Many Ways to Skin a Cat | Shevi Arnold

Blog Series: Researching “The Many Ways to Skin a Cat” in Publishing

Over the next few weeks I am going to be looking at all the ways “to skin a cat” in publishing. I am going to interview and feature guest posts with different authors from different publishing options. So if, like me, you are at that painful and exciting point of trying to make the most informed choice…stick around and watch this space. Perhaps one of the options will stand out for you and perhaps one of these authors that I interview or who guest-post will inspire you down the same path.

I am coming at this with a completely open mind and non-judgmental attitude. I am doing this series as much to get more information for myself and educate myself as I am any reader whom finds this interesting or useful.

Open Call*

Also if you want to be one of the authors to be interviewed or guest post on this topic in this series, please shout out.

*My Guarantee: No Cats will be harmed or skinned in the writing of this series!*

😼   😼   😼   😼   😼

Today I have the pleasure of interviewing a woman of many talents. Not only does she have a way with words but she has a way with pictures and illustrations as well. She is definitely a “cat” with many lives. She has been an editorial cartoonist, a newspaper illustrator, a journalist, a comics magazine editor and now she is a published author. She has a unique view on the world of publishing since she has been in the industry of words and images for over 20 years. I have been itching to get her views on “the many ways to skin a cat” in the publishing industry and what better time and place than right here and right now on Dragonfly Scrolls. So relax, sit back, put your feet up while the talented Shevi Arnold and I chat.

1. Can you tell us what “being Indie” means to you?

Shevi >> I came to indie publishing after trying to break into traditional publishing for nine years. I found some success—one of my novels, Ride of Your Life, won third place in a big national contest and received numerous requests from literary agents for full manuscripts—but I found a lot of frustration too. I was okay with rejection letters, but when so many agencies switched to a “no response” policy, I just couldn’t take it. I couldn’t handle not knowing, never knowing, not even if my query letters had been received. It felt like I was sending my stories into a black hole. It got so bad that I literally got palpitations every time I hit the send button on a query letter. I have this thing that I do when I hit a wall. I stop, reevaluate the situation, and ask myself why I got into it in the first place and whether it’s still worthwhile to continue along the same path. Over those nine years, indie publishing had evolved. After taking a long hard look at it, I realized that traditional publishing couldn’t offer me anything I didn’t already have. I had years of writing experience. I had years of illustrating and designing experience. I even had years of editing experience. True, all of this was in newspapers and magazines, but it was still experience. And I could use that experience to adventure out on my own. For me, being an indie author means taking the fate of your work into your own hands. It means that you’ve chosen to believe in your own work, instead of waiting for someone else to believe in it for you.

2. Nowadays there are so many options for authors but the sheer amount of publishing options can create confusion.

Why did you decide to go the pure Indie route of self-publishing?

Shevi >> I’m not sure I would say that I have decided to go the “pure indie route.” I have for now, but things might change in the future. I’d like to keep my options open. Indie publishing does take a lot of time, however, which is why I’m focused only on that. And I am enjoying my freedom. Independent publishing lets you take chances a traditional publisher might be hesitant to take. I like that the reader gets to see my vision for the story, because no one made me change something to make it more marketable or for some other reason. For example, I like to illustrate my own stories. Even my YA novels, like Toren the Teller’s Tale and Ride of Your Life, have illustrated chapter headers. I feel this gives the readers extra value when they buy my books, and the readers seem to like it. When I was working for the Jerusalem Post, I used to draw illustrations for my own consumer column, but a traditional book publisher might not want me to do that. I like that as an indie author that’s a choice I can make.

3. You hear of authors switching methods of publication from seeking traditional representation from agents & the Big6 to small press to self-publishing.

Did you try any other route in publishing before settling on self-publishing and can you tell us what these routes were?

Shevi >> (See my reply to question 1.)

4. On the converse side of the debate, are you a dyed-in-the-wool Indie author or would you ever consider the lure of a Big6 publishing contract?

Shevi >> It depends. I like to keep my options open.

5. What would you say is the most important piece of advice you were given in your dream to become a published author?

Shevi >> When I was in college, I majored in English Literature and Theater Studies. I took a playwriting course, and the professor told me I should be a writer. I guess that was the most important piece of advice I was ever given on the topic. Before that, I wanted to be a film director, but then I thought, “Writing… Hmm, that’s not a bad idea. It’s just another form of storytelling, after all.” But I guess what you’re looking for is something your readers can take away. I’m not going to tell you, “You should be a writer.” I haven’t just heard you read the play you wrote, so I don’t know. What I can tell you is that you can learn a lot about writing by studying Improv. You can learn, for example, that it doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be done. Perfection, after all, is unattainable. You’ll drive yourself crazy if you try to get it perfect, and you’ll never write a thing. But something really amazing can happen and you take a piece of crap and edit the crap out of it. Of course, before you can do anything, you’re going to need that piece of crap written down. Otherwise, you’ll have nothing to edit. You’ll be like a sculptor without a block of clay. Of course, it might be fun to watch a sculptor trying to create something out of thin air, but in the end the sculptor will have nothing to show for it. The only difference is that as a writer you need to create your own block of clay.

6. Being Indie means that you have to be your own Marketing guru and Public Relations expert, what have you learnt about marketing your own books as an Indie Author?

