You’re a what?

A self-published author.  Hold on and hear me out.

Not too long ago, what I do was called vanity publishing (insert sneer).  The meaning of the expression was pretty clear.  It was for authors who couldn’t get a publisher but were vain enough to think they were great writers and that the traditional houses didn’t know what they were missing.  You paid for x number of books and had to sell them yourself.  It was a practice that was ridiculed and looked down upon by “real” writers and publishers.  I recall comments in Writer’s Digest back in the eighties warning against vanity publishing.

I imagine the lack of marketing left many cartons of unsold books in attics, basements, and garages the world over.

Times and technology have changed, but attitudes remain pretty hind bound.  We are still considered by many to be nothing more than wannabes.

Like I care.

A group of us dirty wannabes had a discussion at the Grey Wolfe Scriptorium (Clawson, Michigan) last week about these attitudes.  For newcomers, the Grey Wolfe Scriptorium is a bookstore/publisher here in southeast Michigan.  In addition to used books, they feature and support local self-published Michigan authors.  Walk in the front door and our books are the first ones you’ll see.  They carry some 250+ titles, including mine.  The Scriptorium has become my new favorite place.  They offer seminars, host book signings, link writers with illustrators, and are just all around passionate about local writers.  Led by the fearless and intrepid Diana, there’s nothing they won’t do to help an author succeed, including opening up space in the store for us to just sit down and work on our manuscripts.  You can even bring your dog.

Recently, a man entered the bookstore and inquired about the focus on local/self-published authors.  He felt if we were any good, we’d be published by one of the big publishing houses.  He was getting pretty loud about it and as the store was filled with kids attending a book launch for a local author, he was invited to shop elsewhere.

One of our “Idea Lab” members wondered if our critic expected every NFL player to have won the Super Bowl.

He makes a valid point.

Writing seems to be the only art form in which you aren’t considered a legitimate artist unless you have a contract with some faceless entity.

Remember that musician playing the local club last week?  Did they have a contract with a record label?  How many Grammys have they won?  Did you ask for these credentials or just sit and enjoy the music?  Would you have walked out of the venue if these credentials weren’t produced?

Or how about the local art fairs you enjoy every summer?  Did those artists have showings at the Guggenheim?  Do their paintings and sculptures sit in the homes of prominent people?  Did you turn up your nose and walk away when you found out they had no wealthy patrons?

If you can enjoy the work of artists in other fields without asking who “allows” them to create and sell their art, why don’t you give writers the same courtesy?

Granted, there are bad writers out there.  There are also bad singers, songwriters, painters, and sculptors.  Sour apples, I grant you, but none of that would stop you from listening to or purchasing what better artists offer.  Nor would you malign all artists as wannabes who can’t make it, simply because they work out of their garage and personally hawk their wares to the public.

In fact, we even have a name for these unknowns.  We don’t call them wannabes or losers.  We call them local artists and they are given at least a modicum of respect.

Writing is an art form, no less so than painting or playing music.  It’s difficult; and maybe bad writing is glaringly obvious in the sense that we expect stories to be told in a certain way, following certain rules, while the appreciation of other art forms is more subjective.  I get that.  But how will you know unless you give us a chance?

I made the decision a few years ago to stop banging on doors that were never likely to open to an unknown.  I realized that I could spend the rest of my life trying to get some faceless (and sometimes soulless) publisher to consider my work, reaching zero readers in the process, or I could take that leap into self-publishing and sell a few books.

I haven’t sold many yet, but I’ve sold a lot more than those writers who are still waiting for the publishing gods to cast them a crumb.

Your stories are your art.  Do your best and put them out there.  You don’t need permission.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Book Signing Event!

The Grey Wolfe Scriptorium in Clawson, Michigan.  Bring the kids!

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It Had to Happen Sooner or Later

I finally broke down and bought a laptop.  Years of working as a transcriptionist has damaged my hands, making my usual writing in longhand slow and uncomfortable; and trying to write in the same space I use for the day job was getting me down.

I know, it’s an extravagant thing to buy when I have a perfectly good desktop in the house, but I’m in a screw-it-I-work-my-ass-off-and-deserve-a-break kind of mood.

I’m not one to plot or brainstorm on the computer.  I still like to sit with a pen and paper on the front porch and scribble down notes about characters and plots.  I use the computer once I’ve roughed out the story and want to give it some shape.  Yesterday, new laptop charged and ready to go, I sat on the couch and typed the opening scenes of the sequel to Winthrop Risk, Detective–The Mystery of the Missing Hamster, with a DVD of Salem’s Lot (the David Soul version) playing in the background.  It was glorious.  By saving the draft to One Cloud, I’m able to easily access it from the desktop when I want to print it out for revisions.

