How I do it

how-i-did-itI had a request over on Tumblr (Hi, Toadleeah!), where I spend most of my Internet time, asking me about my publishing process. I don’t know that I have any original insights, but seeing as how I am on the cusp of releasing book #2 into the wild I can’t shut up about publishing anyway, so I may as well feign productivity by writing up a big ‘ol blog post.

***DISCLAIMER I KNOW ALL COMMENTERS WILL IGNORE BUT WHICH IS HERE FOR ME TO REFERENCE WHEN PEOPLE GET UP IN THE COMMENTS LIKE ‘THAT’S NOT RIGHT’ OR ‘THAT’S NOT HOW SO-AND-SO-DOES IT’ or ‘THAT’S NOT HOW I DO IT’: No, it’s not how so-and-so does it or how you do it, and I’m not saying it’s the right way. I’m simply saying this is how I have done it. I’m not even saying this is how I’ll do book #3.***

That out of the way, let’s begin. At the beginning, I suppose.

WRITING

I can’t tell you how to do this part. I have hard time with it, myself.

EDITING/PROOFREADING

Print on demand publishing houses offer editing packages. I have no idea what they cost. I have, on average, $0 to invest in my writing, so I do the editing myself. Does this show in the final product? Yes. It’s too soon to be saying this since Ghost Stories isn’t on shelves yet and I haven’t actually put Ellipsis in its grave, but when I finished Ellipsis I thought I had created a fucking masterpiece. One year later I was mortified by what I had written. My proofreading and line editing skills are apparently pretty darn good: there were no grammar or spelling errors to be found. My substantive editing: ARRRRGH. (I am already turning blue holding my breath over whether or not I have repeated my heavy-handed mistakes in a whole new genre with Ghost Stories, but only time will allow me the perspective to tell.)

Beta readers are a valuable resource for the starving writer type. They are free, monetarily speaking, but you must pay for them in time. You need to start advertising your need months before you are actually ready for them because no one is ever ready for you when you need them. I consistently fail at this and as a consequence I have just the neighbor girl and my husband as beta readers.

Where do you find them? 1) Put the word out on social media. 2) There is a forum on the NaNoWriMo site just for this. There are also whole sites devoted to critiquing and receiving critiques, such as Scribophile. Generally, unless you have a captive audience (a family member, for instance) it is polite (or, on many sites, required) that you return the favor and critique the work of your beta reader(s) as well.

PUBLISHING

I can’t tell you anything about traditional publishing. I can’t tell you about vanity presses (the old model of independent publishing in which a run of several hundred or several thousand books were printed by a small publisher and paid for up front by the author for the author to distribute and market on their own). All I have ever used is print on demand.

There are a lot of print on demand companies and I cannot tell you which one is right for you. It depends on what you need or want. They don’t all offer audio books or ebooks or hardcover. Some are better than others for comic books and art books. Some have restrictions on which print sizes they will help you distribute or market. Some have better royalties than others. And everyone is always changing their rules and offers, so you’ll just have to roll up your sleeves and Google till your fingers fall off.

My first time around I went with CreateSpace. I was not starry-eyed about Amazon (the owner of CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing), but I know people who buy everything (and I mean EVERYTHING, including their toilet paper) from Amazon (admittedly these people are shut-ins). Other selling points at the time included the purported ease of use and the automatic listing on Amazon and Kindle. (The distribution package I opted for also allowed me to submit my first book to other online book retailers like Barnes & Noble).

It was, by my standards, pretty easy. But keep in mind that I also singlehandedly do two business’ state and federal taxes, insurance, and licensing from my living room and I used to manage several multi-million dollar public works construction projects (before spectacularly burning out), so what I find doable with a spreadsheet and a cup of coffee may not jibe with what you find doable. However, we do all this on the Internet, and there are shitloads of people offering good advice about how to manage the many technical hurdles involved in self publishing. (I would like to add, though, that in my experience in the forums on CreateSpace about 50% of respondents are pretentious fucking assholes and want to be damn sure you are aware of their utter superiority.)

