Saturday, November 17, 2012

Hold That Thought: Travails of an Indie Author


“You’re missing the accent aigu on ‘fiancĂ©’.”  The editor-in-my-brain I call Miz OCD adds, “You also have too many indistinguishable tiny moons and planets amongst the stars, and the biggest stars do not twinkle.”

“Look, it’s a different planet, a different atmosphere.  Who knows if that would cause stars to twinkle or not?  Besides, anyone with a fair grounding in astronomy knows one lone, huge moon is a complete anomaly.  Lots of tiny moons appearing the same size as planets are entirely within the realm of possibility.”   I begin looking for the method to type an accent aigu in my free-for-30-days graphic design program.

“You should probably do the RBG-to-CMYK conversion first,” Lady O prods.  “If you have to adjust the brightness or intensity for the blues, it might make the text less legible.”

“I plan to use an outer glow.”  If the Dame of Compulsion doesn’t get off my back soon, I might ditch the entire project, despite my initial disappointing experience with a free-lance cover artist.  “I know you want me to get things perfect, and I am trying my best, but I can only concentrate on one thing at a time.  Would you please hold that thought, at least until I have the time to deal with it?”

As The Awesome Miz O simmers in the background, I turn back to my book cover and sigh.  At what point did she spring into being, anyway?  I appreciate her now more than ever, naturally, but how did she evolve into such a dominant part of my personality?

Was it my father’s upbringing?  “If you want it done right, you have to do it yourself.”  At 74, he still digs fence post holes by hand and complains about the shoddy job Mom’s hired landscapers did at their new house.  When I suggested he contact the company and complain, he shook his head.  “They’d just charge me more and screw it up even worse, and I’m not about to sue them.  My dad always said, never hire a lawyer because then you don’t have one problem, you have two problems.  I’ll just do it myself.”

Was it getting my degree in education?  “What kind of example are you setting for your students if you can’t even write a sentence correctly yourself?” one professor thundered at a fellow sophomore.  Although I academically agreed with the prof, surely he should understand how nervous we were to be presenting our first lessons in class, while also trying to write on the chalkboard with frequent glances out into the room to practice the eyes-in-the-back-of-our-head illusion.

It finally occurred to me.  After purchasing a few nice ebooks by indie authors, I found one for $.99 that sounded interesting.  Roused by the attractive cover and seductive blurb, my anticipation was destroyed within three paragraphs.  I tried to overlook the sentence fragments because they could have been indicative of the protagonist’s style of thinking.  I tried to overlook the misused words because I use the dictionary quite often to make sure I remember what ‘eminent’ means versus ‘imminent’. 

But I could not overlook the typographical errors.  I can understand misusing a semicolon, and the author may have had a reason to capitalize Judge when not at the beginning of a sentence or a title.  However, outright misspellings and numerous instances of missing or inappropriate punctuation were even more jarring than misusing the present perfect.  I shut the book in disgust, determined not to subject any reader of mine to such an unpleasant experience.

I took one last, long look at all the rejections I had collected.  All but the two obvious form letters admitted, in one way or another, “The publishing industry is very subjective, so don’t give up.”  Since I had no other clue, I considered as many facts as possible.  What do readers want?  What do readers expect?  I wrote the books I wanted to read, so I knew I had to present them with the same quality readers expected of a traditional publisher.

If you look at the most recent top-selling books, it appears publishing companies do not want to take a chance on new authors, subgenres, and true attempts at thought-provoking literature, preferring instant-gratification ‘mind candy’ in order to sell as many books as fast as possible.  They seem to prefer to sign authors who can pound out formulaic recitations of flashy, action-heavy, trending genres which titillate readers over one or two blatant themes.  Gore, sex, dominance, vengeance, and the ugly, sneering cleverness that somehow passes for humor nowadays obviously trump exploring the vast potential of more humanistic, soul-expanding topics in their minds.  Just because grocery stores sell tons of cookies and only offer a small selection of cakes doesn’t mean that is what we need as readers.

My ideas of technological innovations, the ways humans will have to adjust to living on other planets, and how they might find true, competent, loving companions along those future journeys must seem like a hard sell to publishing companies.  In my opinion, they underestimate the intelligence and taste of readers, especially those looking for triumphs of spirit.   Yet I wanted my stories to be known, for I would not have written them if I did not have things to say, powerful insights from close to five decades of living, loving, and learning. 