I bought a nifty backpack to carry the laptop in, with plenty of space for my notepad and the reference material I need.  My own portable office.  I suddenly feel wonderfully free.

Now to find a suitable coffee shop to haunt.

 

When It’s Been Too Long

I haven’t done a great deal of writing over the past year.  I’ve worked a lot of hours at the hated day job, just trying to keep the roof over our heads.  I’ve battled some health issues and I’ve been neck-deep in ongoing family crises.

I’m tired.

Now that my husband is back to work after a very long layoff, I’m hoping to get my Sunday writing schedule back on track.  I have the bare bones of the next installment of Winthrop Risk, Detective, but I haven’t figured out the opening line.  Once I get that down, the actual writing of the story will be easier.  I’ve written some of Winthrop’s snappy dialogue and I know what his new case involves.  I have three solid suspects and have worked in a bit of a surprise about the identity of one of them.  My Winthrop character will be more “fleshed out” in this installment.  He’s turning into quite the guy.

I’m excited about it.  I’m also paralyzed.  How is that possible?

I think my enthusiasm for the characters and the story have set my own expectations far too high.  In short, I’m afraid of screwing it up.

Of all the forms of writer’s block, this is the one I dread the most.  If I don’t have a story idea, I know how to trick my brain into coming up with one.  It usually involves doing anything BUT trying to write.  I observe the world without trying to figure it out.  Look and listen without comment.  Jot down interesting names or phrases that I hear or that just pop into my head.  I use the same technique when I don’t know where the plot should go.  No big deal.

Someone once said (Anne Lamott?) that Fear was an especially vicious monster that smiles and wears lace gloves and says things like, “I just don’t want you to look foolish, dear.”

It will do no good to tell her she’s not invited.  Fear is also a narcissistic bitch if ever there was one.  She’ll show up, convinced of her own importance; but today I’ll resist the impulse to let her take a seat.

Today, I’ll gently court the Muse.  I’ll invite her over for a long-overdue visit.  We’ll sit on the porch and read a little bit.  We’ll read about writers and writing.  Then we’ll go over the story notes and I’ll tell her, “See, this isn’t bad.  We have something here.”  If she agrees, she’ll whisper that opening line and the floodgates will open.

I’ll make some tea.  She likes that.

 

A New Venture with a Grey Wolfe

When I wrote Winthrop Risk, Detective, it wasn’t meant to be a picture book.  It’s what I call a transitional book.

Let me explain.

When my younger son was a child, he struggled to read because of his dyslexia.  He loved stories but just couldn’t read them by himself.  After much time and struggle (thank you, Hooked on Phonics!), he began to get the hang of it.  Still, moving him from picture books to chapter books was proving to be impossible.  I managed to find a couple of books that had short, easy chapters and only a few pencil illustrations.  Each chapter he read on his own gave him the confidence to try another one.  Eventually, he was able to move on to full-length books.  At 27, he still struggles with words; but he loves to read and has even started to write a book of his own.  Helping children like him gently transition from picture books to chapter books was what I had in mind when I wrote Winthrop Risk, Detective.

I believe kids who have reading problems (especially boys) lose their interest in stories because they can’t make the move from books where the pictures tell the story to chapter books where there are only words to tell the story.  I wanted to write a few books that would serve as a transition between those two worlds.  Sadly, my attempts at illustration have been, well, unfortunate; and hiring an artist was financially out of the question.  I forged ahead and self-published the book as a simple 32-page, 4-chapter book.

The result was a book with a good story but an amateurish appearance.  I’ve sold about a half-dozen copies on Amazon and Kindle.

A couple of weeks ago, I came upon a TV interview with a local author and he mentioned a place called the Grey Wolfe Scriptorium (http://www.GreyWolfePublishing.com).  It’s an indie bookstore and publisher housed in a strip mall not too far from here.  They emphasize local Michigan authors in their store, offer publishing advice and services (including providing illustrators who work at an affordable price), and host a variety of writing events.  I contacted them and they graciously accepted a few copies of my book for their local authors’ section.

Sometime this summer, they’ll arrange for me to do a reading in the store.  They’ll also spotlight the book on their Facebook page.  I’ve been invited to sit in on their monthly meetings of authors, illustrators, and others in the book industry to swap ideas and get advice.  They’re also going to help me set up a website.  They love books and they respect the people who create them.  Amazon is simply too monolithic an entity for all that.  In fact, from what I hear, not even big traditional publishers put that kind of effort into their authors.

