I am an indie publishing noob

This is my confiteor:
When it came to wading into the pool of indie publishing, I did everything wrong.head_inmonitor
I had all the typical resources available to newbie author: great people are out in social media to help folks like me get started. Lots of good information. Really.
I just didn’t get it.
What I had in mind was launching my first book by a certain day in 2013. I read up on book marketing and indie publishing and came away with something I thought I could deal with. I had a book – the first in a series. Most of it is mapped out. Some it is written. I had it edited (not very well, either). I had an idea for a book cover a friend whipped into shape. I had no money for advertising.
I had no advance print copies – it’s an ebook – and I didn’t really reach out to bloggers and reviewers nor take advantage of some promotions offered at some web sites. I had both the second book in the series and the third book in the series half-written when I realized the third book should be the second book – big u-turn there.I released the first book during the holidays with no marketing plan other than playing around with free/99c. I have this blog that sometimes I really think is a waste of time. I have a website I put together (and don’t like). I created a Facebook pageand a Goodreads page.
But I had no budget for anything: editing, covers, marketing, no advertising, no membership to any groups or services to promote the book, and no email list.
I had no plan to have a print-on-demand copy or an audiobook until ‘sometime in the future’ – I had a plan that it might happen in year 2 (but the plan is very flexible).

Here’s what happened:
Had an advance order period of about three weeks – no orders, lots of downloads to check out the first few chapters of the book.
Heard from a dozen friends/readers who point out over 30 typos in the book.
Sought out some reviews – I got a few, mostly positive.
Did not know until two months later, after I made some corrections and raised the price of the book to $2.99, I had about 800 free downloads and about 80 sales at 99c. I didn’t monitor sales at all. I was busy writing Book 2.
On one vendor’s site I read reviews – mostly good – that I did not know I had. So I wasn’t tracking any response to the book.
On another site I had sales number less than a dozen throughout 2014 – at any price.
I did not finish Book 2 in time to take advantage of anything positive from book one. Book 2 remains unfinished, no cover art. Book 3 is half finished.
I still don’t have an email list.

What I learned:
For me,  writing every day is essential – I lose whatever momentum I have if I skip more than one day. Marketing sometimes can be more important than writing – pay attention to it, but remember to write every day. Social media is essential, but it’s no substitute for writing the stories or marketing. I now understand the value of an email list: I could have begun finding out who my readers are and sharing more of my stories with them. And I understand the value of promoting the book several months in advance, getting advance reviews, joining websites to promote and to find readers. Even $40 a month for marketing is better than nothing, and a lot of the free stuff out there is good, but limited. And social media is what you make of it: I found some good author-centric support and advice groups who want people to succeed. Curiously, I saw my sales rank rise 700,000 spots on Amazon if I sell just one book (image what it would be if I sold two, or five, or 10). Equally, that my sales rank can fall from 800,000 to 1,200,000 pretty fast when I don’t sell any books – as of this writing, it’s at 1,258,792.

Budgeting time is more important than budgeting money. But mostly, that being an indie author means you are an entrepreneur, that everything is on you. Get the help you need, pay for it if you can, do the heavy slogging and learn.

I have faith in my ability to write. What I don’t have is the marketing know-how. I have no marketing chops whatsoever – all of 2014 had been one gigantic cram session. I still have no confidence in what I’m doing, but I’ve learned a lot. Treat is seriously, and good things happen. Treat is like an afterthought, and that’s what it will become.

So as I tidy Book 1, finish Book 2 and 3, and begin writing Book 4, I know I have a lot of work to do. But it’s worth it. Why? Because shortly after I wrote the first book, I received this surprise, via Facebook:

“Just finished your 1st book and Chapter 1 of book 2. Bravo Sir, I’m a fan of your work. Love the characters, love the plot lines. Cannot wait for more!!”

Back to it, then.



Ready, set, WAIT! Blogging?

Road leading to the ocean with 'slow' painted on itJeff Goins.

Darren Rowse

Jeff Friedlander.

Michael Stelzner.

That’s just four of the great people giving great advice about blogging. They appear in my email weekly, if not more often. Blog blog blog.