Another consideration is your ISBN. Generally, you have three options: 1) No ISBN. Not all print on demand publishers offer this option. If you go this route you can sell your books through the publisher’s website and your own website but they will not be accepted by libraries or bookstores. This is a good option for short run, special-interest stuff like family histories, personal photo books, and community/club cook books. 2) Buy your own. They are cheapest in packs of 10 from the issuer, Bowker, but as that price is currently a whopping $295 it’s out of my price range. 3) Get an ISBN through your publisher. Sometimes this is free, sometimes it is not. When it is not, expect to pay anywhere from $50 to $125 for a single ISBN. ($125 is the current going rate for a single ISBN from Bowker. Sometimes the free ISBN comes with restrictions, such as fewer distribution options or loss of the ability to make up your own publisher name for the information page in the front matter of your book.

FORMATTING AND COVER DESIGN

In keeping with my life’s theme of being both cheap and poor, I do everything with free software (with the exception of a heavily discounted copy of Scrivener – thank you NaNoWriMo!). The final manuscript is formatted in OpenOffice Writer and I make my own covers in GIMP. These, again, are things that the printer can do for you, for a price. Not everyone is going to have 12 uninterrupted hours to fiddle with margins and page styles like I do. (Not kidding about 12 hours there, but book #2 only took like 3 nonconsecutive hours, so it gets better!)

Publishers offer a free cover builder on their websites, but if you aren’t careful your results will not look remotely professional. I have but two tips on this subject, because design is very subjective. 1) Only scholarly publications, research papers, and text books can get away with having an image inset into a field of solid color. I don’t know why. I just know it to be true. If I see this format without a Ph.D. behind the author’s name or without a fancy-assed title like “Ontological Gerrymandering of Eschatological Ecumenicism in 13th Century Rome” I recoil as if I have been slapped across the face. 2) DO NOT USE THE FONT CALLED HOBO. I prefer to call it “Hobo Spider” because it is just as dangerous. If you decide to use this font please DM me your address and a bus ticket to your home town so that I can beat you to death with your manuscript. Go to your local library’s website and browse the documentaries. Notice how all the ones with their title in Hobo are conspiracy theories? 2b) I would also urge to to please not use Papyrus unless you have, in fact, gone back in time to the 90s to write a book about your favorite pharaoh.

hobopapyrus

Be sure that your cover fonts are free for commercial use. If you are using fonts that your publisher did not provide, look into their licensing. Just because it came with the computer program you’re using doesn’t mean you can use it on a product you will profit from. When in doubt, download fonts from a website that clearly states that they are free for commercial use or buy a license to use them for commercial purposes. On both of my books so far I have gotten my cover fonts from 1001fonts.com. (Be sure to check the little button that looks like a price tag, which will restrict your search results to fonts that are free for commercial use.)

I design my own covers using a free program I can just barely maneuver in, called GIMP. (Thank dog for YouTube tutorials or I would still be weeping about layers.) This is one of the very few areas of publishing on which I spend money, because I purchase cover art. I pore over stock photo sites until I find just what I want. The cover photo for Ellipsis was just fucking enormous and also landscape-oriented, so I was able to center the center-line of the highway on the front cover and still have plenty of image left over to wrap around the spine and back cover. It cost me $20 and that license allowed me to make up to 500,000 impressions and edit the artwork however I liked. Not fucking bad.

ellipsis cover

CreateSpace’s template includes a no-go space you need to keep clear so that they can insert the ISBN block for you.

ghost stories cover

Lulu gives you an ISBN block for you to copy and paste. Ghost Stories has purchased art on the front cover only. The back cover is a simple gradient.

CreateSpace, after I uploaded the PDF of my text block, gave me a template that I was able (with the help of a really great tutorial) to use as a layer in GIMP so that I could arrange all my elements (art, text, ISBN) to be right where they needed to be. Lulu, the service that I’m using this time, gave me a list of parameters and measurements in three different graphic design measuring systems, from which I was able to construct my own effective (though less WYSIWYG) template.

