self-publishing

It takes a village

My children will probably never have a traditional upbringing: growing up in the same house, markers of their growth lining the closet door, surrounded by familiar neighborhood kids, rooting for the same alma mater kinder to senior. Our first two boys were born in Massachusetts. Our littlest, in Indiana. We called Texas home for two years and are now living in upstate New York. More than likely, we’ll be moving again in the near future. Are we giving them an unstable home life or character-shaping adventures?

When I was fifteen, my parents moved me from my childhood home. I was so devastated, I wouldn’t help Mom pack. Not even my bedroom. And I wasn’t even changing schools. My grief turned to gratitude soon after we settled into our beautiful lake home. Years later, my parents moved again. This time, I wasn’t living at home but at college. Still, it was bittersweet. But when a friend made the comment that it must be hard to leave our lake home, my brother replied: “Home isn’t a place. It’s where your family is.”

Today, my family of five shares a home with my parents who live there part-time, half the year. It’s not a fancy house, nor is it lakeside. But, right now, it’s home. We share this house not due to financial strain or mid-life crises, but because it makes sense for us. Not only does it make sense, it’s been an absolute blessing. My children are growing up directly alongside one set of grandparents, and just a day-trip away from their cousins and another set of grandparents. They are surrounded by family. They are surrounded by love. This is obvious. The less obvious benefits have been revealed over time.

They say it takes a village to raise a child. My boys’ lives have become so rich in experiences, moving and traveling across the country. And now, living with my parents, their lives are enriched in another way. My mother brought them to the theater when I feared they might disrupt the onstage drama. My father talks physics and math-y stuff with my oldest while I’m allergic to numbers. My brother — who lives within driving distance — has introduced role-playing games to all the boys, gets them to make their own board games, and creates art with them. These are minor examples. The list goes on…

Our other “home” is at the beach, where my boys learn from their Nunu about ocean safety and how to be neighborly. They talk about books with their grammy and are lovingly folded into the glorious chaos of their cousins’ home as if they were more-the-merrier siblings within the eight-person-family.

No, my boys won’t have the traditional one-home-forever upbringing. But what they have is pretty great. Maybe better. Our boys will grow to be better, smarter, stronger, happier, and more confident — because they have a vast collection of love and experiences shaping who they are.

The end result is always better when you have a team behind you. Isn’t it?

Like with, say, BOOKS!

Last night at a book club discussion, I was asked the question: “How is it different working with a publisher versus self-publishing?” I get this question a lot.

When I self-published Catcher’s Keeper, I agonized over my story in solitude. Sure, I hired a myriad of editors, a cover designer, a formatter. I enlisted the help of many an author friend. I networked online and at writing conferences. I had a huge amount of support from family and friends. I certainly wasn’t alone, per se. But when it came down to it, it was up to me and me only to make it great. To make it flawless. Was it ready to be published when I finally uploaded it and — egads — people started ordering it? Was it as good as it could be? Aghhh! I hope so.

When I signed with Xchyer Publishing for FORTE, I couldn’t appreciate the expertise they would bring. I was hesitant. I’d been through the process. I’d learned so much. I’d self-published successfully and my attitude was: “What could you do for me that I couldn’t do myself?”

Well, let me tell you. I humbly stand corrected.

My team at Xchyler Publishing (my X-team) has scrutinized every single word of each line, each chapter. I had a team of five talented individuals who had a vested interest in making my manuscript the best it could possibly be, which sometimes meant rewriting scenes multiple times, writing lengthy character sketches and/or timelines that would never be included directly in the story, and examining dialogue and relationships to convey realistic characters. I was far from alone. Not only that, I was boosted up.

Granted, there were times when I’d see track-changes comment from my editor: “Not enough. Falls flat. Needs more tension.” I’d grunt at my screen in frustration, go through a short-lived cycle of denial/anger before coming to accept it and rework the scene. At times it would take hours. At times I’d have to throw the whole thing out and start anew. At times I had to add entire chapters to show what I thought was already pretty clear. In the end, the scene was always better.

Not only that, but we worked together to come up with a new title, a stunning cover, and a marketing plan. And, to my utmost delight, they took care of the critical and notoriously hard-to-write back-cover blurb. (I’d rather write an entire book than a back-cover blurb!)

