Wednesday, August 17, 2016

My Self-Publishing Adventure: Part IV

Even though some writers subscribe to the Romantic notion that an artist should create without wasting any thought on business, you gotta eat. If you don’t earn any money from your art, you’re likely to need a day job, which leaves little time and energy for creating. Better to treat your craft like a business from the beginning, including spending time, effort, and cash on marketing and publicity.

Some squirm at the thought of self-promotion, and it is hard. But don’t you want to reach an audience? Don’t you want lots of people to read your book (watch your film, listen to your music, admire your painting)? If not, that’s great—if you’re writing a journal that you don’t want anyone else to see or if you destroy your paintings once they’re done because they’re too private to share, that’s up to you. But like many, I want to share my thoughts and ideas and characters with readers.

I’ve related before how a chance conversation with author Sue Bartoletti made me re-think of writing as a business. The lesson has stuck.

Those of us fortunate enough to have a good agent can leave a lot of the business end of things to her (or very occasionally, him). A traditionally-published author also has the publisher to take on the production and some (from just about none, up to a lot) of the marketing and publicity.

Not so the indie author, who is forced into making business decisions, something that many of us arent used to doing. This is, for many, enough of a hurdle to keep them from trying indie publishing, even when (like me) the author has an expert giving advice and taking care of a lot of the process.

I had a lot of up-front expenses associated with Orpheus (see this post for a breakdown of what they were). Lara, my agent, presented me with options for each of the services she helped me find. Since fees for all the options covered a wide range, I’m not going to say how much all this cost me—you can spend a lot less than I did, or a lot more. Expect to go into four figures, up to five, for high-quality work.

Is this expensive? Yes, it is. But it’s a business, just as a KFC franchise is a business. And considering that a KFC franchise costs between $1,250,000 and $2,530,000, I feel like my much, much smaller investment in Orpheus was money well spent.

One of my added expenses was getting a review from Kirkus Reviews. You have to pay for their review of an indie book, but this doesn’t guarantee it will be favorable. They allow you to choose whether or not to publish their opinion, and rumor says that at least 90% of the time, the author chooses not to do so—Kirkus is notoriously tough! This was another financial risk, but it paid off: Orpheus received a glowing review!

For more on the business side of writing, see this article.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

My Self-Publishing Adventure: Part III

As I said in my most recent post, my agent provided a lot of pre-publication advice for my debut indie book The Song of Orpheus, helping me find a copy editor, a formatter, a cover artist, and a book designer. She’s providing assistance in post-publication, as well. Publicity and marketing takes expertise, and I have very little expertise in that area. So I decided to hire a publicist.

I’ve used publicists twice in the past and haven’t been too happy with them. There’s no way to measure results, so I don’t know if they were effective, but honestly, I don’t think they did anything I couldn’t have done myself. (Which isn't all bad; I didnt and dont have time to beat the bushes, so having them find outlets saved me time. But I wanted more than time-saving, so I kept looking.) When I met and liked, and then heard good things about, a third publicist, I asked Lara to check out her company. Her report was very positive, so I signed with JKS Communications to spread the word about Orpheus.

I’ve been really, really happy with JKS. They’ve dug up all sorts of opportunities I would never have thought of and didn’t know existed, and they’re quick and responsive when I have questions or issues.

Of course, I have to pay for anything to do with publicity and marketing, including the fee to JKS. I told them how much I had to spend, and they tailored a campaign around that. I’ve also paid to send books to reviewers; for a paid review in Kirkus (more on that in the next post); for a launch party with beautiful and delicious cookies, wine, etc.; for travel/lodging at events.

Hand-decorated cookies from Dulce Desserts!

Is it expensive? Yes, but it’s part of the cost of doing business and I know it’s what I have to do.

Next post: More on the business side of indie publishing

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

My Self-Publishing Adventure: Part II

One of the big changes in self-publishing in recent years is the birth of what’s called “agency-assisted self-publishing” (there’s a good explanation of this term in this article from Writers Digest, and a follow-up here). (In every case that I’ve heard of, including mine, this is an option only for writers who are already clients of the agency providing the service. There may be exceptions, though.)