DISTRIBUTION AND MARKETING

Here is where I suck the mostest. I am not outgoing or confident so I have trouble schilling my stuff. To an extent, your publisher can help you with this. Most offer expanded distribution for free or a small fee (around $50 in my experience). This gets your book automatically listed on (or made eligible for you to manually list it on) Amazon and other online retailers.

Some publishers also offer an option that will make your book available to libraries. But this does not mean that it will magically appear on library shelves the way it magically appears on Amazon. A librarian has to read the description of your book in a book broker’s or wholesaler’s list (my library system uses B&T) and feel moved to spend (in the case of my library system) taxpayer money to buy (or rent, in the case of some B&T books) a copy or copies. If you really want to see it on the shelves of your local library you should call or scour their website for a more direct option. In my system, they will accept a free copy of any local author’s book and will put it in the system after someone reads and approves it.

A similar scheme is necessary to get into brick and mortar shops. Independent bookstores are just as picky as libraries about what they’ll order from the wholesaler and some are very very leery of people toting armloads of books that they paid to have printed. However, several of the bigger indies in my area have a local author promo in which, for a fee of $50 and your promise to bring donuts, they will let you have an in-store event (a book signing and/or reading) at which they will let you sell your books if you give them a cut. If you don’t bomb they may be convinced to consign some copies for you.

Get a website and/or a blog. Learn some SEO. Tweet about your book using preexisting hashtags. Get some business cards printed up and hand them out shamelessly to anyone dumb enough to respond “that so?” when you mention that you have a book coming out. (They will NOT remember the title without your business card!) Go to “local author” events (neighborhood bookstores and libraries have these or you can Google other local indie authors and make your own). Politely badger other indies to trade interviews on their blogs or podcasts or whatever.

biz card 1

This is what my business cards for Ellipsis looked like. They had my name, the name of the book, where to get it, how to contact me, and even the cover art. I designed them myself using a cheap online printer.

ghost stories biz cards front

The business cards for Ghost Stories are vertical and have all the contact info on the back. This time the emphasis is on the book and not me.

Questions? Please ask!

— Amanda

The dark specter of Barbecue Man returns

grill-931878_1280The first time I moved out of my parents’ house I moved in with a couple of equally ill-equipped girls I’d known since elementary school in the dismal trailer they were renting in what I now see was a really lovely (quiet, well-kept) trailer park one zipcode from where we were all raised. None of us could balance a checkbook, cook, or hold a job for more than a few months at time time, so it was a failed experiment from the get-go.

(There’s a whole book in that wild, fun, desperate, grotesque, coming-of-age summer, but there’s half a dozen other projects already in the queue and I might need a lawyer before I can publish it.)

We had contact with only one neighbor in the trailer park because most everyone kept to themselves. (I told you it was a lovely place.) Our neighbor to the north was a large man who barbecued three meals a day. Breakfast: barbecue. Lunch: barbecue. Dinner: barbecue. We didn’t actually talk to the guy so we never knew if he was a barbecue connoisseur or if maybe his stove and/or microwave were broken and this was his sole means of cooking.

Barbecue Man, as we cleverly called him, had a wife, Mrs. Barbecue Man, whose face we never saw because the only times she stepped outside it was to position herself in a plastic lounge chair with one of those folding aluminum sun reflectors hiding her face. (This remains the only time in my life I have seen one of those things IRL.)

Barbecue Man had two means of communicating with us: 1) Screaming “Fucking lesbians!” out his window if we made too much noise during the day and 2) calling the park manager at 10:00 pm exactly if we were still making too much noise at 10:00 pm exactly. (And, of course, we gathered around a clock and ramped up the noise-making until it was at a fever pitch at 9:59 pm, at which point we could see his silhouette lumbering to the phone, and we promptly ceased all audible activity at 10:00 pm precisely – even going so far at one point as to flip our own breaker after a particularly high-energy bout of lightswitch flipping and screaming with three stereo systems pegged to 10.) The second method, too, was followed by a cry of “Fucking lesbians!”

(I hope he knows not a one of us was even a little bit upset by being referred to as a lesbian, and also that he was wrong to assume that three single girls with two cats and a parrot were lesbians just because we never had any boys over.)

That was 16 years ago now.

