Saturday, October 23, 2010

My Journey Begins

My first blog. As with starting a new book, I first must stare at a blank page for a few minutes, feeling stupid and unworthy. That’s the routine. Writing for your own amusement is one thing. Writing something and knowing that someone else – possibly the whole world (that’s optimistic) – will read it is absolutely terrifying. It’s more frightening when I know that the reason for the blog is to record my success or, more realistically, my potential failure.

Let’s start with me. Who am I? I am a writer. I have always been a writer, although for many years, I quashed the idea in favor of more intelligent and scientific type of me. I used to write as a kid. I read constantly, no matter where I was. In between read-a-thons, I put pen to paper and wrote poems and short stories and children’s books. I even had an article published once when I was about 12. The tragedy of that little success was that I submitted it under an alias name. I had no idea that it would be published and that I would be paid for my contribution ( a whopping $25, which was a fortune for a first-time published writer of 12 in the early 1980s). I wrote the article for True Love magazine, and the reason I used a different name was because the story was based on a fantasy I had about a seventh grade boy who I had a crush on. Long after I had forgotten about submitting the article, I received a check for $25 and a copy of the magazine with my article. The check was made out to my fictitious name (it was Debra something, I think). I didn’t know at the time that you could submit a story under your real name and have a pseudonym byline. I wish I knew that, because that first publishing was gold to me, but without my own name and byline, it didn’t count.

Still, it was an inspiration. I spent the next ten years writing and submitting everything that flowed from my mind to my pen. Naturally, I also spent ten years receiving rejections. I finally gave up, deciding that I just wasn’t good enough to be a published writer. I kept writing, but I kept it to myself. I decided to try for something more scientific. I had the desire to be looked upon as someone intelligent. I did enjoy pondering over the universe and had developed an absolute passion for aviation and flying. So I thought aerospace engineering was my thing. Just the sound of it was impressive. A couple of years at UT Arlington --- and three do-overs of Calculus 3 – made me see that perhaps I was not cut out to be an engineer.

And then I got a story stuck in my head. Not just a little story, but an entire world with layers and complex characters. I lived it inside my head until I couldn’t hold it anymore and had to write it down. I wrote and wrote and wrote, all day. This other world was my whole motivation for life, for getting up in the morning. While I was writing, my daughter, who was about ten at the time, started reading behind me (I don’t normally let people do that). As I was into the fourth book of the series, my daughter asked when I was going to publish it, because she’s been telling her friends about it and they wanted to read it. It’s funny, but I had no intention of publishing this book. But once she said it, the idea was in my head. Unfortunately, the book was nowhere near publisher-ready. So I abandoned the fourth book for the time being and went back to the first, editing and revising over and over. It was painful, but I finally got the first book ready and submitted it. I waited for three months before getting that first rejection letter. Okay, no problem. I went back into the book and revised and re-edited. Then I resubmitted. Three months, rejection. Rewrite, rejection, rewrite, rejection.

Think about how time consuming that is. You have one book and even if you submit it to a dozen publishers, you still have to wait months for your rejection. And even if I did get it published, it would take years for the book to get to the printer. Then, there’s not even a guarantee that it would make it to the popular bookstores. It took me many years to learn this.

I finally decided that if I was going to be taken seriously by a publisher, I needed credentials, particularly an education in the field. So I went back to school and got a B.A. in Writing and Linguistics from Georgia Southern University. I had a minor in journalism and a concentration in technical writing (to hold me over while I sought to be a novelist). Sure enough, the publishers did now take me seriously. They still rejected my work, but at least now, I was getting personalized rejections and suggestions on how to improve the story. I also got personal letters saying that they enjoyed reading the book but they either didn’t have the space for my genre or the book didn’t get enough votes from the committee (My book made it to a committee! Woo hoo!).

Once again, I felt defeated. This time, I did not think it was my writing but rather the industry. It was just too competitive. So I turned to my backup career, technical writing. It’s an okay job. Right now, I work for an electronics company, and I get to play with toys before writing the user guides. But I have a stock pile of novels – entire worlds waiting to be released. And why shouldn’t they be?

I took another look at the industry and saw that a lot of things had changed since my first published work at the age of 12. A lot had changed since my book series was rejected. The world had gone digital. Readers had gone digital. Bookstores, which I visited on a regular basis, were no more than novelty shops. There were a handful of books from renowned best-selling authors and lots of celebrity and novelty items. But it was all so commercial and cookie-cutter. The good books were at I should have seen this sooner. I was an Amazon premium member. I spent hundreds of dollars a month at, and although I still visited physical bookstores, my purchases there were significantly smaller.

And then there was Kindle. People saw that they could carry entire libraries in their pockets. I personally would rather have the paper copy. There is something about the smell and feel of a good book. But the world is going compact, so digital reading caught on better than I would have imagined.

Now the traditional publisher is the underdog, and it is much easier for aspiring authors to get their work to the public. A decade ago, I believed that self-publishing was for untalented writers who couldn’t make it in the business. But have you seen the crap that is on the shelves these days? I have picked up about a dozen self-published books at comic conventions, stories that were so creative and entertaining that I could not believe they weren’t sold in physical bookstores. Of course, realistically, there’s not enough room at the bookstores for every awesome book in the world.

So now I had to look at self-publishing from a different perspective. Why did I want to publish? Well, it’s certainly not to be famous. I’m not really looking to be in the spotlight. In fact, I’m a bit of a closet writer, a hermit, really. I’m not interested in book tours or Oprah interviews. I’m interested in writing. I want my layers and layers of fictional worlds out of my head and into a binder. My mind is getting crowded. So if I pay a little money to transform my stories into an attractive physical book, I can set them up as print-on-demand, and then if anyone else wants to read them, they can. If I make a lot of money, that’s great. However, I don’t expect to get rich. I just want to write.

As for making money, if I am going to eventually make a living off of my novels, I do need a little bit of a marketing plan. Even though I am not expecting my first book to sell in the thousands, if I can get dozens of different books out there, I may be able to bring in enough income to write books full time – which means devoting more hours and hence, producing more books. (Sorry, I almost never use the word “hence” but it seemed fitting.) Okay, so the plan is to write books, publish them through POD, and then write more.

Now, just in case you are wondering, I don’t JUST write books. I go through the whole process. I outline, write a draft, rewrite the draft, edit, edit again, send the book for professional editing, send the book for an informal review, rewrite based on feedback, edit the book again, and do several proofreads before submitting it. The POD publisher then sends me the first proofs, after which I edit again.

I am OCD about writing well. I have seen some horribly written self-published books, where you can tell that the author has no grasp of English grammar and obviously puts no effort into editing or even sending the book for review. Of course you can break grammatical rules when you write. If you don’t, your story will be dull. But you have to understand the rules thoroughly before you can even consider breaking them. It is a craft in itself to know which rules can be broken and which cannot. So, just in case you are wondering if self-publishing means a sub-standard work, my answer is that it is not the publishing method but the writer who can make or break a book.

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