In this scenario, the agent provides assistance in many of the aspects of self-publishing that normally get taken care of by the publisher. In my case, these were: copy editing, formatting, and cover. My agent, Lara Perkins, sent me a list of copy editors, formatters, book designers, and cover artists with their fees and areas of expertise, and her experience with them. I wasn’t bound to her recommendations (in fact, I tried to sign the copy editor who had done a brilliant job with King of Ithaka, but she was unavailable) but I was glad to have them, because, really, what do I know?

One thing I did know was that I really wanted to follow her advice as to cover artist—Joe Cepeda, who did the gorgeous cover of Esperanza Rising. His sense of color, motion, and light would be perfect for my book. I was so lucky that he had the time and interest to create the cover for The Song of Orpheus.

The deal we have is that Lara collects her standard commission after I’ve earned back what I paid out for the above services.

I’ve also taken on some additional expenses that do not have to be met before she takes her commission. More on these next week.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

A new (ad)venture!

After twenty traditionally-published books for young readers—by pure chance, they’re a nice round ten nonfiction and ten fiction—I recently self-published my twenty-first, a retelling of some little-known Greek myths with the title Orpheus Speaks: The Greatest Greek Myths You Never Heard (from now on, just Orpheus).


I’ve never said I would never self-pub. I did say, though, that I wouldn’t do it unless I could do it right. So what do I mean by “right”?

First, the book had to be good, as judged by someone other than myself. My wonderful agent, Lara Perkins, is a terrific editor, and she thought it had promise. Before submitting it, though, she suggested a whole slew of edits to what I originally sent to her. I went through several more drafts before she thought it was ready to go out.

Several editors seriously considered the manuscript. None of them wanted to publish it, but many were complimentary and considered it for a while before passing on the project. (Their reasons for passing on it varied, but appeared to boil down to fear that it wouldn’t sell enough copies to justify the expense.)

Second, it had to appeal to a relatively narrow niche of readers. I can’t begin to imagine how to market a general-interest book, but marketing for a book like Orpheus can be targeted to various groups. I already have a good relationship with many of these groups: organizations involved with Classical studies, as well as teachers and librarians.

Third, every aspect of the finished product had to be done by a professional. I’m a professional in only one area of all the various tasks required to create and market a book: writing. The editing, copy editing, cover design, cover art, formatting, and marketing and publicity had to be farmed out to qualified professionals. The last thing I want is a book that looks, feels, or especially reads as amateurish.

Lastly, self-publishing had to change. There had to be a way that someone with expertise in only the writing part of the process could put out a quality, professional book without going broke.

Next post: How I went about accomplishing numbers three and four.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014


Early in the days of this blog, I wrote a post about the four areas of concern I had about leaving my day job. No. 3 was the "Psychological" area, where I said in part that

"at all but the most abysmal jobs (and my job is far from abysmal), you get strokes. You do in writing too, but writing is also a lot about rejection—rejections from agents and editors, bad reviews, critical emails from readers. Will they hurt more when I don’t have the comfort of students saying nice things to/about me, and colleagues telling me I do a good job?"

Of course I've been nervous about the first review of The Stepsister's Tale and my nerves weren't helped when I learned that the first one came from Kirkus, since they're notoriously difficult to please.

When I read it (and you can too, here) I got momentarily lightheaded with relief. They not only said very nice things but also gave it a star! For those of you outside of this business, a star is great, since some libraries and schools automatically buy a copy of every book with a starred review.

To celebrate, I'm giving away five signed copies of the ARC along with some modest but fun Cinderella-themed swag on May 21, one week from today. All you have to do to enter for a chance to win one of them is comment on this post. I also ask that you write an Amazon and/or Goodreads review after you read it. U.S. and Canada only, please!

Thanks for sharing my excitement, friends!