A person can get sick of it.

I know you do. I do. I write fiction. I work at a newspaper. I’m writing and editing all the time. Why do I have to blog? Who has the time?

All good questions.

I don’t have the answer. These folks listed above, and many others, have plenty to say.

As for me, I’ve been wondering what to offer my readers. I started this blog six years ago in the fashion of a weekly column: my travel down the road to publishing. I’d had several novel-length manuscripts rejected dozens of times, and this thing called self-publishing still had the faint odor of ‘desperate’ to it. Ebooks were in their infancy. Writers like me who couldn’t even find a publishing gatekeeper, much less get past one, were sitting up and noticing. What ABOUT ebooks?

Well, here we are, October 2014. I took one of my novels, took a character from it and turned it into a mystery series. Since THE GANGSTER’S SON came out last November I’ve done EVERYTHING wrong when it comes to marketing and promotions — but I’m learning as I go. Much like blogging.

Going back four years when I began to think of this blog as something other than an amusement, I’ve wondered what it’s purpose could be. Thanks to Jeff Goins’ recent Intentional Blogging series, I’ve been giving a lot more thought to the blog’s purpose.

It’s not really about my journey to publishing. It’s about everyone’s journey. One thing I’ve learned since embarking on this trip as an indie author entrepreneur: We’re all in this together. Some of us will do well, some of us will do the best we can. But we can all have each other’s back.

The reason I decided on sticking with the indie route is what I’ve witnessed among my musician friends – Play gigs, connect with the audience, build a fan base, sell some merch, but DO YOUR OWN THING and keep doing it. Support local indie artists.

That’s where this blog is heading. There will be some trips to other destinations, but it’s all about supporting indie authors on the road to publication.

See you down the road.

Five feet high and rising

My absence can be explained this way. I’m deep into editing book two of the Shig Sato Mystery series — finished the first draft, started making corrections, decided some chapters needed to go, others needed to be in different places — and while making the corrections, finding other stuff that needs attention, and even while watching TV or walking to work, thinking about new and different plot lines and details.

Sound familiar?

Writing is rewriting. This is a hard lesson to learn. I came up through the journalism ranks, the “Get it right and get it out” school of daily journalism where rewriting was a luxury only feature writers and editorial writers possessed. One of the hardest things for me to do is turn off the journalism/non-fiction switch and turn on the creative writing/fiction switch. I liken it to driving 55 mph and then slamming on the brakes and putting the car in reverse at 55 mph. (Please don’t try this.)

I am usually pretty good at shutting down the editor part of my brain while writing, so when the time comes to edit and rewrite, it’s as if the editor part is catapulted to freedom, to run amok among the words that are just-about-there-but-not-quite ready. And it likes to play. What I find incomprehensible is the flood of ideas that pass through my mind like a raging flood. It’s scary and thrilling at the same time. And addictive. It’s my favorite part of the writing process.

The rewrite — aka second draft — is about 70 percent compete. After that, another edit and then copies sent to beta readers. Then it’s on to book three.

I am getting closer, and going further.

I promise to be back. Soon.

Talk to Me

The process of editing a novel is like nothing I’ve ever encountered. I’ve edited book-length non-fiction work. But fiction. Whew. And I am a copy editor by trade. It’s the length, it seems. Sentence after sentence, paragraph after paragraph, chapter after chapter — the story, the ebb and flow, the characters, setting, dialogue. It’s a massive undertaking. My impatient journalist ‘your deadline is now’ self strips gears downshifting from daily newspaper work to the slow, meandering, herculean effort of writing, then editing, long fiction.

So I read aloud what I’m editing. In a newsroom, it’s annoying, and maybe fatal, to read aloud, but in the privacy of your writing nook it is essential. At least for me.

Reading words on a page can be anything from a sprint to a marathon, the eye and the mind choosing whatever speed is most comfortable at the time. But reading aloud – there is no such thing as speed talking a novel, unless it’s to amuse friends at a party.

But that’s for another time. The time I’m spend now, the critical, fine-tooth-comb, prelaunch editing, is nerve-wracking at best, thrilling to be sure, but best executed simply by reading the pages aloud.

