Hello Old Friend

tartt I support indie writers. Some books, I go indie myself. But one thing I’ve noticed…I don’t see many indie “literary” novels. Terry Tyler comes closest. She calls her work “contemporary.” No labels for Tyler. Not even the literary label. And good for her.

Still, lots of genre in the indies. Maybe I’m not looking in the right places? One of the things that seems most wonderful to me as an indie is I don’t have to follow any rules. I’m not chained to my romance or mystery perch like Fabritius’s goldfinch. Or am I? Are we all?

That’s the type of discussion that goes on in some literary novels like Donna Tartt’s fabulous The Goldfinch which I just finished last night. The last twenty or so wonderful pages would have been slashed to nothing had I sent them to a genre publisher. And that’s a shame.

So indies, what’s going on? I could take a guess or two. Maybe indies want to be discovered and offered huge multi-million dollar contracts like that erotica author who started out writing fan fic about Edward and Bella. So the indie genre books are calling cards, of a sort. Maybe.

Or maybe the indies who write in a specific genre just really like vampire books. Maybe they’re not thinking HBO series material at all. All I can really say is this indie, me, likes coloring outside the lines, and publishing indie lets me do that.

Why not submit to literary agents and publishers, then? Ah, no. I’m no Fabritius, no Tartt either. I know my limitations. We all have them. And so what do I hope to achieve with these indie novels? Well, some money would be nice. Although it does not seem to be happening, at least not yet, and I’m okay with that.

In fact, not making money from my writing is probably a good thing, even though it’s bad. (This ‘good but also bad’ dicotomy is one of the themes in The Goldfinch.) It’s bad because of course I would rather make art than teach. It’s good because I’ve been teaching so long I’m due for retirement and pension soon:) It’s bad because if I put my work’s value at a dollar amount, then my work is zero.

It’s good because I found out that I will still write, even at zero. That’s something worth learning. Because it brings me back to the innocence I had when I was 16, writing in a notebook, trying hard to get the feelings right, with no thought to being discovered, published, or important. The work was important. And that was all, that was enough.

Indie or ePub?

Congratulations to my publisher The Wild Rose Press for winning “Best ePublisher” five years in a row here. Being with a #1 ePublisher feels good. About the same time I signed a contract with TWRP for The Paris Notebook, I self-published my first indie novel Sister Issues on Kindle. I thought it would be interesting to see the differences between doing it myself and having a publisher. I can now report that:

1. Money: the money I earned on each book so far is about the same. Quarterly earnings in 3 figures. Low 3 figures. Don’t let that discourage you. Other authors earn much more. They promote their work more effectively, write more books, write sexier books, paranormals, series.

Another money issue, if you go indie, you’ll probably have out-of-pocket expenses. Nothing like what a vanity press would charge. (Many people think indie publishing and vanity presses are the same but they are not. A vanity press will take thousands of your dollars and not even edit your masterpiece. Not even a spell check!) But a couple of hundred bucks if you hire out any of the hard stuff. With TWRP the author pays nothing and the publisher does everything.

2. Content Control: Going indie means I have complete control of content. It also means your book will need an editor unless you have two degrees in English and a super smart critique group, like I do. Freelance editors charge fees as low as $100 but some are much higher. Going indie, you’ll need to do your homework here. Ask indie authors you’ve read and enjoyed who edited their books. With TWRP, I worked closely with an editor.

My TWRP editor advised I cut a subplot and add a consummation scene. I really loved that subplot so I turned it into the free short story “Sarah’s Survival Guide” on my website. I paid a friend who is good with graphic design $100 to make a cover. I think the book would have been better with the subplot but it would not have been a romance.

As for the consummation scene, this is a personal decision. TWRP does have a “sweet” line of books for people who want to be sure they are reading “G” rated material. My book was not sweet, even without the consummation scene. I had four letter words and lots of sexy foreplay. So I wrote the scene.

3. Covers: As an indie, I had to find a cover that looked professional or hire someone to do it. After a long time of trying to stage a cover myself, I got permission from my daughter-in-law to use a pic of her and her sister. I paid them peanuts, but I think anyone who gives permissions like that should be paid. At TWRP I got a great professional cover by one of their artists. Didn’t have to pay a dime or do a thing but fill out an art-fact sheet.

4. Print: As an indie, I knew it would cost a little more ($100 working with Amazon’s Create Space) to have Sister Issues available in print. I decided not to do that. Yet. With TWRP, if you write 65,000 words or more, your book goes to print. That was a thrill!!