Shevi >> The main thing I’ve learned about marketing is that I’m really bad at it. I’m first and foremost a writer, and I have qualms about some of the marketing tactics I’ve seen some in other indie authors use. For example, I wouldn’t feel right about rewarding people for reviewing my book, and yet I’ve seen other indie authors do just that. And I can’t stand seeing posts on Facebook from authors shouting things like “Like my fan page! Download my book! Vote for my book in this contest!” How about instead you write a great book, create a great fan page with great content, and then let me be the judge? I’d rather let my books stand on their own merit. I don’t want you to buy my book (or like my Facebook page) because I told you to. I want you to do it because it sounds like something you’d want to read. There’s a magician in one of the stories that Toren tells in my novel Toren the Teller’s Tale who refuses to be paid until the customer is fully satisfied. I feel the same way. I want you to be happy that you bought one of my novels because you enjoyed the story, and not because I told you to.

7. Everyone keeps on about the importance of developing “your own brand” as an author.

Do you agree and how have you built “your own brand”?

Shevi >> I think this was actually one of the main reasons why I came so close to landing an agent but wasn’t able to, if you’ll excuse the cliché, seal the deal—I don’t fit a single brand. I wouldn’t even want to. My tastes are eclectic. I wouldn’t want to read just one kind of book. Why would I want to write just one kind of book? Brands are so limiting. I think that no writer is as well branded as JK Rowling. But look at how she got locked into writing Harry Potter books for years. I couldn’t stand that! Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely adore my characters. I look forward to writing the next book in the Toren the Teller series, and I have another series I’ll be starting soon– the Gilbert the Fixer series– with characters I love to death, literally! But I think I would go insane if I could only write one series over several years. I actually wrote a blog post about this. I concluded that if brands were colors, my brand would be rainbow. I can’t help it. It’s just who I am. The only thing I can say is that humor is a part of almost everything I write. Even my most recent novel, Ride of Your Life, which is possibly the most romantic, bittersweet thing I’ve ever read–a story that made me cry buckets while I was editing it–has funny, surprising scenes in it. I don’t know. Maybe “quirky” is my brand. I certainly am a different kind of writer. Steve Martin is one of my heroes. He doesn’t limit himself to one thing, not even one medium. That’s what I want, to be able to tell any kind of story any way I want.

8. Nowadays the world is a smaller place through social media and the internet.

How important a tool do you believe social media is to an author today and what tips would you give an author in how to use it effectively?

Shevi >> I believe that social media is the single most important kind of marketing that writers have today. It’s also the cheapest, and writers have the best tool to take advantage of it– the ability to communicate in writing. The truth is there’s so much to learn, way too much to be summed up in a brief paragraph. I would highly recommend that you read several books on social media marketing. I’ve read about a dozen of them. We Are Not Alone: The Writer’s Guide to Social Media by Kristen Lamb is a great place to start.

9. What would you say has been the biggest learning curve for you in Indie Publishing, and would you say the greatest challenge was the publishing aspect or the marketing aspect?

Shevi >> The greatest challenge for me was and still is the marketing aspect of indie publishing. There’s just so much to learn; and if you’re shy, putting it into practice can be quite daunting.

10. Considering the question of editing, how important do you think it is that all books (Indie or Big6) be edited professionally?

Shevi >> Generally speaking, I would say that, yes, all books should be professionally edited. However, I have edited my own books. I used to edit a magazine, and I moderated a critique group for many years. I’ve also been offered editing jobs, so I guess you could say my books were professionally edited, even if I did do it myself.

11. If you have a Big 6 contract and/or an agent – you have project deadlines to keep you motivated to finish that draft and keep you from procrastinating. How do you, as an Indie author, keep yourself motivated to keep finishing those drafts?

Shevi >> I used to be a journalist. Journalists have to meet deadlines. I had a 1,000-word midweek column, and a 2,000-word weekend column. Sometimes I had additional freelance work. Writers who finish the work and meet deadlines get paid. Writers who don’t finish the work and don’t meet deadlines don’t get paid. It’s a great motivator. I try to view my work now the same way, even if the rewards are a bit different. I’ve learned so much from being a journalist. It’s not just discipline. It’s also humility. It’s hard to think highly of your writing when you know that tomorrow it’s just going to be lining a birdcage.

12. If an unpublished writer came to you to get advice on whether they should go the Indie route or a more Traditional route in publishing, what 3 tips would you give that writer?

Shevi >> I wouldn’t give tips. Maybe it’s the journalist in me, but the first thing I would do is ask questions and listen to the answers. Why did the writer decide to write a book? How well did the writer research the market for this book? How much does the writer know about publishing? Has the writer studied other books in this genre? Has the writer studied writing? Has the writer studied literature? Who did the writer write this book for? How long has the writer been writing? Is this the writer’s first book? Is the writer in a critique group? The advice I would give would depend on the answers to these questions. Generally speaking, I think it’s best for writers to develop their skills over time. Unfortunately, indie publishing today makes it so easy to go from wanting to write a book to having one published in almost no time at all. Don’t rush it. Great books aren’t written overnight. That being said, there are exceptions. Douglas Adams wrote the radio play that was later adapted into my favorite novel, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, when he was just 19 years old. It would have been silly for me to tell Douglas Adams at that time to wait, especially considering that he eventually died quite young. So a tip that I might give one person would be completely irrelevant to someone else. The indie route is right for some people, but it isn’t right for everyone. Study your options, and choose the one that’s right for you. Leave your options open, because you might change your mind later on. Whatever you choose, I hope you have fun. I think writing is the most fun you can have, and if you have fun writing it, there’s a good chance others will have fun reading it. 

