Why I’ll Never Participate in NaNoWriMo Again

I have dreamed of successfully completing at least one NaNoWriMo competition since 2011, and this past year I finally realized that dream. I wrote 50,014 words of This Dread Road, Book Three of The Bennett Series, in November 2015.

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I was so proud of myself. Not only had I finally managed to complete a challenge, I did it in the same month my husband and I purchased a home and moved.

For several months after I finished, I was convinced that participating in NaNo was a great thing that everyone should do. After all, I’d never managed to write so much so quickly in my life. But now that I’m finished with revisions, I can look back and say with all manner of certainty that NaNoWrioMo, while well-intentioned, did me far more harm than good.

 

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For one thing, it ushered in a horrific period of burnout. I never stopped working on This Dread Road, but it took nearly six months for me to finish the second half of the book. I went through several weeks of just not caring about the story anymore. Working on it was painful and torturous. For a while, I worried I wouldn’t finish it in time. Or at all.

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Our trip to South Carolina in March forced me to rest and rejuvenate. I came home more excited about the story than ever, having seen places like Stella Maris Church (pictured above) that were connected to the story of This Dread Road. It took another month after our return, but I finally finished the draft. I was so happy to finish, and still eternally gratefully for NaNoWriMo. If I hadn’t written that 50,014 words last November, how much further behind schedule would I be?

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But when I started revisions a few weeks ago, I realized that those first 50,000 words were essentially useless. That section of the book was packed with filler words, unnecessary characters, and subplots I hadn’t taken the time to flesh out. I could almost map my exhaustion during the month of November just looking at that first half.

I had to rewrite the first twenty-seven chapters.

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I don’t wish that I hadn’t participated in NaNo last year–it was a fun experience, and I enjoyed the camaraderie and solidarity that I experienced all across the Internet. It was finals week, but without the stress of grades hanging over my head. I got a lot done. Had I not participated, I most likely wouldn’t have taken a break to redesign all three of the covers for The Bennett Series. I wouldn’t have been able to let my experience in Charleston influence my descriptions nearly as much.

Most importantly, I wouldn’t have learned a valuable lesson: what works for others does not necessarily work for me.


This Dread Road is currently in the editing stage and is tentatively scheduled for a December 2016 release. I will hopefully have a firm date for you soon! 

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Top 5 Things Not to Say to a Creative Person

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This past Saturday, I had a booth at a local arts festival. This was not my first event as an author–in fact, it’s more like the sixth or seventh–and each time it gets a little easier to shove my trembling, terrified introverted self deep in my brain, take a deep breath, and start initiating conversation with strangers with a smile on my face.

Now that I’ve practiced coming out of my shell enough times, I can actually say it’s fun! I connected with so many old friends, new acquaintances, and eager future readers. I packed up my booth at the end of the day feeling tired, hungry, and rewarded. But as they always do, this event drew my attention to how creative people–artists, musicians, craftsmen, authors, you name it–are often treated in the public. They’re not treated particularly well, if you’re wondering; not overwhelmingly so, at least.

The more I do in-person events like these, the more I grow used to it. I don’t take comments and looks personally like I might have in the past. But it breaks my heart to know that there is a burgeoning artist out there who has worked up the courage to present their work to the public, perhaps for the first time, only to be met with rudeness and disrespect. A handful of ill-thought comments and remarks made by strangers could be enough to sever whatever glimmering, tenuous thread of hope and enthusiasm they have about their art. And that’s just unacceptable.

So today, here’s my list of what not to say to a creative person. Most of these are book related, since that’s obviously what I know, but I know several of my visual artist friends have had similar experiences.

1. “I can’t buy books from you. I only support local bookstores.”

Rest assured, purchasing a book from an author–especially one who self-publishes–is about as local as it gets. It’s great if you eschew the big chains in favor of independent shops, but don’t lose the spirit of what you’re trying to do by focusing on the letter of the law. A local author is a local business, and does not pose a threat to indie shops.

2. “I’m not interested in talking about your books. I need you to tell me how I can publish mine.”

