Why I Decided to Self-Publish

If you work outside the book industry, you may not know that there is a revolution underfoot.  Amazon is shaking up the publishing world, delighting some and infuriating others.  Lucky for me, I fall into delighted category – with KDP & CreateSpace, Amazon has created the tools for me to successfully (I hope!) publish my own book.

There’s a lot that goes into publishing a book.  There’s the writing, of course, but what no one tells you is that the writing is only a tiny portion of what needs to happen to get a book in front of readers.  There’s editing, proofreading, cover art, print formatting, ebook formatting, printing, distribution, marketing, social media… the list goes on.

In traditional publishing, the writer does the writing, and that’s it.  Well, at least, that’s what I thought.  My understanding was that the point of this whole industry that built up around books was so that writers could write, and everyone else – agents, editors, designers, proofreaders, publicists, distributors, retailers, etc. – could do everything else.  And to compensate these other contributors for their work, the writer shared a significant portion of the revenue from the book.

That sounded like a fine tradeoff to me, so I initially set out on that path.  I compiled a list of agents, started drafting my query letter to pitch my book, and was days away from sending those queries, when Amazon posted this on their front page.  It’s a blog post by independent author Jessica Park who, after getting disillusioned with the traditional publishing industry, decided to publish her own book using Amazon’s tools, and has been very successful doing so.

When I read that article, I had already done a lot of research about self-publishing and had carefully weighed my options to figure out what was right for me.  I suspected that in the end I would probably end up going independent, but some small part of me held on to the dream of being “really” published, so I had decided to give that a shot and use the Amazon option as a backup.  But after reading that post, a few things hit me:

1. I really, really wanted to get my book in front of readers as soon as possible.  The idea of waiting for weeks/months for agents and publishers to read (and, more often than not, reject) my book was killing me.  I’m the type of person who likes to get things done, so this waiting around for other people to act basically sounded to me like torture.

2. I knew from my research that successful books make it because the author puts a tremendous amount of effort into marketing the book and building a following.  Not the publishers and publicists and media people (who I initially had thought were responsible for doing this), but the author herself.  I figured if I needed to do all that work either way, why pay someone else to do it?  Plus, by doing it myself, I could price my book much lower (the ebook version anyway – unfortunately print-on-demand doesn’t have the economies of scale that you find in traditional publishing, so the print version won’t be as reasonable as I’d like it to be) and still make the same amount of money per book as I would if I had published it traditionally.

3. I am a control freak.  I like to make everything perfect right down to the tiniest little detail (I literally have almost 100 pages of notes planning my wedding…), and usually the easiest way to do that is to just do it myself.  Some authors are daunted by the idea of formatting and designing and proofreading their own book, but I’m excited by it.  I know my book is going to be me and I love that.

4. At this point in my life, writing novels is a hobby for me.  Would I love to get paid for writing books?  Absolutely – I would do it full-time if I could make a living that way.  But right now, I am running a successful business and plan to continue doing so to earn a living, so my career doesn’t depend on my acceptance into the publishing world.  My goal at this point is just to do it and see how many readers I can reach.  If all goes well, then perhaps full-time fiction will be in the cards for me.  If not, at least I know I can continue doing this for fun on the side.

So, I decided to self-publish.

Of course there are drawbacks – I’m still nervous about not having a professional editor and proofreader review my book, but I am hoping that getting the opinions of 20 avid readers on multiple versions of the manuscript will have sufficed.  And I won’t get the “approval” from the industry that a part of me still desperately wants – though as Jessica Park said her in post, it’s really readers’ approval that I need, not publishers and editors (readers, I hope you love it!).

But I think it will be worth the effort.  I got the first drafts of my cover art today, and I can’t tell you how good it feels to see my name on the cover of a book.  (Can’t wait to share the final version with everyone soon!)  Looking at that cover, what I realized is that it doesn’t matter who publishes a book – what matter is that it exists, and it’s ready for people to read.

Now the challenge is finding those people!  Up next: Making the Connection – Marketing a Book to Readers

The Why & How of Writing a Novel (Part 2)

Last week in Part 1 of this post I wrote about how I managed the undertaking of writing a novel.  This week I’m going tackle the harder part – the “Why.”