If I could not sign with a publisher, complete with access to editors, cover artists, marketing budgets, and product placement in stores, I could always indie publish.  People were publishing all kinds of books without those resources, so after talking to many friends, I decided to take the plunge.  The only money I absolutely had to plunk down was for an editor, so I began scrimping.

Two friends helped me produce the first book covers before I learned to use the programs myself.  I bookmarked numerous sites on grammar, since my editor gave me discounts depending upon how little she had to correct.  Untold hours of learning social media do’s and don’ts evolved into a daily routine and checklist.  Request one review, place one book ad, write one blog post, and add three people to Twitter seemed reasonable to achieve of a day.  That didn’t last long, for so many websites have submission guidelines as strict as any publisher.  I could hardly find the time to write or edit, even when I was lucky enough to finish my list of a day. 

I began ignoring my daily list and writing a priority list.  Amazon, Smashwords, CreateSpace; it sounds simple to the average person.  Yet, what does that mean when you do it all yourself?  Updating the book descriptions, pricing, keywords, categories, and uploading the most recent edit leads to downloading the preview, scrutinizing the entire book to catch more elusive errors,  then uploading, downloading, and reading it again until it’s the way I want it. 

Throughout it all, I check for consistency according to the decisions I’ve had to make along the way.  Use the Oxford comma?  Yes.  Two spaces after sentences?  Yes, easier to read.  Spelling out numbers?  Look up the three most ‘official’ guidelines and make up my own set.  Above all, strive for clarity with every sentence, meaning with every word.

Then it goes to Tracy for another ‘official’ round of editing, while I start on the next version for Smashwords, which not only includes everything I just did for Amazon but also reformatting the manuscript, from changing the ISBN and deleting every stray spacing error to resizing the cover.  For CreateSpace, designing a back cover and spine according to their rigorous requirements and writing new back-blurb copy meant I had to wait for days after ordering a proof to scrutinize for errors.  So I started the entire process with book two and then three, with the additional duty of making sure each of those manuscripts for the three different formats exactly matched those of book one, since this is a series.

Juggling all these edits, versions, and formats in different stages means I don’t even have a ‘real life' anymore.  I stay exclusively at home so I can afford an editor.  My idea of fun is finding time to write books nine and ten, prequels to the first eight books of my series.   The best fun, of course, is doing tons of online research to support my scenes, everything from the physical therapy required for burn patients to the components needed to manufacture steel rebar, for I am a life-long learner and want my readers to appreciate all the little details that flesh out real lives.

At this point, I don’t know if I would sign with a publisher because I love knowing I have complete control over my product.  If I want twinkling stars, which were taken directly from an actual photo of the Milky Way, I’ll take the time to add some twinkles, at least to keep Miz OCD happy.  I especially love knowing no one is going to tell me to change a scene, for I often tell people the visions come so strongly, I consider myself a biographer to my characters.  I am their scribe, not their goddess.  The only painful decisions are the ones to do with money; I cannot charge $.99 per book and expect to pay my editor for three rounds of editing books 4-10, for example. 

I most emphatically want to know about typographical errors, the bruises and sprains of an author’s daily life, and I always correct them right away so you can download the new version of the book.  I definitely want to know if I have made a major factual error, supported by research, though science fiction does allow some ‘flights of fancy’; I read an article just the other day about new theories on surpassing the speed of light.  If, however, you object to the character-based, appropriate use of the ‘F-bomb’ or a lapse of judgment showing a major flaw in a protagonist, you may rest assured that my characters are not ‘perfect’, that they, too, have lessons to learn.  So please, hold that thought.

Otherwise, I am publishing the best quality of which I am capable, and I can proudly say, “That’s my book.”  Writing a series of books representing the totality of my skills, knowledge, and thirst for engaging people with important ideas and issues is my goal, the thought I hold most dear.  Sure, I bend a few rules, even break one or two, but I don’t expect to please everyone in every way, for therein lies madness and I already have an editor-in-the-brain who picks on me. 

My hope is that you, the readers of indie works, appreciate the extremities of effort and multitude of decisions indie authors must make to entertain you while earning so little at it, less than one percent of minimum wage for most of us.  We do it not just for the love of writing, but for the love of our fellow readers.  Please hold that thought and do us honor by writing reviews and telling your friends about our books. 

And please, find our websites and email, and talk to us!  Tell us what you do like about our work, for many of us are like the lone saxophonist on a street corner at night, complete with hat at our feet, without publishing company advances or an orchestra of supporting musicians at our backs.  So next time you’re looking for a book, let the soul of an indie author play you her song of delight and wonder!

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