I often meet budding writers, and that’s always a fantastic experience! It’s great to meet a brother or sister in ink, to paraphrase my friend Lissa Bryan’s expression. But when someone has a booth obviously dedicated to selling their works, it’s very rude to completely ignore their books and ask them for free advice on writing and publishing. They’re in selling mode, and odds are they are not equipped to become your pro bono writing coach at a drop of a hat. Publishing a book is no picnic, no matter which route you take, and you can’t expect someone to give you all the answers in three easy steps. Try to establish a connection instead. Read the back cover of the books, make a few polite comments, and if you think they might be able to help you, ask if it would be all right if you sent them an email later, at a more appropriate time. They will most likely say yes.

3. “I’m a writer, too. I have a fantastic pitch for you.”

Again, please remember that the author you are talking to is just that: an author. They are most likely not also an agent, an editor, the head of a publishing house, or anyone who could help you get a book contract. Even if they weren’t, a signing event specifically for their books is not the time. They are trying to connect with potential readers and don’t have resources on hand to help you at the moment. Ask for their email address and try your questions later.

4. “Is this novel based on your life?”

Maybe this isn’t always a rude question, but when the copy of the book they’re holding is about a girl entering a forbidden affair with her professor, it’s kind of inappropriate.

5. “I’ll buy these on Kindle, as long as they’re not more than two dollars. I never read a book for more than two dollars.”

…Sigh.

I don’t have a problem with eBooks. In fact, due to my busy schedule, I read almost exclusively eBooks these days, because it allows me to read in quick 2-3 minute bursts between classes, on lunch breaks, during unexpected traffic jams, etc. But what I do hate is how they have desensitized the reader when it comes to pricing.

Books don’t pop into existence free of charge. For a decent self-published book, assume that at least $1,000 has gone into cover design, interior formatting, editing, proofreading, and marketing. For a book published through an indie house or one of the Big 5, multiply that number by a lot. And that’s nothing compared to the hours and hours of drafting, revising, editing, polishing, and last minute reading that goes into producing a manuscript worthy of the public.

Now factor in that for a Kindle book costing less than $2.99, royalties are only 30%. That means that a self-published author, who doesn’t have to split royalties with anyone, receive a whopping $0.30 for an eBook that costs $0.99. Authors who have publishers to split the royalties with get even less than that.

I understand money is tight sometimes. I get that eBooks are sometimes way, way overpriced–I’ve seen some that are the same price as the print book, and that’s a little extreme.

But if you want to buy a book and support an author, I really urge you to consider paying more than $2 every once and a while. There are some great free and $0.99 books out there, and it’s always nice to find a bargain, but please don’t expect everyone to be able to afford to give their work away for $0.30–or free.

Top 10 Ways to Use Instagram as an Author

Top Ten.jpgI’ll admit, for a long time I didn’t really see the point of Instagram as an app unto itself. I basically just used it as a photo editing app for everything I wanted to post to Facebook. I never only posted a photo on Instagram. I rarely added captions, and never utilized hashtags. I let people follow me and I followed them back, but I never checked the feed or interacted with others.

I realized a few short months ago that this was a mistake. To help out one of my favorite indie authors, I joined forces with a couple of other fans and helped start a grassroots Instagram campaign. I was amazed at the book culture that is alive and well on a social network I’d largely considered pointless. Instagram has a thriving booklover community, and it is dying for more author-reader interaction.

I’m by no means an expert, having only danced around the fringes of #bookstagram culture for a couple of months, but there are some valuable things I’ve learned that I think more authors can take advantage of.

1. Pay Attention to Hashtags

The hashtags that will be important to you vary depending on what genre and age group your books fall into, but some of the broad ones to use are #bookstagram, #booksofinstagram, #bookish, #booknerd, #bibliophile, #readinglist, and #amreading. Use these hashtags when you post about your books, but also search to see who else is using them and interact with people who look like they might enjoy reading your books.

2. Form Relationships

When you come across users who look like they might enjoy your books, don’t spam them with buy links or suggestions right away. Instead, take the time to look through their photos. Leave a few likes and comments. Ask questions that show you’re interested in getting to know them, not just making a sale.

3. Participate in Challenges

There will almost always be an ongoing photo challenge that centers on books, reading, or writing. In February, I participated (half-heartedly) in the #AuthorLifeMonth challenge. This month, I’ve been doing the #YABookADay challenge. Next month, I’m planning my own! This is a great way to connect with readers, book bloggers, and other authors, and it really helps get you in the habit of posting at least once a day.