Why would anyone write a novel?  There are certainly plenty of reasons not to – the sheer volume of work, the difficulty of coming up with something new and different, the inevitable criticism (both deserved and not), the oft-underestimated amount of labor needed to get people to actually read said novel…  So why would anyone do this?

I think the answer is different for every author (and even every book), but for me, it’s pretty simple: I love to read, and I love to write.

I wrote Stitch because writing stories brings me great pleasure, and it was something I hadn’t really given myself an opportunity to do since I was a child, and I felt like it was finally time to start doing it again.  And since I love to read books – and especially love to read multi-book series with sci-fi/fantasy/romance themes – I decided my story should be in the form of a book, specifically book one of a sci-fi/fantasy/romance trilogy.  And to make the book unique, I decided I would break all the rules by taking the elements I loved from lots of different genres and seeing if I could fit them all together in one story.

So that covers why I chose to write this specific book, but doesn’t really address why I would want to write a book in general.  To answer that, I think it’s important to understand what books in general have meant to my life.

One illustrative example: I remember one time an old boyfriend of mine (not my fiance!) had stood me up for a date on a Friday night.  As I sat by the phone waiting for him to call, I decided to start re-reading the Harry Potter series to pass the time.  And by time he did call, I think I was more angry with him for interrupting my reading than anything else.  (Perhaps it should have been a red flag that I enjoyed my time at Hogwarts more than I did spending time with him…)

Another example: After I finished Twilight’s conclusion, Breaking Dawn, I remember entering a distinct depression for about two weeks.  It wasn’t that I was unhappy with the ending – in fact, I was thrilled that Stephanie Meyer had given those characters happier endings than I ever could have imagined for them.  But I was so lost knowing that there was no more Twilight coming.  I knew that world was over, and I wanted more, and I knew I wasn’t going to get it (except for the movies, of course), and it physically hurt.  The same thing happened to me after the Eragon series, and the Hunger Games, and Harry Potter, and many, many other books.

But that’s what books do for me.  I love books.  I LOVE them.  My favorite books have always held the power to bring me to another world and to introduce me to characters that I end up caring for like I would any real friend.  Books set me down in another place and time where my worries and ambitions and dreams are entirely different than they are here.  For me, books are nothing short of magical.

And for that reason, I’ve always held authors in high esteem, and was always dismayed by the idea of holding that responsibility in my own hands.  If I was going to write a book, I wanted it to delight readers the same way that so many books have delighted me.  I wanted them to want to stay home and read instead of going out on a Friday night.  I wanted them to miss it at the end of the series, to want more of it so deeply that that ardent desire overshadowed the rest of their lives for weeks.

Needless to say, that’s a lot of pressure for a debut writer, and so it took me a while (26 years…) to build up the courage to try. So why did I write a novel?  To see if I could do it – to see if anyone would love my book they way I’ve loved so many others’.

To date, one of the most gratifying comments I’ve received was from one of my friends who was reading the early drafts.  Her email said:

“Love the new chapters so far!  I definitely started reading the book instead of reading what I was supposed to before class, oops!”

And later another friend said: “I wasn’t planning on reading your manuscript until I got back from vacation, but then I loaded it on my Kindle and I ended up reading the whole thing in two nights.”

Those, to me, are the ultimate compliments – if readers are putting off their lives to make time for my book, then I know I did my job!  Hopefully others will feel the same after Stitch launches in a few weeks…

Until then, check back for more posts about my experience writing Stitch!  Next up: Why I Decided to Self-Publish

The Why & How of Writing a Novel (Part 1)

Since I’ve started telling people that I wrote a novel, the questions I get asked most often (besides, “What’s it about?”) are “Why?” and “How?”

It’s really amazing how much those three little letters can capture – as in, “Isn’t that incredibly difficult?  Do you really think you can be successful as a novelist?  Do you really want to deal with the rejection and public humilation which could come with putting yourself out there like that?  How do you even get started on such a massive undertaking?”  (Okay, perhaps those are my own insecurities reading into things, but please, I know what you people are thinking!  Authors are crazy, we understand.)

