Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Experience

My first book is called Mourning Under the Bridge. It is about a little homeless girl named Mourning who can do magic but has to hide in the shadows because the kingdom kills their orphans. In the midst of trying to rob a house, she’s caught by the king’s healer, an uppity rich man who cannot stand strays (homeless orphans). He sends her to the dungeons. Instead of being executed or banished, it is discovered that she has a family – a very wealthy family. Now after ten years of living on the streets, Mourning must adjust to a life of luxuries. Seems like a simple task, except that she keeps stumbling into a number of “accidents.” So either Mourning is just not cut out for this life, or maybe someone doesn’t want her around.

It’s a juvenile fantasy book that focuses a little more on home and family than on magic. Most of my books will be fantasy. I love magic. There are very few rules – or rather, you can establish the rules from story to story. Magic gives an impossible situation hope. It’s also fun to think of different uses for it. I don’t like to overuse it, though. There should be some sort of logic behind magic, where people don’t sit on their big butts and wave wands around to do things. It should be hard work. Think about the skills we have. You can be a really fast runner, but that doesn’t mean you run everywhere you go. Sure, it would be quicker if you ran to the laundry room, but you don’t need to. You also wouldn’t run to the grocery store to buy a week’s worth of food. Magic should be a skill like that. You can do it, but you wouldn’t do it all the time. In fact, I’m not crazy about magic for the sake of magic. It has to be something, like energy or concentration. There has to be some kind of scientific reasoning behind it, even if the reader (or even the writer) doesn’t understand what it is. So my characters aren’t going to say, “Hey I want a cheese sandwich” and then pop, there’s a sandwich in front of them. If magic was that convenient, life would be pretty boring.

I say that this is my first book, but of course you know that’s not true. I have dozens of books completed over a period of twenty five years. Mourning will be the first published book, the first one available in hardcover or paperback to anyone who wants to read it.

I am publishing through Wingspan Press, a POD shop that’s sort of a no-nonsense, no frills publisher. When I first selected them a couple of years ago, they offered more services than they do now. By the time my book was ready for publishing, they had reduced their offerings significantly. They used to offer bookstore returns, for example. Allowing returns gave your book a better chance of landing in a physical store. But as I pointed out in my last blog, bookstores are no longer thriving. It turns out, book returns were costing more than they were worth. In the POD world, when a bookstore returns a book, the author has to buy it back. That gets pretty pricey, especially in today’s market. Wingspan also had more marketing services. Now all they seem to offer are bookmarks and business cards.

Since I am sacrificing Mourning Under the Bridge as a learning tool, I knew I’d make mistakes. I opted out of the promotional bookmarks, etc. I also opted out of the book review service, which is something I probably won’t do for my next one. I actually know the importance of book reviews. But for a first book, it seemed a little fake to pay someone to provide a happy little blurb about how great my book is. I will definitely do review services from now on, but at least next time, it’ll be more like “C. Amethyst Frost, author of Mourning Under the Bridge, writes an awesome book about….” Maybe I’m thinking about this too hard, but I’m still pretty humble as a first time author. As I said, this is a learning experience. Once I have a second book published, I will start a crazy marketing campaign. Because then I will be a real author and not just a person who happened to publish one book and then decided to retire. Have you ever seen people like that? They write one book and then they just walk away. In my mind, a real writer keeps writing. Even if you’re not published, you keep writing.

One thing I have learned about publishing is that it is hard work. For anyone who has romanticized the process as submitting a book to a publisher and then basking in the glory of fame and fortune, get your head out of the clouds. Whether you are self-published or traditionally published, you will work. First, as I said in my first blog, you have to edit, edit, edit, and edit. It can take forever. A self-published author must hire a professional editor. If you think you’re perfect, get that idea out of your head. I am a freelance editor (in addition to writing books and monkey work as a tech writer). I know English grammar like the back of my hand. I am a true language artist. But even I need an editor. Editing requires you to look at a document with a different set of eyes. Writers are too close to their work. They tend to get caught up in the story and can easily miss common errors. When you write, even if you know all the rules of writing, it’s very difficult to follow them one hundred percent of the time. You write what is in your head, and usually the flow is so fast, your brain doesn’t have time to filter. You’ve probably caught a few mistakes that I’ve made in this blog. I have a bad habit of placing commas where they don’t belong and mixing tenses. These are the sort of errors I would have caught as an editor. Not while I am writing. I remember one time I sent an email to a group of co-workers, telling them to “site” their references. As soon as I clicked send, I saw the mistake and was horrified enough that I sent a follow-up email correcting it. The co-workers ribbed me for it long afterward. They were engineers and wouldn’t have noticed anyway. But that’s my OCD. Anyway, that’s my long-winded way of saying that you need to hire an editor, even if you are the queen of the spelling bee.