4. Host Giveaways

Last month, I participated in an Instagram giveaway with several other indie authors. We all gave away a printed copy of one of our books. People entered to win by following me, liking the post, commenting with the hashtag #iLovePrinted Books, and tagging a friend who also loves printed books. Each of the participating authors linked to another author in our post, so theoretically an Instagram follower could click through the chain and enter each author’s giveaway. I had a blast participating in this–I received several new followers, met some great authors, and I gained a new reader in England thanks to the giveaway! It was a great experience and I hope to do it again soon.

5. Increase Blog Traffic

Create free graphics for your blog posts on sites like Canva and post them on Instagram with a sample of your blog for the day. Believe it or not, people will actually hop on over to your blog if you ask them to! I’ve seen increased traffic since I started doing this.

6. Promos, Sales, and New Releases

Continuously spamming buy links is no more successful on Instagram than it is on Twitter or Facebook. However, Instagram is a great place to share occasional promotional posts for your books, as well as eBook sales and new releases! Use hashtags like #ebooks, #kindle, #freebies, #FreeEbooks, and #newrelease in conjunction with the usual book-related hashtags I listed above to get the best coverage.

7. Provide Regular Updates

Did you just finish an amazing outline? Do you have impressive, serial-killer-like notes stuck all over your desk? Did you just print out your manuscript in all its several hundred page glory? Readers love seeing these kinds of visual progress reports. They’re fun to share, and you just might snag some future readers by keeping your followers informed about your WIP.

8. Help Boost Author Friends

Help your fellow authors out by taking a screenshot of their photos and reposting them with the hashtag #regram and tag them in the caption. It feels easier and more natural to promote others rather than ourselves, so it won’t be as obnoxious as us constantly reposting stuff about our own books, and it shows that authors are friends, not competitors.

9. Create Your Own Hashtag

Before doing this, make sure to search Instagram for it to ensure it’s not being used by another group already.

10. Post Non-Writing Related Photos

This probably seems counterintuitive, but think about it for a second. I’m sure you appreciate when the celebrities you follow on social media post about their movies, shows, albums, and books, since that’s probably why you’re following them to begin with. But don’t you really love it when they drop that persona and just get real with you? Aren’t we all dying to know what Stephen King is having for dinner, or what Nathan Fillion’s backyard looks like? Obviously, most of us self-published and indie authors aren’t celebrities by any stretch of the word, but people love to see what lies behind our writing persona. It makes us seem more like real people and encourages connection.

How I Do It: 1 Not-So-Easy Step to Make Your Dreams Come True

I hear it all the time. “How do you do it?”

It’s not an unwarranted question. Sometimes, I even ask it of myself. How do I do it?

How do I put in forty hours Monday through Friday, while still squeezing in six hours of classes, and then turn around and work another eight hours on Saturday, and then spend Sunday mornings at church, and then spend Sunday afternoons grocery shopping and doing chores? How do I manage to do all of that, and still manage to be a homeowner and a wife, and hopefully a potential mother, and put in enough writing to churn out roughly one book per year?

People also ask this question of my husband and myself as a married unit. How do we work fifty plus hours a week each, and still find time for romance and companionship? How do we manage to put money in savings almost every month on such a low combined income? How did we manage to go from limping along from paycheck to paycheck to paying off component student loans and purchasing a house in less than three years?

The answer to both questions is really one and the same.

This answer is simple, although it might not be what you want to hear. It is not a simple solution, one tiny step needed to right the balance in an already stress-filled life.

Here it is:

I do what I do because I have to.

We do what we do because we have to.

Plan everything.

Skip lunch breaks.

Save receipts.

Stay home and cook, even when it would be easier just to go out.

Budget everything. Money, time, calories. Everything.

Brainstorm while driving.

Stay up half the night working on homework and reading assignments, and then stay up even later to put in work on my books.

Don’t watch near as much Netflix as my lazy butt would like.

Know when it’s time to take a night “off” to spend time with my husband, and I don’t mind working twice as hard the next day to make that happen.

