My Marketing Revelation

November 18, 2013

Cover image from Sarah Pepper’s newest release.

Last week, I went to a community ed class about how to market your book put on by Sarah J. Pepper, a local author who has achieved success through both traditional and self publishing. I always wonder when I show up at these things whether I’ll learn anything new, and I always walk away from them glad that I went. Along with some potential freelance contacts, great handouts, and frantically jotted notes, I also came away with this revelation:

To really market, I need to stop writing.

Not forever (God no!) but long enough to not be distracted. Long enough to let my writing energy rest and build up. Long enough to really commit myself to marketing, and long enough to possibly see results.

This came when Sarah admitted that her husband told her she “can’t start” writing a new book until after her soon-to-be-released Death of the Mad Hatter is released. So all that writing energy goes toward … promoting the upcoming book.

I’ve never been good at marketing because I always try to squeeze it in on the fringes of my writing work (which I try to squeeze in on the fringes of my paid work). And since I don’t like marketing, it’s easy for it to fall to the bottom of the “to-do” list. It’s not so much that I don’t like talking about my work — like most writers, I enjoy that very much. But I don’t like feeling like I’m “bugging” people. And as an introvert who doesn’t really like to be “sold to,” I project that onto anyone I might try to sell myself to, and I sort of crumple up inside. And I retreat to writing. True, there could be worse ways to avoid a dreaded task. But I really, really, really need to give this self-promotion thing a try if I want to keep striving to make writing central in my life. And I do.

Now the decision point comes — I know that my focus needs to be on my Dark Crystal submission until I send it off, hopefully in early December. After that, my initial plan was to return to work on my Rapunzel novel and work on preparing my Rumpled ebook for distribution. But it may not be wise to pursue both at once, as I’m likely to hide from the ebook within Rapunzel. Still, I’m thinking a good strategy might be to complete my second draft of Rapunzel, then set it aside to work on Rumpled. I’ll probably have some fresh insight when I return to my Rapunzel draft afterwards. Now the real question is whether I can accomplish all this before next November, which is supposed to be my “on” year for NaNoWriMo. Stay tuned!


Writing Book Review: APE by Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch

November 10, 2013

This book makes its point well: that it is possible to self publish a book that is high enough quality to compete with traditionally published books. The writing here is clean, direct, and clear, and the formatting is impeccable — no small feat in an ebook that is being delivered across multiple devices.

The content is useful as well, although I didn’t find a lot here that I didn’t already know. It mostly offers an overview of various terms associated with self publishing, as well as different services and opportunities available for self publishers. The approach the authors take to self publishing is realistic, too, not a “get quick rich” sort of approach, acknowledging the success stories while also cautioning that they are not the norm. I think this book, while being a treasure trove of information for someone totally new to the concept of self publishing, might also be overwhelming to those same people. Still, I expect to eventually incorporate some of what I learned here into my own self publishing plans.

What annoyed me most about this book, and the main reason, aside from the lack of truly “new” content, that I gave it only three stars was its tone. There’s a sort of smugness in the writing, as well as a bit of latent judgment about various writing processes (I ranted a bit about the inherent judgment toward authors who write without an outline here, which is just one example). The shameless promotion of Google, Apple, and Amazon also got to be a little much, especially since it came without any mention of the “darker side” of any of these companies to balance it out (privacy rights, proprietorship, monopolies).

The authors have put together a good resource of which they can be rightfully proud; it’s just too bad that so much of the book, while conveying useful information, also feels like a protracted opportunity for them to pat themselves on the back.

Rumpled ebook Cover – Your Opinions

October 14, 2013

I’ve been reading a lot about self-publishing ebooks lately as I slog through APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur and Publishing e-Books for Dummies. A few months ago I made a “final” decision about the cover for my retelling of Rumplestiltskin, Rumpled, but I’ve been second-guessing myself and overthinking it. So I’ve decided to open it up to “crowd wisdom” with a vote on the following designs, all of which come from artist Krystl Louwagie.

