Monday, March 28, 2011

my advice about indie e-publishing

I've been getting a lot of emails from writers wanting to know more about how Faking It and Ordinary World became a self-publishing success on Kindle. More specifically, they really want to know how they can achieve the same success. I wish I could tell them that there was some formula to it, that if they follow each step precisely, they too will sell thousands of copies. I wish I could've bottled it-- or, at the very least, paid more attention at the time.

But unfortunately, it just doesn't work that way.

The x-factor to any publishing success or failure, traditional or independent, is the content. No one can really predict what's going to be a hit or a flop. Who knew that a series about a boy wizard was going to take the world by storm? Who knew that The Bridges of Madison County would sell as many copies as it did? Who knew that Water for Elephants or The Art of Racing in the Rain would be such literary sensations, especially without Oprah's help?

I had no idea if anyone other than my professor friends would like Faking It (and even then I questioned whether they would read it). I had simply written a book that I had wanted to read at the time, a story that kept me turning the pages, an idea that just wouldn't leave me alone. And when it was finished, I decided that I didn't want it sitting in a drawer with other unpublished pieces. Perhaps no one would like it, but I wanted to give them that chance to read it.

Fortunately for me, people liked it. But some don't. I'm ok with that (although stay tuned for my next post about why I don't like to read reviews).

For those who have been inspired by my success to write and publish their own novels/stories/ideas, I'm touched and grateful. And I do have advice. You may have heard the same advice from others, or you made have even heard it from me, either on this blog or in interviews or elsewhere. At any rate, here it is:

Write the best book you can. Don't rush to publish just because the iron is hot right now. Your book will only get lumped with all the others who have poorly written, revised, edited books. When one of my brothers was a mechanic and owned a service station, he used to have this sign posted in the garage: "Do you want it done fast, or do you want it done right?"

Ask others to read your work. This may happen in the form of a writers' critique group, or what are known as beta readers, individuals you recruit to read your manuscript. I like to show my work to a mix of authors, those well-versed in literature or the genre my work typically falls into, someone who has a particular expertise with an aspect of the character's profession (like art or computers, for example), or everyday readers with no particular expertise other than that they enjoy reading. These readers should be willing to offer you constructive feedback--constructive, by the way, doesn't mean disrespecting the writing (or the writer) if it's not working. But it also doesn't mean trying to preserve the writer's self-esteem. I've received criticism that was very hard to swallow. But when I cooled off and got my ego out of the way, I listened to it; as a result, my writing (and the novel) got better.

Do you always have to make the changes your readers tell you to make? No. But neither should you dismiss them altogether.

Edit and proofread as if your life depended on it. Or, at the very least, your livelihood. Because it does. If you want to be respected as an independently published author, go back to my first point about writing the best book you can. Editing and proofreading are part of that. An editor and a beta reader are not one in the same. Although readers may point out some editing and proofreading errors along the way, it's wise to have someone whose sole job to just edit.

When I published Faking It and Ordinary World, I couldn't afford to hire a professional editor. I trusted that my grammar and editing skills were strong enough to get by. And, in comparison to other books I've read, they were. However, it wasn't until AmazonEncore stepped in and brought in professional copyeditors that I realized how many mistakes I'd made. (Readers noticed, too.) I suppose the question you need to ask is, "Do you just want to 'get by'?" I realized that I didn't. Had Sarah and I not contracted with AmazonEncore, we would've hired a professional editor for Why I Love Singlehood. Heck, if I were to go back in time with what I know now, I either would've gone into debt or saved my pennies or worked an extra job to pay for an editor. Ditto for a professional cover designer. Which leads me to...

Hire a professional cover designer. The argument I just made for editing applies here. I always hated the cover I made for Ordinary World. It was worse than amateur, and I would even guess it's one of the reasons why the book didn't sell as many copies as Faking It (that cover wasn't much better, but it was more eye-catching and a higher quality photo, at the very least).

What this really boils down to is that
Self-publishing is more than a time investment
. I had absolutely no money to invest when I self-published. I got lucky. I don't recommend others follow that path, however.

Make sure your files are formatted for Kindle, Nook, Smashwords, etc. Whether you do it yourself or hire someone else, get it right. Otherwise your readers are going to let you know in no uncertain terms that they're not going to waste their time or money on your book. There are plenty of forums on Digital Text Platform and elsewhere to assist you if you want to do it yourself (Smashwords has a style guide that you can download for free, although I had trouble with its directions).

Set your price accordingly. There's nothing wrong with selling your ebook at 99 cents, especially if you're an unknown author. Readers will be willing to take a chance on you, and if they like it, they'll tell others about it. I am increasingly convinced that the best price for an ebook for a known author is no more than $5.00, and I'm happy to keep Faking It and Ordinary World at $2.99.