I don’t have a ton of free time–in fact, I’m not even sure I understand what free time is anymore–but you know what? I am completely, totally satisfied. I might be sleep deprived and busy to the point of nervous breakdown on some days, but for the first time in my life, I am passionate about what I do.

My office job? Love it.

My fast-food job? It’s only temporary, I don’t hate it, and it allows me to spend time with friends.

School? LOVE IT.

Writing? LOVE IT.

Achieving dreams, no matter what they are, will always require work. It will always require discipline. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you’ll pursue them later, when it will be easier, when it will be more manageable. Such a time will never come. You don’t have to do everything all at once, but you have to start somewhere.

Make a list of everything you need to accomplish in order to fulfill your dreams and start doing them as you can, baby steps, one by one. It will be frustrating and draining, and some days you will just want to give up because you feel like you’re standing still, but you’re not. You’re still light years ahead of the people who are not even trying.

Stop waiting for your fully-formed dream to drop painlessly into your lap. It’s not going to happen. It never happens like that. If you want something to happenstart that process now. You’ll be busy, and you’ll be tired, but you will be doing something you love.

If you need further inspiration, check out Zen Pencils’ wonderful illustration of a speech given by James Rhodes, “Is That Not Worth Exploring?” It makes me tear up every time I read it, because it is so true. Your dreams are worth exploring, no matter the sacrifice. No matter what you have to do. So get out there, and do it!

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THIS DREAD ROAD Cover Reveal Blast!

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 This Dread Road
Cover Reveal Blast

We cried with Hattie as her life fell apart after one forbidden mistake. 

We held our breath as Molly walked the razor-thin tightrope of ambition and morality. 

Now, it’s Claire’s turn to break and mend our hearts . . .

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Now that college is over, Claire James doesn’t know where to turn. All she has is a business degree she isn’t using and a trust fund she doesn’t want. She longs to leave her poor little rich girl past behind, but when she leaves her fiancé and finds herself stranded in a strange city with no job, no plans, and nowhere to stay, she has no choice but to seek help from her father, the fearless leader of their family’s hotel empire. 

But when he offers Claire the keys to a penthouse apartment, and with it, a path back to her old life on the Upper East Side, something inside her snaps. Instead of taking the easy way out, as she has so many times before, she makes a counteroffer: she wants to work in a James Hotel, preferably one far from the city and close to her best friend. 

As it turns out, though, Bennett is not the answer to all of Claire’s troubles. Hattie, who has always helped her in the past, is busy caring for her own growing family, and the other employees at the James see her new position as nothing more than an act of nepotism. Claire is left an outcast in a town she once called home. Lonely and depressed, she begins to wonder if this attempt to alter her fate was just one more mistake.

When Claire connects with one of the hotel’s guests during one of her long overnight shifts, though, her move finally starts to make sense. Their conversation shifts quickly from lattes to loves lost, and as her newfound friend reveals the tale of her own ruined heart, Claire realizes that she just might hold the key to repairing them both. 

Following The Partition of Africa and The Marshall Plan, this stunning conclusion to the Bennett Series whisks us across space and time to remind us of one simple truth: 

Love never fails.

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Join in the party on Facebook! 

 

Exclusive Excerpt:

“James!”

Claire’s head snapped up at the sound of her boss’s voice. All the color drained from her face when she saw the anger twisted into his features, which were usually gruff but kind. He made his way across the foyer as quickly as he could manage, his right leg lagging slightly behind the rest of his body. He stopped at the front desk and leaned on the counter for support as he caught his breath.

“What can I do for you, Hank?” she asked, hating how shrill her voice came out.

His eyes hardened when he took in her phone, which was once more open to Trevor’s Facebook page. He and Jenna were visiting her family over winter break. She had posted several pictures the day before of them touring an old retired lighthouse. A true New England Christmas. Claire locked the screen quickly and shoved it in her pocket.

“My office. Now. Richard will take over for you here.”

Like a ghost answering the summons of a séance, Richard appeared by Hank’s side. “Anything you say boss.” He gave Claire a self-satisfied smile before sliding behind the desk. He stood behind her chair, hands clasping each other primly at his waist, waiting for her to vacate the chair.

