What I Learned

I’ve self-published three very good books that have a limited audience in the United States. It’s OK. I wrote what I wrote. I couldn’t have written any other stories. They are my stories. As Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote:

Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.
 —

When you write a novel, you probably revise it innumerable times until it’s as polished as you can make it. Then, you then hire an editor and get it as perfect as it can be. Then you start soliciting agents who will work on your behalf to sell the book to a publisher. The publisher will then market the book to stores. I’ve done this hundreds of times over a 19 year period…

To no avail for various reasons — not just the “system.” I failed myself often.

With the third novel, The Brothers Path, there was a moment when two publishers wanted the book. I had to decide between them. Everything was equal making it a gruesome choice. I chose the one who would publish soonest and who was closest. He went out of business, and the other publisher was no longer interested.

 –
Kind of demoralizing.
 –
Anyway, it’s a saga. Combined with my experiences with my other novels over a period of nearly 20 years, I just lost heart. “What’s the point of this?” I thought. Not like there have not been any rewards; there have been awesome rewards, but at a certain point, when a person loses heart, they don’t see the rewards very easily. They just see the things that led them to lose heart and NOTHING really makes it better. Every opportunity is no longer a chance for something good, but another shot at disappointment.
 –
Then a wonderful bookstore that I frequented when both it and I were young agreed to sell my books. With my newly jaded perspective, I saw mostly the downside (I still see it). It costs money to have my books in the store. Then they ordered a LOT of books, more than enough, if they sell, for me to recoup my investment. It’s a big “if” but it’s still an “if.” The thing is, every “if” has two sides. The books will be in three stores. It’s the most well-known and popular bookstore in the city. They have given me a chance to hold an “event” for my novel — this is another “if” as I had to write a pretty complicated proposal and I have to invest $$$ in the event as well, but “if” they agree, they will do the kind of PR I can’t possibly do on my own.
 –
So Tuesday morning I swallowed my dead heart and did the best I could with the proposal. I felt slightly good when I finished it, ate lunch, and headed into the city (Alamosa, 10,000 people) to go to the grocery store I like. I got in the car, turned the key, and Mohammed’s radio was playing a song that I listened to a lot back when I was 27 and right out of graduate school. Back then I was desperate to GET OUT OF DENVER and SEE THE WORLD. The song is “Kathmandu” by Bob Seger. I don’t even own it any more.
 –
“That’s cool,” I thought. Next song up, “Rocky Mountain High.”
 –

I was convinced (once more) that my car radio is a cosmic messenger.

I remembered the girl who stared at a map of the world and dreamed of going ANYWHERE. I remembered that girl, three years later, her dreams having come true, suddenly homesick, standing in her apartment in China hearing John Denver on Hong Kong radio. She had NO IDEA what her life would bring. She wanted to write — she did write — but she didn’t have a story.

 –
I looked all around me at the mountains. Saw once more the incredible place in which my life has allowed me to land. And then it hit me. I just succeeded in what I thought I needed a publisher to do for me.
 –
I must have had the biggest grin in the world when I came out of City Market and the wonderful wind of the San Luis Valley hit my face. A sainted old Mexican farmer wearing an ebony cross, suspenders, a checkered shirt, dirty boots and a cowboy hat smiled back, his black eyes sparkling.
 –
Heaven.
 https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/polish/

The Garden

Even if you have not read Voltaire’s Candide you know the story. It’s life, pretty much. You have a decent education, good looks, youth, combined with longings and yearnings, and at the moment you find they are about to be fulfilled BAM! they’re taken away and you’re sent to the army, but that turns out not so bad because, lo and behold, things get good again — and the object of your desires is again in front of you through an amazing concatenation of events! Over and over and over again, the rollercoaster ride of life until, finally, having won and lost more than you ever even imagined possible, you are (and who knows how?) in the back of beyond tending a garden. Your great love is a toothless old hag; your teacher is a blind, syphilitic, blathering idiot, but the figs are coming along nicely and it looks good for peaches this year.

