Publishing Road Trip

Publishing Road Trip

The further I travel on my road to self-publishing, the more I find the potholes and detours that were invisible at the beginning of my trip. For me, since I’ve already published once on the traditional route, I had certain expectations, both of the process and of my ability to accomplish my goal. Now here I am, more than two years into the process, still puttering slowly towards The End, and I’m feeling a need to check in and evaluate my progress and, perhaps, even my destination.

Let’s begin with a little backstory. I know we’ve all told this story before, but let’s roll it out one more time. This whole challenge started on a writer’s weekend at Terri’s creek house. One of the ladies in attendance, Anne Marie Novark, had jumped on the e-publishing bandwagon at the very beginning, and she’d been kicking publishing butt ever since. Early one evening, we’re all sitting outside, enjoying the awesome fall weather, and on a break from writing, the rest of us began picking her brain on what it took to be a self-pubbed author. It sounded exciting and doable, and more importantly, it sounded like a wonderful opportunity to take control of our writing “careers” and get a larger piece of the pie for our efforts.

By the numbers, the royalty on my Harlequin books were thirty cents per 4.99 book sold, but I didn’t have to invest any money in the creation of the end-product, beyond my time and lots of ink and paper. For my self-pubbed friend, she made 2.25 for every 2.99 book sold, but she had to pay for the editing, formatting, cover design and all promotion.

In my mind, I’m thinking, with a 1.95 difference PER BOOK, I could spend a dollar per on the “business” of publishing my books and still make three times as much PER BOOK. Sounds like a no-brainer, right? So, I fold up my roadmap, buy my snacks and head out on my self-publishing road trip.

The rest of the WoC ladies climbed on board as well, but from the very beginning, I thought I’d found a shortcut to success. Rather than vowing to finish my WIP, I decided to drag out my first manuscript, which was finished, and update it. Slam dunk, right? I mean the story’s already written. All I had to do was polish and update it, then, bam! hit publish and wow the crowds.

Silly, silly me.

Before even pulling out of the driveway to begin my journey, I decided that since series stories sell better, I should end the relationship between two of my secondary characters and give them each their own story, making three books out of one. Talk about easier said than done! This one decision caused ripples in every aspect of the original story and wrangling the idea into fact ate up the majority of our first six-month challenge.

Even though I was travelling way slower than planned, I kept trudging forward. Unfortunately, that first major replotting decision wasn’t my only time consuming pit stop.

I would race through weekly writing only to pull my foot off the accelerator and coast into critique group meetings, where I was informed that just because it’s fiction, doesn’t mean I can skip the research. Dang! Backtrack back to chapter one. Hit Google, re-tweak, then return to critique group.

Roadblock: Just because I know my hero’s backstory and already love him, I still have to get those facts on the page before my readers can love him, too. Slam on the brakes, throw it reverse and hot-foot it back to chapter one. (By this point, my critique partners and I are all tired of re-reading chapter one!).

Then comes another waypoint on the journey: tackling the business of publishing. Warning, major detour ahead. Hours and hours stolen from writing time trolling through photo sites looking for the perfect cover couple, building a website (still only about 85% on that one!), thinking about branding, and my personal fav: market research. Yea, okay, just a fancy name for shopping at the kindle store and reading, but I do pick up a few valid tidbits, like what’s selling, cover trends and pricing strategies.

One of my online shopping trips ends with me deciding the only way to truly build a readership is to not only sell books in a series but to have them available in quick succession. Oh, goody! Now my end destination has moved from having one book ready to self-publish to having the whole three-book series ready to go before I send book one out into the world. This stretches the journey an unfathomable amount of time.

Oh, well, to paraphrase, the longest journey begins with a single step, so I force my way back onto the writer’s thoroughfare and buckle down to getting words on the page again. I’m clipping along, writing, plotting, turning in pages to critique group. Progress is getting made. Then I pull over again and attend a writer’s meeting, where the speaker comes in and delivers a new bit of data for my trip, and once again, my path veers off the straight and narrow.

Someone comes and talks about plotting with tension, and I begin to pick through my WIP/roadmap, and discover there isn’t enough conflict (shocker, I know!) or tension in my story. Then someone else comes in and talks about branding from a different viewpoint than I’ve thought about in the past, and suddenly, I’m questioning the cover I’ve already invested time and money in. And my old worry that my “series” doesn’t have a cohesive hook jumps back to the top of my worry list, which means less writing time and more productive procrastination, which, while generally fun, doesn’t often accomplish anything.

Which brings me to the point of reflection. Is my original road map still valid? How about my destination? Is Self-Published Land still a place I want to visit? Is it still the most expedient and profitable route to continuing my career as an author?

Honestly, I don’t know, and even more honestly, I can’t/won’t know until I follow all the way through and put myself into the self-publishing industry and chronicle my results/success.

What I do know right now is new information I’ve garnered in the past few months has me rethinking parts of original plan.