Thank you Shevi for your insight into the many publishing options nowadays. It is wonderful to meet such a diverse writer with such a varied experience in the publishing world. What stood out the most for me out of chatting to you is: “You can learn, for example, that it doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be done. Perfection, after all, is unattainable. You’ll drive yourself crazy if you try to get it perfect, and you’ll never write a thing. But something really amazing can happen and you take a piece of crap and edit the crap out of it. Of course, before you can do anything, you’re going to need that piece of crap written down. Otherwise, you’ll have nothing to edit. You’ll be like a sculptor without a block of clay. Of course, it might be fun to watch a sculptor trying to create something out of thin air, but in the end the sculptor will have nothing to show for it. The only difference is that as a writer you need to create your own block of clay.” Before we even think of publishing options, we need to be continuously writing, creating and “moulding” our own block of clay. We need the product before we can sell it or market it after all. Words of advice every writer can take to heart. Great words on motivation and how to stay focused as well. Thank you for taking the time to share your writing journey with  us. ~ Kim

 

Author Notes

BIO: When I was little, I wanted to be God. Then I discovered that job was already taken. So I decided to become a film director instead, because that seemed like the next best way to create worlds. Then I discovered that directors have to work with a lot of people who don’t necessarily share their visions for those worlds. So I decided to become a writer. After graduating with degrees in English Literature and Theater Studies, earning a teacher’s certificate, and studying art and design, I began working in newspapers and magazines. Over 12 years I’ve worked as an editorial cartoonist, a newspaper illustrator, a comics magazine editor, an arts-and-entertainment writer specializing in comedy and children’s entertainment, and a consumer columnist. In 2001, I left my job to move to New Jersey in search of a better education for my autistic son. After that, I decided to start writing what I wanted to write, the stories that had been playing like movies in my brain since I was a little girl. I’ve since written seven novels and I’ve published three–Toren the Teller’s Tale, Dan Quixote: Boy of Nuevo Jersey, and Ride of Your Life. Why My Love Life Sucks, book one in the Gilbert the Fixer series will be out later this year. After that, who knows?

Shevi can be found writing on her blog: http://shevi.blogspot.com/

Shevi’s author page can be found on Amazon, where you can also find her books:

The Many Ways to Skin a Cat | Jonathan D. Allen

Upcoming Blog Series: Researching “The Many Ways to Skin a Cat” in Publishing

Over the next few weeks I am going to be looking at all the ways “to skin a cat” in publishing. I am going to interview and feature guest posts with different authors from different publishing options. So if, like me, you are at that painful and exciting point of trying to make the most informed choice…stick around and watch this space. Perhaps one of the options will stand out for you and perhaps one of these authors that I interview or who guest-post will inspire you down the same path.

I am coming at this with a completely open mind and non-judgmental attitude. I am doing this series as much to get more information for myself and educate myself as I am any reader whom finds this interesting or useful.

Open Call

Also if you want to be one of the authors to be interviewed or guest post on this topic in this series, please shout out.

*My Guarantee: No Cats will be harmed or skinned in the writing of this series!*

😼   😼   😼   😼   😼

Are you a writer who writes in a hard-to-market genre? Do you cross or blend genres in your stories? Have agents and editors told you they love your work but don’t know how to market it because it is so “different”? Don’t fear…here’s one author’s take on how he made his writing style work for him and how he took the publishing reins into his own hands…

In interview #2 on The Many Ways to Skin a Cat I have the pleasure of Jonathan D. Allen’s company. He kindly agreed to sit down with me and chat about Publishing, the route he chose and  the tips he has learnt along the way. Jonathan found that his talent for blending the genres of dark fantasy and horror didn’t necessarily translate well to the Big6 but this did not stop him. He took matters into his own hand and decided to go the Indie route.

1. Can you tell us what “being Indie” means to you?

Jonathan >> It means being the master of my own destiny. That can be a good and a bad thing – if things go well, not only am I able to take the kudos, but most of the profit comes back to me, and can be re-invested into things like covers and editing. Of course, if things go badly, I also take the burden of those losses and mistakes. It’s enormously freeing but also scary and depressing at times.

2. Nowadays there are so many options for authors but the sheer amount of publishing options can create confusion. Why did you decide to go the pure Indie route of self-publishing?

Jonathan >> After a round of rejections from literary agents (most of them friendly and personal – some even praising the writing but saying they didn’t quite know how to sell it), I realized a few things. One was that, in the old model, the traditional route might well have worked for me. It also answered a burning question that’s plagued me throughout my career: when would I be ready? Those responses told me that I was now ready. At the same time, I realized that the kind of fiction I write has limited mass appeal, and I have no interest in changing what I write. If I really wanted to blend genres in the manner that I’m currently pursuing, it made a lot more sense to go it alone, at least for a while.

3. You hear of authors switching methods of publication from seeking traditional representation from agents & the Big6 to small press to self-publishing. Did you try any other route in publishing before settling on self-publishing and can you tell us what these routes were?

