A Writer’s Journey (Part 1)

Please welcome Virginia Carmichael aka Mary Jane Hathaway to Writing Prompts today.

Hello, everybody! Big thanks to Christina for having me over here today to talk about my publishing journey. This will be quite a weird little ride, so buckle up and keep arms and legs inside the blog at ALL TIMES.

Cedarpoint

Cedarpoint

This post probably applies to those of us who are writing for publication (for money), not just any writer. There are people who write without thinking of publication, and that’s a whole different blog post. So, with that caveat, let’s begin!

I started writing in 2009, when I was pregnant with my fifth child. I was working at Whitman College’s Penrose Library and had an awful lot of time at the front desk. I’d just read ‘Bridget Jones’ Diary’ and LOVED it! Hilarious! Of course, I knew it was a Pride and Prejudice redo and that just added to the wonderfulness. But… it was… sort of crude. Okay, a lot crude. I loved it but couldn’t really give it to everybody I knew. It got me thinking about a sweet P and P take off, set in academia. So, I started writing.

itsawriterthing.tumbler

itsawriterthing.tumbler

Fast forward two years and I’d found the Seekerville blog http://seekerville.blogspot.com/. Every day had wonderful writing tips and tricks, plus some awesome giveaways and contests. I’d finished my first book, written a second and was trying without success to get an agent. I won a query letter contest in Nov. 2011 and got a full request from editor Melissa Endlich of Love Inspired. Three weeks later I got a call! YAY! First book sold!!!

Here it is, in all its glory…. Season of Joy Season of Joy (Love Inspired): Virginia Carmichael: 9780373877805: Amazon.com: Books! It released Nov 2012. Yes, that’s a full YEAR from the book being submitted. If you don’t know this yet, traditional publishing moves slowly. Not quite glacier-slow, but maybe molasses-slow.

hlcs.org

hlcs.org

The whole process of writing and selling books is an odd one. We work so hard, write so long, give up so much time only to wait. And wait. And wait. If you’re a slow writer, that can work in your favor. Sell one or two books a year? Yay! Right up your alley!

But if you write more than that a year, you may be left with extras. Add in all the books that get a pass, and you’ve got a hard drive full of stuff.

Before we go into the ins and outs of self publishing, let’s talk about whether it’s a good fit for you. You know those little diagrams where you follow the arrows?

flowchart

writeralley

Well, let’s imagine one for writers who are thinking of self-publishing. A lot of people talk about being a square peg in a round hole. Or round peg in a square hole. Whichever. You’re there, you’re working to fit in, but it’s really not comfy. There are gaps and drafts and your edges are getting a bit raw. You just feel… off.

THE SQUARE PEG

My experience of being the square peg was the gaps between books. The gaps between contracts meant gaps between checks. I know some people consider their writing career a hobby. I don’t. A hobby is knitting. A hobby is collecting bottle caps. My writing is a business and I treat it like one. (Wait, don’t tell me you don’t care about money and you’ll always write even if no one buys your work. You wouldn’t commute to a day job every day for free. Nobody does that. So, this post is for people who are writing to sell their work. The artistic side is a whole ‘nother story…)

So, there I was, six kids, a whole bunch of books and a whole lot of gaps between checks. I was putting in the hours, getting myself to the job day after day (night after night) and there wasn’t any paycheck, really.

mombizcoach

mombizcoach

I could either change jobs (get a real job in the outside world) or take a closer look at self-publishing. (On our flow chart, if you’re not feeling those drafts and gaps. Stop right there. You’re good for traditional publishing. If you’re feeling the breeze, we’ve headed to step two.)

YOU LOVE TO SHARE!

With traditional publishing, your name is on the book, but there are dozen of people helping you with the process. This is one of the strengths of traditional publishing. You have assistant editors, editors, copy editors, and line editors. You have cover artists, back cover writers, blurb writers, and promotional assistants. You have agents and professional reviewers.