Without another word, Claire rose and followed Hank. Usually she would have demanded to know what was going on before abandoning her post to Richard, of all people, but she had never seen Hank in such an agitated state.

While he had only been her boss for a few months, Claire and Hank had been friendly with one another for several years. She’d briefly lived in the suite usually reserved for her father before defecting to the dorms after a nasty fight with her mother, and she often spent long weekends here during her student days when she needed a quick getaway. During those stays, Hank had always been kind to her, taking extra measures to make sure her needs were met. He’d once even seen to caring for Hattie when her plans over Thanksgiving abruptly changed and she no longer had a place to stay, going so far as to pick her up in Bennett and send Claire daily reports on her wellbeing while she languished at her mother’s house in Connecticut.

Now, though, Hank’s usually sparkling gray eyes were dark and brooding, like a bank of thunderclouds gathering on the horizon. Once he was sure Claire was following him, he turned and limped off toward his office with as much speed as he could muster. She wracked her brain as she fell into step behind him, trying to figure out what in the world could have elicited such strong emotion in him. Nothing she’d done came to mind, except for the tense conversation she’d exchanged with Richard a few days before, when he’d accused her of slacking off. She wondered now if Richard had lied to Hank about why she left the front desk that night, or perhaps exaggerated how long she was gone.

The two of them wended their way through the employees-only section of the first floor together, passing the conference rooms and the small kitchenette where most of the employees chose to take their breaks. Amalia was the only one back there now, and she regarded them with wide eyes as they passed. The surprise evident in her expression confirmed she had nothing to do with whatever this was. Even though she’d been somewhat cold to Claire since her arrival in August, the college student didn’t seem intent on bringing her down. Unlike some people.

When they reached Hank’s office, he held the door open for Claire so she could pass through first. A sudden terror that he was about to fire her seized control of her body. Everything inside tensed up, and her stomach churned so much she worried she would get sick again. Thankfully, she made it to the arm chair opposite his desk fully intact. He closed the door and walked past her to his desk.

Trying not to tremble, Claire crossed her arms over her stomach and waited for him to begin. Where mere months ago, her conspicuous ribs had poked out, a soft swell of flesh met her hands. Had she been in happier surroundings, she might have smiled.

Hank folded his hands on top of his desk calendar and issues a deep sigh, but offered no explanation as to why he had dragged Claire to his office. They stared at one another for several minutes before she cleared her throat, determined to put an end to this agony.

“Hank, I–”

“Claire, we need to talk about your future here.”

She swallowed and looked down, taken aback by his abruptness. “All right,” she said slowly. “What about my future here?”

“Whether or not you have one.” He unwrapped a toothpick and held it up to his mouth gingerly, as if he was contemplating how great his need for it was, before tipping his chair back. “I had high hopes for you, Claire, but I don’t think this is working out.”

This Dread Road

About the Author

12194847_10206411210811399_2494367645966130343_o​Olivia began writing creatively at eight years old. During middle and high school, she attended several writing conferences and submitted poems and short stories to various writing contests. She finished her first long work of fiction, a novella entitled Heaven’s Song, in the tenth grade. Her short story “By Its Cover” placed first in its division in the 2008 District III ​Alabama Penman Creative Writing Contest. She took a reprieve from writing during her years at the University of Montevallo, where she earned a degree in history in 2012. She finished and published her first novel, The Partition of Africa​, in 2014.
Olivia currently lives in central Alabama with her husband, to whom she’s been wed since the age of twenty-two, and their cat, Buddy. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys watching quality television—The Office (US), Parks & Recreation, 30 Rock, and Friends are her favorites—and cooking without recipes. Along with working full-time at her alma mater and studying English at the graduate level, she is busy working on her next literary adventure.

CONNECT WITH OLIVIA:

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Other Titles in the Series

The Partition of Africa: Book 1

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Hattie Greene is a serious-minded sophomore who always follows the rules. She earned her place at the prestigious Howard Knox College & University, and she intends to keep it. Much to the chagrin of her socialite roommate Claire, Hattie ignores the usual college activities in favor of focusing on her academic career. Hattie’s status as a perpetual good girl comes into question when Samson Campbell, a married professor with rugged good looks, enters the picture. He’s wrong for her on every level, but she can’t stay away. They enter an affair that threatens everything Hattie holds dear, causing her to question her very identity. All actions have consequences, and this is no exception. The heart wants what it wants. . .but what if the heart is wrong?