Jonathan >>As I said above, I did try the agent thing. That had been my dream for years – close to 23 now: get the agent, get the publishing contract, and then see my books in stores. I was 13 years old when I figured out that whole equation, and it was just “what you did” if you wanted to be a novelist. I still toy with the idea of going back to the old way of doing things, but sooner or later something occurs that reminds me that things have changed forever. I won’t lie, part of me misses that old system, but I’m also excited about the future of this industry.

4. On the converse side of the debate, are you a dyed-in-the-wool Indie author or would you ever consider the lure of a Big6 publishing contract?

Jonathan >>Right now, I’m flexible. I would prefer to stay indie or possibly move over to a small press that gets what I’m trying to do, but I also won’t lie: I’d love to be able to do this full-time, and if a large six-figure advance dropped in my lap, I’d have to snap it up. I don’t necessarily see that as “selling out”, as I would never accept a contract, no matter the size, that changed what I’m doing. Of course, my current path makes that dream contract a lot less likely, anyway.

5. What would you say is the most important piece of advice you were given in your dream to become a published author?

Jonathan >>”You know, you can do this.” I can still hear that in my head all these years later. Those came from my 10th grade English teacher, who encouraged my creativity at a critical time. She allowed me latitude in the papers that I wrote for that class, and showed me ways that I could use my imagination in not just creating stories, but in my everyday life. I learned from her that I had…well, an exceptional imagination, but I had always believed that either others were better at it, or I was wasting my time with it. She showed me quite the opposite.

6. Being Indie means that you have to be your own Marketing guru and Public Relations expert, what have you learnt about marketing your own books as an Indie Author?

Jonathan >>That I’m not a very good marketer. Actually, I’m not so sure how I’ve done, as I’ve followed a lot of the “conventional wisdom”, consumed marketing books for self-publishing, done book blog tours, etc. and seen very little bang for my buck. I’m slowly realizing that the only real conventional wisdom that works is the oldest one: the best marketing for your books is writing and releasing another book (or short story these days).

7. Everyone keeps on about the importance of developing “your own brand” as an author. Do you agree and how have you built “your own brand”?

Jonathan >>To some extent, I do agree. I couldn’t tell you exactly how my “own brand” would be packaged, but I do know that my stories have certain themes in common, and I can see how they’re evolving as I write them. I think sometimes writers fear that establishing a brand means they won’t be able to write what they want, but I tend to disagree. Look at Stephen King. He’s written sci-fi, horror, straightforward literary fiction, and fantasy, yet each of those stories have an undeniable “Stephen King quality”. It’s all about establishing a signature quality. I’ve focused on that and keeping my book covers consistent as a way of building a brand. The other stuff seems like wasted time.

8. Nowadays the world is a smaller place through social media and the internet. How important a tool do you believe social media is to an author today and what tips would you give an author in how to use it effectively?

Jonathan >>I think it’s incredibly important, but not in the ways that a lot of social media marketers would tell you. Sure, it’s a way to advertise your work and maybe get more people aware of your existence as an author, but I think it’s far more important as a tool to connect with other authors, publishers, and readers on a personal level. I’m a total Twitter junkie, and I always shake my head when I see people who spam a link to their book, with no other information, over and over. I think it’s fair to expect a little of that when you follow an author, but the whole point of something like Twitter is carrying on a conversation or giving micro-blog updates to friends/readers. The same applies to Facebook.

9. What would you say has been the biggest learning curve for you in Indie Publishing,  and would you say the greatest challenge was the publishing aspect or the marketing aspect?

Jonathan >>Marketing. Hands-down. I’m in a difficult-to-market genre, which makes getting across the unique aspects of my story even harder. Many times I wonder if the issue is really my approach or just that I’m writing material that is difficult to package.

10. Considering the question of editing, how important do you think it is that all books (Indie or Big6) be edited professionally?

Jonathan >>Extremely. I will not allow a novel to be released under my imprint without it having been edited professionally. The same goes for the beta reading process – nothing leaves without at least one level of beta reading (usually two). Would you want to buy a product that hadn’t been quality tested at some level? I think it’s the same thing here.

11. If you have a Big 6 contract and/or an agent – you have project deadlines to keep you motivated to finish that draft and keep you from procrastinating. How do you, as an Indie author, keep yourself motivated to keep finishing those drafts?

Jonathan >>I’ve found that deadlines are counterproductive to my own creativity. That’s not to say that I “wait for inspiration”, I’ve set a goal of writing at least 1,000 words a day, but just that when I have a set deadline, I feel pressure and begin to worry too much over mechanical aspects of the work. That’s fine in my day job as a technical writer – in fact, it’s desirable, but fiction is a whole different beast. I keep myself motivated simply by knowing that I’m mentally healthier when I’m writing on a regular basis. That and the 1,000 word goal are enough to keep me going.

12.  If an unpublished writer came to you to get advice on whether they should go the Indie route or a more Traditional route in publishing, what 3 tips would you give that writer?