More about the hard work. So, first you write. Then you rewrite, revise, and proofread. Then you send it to an editor, proofread it again yourself, and send it to your publisher. Your publisher may ask you to make some changes. You make the changes and proofread again. While they are working on the proof, you should be coming up with a marketing plan. Even if you work with a traditional publisher, you have to market your own book. I have a few friends who have published through traditional means. They learned very quickly that publishers are not going to put in the extra time or money to pump sunshine into their books. If the author wants to stay in the publishing loop, he or she must get that book sold. (This is another epiphany I had about publishing houses – you give up your rights, get very little royalty, market your own book, and then have to stress over being blacklisted. I’ll save that gripe for another blog.)

For me, the hardest part was coming up with a summary for the book. How funny is that? I can write a 300-page novel but can’t write a summary about it. I stressed over it for weeks before coming up with a pretty sparse summary. I’ll have to work on that skill for my next book. And here is another difference between traditional and self-publishing. If you self-publish, you have to provide the cover art. That can be a good or a bad thing, depending on how you play it. The POD shops do offer cover design at an extra cost. The problem is that they don’t exactly customize the design for your book. It is a design (lines and shapes and colors) and not a piece of art. So you won’t typically have your characters on the cover or an artifact from the story. For a more customized cover, you have to hire a book cover artist. For Mourning Under the Bridge, my artist was my daughter, Jessica. She is an awesome artist and her style of art (cartoonish/manga) is what I wanted for this particular book. She drew the scene exactly as I imagined it and then added a decorative border to accent the tone of the book. Once your illustrator provides the cover art, he/she has to work with the publisher to get the size and alignment just right.

Wingspan provided me with a proof of the interior when they were done. I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the first proof. They use a program called InDesign, which is an application that I use on a daily basis at work. The first proof looked like they pulled my Word document into InDesign, added drop-caps and headers and that was it. Didn’t look like much effort was put into it. The headers were too large, the lines were too close together, and the text spacing was weirdly spread out. So I had to read through the entire proof (remember, 300 pages) and make a list of where I wanted improvements. At first I was a little annoyed about this, because all the issues I came up with were with layout. It seems like for the money I was spending, Wingspan could have at least done a layout review. Fortunately, they were easy to work with. I sent a list of things that could have been improved with and they were very accommodating. The cover proof came next. Again, I thought the layout looked strange and requested a few changes. Again, they met my needs. So after consulting back and forth, I’m pretty satisfied with both interior and exterior. But I thought I’d share that bit of it, because if you’re going to self-publish, the book is not going to magically appear in perfect condition. You have to have some idea of what you want.

So now that I’m good with the interior and cover of the book, it goes to the printer, where it sits in a queue for about four weeks. In the meantime, I’ve asked Wingspan to set the book up in electronic format. They will do that for an additional fee and will submit the ebook to Ingram and to Amazon. For future books, I will probably do this myself. I didn’t realize that Wingspan was going to give me such small royalties for the ebook, even though all they had to do was convert it to digital (which is something I could have done in InDesign, probably what they are doing). The reason I’m having them do it this time is because of the learning experience. I want to see how this all works so I am educated enough to make better decisions next time. I do get to keep the rights to my ebook, so I am free to submit the book to other electronic outlets.

Now I wait a few weeks for print. In the meantime, I am working vigorously to finish my second book. I need to keep the flow going.

No comments:

Post a Comment