You go through hours and hours of editing as a group effort and must collaborate. Whatever you’ve heard about the ability of an author to use ‘stet’ (which means “I don’t like the editor’s suggestion, please don’t touch my words”), it’s actually not really kosher to use it. An editor at HQ tweeted a few months ago that her pet peeve was authors using stet constantly. You have to be willing to let a lot of changes go. I’ve never used ‘stet’ in my two books and probably never will.

So, you get your cover and hope you like it. It’s a done deal when it arrives. There is no ‘I don’t like her hair color and can you make him taller?’ going on. It just doesn’t. I loved the one cover I’ve seen, but I got very nervous before I saw it. What if I hated it?? What if I was embarrassed to have my name on this cover? I didn’t, but it could have happened.

So, you get your authors copies and open this book you’ve written… and it’s pretty much yours. A lot of people helped you make it happen. That can be very good. Season of Joy was nominated for Romantic Times’ Reviewer’s Choice for best debut in a series for 2012. I have NO DOUBT it was due to my editor Melissa’s awesome work. No doubt at all.

Can you open this book and smile, knowing it’s not quite the way you wrote it? Can you be happy with someone else’s fingerprints all over your baby? Are you happy with sharing the vision, the work, and the pay?  (Remember your agent is getting 15% of the 6% your publisher is giving you. Did you follow that math? ) If you’re good with this sharing, excellent. Traditional publishing is a good fit for you. (I’m pretty okay with it, too, so that’s why I still submitted to Love Inspired after my first book.)

sharing

diyconfessions

If you don’t feel comfortable with that process for any reason, follow the arrow to the next box.

YOUR WRITING IS A HOBBY

There are people who write to publish but also it’s a hobby. As I said before, that’s not me. My husband works a hard job and we’ve got these kids who want to eat every day. (Can you believe it?? And they want to wear shoes, too!!)

If you’re independently wealthy, don’t need the income, or plain don’t care about money, this step doesn’t really apply to you.

If you write as a business, then sit down and look at how much you’re earning. Will selling one or two books a year be enough? Remember, this isn’t how much you can write. You can MAYBE sell a few more than two, maybe four. But you’re not going to sell a book a month. Either you get a big contract with a big publisher, or many small contracts. And I wasn’t getting either one. I was getting one a year. I won’t go into specifics, since some people object to authors telling other people how much they make although I think more information is a good thing, but I’ll just say it was a fraction of my husband’s yearly income… and his was hardly keeping us afloat.

Don’t care about money? You can choose whether to keep going on our flowchart.

Money is one of those things in short supply at your house? Go on to the next box.

YOU’VE GOT GUTS

Someone asked how you get over the fear that no one will read your books if you self-publish. I sort of laughed at that because NO PUBLISHER can guarantee that someone will read your books. You get a contract, go through the above process, and… your book may not sell.

I’m not sure about you, but I battle that fear every time I put my fingers on the keyboard. What if I write it and nobody likes it? HUH? What THEN?

Well, it’s a possibility. (Don’t like it? Tough cookies!)

If you’re gutsy enough to claim the title of writer then you’re gutsy enough to get past the fear.  In the end, the readers will decide. That’s actually very comforting to me! Let the readers decide…

I mentioned the guts as near to the end of this flow chart as possible because guts matter. You can hate everything about traditional publishing, but if you don’t have the nerve to do it yourself, better stay where you are. It’s not easy. There’s nobody holding your hand. If it fails, you can’t blame your editor, your cover artist, your publicist, or your cat. You’ve approved every step of the process, no matter how many people you paid, so the failure (and success!) will fall on you.

Got guts? No? Stop where you are. Nothing is going to get you past the hurdles of self-publishing if you’re not brave enough to try it. People are going to look down on you. People are going to tell you that you’ve doomed your career. You’re going to get snide remarks and eye rolls. IT WILL HAPPEN.

No one is going to be patting your back. No one is going to support you except the people who were supporting you all along- your friends.