Jonathan >>

  1. Think about what you want – what you really want – out of your career. Be brutally honest with yourself. Are awards and associations important? Would you rather make more money at the risk of appearing less “legitimate”, or would you like to have someone help you chart the waters? There are lots of pros and cons to both traditional and indie publishing.
  2. Ask lots of questions. Talk to people who’ve been both places, whether it’s one person who has done both or several who only have experience in one or the other. Get a feel for what their experiences have been like. Ask them about their pros and cons, and weigh those against what you want from your career.
  3. Remain flexible. Over the course of my first year, I’ve already gone back and forth between which I would prefer, and while I’m fairly settled at this point, I still have some doubts from time to time. What you want may change as your career evolves – try to be open to those changes.

Thank you for taking the time to chat with me and my readers today Jonathan. What really resonated for me was: “in the old model, the traditional route might well have worked for me. It also answered a burning question that’s plagued me throughout my career: when would I be ready? Those responses told me that I was now ready. At the same time, I realized that the kind of fiction I write has limited mass appeal, and I have no interest in changing what I write. If I really wanted to blend genres in the manner that I’m currently pursuing, it made a lot more sense to go it alone, at least for a while…” So often we as authors want to stretch our wings and pursue a genre that is perhaps a little more off-the-wall than others. Understandably traditional publishing is generally speaking less willing to take a risk on a hard-to-market genre or a blended genre story. This is when Indie is sometimes the best option. At the end of the day, readers will read stories that keep them turning the pages, not caring whether it is an Amazon imprint or a BIG6 imprint. Good stories trump marketing and genre-marketing any day. As you have said Jonathan: “I’m slowly realizing that the only real conventional wisdom that works is the oldest one: the best marketing for your books is writing and releasing another book…”. No matter what route a writer chooses to publish, Keep Writing. ~ Kim

Author Notes

Born and raised in the rural Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, Jonathan wrote his first fantasy/sci-fi novel at the age of 13. After studying writing and communication at James Madison University, Jonathan turned his passion for writing into a full-time technical writing career in the DC Metro area, working for companies like Sprint/Nextel, Time Warner Cable, and Sirius XM Radio, where he had an opportunity to combine his love of music with his love of writing.

 He may have drifted away from fiction at times, but it was always his first love – and he always returned to it. Now living in Bethesda with his wife, two cats, and two quirky guinea pigs for whom his publishing company is named, he crafts the kinds of stories that he had always hoped to read but just couldn’t quite find.

You can find him at:

The Many Ways to Skin a Cat | Introducing Patti Larsen

Upcoming Blog Series: Researching the many ways “to skin a cat” in publishing

Over the next few weeks I am going to be looking at all the ways “to skin a cat” in publishing. I am going to interview and feature guest posts with different authors from different publishing options. So if, like me, you are at that painful and exciting point of trying to make the most informed choice…stick around and watch this space. Perhaps one of the options will stand out for you and perhaps one of these authors that I interview or who guest-post will inspire you down the same path.

I am coming at this with a completely open mind and non-judgmental attitude. I am doing this series as much to get more information for myself and educate myself as I am any reader whom finds this interesting or useful.

Open Call

Also if you want to be one of the authors to be interviewed or guest post on this topic in this series, please shout out.

*My Guarantee: No Cats will be harmed or skinned in the writing of this series!*

😼   😼   😼   😼   😼

Today I have the great pleasure to kick off this series of “The Many ways to skin a cat” Talking Publishing options with a prolific YA Author and one of my closest friends and writing mentors: Patti Larsen

Patti Larsen is a YA author with 15 books published. Her readers love her and other authors respect her. She is an author first and foremost and writing is her business.

So pull up a chair and make yourself comfortable as Patti talks about her business, the business of writing and publishing, with me on Dragonfly Scrolls.

 

1. Patti, you have made yourself a well-known and well-regarded name amongst Indie authors & YA authors. Can you tell us what “being Indie” means to you?

Patti >> Being an independent author/publisher means I’m able to be my own boss, just how I like it. There was a time when having a publisher (and I’ve signed with two in the past) was the best thing in the world, the core of the dream I’d been longing for my whole life. But times are changing and my inner entrepreneur (I’ve owned three businesses) just couldn’t tolerate not having the reins in my hands. I’m the type of person who has to try every single job in a profession in order to understand that profession, and working with a publisher simply didn’t give me that flexibility. I like to get my hands dirty as well as know exactly what’s happening day in, day out, with my business–from sales to pricing, marketing to production, cover design, editing, you name it. I often found myself in the dark and waiting on one publisher (I’ve now parted ways with the company) for even the most basic answers. The realization I had lost control, that signing away my rights meant I no longer had the ability to see how the process advanced, I put on the submission brakes and dove back into what I love–being a writer AND a businesswoman. It was the best decision I’ve ever made.

2. Nowadays there are so many options for authors but the sheer amount of publishing options can create confusion. Why did you decide to go the pure Indie route of self-publishing?

Patti >> Think of it this way: you can have a boss (traditional publishing) who assigns you work and gives you a paycheck based on what they think you’re worth at the end of every quarter(if that frequently), with no transparency on accuracy of profit reporting and no input into how your work (cover design, final edits) is produced. All while expecting you to do the majority of the marketing, relying on you for the success of the work while keeping the majority of the profit. Or you can open your own small business (indie publishing) and take the project on yourself, hire a team of professionals to come together as a partnership, ensuring the final product is exactly what you wanted. Track day by day the amount of money you’re making and keep the profit for yourself, minus expenses. I’m not bashing traditional publishing. For some people, the first scenario is what they are looking for. And that’s okay. But to me it’s a no brainer.