A few days ago I was listening to the clatter and bang and hiss and cussing of the stepfather of the Horrid Little Girls next door firing up his barbecue for a late breakfast when it dawned on me (after 10 years living next to that asshole) this is the only other person I have ever encountered who barbecues breakfast. While the stepfather of the Horrid Little Girls doesn’t barbecue every meal every day he does barbecue about half of all meals and, again, is the only other person I have ever seen barbecue breakfast when there is not a power outage.

I ran out to where Matt was welding and asked him. What if. WHAT IF?!?!?!

“It’s possible,” said Matt.

I explained about the wife with the reflectors and how she bore no resemblance (based on body shape and pitch of voice) to the wife the stepfather of the Horrid Little Girls had when we moved in next door to him out here ten years ago.

“He’s on his fourth wife,” said Matt.

It’s not impossible. It is in fact, totally possible. What if, guys? WHAT IF. We’re not looking at a whole book here, of course, but this bizarre coincidence could at least make up one short story chapter in a book I have on a back burner.

Though geographically large, this county I have lived in my whole life is not densely populated and is, figuratively, a very small world. Matt and I were friends for years before discovering that our mothers had been friends in their childhood in their tiny hometown, that my mother had dated his uncle in their teens, that our mothers’ first husbands had owned a business together, that his best friend was the guy I complained about from my first job. A friend of ours at the restaurant where we met logged with Matt’s grandfather, machined with my grandfather, and trimmed and tied the crown roasts of beef that my mother used to order for Christmas dinner. I could go on for hours; everyone knows everyone somehow.

It will be a while before we can know, though, if this guy is indeed that guy. There (thankfully) aren’t many unfortunate moments in which the stepfather of the Horrid Little Girls heaves himself over to the fence to attempt to bond with Matt using unchecked negativity and racism (Dude assumes that anyone who looks a little like him must share all his disgusting sentiments and he is perpetually shocked that we don’t want to deport the Mexicans across the street, that we don’t want to evict people who can’t afford to keep up their houses to his standards, that we didn’t want to assassinate Obama, that we don’t regret getting married, and that, no, we really weren’t joking about not being Christian.) and he hasn’t tried to talk to me since that time he jeered at me in a singsongy voice “Does Matt know you’re using his tools?” and I snarled back “They’re my fucking tools.”

But rest assured, readers, the next time I see them engaged in verbal combat I will text Matt urgently to find a way to ask if the asshole ever lived in Marysville next to some obnoxious teenage lesbians.

— Amanda

Write what you didn’t know you knew

calvin-and-hobbes-write-what-you-know1

Used with no permission what-so-never! ©Andrews McMeel Universal

This is not an original sentiment, but it has been needling me lately, so I’m going to let it out.

“Write what you know” is misunderstood. People think that means that they can only write literally about their limited sphere of experience: that if they have never left America they can’t write about world-traveling spies. But I don’t think it refers to technical aspects. I think it refers to themes and relationships. I doubt George Lucas had personal experience with telekinetic space knights, but he did seem to know a thing or two about hope. I don’t think J.K. Rowling actually attended a secret wizarding school, but she does seem to have insider information on the importance of friendship and perseverance.

What do you know about? Woodworking? Bureaucracy? Ceramics? That’s nice, but it’s inessential. You can research those things. You can understand them pretty well without experiencing them. And you can freely invent space ships and elves – you don’t have to experience them at all.

So what else do you know know? What have you experienced or witnessed that you can really expound upon, that can be your theme? Poverty? Betrayal? Second chances? I know about being eccentric, about learning to improve oneself the hard way, about making mistakes, about being wracked by anxiety, about surviving depression. These are things I can dig into and live in for a whole book. I can say much more interesting things about these themes than I could by rattling off my technical knowledge of the behind scenes work of building public parks or even the sounds and smells of beekeeping.