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Original cover and former title of FORTE

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New FORTE cover design from Xchyler Publishing

 

Just yesterday, I sent what I was told had to be “absolutely the last go-around” version, and I’m thrilled with it. I have to say, the end result is so worth the effort. It’s so much better than it had been when I thought it was done. Frankly, I cringe to think of publishing the book without their input.

My “baby” launches July 25, 2015. It takes a village to launch a book. So many people have made FORTE rich in so many ways — I’m brimming with gratitude.   The best part? My boys can’t wait to read it. And the adventures continue…

Truth about Royalties

First, let me give thanks. To those of you who have read my book, CATCHER’S KEEPER: Thank you! If you happened to have given me a review on Amazon or Goodreads, know that you have given me the best gift you can give an author. Thank you!

Now, many of you are curious to know how my book is doing. A reasonable question, I guess. Some may think it odd that I’m having a hard time finding an appropriate response.

My reviews are good. So far (knock on wood) I haven’t gotten less than 4 stars on Amazon or Goodreads. And most of those reviews are 5 stars—from complete strangers. My overall Amazon rating is a glowing 4.7! Hooray!

Not only is it getting great reviews, it has won multiple awards. Hooray!

As far as my FB friends can tell, it’s doing very well. Heck, I have near strangers congratulating me on the street.

“Your book’s doing so well!”

I smile and thank them. Yes, it’s doing well in many ways.

But when I’m asked the direct question: “How’s your book doing?”…I have to pause. You mean sales?

Yes, they mean sales.

Despite the obvious social faux pas in asking this question (I mean, how many people go up and ask a realtor “How are you making out on commission for that big ol’ house on Main Street?”)

Yet, people truly believe they are celebrating with me by asking the question: “How’s your book doing?”

Well, let me tell you.

Last month, my royalty check was $15.00

$15.00

For one month’s worth of sales.

Way to pay the rent.

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Me holding a recent royalty check. Look closely at the amount! It’s made out for a whopping $6.50!

I’ve been advised by some self-published ebook success stories to enhance my sales. The crux of their advice is to run a “sale” on your ebook and run a promotion on a high-profile ebook marketing engine, like BookBub. I looked into that. For CK, I would have to pay about $400 to give my book away free.

Let me repeat that, I would have to PAY $400 to give my book away FREE in order to promote on Bookbub.

Hmmm….

The idea is that readers will review your book on Amazon and Goodreads, thus helping to get the word out that your book exists, which *might* happen, but—

I would have to PAY $400 to give my book away FREE.

Does that make sense to anyone?

I did my first-ever sale recently. It was kind of a last-minute thing, but I got two high-profile book bloggers to help promote it, plus I did my thing on FB and Twitter, etc. What were the results?

Drum roll please….

I sold 8 books.

8

Which comes to about $11.00 in royalties.

Yes, because I’ve self-published, I make 70% of royalties. Which is great…if your book sells, which mine is not.

I have to say, when I first published my book, I didn’t really care about making money. It wasn’t about that. But I did want my book out there. I wanted people to read it. Because my sales are so abysmal, I’m left to wonder: Will my book languish in somnolence? Will it vaporize into the electrowaves of the internet?

It’s hard to let go, I guess.

It hit home when I attended a bookclub in which a New York Times Bestselling author spoke. When asked the question—How’s your book doing?—she literally knocked on wood and said, “I can finally pay my rent.”

She’s a New York Times Bestselling author!

I have other friends who have been lucky enough to sign with big name publishers for multiple book deals. They all have had to keep their day jobs because they just don’t make any money from their books. Even if they’ve won awards. Even if they have stellar reviews.

In fact, I’ve been warned more than once by many published authors, “You won’t make any money on your books.” They don’t need to add, “unless you are Gillian Flynn.” (Who, I found out the other day, is only 2 years older than me. Color me envious.)

Maybe I’ve lost sight of what’s important, but in my mind, I just can’t reconcile how people spend money these days. What are peoples’ problems with spending money on BOOKS?

My ebook is $4.99.

Thanks to the instantaneous feedback available online, I have been made privy to the fact that people have returned CK after reading it, taking advantage of Amazon’s 5-day return policy. (My feelings about that horrendous policy could fill another blog post.)

