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.

Cold Update

My heart goes out to everyone who’s sick this winter. I think it’s a lot of people. I made it to the store this morning and the first aisle I went to was the OTC drug aisle. I have never seen a supermarket shelf so ravaged and depleted. Chalk some of that up to life in a small town between two high mountain passes after two snow storms, but clearly the whole town is suffering.

I also called to see if I could see my (or any!) doctor. There are no appointments until Friday afternoon.

This cold has been hell as you all know from my copious whining. It’s still hell but climbing up slowly to purgatory. What I’m hoping is I’m not stuck in limbo long.

Sleep has been particularly bad. My sinuses have an intrinsic problem so they don’t drain easily which means — extra coughing. When I try to sleep, it sounds (to me) like a full concrete truck is working in my chest and head. I am forced to cough. It’s extremely annoying, but tonight I realized the trick to dealing with it

“Ignore it, Martha Ann.”

My mom’s wise words. Lying there, the concrete moving around in my chest and head, I think, “I can’t do anything about this, and I’m tired. I’m going to ignore.”

It actually worked.

Mostly. It’s 3 am, but that’s OK. That’s the time when I’ve — lately — actually been, finally getting to sleep. The thing is I’ve already slept 5 hours, concrete and all.

I’ve also had an epiphany about why my Montana aunts and uncles had motorhomes and visited me in California on their way to Texas and Mexico every winter. I totally get it. You must need to be 65 for that bit of arcane knowledge to be made manifest…

On the famous writer front, I have been asked to send The Brothers Path to the largest independent bookstore in Colorado for them to review. If they take it, I will do a book signing up there if I can find 30 people to invite (their rule). Their Colorado Author’s program has been on hiatus for a while, and last week I learned they were reopening it next month, but only for books published in the last three months. As the program has been closed longer than that, and I’ve been waiting, I had a hissy fit and “reached out” (god I hate that phrase) on Facebook Messenger objecting to the vast injustice. They responded right away and told me who to write to. The coordinator of the program responded immediately to my emailed proposal. Thank you to everyone who read and reviewed The Brothers Path and posted reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. You helped my book get the buyer’s attention. ❤

Book Marketing — Goodreads.

Umberto Eco said of himself, “I’m a writer, not a reader” and I would say that the same has been true of me for a long time. But a writer needs readers, so…

Along with virtual book tours, most of the experts I consulted at the beginning of this marketing journey recommended getting jiggy on Goodreads. Goodreads — a social media platform for readers — is simultaneously a cool thing and a desperately UN-cool thing. If you’re a reader you can learn a lot about books you might enjoy, interact with other readers and have discussions. In that sense, it’s brilliant.

When I learned that Goodreads is owned by Amazon, I became a little skeptical. However, it is really an amazing platform for selling books. Along with that are “challenges” about how many books one plans to read in a year. I cannot relate to that at all. Readers are actually motivated to “quantify” their reading? More ways to sell books and for Amazon to make money. Every book links to Amazon so the reader can buy it tout suite.

Goodreads encourages the participation of authors and makes it easy to set up an author page. They have real people to help you if you run into trouble, and the people are NICE. I LOVED the support available to authors. Goodreads support believes it is on a mission for good and behaves that way. ❤

Most of the experts whose advice I found recommended a Goodreads giveaway. I did this as part of my “book launch” this past fall and marketing push, as a way to get reviews and publicize my work. What have I gained so far? Not much…

I sent 20 books at $5 each (my cost) plus $3 each shipping = $260 not counting the “goodies” one is advised to include in these giveaways — bookmarks aren’t free; my time is worth something. From this investment I have gotten one verbal review (negative and uncomprehending – you don’t request, open and read a book that is obviously about the Protestant Reformation and expect NOT to read anything about God) and two ratings.

I also bought $100 in advertising and ran five ads. This did bring attention to my books, specifically to the give aways. But the biggest thing I got from that is that my novels do not have mass appeal.

Goodreads gives statistics about who has what books on their virtual shelves to read. I noticed recently that several hundred people now have my three novels on their “to read” list and ONE person is, at this moment, actually reading one of them.

Goodreads has as one of its goals the cataloging of every edition of  book ever published, so on Goodreads are two of my books that were in print and in the marketplace for a very short time. A reader came squealing by some months ago and left one star ratings on each of these two books. For what reason? I ended up editing the description of each of these books to state that the books are unavailable… but the two one-star ratings brought my overall rank down substantially.

For me, this adventure was a bomb. But I think if you have a larger budget and can buy advertising it’s more likely to work. If you’ve written something that is on the public pulse you’ll have more luck as well.

Again, it seems to boil down to knowing yourself and knowing your audience.


Reflections on My Recent Virtual Book Tour

IndieBRAG graciously invited me to write a post for their blog on my recent experiences with a virtual book tour for The Brothers Path. Overall, the experience was a mixed bag and quite (for me) expensive.