Feeling GUTSY? Let’s keep going.

Tune in next week for Part Two of A Writer’s Journey to Self-Publishing!

About me: Virginia was born near the Rocky Mountains and although she has traveled around the world, the wilds of Colorado run in her veins. A big fan of the wide open sky and all four seasons, she believes in embracing the small moments of everyday life. A home schooling mom of six young children who rarely wear shoes, those moments usually involve a lot of noise, a lot of mess, or a whole bunch of warm cookies. Virginia holds degrees in Linguistics and Religious Studies from the University of Oregon. She lives with her habanero-eating husband, Crusberto, who is her polar opposite in all things except faith. They’ve learned to speak in short-hand code and look forward to the day they can actually finish a sentence. In the meantime, Virginia thanks God for the laughter and abundance of hugs that fill her day as she plots her next book.

You can find me on facebook at ‘Pride, Prejudice, and Cheese Grits’ or at my authors page of Virginia Carmichael.

Christina here. Leave Virginia a comment or question and be entered in a drawing for one of her books.

Indie Publishing by Hallee Bridgeman

HallieI realize that I am an odd duck in many ways. I am not driven by any kind of bottom line. As an author, I do not want to sell a million books. I want to sell just one book — or better yet, give it away. If the gospel message that I have packaged in those pages brings even one soul to Christ, then I have fulfilled my life’s purpose and that is what motivates me every time I type. It is a struggle, I think, for anyone who takes on the mantle of “Christian artist” to never measure success by the world’s yardstick but rather by the world’s RULER. I struggle with that but so far with God’s help, I have been victorious. So, while it may seem odd, writing and publishing is my vocation, and my mission, and not my secular occupation. For me, it is a calling.

We aren’t too far away from the days when self-publishing, or publishing through small “novelty press” also often referred to in a derogatory way as a “vanity press,” had an incredibly negative stigma in the publishing industry.  Despite the strides made otherwise, it still carries a lot of negative connotations with it, as if this were 1985 and someone self publishing would have to shell out thousands of dollars in order to hold a physical copy of their book in their own hands.

Up until about eighteen months ago, the only self published books I’d ever read were absolutely dreadful. They were poorly edited, poorly formatted, the covers were plain and unattractive, and the stories were badly told.  My thought upon reading them was, “Well, no wonder this person can’t get published.”

However, times are rapidly changing.

All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident. Arthur Schopenhauer (22 Feb 1788 – 21 Sep 1860)

I’ve heard the publishing industry described as “the Wild West” right now, and no one really knows what the full outcome is going to end up being. So many media outlets claim that the publishing industry is “in turmoil” and they point to hundreds of brick-and-mortar bookstores across North America closing their doors and mergers of hundreds of traditional publishing houses transforming into a few large multinational corporations.

It really isn’t in turmoil or vanishing. Rather the publishing industry is presently in the throes of revolution. Recently, we have witnessed the availability of internet news outlets with RSS feeds and E-mail revolutionize the large scale consumption of daily printed newspapers. We have witnessed MP3 players revolutionize the music industry in recent years making terms like “broken record” as anachronistic as “ticker tape parade.” It is not a new phenomenon. Recall that the printing press itself once revolutionized the way all modern human beings transcribe and consume information.

In just the last four years, there has been a massive shift in the way book buying and selling works.  Last year, for the first time in human history, the world’s largest bookseller (Amazon) sold more eBooks than traditionally printed paper books — and by a very wide margin.

Traditional publishers and professional organizations — and this includes mainstream Christian publishers and Christian artist and author professional organizations — have by and large been very reluctant to even recognize the emerging paradigm, much less embrace it. Sadly, many have ridiculed or violently opposed it instead. Historically, this has never proven fruitful for the cause of the gospel message. I refer to the ridicule and violent opposition Martin Luther endured in his mission to bring the Bible itself to the public in a language the public could actually consume.

