Tag Archives: indie publishing

Hope vrs. reality in writing, publishing, etc…

Last week when starting my latest manuscript, I felt a bit blah.  For a day I wondered, ‘What in the heck have I done?’

The next day, well, sometimes it just takes a good night’s sleep.  I was off to the races, and after another chapter added yesterday, man oh man, I am loving this new novel.

But in those few hours of hesitation, I considered earlier days, other first drafts, my start.  Or a year or so into my start; in July 2008, I was writing a novel that I might one day get back to, but at the time, Detours was a story I just had to tell.  I wasn’t thinking about publishing in an overt way, and certainly not indie publishing.  I was just writing for the sheer flippin’ joy of it.

Okay, well, maybe I was thinking a little about publishing.

But it’s different now, knowing anything I write I can, with some or much work, whip into shape and upload into cyberspace.  And having said that, not everything I’ve written since deciding to go indie will be released.  Case in point; of my two novels from last year’s NaNo, one will never be published.  The other sits unfinished, with no date on the horizon for its completion.  The WIP feels like a future release, but maybe not.  Those considerations now hover over every book I write.  In 2008, it wasn’t that way.

In 2008, I was still trying to acclimate to living in America after eleven years of Britain.  I was getting used to two kids not living at home, one still in high school, but not schooling any of them myself.  I was wrapping my head around constant sunshine and Silicon Valley and not being able to buy decent tea when I went grocery shopping.  And, believe it or not, writing novels.

In July 2008, I was so much of a newbie, it’s not even funny.  But, and this is imperative, I was writing.

I was so involved in the writing that at the end of July, determined to finish Detours by the end of that month, I wrote 19,000 words in one day.  I will never forget it, especially that part was spent clearing out enough typing errors so I could return to the document.  Word didn’t like all my red and green squiggles, and I lost valuable writing time sorting that issue.  But late into the evening, after barely seeing my family all day, I wrote the last sentence; It’s all right.  I sat back, looking to night through mostly closed mini-blinds, and heaved a sigh of tremendous relief.  In those days, that’s what the writing was, an enormous relief.

It was also a mess, but that’s expected.  Some of my novels have ended with that much emotion, although never that many words in one twenty-four hour period.  At the end of Oklahoma, I started crying, my husband at his computer two feet away bringing me into his arms.  Some books stir a breakdown, and it doesn’t matter what happens to them except that they are expunged.

I have to admit I have lost some of that deep sense of relief.  Maybe it’s not lost, but it’s certainly diminished.  Maybe part of it was simply the wonder of finally writing fiction.  I had wanted to write for so many years, and here I was, back in California, doing just that!  I call writing the work, my job, and it is, but perhaps that tarnishes it in some way.  It’s also a thrill, a gift, another part of why I breathe.

It’s also work.  And sometimes work is not fun.

Publishing is cool.  Writing is too, at times.  Then sometimes I wonder what’s the purpose?  Then I start a book, and really wonder what in the hey am I doing?  Why did I think this idea needed to be set onto a document?  I just pulled this story outta my backside, blah blah blah.

Then I wake up, shower, eat Grape Nuts, drink tea, read over yesterday’s chapter and think, ‘Oh yeah!  I wanna say this and this and that over there and…’  And I’m back in business.  I’m back to that day in July 2008 when I could write 19K like it was nothing.

Except that now I manage about 3K.  19,000 words would probably kill me.

But now I’m not only writing.  I’m publishing, and that’s another kettle of fish.  I had hoped to publish, way back in 2008, but the writing had to come center stage.  One stage at a time, and as stages come and go, I as a writer have evolved.  Writing 19k probably would set me back, no doubt.  I’m five years older, and it makes a difference now that fifty is three years away.  (Yes, a slight shudder engulfed me while writing that.)  But that seasoning has taught me that pacing myself isn’t a bad thing.  That every novel I have ever written doesn’t need to be for public consumption, even the ones I create now.  That hope is necessary, or nothing gets accomplished.  If I had never pined over this dream, I wouldn’t be writing this post today.