I garden, not because I’m fascinated by it or want to grow my own food, or am passionate about any aspect of it. I’m not. I like flowers growing and homegrown tomatoes and basil for caprese in the summer. That’s about as deep as my enthusiasm runs. The flowers I like most need cold winters to do well in summer (sort of like me). My favorite flowers are iris which I was constantly trying to grow in Southern California — finally succeeded, too. The gophers didn’t like them much. I like wildflowers growing in a meadow in the high country, so I’ve planted a wildflower “meadow” in my backyard. My peonies got frosted again this spring, but it looks like I might get two blooms — the first since I planted them three years ago.

This year my garden is more important to me, and I’ve done more with it and taken it more seriously. I have found myself perplexed by many things that are completely out of my control, the leadership of this country is a big one that I can’t do anything about. The other is the question of well-written and compelling novels — that have won awards — that no one wanted to publish…

The big independent bookstore in Denver has agreed to stock my novel, The Brothers Path, . There is a $50 administration fee for them to stock it (pay to play) and if it doesn’t sell within the first three months, I can continue to have the book in the store for an additional $150. This is a way to deal with the plethora (ha ha, I used that word) of self-published authors. I’m doing it, the $50 anyway. There’s also the possibility of holding an “event” — book-signing, I guess. The store does a lot of publicity for the author and the author pays them $150 to do that and must be able to invite 30 people. For the chance to do this, the author has to write a fairly elaborate proposal and the store evaluates how well events for other books in the genre have done.

So, the garden. I cannot shoot my novels to the top of the NYT Bestseller list, but I can set out the tomatoes I started from seeds two months ago. I can’t change the political situation, but I can plant petunias. I don’t have the resources to travel the world, but I can walk around the little “garden” by the river, the slough, and note the changes happening there every day throughout the seasons. Life moves continuously to the present moment and we owe that moment everything.

“There is a concatenation of all events in the best of possible worlds; for, in short, had you not been kicked out of a fine castle for the love of Miss Cunegund; had you not been put into the Inquisition; had you not traveled over America on foot; had you not run the Baron through the body; and had you not lost all your sheep, which you brought from the good country of El Dorado, you would not have been here to eat preserved citrons and pistachio nuts.”

“Excellently observed,” answered Candide; “but let us cultivate our garden.”

 

Tulip yard sign for Lois

The sign I painted for my friend’s fence

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/reprieve/

Back to the Old Name, Right?

It’s a long story, but for now with books heading toward a bookstore and various other developments in the writerly front, I feel I can say…

I’m a Writer, Yes, I Am!

The name was the original name of this blog, changed a few months ago. It’s based on a song by Iggy Pop, a song I seldom heard, that came on my radio one night about 8 pm as I drove home from the sixth class I’d taught that day in my costume as mild-mannered, business communication teacher, Professor Kennedy.

The song came on as I rounded a curve on Interstate 8 between La Mesa and El Cajon, CA, known to me by then as “Hotel California.” I was unhappy, felt abused by the administration of the university in which I taught (because I was being abused) unsure of the future, sick of the “let’s pretend” that teaching was increasingly requiring (thanks, No Child Left Behind for the mass lobotomies inflicted on the leaders of tomorrow). Time was I could be myself in the classroom; those days had faded away…

So there I was, with a 45 minute drive ahead of me, and here came Iggy Pop and I cranked up the radio and I sang. It became my little anthem and led to the title of my blog…

 

I do like punk rock music. I love this song. It’s a valid testament. Everything Iggy sang I felt. “I’m tired of being God,” especially, translating to “I don’t want to argue your effing grades with you!” The words resounded in my car that night, and I had a feeling it wouldn’t be long…but I didn’t know when. That ride was three years ago.

 

A GREAT Day for the Schneebelungenlied

The main job of a publisher is selling books. It’s a hard job for a writer and I think that’s why all of us hope to find a conventional publisher who wants to sell our work. When that clearly wasn’t happening for The Brothers Path and I decided to fight, I had to become the “publisher” and market my book.

A big challenge for ‘Indie’ writers is getting their work into bookstores. There is a good reason for this which is that the majority of self-published books are not well or carefully written.

