Growing Up Indie Part IX: Crickets

Honesty comes hard today, but when I started this series, I committed to telling my indie publishing experience like it is—even if I wind up feeling like a dork in the process. Which I often do. Take this post, for example. Dork factor of at least 10.  Is that going to stop me?  Heck, no. Because I have a mantra:  There are no mistakes; this is a learning experience. There are no mistakes; this is a learning experience. (Breathe deeply and repeat until you get past the urge to devour massive quantities of Dove chocolate.)

book signing sceneYes, today’s topic is book signings.  As an indie author with no agent, I arrange my own. Two under my belt so far. And, as much as it pains me to fess up, I’m going to tell you about them and the lessons they taught me.

My first rodeo (this is Texas, after all) kicked off at the local library. “It’s NaNoWriMo night,” they said. “The group says they really want to talk to you,” they said. “You should get a good response,” they said. And, librarians being some of the nicest people I know, I believed them.

I arrived 15 minutes early to set up my table. Covered it with a fashionable tablecloth, made sure my book was stylishly (and prominently) displayed on an elegant stand. Heck, I even offered a door prize! Also the above-mentioned Dove chocolate. (All of which I did wind up eating, by the way, albeit not in one sitting.) Then I sat me down, smiled me sweetest author smile—a smile darned near as delectable as the Dove—and waited. In my defense, let me say I never expected droves of admiring fans. I did expect (or at least, hope for) a few.  In the end, I got one. The rest of the evening?

crickets3Yes, that’s a cricket. ‘Nuff said? God, I hope so.

Still, I told myself the evening wasn’t a total loss. For one thing, I learned librarians are optimists. I also figured out your basic, small-town library isn’t the most happening place on a Wednesday evening. I got a copy of my book onto their shelves. Finally, and possibly most important, I found out Killin’ Jim Miller really did assassinate 51 men.

Book signing #2, scheduled at a wildly popular local coffee house, looked a lot more promising. “The place will be packed,” they said. “You should get a great response,” they said. And, because the fellow I talked to sounded so enthusiastic, I believed him.

BUT, for added insurance, I came up with this absolutely brilliant marketing idea:  Purchase a book, get a free gift bag. Brightly colored tissue paper included. Could Christmas shopping get any easier? I ask you.

So last night, I lugged my traps up to the house of Java. And, brother, it was packed! Granted, my table was about the size of a deck of playing cards, but I am nothing, if not resourceful. Got set up, smiled my smile, and mentally rubbed my hands together. Avast, maties! Author’s ship off the port bow!

Unfortunately, my ship stayed off the port bow.  Waaaaay off the port bow.  Besides two pity visits—”Oh, did you write this book?  What’s it about?  Gee, that’s swell.”—nobody shopped … or even made eye contact. Well, except for that one lady, who stopped in to buy two books. Because, you know, she happens to be a friend of mine.

I sat there from 4-6 last night. Longest. Two. Hours. Of. My. Life.  (Not counting childbirth.)  But I stuck it out on principle. I will admit, though, by the time six o’clock crawled around, my smile was somewhat worse for wear.

fake-smile-229x300Again, I learned.  Librarians aren’t the only ones with rosy expectations, coffee hours guys have them, too. And college students studying for finals (in between hookups) don’t stop to buy books. I got to donate a book to the coffee house library. Finally, I now know where to get possibly the best and biggest cup of hot chocolate in the known universe.

Today, as I munch leftover Reece’s Peanut Butter Bells, I ponder the signing scheduled for next week. I remember how they promised me a big crowd and snort, “Yeah, I’ve heard that line before.” I anticipate another two hours wearing that clothespin smile. I wonder if I can come down with a convenient case of beriberi and save my hips from the blowout caused by a third leftover candy stache.

Mostly I wonder if I should be doing signings at all. Are book signings only worth it for authors with established names? Or are they a necessary, painful paying of dues on the way to establishing a name?

I love meeting readers, even if they don’t read my books. I love talking to fellow authors, especially if they, like me, are aspiring. I love introducing them to resources like World Literary Cafe that will help them on their way.

But who wants to sit at a table, feeling (and smiling) like a dork?

All I can say at this point is, the jury is still out on book signings. I’ll let you know the verdict, right after I recover from my acute beriberi.

Meanwhile …. Candy, anyone?

