Had I But Known

Had I But Known

circular stair

According to Mr. Wikipedia, “‘Had I but known’ is a form of foreshadowing that hints at some looming disaster in which the main character laments his or her course of action that came before some other series of unfortunate events or actions and classically, the narrator never makes explicit the nature of the mistake until both the narrator and the reader have realized the consequence of the error. If done well, this literary device can add suspense or dramatic irony; if overdone, it invites comparison of the story to Victorian melodrama and sub-standard popular fiction.”

And if I had but known that Indie publishing that would lead me on a roller coaster ride of euphoria, despair, anxiety, and relief (in no particular order) I most likely wouldn’t have bothered.

Most likely and yet here I am! 🙂

Dark Night of the Soul

The phrase, “dark night of the soul” has evolved into meaning the difficulties of life. And writers often use it to describe the hard time they’re having writing. And Indie authors like myself use it to reflect the struggle we experience trying to be recognized on the same plane as traditionally published writers.

Indie Publishing isn’t for the faint of heart. It isn’t for the hobbyists that dabbles in writing and doesn’t care about gaining readers and making money off of their literary works. And that’s fine. But I’m a believer that doing what you love for a living is the best of both worlds.

As I research ways of becoming noticeable and gaining more clout, I noticed that financially successful authors provide lots of gimmicks that have worked for them and share these tips with less prosperous writers (sometimes for a price):

Free book giveaways

$0.99 Book deals

Blog Reviews

Dedication and Drive

And so many more bits of advice. To someone new to Indie publishing, like me, it is overwhelming. Especially when you have to juggle important factors — family, a spouse, and a full-time job — to name a few.

But even after implementing these strategies, some authors still can’t sell a single book. Or even break even with how much money they had invested in their work. For example, I’ve invested close to $2,000 in my career as an Indie author. The dollar amount includes:

  • Book covers (custom designed)
  • Editing and proofreading
  • Marketing (business cards, flyers, promotions)
  • Author website (hosting)
  • Paperback copies of book

Self-publishing isn’t free and it most certainly isn’t cheap.

Which brings me to an interesting statistic. As of 2016, close to 40 authors on Amazon  have sold over 1,000,000 ebooks. Yes, you read that correctly. FORTY!

crying

“NOOOO! It’s too horrible! Damn lies and statistics! Lies!”

40 self-published authors “make money”, all the others, and they number in the hundreds of thousands, don’t. This interesting statistic, recently revealed in a New York Times article, applies to the Kindle Store, but since Amazon is in fact the largest digital publishing platform in the world, it is a safe bet that self-published authors are not doing much better anywhere else. (from https://claudenougat.wordpress.com/2016/02/07/only-40-self-published-authors-are-a-success-says-amazon/)

With statistics like this, one could just throw up their hands and give up. Statistics like this are demoralizing.

On the other hand, when you read articles like this, the future of Indie publishing looks more promising than ever. According to the linked article, almost a decade ago, writers who self-published were viewed as failures. Fast-forward to present day and now many of these Indie authors are making a fortune. Whether these authors have earned a quarter of a million dollars or even $10,000 they’re making more money doing it alone than relying on gate-keeping publishers and their contracts.

$10,000! Wow, I’d be happy if I made even $1,000. So, I shall carry on.

For Art or Money? Or Both?

Let’s revisit the argument on why writers write. Is it less noble to expect payment as starving artist believe? I write for pleasure. I write to vent. I write because I’m compelled to. If I don’t write, I don’t feel right.

Likewise, once I’ve published a book – one of my literary creations – and place it for sale, I expect to get something in return. I expect recognition in some way, shape, or form. for all of the time I invested into that book. Money, for example, is a primary indicator of success in many societies. So, my motivation is a little bit of both – art and money. Nothing wrong with that.

Cave of Obscurity

caves

Amazon is like a vast rain forest filled with merchandise consumers go spelunking for. As an Indie author, braving the cyberspace landscape, (most likely on Amazon.com) you want exploring customers (potential readers) to discover YOU and quit clicking for something else. Unfortunately, rain forests, (like the actual geographical Amazonian rain forest) also possess caves where explorers can get lost. And on Amazon.com, you’re competing with other books that have more marketing clout and exposure than you do.