Today’s reality is that in another hour or so, I’ll pull up the WIP, read over yesterday’s work, and maybe tinker with it a little.  I wrote a HUGE info dump yesterday, which was GREAT, because this novel, while possessing a firm beginning, middle, and end, has plot holes the size of Lake Michigan.  But yesterday, ah yesterday…  Yesterday I came up with all sorts of gemstones, yet they can’t all be plopped into one chapter.  And that is part of the bliss, also part of the work.  The hope is by the end, all those gold nuggets will be scattered just so, thus providing another novel in the publishing queue.

The reality is that I don’t know this novel’s fate, yet.  Each day the mystery unfolds, like a good book.  Gleefully considering the options, what will I write about today?

The indie theory of relativity

Last week I had lunch with my friend Julie Rose; Lillie Mae’s House of Soul Food in Santa Clara was the place, and yes, football was on our minds, as she’s as big of a 49ers fan as I am.  After much commiserating, we left sport for authorial topics, which always warms my heart.  There are many good things in this world, and chatting with another writer nears the top of the list.

I was thinking about this last night as my husband pulled out boxes of 45s, searching for one specific piece of vinyl, bought in the UK, where most of his singles were purchased.  From completely obscure artists, like Southall Riot whom he was looking for, to collectible 45s, he had a heyday when we lived in Yorkshire, shipping so cheap from the continent.  Mostly he picked up local bands, like Subaqwa, but The White Stripes was found via his hunts, alongside other groups that faded into the background.  One was from Wales; Crak’s single was encased in black polka-dotted purple fur.  They sang in Welsh, not sure what the song was about, but it certainly was intriguing.  Of course this led me to considering indie musicians versus writers, one of the issues Julie and I mulled over last Friday.  Within the traditional publishing culture little room remains if someone wanted to release their novel in purple polka-dotted fur.  But it sure seems like a cool idea.

A postcard of the band was included in this single.

A postcard of the band was included in this single.

Now, a single isn’t the same as a novel; maybe 45s are equal to short stories or flash fiction.  My husband has five trainer-sized shoe boxes full of singles, some in simple paper sleeves, some in elaborate packaging  like that purple polka-dotted number.  One single was a 5-inch, CD sized.  It was on the Black Bean and Placenta label (no, I’m not making this up), out of Mission Hills, California.  No band name, no song title, but that was okay, it wasn’t all that great.  But it WAS.  Someone wanted to release a 5-inch single, and they did so.  Yeah for them!

Coloured vinyl didn't help decipher the Welsh lyrics, but it looks stunning on the turntable.

Coloured vinyl didn’t help decipher the Welsh lyrics, but it looks stunning on the turntable.

I started thinking about relativity last night as unknown songs wafted through speakers.  Maybe it was from one of the 45s that featured Einstein on its sleeve.  Relative means, among other definitions, a thing having a relation to, or connection with, or necessary dependence on another thing.  Writers, like musicians, harbor ideas.  We corral mediums to express those ideas.  Finally we connect with audiences, large or minuscule, to share those ideas.

Hence the indie theory of relativity.

It’s not a very big theory, no Nobel Prize in the works.  Just that as indie musicians thrive, indie writers are too.  Independent authors are a little newer on the scene, in the getting noticed sort of way, but writers have been publishing books without publishing houses far longer than vinyl records have even existed.  Yet history’s grand weight has weighed down on authors, as if traditional methods of publication were the only ones acceptable.  But that doesn’t seem to bother musicians all that much.

Number 8 was released, but number 10 never was, so sad!

Inserted into one of Southall Riot’s singles was this notice. Single number 8 was released, but number 10 never was, so sad!