The Marshall Plan: Book 2

51QUn72sLUL._SX373_BO1,204,203,200_Molly Marshall is fresh out of graduate school, armed with a shiny new degree in journalism and ready to take over the world. There’s just one little problem: no one seems to care.
Six months have passed since graduation and no matter how hard she tries, she can’t find a paying job in the field she’s spent years preparing to dominate. Stuck in a menial job she hates, plagued with memories of an abusive childhood, and engaged to a man she may no longer love, she’s running out of options and fast. When she stumbles across a long-kept secret, though, everything changes and she’s forced to make a choice. What will it be, her ambition or her heart?
This standalone sequel to THE PARTITION OF AFRICA invites you to examine your thoughts on family, desire, and the nature of love itself.

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Technology and the Right to Create

Some of you might not know that I actually have two jobs. Well, three, if you count writing, but I have so much fun with it that I usually lump that in with the hobbies. Monday through Friday, I serve as the administrative assistant for the Department of Communication at a public liberal arts university. On Saturdays, I throw back to my own college days and work a shift at a fast food restaurant.

During my short time at the university, I’ve been privileged to witness students majoring in mass communication as they learn how to operate cameras and other equipment that will one day land them a job in television, filmmaking, or something else equally as exciting. It’s been truly eye-opening to see how much preparation, time, and effort is required for our on-campus newscast. Watching the students grow has prompted me to learn more about the industry when I have the opportunity.

So, when I returned home from a grueling shift at the fast food place on Saturday night and my husband urged me to watch the rest of a documentary the Keanu Reeves made about the transition from film to digital recording in Hollywood, I agreed.

There was a portion of the documentary where Keanu started asking these great, established cinematographers how they felt about the rise and prevalence of digital recording, while film by and large has diminished. Several of them were nostalgic about the experience of watching movies during their childhood, claiming that movies recorded on film were largely responsible for that special, magical quality. Some were pragmatic, saying that while they preferred film, they knew their preference was sentimental and that digital was a superior product. I could sympathize with these guys.

But there was another person whose response made my blood boil with rage for hours after the documentary credits rolled.

Somehow or another, the fact that digital media lends itself to amateur use–basically, that everyone who wants to  can make a movie now, with the right equipment–came up in Keanu’s discussion with one of the cinematographers. When asked how he felt about that, the guy said he hated digital media because now there were bad movies circulating about. Now, just anybody could do it. And, in his own words, without a “tastemaker” to decide which movies are good and which aren’t, society will lose its way and the art of cinema in its entirety will vanish into dust.

Bull. Just . . . bull.

This reminds me a lot of the publishing industry’s stance on the internet, and how it has enabled more people to participate in self-publishing. The medium are different, but the message is the same: there has to be a gatekeeper, a “tastemaker.” There has to be someone there to tell the public what is good and what is not. Every time I see some big industry professional write an open letter condemning all self-pubbers to deepest pit of the underworld bemoaning the fact that self-publishing is so prominent now, and oh for the good old days when everything was published the “right” way, it really and truly makes me want to hurl.

I know what you’re thinking–oh, Olivia, this only angers you because you yourself are a self-published author. Perhaps that’s true. I never really thought about this issue before I entered the world of authorship. But I think my argument here will transcend any conflicts of interest. I’ll let you be the judge.

Firstly, the assertion that bad books and movies are in circulation simply because of self-publishing and digital media is pure poppycock. I’ve read bad mainstream books, and I’ve watched bad mainstream movies. Not everything that comes prancing out the other end of a major company is worthy of artistic elevation. I won’t malign specific titles here, but I know that right now, in your own mind, you’ve come up with a list of your own examples.

Now, are there bad self-published books? Are there bad indie films?

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Lots of them. Probably more bad than good, to be honest. The internet is rife with short .99 eBooks that will make you wish you’d never learned to read, and I’m sure the same can be said for independent films. A keen sense of judgment is needed when navigating these choppy waters. But I find that discerning the quality of a book is the same, no matter how it came to be, is always accomplished by the same simple test.

