Beware of Falling Rocks along the Learning Curve (Part 2)

As a too-poor-to-pay-them-to-do-it independent publisher, every decision was left in my hands.  Some indies say this is one of the main reasons they chose this route.  Others will tell you that it had more to do with royalties, typically a much higher percentage when dealing with a POD than a traditional publisher.  I made this choice, as I wrote previously, because I wanted my book read and that wasn’t happening via the query-and-wait process.

But here’s the thing I discovered on the way to doing it all myself—I like making those artistic decisions.  For one thing, a traditional publisher would likely have balked at my using two separate fonts.  It’s a lot of extra work, and the way I had it set up originally (for a manuscript) did increase the work on my end.  I had used Times New Roman 12 pt for the great majority of the text (what I call my “Garlan” font) and Century Gothic 10 pt for the “Earth” font.

CreateSpace, my POD publisher, provides advice on a multitude of publishing topics, and one of them is font choice.  The font I wanted for the Garlan font was Book Antiqua 11 pt.  I liked how it looked.  It was not one of the fonts CreateSpace recommended.  But it did, in my opinion, fit the criteria they laid out for a good book font.  One problem solved.

I then began looking at fonts for “Earth.”  I had my own criteria for these.  First, the font I chose had to look dissimilar enough to Book Antiqua to be discernible as something different.  Second, it had to match Book Antiqua size-wise at 11 pt so the reformatting from one set of fonts to the other would be simplified for me by one step, allowing me to change an entire chapter to 11 pt before proceeding with other formatting changes.  And third, the italics in the “Earth” font had to stand out from its own regular version and look like italics when standing as one or two words in the middle of the “Garlan” font.  In addition, the space between lines had to match between the two fonts.  (You’d be surprised how many fonts leave huge amounts of space between lines.)  Kabel BK BT fit the bill.

So, if I haven’t totally bored you with all of that, let me move on to the cover.  I’d had a very unsatisfying experience with the cover of my book with my first POD publisher back in 2000.  Their first design—mind you, for a fantasy novel with a medieval/almost Roman setting—looked like the cover of a psychological thriller, all reds and blacks and harsh images.  I cried.  They offered to redesign it.

The second cover had my shero in a long flowing dress looking quite distressed as a young man, presumably her brother, threatened her with a sword.  Clearly a heroine in need of saving, not a strong young woman capable of saving herself.  This time I begged them to take mercy on me and try again, admitting that if I must, I would accept this cover, but must I?

I did eventually accept their third attempt, a nondescript, stock photo of a small Greek-looking ruin on a hill—but only because it didn’t offend the crap out of me.  It said nothing about the inside of the book, but it didn’t lie about the inside of the book either, and for the $99 I’d paid for them to do everything, I couldn’t ask them to do it again.  I just couldn’t.  I also couldn’t market the book.  How can you get enthusiastic about something so mundane and boring.  Here it is:

See what I mean?

This time I didn’t want to end up with something I couldn’t live with.  I wanted to give it my all.  But I was flummoxed.  I can’t paint or draw.  I don’t know how to make a photograph look like a painting or modify it to get rid of boobs on a female model (you’ll understand why that was important when you read the book).  I looked at fantasy book covers on Amazon and looked for the name of the artist inside.  Perhaps I’d be able to Google one who didn’t charge an arm and leg for a good cover.  Then I came across one I liked, and it turned out it was an old painting.  Public domain!  Find a painting by a painter who died more than 70 years ago and I’m home free.

But what painting?  I sat at my table and looked around my living room.  Van Gogh?  No.  Picasso?  Not dead long enough.  Then, I remembered.  Over my right shoulder behind me hung a print my sister had given me a very long time ago.  “The Lady of Shalott” by John William Waterhouse who died in 1917 one month before my father was born.  That was 94 years ago.

It was a painting of a woman clearly fractured emotionally.  She had red hair like Lisen—long and curly like hers, too.  It wasn’t until later (but before I finalized all my decisions) that someone pointed out one minor problem.  She had breasts.  But I hadn’t chosen this painting because she looked like Lisen; I’d chosen it for the emotions it evoked.  And for the way it popped on the cover I’d designed with the help of CreateSpace’s template.  I liked it and I kept it.

And that’s how I made sure my vision of Lisen and her story was maintained throughout the final product.

Me, Myself and Me

“Establish your brand,” they advise.

My what?

“Brand.”

Ah, I did hear right.

So, what the heck is my brand?  Kellogg, Honda, Apple—these are brands I understand.  They sell things, specific things—food, cars, high-tech toys.  Me?  I want to see my book out there and read.  So what is my brand?

This led me back into research mode.  CreateSpace, the POD publisher of my book, offers all sorts of information on what it takes to prepare your book for publication as well as advice on marketing said book once publication has occurred.  I searched for “brand,” and this is what I found.  My brand is me.

Whoa, wait a minute.  Me?  I can’t sell me.  Or can I?

