The Best I Could Is No Longer The Best I Can

May this always be true: The best I could do is no longer the best I can do.

If this is true, it means improvement is happening. And that’s what we want, isn’t it? Growth?

I’m not the same writer I was five years ago. Honestly, that’s a very good thing.  When I was starting out as a newly published independent author, I made mistakes. A lot of mistakes. I’m still prone to mistakes today, but, boy, things were kind of rough back in the day, which makes me feel very appreciative of all those positive reviews these strangers left on what was not my best work.

There’s a reason I’m rambling on about writing growth. I have been meaning to start re-promoting one of my favorite novels, which I published in 2014 – The Reach of the Banyan Tree.  It was my third and longest novel at the time – a multi-generational, historical romance novel mixed with war, adventure, and contemporary intrigue. I’ve always loved the story behind this novel. It covered all my old stomping grounds from my ten years living in Vietnam.

Finally, I was ready to start re-promoting it, but something happened. I started reading through the beginning of this novel and, honestly, I cringed. No, I didn’t really write like that back then, did I?

I read more and sighed deeply with one simple realization: I did not want to promote this book if it’s going to make readers think that that’s the way I currently write. I didn’t want to give that impression because there were many problems with the way my prose flowed in 2013. So I had a decision to make: keep as is and no longer promote it or do a complete re-edit and revision.

Yep, what you know what I chose.  Over the last two weeks I did a thorough read and re-edit – getting rid of all those narrative issues and those needlessly wordy sentences. Oh, and those adverbs. There was more, but you get the picture.

Once the ebook was reformatted, then came the paperback. I came to realize that I didn’t even know what a drop-cap was back in 2013 when I was putting this together. So you know what I had done? I used some sort of anchored text box to make drop caps at the beginning of each chapter. They looked terrible.

The final re-edit isn’t perfect. I didn’t have unlimited time, but I’m much happier with the result, and I am now happy to start re-promoting it.

This whole process gives me hope that the best of my writing is yet to come. It’s exciting for me to see what’s brewing in the mind which will one day be a whole host of new stories. Let’s hope they are crisper than ever before.

Indie Author Formatting: Please Insert Scream Here

As an Indie Author, let’s be honest. There’s not a lot money to throw around. I spend money on editing, and I spend money on book cover designs. Beyond that, I’m pretty much on my own having to learn and navigate all the ins and outs of modern publishing without an expert over my shoulder.

Indie Authors have lots of jobs and skills they need to have in their arsenal and formatting is one of those necessary jobs which make you want to try Chinese torture methods on yourself. I mean, does anyone really understand Microsoft WORD?

Actually, ebook formatting is a snap if you have the right program, which I do. Once you learn how to properly set-up your ebook and add some meta-data then an Indie Author can have a nicely formatted mobi or epub in no time.

But the paperback, different story altogether.

That brings me back to MS Word. I still use WORD for the final layout of my paperbacks, and it’s a beast to conquer. For me it’s never about conquering but about taming the Cadillac auto-formatting which keeps wanting to flex its annoying muscles. From page breaks to headers to chapter headings to page numbers to fonts to paragraphs, its incredibly tedious and annoying. I usually end up reading a bunch of blogs about formatting and after hours of toying around I finally have something that I’m happy with – not proud of – but acceptable nonetheless.

Between books I, naturally, forget all the wealth of information I learned on those blogs and realize I have to do it again. But I totally cheat. I open up my last book’s formatting and slowly paste in my new content. Not ideal because it makes my paperbacks’ formatting to be all very similar. That’s okay, as long as they look attractive and give the reader a good reading experience. That is the most important point, isn’t it?

So while I hate the process, careful formatting is crucial for these reasons:

1) I wouldn’t have a paperback without it. That’s simple enough. I still feel the benefits of having a paperback version of my novels for friends, family, libraries, and book reviewers.

2) It provides another round of editing help. As much as I hate WORD, it is a much more powerful word processor than my ebook creator. WORD’s grammar and spelling checks are definitely helpful in identifying (especially) nit-picking errors – words that should be hyphenated, confusing words like “everyday” or “every day,” and the like … As I went through my manuscript, I found a few issues which need correcting on my ebook. Formatting for a paperback gives you one more set of “eyes” on your book. It’s an extra round of polish which I’ve found to be helpful.

Sometimes Indie Authors just need to do those jobs which we hate. It’s part of the process which finally will lead us back to what we really want to do: create.