I open it, and I read a few pages.

That’s it. I don’t look to see who published it. I don’t look up the author’s biography to see what degrees they have or how many titles they’ve written. I don’t check to see if it’s in Oprah’s Book Club or the New York Times Bestsellers List. I just open it, and I read a few pages. If it’s good, I’ll stick with it. If it’s not, I’ll put it back. It’s really quite that simple. There is no need for a publisher, or for that matter a production company, to step in and be a “tastemaker” on my behalf. I, along with everyone else in the human race, are able to figure out what we like just find without unsolicited assistance. We have the right to choose.

But even more important than that is this:

Human beings are creative creatures, by nature. It is our God-given birthright to shape the world around us with our thoughts and ideas. Whether we do that through manipulation of light or sound or natural resources or the written word is left to the individual, but at the end of the day, we are all of us artists.

Technology like digital recording, like the Internet, is a gift. It enables people who don’t have the money or the connections or the ability to pay an agent to participate in this basic human right. Everyone deserves the chance to share their art. Even if their art is churning out a new, slapped together eBook every other week. Even if their art isn’t that great. Even if their art is bad.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating that we all settle for being entertained by subpar writing and cinematography. If you don’t like something, by all means, don’t read it. Don’t watch it. Don’t buy it. But I love the fact that everyone has a choice now. Everyone has a chance to share something they’ve made with whomever they’d like. Everyone has a chance to accept or reject a new work based on their own preference and taste alone, and not that of a stranger working in a faraway office.

So to that man in the documentary whose name escapes me, please know this. You don’t get to decide whether other people create art or not. You don’t get to decide whether other people will enjoy it or not. You can only control your own creative outputs, what you are directly responsible for. Instead of feeling threatened by the possibility of someone young and innovative and penniless creating a film the masses will love, focus on making your work the best it can be. Better yet, seek out these emerging talents and take them under your wing. And if you come across an indie movie that is truly, truly terrible, you should do what the rest of us do already–stop watching it and move on to bigger and better things. 

Top 10 Things to Do Before Publishing Your Novel

As I’ve mentioned on my past few posts, I recently celebrated my first publication anniversary. I’m a pretty nostalgic person, so I’ve been pondering over all the good and bad things that happened with that first release, and I realized that the Me from one year ago really could have used a publication checklist–some sort of guideline to make sure I was on the right track to releasing the book the right way.

So I decided to make one–not for the Me from one year ago, obviously, unless a Me from several years into the future happens to come across a time machine–but for anyone who is currently struggling with their very first book release. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but it’s a good starting point for beginners.

1. Choose a publication route.

Do you want to pursue a book deal with one of the Big 5 publishers, or maybe sign with an agent who can make that happen? Or maybe you want to seek out a smaller publishing house who can give you a little more personalized attention. Self-publishing is also an option.

This detail determines a lot about how you will move forward once you’ve finished your manuscript. If  you’re looking for a publishing house, either Big 5 or independent, you’ll need to start sending out queries and submissions to houses and agents currently accepting. You can find out more information about that route here.

If you decide to self-publish, shop around and pick a reputable site. I highly recommend CreateSpace, which is a print-on-demand subsidiary of Amazon, and Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP).

Remember: You should never pay a company anything other than printing costs when self-publishing. There are a lot of predatory sites out there that promise a lot of things to authors who are desperate to publish their work–things like movie deals and spots on the NYT bestseller list–in exchange for thousands of your dollars. Don’t fall for their schemes.

If you’re unsure of a publisher or printer’s legitimacy, look them on at http://pred-ed.com/.

2. Acquire an editor.

This is especially important if you are self-publishing, since you won’t have access to an editorial team like authors who work with publishing houses. At very least, you need a copy/line editor. Depending on the complexity of your story, you may need a content editor as well. Learn the difference here.

If you’re like most writers, you don’t have a large stash of cash just sitting there, waiting to be spent. That’s okay! Many editors will work with your budget by knocking a little off their usual rate or instituting a payment plan. Some might even be willing to trade their services in exchange for beta reading, or if they’re new on the scene, a reference. Whatever you end up paying, it will be worth it.