My favorite topic of conversation?  Me.  My favorite stories with which I regale my friends?  Stories about me.  My favorite obsession?  All things me.  This just might work.  I talk about myself all the time, dominate conversations to keep the focus on me, manipulate the topic of conversation back to me when it’s wandered to what my companion of the moment wants to talk about.  Ask my friends.  They’ll tell you.  Some seem to enjoy my going on and on, expounding on the plethora of trivial pursuits my brain is prone to.  Others—I have no idea.  Do I care?  Apparently not.

Alone at home, I talk to myself about…what else?  Me.  Or my book, in an imagined interview with Oprah or Ann Curry.  I think I even bore my cats.  Oh yeah.  I forgot.  They sleep all the time anyway, so snoring on their part is not necessarily an indicator of a lack of interest.

In my soul I remain sixteen.  I am now an age that begins with “six,” but it’s a long way from sixteen.  In part, my sixteen-year-old soul owes its youth to my young shero, Lisen.  Once I decided to send her to Earth for an education, I knew I had to fully reconnect with my inner teen.  I like her.  And she is a part of that brand that is me.

So, what does this mean?  Perhaps it means I can go on about me here, where people can choose whether or not to listen, and I can take the pressure off my friends.  Then again, I probably won’t let them off that easy.

Beware of Falling Rocks along the Learning Curve (Part 1)

So now I’m writing a blog, and I have no idea what I’m doing.  Of course, I could say that about a great many things I’ve done in the last few months.  Independently publishing a novel brings with it a series of learning curves with falling rocks around each one—falling rocks which must be driven around, drilled through, climbed over or tunneled under.  So why should a blog be so different from anything else?  (Or a “blob” as I seem to keep typing it.)

It began with a series of negative responses to e-mail queries.  In the old days, I sent out five letters a week—including synopsis and/or sample chapter(s) depending on requests—with the obligatory SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope) and then waited, sending out another five the following week.  Without access to an agency’s web site, an author had to rely on what the current year’s guide said about them. 

These days, one researches the agent, peruses her recent sales, studies the submission guidelines, and learns, in all too many cases, that one agent seems to sell only ethnically oriented books, another seems to handle very little or no fantasy even though the guide says they do, and a third has shut down accepting submissions for an indefinite period of time but “please do check back with us in a year or two.”

The good news about this is that the writer can reject many, many agents who don’t fit her needs.  It does, however, limit the hope factor.  It also limits how many queries go out because so much time gets spent on eliminating the hopeless.  The one thing it does not limit is the response time.  Some rejections arrive within hours of the queries having been sent.  In the meantime, the psychology of juggling queries—of always having several out as the rejections come in—that psychological incentive gets lost when the negative response is so final in its immediacy.  I quickly became discouraged.

One day in July, I woke up to what I really wanted for this book I’d pored so much energy, time and love into.  I wanted it read, in its entirety, by someone who felt no imperative to like it.  No imperative to hate it either.  I couldn’t get an agent to read it.  For some reason, my queries fell like the great silence that overtakes a stadium when a player is injured.  My book was hurt, and I had to find a way to resuscitate it.

Enter independent publishing.  Enter print on demand (POD).  And enter contests for self-published books which guarantee a full read by an expert—agent, publisher, writer, whatever—someone who has no need to like me or my writing.  Literally, ENTER those contests.  This would require doing more than preparing the manuscript for digital publication; I would have to prep it for paper and binding. 

Luckily, I came to this with skills already in place.  I’d self-published twice before—once doing all the set-up myself and even binding the books with my father’s guidance, and once via a POD publisher for whom I had to prepare the document, but I did not have to make decisions such as type face or the size of the book and I did not have to design the cover.

Near the end of July I began prepping my manuscript.  I proofed, and two readers pointed out a few errors as they read the book as a document on their Kindles.  I made some changes and then performed a series of edits on each chapter to accommodate the differences between manuscript and book.  I will get into these in the second part of this blog, but it was an intense process. 

It was also a satisfying process, one which gave me control over everything, and nothing can beat that.

Post? Page?

Can’t tell the difference between a post and a page.  Just trying things out here.  If you’ve already read my first “page,” you’ve read this.

I’m a blogger!  Been threatening to do this for years, and, finally, here I am.  Admittedly, I have taken this step to establish a presence on the internet, and I hope that a few people will show up to check out what I have to say.  I love to write and have been doing so since I was in grade school.  I thrive on the challenge of a story that requires delving into the darkness in our souls, and I work hard to meet my own admittedly perfectionist standards.

I am here because of Lisen.  Lisen is a friend of mine.  We grew up together, in a manner of speaking.  She taught me what it means to lose everything and come back fighting.  I showed her what life on Earth was like, and, in turn, she has rewarded me with some of the best moments an author could ever ask for from a character.  Now it’s time for her to venture out into the literary world, and I want to do everything I can to help her succeed.  So here I am.

The book’s name is “Fractured: Lisen of Solsta, Book 1,” and it is available on Amazon in both hard copy and Kindle.  This blog will often delve into Lisen’s world, but I also hope to look at writing in general, the pros and cons of independent publishing versus the traditional publishing route.  When the need drives me, I will also write about the dilemmas of life as they strike me.  I know it will take a while to build a following.  This first blog is not likely to attract followers in droves, but it is a start.  Show  up in a week or 2 and hopefully I’ll have something to say that’s actually worth saying.