Today I got what I have been working toward.

A bookstore wants to sell my book. It’s a rather special bookstore, Mastof Books, located in “Amish” country in Pennsylvania. They specialize in books about the Mennonite and Amish heritage. Many of their books are memoirs or genealogy, but they also have novels. I’ve ordered books from them to use in my research because the special facts I need — like letters from Anabaptist prisoners while in prison in Zürich, translated to English — are published and sold by this company. The Brothers Path will appear in their October catalog, be featured in their newsletter and on their website. (Waaaa-HOOOO!)

Yesterday when they responded to my query, I had to answer questions no one’s asked me before. I didn’t even know the meanings of all the terms, so I looked everything up and crafted the best response I could, and admitted I’d never done this before. I did OK, though, and we reached satisfactory terms for both of us, and today I shipped off my first order EVER. I had to make an invoice, compute sales taxes, and make an attractive package. If it happens again, I’ll have to think of becoming an LLC. 😉

I am very, very, very happy. I’ve done for myself — and the Schneebeli boys — what I thought I needed a publisher to do for me.

Book Marketing Update

I don’t even know where to start… In the past couple of weeks I’ve written six 1000 word essays. Three have been or will be published on the IndieBRAG Blog

The first blog post came out on August 8; the second will come out on August 19 and the third on September 24. I’m thrilled to have the chance to write on this forum. The second post is about the non-fiction in my fiction, and since I write historical fiction, there’s a necessary close tie there. That was very interesting to think about and write. The third is about the lessons I’ve learned in my writing life and advice for other writers. I liked that because I could loosen up a bit in my approach and be less serious.

I also put together a three part guest post that has and will be appearing on Marilyn’s blog, Serendipity. For this I’ve writing a lot more about my experiences writing and publishing. The first part “So You Want to Be a Writer” came out August 13.

I also had the opportunity to guest blog on “On Pets and Prisoners” where I wrote about my neurotic but devoted best pal, Dusty T. Dog, and on “Susannah’s Journey “where Susannah was kind enough to post one of my short stories, “Rainy Night.”

One big challenge for indie authors is selling books. (Did you like the way I mingled the obvious with understatement there?) If an author can say he/she has books in a book store they’ve kind of, almost, nearly, made it. Making it, of course, is selling the books. The other Holy Grail of legitimization is getting one’s books in a public library.

This week my mission has been to contact the local libraries about adding my novels to their collection, and IndieBRAG has a letter for writers to use in approaching bookstores and libraries. The letter is amazing. It clearly sets for the mission of IndieBRAG and explains the system they use to evaluate whether a self-published novel is worth a customer’s “money and time.” It makes no bones about the reality of self-publishing, that the vast (and I mean VAST) majority of self-published books should probably not have been published or, at least, brought into the bright light of day. It then makes it clear to whomever reads the letter that the novels written by “author” (and this is personalized) are excellent work.

IndieBRAG’s letter made it much easier for me to write my letter which I’ve now sent to the local libraries with the salient links and the IndieBRAG letter attached. That was yesterday and, of course, I THINK they should respond sometime in the middle of the night so I wake up the next morning to happy surprises, I know there’s no Santa… So, I’m waiting.

Once I did that, I was ready to approach independent bookstores in the area and that’s my next task. I hope to hear something positive from the libraries before I approach the bookstores; that would give me a small, persuasive edge that I don’t have right now.

This week I also had to update all my “paper” marketing products — business card, bookmark, even notecards because in not very long I’m going to have to send books to the 10 or so book bloggers who’ve agreed to participate in a “virtual book tour” and to the people who have won my Goodreads giveaways, the ones that go along with the Goodreads ads…

And, if the library and bookstore gambits yield affirmative answers, I’m going to have to go meet people and leave my card… Well, soon, I’ll have them.