I don’t regret making the move to self-publish on Amazon.  If I didn’t have the book out there, I wouldn’t have something to put on the shelf at the Grey Wolfe Scriptorium.  I know other indie authors are doing well with Amazon, but it just doesn’t seem to be working for me the way I have it set up.  I’ll take the lion’s share of the blame for that; but let’s face it, Amazon simply prints on demand whatever people write, and a lot of that is garbage.  They profit when a book sells, regardless of its quality, so it makes no business sense for them to put any effort into promotion.  You have to pay to promote your book with them in the hope it will be noticed among the thousands of other titles Amazon carries.  More money for them.  It’s basic capitalism–they provide a service and we pay for that service.  Nobody holds a gun to our head.  We agree to the terms, but the odds definitely favor the house.

My plan, if the folks at Grey Wolfe agree, is to eventually pull my book from Amazon, have an illustrator do some simple drawings for each chapter, and republish the book through their indie publishing group, Write Duck Press.  The Winthrop Risk sequels I’m planning would go there, as well.  Eventually, I’ll save up enough money to pay an illustrator so I can start publishing the picture book manuscripts I’ve been sitting on.  And I’ll have the backup of experienced people who actually care whether or not my stories are purchased and read.

I wish I had known about Grey Wolfe Publishing/Write Duck Press/The Grey Wolfe Scriptorium a couple of years ago.  If you live in Michigan, check out their store in Clawson, Michigan.  They carry more than 100 titles by local authors.  Buy a book!  Wherever you live, look for an indie bookstore in your area.  They may have services available to you as an author that you’ll never get from the big boys in the publishing world.

Publishing doesn’t have to be the demoralizing experience it has become for so many writers.  There are still people out there who appreciate and respect the storytellers in the world.  Let the big publishing houses continue to crank out formulaic, trendy, market-driven, plotless titles featuring TV cartoon characters.  Thank goodness, today’s writers have other options.

Thank you, Grey Wolfe Scriptorium!

 

Bezos’ book graveyard

Author Jack Eason’s thoughts on publishing with Amazon. A must read.

Have We Had Help?

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Ever wondered how to remove a book from the reading public’s gaze? Simple. Publish it exclusively on Amazon!

The company’s CEO Jeff Bezos only cares about profit. When he realised he was losing money by paying royalties to each and every author who make their book available only through his company, he put a stop to the time-honoured practice.

From the readers point of view Amazon’s all you can read for X dollars/pounds per month makes sense. The problem is that because of the way it is set up, the author gets next to nothing. Why? Because no copy of the book is actually bought, only ever borrowed and read. All the author receives is less than $0.0003 of a cent per page read!

Even if you are foolish enough to spend money in an attempt to promote your book. If it is only on Amazon, after a few days…

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Now THAT’s a Playground

Another oldie for your entertainment.

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That, boys and girls, is the courtyard of the apartment building in which I grew up.  Second story on the right. The current occupant has an air conditioner in the kitchen window, which I find puzzling. My cousin Irene took this picture a few years ago.  When I first saw it, I thought something was missing but couldn’t put my finger on it.  Then it came to me.  No clotheslines!  When I was a kid, the entire courtyard was crisscrossed with clotheslines running between the two buildings. I guess everyone has a dryer now.  No more pulling frozen blue jeans off the line and standing them in a corner to thaw out.

When we were very small, the landlady would attach a hose to her kitchen sink and feed it out of the ground floor window, second down on the right, so we could cool off in the summer.  We put on our…

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What’s This Word Doing in My Head and How’d Russell Crowe Get in My Bedroom?

Here’s an oldie I wrote about where story ideas come from.

Storyteller

I was battling my nightly insomnia (the kind where I fall asleep fast enough but wake up around 1:00 a.m. and stare at the ceiling for a couple of hours) and a word popped into my head. Honk. That’s it. Just “honk”.

I have no idea what I’m supposed to do with that, but it won’t go away. I wrote the word down on an index card and placed it in my trusty purple box. If there’s a story attached to it, I don’t want to forget the word. I mean, a word of that magnitude…

I have other words and lines that have been kicking around in my head or hibernating in the purple box for years. One line in particular has been there since about 1987. No kidding. It’s a great line. Full of promise. But I can’t settle on a story to put it in. You wouldn’t believe…

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Winthrop Risk, Detective

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Winthrop Risk, Detective

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