Growing Up Indie, Part VIII: As Time Goes By

The fundamental things apply
As time goes by

I don’t know about you, but as time goes by I forget.  Between writing (or fretting because I’m not) and marketing (what little I do) and keeping an eye on sales (it only takes one eye at this point) and the occasional obsession with reviews, I lose sight of fundamentals every author should remember.  Maybe I need to print them out and post them on the giant bulletin board above my monitor, alongside the next novel’s murder map and my train ticket to Bordeaux and the yellow button that says, “I may be over the hill, but I can still get back on top when I want to.”

Today, I thought I would post them here, because maybe you’ve forgotten, too.  That way, I can remind both of us.  So here, for our collective edification, are 5 fundamentals every writer should keep in mind.

  1. Write for Yourself First.  Don’t start out thinking about sales or gold stars or even the reader.  Stay true to your story; it’s a world only you can offer. Writing at its best is like giving birth. Your imagination is pregnant with a cast of characters and everything that happens to them.  You don’t want to deliver a clone, simply because the kid might be more marketable and people will like you better.
  2. Improve Your Art.  Call me a cockeyed idealist, but I consider writing an art, and frankly, I don’t care whether we’re talking literary coming-of-age novels, romances, or zombie apocalypses.  You’re a wordsmith, and practice should make perfect—or as nearly perfect as we can get in this crazy world.  Get feedback from fellow authors and editors and proofreaders.  Pay attention to what you like about your favorite authors.  Go back and (oh, God!) look at your earlier work and pinpoint what you could have done differently (read:  better).  Always, always be on the lookout for ways to grow as a writer.  Which brings us to our next point ….
  3. Keep It Simple, Silly.  In the past few months, I’ve come close to banging my head against the wall any number of times.  Why?  Because authors who should know better—talking best-sellers here—have suddenly decided more words trump fewer, and the more highfaluting the adjective, the better.  WRONG doesn’t quite cover this phenomenon.  Imagine your next sentence is your hand.  You want your words to deliver a slap or a punch?  Keep your writing compact.  This advice goes hand in hand with fundamental #4.
  4. Write Like You Talk.  Tattoo this Robertson Davies quote on your forehead (backwards, so you can read it in the mirror): “I think of an author as somebody who goes into the marketplace and puts down his rug and says, ‘I will tell you a story’ ….” When you write, tell the story the way you would tell it to a group of friends sitting around a campfire (S’mores optional).  This is what we call your “voice.”  This voice is as unique as your DNA,  flowing directly from who you are and setting you apart from every other author who ever has or ever will write a word.  (This is a good thing.)
  5. Leave Some Gaps.  Want to draw your reader in?  Leave room for his/her imagination.  By that I mean, give just enough detail.  No need to describe every wart, whisker, or button on the armchair.  Let your audience fill in the lesser blanks and get on with the action.  Instead of getting bored, your reader will unconsciously invest a bit of him- or herself in your story.  Plus, you let the reader do some of the work!  What’s not to like about that?

Well, there you (we) have them.  I’m sure you could name other fundamentals, and I’d be obliged if you would share.  Seriously.  Post a comment here, or on my Facebook page or just shoot me an e-mail, and I’ll share.  I’ll be waiting to hear from you ….

Waiting

Growing Up Indie, Part VII: Priorities

Writing is not about the money.  Self-publishing is not about royalties.

There.  I said it.

Now, before you file me under “get real”—or call out the guys in the white coats—let me say this:  Getting paid for what you write is not a bad thing.  I like getting paid.  Royalties make me feel more like a “real author.”  (Whatever that may be, and as sad as that may be.)  Someday, said royalties may event amount to enough to help put gluten-free bread on my table and kibble in the dog dishes.

And lest you think I’ve always taken the high road on money, I freely admit to a darned-near (artistically) fatal case of “gonna make me a bundle” early on in the game.  Yes, as much as it pains me to admit it, I believed the self-publishing-as-the-road-to-riches hype.  Put my books out there, kicked back on the dock, and waited for the Queen Mary to cruise in.

waiting_for_my_ship_to_come_in_by_heylormammy-d33gd1s

I’m still waiting.

Fortunately, the wait hasn’t been wasted.  While peering hopefully at the horizon, I learned what is probably the most important lesson self-publishing had to teach me:  It’s not about the money.  Actually, I think I knew part of this before I started, but the Gold Bug bit me and I forgot.  So, in case you’ve forgotten, too—or maybe never figured it out to begin with ….