It doesn’t take long to realize that due to the residual stigma of self-publishing, most Indie authors are at a disadvantage.

Giant_Competition

David and Goliath? Little dude, use your briefcase!

Forget the so-called gatekeepers of publishing. Flesh-eating trolls who stalk the many cave tunnels are a much bigger threat.

And each year, the amount of titles increases, thus raising the likelihood that your precious literary baby will end up in the cave of obscurity – a place where no one will find it. Ever.

Heck, all the hours of writing, researching, building a platform, etc. don’t mean much if readers can’t find the culminating product of your effort, and read it, then share it.

As of 2016, over 4 million titles are available compared with 600,000 (amount of titles six years ago). The market is overly saturated with books. Notice I didn’t say “good books”, but books in general. Not all books are created equal. So, in order for readers to discover your book, you have to stand out in the crowd! For example, I published my first middle-grade fiction book on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I wanted to have it available with as many distributors I could gain. I plan to add more distributors and vendors in the months to come. To test Barnes & Nobles’ search engines, I typed in the key words I had laboriously chosen so readers could find my book.

Not one of the words worked.

Even when I typed in my author name with the title, I couldn’t find the book. 🙁

And even when I typed in the title of the book, the subtitle, and my author name: nothing! I learned from other authors who published with B&N that the search engine is setup “like that” and I wondered why. I contacted B&N and asked for an explanation. I was given a sprawling response that went in a hundred different directions, but not an answer to my question.

Perhaps, B&N wants to keep Indie authors like me in the cave of obscurity.

descent crawler

Wow. Just wow. You’r really gonna do me like that?

There’s a good argument for that conclusion. I had planned on doing a book signing at the B&N close to my home and now I’m not so sure I want to commit to that. Why? Because after speaking with the manager of an actual brick-and-mortar store, I learned that as an Indie author, you have to sell your books on consignment. In other words, you purchase the paperback copies, bring them to the store and then have B&N customers purchase the book with a cashier at the front of the store. And this is the part that pisses me off. It can take up to six months for B&N to pay you the 40% that they OWE YOU. Sometimes longer.

Time will tell whether or not I will work with them. Will I recommend publishing books to other authors with Barnes & Noble? At this time, based on what happened . . . most likely not.

You Gotta Be . . .

On another note, I recently read a book on free promotion after seeing it on Facebook. And when I learned the author was an indie author like myself, I felt even more indebted to help the said author out! However, when I read the first page, disappointment seized me and I had to set the book aside. For the past two weeks, I return to the book occasionally to remind myself of what not to do. The book was published in 2011 and has not a single review. I feel bad for the writer because I think he/she (I won’t specify the gender) thinks the book was publishable. Even though, there were hundreds of grammar and spelling errors. Even sadder, I think he or she was so excited to even have a book published that he/she threw caution to the wind and clicked the published button as soon as possible. I’ve been there! Done that! But, due to the amount of competition, readers will pass your book by and move onto one they deem better and worth an investment of their time.

Number of Book Sales doesn’t = Talent

The amount of book sales doesn’t reflect how talented an author is. If book sales were an indicator then the strange phenomena of crappy books selling millions of copies wouldn’t occur or wonderful books only selling few or none.

Don’t Quit Your Day Job. Yet.

Writing is a poor man’s job where only a minority of writers are able to pursue their craft full-time and make a living from it. I laugh when my students ask me, “So, are you rich now?” after they learned I’ve published two books. The first book I had to republish because I lost my publisher when they went out of business. My students assume that every writer can be J.K. Rowling, a rags-to-riches single mother who created a $15 million dollar brand and has a net worth estimated to be less than $1 billion.

rollingrowling

I can only aspire to reach that status.

reach for the moon

I love writing and will most likely continue to do so. However, “had I but known” that the art of writing would change, I would have focused more on creating manga and graphic novels. So, I may have to change venues and write for television series, video games, Netflix, et cetera. You know, societies latest panacea for their social ills.