So as a result, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the answers to these questions.  Obviously, every author has their own motivations and methods, but for me, it comes down to a few simple things.  Let’s start with the easy part – the “How.”

Okay, writing a book is not exactly easy, and quite frankly, I spent much of my life being completely daunted by the idea.  I remember one time in middle school I sat down and decided to write a book, and then 30 pages later my story ended and I was just like, “Oh.  Well, I guess it’s a short book.”  What I learned then is that writing a novel – much like anything else – is as much about planning as it is about doing.  You have to be organized, you have to know where you’re going, and you have to have plan for how you’re going to get there.

For me, this translates into a very detailed outline.  It’s a strategy I’ve used all my life for term papers and projects, and even managing my everyday life (I love to-do lists!).  When I have something huge that I need to get done, the only way I can do it is to break it down into manageable pieces and attack them one by one, until finally, one day, miraculously, I’m done!

So when it came to Stitch, the first thing I did was plan.  Who are these characters?  What are they struggling against, both internally and externally?  What is the world they live in like, and how did it get that way?  What are these characters ultimately trying to achieve?  What’s going to get in their way?  How are they going to overcome these challenges?  These questions gave me an idea of what I wanted to see happen and the overall arc of my story (which in this case is planned to be a trilogy, so I was looking both at the big picture across all three books, and more specifically at what happens in Book 1).

Then to prepare to write Book 1, I first broke that few paragraph synopsis into milestones – Rising Action, Turning Point(s), Crisis, Twist, Climax, Resolution, etc.  Then I broke them down further into chapters, e.g., “Ch1 – Alessa’s in the library studying, she can’t concentrate since (as usual) she’s thinking about the ghost.  Also introduce features x, y, z about her character.  She gives up on studying and decides to go find Janie.”  I did that for EVERY CHAPTER.

And here’s where I made my first mistake – I didn’t plan enough.  When I wrote my outline, there were some sections in the middle of the book and at the climax that I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do with, and so I was vague in the outline and just figured I’d know what to do when I got there.  And guess what – I didn’t.  So these parts of the book ended up being the weakest parts, which required me to later revise heavily to fix them.  In retrospect, I should have waited to start writing until I figured it all out.

Also, another thing I wasn’t specific enough about in my outline was timing and schedule.  I had planned a pretty thorough outline of what happened to all of the characters before the book began, but for some reason, I thought the timing of the rest of it would be clear as I wrote.  Well, it wasn’t – I kept having to go back and check on which days Alessa had which classes, and how many days had passed between event A and event B to make sure the timing was right, etc., etc., and sure enough I later found some inconsistencies which drove me nuts and were difficult to fix since I now had 300+ pages to dig through to figure out where I went wrong.  Lesson number 2: put days and times on everything that happens in your chapter outline.

So besides those two roadbumps with not planning *quite* thoroughly enough, once I had my outline, things were smooth sailing.  I wrote Stitch while working full time, so each week I would devote my entire weekend to writing 3-4 chapters, then I would send them out to my beta readers (thank you guys!!) and implement their revisions the following week whenever I had time in the evenings.  In this manner, I was able to finish the first draft in a little under 4 months (I did my planning over the Christmas holidays and had a completed manuscript by April).  Then I gave myself a few weeks to decompress and try to forget my writing so that I could came back to revise with fresh eyes (and in the meantime I caught up on reading 15 of the best YA books from the past two years over about 2.5 weeks disguised as “market research” – it was a fantastic couple of weeks!).  Now here I am in June, finishing up my fourth draft after some big revisions (which could have been avoided with better planning!!) and getting ready to launch this thing.

So that’s the “How.”  And since we are pushing 900 words already, I’m going to save the “Why” for next time…

And so it begins…

Dear Reader,

Thanks so much for visiting my website! As you may have surmised, my name is Samantha and I am the author of the upcoming YA sci-fi novel Stitch.

Stitch is my very first novel, and as a first time novelist, I’ve found the blogs of other authors to be incredibly helpful in getting acquainted with the daunting world of publishing. The goal of this blog is to document my trials and travails as a debut author to share with future writers who are embarking on the same journey.

Thanks so much for your support and encouragement, and don’t hesitate to reach out – I’ll do my best to answer each and every email I receive.