“I can’t write without a reader. It’s precisely like a kiss—you can’t do it alone.”
~John Cheever

That’s the part I already knew but forgot.  Writing is about relationships—the intimate meeting of hearts and minds.  When I write, I invite the reader to join his/her imagination with mine.  (Think Vulcan Mind Meld, only a lot less creepy.)  Together, we can open portals to new worlds and fantastic adventures.  Go it alone, and I’m just talking to myself on paper.

The part of the lesson that caught me by surprise is this:  Self-publishing is also about relationships.

Say what?

Well, it’s like this:  I never connected with as many kind, helpful people in my life, as I have since going indie.  Reader/reviewers.  Marketing mentors.  Altruistic promoters.  Emotional support groups.  (I was going to say “emotional supporters,” but sounded too much like men’s underwear.)  General helper-outers and cheerleaders.  You simply would not believe how many terrific folks are out there, waiting to join hands.  I mean, hokey smokes, it’s enough to restore your faith in mankind!

So allow this junior senior citizen, this student in the continuing-education school of knocks for those hard of head, offer you a few modicums of advice:

  • If you measure social media success by the number of followers you have on Twitter, or the number of likes you have on Facebook, you lose.
  • If you live for retweets but stay a stranger to the folks who help you out—forget to banter with them, encourage them, and/or support them—you lose.
  • If you’re all about self-promotion and never about paying it forward or lending a helping hand, you lose.
  • If you’re so busy courting reviews and counting stars, you don’t have time to toss a few stars into someone else’s galaxy, you lose.
  • And if royalties, not relationships, are your yardstick for success, you definitely lose.
“Regardless of whether a relationship brings us joy or sorrow, each relationship gives us the opportunity to grow stronger, nobler, and more compassionate with ourselves and others.” ~Tamela Rich
Just my opinion, mind you, but that’s what writing and self-publishing are all about.  So, let’s keep our priorities straight, shall we?
HANDSTOUCHINGS-33

Growing Up Indie, Part VI: Hindsights

Given a few of my posts, followers of this blog probably think my attitude toward self-publishing looks something like this:

tantrum

Not true, although I wouldn’t blame you for jumping to that conclusion, given my plaints about promotion and the pressure to produce.  Be those as they may, my attitude toward self-publishing actually looks more like this:confused-face-emoticon-612

(Except my glasses are rimless, my eyes are hazel, I have gray hair, and my shoes aren’t nearly as cool.)  I don’t hate self-publishing—and have no plans to quit—I’m simply not cut out for everything DYI entails.  This I learned through experience, the best (if not always the kindest) teacher.

Today I would like to share some hard-won hindsights, which are sort of like insights, except they usually show up too late to do you any real good.  So pay attention and maybe you’ll spare yourself some grief.  Please note that the following pointers assume you’ve written a good book, had it beta read and edited, and have it properly formatted.  If you haven’t done that, stop reading right now.  (Or save this post until you catch up.)

  • Hindisght #1:  Get your author platform down.  I already wrote about this, and you can find that post here.  For the moment, suffice it to say, If you were in a footrace, your author platform would be, “On your mark!”  You can’t win, if you don’t start at the right place.
  • Hindsight #2:  There’s no such thing as a free lunch.  You need a budget.  Not talking Daddy Warbucks here, just enough to pay for some great cover art (not as expensive as you think), an editor, the occasional ad, membership in a few key professional organizations, and maybe a course to fill the knowledge gaps, something like they offer at Fostering Success.
  • Hindsight #3:  You need a plan.  How are you going to launch your book?  Think “build-up,” people, and maintaining “the big Mo.”  You need to get readers excited BEFORE you put your book out there.  Tease them with excerpts.  A cover reveal. A few advance copies.
  • Hindsight #4:  Know thyself.  If tips, helpful websites, blog tours, and social media platforms were raindrops, your ark would already be afloat. Maybe writing is your full-time job, and you can afford to write all morning and promote all afternoon.  Or maybe you’re a pink bunny with a big bass drum and energy to burn.  The point is, you need to be honest with yourself.  How much can you handle?  If the answer is, “Not all that much,” then pick your spots.  Services like Bublish (free) and Ebook Booster (not free, but the next thing to it, and well worth the expense) can take a major load off.  You’ll find links to these and a few other nifty resources on my website.
  • Hindsight #5:  Expectations are  your enemy.  (This hindsight is also known as, “Don’t fall for the hype.”)  Once you put your book out there, trust me, you’re gonna discover a whole new obsession:  numbers.  How many sales?  How many free downloads?  How many reviews?  How many good reviews?  Word to the wise:  Keep watching the numbers, and you will flat drive yourself nuts!  Remember:  Once in a blue moon, a book hits Amazon and takes off … but only suckers count on a blue moon.  This stuff takes time.