But it broke my heart. People are returning it after they read it?

It’s $4.99.

How much does your latte cost at Starbucks? Do you get as much enjoyment out of that latte as you would cozy-ing up with a good book?

Many people would not bat an eyelash in spending $24 on an entrée that will be consumed in less than 15 minutes. Why do people have a problem spending $4.99 on a book that will provide hours of enjoyment?

I recently bought promotional T-shirts for $15.00 a pop to support a friend’s company. I didn’t hesitate to buy two. You could buy three of my books for one T-shirt. I bought six books worth of T-shirts.

Sigh.

A friend from college who I hadn’t talked to in almost 10 years emailed me: “I’d love a signed copy of your book. Please send it to…” Really? Buy your own f’ing copy!

Okay, okay. Maybe I’m being harsh. Maybe it’s the self-publishing stigma that’s making my sales suffer. People don’t take my book seriously because it’s self-published. Is that it, folks? Please, enlighten me. Does the fact that I’ve spent hundreds on professional editors mean nothing? Does my 4.7 Amazon review rating mean nothing? Do my multiple awards mean nothing?

Or maybe it’s priced too high. Maybe people simply value a latte more than a good book. In which case, I’m screwed.

*update! I just got my direct-deposit notification for my September royalties. The grand total = $9.39. That means I sold 3 books in the month of September. Sigh.

From Participant to Presenter

Yesterday, I returned from the DFW Writers’ Conference (DFWcon). It was my second DFWcon, and like last year, I was overflowing with inspiration while at the same time so overwhelmed with such valuable writing tips I wasn’t sure what to use first with my writing.

But unlike last year, I felt a new confidence as a writer—with my debut novel out in print rather than waiting to be signed with an agent and into the elusive and coveted “big-publishing-house route.” There was another significant difference this year. Not only was I a taker at the conference, soaking up all the strategies from the experts, I was also a giver. I was somewhat of an expert myself.

About a month ago, I’d emailed the conference director (the awesome Kirk Von Der Heydt) offering to present on the topic of self-publishing. I had acquired quite an education in the process of publishing my novel, and thought my story could help other writers. But, unsurprisingly, the schedule was full.

But then…

Before the conference officially started, word got around that there were cancellations. Two agents were unable to attend last minute. And at least two educational workshops were canceled.

My good friend and former Texas neighbor Veena Kashyap is to blame for what followed.

As roomies, Veena and I shared more than a bathroom as the conference weekend got underway. She also knew in good time that I had a presentation written and ready for an upcoming event in my hometown.

What happened next happened in pajamas early Saturday morning.

“You need to email Kirk,” Veena said. “Text Kirk. Call Kirk. They need presenters. They need to fill the slots. They’ll put you on the schedule.”

“You’re right,” I replied. “I should do that.” *yawn*

“You should do it right now.”

“I think I should find him and ask him in person.”

“Time is of the essence. You need to get to him as soon as possible.”

“You’re right.” *rubbing eyes*…*stretch*…*yawn*

*palm-slap mattress* “Get up, girl! I don’t know what you’re still doing in bed. What are you waiting for? Get up right now and email him.”

So I did.

By the time we got to the conference an hour later, Kirk still hadn’t responded to my email. And, frankly, I was perfectly willing to let it go.

But Veena wasn’t.

“Go talk to Jason,” she said. “He’s right in the lobby.”

“Okay,” I said, perusing my schedule, mentally organizing my day of passive observation.

“Go now!”

Pushy bitch, I responded silently and with affection as I went off in search of Jason (Kirk’s right hand man & founder of DFWcon). Jason directed me to Michelle, the “master scheduler.”

Opening remarks were beginning in just minutes. You can imagine what kind of pressure a “master scheduler” was feeling right then. And there I was, grinning with my book in my hands, offering to fill an empty slot.

“We already have a workshop on self-publishing,” she said. (I’m sure she had no interest in dealing with me or anything unexpected at that particular moment.)

But I wouldn’t give up. (In truth, I was a little terrified to report to Veena I’d failed.)

“Actually, that one is about formatting e-books. This is different. This deals with the process of self-publishing.”