An Indie Author Ready for the Future of Publishing

Literary agent Andrew Lownie in THIS article recently stated that he believes that nearly 75% of published books within then next 5-10 years will be self-published. This announcement has certainly turned the writing blog-o-sphere on its nose with both excitement and scorn. Of course, this is mere conjuncture, but even the pronouncement has some broad and interesting ramifications. First off, this is from a literary agent who understands the workings of the traditional publishing field, and, clearly, he sees it as in decline. Even if the claims are vastly overstated, it serves as an illustration that more and more traditional publishers are going to stick to tried and true formats with tried and true authors. It will be even more difficult for unknown authors to be discovered.

However, will being discovered even matter anymore? Self-published authors will need to build themselves up, establishing their own author brand and inching into the readers’ consciousness. There won’t be discoveries any more but rather breakthroughs, like what we see currently when an indie author finally finds a large audience. It’s happening more and more, and the squeeze on the traditional publishers must be troubling to those who still have large conference rooms with mahogany tables.

Recently, I was reading about an indie author has has broken-through and sold several hundred thousand books up to this point. He went on to say that, before he had a large following, he wasn’t interested in spending years trying to find a literary agent and then finally getting a poor advance on a publishing deal. In his mind, the hours and rewards of a traditional publishing deal just aren’t worth it anymore. He kept writing, went indie, and made it.

I can identify with that – except the ‘made it’ part – not yet! But there more and more compelling reasons not to put in a tremendous amount of time trying to find an agent and trying to break into traditional publishing. Perhaps serious self-published authors will find it to be more to their benefit to concentrate on their writing, write great books, meet readers on-line, network, write more great books, be available, build your platform, and strive forward in the work you love to do.

The market is moving in our favor, but nothing will ever be handed to us. And that’s a message I take personally. I am devoted to being the best writer I can, and to tell the very best stories that I have within me. I hope there are readers out there who enjoy coming along for the ride because this indie author is ready for the future of publishing.

Speed Writing. Speed Publishing. A Great Afternoon.

Besides being a writer, I’m a teacher. Sometimes those two facts collide. Like yesterday.

It was at the beginning of the high school-wide parent-teacher conference when I was sitting at my desk minding my own business. A colleague, who is in charge of the forensics team, came to me with an urgent request: could I write a duet acting script for a pair of students who desperately needed one? And by the way, could I do it quickly and could I have it published since the script for competition needs to be published?

I thought for a second. Why not? Yes, I’ll do it. This is, after all, the age for speed writing and speed publishing. I told her I would give it some thought and see if I could come up with a suitable idea to fit those two particular students, whom I knew well.

As a few parents came and went from my desk, my mind kept focused on a possible idea. I clicked into an old ideas file and browsed for a second. One in particular stood out to me, it was called GeneRations. I clicked on the file and saw a few ideas that I had about writing a short play on that topic. The ideas didn’t seem suitable. But the phrase GeneRations kept reverberating in my brain until after a few minutes, I had a simple scenario from which to start writing.

That’s it for me. Once the idea comes, it’s all Niagara Falls. And so I started pounding away at the keys as the dialogue flowed freely back and forth between my imaginary characters being written for two real students. I stopped from time to time to talk with some parents, and within an hour and a half of being asked, I walked up to my colleague and told her it was nearly finished. She asked what was finished. I said the script she requested. Her eyes lit up. I told her I’d polish it a little after school and send it to her for approval.

That evening, she told me that she loved it.

Now for the speed publishing. I plopped it into Scrivener, did some formatting, and had an ebook sample within minutes.

Now to Amazon. Got into my Kindle publishing account, set up the details and … oh … wait! Book cover!

OK. Quick. I brought up publisher and scanned through my photos from the past summer in America. I happened upon a photo I took from the 911 Memorial Museum in NYC. It was a wall that was made from pieces of chipped metal from the Twin Towers. It’s just a cool looking textured background. I recolored it, added the title and a new pen name that I use for short scripts, uploaded to Amazon and done!

The work is officially published and now eligible to be used in the local forensics competition.

What a fun and rewarding afternoon of creativity! I wish I could do that everyday. Writing and publishing a piece within 24 hours.

This is a pretty cool era in which to be a writer!


What are Traditional Publishers doing to Promote their Talent?

Every once in a while, I like to look at books or authors on-line and try to determine what marketing and promotion approach that they are taking.  I like to see how well their books are selling and try to guess why they have or have not been successful.

I came across an author I was not familiar with who just released his third novel a few months ago via Penguin.  He previously had a hit book (or at least semi-successful) with a different publisher, so I was curious how he was doing with his new gig.

His new novel has been out for 4+ months, it has only 3 reviews on Amazon, it’s sales on Amazon are dismal and its Kindle selling price is over $12 per ebook.

Am I missing something here?

What actually is Penguin doing for this author? Are they even promoting the book at all? What’s the point of signing someone on and then not putting all one’s resources behind the book launch. Shouldn’t a traditional publisher have all the where-withal to get the word out and sell books?