There’s probably more I could tell you, but at my age, you can only hold so many thoughts at once.  Besides, I gotta save something for future blogs ….

Growing Up Indie, Part V: Dance Like Nobody’s Watching

“I’m looking forward to the next installment!”  What greater compliment can a reviewer pay an author?  I mean, I ask you!  Feedback like that makes me want to chain myself to the keyboard and pound out the next novel in a week.  (Okay, maybe two weeks, on account of I have that pesky day job.)  And why not?  The next installment is a already full-blown tale in my head, just begging to be told.  And, brother, it’s a corker!

So I sit down, rub my hands together like Van Cliburn warming up for “Moonlight Sonata,” lay my fingers on the home row, and … nothing happens.  Not.  One.  Damn.  Thing.  For months.

Writer’s block, you say?  Nah.  Writer’s block would be a step up.

I’ve tried all the usual remedies—leisurely walks with my dog, Molly; ice cream; red wine; ice cream; free writing; ice cream; wearing my jersey inside out.  Fail, fail, fail, fail, fail, fail, and, oh yeah, I don’t have a jersey.  Meanwhile, the “agent” perched on my shoulder harps on the dire consequences of “failure to publish in a consistent, timely manner” and points to fellow authors on Facebook—Ten thousand words today!—sneering, “Why can’t you be like her?”

Have I been tense and unhappy?  Do I feel pressured bordering on desperate?  You could say that.  You could also call Katrina a stiff breeze.

Now, as we all know, there are no atheists in foxholes.  That being the case, I decided to discuss my verbal constipation with the Man Upstairs.  And we were chatting, by which I mean I was whining about how I would probably never be able to write again, and how that would just about kill me, and oh, by the way, what am I supposed to do with these two (no, make that three) books in my head?

And I said, with great consternation, “How come writing was more fun before I self-published?”

And He said, “Bingo!”

And I said, “Huh?”

But, you know, I finally got it—well, maybe—one of the biggest dangers of self-publishing, at least for me:  Writing starts to become business and stops being fun.  I lose the sheer delight of my art, the joy of painting with words, as in ….

The tseet-tseet of the blood-red cardinal in my back yard.  Molly’s liquid-brown eyes.  The hollow ache of loss, rain drumming on a tin roof, the way the air tastes in that blue hour before dawn.

Know what’s really funny?  I’ll probably never use those phrases in a novel.  Can’t say for sure, of course, but chances are.  Still ….

I do love to paint.  Love, as Michener said, “the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotion.”

So I’m putting the novel on the shelf for a while … maybe a long while.  Gonna taste some words, paint small, and rediscover the joy.

I’m gonna dance like nobody’s watching.

Then, we’ll see.

Growing Up Indie, Part IV: Friends, Indeed

What do you do when ….

  1. You’re an indie author.
  2. You despise marketing.
  3. You don’t have the creative energy to write and tweet and FB and go blog-touring.
  4. You’ve sworn off intense social marketing, but ….
  5. You want folks to hear about (and buy) your books?

Well, if you’re me, you look for a few talented friends to help you out.  I’ll be posting about the friends I’ve found from time to time, and I’ve created a “Friends, Indeed” page on my website dedicated to them.  Because they deserve recognition, and they have my thanks.

So.  Let’s get started.  Today’s “Friend, Indeed” is Bublish.  I ♥ Bublish, because this unique service not only offers you a way to craft eye-catching book promos (including excerpts), but it allows you to tweet and Facebook them right from the site!  For … FREE!  I recently interviewed Bublish founder, Kathy Meis.  Here’s what she had to say:

Me:  What specific service(s) do you provide? Please differentiate between paid/free services, but list all.

Kathy:  Bublish is a social book discovery platform that helps writers share their stories and readers discover new books and authors they’ll love. It is free for both writers and readers. The heart of the platform is the book bubble. Here’s what one looks like (click on image to enlarge):

Book Bubble

Authors can manage up to 30 books with multiple book bubbles from their Bublish Author Dashboard in order to create and share their bubbles across multiple social platforms (Facebook, Twitter, email, etc.) as well as on bublish.com. The “secret sauce” of Bublish is the ability of the author to tell the story behind their story in the book bubble’s Author Insight. This is a powerful way to connect with new readers. In the future, there will be additional premium, paid accounts for authors and publishers. However, our free accounts will always remain free. We currently make money through the affiliate sales of books.