In the meantime, I’ll keep my day job and work, write, work, write, work.

Des’ree’s “You Gotta Be” will be my motivational anthem cheering me on. 🙂

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Are You a Multitasker?

I’m definitely a multitasker.

I have no problem reading more than one book at a time and keeping track of the characters and plots in each book. It’s entertaining to compare and contrast how the two different books by two different authors. It’s especially fun when both books are from the same genre.

Being a mom to three sons and a wife most likely has a lot to do with me having to accomplish multiple activities at once. My oldest son is an honor’s student and participates in track, volleyball, violin lessons. My toddlers are busy with weekend sports, building Mega Block Worlds with mommy and getting into all kinds of adorable adventures as I wear them out during the day. 🙂 Because when they’re sleeping, I’ve got lots more to do!

Even as a sixth grade reading teacher, I often use the phrase, “Let’s kill two birds with one stone” when teaching my students how to prepare their essays, even before they have finished reading the anchor text. Basically, the process goes like this. During the initial read, students use special text marking (such as check marking, underlining, and writing comments in the margins) to keep track of important ideas and facts. They’ve done this several times throughout the year and then they realized that a lot of the sentences, paragraphs, or sections they’ve underlined, starred, wrote comments about can be used towards the evidence that will appear in their essay or paragraph. Students who don’t mark the text, during the initial reading, are left at a disadvantage because they didn’t use their time wisely. So, yes killing two birds with one stone works! Why?

Because it’s working smarter — not harder!

Lately, I’ve adopted the same practice with my writing.

I know what some of you may be thinking.

Skeptical Reader: “Is she crazy? Multitasking doesn’t work when it comes to writing! Heck, she shouldn’t even be doing that when she’s reading. It’s a possible way to get the characters and the plot mixed up! Poor, deluded soul.”

Moi: Crazy? Uh, maybe. But at least I’m not straitjacket insane. 🙂

Skeptical Reader: “She’s doing it all wrong! She should focus on one story at a time. Polish it until it figuratively blinds the readers with its brilliance! Not literally, because that would definitely suck lemons! And then, only then should she move onto another story.”

Moi: Perhaps. But that hasn’t worked for me. I need to break free, breathe fresh air, cook dinner, fold laundry, do some Zumba before getting back into the literary groove.

So, here are 3 easy ways that you too can multitask as a writer and get more words on the page!

  1. Edit and Revise – If you struggle with what to write next, reread what you’ve already written. Look for weak words, potential plot problems, and inconsistencies with your characters in order to make that story shine like the fabulous diamond it is! If the words are flowing like there’s no tomorrow, keep at it!
  2. Start a New Story – Say you’ve finished a draft of a novel or short story. It’s good practice to let it sit for a few days before delving into it again. Separating from the text for a period of time, gives your mind time to prepare for the arduous task of self-editing. And while you step away from the story for a week or so (in order to return with fresh eyes to it for the editing process) you can begin another story. Perhaps, even a shorter one in order to keep your writer’s eye and mind sharp. After all, the creating process is always more fun. The possibilities seem endless and the characters are like precious, new friends you simply have to know everything about!
  3. Write a blog post or create a YouTube post – In between editing and revising a completed work, you can take the time to step outside of your characters’ minds and just be you. Sharing advice or sharing something new that you tried is a fabulous way to keep the creative juices flowing. Even though I don’t consider myself a poet (often, they’re such a noble breed) I occasionally write a poem or two. It’s a different kind of writing and helps me to get out of a writing jam. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention that there’s a fourth step:
  4. REPEAT the process!

Are you also a multitasker and if so, what works for you? If not, how do you fit it all in? Please share! I love learning new things.

 

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What Kind of Reader are You?

Writers should be readers too. And if you want to be an exceptional writer, you should be an avid reader.

I love to read. And as a sixth grade reading teacher, I’m dumbfounded when my students would rather stare at their phones and tablets instead of investing their time in the glorious world of a well-written book.

Over the years, I’ve learned that I’m a hybrid of two kinds of readers that I’ve called, The Angel and The Devil.