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Writing Process

Thanks to Holly Schindler for tagging me in this blog hop! Here are my answers to the questions all the participants are answering.

What am I working on?
I’m frantically trying to get a draft of a new book in shape to send to my editor by May 1! The working title is FAIREST: THE STEPMOTHER’S TALE, and as you can probably tell, it’s a retelling of Snow White from the point of view of the stepmother. In my telling, she’s not a witch, and in fact is Snow White’s ally. It’s set in the early twelfth century and weaves in druids, the King Arthur legend, the Crusades, and all sorts of fun stuff.

How does my work differ from others in its genre?
There are lots and lots of retellings of fairy tales. In fact, the working title of my next book (THE STEPSISTER’S TALE) was “Yet Another Cinderella Retelling.” What I like to do, though, is to explore the person normally portrayed as the villain and portray her (so far, both of them have been female) in a sympathetic light. There are always two sides to a story, you know!

Why do I write what I do?
Beats me. It just interests me!

How does my writing process work?
I usually circle around something for a while and then write in spurts. Once the well has run dry, I walk and think and ruminate and suddenly several scenes (or at least one scene) will pop into my head. Then I write and write. If I force it, nothing happens. Well, I do write something, but I wind up deleting it the next day, which sucks. So I don’t write unless I’m pretty sure what I’m writing will be at least partially usable.

Be sure to check out the three writers I tagged to answer the same questions!

Jane Warren has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia and undergraduate degrees from University of Calgary (BEd) and McMaster University (BPE). She has published two-dozen short stories and poems in literary magazines in Canada and the UK and has served on the editorial collectives of literary magazines. Currently she lives in the Netherlands where she works as an editorial consultant. 

Vicky Alvear Shecter writes both fiction and nonfiction set in the ancient world. Her recent Cleopatras Moon tells the story of the daughter of Cleopatra. Her creative nonfiction book about Egyptian mythologyAnubis Speaks! A Guide to the Afterworld by the Egyptian God of the Deadreleases October 2013. She blogs at History with a Twist.

Renee Gian has been an ice cream server, a mannequin model (you know, those people who stand perfectly still in store front windows while you make faces at them), a French teacher, a Latin teacher. She is now currently a middle school art teacher in Cairo, Egypt where she lives with her son and a menagerie of cats. She also still spends a great deal of time imagining, but now she writes most of it down in the form of picture books and middle grade novels. She blogs at Word Disco.


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Another Ending

One thing I swore to myself when I quit my day job was that I wouldn’t be one of those people who told her work friends, “Don’t worry—we’ll still see a lot of each other!” and then drop off the earth.

Years ago, I formed an organization of non-tenure-track faculty at Vanderbilt whose purpose was mutual support, which mostly involved getting together for a beer once a month and telling horror stories about the administration. We called ourselves “LWA” (Lecturers With Attitude) and our meetings were well attended, with anywhere from six to ten people at a time. Even after I quit teaching, I continued to call regular monthly meetings.

Numbers started falling off this academic year, and then I was unable to call a meeting for a few months due to writing deadlines and a move, but now that I’m settled in the new house I proposed a meeting last week. We’ve moved away from the university neighborhood and are on three wooded acres. Yes, it’s idyllic, but it feels awfully removed from people I used to spend a lot of time with, so I was happy when half a dozen said they’d come.

As it turns out, only one other person came, and she’s someone I see weekly anyway at a different social event. We had a great time and wound up staying for dinner, but on the drive home I came to the conclusion that LWA had run its course. Whether it’s because as founder my regular presence was necessary for it to flourish or because the turnover in lecturers meant that I didn’t know anyone new to invite as long-timers moved on, the group has clearly been on life support for a while.

So I pulled the plug. I was doing more listening and sympathizing than sharing of war-stories, and of course I can (and will) continue to see many of the attitudinous lecturers individually. Still, I’m a bit blue, I think more because the end of this group signals another end of that former life. The new life is great, don’t get me wrong—but change is always a bit unsettling.