5. Format: As an indie, I had to find someone to format my Word document into KDP (Mobi). I tried several times and could not get it to work right. I found someone to help with that for $100. Turn around time was less than 24 hours and my book looks great. TWRP does all that for you:)

6. Marketing: As an indie, you are on your own. I read up on self-promotion and did what I could with the time I have. I want to write, not market my work. But with indies, self-promotion is essential. TWRP has a marketing department. They send galleys to all kinds of review sites and I pulled in a few reviews that way. They chat up your books on Twitter and Facebook. They ask you for ideas to partner with them to promote your book. I’ve done a bit of that, too.

7. Distribution: Most stores that sell books do not sell indie books. If you live by an indie bookstore, lucky you! But you need to make first contact. TWRP handles distribution. That is huge.  Everything TWRP does for me is huge. I want no part of making covers, formatting, or distributing my books. So the clear winner, at least for me, is The Wild Rose Press.

 

Career(s)

My husband and I have had a long disagreement about my retiring from teaching. It started maybe six years ago, when I found out that if I worked in the public school system for ten years, I was entitled to a retirement. Age 51 is not a great time to begin strategizing a career that had always felt part-time. Age 51 is a great age to begin dreaming of dusting off those accumulated rejected manuscripts, whip them into shape, and indie publish them.

I liked teaching because it gave me spending money, got me out of the house, made me think about more than just the current novel-in-progress. Writing, if nobody’s told you, is lonely work. Of course being the old lady in a room full of texting young people who do not want to learn to write is not so great either. Hence my life’s dilemma.

I did a short little teaching stint this summer at the college I work for. Six weeks, May into June. I took Fall and Winter 2011 off to get those novels on the internet, and since I only managed to publish two of them, am taking Fall and Winter 2012 off as well. I am adjunct faculty with senority at the top tier of our pay scale (which, believe me, is not saying a whole lot).

Our differences of opinion on this matter of me retiring, if I wanted to put in the time required to receive a pension, has two main prongs. The “how much will I get” prong and the “how long will I need to work” prong. Michigan Public Schools has a great website that let’s you see all this and calculate answers. We did this once six years ago, and have been disagreeing on it ever since. I think I’ll get $100 a month. He thinks it’s much more than that. I think I’ll have to work 3 or 4 more years, he thinks it’s much less than that.

It is long past due for us to go over the paperwork again, revisit the site, see who is closer to the truth. On the one hand, I am right. On the other, he is. I will qualify in as few as two or three semesters, depending on how my classes are distributed, but, after taxes, I’m not going to receive much more than that $100 I predicted.

Al is a numbes whiz. He quickly said “If you live 25 years, that’s $80,000.” I have no idea if this calculation is true or not. He also is worried about insurance. I could “buy” for both of us at a super-reasonable rate if something ever happened with the UAW. I point out that teacher’s pensions and benefits are being chopped just as quickly, but it all really boils down to one thing: will I do this? Al votes yes, but leaves the final decision up to me.

Reader, I think I have to do it. But not until Fall 2013.

Red Mojo Mama

It’s interesting that Kathy Lynn Hall name checks Janet Evanovich twice in her novel Red Mojo Mama because their voices have the same casual, cosy, comic vibe. Plotwise, there are big differences. Hall, as an indie writer, does not have to adhere to any kind of genre restrictions (I’m sure Evanovich calls her own shots too these days) so she is all over the place: romance, mystery, domestic drama, and even a dash of fantasy spiritualism.

I liked it! She kept me engaged with her many layers of story. Red, the main character, is a hoot and a half. She’s widowed and sad, but still manages the odd wisecrack. Then there’s Mac, the ghost of her dead husband, who follows her to a tiny town in northern California and the trailer park she inherited from an aunt who died under somewhat mysterious circumstances. There Red meets her neighbors, a congenial bunch, especially one special guy she can’t help being attracted to despite her still unresolved feelings for Mac.

The mystery angle concerns corruption at the top. Certain of the town’s wealthy citizens are turning a charming old gold rush town into yet another playground for the wealthy. And they don’t mind playing dirty to get what they want. Shady dealings aside, would they resort to murder? Red lands a job as a reporter, a good reason to stick her nose in at town counsel meetings.