In this emerging paradigm, in the midst of this revolution, I was led to independent (or “Indie”) publishing. I found it a perfect match for my writing career for a number of reasons:

(1) Mainstream Christian publishers, for the most part, tend to want “safe” stories, and their readers tend to want “safe” reads.  Fair enough.  Some standards among a very large Christian romance publisher are:  stories may not include alcohol consumption, card playing, gambling or games of chance (including raffles), explicit scatological terms, Halloween celebrations or magic. Lying is also problematic, physical interactions (i.e., kissing, hugging) should emphasize emotional tenderness rather than sexual desire or sensuality, avoid any mention of nudity, etc.

(2) I write Christian romances and Christian suspense.  However, unlike much of the mainstream Christian Fiction, I write realistic characters (all of them, not just a select few characters), with flaws, with sins in their past, with a sinful nature of tempted flesh in their daily walk, and with a desperate need for grace and redemption in their present. The settings are contemporary. The struggles they face and the problems they encounter are big and serious, hardly ever “safe.” I prayerfully strive to use scripture and prayer appropriately.

NOTE: One major Christian publisher wrote me and told me that she personally LOVED my book, Sapphire Ice, but she couldn’t publish it because her customers would find it too risqué for their tastes because of one scene.  My research indicated that would almost certainly be the case with any Christian publisher.

(3) I am a prolific writer.  Between March 2012 and June 2013, I released five complete novels, two different box sets, an anthology, and a cookbook.  I would have no patience for a publisher and the time it takes to follow the road of traditional publication.  I would lose patience with waiting months and months between releases.

(4) I get to make all the decisions about titles (ugh, my last title took me MONTHS of candidates before the final decision), cover art, branding, marketing, and deadlines.  I don’t need to have any of these things approved or revised or dictated by any third party individuals or committees. In the end, the decision and the responsibility is mine.

(5) I realize that, just as missionaries and evangelists throughout history have done, I operate under a stigma in this field.  So many reviews I get, from readers and NOT professionals within the industry, praise the editing and formatting of my books.  That tells me that the vast majority of ebooks, whether independently published, small press, or large press, are simply not well formatted, and I know many indie published books aren’t well edited.

I have the benefit of a husband who supports my writing in every single facet of it.  He founded Olivia Kimbrell Press and I know that the mission of that press will grow to include more voices who share my writing mission. My husband and I are one. We pray together before embarking on any project. He edits my work, and is as skilled as any professional editor.  He formats my work and has learned everything he can about formatting eBooks AND print books.  The end result is a book that is published and distributed by an indie press of such high professional quality that it meets or exceeds the caliber of anything a traditional publisher can produce.

Indie publishing completely suited me.  But, I had a massive mountain to climb with it, too.  I had to learn the publishing industry.  I had to discover what publications to read, how to glean information from them, and what to take away from them.  It wasn’t easy because it was all brand new to me.

I had to develop a fan base — and that took almost a full year.  I published my first book in March 2012, and February 2013 all (at the time) four of my books made it into Amazon’s Top 100 for Christian Romances for the first time.  That took a tremendous amount of social media and networking work on my behalf, because I didn’t publish through a publisher who already had a large customer base.

Along the way I had to actually battle just to gain acceptance and credibility in my chosen mission field.  Until just a few weeks ago, even the American Christian Fiction Writers considered self publishing a short-cut to “actual” publishing.  They have (wonderfully so) recently changed that wording on their website.

The writing and publishing were the easy part.  Suddenly, my life was consumed with marketing and networking, and my writing time was slashed in half.  That is simply the life of an indie published author.  But today, now that I have a good base built, I am able to pull back from it slightly and focus on writing again, letting the writing time outweigh the marketing time.