I believe, and this is just me, it’s to do with rock music’s youthful spirit, its alternative vibe.  Parents in the 1950s were scared outta their skulls at Elvis; Ed Sullivan couldn’t even broadcast Presley’s whole form, filming him from the waist up.  Publishing is assumed for intellectuals, rock and roll for kids.  That’s a very broad generalization, but it’s mine, and I’m sticking to it, filing it under the indie theory of relativity.  Ideas exist, are expressed via language, transmitted through paragraphs and chapters, ’nuff said.

Well, not quite enough; the other thing I thought about last night, listening to The Cramps, Mohave 3, Black Tambourine, Subaqwa, Crak, and a few others, was how these records are a part of this world in which I live.  People wrote and played their songs, then turned them into 45s.  Subaqwa made an album, EPs too.  The Cramps had an illustrious career, only ended at the death of singer Lux Interior (may he rest in peace).  None of those groups were The Beatles, but thousands of stories exist beyond bestsellers.  Yesterday my husband was also listening to his Original Master Recordings of Beatles’ records.  He’s had that box for ages, never plays those albums, but yesterday was a day to dust off memories.  (Literally, as when he removed the singles box from under the stereo, a cloud was stirred.)  We enjoyed the Fab Four in the morning, indie artists that evening, relativity floating through the room, along with dust particles.

No artwork on the albums, sort of cheesy if you ask me...

No artwork on the albums, sort of cheesy if you ask me…

Specks of those songs travel as well, from The Beatles’ “Please Please Me” to “What’s Inside A Girl” by The Cramps, a Welsh band in between.  I’m gearing up for some writing in April, and by July, I’ll be celebrating two years as an indie author.  Maybe it’s my rock ‘n roll sensibilities keeping me enthused, maybe it’s a never-quiet creative spirit.  Maybe it’s music, well, I know it’s music; give me a song, I’ll tell you a story.  It’s the indie theory of relativity, far easier to digest than Einstein’s theory of relativity, but part and parcel of this great and grand universe.  Write your story, or make your music, and join the party!

Hard not to get inspired by this, pink vinyl to boot!

Chalk Circle

Chalk Circle by Subaqwa, released in 1999

The title of this post is also that of an album, or more rightly, a CD from 1999, by a band called Subaqwa, out of the UK.  I bring it up because it’s a fantastic record, but like so many fragments of life, destined to be swept away like post-it notes I no longer need.

Chalk Circle is just another record made by a band that broke up, musicians moving to other groups or jobs, but we have the CD, the songs play in my iTunes and on my husband’s music program.  As an indie novelist I believe this album is vital just because it exists; twelve songs were made in the late 1990s, five of which have sat within my digital music collection as if an EP.  But books aren’t just scattered chapters, and finally two nights ago my husband ripped the whole CD, neither of us certain why all these years less than half the album had graced our collections.  Since then I’ve been listening to the record as if it was an actual album, tunes in proper places, and it’s great, the ‘new’ songs merging perfectly with ones I’ve known for years.

But other than this post, an Amazon site, a couple of pictures found via Google images, and a Last.fm entry, almost nothing about this band can be found on the web.

How many indie novelists fill the internet, indie bands for that matter?  But in 1999, the web wasn’t what it is now, no smartphones to easily snap pictures, then upload onto sites.  All the shots on this post were taken with my phone, sent to my PC, then slapped on here.  In 1999, cells and mobiles weren’t that handy or versatile.  I don’t know anything about Subaqwa, maybe they were just destined for one album, and three EP’s.  Other obscure groups have caught my ears; Hurts To Purr, Hilsinger and Beatty, and are just meaningful, as important.  People got together, recorded songs, released those tunes in one form or another, making their ways into ears and minds, hearts and souls.

I so miss cool inserts, even if they fold into several layers.

I so miss cool inserts, even if they fold into several layers.

There doesn’t have to be loads of hype, just a cause, a reason, and an audience will emerge; in 1999, my husband bought some Subaqwa singles after reading about them in Record Collector magazine.  Then he went to the Borders in York, right across from Bettys Cafe.  He asked about ordering their CD, and a few weeks later we picked it up.  Probably had a cuppa at Bettys as well.  Then it became a part of our lives, in pieces.  Five songs were ripped onto the computer at the time, traveling for ages, even across an ocean.