Back in the day, I thought keeping a blog was stupid. When I started, back about 8 years ago, my blogs (on Blogger) were private — online journals. I began a WordPress blog because a book I read said it was an important marketing tool. The first time I sat down to write, I think I said so. I saw the “Daily Prompt” and I thought, “Who needs that?” Well, I’ve written over 1000 of them and discovered Lamont and Dude and a Flash-Fiction ability I didn’t know I had. Some of my favorite short stories came out of the Daily Prompt. Best of all, though, have been the people I’ve “met,” the friendships formed, and the bits of life shared through our writing.

Marketing

I’ve been very busy learning how to market — and actually marketing — not just The Brothers Path but Savior as well. They are stand-alone books, but they are about the same family separated by 300 years.

To make it more resonant, I went through Savior and changed all the anglicized names to the Swiss names they have in The Brothers Path. As I did this, I thought of the “big picture” and how, until we have super-human prescience (which I do not want) we can’t really see the big picture. I had no idea when I wrote Savior that I’d write a sequel. A second edition of Savior is now out with the names changed. The Kindle version is now cleaned up and nicer; the paperback has been redesigned slightly and uploaded through Createspace instead of Lulu. It looks better, is less expensive and hits the marketplace sooner.

Today I learned that Savior won an award, the B.R.A.G Medallion. This is an award for independently published books that basically legitimizes their quality. Martin of Gfenn won the award last year, so I’m very happy to have two books on the B.R.A.G. Medallion website. Along with that will come some online interviews and a blog-tour for Savior. Also, on the IndieBRAGMedallion site, my book (Martin of Gfenn, so far) and I have a profile 🙂

Along with the award came a “report-card” from the readers. One reader said he or she would not change a word of the novel, but they would change the title. So would I; I just never came up with a better one and that ship has sailed.

Another reader hated it. Savior has, as one of its characters, an elderly Maronite Christian hermit living in a cave in Lebanon who has taken a vow of silence he must break when he finds Rudolf — the protagonist — face down in a stream. Given the time, place, and character that section of the book is full of what this reader described as “Bible quotations.” I cannot imagine my hermit speaking in any other language. This reader “skipped that part” and ended up not seeing any point to the book at all. The other thing this reader hated is that Rudolf is also (apparently) the lone survivor of a battle. In real life, that battle, the Battle of La Forbie, had few survivors, among them only three Teutonic knights (Rudolf was a Teutonic knight). This reader confuses hearsay, rumor shared by the characters in the story, with fact. It’s one thing that the characters in the novel don’t believe anyone survived the battle; it’s another thing to look backward through 770 years of history and have — wait — a bigger picture than those close to the action could have had. Bottomline — the reader just didn’t like it. 🙂

I know that I approach a story with an agenda of my own but I can never know with what agendas others approach my stories, so the report card was very interesting to read. And, my “grade” on this “report card” was the same as my high school GPA: B+ 🙂

Savior’s award couldn’t have come at a better time because I’m putting time and money into publicizing The Brothers Path. I’ve hired someone to run a blog tour for it; I’ve spent hours on Goodreads cleaning up my author page and paid for an ad. Today I sent it into B.R.A.G.Medallion hoping for another award four to six months down the road. None of this is free. As soon as I have a clean hard copy, I’ll send it into the Historical Novel Society Indie Reviews where it could be reviewed, win an award and be entered into competition for “Indie Novel of the Year.” I have little hope for the last, but some hope for a review and maybe the reviewer will like it enough to award it “Editor’s Choice.”

This is a lot of tedious and repetitive work. Today, because of the award, I had to rewrite everything pertaining to Savior including my author bio and repost everywhere that exists. I’m not whining. I’m happy to be doing this, happy Savior (which is absolutely NOT everyone’s cup of tea) has won this award, happy to have the money to at least move this mountain forward a little bit.

The Autumn of Adam and Eve

In this strange experience of publishing The Brothers Path, I thought I had one great boon from the wreckage that was Bygone Era Books — a beautifully formatted, ready-to-self-publish manuscript. Yep.

And THEN…

I reformatted it to 6 x 9. No biggee. I changed the font on the chapter headings. Great. I uploaded it. Yay. I published the book. Waaa-HOOOO!

Then I looked at it on the Kindle reader.