Me:  What prompted you to create this service?

Kathy:  I have been a writer and editor my entire life. I have watched the economics change drastically in publishing, not always in favor of creators. It is our mission at Bublish to provide writers with a powerful tool to find their audience and engage with readers in a way that will help them stand out in a crowded, noisy online book marketplace. Because the price of books has come down in the Digital Age, authors will need to sell more books over time to compensate. This will require authors to build a loyal following of readers who can support them throughout their writing careers. Bublish will provide the type of manageable, effective tools (like book bubbles) that will enable authors to engage authentically and effectively with their readers on a regular basis.

Me:  How many hours a week (approximately) do you spend on it?

Kathy:  Bublish is a full-time pursuit.

Me:  Any statistics you want to share?

Kathy:  We currently have about a thousand authors on the platform and grow steadily each month through word-of-mouth marketing. Some of our authors have had their work viewed hundreds and even thousands of times on Bublish. Our prototype won the prestigious People’s Choice Award at O’Reilly’s Tools of Change publishing conference in 2012. We were invited by the International Digital Publishing Forum to launch Bublish at last year’s Ignite BEA at Book Expo America. Writers all over the world now use Bublish to share their stories with readers.

Me:  How/when/why should an author contact you?

Kathy:  Authors can contact us at info@bublish.com. We’re here to answer questions and support Bublish authors as fully as possible. We also do numerous weekly events to promote Bublish authors: Our weekly 12-hour #SampleSunday Marathon on Twitter, The Bublish Floating Bookstore on Mondays, live weekly chats with authors, publishers, publicists and agents on Twitter and Facebook on Thursdays at 3pm ET, #featurefriday in which we spotlight the writing life of a beta bublisher as well as other events associated with holidays or particular book genres.

Me:  Tell us a little about yourself—e.g., favorite genres/authors, hobbies, goals, pets, etc.

Kathy:  I love to read. As I tell my friends, I like my reading difficult and my movies light. I read a lot of nonfiction these days, but then I go through a fiction fit. I like to read stories that are character driven, and am also drawn to books set in foreign countries and written about foreign cultures. I also read often with my youngest daughter, which exposes me to some wonderful children’s literature.

Me:  Anything you would like to say to authors? Readers?

Kathy:  We welcome all writers and readers to the bublish community. We’re here to support our growing family of writers and readers and help you connect with each other around great content. We hope you’ll come see what we’re all about!

Homepage:  http://www.bublish.com
Blog:  http://bublish.com/blog/
Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/bublishme
Pinterest:  https://www.pinterest.com/bublish
Google+: https://plus.google.com/b/106672408688515739740/106672408688515739740/posts
Twitter:  @BublishMe and @katmeis
Hashtags:  #bublish #bookbubbles #bookbubble

Note:  Future Friends, Indeed will be featured on my website!

Find-Friends-Nearby_1

Growing Up Indie, Part III: Out of the Frying Pan

You know those moments when you throw up your hands and mutter, “I don’t care about conventional wisdom, I’m gonna do this my way?”

I’m there.

I became an indie author last July, and I love it.  Please remember that:  I.  Love.  It.  Love getting my books out there, love getting feedback from readers/reviewers, love knowing I have control.

I do not … I repeat, not … love promoting.

Lord knows, there are droves of really smart people out there who can tell you the hows and whys and wherefores of marketing your book.  There are tools to help and websites to help and courses to help even more.  Facebook groups.  Twitter folk.  Trust me, there’s no shortage of knowledgeable, willing mentors.

To them, I say, “Thank you.  For your graciousness, your time, your patience, your willingness, and the advice I did take.  But from now on … count me out.”

Count me out, as in, no more frenetic/clever social media marketing campaigns. As in, I might try guest blogging—when/if I have time and something to say—but blog TOURS? Not happening.

I’m on the far side of 60 years old, and I have books to write. If they’re good books, the word will spread. (You know, like, “If you build it, they will come.”) Probably glacially, maybe not in my lifetime, but them’s the breaks.

Does believing people will find my books make me a Pollyanna? Quite possibly. Are smarter, more talented, more experienced, much more successful authors reading this and making with the, “Tsk, tsk?” No doubt.

But I know my own capabilities. I don’t have the energy to build marketing momentum AND tell stories. I love to tell stories. I detest marketing.

So, this is me, leaping out of the social media frying pan into the fire of probable anonymity (not to mention penury).

I came to this party to write. And, brother,Image that’s what I’m gonna do.

►End of rant◄