As I put together the post I came up with things I wish I had known and questions I think might help any author decide if a virtual book tour will help sell their book and will be worth the investment.

SO…if you think you might be about to self-publish your work and you want to sell it and you’re in a conundrum about how best to invest your (limited) funds to the best advantage, my little article might be helpful, at least give you something to think about.


Book Marketing Update

I know you are all on pins and needles, so here’s what’s going on.

I sent 3 copies of The Brothers Path to Mastof Books. I’m excited that I’ll be included in their catalog in October!

Summoned up the courage to call the local independent bookstore. I’m going there on Monday with my three novels to see if they want to stock them.

My first blog tour keeps attracting tour hosts which is great for me. Got another one today and that makes 12!!

Got an interview for Savior that will be on IndieBRAG at some point soon.

I finally realized I had to do bookkeeping for this “business” and spent six hours today setting that up. There’s so much going on that it should probably be kept on several different spreadsheets, but I have it on one (in various colors). The most depressing part (besides it being difficult) so far I’m into this $1000 for comp-copies of books, advertising (including virtual book tours), and giveaways.

I know that’s not much when it comes to advertising — but YIKES!!! For that money I’ve gotten copies of my books to sell (like to Mastof Books and, hopefully, Narrow Gauge Newstand) and give aways (as on Goodreads) and for reviewers (the virtual book tours) and advertising on Goodreads — ads linked to the give aways. So far that has motivated people to add my books to their “to read” lists and I’ve gotten a review from that.

I was very happy when things added up on my very out-there spreadsheet; that the number of books I’ve bought equates to the number I have + the number I’ve given away + the number I’ve “sold.”

After that, with a splitting headache, I road the Bike to Nowhere for 10 “miles.” Exercise, even that, is a great relaxer and attitude adjuster. And, you know, I got to listen to Eminem, who reminded me once more not to give up.

And tomorrow I can to to the Potato Festival with a clear conscience and free mind.



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.

Dear Everybody

I’m not reading anything anyone writes and I’m barely writing myself. I’m very sorry and I miss all of that. I hope soon I’ll be back to normal (?) but for now I’m in the throes everything I wrote about yesterday. Today I uploaded a second edition of Martin of Gfenn  onto Createspace. It’s the same book with a new cover, but as I hadn’t used Createspace in the first place, and really their system is better than Lulu’s, I had to do it. That meant taking an old version of the manuscript (because the laptop on which it was saved died long ago) and cleaning it up in the most tedious and arcane ways. So, sometime in the not-to-distant future a pretty version of MOG will be for sale at a lower price as well as a vastly improved Kindle version.

All this happened because of major improvements in self-publishing platforms in the past several years AND my deciding to take all this a lot more seriously.

Not a Carefree Summer… Self-Publishing

Self-publishing. I first did this in 2009, I think. I put together a book of essays. It was a really nice book of essays with a dedication from someone I honor and respect who loved my writing — for me a huge success. More to me than “publishing a book” was George Reading’s love for my thoughts and way of expressing them. In our lives we meet some people we know have something to teach us and we do kind of “grovel at their feet” to get the lessons. I think the psychic groveling is an important part of being schooled, and George was one of my life’s important teachers, a way-marker, a friend. No one ever bought this book.

I published this little book, Free Magic Show, so I could learn how to self-publish. At that time there were fewer platforms than there are now and I chose Lulu. Lulu was/is easy to use. The mechanical process of getting a manuscript up there is simple and pretty clear. I used them to publish the textbook I used in my Business Communication classes after the book I liked was re-edited and rendered useless.

In working on Free Magic Show, I also checked out Createspace, which is Amazon’s platform. At that time it was cumbersome and demanding. I resented this because I saw it as Amazon’s way to make money out of the myriad people who know they “have a book inside.” Apparently I wasn’t alone, because Amazon has simplified the platform and I used it with The Brothers Path and the second edition of Savior. It’s better than Lulu for one very good reason; you get a bigger percentage of the take when your book sells. Their template also renders a prettier page.

Back in 2010, I used editing services on Lulu early on for Martin of Gfenn. I paid someone $300 to help with the first chapter. I needed help at every level of editing and she was good, encouraging and helped me — and also recommended that I NOT self-publish but pursue conventional publishers. She also happened to be in England which I now know has a very different audience in general than does the US. I took her advice and tried to sell Martin of Gfenn but having attempted that for MOG in the very narrow arena for literary historical fiction before my book was truly ready, he had a leper’s chance, (ha ha) so I ended up self-publishing with Lulu. I expect to put out a second edition in the next few weeks through Createspace and kill the Lulu book. Not sure, though. Many self-publishing authors recommend keeping a book on two platforms.

Both Lulu and Createspace (and every other self-publishing platform) offer a range of editing and marketing services. They are very, very, very expensive for someone like me. I realized at the very beginning that I was going to have to figure out myself how to do a lot of this without help. Luckily, I like designing covers (though I don’t think all of mine are successful or the most marketable). What this means, though, is that going to help pages for some platforms a self-publishing author will find him/herself looking at jargon loaded faux explanations designed to get them to hire someone to do it for them.