Chalk Circle insert part 2

Then on 3 February, 2013, I asked my spouse if there were more Subaqwa songs.  He retrieved the CD, slapped it onto a machine, and the rest of the tunes were added to the collective.

Chalk Circle insert part 3

Uploading a novel into cyberspace is just as easy, although what comes first takes ages, like fashioning the tunes from lyrics and melody to guitars and drums.  But once the art has been polished, it takes so little effort to save it for eternity, or however long the web will last.  CDs are quaint now, although the insert is pretty cool.  The lyrics are hard to read, the Thank You’s a little more legible.  Liner Notes are a thing of the past in digital downloads, but a permanent fixture at the end of all my books.

Between albums and digital files was the CD, but at least inserts still survived.

Between albums and digital files was the CD, but at least inserts still survived.

I might be a bit of a Luddite, just coming to own a smartphone, but when it comes to other aspects of modern living, I am all over it.  More on my smartphone, and dying arts, soon…

A different way to publish

My books, along with those by Julie K. Rose and Heather Domin, two talented indie authors.

My books, along with those by Julie K. Rose and Heather Domin, two talented indie authors.

Last week Lisa L. Day asked about writing and publishing, and I’ve had a great time exploring her question.  Another quote attributed to Stephen King answers in part that very query: What makes you think I have a choice?

Supposedly during an interview, King was asked why he writes horror; his response was perfect, but doesn’t just cover genres.  It encompasses this whole gig, from the initial specks of plot to books for download or sale at online retailers or brick and mortar shops.  I note the web first; that’s where all my books are available.  Indie publishing takes place mostly via online stores, unless a writer gets their novel into a shop, which I did with my first book, published by a small press.  Seeing a stack of Drop The Gauntlet was quite a thrill.  But it’s nothing compared to clicking on Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Sony, Diesel, or Smashwords.  Not only because I published those novels myself, but for their growing numbers.  I am firmly committed to indie, or self-publishing.  However, I eschew the term self-publishing; it’s a misnomer if ever there was one.

Initially I never considered indie publishing, but by the time Drop The Gauntlet was published, indies had cracked open the door.  Having placed in the semi-finals of the 2009 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA) gave me food for thought, but I didn’t query that novel, September Story.  Instead I wrote like there was no tomorrow, doing the same for much of 2010, testing the agency waters that autumn with The War On Emily Dickinson.  I had a few nibbles, but no firm bites.  Undaunted, I queried another novel, then queried September Story.  Rejection is good for toughening the skin, goodness knows a writer needs a sturdy outer shell.  As I queried, I kept writing and revising, pondering what I wanted for my books.  Was it the usual manner of publication, or something different?

My head was firmly turned toward indie publishing by a great writer who is also a good friend; in late 2010, Julie K. Rose independently published her 2009 semi-final-placing ABNA entry The Pilgrim Glass.  I was so pleased for her, and that concrete notion so close to home gave me a jolt.  At the time, I was forty-four years old, with a plethora of novels written.  Being prolific lends itself to an indie career, but that was just one aspect.  My age was another, in that even once an agent is acquired, traditional publishing is a slow process.  I signed the contract for Drop The Gauntlet in the summer of 2007; the novel was released in January 2009.  With indie publishing, I would set the pace.

Once I made the decision, it was a matter of choosing a distributor, as I wasn’t going to tackle that aspect myself.  I picked Smashwords for ebooks, and Lulu for print, and am relatively pleased with those companies.  But the real work was prepping the initial manuscript; The War On Emily Dickinson is a non-linear account of the AIDS epidemic, a book very close to my heart.  Perhaps by choosing that manuscript, I set the tone for my career, love, mercy, and equality my main themes.  In addition to revising, the first half of 2011 was spent designing a cover, formatting the print version, then the ebook.  I’m not actually the techie sort, but in using Word exclusively, I had little trouble with the Smashwords Style Guide.  Preparing Emily Dickinson for Lulu was much more time-consuming.