And finally,
Buy this book. Rob Kroese's Self-Publish Your Novel: Lessons from an Indie Publishing Success Story says much of what I said here, and doesn't provide so much of a step by step guide as point aspiring authors in the right direction. I would've loved to have read this when I was starting out, and even now I learned some useful tips.

I wish all aspiring authors could experience the same taste of success that I have. None of these things will guarantee you'll make it, but they might improve your chances. Good luck.

Monday, March 21, 2011

check all egos at the door

I really want to write a post about writing today, but not before I tell you how blown away I am by the response Faking It has received just one week after its AmazonEncore release. In particular, this Charlotte Observer article has given the Amazon rankings a hefty spike, inspired people to write to me, and made me feel da love. I can't express my gratitude and appreciation enough. It's motivating me to keep working on my latest novel-in-progress.

And if you haven't had a chance to pick up your copy of Faking It yet (have you gone to your local bookstore and asked if they're stocking it?), head over to Book Soulmates and enter to win a copy, plus a dozen roses! Cool giveaway, yes?

So, as I said, I'm grateful for all the attention the book is getting, and it's motivating me to keep writing; but there is a danger to this kind of publicity, and that's the ego slipping into the writing process. In fact, if you want writer's block, invite the ego in.

Aaron Sorkin has publicly spoken about being terrified to write "the thing that comes after The Social Network," and I can relate to some degree. Granted, I'm no Oscar winning writer, but I get the fear part. I've written two books since Faking It, but neither have matched its sales numbers. Understandable. They've not been around as long.

But all the ego needs is an excuse, and it doesn't have to be precedent on previous successes. It could be precedent on previous failures, rejections, or just plain ol' doubt whether anything you put on the page will be any good. You want to please your readers. You want them to like what you write. Perhaps you even want them to like you.

But try to conform your writing to that anticipation or desire, and you'll surely come up short. I can't write a character that I think is going to make other people laugh or mad. I can't put words into my character's mouths that I think other people want to hear them say. Ego sometimes makes you do that rather than sitting quietly and listening to what your characters have to say to you. Ego tells you it has to be good, otherwise you're over.

So how do we get past that?

By staying in the present moment, and trusting that the work in progress is exactly what it is and where it needs to be: in progress. That it neither has to be good or bad at this stage, and the only one making a judgment on it at this point is you, so stop that.

By remembering why you write in the first place.

By making sure you like what you write (and that you like you, too!).

And stop comparing it to your other works. We all know how one kid feels when s/he has to live in the shadow of an uber-successful older (or even younger) sibling, and how damaging it can be for parents and teachers especially to compare one to the other. The metaphor of authors' books as their children might be cliche, but it's cliche for a reason. It's a metaphor that resonates. Each book, like each child, is special for reasons of its own. Each one deserves its own love and attention, and needs to be honored for being unique. Fred Rogers's words still comfort me: "You make each day a special day by just your being you." That affirmation applies to our books, our stories, our characters--each and every one--as well as to us.

Embrace the gift of that specialness every time you sit down to write. It'll do wonders for your writing, and you.

Monday, March 14, 2011

many thanks

Tomorrow's the big day. Faking It launches as an AmazonEncore title with a brand new cover (which I love, by the way) and editing, will be available in select bookstores, and will be available in print and Kindle editions.

Who would've thought that, back in June 2009 (when I self-pubbed on Kindle--it had already been a Lulu title for six months), I'd be making such an announcement? Seriously, it's way cool.

But I'm able to make this announcement thanks to you, my readers. You got me to this place. Thanks to your reviews, your word of mouth on Amazon and Facebook and Twitter and Goodreads, your lending your print copies and recommending your Kindle copies to your friends, your selecting it as a book club read, and more, Faking It came into the range of AmazonEncore's radar. The rest is history.

More thank-yous:
Thank you to every single person who made the 99-cent investment and were kind enough to say that they'd have gladly paid more.

Thanks to all those who *did* pay more-- in the early days, significantly more, be it in print or electronic-- and believed it to be worth every penny.

Thank you to everyone who told a friend or family member.

Thank you to every male reader who wasn't ashamed to say that they loved what was essentially marketed as a chick book.

Thank you to every one that wrote me a letter about how deeply touched you were by Faking It, or bothered by Andi's f-bomb usage, or demanding a movie version soon.

Thank you to every woman who fell in love with Devin and every guy who fell in love with Andi.

Thank you to all the Undeletables who also took a chance on it (and me) when you didn't know me very well, and shared your praise of it with 10,000 others (including Aaron Sorkin) presumably "listening".