What have you done in your life? (Or what has been done to you?) Look at your resume, think back over your life. Maybe you haven’t had a sweeping romance or a brush with crime or a death in the family. Maybe all you’ve had is a job at McDonald’s. Dude, you can still use that. Transform the people around you. The night shift manager that magically motivates everyone to give a damn in the face of the unending onslaught of drunk and otherwise shitty customers? That person can be your Gandalf, your Dumbledore, your Obi-wan. The petty little shit who shifts blame and weasels out of work and thinks they’re too good? That’s your book’s Draco Malfoy. Walter Mitty your life. (I don’t mean you should fall in with spies – I mean your should recast the people around you into fantasies.)

Do the same to your experiences and relationships. Remember that time you were mistaken for a local celebrity or wanted criminal? It’s a funny anecdote now, but really remember it. Remember the thrill? The terror? Remember imagining how cool (or burdensome) it would be to be that weather guy for real? Remember wondering how you were going to get out of going to jail when your phone and wallet were locked in your car so you couldn’t prove you weren’t the robber? That’s at least enough for a short story. Transform your close bond with your dog into a boy and his dragon or a girl and her assassin-bot. Fictionalize that comedy of errors from last year’s drunken thanksgiving into a Medieval farce. Get pretend space revenge on an alien version of that boss who sabotaged you to keep you from getting promoted.

You can research or invent places and technology and worlds and customs and just about everything. But Wikipedia can’t grant you substantive, nuanced insight into the human condition. You have to be like Star Trek’s Data: consult the ship’s computer whenever you can and for the rest of it – the interactions, the feelings, the relationships – you just have to throw yourself in and live.

— Amanda

Just a little update . . .

achievement unlockedI finished the first draft of my second book, Ghost Stories, today. I am on schedule to publish in the spring of 2017.

Ghost Stories is a paranormal buddy comedy featuring a lesbian main character (whose motivation is not to find a girlfriend but to flip a foreclosed house she bought at auction), an agender ghost, a really dumb dog, a bad guy who is “the manifestation of a comments section,” an Afro-Latina medium who hates ghosts, and a whole lot of swearing and pop-culture references.

I am really enjoying writing this book and I hope you will really enjoy reading it.

— Amanda

 

Back to the drawing board

For Camp NaNoWriMo in April this year (which I won, btw, nbd *shines fingernails on lapel*) I took a break from my official project (book-to-be-published number 2) and tried to wring 50,000 words out of an old story idea from which I had subtracted a major character.

Sans that one original character I was left with a roman à clef of my first major(ly disastrous) romantic relationship. Also in April I started rewatching an anime I never got to finish in high school, which led to another series, and another, and, well, I haven’t stopped yet. But the point is that watching all this gorgeous animation made my fingers absolutely itch to draw.

So I did.

doodles

Surprisingly important doodles from just last week.

And I have continued to.

And here’s why that’s a big fucking deal:

I wanted to write books farther back than I can remember. I always wanted to write and be published, and once I started (in grade 1, with “The Camping Treap When I Was Littel”) I didn’t stop, even if all I was doing was defacing 10 pages of a journal per day in my dark times.

But I also wanted to be an artist. A visual artist. Also for as long as I can remember. When I was little this meant that I envisioned writing and illustrating a Serendipity-style series of books for kids. But by the fourth grade I had already begun to despise my fellow children, an opinion which hasn’t changed to this day. (I have let go of a fuckton of baggage and grudges in my life, but I will take my kid-hating to the grave.) After that, the plan was to write for a living (lol), as a freelancer, and to do visual art on the side. I was going to go to Cornish and get a degree in studio art. I drew constantly. I was getting into assemblage and custom book binding in high school. And I was working on concepts and character development for three comic books  when my emotional development ran into the brick wall was that was my (now) ex, herein referred to as Dingus.

I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned Dingus on this blog before, because he has less than zero impact on my current life, but we’re talking about the past here, and, sadly, he’s there.

(Heed well the immortal words of Anne Lamott, my children: “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should’ve behaved better.”