3. Cover Design

Most self-publication sites have cover creator tools, but I recommend you use these as a last resort. The templates and tools found on these sites are used by literally millions of people worldwide, and if you use them, your book will lack a unique look. You also won’t have much control over a number of elements, like font type, size, color, and placement.

If you have room in your budget, hire a cover artist. There are several sites with affordable covers listed for $100 and less, specifically geared toward the self-published author.

If you want to have more control over your cover, learn how to use Photoshop. There are hundreds of free tutorials on YouTube and all over the blogosphere, and honestly, you don’t need to know much in order to make the perfect cover. If you can’t afford the full version of Photoshop, you can download the free version, GIMP, which has many of the same capabilities.

The cover on the left was created using the cover creator tool on CreateSpace. I used the same photo to create the cover on the right in Photoshop. See the difference?

4. Select a varied panel of beta readers.

Think about your book. What demographic(s) do you consider your audience? If there is more than one category (and there should be more than one), make sure you consider all of them when selecting your beta readers. If, say, your book is aimed at women ages 18-50, don’t just ask 25-year-olds to read it. Readers of different ages, races, careers, interests, and levels of life experience bring their own flavor of wisdom to the table. You will need as many points of view as you can get.

5. Learn how to format.

Whether you’re publishing your book in print or electronic format (or both!), making sure that your files are formatted correctly is vital to putting out a professional product. CreateSpace has a great formatted template that is easily updated and personalized for every trim size they offer. KDP has a great handbook that teaches you how to create the perfect eBook. Once you get the hang of it, you should be able to put out a dynamite interior file in just a couple of hours.

Not tech savvy? No problem! Most self-publishing sites offer formatting services for an a la carte fee. (Psst, shameless plug: I do paid formatting services for both CreateSpace and KDP. E-mail me for a quote at ofa.author@gmail.com.)

6. Spend time thinking about how you will market your book.

Is your book even remotely similar to a mass market book, one that is most likely a household name? If the answer is yes, use that to your advantage! See who the author follows on Twitter. See who follows them. Ask friends who are fans of that book what exactly they like about it, and  what you could say to make them excited about reading yours.

Contact book bloggers once your manuscript is complete and you’ve chosen a release date. Ask them to review your book on or before release day. If you give them enough warning, they most likely will agree if you send them a free copy of your book. To avoid the possibility of piracy, create .ePub and .mobi files of your manuscript using eBook management software like Calibre and send them directly to the blogger’s Kindle account.

Learn how to use Twitter and other versions of social media to your benefit. Join online writing groups like this one and connect with other authors and industry professionals. Conversation can lead to collaboration. There is almost always someone not only able to answer your questions, but willing to help you!

7. Pick a release day.

You should do this well in advance, and give yourself plenty of wiggle room. Advertise the release day as much as you can, plan an online or in-person event, and start sharing those pre-publication reviews. It will get potential readers excited about you!

8. Make friends with your local library.

Don’t worry about being a bother–trust me, they want to meet you! You’re a local author. They don’t care if your book was published under your own name or by HarperCollins, they think it’s pretty darn cool that someone in their ZIP code has their name in print. Swing by and introduce yourself if you’re not already acquainted. Ask them if they’d be willing to host a meet and greet for you. If they don’t already have a copy, consider donating one and ask them to recommend it to their patrons. This is a fantastic way to gain new readers, and they are wonderful resources to have!

The same goes for local newspapers. Contact a lifestyle or community reporter and ask if they’d be willing to read and review your book, and agree to an interview if one is requested. This is great publicity!

9. Order promotional materials.

This is especially important if you are selling your books at an in-person event. People probably won’t stop just to say hello, but if you ask them if they want a free bookmark–which just so happens to have your book synopsis, Amazon buy link, and all your contact info on it–nine times out of ten, they’ll snatch it right up. Adding something like, “This is my latest release, I write romance!” will probably make them pause and look at your table more closely.

10. Be prepared to talk about your next project in detail.

Nothing sells book number one like book number two! Even if your titles are standalone, people love to hear you have another project in the works. You don’t have to finish it or be able to give a blow by blow synopsis, but definitely know enough about the main character, the basic plot, and the themes to answer questions and get people excited!


Are you an author? What would you add to this list? Let us know in the comments below!