WHERE TO BUY
And in case you missed the book trailer:
So this is what it means to be your own publisher. Terror. Typos. Eye strain from way too much time looking at web sites. Yet another reason why it would be nice if someone else did all that work.
But this is the path I have belatedly chosen, self-publishing, and in the DIY culture of today’s media, it’s a real education. I actually kind of like the process. If you haven’t been through it, let me give you the rundown of what it’s taken so far to get Funnel Vision out into the world – and it’s not quite there yet.
1. Write the book. Rewrite the book. Edit the book. Share with critique partners. Rewrite again. (Insert years here spent trying to get an agent to like it enough to pick it up, as I did.) Get serious. Rewrite again. See the world changing fast. Decide to publish it yourself.
2. Buy ISBNs. This isn’t what everyone does, as a lot of publishing services provide them, but I felt that to be serious, I wanted the block of Bowker numbers for each edition.
3. Design book/hire someone to design book. Did I mention DIY? I’m a ridiculous do-it-yourselfer. (Sometimes that’s called a “control freak,” though I’m always happy to get professional assistance.) I wanted to see if I could come up with a cover that made me happy. I have some background in graphic design, thanks to a long career in journalism. With a couple of stock photos of good-looking people, carefully transformed, and my own tornado photography, I made my own cover with Photoshop. That includes a back cover with a tornado image I shot and an only mildly manipulated sign photo – that’s a real sign in Liberal, Kansas, and fits my story perfectly. I used Word to design the inside of the book.
I won’t be strutting around saying I am a “published author.” But I can quietly say I’m a “self-published author.” These days, that’s not such a bad thing, right? On with Funnel Vision !
I was wondering if the giveaway of ‘Funnel Vision’ had gone live yet on Goodreads, and holy cow, has it ever! I’m grateful for the requests and look forward to sending the five books out when the giveaway period ends Jan. 30. The Goodreads gods determine the lucky winners in all giveaways.
Here’s more stormy fun. I’ve just uploaded to YouTube a video I did almost five years ago, featuring 10 years of storms packed into 10 minutes. There’s a smattering of hail, lightning, storm structure and tornadoes, including several time-lapse clips and music.
Book trailers are so much fun to make. It’s like the very best version of your book, or the idealized, one-minute version. Actually, if you really did it like Hollywood, you’d probably have multiples … one that emphasizes the action (this one kind of does), one that emphasizes the romance, one that emphasizes the emotional personal stories … you’re getting it. Anyway, here it is. The trailer includes several snippets from storm-chasing video I’ve shot over the years. I’ll be publishing Funnel Vision later this month.
I used to review a lot of books, mostly for The Sun in Baltimore, a newspaper I worked for in the 1990s. I loved books, still do, and I was surrounded by smart, inspiring writers. Among them were richly talented critics and reporters who were or have become famous for their novels, including Stephen Hunter and Laura Lippman. For a few months, I was actually interim book review editor at The Sun, while the new editor was formulating his vision. I was handed that task – in addition to an editing job I was already doing – when I told my boss that being a book review editor was my dream job at the paper. It turns out, it wasn’t.
There was a huge backlog of books that hadn’t been considered and a tsunami of books pouring into the office. It was overwhelming, and I didn’t spend my time reading novels over hot cocoa and doughnuts. I spent my time organizing the deluge, prioritizing reviews, and saying no to publicity people. Despite what was probably considered, at the time, generous book-review space – space almost unheard of now in most newspapers – we probably reviewed less than 15 books each week, even including occasional roundup reviews of five or six titles. I wrote some of those, too.
From this experience, I understood that even books published by the big houses, even books written by people I’d actually heard of, wouldn’t necessarily get reviewed. Self-published books were simply never, ever considered for review, and for good reasons. One, there were too many “legitimate,” vetted books up for consideration; and two, most of the self-pubbed books were terrible.
Fast-forward to the last few years, when I worked at a newspaper in Florida and wrote about, among many other things, books and authors. We gave self-published books a mention, because there were so many local writers putting them out. Some of them were certainly worth the publicity they got; in fact, a few of them merited feature stories for their intriguing topics, interesting authors or writing pedigree. But the truth is, a lot of self-published books are still pretty bad. Some people publish in a vacuum, without doing their research, without the benefit of a critique group, without investing in good design, without understanding anything about the industry. They are, in their own eyes, Published Authors, a title I’ve long desired but wanted to get the hard way.