Shit. A mistake in the first chapter. I was responsible now. I’d seen it (the superstitious morality of the self-published author). I had to fix it. Fixed it. All good.

And then…

Horror.

I KNEW Daniel Willis had edited the book, but I never

ever

ever

EVER

imagined anything as surreal as this. Thank God it’s laughable. Two priests are having a serious conversation about the nature of sin. Speaker 1 (Leo Jud) is a reformed priest, a pastor. The other speaker is a Cistercian monk, Brother Hannes.

Original passage:

“It is our nature. The Bible tells us to go into the Earth and be fruitful and multiply.”

“After the Fall, Brother Leo.”

“Can we ever find that Divine Garden again? I don’t think so. If it were God’s will that we could regain that lost innocence, we would have. Can we force ourselves back inside now? We’ve all eaten of the fruit. Haven’t you, Brother?”

The Bygone Era Books new and “improved” passage:

“It is our nature. The Bible tells us to go into the Earth and be fruitful and multiply.”

“After the Autumn, Brother Leo.”

“Can we ever find that Divine Garden again? I don’t think so. If it were God’s will that we could regain that lost innocence, we would have. Can we force ourselves back inside now? We’ve all eaten of the fruit. Haven’t you, Brother?”

***

All I could think was, “Damn. I’m going to have to go through this line-by-line now” which I immediately did. As I worked, and found a few more (but none as surreal) “edits” I just thought,  “Thank goodness Bygone Era Books went out of business before they published my book.”

“More tears are shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones.” Truman Capote

***

The Brothers Path is now available for $3.00 both for Kindle on Amazon and on iTunes as an iBook.

The Brothers Path, iBook from iTunes

The Brothers Path for Kindle from Amazon

Those of you who have volunteered to read (free book in exchange for a review) would you rather have a print book or an ebook? Let me know!

Here We Go Again on The Brothers Path

The Brothers Path has been resubmitted to Bagwyn Books. They have changed their submission requirements, and now they are actually simpler — I  imagine for them as well. Of course I’d hoped their response to me after Bygone Era Books (ha ha kind of a funny name now that they’re of a “bygone era”) went under, would be “Oh GREAT! We’ll get right on it!” But that wasn’t to be.

Their new submission process says that authors will be informed of Bagwyn’s decision by June 30.

Anyway, as disappointing as all of that was — and who knows but what more disappointment lies ahead — at least I persevered. And, if it happens that I end up publishing it myself (if I do that at all) it’s all ready to go thanks to Bygone Era Books that returned to me a beautifully formatted document.

Here We Go with The Brothers Path!

After waiting for more than a week to learn some basic facts about the deal I would be offered by the second publisher, I was able to lay out the offers side-by-side and yesterday I made my decision all the while aware that having a choice like that was something I never imagined.

I’ll be signing with Bygone Era Books. This is a small print on demand publisher located in Denver that focuses on historical books — fiction and non-fiction. The other — also a small press — is affiliated with a university and as I stood on the line between the two I wondered if I have written a book for historians and intellectuals or for people?  I hope I’ve written for people. No, not The Da Vinci Code or (shudder) Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker but something at least leaning more in the direction of a popular audience. Bygone Era Books is definitely a for profit company which I understand to mean they’ll be interested in promoting my book.

I’ll have to do a lot of work promoting the book, too. I have had to make a website — marthakennedy.co (somehow this link leads nowhere but if you type marthakennedy.co in the browser bar, it works?) — it’s here on WordPress. There’s nothing on it yet, but there will be and I’ll be very grateful for “followers.” I’m having to do research to see what authors put on their webpages.

I wish I could tell my dad and my Aunt Martha and, most of all, my grandmother who died when I was 10 but left me with this incredible genetic and historical legacy. I guess it happens when dreams come true, and you’re a little advanced in years, some of the people you most want to talk to about it are not around to hear.

Today I filled in their marketing form and I’m waiting for the contract which will come in the mail. I hope my paralegal experience (which was partly in contracts) will suffice for this. So here goes!