Publishing eBooks is another thing and requires a manuscript formatted according to whatever arcane requirements the vendor demands. This is also a place where Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Apple make money. Formatting for ebooks is laborious and can be very frustrating, especially after one has dealt with the paper book requirements. Again, you can hire someone. I don’t.

Amazon’s Kindle platform might be the most straightforward and easiest to use. They are “happiest” with a word file, that, ideally, will have formatted titles, subtitles, headings, etc. iBooks wants an ePub, and that’s simple enough to translate from word or Pages (which I use). I am now formatting books for Barnes & Noble’s eReader. So far this is the most complex — they want an ePub as well although their system allows a writer to upload from a variety of programs. They also have an editor one can use after the file is uploaded, but it’s proven buggy (for me) and closes both Google Chrome and Firefox.  Nothing about it is really difficult except the language they use. Lulu likes PDFs which they will “convert” to eReaders that look horrible on Kindles… PDFs make ugly text on eReaders.

Why even deal with eReaders? Money. I’ve sold at least 3 times more books on Kindle than as paperbacks.

A writer who has the time and is prepared to muddle through learning the various platforms and software, who’s patient and somewhat indifferent — carefree, even — about how everything turns out can do all this on his/her own. A writer who’s afraid of effing up and impatient with software and mechanics, can easily hire all the help they afford. It’s a trade off — time or money. And, of course, once the book is published people have to know about it so they can buy it.


Exciting News for Martin of Gfenn

When you self-publish a novel — one that’s polished and edited and strong and legit in all ways except no agent picked it up to pitch to some big publisher — you face many challenges, but the biggest is that the majority of self-published books are not polished, edited, strong or legit. There’s a stigma (somewhat deserved, in my opinion) that if the book were any good, a “real” publisher would have printed it.

But in real life publishers are publishing fewer books; indie publishing is growing in legitimacy and the industry is changing.

One response to indie publishing has been the emergence of reviewers who evaluate indie books and validate their quality for the public. My novel, Martin of Gfenn, has received two of these “merit badges.” One, the Editor’s Choice Award from the Historical Novel Society Review and, today, I learned my book has been awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion from IndieB.R.A.G.

OK, they’re not the Pulitzer or the Man Booker Prize, but I’m really happy about this. I’m going to have to rework the cover to include both of these badges!

HNS Eds_Choiceregistered-+800


In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Singular Sensation.” If one experience or life change results from you writing your blog, what would you like it to be?

I didn’t start writing a blog on WordPress because I wanted a blog on WordPress. I started a blog on WordPress to promote my novel, Martin of Gfenn.

Obviously the life changing result I was hoping for from my blog on WordPress was that my self-published (yet well written and compelling) novel would be picked up by a publisher or, at least sell well enough to make a dent.

People I have met on WordPress have read the book, and some were kind enough to write reviews for me on Amazon. That’s ncredibly helpful to a self-published writer. How did they learn about the book? Through this blog, my personal blog, the one I had no interest in when I started out.

Now on the issue of self-publishing. Personally, after self-publishing two good books, I don’t consider that publishing, not for the kind of writing I do, anyway. Some people have done well for their self-published novels with their blog, their Facebook Fanpage, their Twitter stream etc., but my research into their success has shown me that they write books people actually WANT to read, mainstream novels, mysteries, books that are kind of like crack, cliffhangers, bodice rippers, page turners. That’s not a negative criticism. Those books would probably be picked up by an agent or publisher and by self-publishing, those writers make more money. But for a person who writes literary historical fiction set in obscure historical periods in far away countries self-publishing is not much more than printing. I’d even go further and posit that a person who writes that kind of book isn’t going to be God’s gift to self-promotion. The reality is that self-published or not, the market is the market, the zeitgeist the zeitgeist. Agents and publishers KNOW what will sell. It’s their business to know. I get it and understand how I fit into that. At the moment I have a manuscript, the work known here as “The Schneebeli Brothers Go to Church,” at a small publishing house being reviewed. That’s the best I’ve done so far. I don’t know what the outcome will be.

All this to say that the life-changing result of blogging I want is that my novels are picked up by a good publisher and sell well. That’s it. I know I could write other kinds of books — love stories and so on — but I don’t want to. If art has any special meaning to me, it is freedom, the one arena of life in which I can do what I want to do in my own way. I know I will — and do — pay a price for that, but the question every artist must answer is, “Why am I doing this?” I did not expect the answer to be what it turned out to be, which is, “I do this for the sake of the work itself.” From a distance that answer seems precious and snotty, but close up it doesn’t. Close up it’s me having lived a life teaching others holding to something that belongs uniquely to me.

It would just be nice if it paid off in dollars, but it doesn’t have to. Strangely, this song happens to be playing on my radio right now.