Michelle gave me an exasperated look. Then a half-smile. “I usually vet presenters. I can’t let just anyone present…”

“I totally understand. Here is my card. Here’s my book. I’d emailed Kirk a month ago about my topic…”

Just then, Kirk swaggered up to Michelle in his bold black cowboy hat—looking more like Butch Cassidy than a fiction writer—wanting last-minute changes for his opening remarks. Michelle waved a hand at me, perhaps hoping Kirk could take the issue off her plate. I pitched my idea to Kirk in three seconds flat. He nodded and turned to Michelle.

“Okay, get me an index card with the information and I’ll make the announcement,” Kirk said, and turned on his cowboy-boot heel and left us.

*expectant smile at Michelle*

She gave a weary sigh and said, “Okay, I’ll give you that slot. Tomorrow morning at 9am.”

Veena was pleased with my report. (Whew!)

Opening remarks at a conference are usually unremarkable unless the information makes your heart gallop out of your chest.

Kirk’s voice boomed through the ballroom where over 350 listened: “There are a couple changes to the schedule…We’ve had some cancellations…We have a couple additions…Tomorrow at 9am in room E/F there is a new class on self-publishing by Johannah Spero.”

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YIKES!

Veena beamed at me across the table like a proud mother. Gave me a thumbs up.

It’s hard to imagine I was able to enjoy the rest of the day, but somehow I managed. I tried not to think about what I had to do the next morning or how exactly I was going to do it while also trying to take full advantage of conference offerings. For the rest of the day, I was one of the crowd. Bouncing from workshop to workshop, connecting with my buddies in the hallway, eating a taco lunch during Jonathan Maberry’s awesome keynote, even pitching to an agent.

But I did leave early to work on my Powerpoint, using my blog post “A Year in the Life of a Book to Be” as a reference, so I could go to the networking mixer that night. At dinner before the mixer, I shared tidbits of my presentation with Veena and the rest of our group (shout out to Zetta Stevenson and Michele Shriver).

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Patio dining at Italianni’s (left to right: Michele Shriver, Veena, me, Zetta)

“I’m going to open by saying that I’m by no means an expert on self-publishing,” I said.

“Don’t you dare say that,” Veena scolded.

“But, Veena, I’m not an expert. I had no idea what I was doing. I fumbled along, making a million mistakes as I went.”

“And that’s exactly why you need to share your story.”

“But…”

“Nothing negative,” Veena said. “Use only positive language.”

The next morning at 9am in room E/F, I heard myself open with: “There are many ways to self-publish. If you talk to someone else who’s been through the process, they would have a completely different story. But this is my story. And I think it might help you…”

From there, I explained exactly what I did, who I hired (with costs), and the mistakes I learned from—taking them through my journey.

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Photos courtesy of Veena Kashyap

There were about 350 attendees at DFWcon this year, and workshops overlapped and filled the six or so conference rooms at the Hurst Conference Center with coinciding time-slots. At any given time, there might be seven different talks going on, so attendees had plenty of options from which to choose throughout the day. Perhaps if it had been on the schedule or if it had been announced again, I would’ve had more of a crowd. But as it was, I presented to about ten people. In a conference room that could’ve held close to 100.

Which was fine by me.

After my talk, one woman told me, “You made me feel comfortable with self-publishing. And I hadn’t felt that way before.”

Later, I received Tweets:

“Thanks for a great class on self-publishing! So helpful!”

“Thanks for sharing your journey. So cool!”

I wanted to share my story not to add “DFWcon Presenter” to my resume, but to pay it forward and help other writers who are thinking of self-publishing. If I only helped one writer, it would’ve been worth it.

But it seems I helped at least three, if not ten.

All the better.

(And, yes, I’m hiring Veena as my publicist.)

Post-Partum Book-Blues?

Growing up, I was a theater kid. All of us theater people understand the post-production blues that come after the final curtain call, after striking the set, after the running-on-fumes-but-cannot-miss cast party. The next morning, I’d awaken—as all my fellow thespians would—to an empty canvas of time. Our jam-packed schedules that had deprived us of sleep and nutritious meals and QT with loved ones for months were now suddenly…wide open. Texas countryside open. No more excuses for that putting off that dental cleaning. There would be no reason not to vacuum our cars’ crumb-laden interiors. All the reasons that made Cheetos a viable pairing with pizza lost their validity. So, after a good cry and a look at some photos or a glowing review, we’d all pull up our big-girl socks and get on with regular life. Ho hum.