Good News for the Schneebeli Brothers

Strasbourg_-_Ponts_Couverts_vus_de_la_terrasse_panoramique

Strasbourg, one city in the novel.

My newest novel, The Brothers Path (working title: The Schneebeli Brothers Go to Church) has been accepted by two publishers for publication.The first offer came with very clear information about the terms of the contract if I chose to go with them. The second didn’t come with any terms at all, just the information that they would have the book vetted by an expert historian and I might have to make changes. I emailed them back with questions the first publisher had answered and I’m waiting for their response.

As I was walking the dogs this afternoon, I thought about how teaching business communication changed me. When I wrote Martin of Gfenn I was primarily interested in the historical accuracy of the book. I even found a Swiss Medievalist Historian to help me and we became friends. When I was given an offer by an agent, I didn’t ask any questions. I just said, “Yes!” Now — almost 20 years later — I’m very concerned with the bottom line and I also get some information from the WAY people communicate with me. The first publisher was far more businesslike and that impressed me. I want business people in charge of my novel because I want it to be successful out there in the world. BUT they are also a “print on demand” company and that means they have little clout when it comes to getting books into actual brick and mortar store. They were up front about this which also impressed me.

So I feel a little disappointed and lonely at this moment. I guess I wanted — hoped — the second publisher would present something comparable so I could sit down and evaluate the opportunities in a businesslike way. It’s one thing to “love” a book it’s another to believe you can sell the book. The first publisher made no comments about liking the book or why. That was fine. By wanting to publish the book, I knew they liked the book. The second wrote, “This novel is very well done and hard to put down!” I’m happy about that but, at this moment, I want to know something about how they plan to sell it, where, my take, etc. Perhaps that’s information I would get by saying, “Yes,” but I can’t say “Yes” without knowing what I’m saying “Yes” to.

Another development in my writing consciousness is that while I hope other people like the book (even love the book) the only love relationship that really matters to me is that between the idea and my mind leading to the creative effort to realize the idea. I also thought of last fall when I began the ill-fated (for me) writers workshop and dealt with comments from my uncomprehending “class”mates. “This is like Tolstoy. I don’t know how you’ll ever finish it.” “This reminds me of The Brothers Karamasov.” OK, I like Russian novels, but the book is NOTHING like Tolstoy OR Dostoyevsky.

I remember comments such as, “If I can’t keep track of the characters, no one can.” “These German names are impossible to remember. Change them to something your reader can identify with.” This was written by a young woman, an angry, lesbian social worker. I felt amused (and a little frustrated) that I couldn’t turn around write about her story, “Quit writing about lesbians. I can’t relate to that. Write about normal heterosexual relationships.’ It would have been petty “revenge” not a wake-up call to her. She would have called me insensitive to LGBT “issues.” (Which I am most certainly NOT.) My contempt for them led me to drop out with a lame excuse about “good news” about my book, good news I didn’t have, but hoped for without expecting it.

Maybe they were right and Heinrich, Hannes, Conrad, Peter, Andreas, Thomann along with Vreni, Verena, Katharina and Rudolf were names too alien and their intertwining stories too complex, but I also remember that snowy afternoon when I sat down at my drawing table with my 24 x 36 newsprint pad and charted out the lives of the brothers, their intersections with each other and with history. I believed any half intelligent reader could sort out both the family relationships and the names, that no real reader wants the same story they’ve read before. It seems I was right.

I should be excited — over the moon! — I’ve waited so long for this. All my life? Instead of excitement, I feel a coldness, that what matters most is that my book get its best shot and that things will soon change. At times like this I guess it’s natural to wish for someone who would say, “I’m so proud of you! Let me take you out for dinner! Champagne!” because it is really that kind of moment. I don’t feel sorry for myself because there is no such person in my life; that’s OK. If there were, maybe the Schneebeli brothers would never have gone to church?

I’m going to Switzerland next May. I decided to look for people with my family name in the village where I’m staying. There are three. One is the fire chief. And their names? Hans Peter. Hans Jorg. Uschi. I wonder? Should I find out?