Thank you to every blogger who wrote about it on their own, or hosted me and let me do the talking. You, too, put Faking It on the map.

Thank you, Stacey Cochran, for helping me get the ball rolling and leading by example.

Thank you, Lulu (and the cool people I met there), for being the first to help me love the book into being.

Thank you to AmazonEncore, for loving the book just as much as I do and wanting to bring continued success to it.

If there's anyone I left out, please know that in my heart, I am profoundly grateful.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

for Aaron Sorkin

It seems that I am constantly apologizing for not posting on my blog. I'm sorry for always apologizing. And I'm sorry for not posting more. On the plus side, it's because I've been busy writing posts for other people's blogs and gearing up for the publicity whirlwhind that is coinciding with the AmazonEncore release of Faking It, just a mere dozen days away. On the minus side, I've used up all my good ideas for the blog tour, and blog-posting can be quite time-consuming, especially when you also teach 40+ students and have just as many papers to grade, the average 5 pages long apiece.

The Oscar fog has lifted and the red carpet has been rolled up and taken away, but I'm still basking in the glow of Aaron Sorkin's win for Best Adapted Screenplay, as I'm sure he still is (I always wonder if winners actually take their trophies to bed with them the first few days after winning... I probably would).

I never blogged about my meeting Sorkin back in September of last year. For one thing, it was part of a wave of meeting several people who have had some influence throughout the course of my life, from Patrick McDonnell (Mutts creator who is now getting some attention since his little book The Gift of Nothing just made Oprah's list -- it's on mine as well) to David Newell (aka Mr. McFeely from Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, who took the time to follow up and send me some potential teaching materials). But for another thing, I didn't want to make a big deal about it. It was a personal thing, and I didn't want to attach any fanfare to it.

Unlike getting a tweet from my teen love John Taylor (in response I did a happy dance around my apartment and immediately posted about it on Facebook -- I recall a lot of exclamation points), I wasn't the least bit starstruck when I tapped Sorkin on his shoulder following a Q&A at an advanced screening of The Social Network, which I was fortunate to attend. I'd been visualizing that moment for months-- not as a fantasy, but more like something already actualized. I'd made it an intention to meet the writer who's given me so much inspiration, and had sensed it was going to happen during my fantastic "Year of Turning 40."

We didn't have a chance to say much to each other -- he, Jesse Eisenberg, and Armie Hammer were on their way to another screening/Q&A scheduled the same evening -- but he recognized my name from my interaction on the now-extinct Facebook discussion forum, took my hand, and seemed as genuinely pleased to finally meet me in person as I was to meet him. If I'd had more guts, I would've asked to tag along on the way to the next screening just so we could chat some more. But alas, I'm not that daring. Besides, in that moment, I wasn't a fan. I haven't been for quite some time (that's not to say I've lost admiration for his work -- far from it). I don't know if I would consider myself a colleague, or even a friend -- neither of those labels feel accurate either. I suppose I was just one writer meeting another writer.

Following Sorkin's Oscar win, one of my dear friends (whom I met via Facebook thanks to that aforementioned now-extinct discussion forum, along with about 30 other darling people, some of whom I still have yet to meet in person, although it certainly doesn't feel like that) called me and left a message: "We met an Academy Award winner (he had met Sorkin during the TSN premiere in NYC, which about 16 of our group attended, meeting each other in person for the first time, yet feeling like we'd just seen each other the day before). How cool is that?"

Yeah, it is cool.

It's cool not because it's Aaron Sorkin, but because the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. My friends and I felt like we had watched this movie unfold from pregancy to birth, watched it grow up and graduate with honors. Kind of like honorary aunts and uncles. And Aaron was gracious enough to let us be a part of it for that short time. We're proud of everyone who was directly involved with the film (and although Tom Hooper was certainly deserving of his Oscar for The King's Speech, I was bummed that David Fincher didn't win for Best Director). But we're more touched by what we've come to mean to each other. I stood up and cheered (actually, it was more like a YAWP) when Sorkin's name was called, and remained standing while he said his thank-yous, my hand lightly tapping my heart.

I hope to meet Mr. Sorkin again, and this time exchange more than cordial hellos. I think there's much to talk about, none of it having to do with Facebook or The Social Network. I just like talking to writers, I guess.

If I had the chance to say anything to him right now, I'd say this:
Congratulations, Aaron -- you did it! Way to go. I know you're afraid of what comes next, that anything you write will be known as that-thing-you-wrote-after-The-Social-Network, and will be held up against TSN (probably not unlike the way Studio 60 was that-thing-you-wrote-after-The-West-Wing). Just do it, just write. Keep doing what you always do--writing the best you can, what you like--and allow it to be whatever it turns out to be. Then write the next thing. And the next.

From one writer to another.