What happens as a result of her inquiring mind? Will Red be able to help the townsfolk who’ve been duped? Will she find out if her aunt was murdered? Will she take the millions offered for her trailer park or stay put in this new-found happy place? Hall has a hell of a good time answering these burning questions, and readers will too.

Indie Wonderland

New writers may well be confused by the superfine distinctions between self-published, vanity published, e-published and indie published.

I self-published my first book, a non-fiction writing manual, Your Words, Your Story, because I wanted to use it in the classroom as soon as possible. I knew from experience that trying to  traditionally publish a book takes years, so I decided to go it alone. What self-publishing means is that the author pays a printer to print copies of her book. She sets up a small press, buys her own ISBN number, writes a letter to the Library of Congress and later sends copies of books to them so they can be filed along with a jillion other books. Distribution can be a problem, but I had a built-in source–my college bookstore.

Self-publishing was a difficult endeavor, and had I known how much trouble it would be, I might not have done it. I hired out some of the work, formatting, design, cover image. The entire venture cost me about $3000 and I recouped that money quickly. Now I sell the digital form of that book on Kindle for 99 cents, and to my surprise people other than my students buy it.

The difference between self-publishing and vanity publishing is simple. Self-published authors with small presses have a long tradition in literature and are involved in every step of the production of their book. They learn the business end of the publishing industry. They take care that their books are scrupulously edited. Virginia Woolf’s husband set up Hogarth Press  so he could publish his wife’s brilliant but misunderstood novels. Walt Whitman, a poet far ahead of his time, self-published too.

I feel fine about being in such company. I found a printer known for quality work and met with them to discuss everything from the size of my book to the color of the pages (buff is better than white) to the type of print I wanted. Then I hired a skilled professional to format the book to the printers’ specifications. This is not how the Vanity Press folks do it.

Vanity Press companies take out ads in writer’s magazines and promise to do everything for you. Just send your manuscript and they’ll do the rest. What happens here is the writer loses creative control, and at a price far above $3000. More like $10,000 or more. Writers who don’t understand the slim but important distinction between vanity and self-publishing are writers who do not do their homework. Neither vanity writer or vanity press has any interest in editing. To their own detriment, vanity writers don’t want to know about or deal with editing or any of the many other aspects of the publishing end of things.

Now Kindle Digital Platform and other internet sources are making it easy for self-published and vanity authors to upload their books with free distribution at little to no cost. And thus the indie writer was born. Indie books run the gamut from unedited unformatted vanity projects to professional quality books. These indie authors aren’t just for e-readers. They have the option to print their work on demand. (POD). I decided to use KDP for Sister Issues, my first published novel, that fits no mainstream niche (one sister is chick lit the other is women’s fiction). Also because I was familiar with it from my first book.

With Sister Issues, I didn’t bother with the print version; I just wanted to join the band of indies. I still ended up paying someone to format my book, but this time it was for $100, a price well worth the work–because the internal workings of KDP demand certain formatting details if the writer wants an e-book not riddled with mistakes and strange re-arrangements. I found that out the hard way, too, but it’s so easy to “publish” and “unpublish” on KDP that it didn’t cost me respect or readers.

Right now, indie books vary wildly in appearance and content. Some authors, like Terri Giuliano Long, are trying to change what we have: vanity and self-published indie writers along with  traditionally published authors reprinting their back catalogs all duking it out for a spot on the list. It isn’t easy promoting an indie novel, and so far the mainstream press has been wary. As Terri Long notes, this is also changing.

Still there are so many books out there. The serious novelist who doesn’t fit any major publishing parameters finds her work buried under vanity crap and well-known traditionally pubbed authors. This is where we are now and this is what we, the indie authors who care about production and content excellence, are trying to fix.

Something funny happened to me when I indie pubbed. I received a contract for another novel from an e-publisher. These folks have been around for years and their quality of content varies. Anybody can put up an e-pub house on the net. And frankly, most of what sells is very spicy sex to soft core porn like 50 Shades of Gray. Although I love building sexual tension, I’m not fond of what my editor politely termed “consummation” scenes. Still, as an adventure, I decided to try working with an e-publisher as well. They take care of all the things I didn’t like doing on KDP, like providing a book cover, formatting, editing, distribution, and marketing.

The Wild Rose Press is set to release my new novel, The Paris Notebook, July 18, 2012 in both electronic and print versions. It will be interesting to see which novel does better, the indie self-published or the e-published by an online publisher. Right now, it’s anybody’s game.