As my editor during an early internship told me a few thousand years ago, “Don’t you know? Every journalist has a novel in their bottom drawer.” I was one of them. The first one I wrote was pretty awful. The second one was fun and captured the zeitgeist of the time it was written, but I gave up too soon on publication after a handful of rejections. In the interim, I started chasing storms, and then, I started writing Funnel Vision, a novel about storm chasers.
I had tremendously valuable input from a critique group, and I got the novel into a state where I was ready to submit it to agents. I did. A lot. Some asked to see chapters. A few asked to see the whole thing. But no one said yes, and I grew weary of rejection, again. I believed in my novel, but it is a bit of a genre-bender – an adventure story with humor, drama and romance – and a novel like that seemed unlikely to find a home with a publisher who wants a shelf label, who wants a novel of a type that’s already been successful.
Despite my frustration, I still didn’t want to own the stigma of being self-published.
Then, as you know if you follow publishing, the world changed. It is changing, incredibly rapidly, and traditional publishing is going through a massive upheaval. E-books’ popularity is growing. There are some major self-publishing success stories. And while I didn’t think I’d be the next Hocking/Konrath/Locke, I finally decided that it might be time to give it a shot. Not only is publishing the Wild West; other books about storm chasers are out there – books I have studiously avoided reading – and I didn’t want the one I wrote five years ago to be irrelevant and overtaken before I even got it out into the world. Besides, as strange as it might sound, I had started writing a sequel.
So I set out upon one more revision. With fresh eyes, I added a couple of scenes. I found out even more about my characters. And I set the wheels in motion: cover, formatting, and all the fun aspects of becoming your own publisher. I believe in this book. Reading it again and again, as I have been in the final phases of getting it ready, I’m enjoying it, too.
I still have fears of being dismissed as part of the self-created slush pile, as some still see self-publishing. I cringed recently when I saw a bookstore employee venting on a Millions post denigrating self-publishing, saying, “Self-published authors are the bane of our existence.” I’m not a “hater” of the industry, as that column implied. I’m not naive. But I have my reasons for making this choice.
Why would a cynical book-critic type self-publish? I have a story to tell, a story I love. Time is ripping by, and the wheels of publishing turn slowly. While I still have fantasies of being the Published Author with the imprimatur of the Official Publishing House on my book, I know now it’s not the only way. And in the current publishing climate, it’s going to be even harder for me to find an Official Publishing House to accept my particular flavor of adult fiction.
I want my story to find readers who enjoy its world as much as I do. I hope they do. Look for Funnel Vision later this month.
This is the sort of thing I chew on, questions about writing, when I really should be writing. But this is kind of bugging me.
“This” is the question of what to call a series of novels of indeterminate number. I will be coming out with a novel about storm chasers soon, and I’m in the middle of writing a sequel. I’m not sure if there will be a third novel, though I’m thinking about it. But I’d hate to label it a trilogy (or a duet, as I found in one instance) without being sure, and “series” is too prosaic. In addition to the title, I can call the first one “a storm chasing novel,” but it would be convenient to say it’s “Book One of” something. I don’t want to call it The Storm Chasers Chronicles or some variation thereof, because (a), there are already at least two novels with some permutation of “storm chasers” in the title (I haven’t read them, for fear of compromising my brain), and (b) “Chronicles” seems a little, well, grand.
“Chronicles” also doesn’t seem to fit the subject – a contemporary adventure with humor, drama and romance. I’m not saying “Chronicles” is pretentious, but it brings to mind any number of fantasy series that I once devoured. It sounds magical, historical, or epic. So what’s the alternative? “Series” is a snooze. “Stories” implies short stories. “Tales” – well, I think of something between Chaucer and Peter Rabbit. And then there’s “Saga.” “Twilight” is billed as a saga. I’m pretty sure most sagas should include Vikings or multigenerational family soap operas. By those standards, Charlaine Harris’ amusing Sookie Stackhouse novels should be a saga, because one of the major characters is a Viking vampire, but she circumnavigates convention (and has it three ways) by calling the books the Southern Vampire Mysteries. Talk about appealing to multiple genres, and that’s without even mentioning the hot sex scenes. “Mysteries” on its own is a convenient alternative to “Chronicles,” but it helps to have written a mystery.Often series are marketed with their characters – i.e., “Book One of the John Smith Mysteries” or simply “A John Smith Mystery.” Then one must have a character to hang them on. I actually do have a central character who will travel from one novel to the next, but he shares the spotlight in the first novel, so I don’t think that works, either.