No one told me this is how I’d feel after launching a book.

By now, you’ve read my previous blog, A Year in the Life of a Book-to-Be, which gave you a snapshot of the chaos of my life as I prepared to publish CATCHER’S KEEPER…and that was after writing the thing. It’s a strange life cycle: a book lives inside your head for years, you get it down and toil over every word, and then you have to push and insist and fight to get it out there. And then…

I wrote the first draft of CATCHER’S KEEPER in only three months. It sounds cliché, but the story had to get out. I drafted scenes in my mind at the playground only to run home and pound it out onto the computer during episodes of Phineas and Ferb. Many nights, I would go to bed, wait for everyone to fall asleep, and then sneak down to my computer and write until 2 or 3 a.m. Sometimes my husband would return from putting the boys to bed only to find me frantically typing a scene, having left dirty dinner dishes scattered about the kitchen. The story could not wait.

During my twenties when I flailed about trying to find myself (as many twenty-somethings do—ever see Girls on HBO?), my brother gave me a book about Graduate School entitled “Getting What You Came For,” which discusses how much commitment is required in obtaining a PhD. And by commitment, I don’t mean time, but passion. A thing that cannot be measured.

As my brother went through his doctorate program, I learned of a phenomenon more common than you’d expect summed up in a single foreboding acronym: ABD “All But Dissertation.” It takes years to earn a PhD—sometimes over a decade—but if you fail to complete the dissertation, the culmination of your research and expertise on your very specific field of study, you fail to get your PhD. If doctorate candidates aren’t borderline obsessed with the topic of their dissertations, their chances of finishing and therefore obtaining their PhDs are seriously compromised. You have to not only want it, but put almost everything else aside in order to obtain it.

If I may digress for one gloating moment: I’m happy to report that my brother, Jim Davies, has long finished his dissertation and obtained his PhD. (He’s now a cognitive scientist and award-winning associate professor at Carleton University in Ottawa—as well as an accomplished author. You can pre-order his book RIVETED now!)

I’m not comparing my commitment to my novel to the dedication required to earn a PhD. But it’s true that if I weren’t borderline obsessed with my book, I may not have finished it. This book harnessed an immense amount of energy; just thinking about it gave me a rush of adrenaline. Had I not been borderline obsessed, I probably would’ve allowed those early rejections—and there were lots of them—to convince me it was worthless. I may not have bothered with the Amazon contest. I may not have self-published. And there would be one less book in the world.

But it is out in the world. (Hooray!) And, for a few days, I was relieved and thrilled about its release.

And then the blues kicked in. Which was so strange.

The thing is: It’s not over. It’s creating a whole new energy. People are reading it! Reviewing it! I’m working Twitter and Facebook like no tomorrow. Blog tours! Interviews with local newspapers! Online interview with NY Times bestselling author! Book signing and presentation at a local café! I already have five legit bookclub gigs in four different states (only one of which is a relative’s—ha!). There’s amazing stuff happening.

So why am I blue?

Recalling the life-cycles of my five babies (my five completed manuscripts), I realize I have a mini-blues episode each time I finish a first draft. I’m happiest when I’m actively writing—creating a story out of nothing. I look forward to the next scene with as much fervor as I used to anticipate 24 episodes. I play it out in my head, write it quickly, and read it the next day, reveling in its purity. Building from the scene before, laying a foundation for the next chapter, feeling a build lift me like a giant wave. This is the best way I can describe it. Although it may not sound familiar to other authors, this is my reality of writing.

Dorothy Parker once said, “I hate writing. I love having written.” Respectfully, Ms. Parker, I would have to disagree.

Revising is a chore. Launching is a roller-coaster. Promotion is stressful. Writing a story organically is the sweet spot, and I’ve realized that’s what’s been missing. Even when there’s so much left to do, I realized I needed to start a new project.
So I have.

What’s it about, you ask?

Oh, no. I’m way too superstitious to tell you that. You’ll just have to wait to read it.