’t fit into a single genre, that I have to concentrate on one at a time. It’s too hard to get into the serious-literary-thoughtful voice after you’ve been playing in the sassy-fun-romantic voice.

So I spent the last three weeks of November working on Cadence, jiggering the developments, the ending, the arc. I took that baby apart and put it together. I somehow eliminated 6K words. (I might have to add a few somewhere, but I’m not so concerned about it; I think this incarnation is as tight as it can be.) Then I shipped it off for more eyes to view.

I’m going to take a couple of days off, just vegging and clearing my head, before I start working on another first draft in sore need of editing. And when I have the time, I’ll add to the new story, but my main priority is to get what I’ve already finished (two manuscripts!) whipped into shape before I finish NaNo 2013.

Sometimes you have to prioritize. It hurts. But sometimes you must. Believe me. A finished result will lessen the hurt.

Fluff and Stuff – Getting The Junk Out of the Trunk

The road to hell is paved with adverbs. ~Stephen King

Truer, writerly words have never been written. When editing, the rule of thumb is to eliminate any word that ends in the dreaded “-ly.”

I’ve been editing my completed novels (one for YEARS), and while the first pass-through with the red pen might include a perfunctory Microsoft Word Find and Replace of adverbs (and adjectives, the adverbs’ junky step-sibs), there are several other writing no-nos a serious writer might miss. (Easy to do in a shit-storm of fancy descriptors, believe me.)

However, Word’s Find and Replace is rudimentary. I also use Smart Edit, which takes your entire manuscripts and evaluates it for language redundancies. The first time I ran my words through, I realized (with dismay) that, yes, I really DO write like I speak. I cringed as I went through the work to tighten up my sloppy sentences. Some of my mistakes didn’t occur once, twice or three times, but HUNDREDS of times.

It’s nearly impossible to write 100K words and not use the same word or phrase a number of times, especially in dialogue. The reader learns about your characters through their speech. Still, nothing in the written word irritates me more than hum-drum prose, I didn’t want to sound boring. (My first incarnation of Cadence included several thousand uses of “family.” Oy. And OUCH.) With much thought, I kept most of my re-usable words down to 50 or less throughout the entire manuscript.

After you edit out the adverbs and adjectives, then the writer must take a look at the verbs. Passive verbs, a no-no-no. Finding Cadence was once full of passive verbs, perhaps because when I first started writing, Cadence was a passive woman, and I was a passive writer. While toughening her up, I became the warrior writer. All it took was to take the “was” out. “I was looking” turned into “I looked.” (This is a gross simplification, of course.) It’s so brainlessly easy, I don’t know why I didn’t see it before.

And of course, there are the weak, junky verbs: brought, came, enter, gave, held, go, turn, look, stare, watch, struck, ran, move, climb, remove, put, stand, saw. Weak verbs are precisely the reason why I reach for the Thesaurus.

Recently, I’ve taken to tightening up even more. I call this method of editing getting out the fluff and stuff. For one thing, I noticed that I use “something” and “everything” way too much, even in dialogue. I evaluated my usage: Perhaps the speaker knows what the “something” or “everything” is, but does the reader? Is it implied in a previous passage? If that’s the case, you don’t need it. If it’s not implied, it’s necessary to spell it out. Yes, I know what I’m seeing in my head, but the reader may not see it with the words I choose.

You’ll want to delete overused phrases – “at the end of the day” or “through the years” etc. and the purple-y, clumsy prose.

Editing out the fluff and stuff isn’t easy. It may be a harder edit to accomplish. You’ve been looking at your words for months (or in my case, YEARS). You’re invested in your character, you think about the time you’ve spent, the blood, sweat and tears and labor pains. It’s a lot to push that all aside and do the right thing. (And if you’re like me, you’re a horrible proofreader anyway.) What I’ve found is that my paragraphs are lean and mean, and I’ve managed to pare down my word count. (Yes, I’m paring DOWN. I have too many words!)

My advice is to take the plunge. It may take a lot to trim and tone, but in the end, it might be the best exercise your manuscript will ever get.

 

An Omen: When Your Dog Soils Your Query

It’s a beautiful Sunday in the neighborhood, and while the sun shines and the temperatures are mild, I figured I would get up early and finish weeding and planting my vegetable garden. I made significant progress yesterday and want to finish NOW, so I can enjoy the fruits of my labor.

Gardening used to be a lot easier when I was young(er). I bounced out of bed today with an aching shoulder and a bum knee. Still, I’m on a mission – to eradicate weeds and plant more tomatoes. (Sorry. It’s my Army brat upbringing. Plus, you can never have too many tomatoes!)

On my way to locating my tennis shoes, which were next to my laptop and a six inch pile of printed manuscripts waiting for me to edit, I noticed that my dog had a gastronomical accident. On two pieces of paper that had escaped the tower of editing. Those two pieces of paper happened to be my query. On the query I sent to and received back and edit from a Big Name Agent as part of the Writers Digest class I took on querying back a couple of months ago.

Nothing says “YOU SUCK” better than runny diarrhea on my corrected query.

This, my writing friends, is an omen. First of all, I should have never left my query on the floor. Secondly, I should have spiffed it up and produced a better query from Helpful Agent’s notes a long time ago. Thirdly, I should really impress upon my husband that feeding the dog steak bones and whipped cream is not good for a Boston terrier.

Of course this disaster could be a more serious omen. Like God telling me I should ditch that particular manuscript (FINDING CADENCE) and perhaps channel my time more wisely into something that has more than a snowball’s chance in hell of making it past an agent’s assistant. Or maybe that I should give up writing altogether.

Yeah. Giving up. That would be the easy way out.

After I finish my urban farming, I’m going to work on my edits, dammit. And I’m going to make serious headway.

Because somewhere in my email, I have a copy of that edit from Helpful Agent.

Take that, Powers That Be. Your nasty little omen is powerless against this writer.