In Angel mode, I’m utterly involved and hooked on a book and will remain faithful to the series, rooting the author and their imaginary friends and enemies onward to resolution! “You keep doing your thing, main character! I’m with you all the way! It’s about time that you told that girl you loved her. I mean, I thought you’d get a clue in Book Three, but no one’s perfect, right? Well, except you of course. Woot, woot!” *Fist bumps cover*

Heck, even if the book has some slow parts or a weak plot I’ll keep plodding through! Why?

I’m a patient, forgiving reader. I know what it’s like for my writing to be analyzed and torn apart. And even when it’s for the better, it’s an exercise in misery. LOL. So, give me your slow beginnings and your unlikable characters! Give me your sometimes cliched plot twists. I will read it, I will bear it, I will endure it!

This book-love at first sight may start with me simply seeing the cover and stopping dead in my tracks to go onto read the back of the book blurb. Interesting characters? CHECK! Riveting plot with just enough mystery and intrigue? CHECK! Infatuation with a book may even begin with a friend recommending it to me. Sometimes, I’ve even read a book based off of a bad review to learn on my own if the book And if my literary palette is piqued, I will immediately rush off to the library in order to possess it spine, pages, and adhesive perma-glue! Come here, you. Let’s have us a hug. Mmmm. Maybe some of your genius will rub off on me.

And then there are the times when my patience has run thin. Incredibly thin . . . until it snapped.

Devil Mode activated.        

Moments that turn me off to a book can happen within the first 50 pages of me reading a book. Or even much later. As a rule, my students and myself included HAVE to give any book we read the benefit of the doubt. It’s a mandatory rule that must be followed. Below is table for time frames to abandon books and I sometimes read more than that to make sure I’ve given the writer much courtesy before surrendering to defeat and choosing to not finish reading their precious, literary baby:

Type of Book Minimum Length to Abandon
Picture Book  After first 5 Pages
Chapter Book  After First 5 Chapters
Novel  After First 50 Pages

“The War of the Flowers” by Tad Williams is one of those books that I haven’t been able to finish. I made it to page 64 about five years ago. When I have more time that I’m willing to dedicate to completing it, I may return. I may not. But I didn’t feel invested in it, like my oldest brother, who recommended it to me. The writing is beautiful. The characters are lifelike. The plot is interesting and the setting, like the characters it holds, are believable. Likewise, when writing fantasy those two elements are essential because readers — new to the genre and old — will put aside disbelief for the sake of genre, but the foreign worlds have to resonate with what we know.  Fleshing out such a feat is vital to keeping your reader engaged. The primary reason I abandoned “The War of the Flowers” is because I couldn’t connect with the main character, Theo Vilmos, a rocker who is drawn into a magical world while reading a book. Like I said before, the plot sounds so tantalizing.

Why are you such a wimp? And why am I still reading this?

However, I just couldn’t connect with Theo. I didn’t like him and I didn’t want to care about him or his problems. I felt no empathy for him. I tried. God, did I try. I even tried reading on to see if some terrible fate would befall him and make my reading worthwhile in a twisted way so I could laugh through my tears at his dilemma.

Besides that, I’ve had my share of rotten book experiences. Especially when the author decided to murder my favorite character. “You. Did. What?”

You broke MY heart with that move, writer!

Or the author decided to not remain consistent with who the character is. Heart-breaking. For instance, in one series (that Shall Not Be Named) I adored the main character who started out as a well-rounded individual with a set of rules he/she followed precisely. Eventually, the main character transformed into something unrecognizable with Mary Sue attributes (perfectly flawed in every way and yet still . . . perfect). And for the record, there’s no place for Mary Sues in literature. After all, Mary Sue is place and doesn’t make a believable character.

As writers, we have an obligation to our readers to:

  • Remain consistent
  • Keep them invested in the plot and the characters
  • If you’re going to kill off a beloved character
    • Prepare your readers with little hints along the way and never, ever do it for shock effect alone.
  • Stay true to the genre
    • For example, romance novels have a certain formula and readers are pleased with that. Don’t ditch the formula just because you feel like it and think it’s avant-garde.

This post was inspired by Plaisted Publishing House’s post found here.

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