Meanwhile there were synopses to write, tags to consider, a price.  I didn’t start out offering my books for free, but by autumn, my aims had already altered.  I write because I have no choice; how does one put a price on a gift?  From Alvin’s Farm onwards, my books carried no cost, Emily Dickinson and A Slider, Tumbling also made complementary.  (I had published A Right Turn At Jesus as a free book, after Emily Dickinson was released.)  While formatting ebooks is relatively painless, formatting for print is more work, and I have to give a shout-out to the ever talented Julie K. Rose, who has not only designed the covers for my last five novels, but also formatted September Story for Lulu; it’s a gorgeous book inside and out, all her doing.  Julie, I owe you more than just a shout; big props, and hugs, for opening this indie door in the first place.

That’s the basic nuts and bolts.  But underneath the distribution and revisions lies why forgo the accepted manner of publishing books?  My age and output played a large part, but equally important was the message I wished to convey, and how that wasn’t easily shoved into a marketable box.  Just yesterday I came across the same sentiment in an interview Dianne Gray gave to Zen Scribbles; Dianne put it succinctly when she said: I am an unconventional writer and am always looking for something ‘different’ to write about. I guess this is why I stopped using publishing houses who wanted to hone me into something I’m not. We’re all individuals and I don’t really believe in ‘mainstream’.

I smiled when I read that, because not only did it help me out with this post, but I’m not the only one to feel this way.  Now, not every publisher wants to mine the next It genre, plenty of open-minded and wide-hearted small presses out there.  But here’s where age and verbosity kicks in, as well as some common sense.  I have something to say, and indie publishing is a platform with which to say it.  I can format novels, and while I’m not that talented with covers, I know some great folks who are.  I have terrific crit partners, a very supportive family, and the technology exists.  Ten years ago ebooks weren’t part of the landscape.  Now they are here to stay.

Part of my going indie was also examining my pride; what good were all these stories if I kept them shut away simply because no agent wanted them?  I started reading Howards End last week, a fantastic story.  The Schlegels are art and literary-minded Britons, although Mr. Schlegel has family in Germany, with whom he sometimes spars.  In the middle of one such discussion, Mr. Schlegel notes: It is the vice of a vulgar mind to be thrilled by bigness, to think that a thousand square miles are a thousand times more wonderful than one square mile, and that a million square miles is almost the same as heaven.  That is not imagination.  No, it kills it.

I read that out loud to my husband, laughing that Mr. Schlegel could be referring to 2013 America, not 1910 Germany.  Then I more deeply considered how that applies to my books; I am not seeking a massive audience, heck, just a few hearty souls willing to brave my stories’ high-angst threshold.  Those folks are out there, and my books entertain, but only because I had the chutzpah to publish them.

I am pleased for however a writer chooses to publish.  But for what I wish to accomplish, independent publishing fits the bill.  I want to leave some, but certainly not all, of my novels for my descendants.  In the meantime, I’m over the moon for anyone else who takes a fancy to my sometimes tearjerking tales, heavy on the melodrama, also teeming with compassion and love.  No two authors have the same goals or write the same books.  Indie publishing allows for a variety of stories to be disseminated in myriad formats.  I stick to ebooks, for they are easier to format.  I don’t have anyone breathing down my neck about deadlines; I write from my heart, and can cross into sci-fi, family saga, or literary fiction with nary a raised eyebrow.  That freedom is priceless; as long as the internet lives, so do my novels.

Independent publishing isn’t new, writers have been printing their own books for ages.  But the rise of ebooks has turned a page (ha ha) in the scheme; it comes down to what an individual wants from and for their work, and the only one who can determine that is the writer.  Novels are still paragraphs and scenes and chapters collected into a cohesive whole.  But for me, independence is crucial, also exhilarating.  I wouldn’t do this any other way.