Cover 1

Cover 1

NewVersion2 copy

Cover 2

Rumpled Cover

Cover 3


Cover 4

Some of the covers have different taglines than others; please disregard those and consider design elements only (color, font, illustration, etc.) when you vote. You can click on the images to see them bigger, but it’s important that the cover look good in small scale, since ebook covers are often displayed as thumbnails.

To Outline or Not to Outline: A Question Only You Can Answer

September 17, 2013

A few weeks ago, as I fretted over my Dark Crystal submission (which I still haven’t started), one commenter authoritatively told me I must write an outline for it. I did, and I am, because it’s such unfamiliar territory for me that I just feel a lot safer going in with a map. But that’s not always the decision I make.

Currently, I’m reading APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur, which recommends outlines and disses authors who don’t use them handily in one tidbit of advice:

“Many authors find an outline too constricting, but an outline sets me free. If you can’t write an outline, perhaps your thoughts are insufficiently organized.”

I had to bristle at this. It’s one thing to offer advice to would-be writers, quite another to imply that they are lacking if they do not follow your advice. The March/April issue of Writer’s Digest featured a wonderful article on “organic writing”; that is, writing without an outline, seeing where the story might take you. I used to be an outliner, but then I met NaNoWriMo, and I discovered the joy of flying by the seat of my pants. That’s when I learned I could be an organic writer, too, and now I often write without an outline. The advantage is a heightened sense of discovery; the disadvantage is the potential to panic if you don’t know what’s next, which can perhaps lead to an increased risk of writer’s block (at least, it does for me.)

A friend in my writer’s group has recently begun writing his short stories without an outline. There is no difference in quality between those that were written with or without outlines; if anything, the ones written without outlines are better, because he continues to develop his skill as a writer.

I once read something about Stephen King in which he said he no longer used outlines, that he could “feel” when the story was getting off-track and self-correct it. I find that writing without an outline has developed this sixth sense in me as well. If you think of an outline as a map, it makes a lot of sense to use it in unfamiliar territory to keep you from getting totally tangled in your jumble of prose. But after you’ve been writing for years, especially in a particular genre, you probably will get through the thicket just fine without a map to guide you. Your intuition will tell you when you’re going down the right path, and when you aren’t. And if it doesn’t? Revision is your friend.

I’m currently working on a novel-writing webinar for girls that I will offer in partnership with New Moon Girl Media. I plan to start with the idea that there are two types of writers: “planners” and “pantsers” — those who plan in advance of writing, and those who get by “by the seat of their pants.” Both types can and do win publication, popularity, and acclaim. I recommend trying both methods to see which you prefer, and more importantly, to get a sense for which approach is appropriate for each particular work. And if you ditch the outline? It doesn’t mean your thoughts are too “disorganized” to make a good book — only that you’re brave enough to tackle your adventure without a map.

Rumplestiltskin ebook, beta

July 22, 2013

I’ve brought Rumpled, my Rumplestiltskin retelling, through what is close to its final revision … for now. That is, I’ve implemented everything I intended to implement based on feedback from my writer’s group, and am ready to send it to someone who has never seen it for a proofread (my eyes might fall out of my head if I read it one more time at this point.) I still need to format it for Kindle and do a little more work on the cover, but in the meantime, I’ve uploaded the “beta” version to Wattpad. It’s free there, so I’d be delighted if you checked it out!

On Giving Away Books for Free

July 1, 2013

Last week, I read this fascinating article from Curiosity Quills Press about giving away books for free. The author’s strategy is to offer her books for free for the first 12 months of their release. Her reasons for doing so, including much higher reading rates and establishing a fan base for later books, are pretty compelling.

As I plan to release my first self-published ebook, the article gave me a lot of food for thought. I plan to go with Kindle Direct publishing, which means that I can only offer the book for free via Amazon for a limited amount of time. However, I plan to price it very low after that — around 99 cents — for several reasons.

