Self-Publishing—my experience

A few years ago, I decided to try my hand at self-publishing. Starting out, I used Amazon exclusively, but when I didn’t get good results, branched out into Smashwords. Both were a disappointment. The whole experience was a disappointment. As to why, there were several reasons.

First off, I didn’t get the sales I expected. Mind you, I didn’t have any illusions, thinking I would be an overnight sensation; I would have been happy selling an occasional e-book with hopes of modestly growing my readership over time, enough so that I could make a little money doing what I loved. That didn’t happen. Friends and family shelled out to purchase my e-books—I published a total of four—but other than a few exceptions, the only time I sold my work was when I ran deals and hawked them on my website/blog.

And that comes to number two: I hated, absolutely hated, self-promotion. To me, it was akin to begging everyone to please, please, please buy my book. For now, I’m moving on, but will come back to self-promotion later on.

Number three comes from a personal experience that was the tipping point. A blogger friend who had self-published for a number of years asked me to contribute to a science fiction themed anthology she was putting together, and I happily accepted. When the e-book was published on Amazon, I purchased a copy and started reading. And cringed. The stories were not that good, and many needed editing. Only one stood out as being both interesting and well-told. (I’m not referencing my own story here; it’s hard to be impartial regarding one’s own work as we writers can overestimate or underestimate our abilities, so I’m leaving it out of my critique of the anthology.) And I realized I should have read some of my friend’s work before I agreed to participate. My only excuse for not doing so was that she wrote in a genre that didn’t remotely interest me. I didn’t do my homework, and now my name was linked to what I considered a subpar book.

That experience opened my eyes to the world of self-publishing. After extensive research and a lot of reading, I realized that for every self-published gem out there, there were hundreds of duds. Some actually tell a good story, but sink under the combined weight of bad grammar and typos. When reading such a book, I would think, Why didn’t someone tell them they needed to hire an editor? Or in the case when everything was bad, Why didn’t a friend or family member tell them their writing sucks?

And I had an “ah” moment: No one spoke up because they didn’t want to hurt the budding writer’s feelings. I should have known because I had also been guilty of keeping silent.

That awareness caused me to take stock of my own abilities and marketability. And that was when I pulled my books off Amazon and Smashwords, and vowed that if I were to be published, it would be by traditional means: submitting my work to publishers who had no qualms about hurting my feelings.

Now back to my hatred of self-promotion—
Getting traditionally published is now a whole different ballgame than it was in the past. Authors are expected not only to write a good book, but to vigorously market it as well. They are expected to have a website, Twitter account, and Facebook page, all with a healthy following before their book even hits the shelves. And did I mention self-promoting, how one has to get out there like the hucksters of old, waving their book and shouting “Buy my book! Please!”?

All this led me to the realization that I am not cut out to succeed in today’s publishing environment. I don’t have the drive, the utter belief in my talent, to keep banging my head against a brick wall with the hope I’ll somehow, someway, knock it down. And if by some miracle I do, spend as much time branding myself as writing.

So I decided to write not for accolades or money, but for my own enjoyment, my own need. When the mood hits, I send out short stories and poetry, and have placed a few. It’s a sideline, though, nothing serious. But this blog (and previous ones) is metaphorically my garden where I plant what germinates, sprouts, and bears fruit in my mind. Sometimes my garden flourishes and the writing flows, and sometimes it hits a dry spell and the words wither on the vine. I just take it as it grows…er…flows. And when it flows, most of the time I share it here for others to read or not, whichever they choose. And I don’t have to yell, “Buy me, buy me, buy me, please!”

©️2019 KT Workman

Photo via Pixabay

A Plethora of Books

How many books on writing do you own?

If you’re like me, more than you wish to admit, especially considering the money spent on them; and if we are to be honest here, most gathering dust on the shelf, floor, chair, desk, wherever.