Novelists who cultivate famous characters don’t necessarily start out calling their novels after them. Ian Fleming’s first edition of “Casino Royale” doesn’t say “A James Bond Novel” on the cover. Instead, it displays a rather disconcerting array of girly hearts. (If you have one of these, by the way, it’s worth a freaking fortune.)
Should one make something up, the way Spike Lee calls his movies “A Spike Lee Joint” instead of “Film”? Maybe you can’t go wrong with “novels.” “Book One of the whatever novels.” Whatever “whatever” is. Enter creativity and a strong sense of identity. E.g. the Millennium Trilogy or The Lord of the Rings, which asserts that it is not a trilogy, but one massive book, and therefore not needful of silly appellations such as “trilogy” or “series.” Jasper Fforde chucks all convention with “First Among Sequels,” which is (to be excessively literal) not the first sequel but the fifth book in the clever series starring Thursday Next, and the American edition went ahead and put the character’s name on the cover above that original UK title.
There’s a lot of talk about how important marketing is these days, and I’m sure a good series name or gimmick is part of that, along with the ability to tell people which one comes first. A good book cover and tagline are great, too, but what it comes down to, I suspect, is writing a good book. Word will spread. And then you can worry a little more about what to call its successors.
I was doing some social media surfing this morning, catching up on the good stuff at Writer Beware’s Facebook page, on another literary agency helping its clients “self” publish e-books, and checking out random thoughts on Twitter. I was led to the blog of Amanda Hocking, whose career I’ve been following with interest, since she’s been such a mega-success with self-published e-books on Kindle. And anyone who is considering publishing an e-book, myself included, can’t help but wonder how she did it. Obviously, people like her books, and they’re cheaper than a cup of gourmet coffee. To make my own judgment, I just read her “My Blood Approves” on Kindle for iPhone, a very tiny way to read, but convenient for airplanes and solo lunches. It’s a simple story in the teen vampire-lust genre, and if I hadn’t read “Twilight,” I might have been more intrigued, but I found it derivative. Then again, aren’t all vampire stories derivative? As she has confessed, there are also some irritating errors a copy editor would have caught, but the writing is mostly clean and direct, and I can see why younger readers might get into it. I don’t feel compelled to read the rest, but it was a bargain at 99 cents. Hocking’s new trilogy, which is being reissued by St. Martin’s, may tempt me later on, but for now, my curiosity is satisfied.
As a very recent graduate of a long career in newspapers, much of which was spent writing about books, I’ve found the decision to self-publish agonizing. I’m about 90 percent there, now. Self-published books are slowly getting more respect, but the majority of them simply aren’t good, and when one came across my desk as a writer or editor, I viewed it with skepticism that was often validated. Yet a self-published book that is well-edited, with a good cover and interior design, will get more props than a crappy one any day.
I’ve been through the mill of agent rejections, often getting to the stage of them wanting to read the entire manuscript, but it hasn’t worked out. Maybe because the story is hard to categorize. It’s not pure thriller, romance, Literature or comedy, yet it’s an adventure with elements of all the above. I believe in the work. And I’m not getting any younger. It’s time to put it out there. I have no illusions of success like Ms. Hocking’s, but then again, I’m not writing vampire novels or mysteries featuring cocktails or long-legged dames on the cover. Yet!
All that aside, at the bottom of Hocking’s blog, which is well worth reading for its inside view of both self-publishing and “real” publishing, there was a neat little gadget that completely absorbed my attention for five minutes. It’s the fish (above). They follow your cursor around, and when you click, they eat the “food” you leave. We live in a world of gadgets, widgets and apps, all designed for our short attention spans. Distractions are everywhere. But now I have to get back to photo editing and writing. Go fish.