Dingus disapproved wholeheartedly (though in a passive-aggressive way) of my art because *he* was a *real* *artist*. Probably he felt threatened. I know that sounds pompous, but I was trying something new every week and I enjoyed tackling my weaknesses like they were elderly gazelles and I was a cheetah. When I discovered that I was awkward at drawing feet I forced myself to draw nothing but feet for weeks on end until I could draw feet that would make anatomical illustrators weep and cast aside their sketchbooks. Dingus, on the other hand, was good at drawing two things and two things only, and he never, ever stepped out of his comfort zone. (Ironically, his comfort zone was making other people uncomfortable.) Also, he flat-out sucked at both hands and feet. (And probably still does.) I don’t know who was the better artist, but I now believe that I was the one with more potential.

Dingus wasn’t just negative about my drawing, of course. He was also negative about my personality, my body, my family, and all my interests. But for some reason his harshing on my art was what stuck. After the dumping my self-esteem and interest in my hobbies bounced back – but I didn’t draw again for well over a decade. (With one very notable exception in 2005 when I drew what may well be the greatest holiday card ever created.)

bucky card

Our 2005 holiday card featuring our cross-eyed, one-toothed, codependent flame-point Siamese cat, Bucky.

I am mystified by how this guy managed to give me the Clockwork Orange cure for drawing, as all I can remember him saying, in reference to my work, was: “that’s cartoony.” (Of course it was, numb nuts, I was making comic fucking books.) But my brain’s coping mechanism is to block out what it deems too painful to remember, so now that I’ve purged a lifetime’s worth of journals the world will never know!

I am wholeheartedly enjoying my (agonizingly slow) return to sketching, but I desperately want to hear similar stories. Have you ever rescued something from your past (an interest or hobby or habit) that you used to love but that had become tainted by a bad relationship or situation? Did your approach to it or your feelings toward it change? Was it like reuniting with an old friend? Did it become a part of your life again or did you decide to leave it in the past after all?

Please let me know in the comments!

— Amanda

A quick note home from camp

moonrise kingdom treehouseI’m hard at work at Camp NaNoWriMo. (Or, at least, I’m trying. Dear god, I’m trying.) Since we got the dog, my writing schedule has been disrupted at best, and nonexistent at worst, so I’m using Camp to get back into the swing of writing every day. Also, since burnout is always part of the problem, I am working on an old Silver Peak novel idea (Silver Peak is the fictional Snohomish County small town where most of my novels take place). As soon as April is over I will get back to work on Ghost Story (recently renamed Ghost Stories, actually) and I will start posting again. I have a great post on deck but I just don’t have the time or mental energy to spiff it up and post it (there’s plenty of non-writing goings-on sucking away at my wherewithall, too).

Back soon!

— Amanda

P.S. Send bug spray. I’m getting eaten alive out here.

I can finally call myself a writer

Buy me this shirt, please.

In the first grade I announced that I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. I started writing “books” like crazy. For the rest of my life, up to this point, I have constantly wondered at what point I would finally feel like I could call myself a writer.

  • *writes several novels about talking animals which are “borrowed” indefinitely by a teacher, and never seen again* Well, you only have to write to be a writer. Am I a writer yet?
  • *attends Young Authors Conference 4 years in a row* Am I a writer yet?
  • *submits fiction of such poor quality to literary magazines that no response is ever received* Well, rejection is part of the process. Am I a writer yet?
  • *journals religiously for 13 years, stops cold turkey, unceremoniously dumps all journals in trash five years later* Am I a writer yet?
  • *subscribes to The Writer magazine in middle school* Am I a writer yet?
  • *starts literary zine, to publish self* That’s as indie as it gets. Am I a writer yet?
  • *blogs for five years straight* I sure have output. Am I a writer yet?
  • *wins first NaNoWriMo* I finally finished a novel! Am I a writer yet?
  • *buys digital voice recorder because writing on a pad stuck to the steering wheel isn’t working anymore* Am I a writer yet?
  • *revises novel for two years* Am I a writer yet?
  • *critiquer accuses me of aping Salinger* Am I a writer yet?
  • *gets harassed by another author on Goodreads for leaving a two star review* Am I a writer yet?
  • *independently publishes novel*  Am I a writer yet?
  • *sells just five copies of book but now awash in people coming out of the woodwork to “let” me read their unfinished, five year-old, hardcopy-only manuscripts* HO BOY NOW I’M A WRITER!

— Amanda