self-publishing

Tending the Fire

It's a winter morning and I'm still trying to get the fire going. Tenacious little flames keep licking at the logs, but they're not quite catching fire as fast as I'd like them to. The holdup is that the wood is wet. With enough tending those stubborn little flames will dry it out, and a couple hours from now the fire will be roaring in our trusty wood-burning stove. When I have enough hot coals I'll be able to throw on another damp log and walk away knowing that it will dry out and catch fire without needing much attention at all. For now, I'm still waiting, still tending to it. I know it will happen.

Maybe it's because I'm creative by nature, but I can see metaphor and symbolism in practically everything around me if I want to. Take this fire for example. I see the damp logs as my books. Based on reviews and the steady growth of my mailing list, I know it's perfectly fine fuel. Unfortunately the books are rendered less effective because I didn't look after them properly from day one. Instead, I stacked the firewood outside and let it be covered in snow & rain...just like I let my books be covered with images that don't tell you anything of what the story is about. They don't say what genre they belong to, what target audience they're meant for, or invoke much emotion whatsoever. On top of that, I let them sit at a single retailer with no pricing incentive to attract new readers and no marketing plan other than the occasional Facebook ad. Even my keywords were terrible. "Paranormal romance." Really? Really? Yep. I basically chucked the best fuel I had into a soggy corner and walked away. No wonder no burning fire came of it. It's my own damn fault for not doing my market research years ago. If I knew then what I know now...but I don't like to dwell in that mindset because it doesn't do any good in any facet of life. We can live in the past, remain stagnant in the present, or stay resilient, persevere and go forward. I'm sure you can guess which option I chose.

Six months ago I didn't have a mailing list, and now I have a dedicated fan base in Australia, Norway, Germany, and Israel, along with the one here in the USA. It gets bigger every week. Six months ago I didn't even have a proper website. All I had was a sad little blog that I rarely updated. Now I have a hub where you can find all the links to my books and social media pages and anything else you'd find relevant about my craft (or simply how to pronounce my name). Six months ago I hadn't read any articles by Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn or Mark Coker of Smashwords. When I first signed up for wider distribution through Smashwords, I discovered I'd already joined back in 2011. I signed up to read a book I'd received a coupon for. Man...where would I be now if I'd only investigated further into their site? But c'est la vie. I'm glad to be where I'm at now instead of where I was 6 months ago when it seemed the fire was practically nonexistent. Since then I've been adding more and more dry kindling and I've been using the bellows to revive the flames that held on. Slowly but surely that fire has been growing over the past six months, just as the fire in my living room has been catching on since I began this post.

When I think of my goals for the future, they're not too complicated. I expect to produce at least one book a year and continue growing my readership. I hope to travel more with my husband and spend more time at the barn with the horses. My biggest dream is to see both of my series be adapted for film the way that The Outlander was. Release & Catch would be a great movie, although I think the Annika Brisby series would be better if it was made for television. I thought it was a ridiculous pipe dream until one of my superfans told me out of the blue that she hoped for the same thing. That validation was priceless, and I'm sure that she & I aren't the only two people who'd like to see the stories brought to life on camera. Obviously there's a huge market for paranormal romance, and I doubt any TV executives are looking to produce another vampire series. They want the next trend. With my interworld travelers, rocker chicks and wood elves, I know I've got exactly what they're looking for.

Which brings me to my weekend. I spent my entire Sunday away from the computer and caught up on some of my favorite shows. I'm almost done with Mad Men and just finished the episode of Downton Abbey directed by Wes Craven. Hells bells and buckets of blood...it was crazy! After my friend Angela & I finished Downton, she turned me on to the phenomenon known as The Outlander. I'd heard of it for a few years now, but I never looked into it because Scottish history and burly, hairy men were never one of my particular interests. I do have a thing for accents though, so I agreed to watch the first episode at Angela's insistence. Her enthusiasm is pretty damn contagious. Plus she loved the DVD I gave her of The Lady & The Highwayman, which is sort of a litmus test of mine. It's nothing but 80's romance novel cheesy fluff crammed into a renaissance-era package, and if someone can appreciate it for what it is then we're probably going to get along swimmingly. Angela saw the same things I did in that old Hugh Grant movie, so I trusted her opinion when it came to time-traveling WW2 nurses and historic Scottish dudes.