Across the board, the authors who are succeeding (financially) at self-publishing are succeeding because they have a solid inventory. Which begs the questions, am I in this for financial success? Sure, I’d like to be paid for my efforts, and getting the occasional check will up my legitimacy in the eyes of my family. But if it takes me three years (fingers still crossed this will be my final timeline) to write a three-book series, then it’ll be a decade before I have the kind of inventory necessary to net a respectable income.

No matter how accepted self-publishing becomes, there is still a prestige associated with selling to a traditional publisher. Also, working with an editor might infringe on your creative control, but having someone to answer to assures that you have creative output for someone else to attempt to wrestle control over. At the moment, after two years of answering to only myself and my overly-lenient critique partners, I have two good drafts out of a three-book series, but neither of those books is anywhere near publish-ready.

Book one is a project I’ve been working on, off and on, for over a decade. My writing skill, my voice, my characters, my plot – everything about this story has changed since the very first draft. What I have now is basically 300 pages of well-written sentences, but some of them are so over-edited they lay flat on the page. Perhaps I need the input of a professional copy editor? Perhaps rather than finding, vetting and learning to work with an independent editor, I’d be better off selling my work to a publishing house and having their professional staff help me polish my work and move it from WIP to DONE.

Another thought I’m toying with is the idea that the publishing rebellion might be running its course. E-publishing, both those who buy and sell through the medium, is killing the publishing beast. Yes, small press houses and self-published authors have dinged the New York Publishing industry, but we’ve also dealt a near-mortal wound to brick and mortar bookstores. Barnes and Noble is barely holding on. Amazon is become a Goliath, built by the very people – independent authors – who stand to lose the most when the great and might A rises up and takes over completely.

This makes me think if a self-pubbed author is going to strike and make a name for herself, she’d best get her bootie out there before the industry makes another drastic shift.

So, as I sit here at my writer’s rest area, I’m not sure exactly which is the best way to continue forward, but I do know that forward is still what I want. I also feel forward needs to come more quickly, and I need to repack for my road trip and budget in some top-notch professional assistance. Yes, I could learn to handle every aspect of my travels, but then I’d be pulling into every rest area along the way, and, like the Griswolds, by the time I finally made it to the end, Walley World might be out of business.

Dawn Temple

Back when her twin sons were young enough for daily naps, Dawn Temple took advantage of those quiet moments to pursue her dream of becoming a published romance writer. Sneaking in an hour here and there paid off in 2005 when she sold her first book, To Have And To Hold, to Silhouette Special Edition. She managed to secret away enough time to write and sell the second book in her Land’s Cross series, Moonlight And Mistletoe, but alas, her boys outgrew naps and Dawn let go of those stolen moments with her laptop to enjoy life with her two little guys and her big guy, hubby of 21 years.
But now, as an officially retired stay-at-home mom, Dawn has once again found the time and the creative drive to return to writing, and this time around, she’s set her sights on independent publishing. Her first self-published book, Peace of Heart, is scheduled for release in 2017.

3 thoughts on “Publishing Road Trip

  1. Oh the joys of self reflection. I think I have a bit easier than you, though, in that I don’t have anything to compare to – never have been published. So for me,the self-pub avenue was attractive because, well, I could fool myself with self-imposed deadlines that don’t really have consequences for failure to meet. It’s why I was so gun-ho on forming our WoC group. An ice bucket over the head or a pie in the face is fun but very public way of announcing failure to meet a goal. And for the most part, I feel like I’ve made the right kind of progress. I guess my major hangup these days is learning to accept the fact that I churn out a first draft at the speed of s-l-o-w. Since, with this story, I have no cover (as of yet) and no real investment (other than time), I might try the traditional route. But really . . . sometimes The End seems so very far away. I can tell you this, I’m a LOT more sympathetic to George R. R. Martin, who is catching major sh*t for how long it is taking him to publish the next book in Game of Thrones series. Yo, George, I feel your pain.

    1. Lorinda, one of your books equals three of mine, so if my success rate is a trilogy every three years, then I think you can easily give yourself three years per book. And who knows, maybe we’ll become more proficient (aka faster) with practice!

      As for poor George, he’s working with/against the whole world’s expectations. Aren’t we lucky to be no-name nobodies who can move through life at our speed.

  2. Thanks for the trip down Memory Lane! Good Lord, it feels like forever since we first agreed to do Write or Consequences, but I think we’ve all made some amazing progress.

    One of the many things I admire about you, Dawn, is your insistence on turning a good sentence into a great one. Your great writing strength is your voice — natural, sassy, and spot-on on so many of your images. Your stories now are stronger than the ones you sold to Harlequin, IMHO, so whether you decide to self-pub or send them off to a Harlequin line to test those waters again — or try a different house altogether — I’m sure you’ll find your readership.

    You have the great advantage of writing more or less in the same genre in which you were published. (I admit to having a fickle set of Girls in the Basement who are uninterested in any sort of discipline for staying in their genre lane, which definitely makes it harder to build and sustain a solid readership.) Once you get these wonderful stories out there and a little marketing going, I’m sure you’ll have a lot of success, both critical and financial.

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