  1. The book isn’t very long — about 26,500 words. Small book, small pricetag.
  2. The price is low enough for people to take a chance on it, or make impulse purchases.
  3. It’s still more than the book is earning sitting on my hard drive.

My decision to self-publish as an ebook is actually tied quite strongly to the book’s “inbetween” length — too long for short story markets, too short for novel markets, but “just right” for an ebook. Add to that some questionable practices amongst ebook imprints even with the big-name publishers, and going solo just seems to make the most sense.

And I think I might try Lizzy Ford’s strategy of getting the book into as many people’s hands for free as possible. Back when I wrote Aladdin and Gargoyles fan-fiction, I didn’t know a thing about marketing my work — all I did was write it, and push it out there for the world to see. My fan-fiction won me a lot of fans and admirers, including other authors who wanted to write fan-fic that included characters I introduced. I spent hours writing the stories and posting them, all completely for free. But the reward of being read was thanks enough. And, of course, the reward of creatively expressing myself.

At my heart, I’m still a writer who longs to share my stories. The main reason I’d like to earn money with my writing is so I could spend more time doing it, and less time doing other things to earn money. But a wider readership, even without a price tag attached, is still more than I can accomplish by keeping my stories in my own head and in my own house.

Self Publishing … Without a Clue

February 18, 2013

Artwork inspired by Rumpled, from my sister Krystl.

Like almost any author in today’s literary landscape, I’ve explored the idea of self-publishing. Although I used to scoff at it, I’ve softened toward the idea over the last several years — not because of one-in-a-million success stories like Eragon and 50 Shades of Gray, but because I, like many writers, am feeling increasingly uncomfortable with the consolidation of big publishing houses and fewer and fewer people holding all the cards when it comes to traditional publishing. And now that we have the option to go directly to the reader … why don’t we?

Back when I was a teenager, I established quite a following as an author of Aladdin fan-fiction, and my one piece of Gargoyles fan-fiction didn’t do too badly, either. At the time, I was so excited by the ability the Internet gave me to reach readers directly — as far as I was concerned, it was just as good as being published. Because the whole point in being published is in having readers, right? Maybe even fans. And I had readers, many of whom became fans.

Now, publishing seems to be following that content model more and more, and I’m going to experiment with it again, too. Still, there are two obstacles (besides my own pride and the feeling of “legitimacy” that come with traditional publishing) that scare me most:

  1. The fact that self-published work isn’t taken as seriously as traditionally published work; and
  2. The fact that I hate marketing, even when I really, really love what I’m marketing.

As for #1, I admit that I’m one of those people who doesn’t take a self-published book as seriously as a traditionally published one. And the main reason for this is that I’ve read so many really bad self-published books, books that felt like early drafts rather than finished ones. But I feel fairly confident in my ability to create a polished product — and I know that, especially with ebooks, there are a lot of readers who don’t know or care which books are self-published and which aren’t. I know there are a lot of readers willing to take a chance on an ebook by an unknown author because the price is right.

As for #2, well, I don’t really have a plan for that.

But I’ve decided to explore self-publishing in ebook format with my novella Rumpled, which is a retelling of Rumplestiltskin. The reason is because it’s an awkward length to submit to short story or to novel markets at about 24,000 words, and there are few dedicated novella markets. And although I’ve always loved fairy tale retellings, it seems now the rest of the world is getting on board with this passion, as evidenced by the proliferation of young adult retellings featuring everything from Cyborg Cinderellas to werewolf-hunting Red Riding Hoods, not to mention TV series like Grimm and Once Upon a Time, or movies like Snow White and the Huntsman, Mirror, Mirror, or Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters.

So if ever there was a time to encourage people to take a chance on an unknown writer with a retelling of a fairy tale, now seems like the time to do it.

If anyone knows of good resources for self-publishing or promoting ebooks, I’d love to explore them. Thanks!