Years ago, I routinely checked my thesaurus, dictionary, grammar handbook, and more. All were kept within easy reach. But over time, the internet has pretty much made reference books obsolete. Why turn to a book when with the click of a mouse you can have your answer, which is up to date, not five or ten years old?

To go with the reference books, I have shelves—yes, shelves, as in plural—of books telling me how to write and sell my novel, how to create conflict and suspense, writing the paranormal, etcetera, etcetera. And though I seldom crack one open, I can’t seem to part with them. Just the thought of it hurts my heart.

Digital is rapidly replacing the printed form, and though I embrace new technology, there’s a sterileness to it. A Kindle doesn’t feel like a real book in your hands. A smartphone doesn’t have that ink-and-paper aroma. Curling up with an iPad on a rainy day doesn’t quite satisfy. Occasionally, I have to have that fix, so about every third or fourth novel, I dive into a real book.

But almost all my writing research is now done on the internet. My dictionary and thesaurus are apps on my phone. Questions are answered by a Google search. How-tos are explored through YouTube videos and web sites.

I am a modern writer.

But on occasion, I long for a simpler time…flipping through books and articles, taking copious notes on yellow legal pads, trips to the local library. This is not to say that I don’t ever use paper and pen, don’t ever read physical books, just less and less as time goes by.

I see a future where books will only be published in digital form. I know it’s better for the environment if we use less paper—save a tree and all that—but to me, that will be a sad day. I wonder what books will think when they live only as ones and zeros, having no physical form. I wonder if they will miss the feel of human hands. And I wonder if they will be lonely.

©️2019 KT Workman

Photo via Pixabay

Voice

If someone were to hand you a sample of writing and ask you to identify the author, would you be able to do it? Probably not, unless the writing happens to belong to a person whom you’ve read extensively. If that’s the case, you can make an educated guess because of how they tell the story, in other words, their voice.

New writers know of the elusive voice, but often struggle to find their own. They feel as if their writing is too cut and dried, has no flair, so they try this style, then that style, emulating authors they admire. And that’s okay, it’s practice.

Writers are not born with their literary voice; it’s shaped over time while penning countless pages of work. To know that, all one has to do is go back to an author’s early work and compare it to her latest. The emerging voice is there in the first published piece (after many unpublished ones), but much the same as fine wine, time has bred character and depth to the writing.

How the author describes, structures a sentence, his use (or lack) of metaphors and similes, are some of the many ways voice can be discerned. And the more one writes, the more a skeletal pattern unfolds that binds the story together. A writer uses that skeleton, again and again, covering it with muscles, tendons, and skin to give his words life.

That skeleton, also known as voice, holds it all together.

Time and practice forms one’s own unique voice. There’s no shortcut to it, just lots and lots of hard work. And it doesn’t matter how much education one has or how much innate ability, one will invariably write badly before one writes well. That fact holds true in writing as it does for about anything a person chooses to pursue. Do you think Tiger Woods won a championship the first time he picked up a golf club? Or Paula Deen cooked a scrumptious, butter-dripping meal on her first attempt? Or people went wild the first time a young Bruce Springsteen picked up a guitar and belted out a song?

Nope. All of them put in the necessary years of practice to hone their craft, and you, dear writer, have to be prepared to do that as well. No more than singing is just about mouthing words in tune, writing isn’t just telling a story; how the singer sings, how the writer writes is equally as important.

Discover your how, and you discover your voice. 

©2019 KT Workman

Rules

I read a blog post recently about the use of correct grammar in creative writing, where the author was questioning if there are any hard and fast rules.

It depends…

Are you writing only for pleasure or a hobby? If so, it doesn’t matter whether or not you use the correct verb tense, misplace a modifier, or use quotation marks when you should have used italics, or vice versa.