Like I said, am I missing something?  Perhaps I am. Maybe they don’t want to sell books through Amazon?

Actually, seeing what is happening to this author makes me proud to be an indie author. I get the fruits of my labor – however big or small that may be. I get as much out of it as I put into it. The options are limitless, the rights are all mine as are the decisions of when to release, what to release, and at what price point.

I’m not talking down the traditional publishers. They have their own way of doing business and they make money how they want to.

But at the moment, I’m glad to be independent. It doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t ever listen to any offer if a traditional publisher came by. What’s the harm in listening, right?

But I’m happy to move forward doing things my own way.

Go indie!

Win a 10-Page Read by a Literary Agent! Yeah, Right.

I received an email from a website advertising their latest book contest that they wanted me, as an indie author, to enter.

I have nothing against book contests. I’ve entered some, but it was the grand prize of this contest that made my stomach curl a little.

The grand prize was this: two literary agents would read the first 10 pages of my novel.

Really? That’s it? How incredibly generous of them! My life as a writer would be validated if I could only get two literary agents to read the first 10 pages of my book. I’m surprised they have time in their hurried schedule of declining queries with callous form letters to even read a whole 10 pages.

I’ve done that, and I’ve moved on.

I’ve taken control of my own writing career and I don’t need some stuffy literary agent to validate my first 10 pages. I have something much better. I have readers. Readers tell me what they think of the WHOLE book, and if they like it, they tell other readers.

So sorry. I think I’ll pass on this contest.

Indie Author: Vanity or Cutting Edge?

Early on in my college career, I paid to include my poem in some anthology which I believed (or at least pretended to believe) held some great significance.

OK. All college kids aren’t smart. If I have to pay to get my poem published, what does that say about my poem?  But I thought it was good and you can’t convince me otherwise.

I received a copy of that book in the mail, and I turned to the designated page and there was my poem by Mark W. Sasse. I was in print. I was a published author.

OK. OK. I understand. That, my friends, is what we call vanity press. Pay to publish. In the past, it was the only way for unsigned authors to get their books in print. (And then those books would sit in cardboard boxes in ones attic. After all, if you can’t buy someone’s book in your local bookstore, it must not be good.)

Vanity press carries such a negative connotation like the work is not good enough to be published by the mainstream publishers or not quality enough to be commercially successful.  And so for decades on end, the mainstream publishers have stood as the gatekeepers of the publishing industry – only letting in what they think will sell or what they think is good enough.

It doesn’t seem like it was long ago when the term “indie music” popped on the scene. Now I’ll admit that I am no expert on indie music, but I do know a whole generation and industry of musicians has popped on the scene – often times creating “non-pop” – the type of music that you wouldn’t necessarily hear on your Top 40 station.  It can be music that is daring, creative, and wildly experimental.  I never brushed off a band because they went “indie” – I merely listened to their music. That’s where the proof is. Now many previously signed bands have forsaken deals on the table and have gone independent themselves so they can have ultimate artistic freedom and and sometimes generate higher profits. Many bands have turned to their fans and have asked their fans to help them record their next record by using Kickstarter or other sites like that. I’m a fan of Seabird and can’t wait until their self-produced album – funded through Kickstarter – comes out.

So what about the writing industry? It seems to me, though I am still a new arrival in this arena, that the vanity press days are somewhat over and that a new generation of indie writers – both new and those who formerly had publishing deals – are writing their own way and marketing directly to the readers who will ultimately decide if their writing is good enough to put food on their table or not. No longer do writers have to wait until the gatekeepers say ‘yes’. No longer do writers have to conform to popular genres or formulaic fiction which the big publishers believe the public will buy.  No longer do writers have to bow to whims of fantasy, vampires, or werewolves if their heart isn’t in it. No longer do writers have to fork out large amounts of money to publish if groveling to the big six publishers didn’t work. Amazon and the Kindle format have a lot to do with this. Each month in their newsletter they give another example of an author who has found his or her niche as an indie author, able to publish their works when and how they see fit and able to find enough audience to forsake their day job for a new day job.

Does being an indie author have a negative connotation? I don’t think so. I think it just depends on the quality of the author’s work – and that all depends on whether readers enjoy it or not. It’s actually quite simple when you think of it that way. It also kind of takes the pressure off or at least for me it does. I just need to write what I’m passionate about, market it to the best of my ability, and let the readers tell me if I’ve done a good enough job or not. Then I need to learn from the lessons of the previous book and move on to the next, all the while keeping my day job! (which I love, by the way)

This is the age of the indie author. It’s pretty exciting to be writing now. I know I’m enjoying it.