I’m a year behind the times, but thanks to GalleyCat’s list of Moby Award-winning book trailers, I just saw the one for Sloane Crosley’s “How Did You Get This Number?” You’d never guess it’s for a book, or a book of essays, if it didn’t ultimately tell you, but who cares? It’s a wonderful piece of animation that makes you want to watch it until the end. I made my first book trailer last year for Susan Hubbard’s Ethical Vampire novel “The Season of Risks” and would love to make more. I’ve got to play with animation! Check out the Crosley trailer:
Meanwhile… I just got back from The Hukilau, the tiki festival held in Fort Lauderdale. I shot a lot of video with my Nikon D7000, trying to learn its mysterious ways. One, I’ve learned, even with the external mic, it’s hard to get good sound when bands are playing at deafening levels; and two, the autofocus is pretty awful for video. Unfortunately, it’s hard to see that on the screen in the middle of the action. It’s best to use a tripod, and the camera works best in situations where you can take your time and set up your shot. Of course, reality isn’t always accommodating. Fortunately I also have HD video cameras that are great for action.
I also took a few stills. This is one of my friend Kathryn at the Mai Kai Polynesian restaurant in Fort Lauderdale. It was just one of those moments when the light was right, and she looked wonderful, and I had to take a photo. Do you agree?
As more and more writers self-publish or, at least, find themselves pushing their own books more than their publishers do, writers are getting creative about promotion. GalleyCat highlighted some of these means of promotion today, and it sent me looking for the Amazon forum where that blog found lots of good tips. Writers are posting Craigslist ads, doing serious networking on writing and reading sites, paying for targeted ads on sites such as GoodReads, and selling their e-books cheap.
Some are even promoting their books the old-fashioned way – by telling their local newspapers about them. As a very recent graduate of a couple of decades in newspapers, where I did a lot of writing about books, I can say that it’s always a good idea to contact your local newspaper or other media outlet (magazine, TV station, etc.). At the same time, you need to be professional about it. So much of what is self-published is still, let’s face it, bad. Simply presenting yourself professionally, and having a professionally edited and designed book, can set you apart from the guy who waited 50 years to publish his handwritten book of poems about alligators and the woman who has penned a scintillating memoir about washing the dishes.
I have a lot to say on this subject, and I’ve spoken on the topic, but let’s just start with one bullet point: the initial contact. First, make sure you are contacting the right person at the media outlet. It’s OK to send your press release to more than one person, but “spamming” everyone is frowned upon. Call and ask for a newsroom office manager or editorial assistant and find out who writes about books, and who covers the topic your book may concern. For instance, you’ve written a biography of a tennis star. The books editor (if one has survived) and the sports editor, or even a sports columnist, may be interested. A cookbook might be directed to the books writer, a food reporter and the features editor. And anything with a local topic can be directed to the person who covers that beat, too. Have I mentioned that it’s a good idea to have at least looked at the publication first? That’s a wise way to discern your targets.
Make sure your press release – whether sent by e-mail (which most journalists prefer these days) or on paper – has contact information for you or your publicist, including a phone number and an e-mail that you actually check. The e-mail should not have a spam filter that will make the editor fill out a form in order to speak to you. I hated that, especially when I’d taken five precious minutes to pen a response. Also, use spell-check, uppercase when appropriate, and write in full sentences. You are not in an AOL chat room.
As for content, if there is a news hook appropriate to your book (for instance, you’ve written a book on tsunamis, and tsunamis are in the news), make sure you spell it out in the press release. Include a paragraph of biographical information that emphasizes your local ties. And if you can be an expert source on anything relevant to the book, offer yourself up as such. Even if you don’t get a big feature written about you and your book, you may find yourself being called upon to be quoted in an article about your area of expertise – a great way to get a plug for your book and to cultivate a relationship with the editor/writer that will pay off in more mentions or even a feature later on.
Last tip for now: Have an online press kit on your web site. (You have a web site, don’t you?) Include a summary of the book, bio, and good, high-resolution JPG photos of your book cover and you that the editor can download. This doesn’t even have to be a public link (though that would help), as long as you include the link in your press release. Don’t send giant files attached to the e-mailed release. They fill up editors’ mailboxes, and some attachments never get opened because of virus concerns.
That’s just for starters. Then there’s that other trick, finding time to write.