But if you are a serious writer, are self-publishing or looking for an agent, you can’t pitch the rules out the window. Some think if you tell an engaging story, your manuscript will be snatched up, and an editor will fix the poor grammar; that’s not going to happen unless you have a unique angle, such as being raised on a remote island by a family of seals. A few grammatical mistakes and typos most likely will be overlooked; but a manuscript littered with errors will not. And as for self-publishing, yes, you can publish your book sans editing. But do you really want your sloppy grammar out there for all the world to see?

It all boils down to whether, for you, writing is an avocation or vocation. If it’s an avocation, you can throw caution—or nouns and verbs—to the wind. Write with impunity. But if writing is a vocation, tread that grammatical mind field with care, even on your personal blog. When considering whether or not to take you on, literary agents and publishers have been known to google your name or byline, with many asking outright for the address of your blog/website. So it’s best that any piece of writing with your name attached to it is as error-free as you can make it.

Some use blogging as a pastime. Some use it to stretch their creative legs. How you use blogging should dictate your adherence to proper grammar.

©2019 KT Workman

Listen and Observe

Listen and observe…

I think a lot of writers do this naturally, without even thinking about it. We see a young girl in the checkout line at Walmart paying for a cart of groceries, and we wonder, where is the adult? Why is the girl alone? Where in the world did she get that big wad of cash? (This actually happened to me, and from it, a short story was born.)

In another store, we’re in line behind two elderly women, in their mid-seventies at least. One says to the other, “I think I’ll wait awhile before I get me another husband. The last three about done me in.” Another husband? Just how many husbands has this old woman had? What happened to the last one? And the ones before him?

While walking down the street, we see an old woman in layers of tattered clothing clutching a doll to her chest and crooning a lullaby. Who is the woman? Is she homeless, as it appears? Does the doll replace a child she lost in the past? How did she lose the child?

We hear a work colleague telling another that when his great-grandfather was a teenager, he killed a man, ran hundreds of miles away, and started a new life with a new name. Who did he kill? Why did he kill? Did he kill again?

We hear on television that the moon is moving 1.6 inches away from the Earth every year. What if it sped up its departure? If so, what caused it to accelerate its retreat? How would this affect Earth? What would be its impact on human life?

Like most writers, I always have pen and paper handy—or my smartphone with its handy-dandy notes app—where I can jot down the things that make me go “hmm…I wonder…” I know better than to trust my memory; like dreams fade when waking, story ideas can slip away as well.

We watch, we overhear, and we store those nuggets away to be pulled out at a later date and inspected. We turn them over and over in our minds as the words form around them, layer upon layer, until the why, what, where, when, and how takes shape.

A story unfolds, and the magic begins.

©️2019 KT Workman

Off and On

Let me start by saying I’ve been a writer for many years—off and on—and am just coming out of a lengthy period of “off.” I wish it weren’t so, but I tend to let life in general get in the way of writing. And I procrastinate. To my shame, “Don’t do today what you can postpone until tomorrow,” seems to be my rallying cry.

A few years ago when I was “on,” I had quite a few short stories published, but the forward momentum didn’t last when life hit a difficult stretch. The road has since smoothed out, so now, I’m trying again.

Writing is a lonely endeavor. Not everyone is cut out to sit alone in front of a computer for hours on end, pulling words out of wherever they come from and forming them into something they hope someone will find pleasure in reading. And there are so many distractions: job, kids, spouse, family obligations, friends, TV, lovely books, and of course, the computer (with an internet connection) right in front of you. It takes a lot of willpower to push it all aside and focus on your writing. It’s not easy. And don’t let anyone try to tell you otherwise.

But when everything comes together, when you read back over what you have written, and it’s good, damn good, in fact, it’s all worth it. You got the story/poem/ article out of your head and onto paper. To me, there’s no better feeling in the world.

Except maybe getting paid for doing it.

Money and recognition are fantastic things, but to be honest, most of us don’t write for those reasons; we write because we have to. The words, plots, and people are there in our heads, and they demand to be heard. We give them a voice and in doing so, find our own unique voice.

And isn’t that what it’s all about?

©️2019 KT Workman