3. You hear of authors switching methods of publication from seeking traditional representation from agents & the Big6 to small press to self-publishing. Did you try any other route in publishing before settling on self-publishing and can you tell us what these routes were?

Patti >> Settling seems like a harsh word. I feel now like had I signed a large contract, that would have been settling. None of us are immune to the call of the dream, however: write a best seller, find the perfect agent who signs you with the big publisher for the seven figure advance and everyone lives happily ever after in a nirvana of creativity and public accolades. It’s been thrown in our faces over and over again as the only way to be successful. Thank goodness the lie of the dream is finally being challenged. I spent years querying and submitting to agents and publishers, signing with two separate presses. I’m so glad it happened that way first–had I signed with the Big 6, after all I’ve learned, it would have been like selling my soul.

4. On the converse side of the debate, are you a dyed-in-the-wool Indie author or would you ever consider the lure of a Big6 publishing contract?

Patti >> They would have to change their model drastically for me to consider it. Drastically. For instance, I’d need full transparency on all financial matters. They would have to prove to me the value of publishing with them beyond putting my books in brick and mortar stores. That’s my new rule of thumb–what can you do for me I can’t do for myself? 99% of the time, the answer is nothing. As things stand now, I would turn them down. I’m a highly prolific author with a structured release schedule. Having to veer from that because of their demands or being forced to go from publishing two books a month to one a year would simply not work for me. And since most publishing contracts (especially coming out of New York) now require a non-compete clause (meaning I’d be unable to publish on my own while under contract), that would put a serious damper on my schedule. There are a number of other reasons, but mostly because I’m a businesswoman and see the pure benefits of being in charge. Besides, signing a contract and receiving an advance doesn’t mean anything until you earn out that advance. I recently read of an indie author who is being forced to pay back his sizeable advance to his publisher because of low sales. No thank you!

5. What would you say is the most important piece of advice you were given in your dream to become a published author?

Patti >> I hate to beat a dead horse… my dear friend and incredibly talented writer, Joseph Paul Haines, (www.josephpaulhaines.com) was the one who broke the last thread of control the dream had over me. We butted heads over the issue at first, me the champion of traditional publishing and he the level-headed voice of reason. He finally asked me what the hell I, a capable and seasoned businesswoman, was thinking (it still makes me laugh). I will be forever grateful to him. 

6. Being Indie means that you have to be your own Marketing guru and Public Relations expert, what have you learnt about marketing your own books as an Indie Author?

Patti >> This is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. A career. Like any business, it takes time to grow. We’re actually in an enviable position as writers/entrepreneurs. With the connectiveness of the world through the internet, building our business is much easier than ever. Bear in mind, most small business don’t see a profit for up to five years. Meanwhile, I’ve been selling independently for eight months and I’ve made back my investments already. Am I typical? No, I know I’m not. But the other side of the equation is production. Dean Wesley Smith, (www.deanwesleysmith.com) an advocate of indie publishing, himself the author of over 100 novels and a veteran of the publishing industry, puts it like this: think of your business like a bakery. If you make awesome cookies, fantastic. People will rush out to buy those cookies. But if you only have one kind to offer, eventually folks will get sick of them and you’ll lose business. But, if you have a fully stocked store with new merchandise available all the time, your customers will keep coming back over and over again. He’s so right. When I do a special promotion of one of my novels, I see a wonderful upswing in sales of that book–but I also see an equal rise in sequel sales. Meaning I’m not just benefiting from one book, but many. Readers then peruse my store for more goodies, driving up sales of my other series. The more you have to sell, the more money you make. It’s simple math. So many writers put all of their time and effort into marketing one book. And while it works for some, the majority come out disappointed. Marketing is important–but if you don’t have much for sale, you’ve pretty much thrown your efforts out the window.

7. Everyone keeps on about the importance of developing “your own brand” as an author. Do you agree and how have you built “your own brand”?

Patti >> Yes, I agree with branding, though I know for some it’s a dirty word. As authors, we’re notorious for being introverts who hate coming out into the sunlight except for book signings and grocery shopping (and both begrudged!). I’m fortunate in that I’ve had a lifetime of performance experience, so I’m very comfortable and even welcome media attention and the connections that come from networking with readers and other authors. I make sure to use the same bio image for all of my sites, promos and posts, as well as on the backs of my books. My flagship series, The Hayle Coven Novels, has a very distinctive look, allowing me to use the imagery as an easily recognizable symbol representing me and my writing. I guest post as frequently as possible and am always available to other writers as a helping hand as well as doing frequent giveaways to readers. And I’m everywhere I need to be as often as I can be, at least virtually, from Facebook to Twitter, Goodreads and my Amazon author page as well as many other sites like LinkedIn and Pinterest. I if you’re just getting started branding, I highly suggest you not overwhelm yourself with a million different sites. Pick one, get really comfortable with it, then add another. First and foremost is a webpage/blog. Second is Facebook. Third Twitter. And so on. Don’t frustrate yourself by taking on too much at one time. Remember what I said? This isn’t a sprint. You’ve loads of time to build yourself and your books into a visible presence.

8. Nowadays the world is a smaller place through social media and the internet. How important a tool do you believe social media is to an author today and what tips would you give an author in how to use it effectively?