It has been a tremendous path, and one that I would gladly take again.  And, honestly, after delving deeply into the publishing world, reading all that I can about publishing news and industry information, I would not choose to publish traditionally, especially now that I have a choice.

melodyforjamesfinal2.7-200x300You can learn more about Hallee and her books at http://www.bridgemanfamily.com/hallee/book-samples/song-of-suspense-book-1-a-melody-for-james/

Find Hallee’s books:
AmazonAppleBarnes & NobleSmashwordsKoboLulu
Find Hallee online:
Her Blog — Facebook — Twitter — Google+ — Goodreads — Manic Readers

Janalyn Voigt

Author-and-Speaker-Janalyn-Voigt_Larger

Today we welcome Janalyn Voigt, author and literary judge , to 3 Questions Wednesday.

(1) Do you watch reality television? Why or why not?

Janalyn: I almost never watch television, period. I lived for several years in the Australian outback where we had no television. Life moved in to fill the void so completely I had to wonder how I’d found time for television before. After returning to the States, I made a conscious decision never to take up a steady diet of television again. Life is the richer for my having held to that choice.

I’m not anti-television by any means, and on the rare occasion I’ll watch something my husband has on. I have found a show featuring a survival expert escaping from the wilderness interesting, and that show might be considered a form of reality television.

(2) What are your thoughts on e-publishing?

Janalyn: The publishing world as a whole is absorbing the impact of what is known as a disruptive technology. The advent of digital photography is an example of how a new technology can completely change the way we do things. Companies already in existence will either allow themselves to become obsolete or adapt to survive. Opportunities flourish during times of change, especially for early adopters. We saw that in the successes of e-book millionaires like Amanda Hocking, who rose to fame by selling over a million copies of her e-books at the 99-cent price point.

As a writer, I’m grateful for the opportunities e-publishing affords. It’s never been easier for a writer to move into print. However, that is also a problem as we flood the market with new releases. It’s important to stand out through the quality of your writing, and that usually means hiring an editor.

As a reader, I’d rather curl up with a print book than a backlit screen. As a literary judge and book reviewer, I read almost every night. Spending long hours on the computer each day, means that I do what I can to protect my vision. Print books are also easier to read at the same time as another family member, an important consideration in a household of readers.

(3) Which do you prefer? Facebook or Twitter?

Janalyn: I like them differently.
I find Twitter to be a powerful medium that has driven traffic to my website and I believe, although I can’t completely track them, book sales. Twitter has been called Facebook Light, because of its short updates and the relative ease with which you can maintain a presence there.

My Facebook page has morphed into something of a mini-forum for writers. Since I enjoy talking shop and writers are one of my audiences, it works out well. I’m also reclaiming my page a little to accommodate my novel readers. Readers and writers usually don’t mind rubbing shoulders.
Thanks for hosting me today. Your questions were a lot of fun to answer. jv 2

Thank you, Janalyn, for joining us on 3 Questions Wednesday! Make sure to leave a comment to be entered in a drawing for three kindle or nook copies of DawnSinger.

jvACFW Book Club Pick!
DawnSinger, Tales of Faeraven #1, an epic fantasy adventure from Harbourlight (Pelican Book Group) by Janalyn Voigt ~ escape into worlds of beauty and danger

Sometimes victory comes only through surrender.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZsVFrhb5vCo
Purchase DawnSinger.

As a thank-you to readers, I maintain separate sites for fans of fantasy, historical fiction, and romantic suspense. Click my name to explore them: Janalyn Voigt

Janalyn Voigt’s unique blend of adventure, romance, suspense, and fantasy creates worlds of beauty and danger for readers. Beginning with DawnSinger, her epic fantasy series, Tales of Faeraven, carries the reader into a land only imagined in dreams.

Janalyn also writes western romance novels, and will publish in that genre under Janalyn Irene Voigt. She is represented by Sarah Joy Freese of Wordserve Literary. Janalyn serves as a literary judge for several international contests and is an active book reviewer. Her memberships include ACFW and NCWA.

When she’s not writing, Janalyn loves to find worlds of adventure in the great outdoors.