We got through the first two episodes of The Outlander and I was hooked. Actually I was hooked as soon as I saw a particular sex scene in an abandoned castle where Claire is sitting on a table and her husband is on his knees. After sitting through all the rampant misogyny in Game of Thrones I was desperate for a show about a strong female protagonist. Diana Gabaldon didn't disappoint me, so I read up on her. What an inspiration! I had no idea that she wrote her first book back in 1991 as more or less a novel-writing experiment, and look at her now.

I know we all have to carve our own path towards our particular definition of success, and I've learned what it will take to get where I want to go. I'm also blessed/cursed with an aversion to giving up on the things that matter the most to me, which is why I'm still here, still writing, and still pursuing my dreams. Being an indie-author is not for the faint of heart. I don't think being any sort of artist or entrepreneur is, in all fairness. You need to have a thick skin, be willing to make mistakes and then learn from them, and keep going when it seems pointless. In the time it's taken me to compose this post, I've watched the fire in the wood stove grow bigger and brighter. The temperature in the house has gone up a few degrees, and there's lots of white-hot coals. Time to throw on another log and get back to work.

"If you want something done, ask a busy person."

I saw that advice on an indie author forum after a discouraged writer complained about having to get a part-time job to support herself while she worked on her "Great American Novel." I laughed to myself, because hell yeah, it would be great if artists, musicians, writers, ceramicists, sculptors, jewelry makers, etc never, ever had to work a day job. But like my ceramics professor in college warned us from day one, "If you're going to be an artist, you're going to be poor. Marry rich!" At least he didn't sugarcoat anything.

I've always lived within my means while aspiring to create, to write, and to find a way to monetize my art. One of my dreams in life is to earn my income with my art. That's not currently the situation, so I've invested a lot of energy into getting to that point. I've written 3 fat & juicy novels and am 2/3 done with another one. I work full time. I co-host a podcast. I still have a social life. And I somehow find the time to listen to podcasts and read articles about the self-publishing industry. For as much as I've studied, I feel like I've earned at least an associates in marketing and one in business. I'm never asleep at the wheel. In fact, I've stopped taking baths because I don't make the timebut I still shower, don't worry! I'm just one of those people who always has to have a project they're working on (or lots of projects they're working on).

Last week I came across an article about well-designed websites. I'd just created mine a little over a month ago, and I wanted to see if mine ticked all the right boxes. TheCreativePenn.com was mentioned, so I went and had a look to compare. It's sharp. And because it's so sharp, I quickly saw that Joanna Penn has a podcast, so I downloaded enough episodes to get me through the rest of the work week. One of those episodes featured an interview with Mark Coker from Smashwords, and it totally rocked my world when he explained how his company's eBook distribution operated, and how indie authors could benefit.

I'd taken my books out of Amazon's KDP Select a couple months ago because they require exclusivity and I wanted to expand my reach to other booksellers and even libraries if possible. I wanted to be able to give away my first in series for free, but KDP doesn't make it easy even if you aren't enrolled in Select (an exclusive agreement). My books are still on Amazon, To be honest, I don't particularly care if I make a crap load of money. Yes, it would be super fabulous to make a crap load of money, but mostly I want to build a bigger audience to share my stories with. I already have some enthusiastic, supportive, overall awesome fans, and I'm sure there are others out there who would enjoy my stories as well. It looks like I'm well on my way to reaching them...finally!

After years of trying to build my audience, this most recent and virtually huge step happened relatively fast. Last weekend I had ebooklaunch.com convert my book files to the preferred format for Smashwords. I didn't have the skills or patience to do it myself, but I had the money to outsource it because I have that full time job. ;) They were worth every penny and their turnaround was crazy fast (Thanks Adrian!). Tuesday before work I uploaded The Misadventures of Annika Brisby, the free starter in my series. Tuesday night I uploaded the sequel. Wednesday morning they were available at a couple retailers like Kobo, Scribd, and Oyster and were already being downloaded by potential readers on Smashwords. Thursday I was on Barnes & Noble, and still being downloaded on Smashwords. Friday I changed my settings to make my books free for libraries. That was pretty fantastic, because libraries rock. But today might have been the most thrilling day for me yet. I've spent it feeling like a kid waiting up on Christmas Eve for Santa to make a debut. Except for me as an indie author, Santa looked more like seeing my novels available on Apple iBooks. Can you believe it? Can I? I didn't at first. I double checked the links, and then I checked them a third time. I closed the iBooks app on my iPhone and opened it again just to be sure I was still listed. Yep. It's official. My series starter is free on friggin' Apple iBooks!

I know this is totally corny, but I feel like I've finally arrived. Hey, it's better to show up late to the party than to not show up at all.