Patti >> My biggest tip? Don’t use social media as a sales avenue. I know this sounds counter intuitive, but think about the name: social media. It’s a place to connect with people, not sell them things. A place to make friends from around the world, not annoy the ones you already have with BUY MY BOOK. The only times I post my books on social media are A) when I have a new one released. I alert everyone once, on all networks. And B) when I’m doing a freebee or giveaway. The rest of my status updates are either links to other people’s free books, witty (I try anyway) stuff I think might make people laugh (I’m sure I’m way less amusing than I think I am), one-time shares of blogs I’m guest posting on and occasional updates on how my writing is going. I do have a Facebook fan page: this is where I update folks on book progress, cover reveals and all things Patti Larsen Books. But again, I don’t overload them with marketing. I offer a page where they can find links to all of my books. And on my webpage, instead of pushing sales, I offer an Amazon trailing widget (www.pattilarsen.com) that scrolls my books past you on the top of the page with clickable links to each novel. The best way to market your books is to be accessible, friendly, open and willing to help others. Making connections with people, friends even, comes first and foremost. Because when you do, they automatically jump on your bandwagon when the time comes to sell more books. Please don’t get me wrong–I don’t see my online friends as tools, not in the least. Our relationships come first. But I’m happy to know they think enough of me to pimp me out.

9. What would you say has been the biggest learning curve for you in Indie Publishing, and would you say the greatest challenge was the publishing aspect or the marketing aspect?

Patti >> This is such a huge question. The learning curve has been enormous and I’m still at it (and always will be). In fact, it’s had such a huge impact on me, I’ve created a course on the subject, which I’m teaching more and more frequently. That said, I love a challenge, so this evolution has been the most fun I’ve ever had. If I had to choose one thing that was the hardest, marketing would be it. Not because it’s hard, but because there is so much conflicting advice on the subject and every book requires a different approach. Trial and error, experimentation rather than sticking to one method has served me well, though I feel like I’ve finally found a good promotion strategy for myself. But even that is ebbing and changing all the time! Best advice? Have fun with it, seriously. Don’t look at it like a job (this goes for social media and building your brand, too!) or a drudgery. This is an awesome part of the process that should leave you happy.

10. Considering the question of editing, how important do you think it is that all books (Indie or Big6) be edited professionally?

Patti >> I can’t stress enough how important a good editor is. If you find one (I guard mine jealously and hope she never, ever leaves me) do the dance of joy. You’ve just found a partner who will help you take your work above and beyond, into a place of greatness. Always, always, always (did I say it enough times?) put out your very best work and only your very best work. And an excellent editor is a vital component to that end. How do you find one? Start auditioning them. I know having a few edit your first chapter won’t help you know if they are good at content edits or not, but you’ll at least see how fast they are, their take on grammar (so important!!) and how comfortable you are with them. Ask around as well, to other Indie authors. Many great editors are leaving publishers to freelance. But be cautious: there are more bad editors out there (with good intentions, don’t get me wrong!) who don’t really understand what you need than there are good ones. Choose wisely!

11. If you have a Big 6 contract and/or an agent – you have project deadlines to keep you motivated to finish that draft and keep you from procrastinating. How do you, as an Indie author, keep yourself motivated to keep finishing those drafts?

Patti >> I’m a very structured and organized person. I track my progress daily, weekly, monthly and even yearly. I know what my plan is well in advance, balancing cover design delivery with editing on the last book while I write the next one, etc. Without a plan, if you don’t treat writing as a career, it’s easy to fall into the procrastination pit and not get anything done. Trust me, I have my days. But I also have very firm goals and readers to please, so I have to focus. It helps I love what I do so much I can hardly stand it. This is what I’ve always wanted, ever since I was twelve years old. And while life can get in the way of my passion, there’s no silencing the voices.

12. If an unpublished writer came to you to get advice on whether they should go the Indie route or a more Traditional route in publishing, what 3 tips would you give that writer?

Patti >>

  1. One: Do your research. Check out The Passive Voice (www.thepassivevoice.com), a legal eagle blog that dissects contracts into human terms, as well as Dean Wesley Smith and his wife, Kristine Katherine Rusch (www.kriswrites.com). Both have been in the industry for years and years, been publishers themselves, have had Bix 6 deals and have independently published. They know their stuff.
  2. Two: Ask yourself–what can a publisher do for me I can’t do for myself? Right now, the only things are a) free editing (but bear in mind you then have no control over that editing–they get what they want, not the other way around), b) free cover design (see previous) and c) placement in brick and mortar stores. Is that worth 90% (in the case of the Big 6) of your royalties? Not to mention the 15% your agent will take from that measly 10% you receive once or twice a year with no idea if your publisher is tracking and reporting your sales correctly (I’m not blowing smoke, here. There’s an inquiry happening right now on just this issue, involving ebook reporting).
  3. Three: Decision time. Are you the type of person willing to put in the work necessary to make this happen? I’m in the enviable position that this is my full-time job. And yes, I work hard at it–but that’s why I’m doing so well. Effort out, success in, like with anything. But many people are succeeding while working full-time. So, are you excited about doing it yourself but a little scared/daunted? Then go for it. If, however, you’d rather just write and have everything done for you, traditional publishing is your way to go.