Well-written sentences are musical, have their own rhythm, their own cadence. A conversation seguing into a narrative passage that sounds simple and easy when spoken aloud is magic.

Don’t believe me? Go to your work-in-progress and read one paragraph aloud. Tell me what you think. I found four mistakes in this post after publishing it. I didn’t see them so much as heard them when I read them aloud hours after I published it. It happens to everyone. Just keep at it.

Happy writing!

Words That Don’t Belong

I am writing a mystery series, and in my quest to find a forgotten fact from the first volume, I used the the word ‘back’ for my search. As I skimmed through the manuscript, ‘back’ occurred far more often than I would have thought, and nearly every one was unnecessary.

What a revelation — and it points to something I know lives in the back of my mind, to come out when I’m editing: omit pet words and phrases unless it is absolutely the best word to use.

For example:

“His worst fears were now fact: facing Miki’s death and owning up to his ties with the Fujimoris overcame Sato as he made his way back to Azabu Station.”

Omit back:

“… he made his way to Azabu Station.”

Or this: “Mrs. Abe went on to report that the delinquent was back, …”

Better: “Mrs. Abe went on to report that the delinquent had returned, …”

Then there is: “Katsuhara knew without asking he was going to take his boss back to the Plum Blossom.”

Better: “Katsuhara knew without asking he was going to take his boss to the Plum Blossom.”

I found this to be true with words like turn, got, replied —  simple words that once the sentence is spoken aloud, sound out of place.

What words do you regularly use and then omit from your manuscript?

Life, Five Minutes at a Time

Most everyone past the age of 50 knows what I mean when I say, “Man, I’m tired.” It’s more than physical exhaustion, more than mental fatigue. Sometimes, in the middle of the day, towards the end of the week, the Tsunami of Truth crashes into you, and all you can do is stand there and take it. My truth: Man, I’m tired.

This has been creeping up on me over the years. The job I have, a copy editor at a newspaper, requires long periods of intense concentration. I did not realize this is incompatible with inner mental workings. I often have trouble holding a thought long enough for it to incubate. Designing pages, writing headlines and captions, reading long pieces and short briefs, making valiant attempts to help a reporter make sense of something that often is insensible: it’s taxing, frustrating, exhilarating, fun, and exhausting.
So I learned a trick some time ago, along the lines of ‘How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.’ It’s simple and effective: focus on whatever you’re doing for five minutes.  No distractions. No interruptions. No wandering of the mind.  Stick to the task at hand for five minutes. Then decide what’s next.

I came to appreciate the value of this system when the time came to tackle writing a novel. Some of my short stories begged to become longer tales. I acquiesced. As the stories unfolded in my mind, I knew the only way I’d be able to write the thousands more words needed was to take things one very small step at a time. So I put into practice what I had been doing at work. The 70,000-word tome did not seem so overwhelming after that.

I admire people with the ability to go ‘the long haul.’ My long hauls amount to short excursions, one after the other. I guess it’s all right. I still get tired. But I take life five minutes at a time.

What about you?

Dang! Missed NaNoWriMo again!

If you’re like me, special dates creep up on you: birthdays, anniversaries, the absolute last day to register the car for another year. When it comes to writing, I have to juggle my writing time with the time I spend at work. I’m as organized as I’m ever going to be, so some things just slip through the cracks.

But how in heck does a person miss a whole month? I’m talking about National Novel Writing Month, commonly called NaNoWriMo. Once again, I’m as unprepared as can be to write the 1700 words a day for 30 days to hit the 50,000 word goal. I don’t even bother to register.


This year I was doing the final edits for my WIP that is finally being submitted to agents. Last year I was returning to work after heart surgery, and my concentration was blasted. The year before that, I was turning my WIP inside out after realizing a better story would come from a secondary character than the main character.

You’d think that I could at least spend the other 11 months of the year preparing. Yeah, right. You know how that goes. I’m no better.

So I am resigned to the working on my new project, sending out the rest of my submissions, dreaming about hitting it big, and and getting back to writing a thousand words a day.

To all my NaNoWriMo friends: Good Luck! See ya in 2013.

How do you NaNoWriMo?