Patti, thank you for your time and your advice. I especially love “This is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. A career. Like any business, it takes time to grow. We’re actually in an enviable position as writers/entrepreneurs. With the connectiveness of the world through the internet, building our business is much easier than ever. ” I could not agree more. This is a marathon and us writers are in it for the long term. This is also our business. It’s serious. You gave some really great tips and gave us all a great peek into the world of publishing Indie-style. Definite food for thought there. ~ Kim

 

Author Notes

Patti Larsen is a middle grade, young adult and adult author with a passion for the paranormal. Her YA thriller series, The Hunted, started it all, released in August, 2011. The first four books of The Hayle Coven Novels, Family Magic, Witch Hunt, Demon Child and The Wild are also out now, with book five, The Long Lost, due for release this May. Her YA steampunk series, Blood and Gold, can be found on Amazon along with The Diamond City Trilogy. Her YA paranormal novel, Best Friends Forever, is also due in May along with more of the Hayle Coven Novels. Two of her books, Family Magic (Hayle Coven #1) and Run (The Hunted #1) were recently shortlisted for the PEI Book Awards. Patti is a full-time writer and a part-time teacher of her Get Your Book Done program. She lives on the East Coast of Canada with her very patient husband and four massive cats.

 

You can find her:

XOXOXO thank you 🙂

There’s more than one way to skin a cat…Part 1

There is only the “right for this story”, “right for now” and “right for me” way. I am talking about the how/when/what/who that comes into each writer’s decision when they decide to push their story out from the nest into the big, bad world.

I think the important thing with writing is that there is no one way to write any story, and nowadays thankfully there is not just one way to get published…Nobody can tell you that traditional publishing sux or self-publishing sux… I get really annoyed with some writers who believe they should tell others how and when and why to publish their books. This is our own journey and only we can decide what is right for us.

Personal Experience

For instance I pitched my novel (the ghost story) to a big NY agent at a con last year August. She loved the pitch and requested a full. She was interested from the pitch point but also wanted me to change my story to something more fitting the market at the time even though she admitted that what had got her hooked was that the story was very original, very different and had  3 hot elements that a lot of  publishers she is dealing with have been asking for. I thought it over long and hard. I decided to give her suggestions the benefit of the doubt even though they went against my instincts. I did change the story around and according to her suggestions but ended up hating the new story. I had lost the magic. This almost led me to delete the whole ms and just get onto the next one. But then I said no. This is my story and I know it is a good story with the premise as is. It is not meant to fit the market. I don’t want to be a copycat of someone else. I want to be Kim Koning and write an original Kim Koning story. So I opted to not go that route even if it meant losing interest from that agent. And you know, I don’t regret it.

As much as I would love to hire an editor and go the self-publishing route, I also want to give myself a chance to build a name in publishing and to learn more about the publishing game before I dip/if I dip my toes into the world of self-publishing. I know so many amazing authors who have gone the self-publishing route, many of them friends of mine, and I applaud their success. However, I feel like a guppie in a shark aquarium with the little I know about the publishing industry. So for now, I am thinking of  going more the way of the mid list publishers at least for this WIP… Because that is right for me and right for this story right now. Nobody says it has to be right all the time… I can change my mind. I’m in this for the long-haul. It is a marathon not a race.

Publishing Options

Nowadays, thankfully we have many options to get our work out there and published. It is a new world in the publishing industry. It is an exciting time to be an author. But on the flip side, although choice can be a great thing too many choices can be daunting and leave us scratching our heads in confusion. There are so many options facing authors today. There is the Big 6 route with agents, there is the mid-list traditional route with agents, there is the mid-list traditional route without agents, there is the small press route, there is the co-operative route, there  is the hybrid route (think Amazon’s imprints) and there is self-publishing not to mention the dreaded (read unrecommended) vanity publishing route.

I am in that spot of decision-making right now and something tells me with the rapidly changing publishing industry that it won’t be the only time I have to make this decision. I have a book, busy in the final drafting stage and it is almost time for it to be put out there. So which route do I take? How do I know which is best for me, for the story, for right now? The truth is I can’t know which is risk-free and which is fail-proof. I have to take my chances, no matter what route I choose. If it doesn’t work, I can backtrack and change my mind. The only thing I do know is that I don’t want to be told I am making the wrong decision when I do make the decision whether it is from other writers, publishers, editors or agents. That will get my hackles up.

Do you feel, like me, that you wonder which route is the absolute-best route to get that book out there?

Have you second-guessed and third-guessed yourself with which option you have chosen?

Have you changed options from indie to traditional (vice-versa) or agent to no agent (vice-versa)?

Upcoming Blog Series: Researching the many ways “to skin a cat” in publishing

Over the next few weeks I am going to be looking at all the ways “to skin a cat” in publishing. I am going to interview and feature guest posts with different authors from different publishing options. So if, like me, you are at that painful and exciting point of trying to make the most informed choice…stick around and watch this space. Perhaps one of the options will stand out for you and perhaps one of these authors that I interview or who guest-post will inspire you down the same path.

I am coming at this with a completely open mind and non-judgmental attitude. I am doing this series as much to get more information for myself and educate myself as I am any reader whom finds this interesting or useful.

Open Call

Also if you want to be one of the authors to be interviewed or guest post on this topic in this series, please shout out.

*My Guarantee: No Cats will be harmed or skinned in the writing of this series!*