Uncategorized

Do You Believe You’re An Author?

books

Publishing a book has never been easier. For would be authors that is good news. With the means to upload your manuscript and self-publishing it literally anyone can become an author. But there are some other, intangible factors making two questions key in the process. 1) Do you believe you’re an author? 2) Does the public believe you’re an author?

The ease with which books can be published has created degrees of authorship. Technically, the act of making a book available for the public to read makes one an author. A professional author makes at least a portion of his or her living form selling the books he or she writes. A successful author makes the majority of his or her living from writing. A best selling author is someone whose book reaches and maintains high ranking on a list of best selling books, whether by genre, class, time period or other consideration. So clearly just becoming published, whether it is self fulfilled or executed through a publisher, is only the initial step. The reader’s buy-in literally makes a difference in whether a writer is effectively an author.

There is a question about the legitimacy of self-published books. Some of that carries over from the past when vanity presses would publish any book for a fee. Critics refused to read such offerings and largely the process existed for writers to print personal memoirs to be shared with friends, family members and colleagues. However, in some cases, certain authors used vanity presses to print their manuscripts that major publishers rejected for whatever reason and  sold them personally  in much the same way as books were produced and marketed in the 19th Century. A few authors have gained the attention of literary agents and major publishers from bonafide sales of self-publoished works. This process continues even today.

several_old_keys_on_a_ring_s

Major publishers may see themselves as gate keepers charged with filtering the variety and  volume of books to find those fit to print. But there are countless examples of books major publishers rejected that have gone on to be insanely popular, just because the publisher worried about the controversial nature or the material or failed to see its marketability. The single fact is that the five major publishers do not know what the reading public will like. They guess, same as anyone else.

What major publishers traditionally offer are editing, cover design, promotion and distribution services. Also they lend the company’s brand name, image and prestige as a badge of quality for the produced work – whether perceived or real. In many cases the quality component of their offerings comes from the simple process of professional editing.

Other services major publishers offer can be obtained in other ways… for a fee. Anyone can contract professional cover designer and arrange for appropriate channel distribution to have a book listed for bookstores and libraries. Promotional services can be purchased through contract with established marketing firms specializing in specific media that offer publicity and advertising in trade publication as well as general print and broadcast channels. Tech savvy authors may develop a personal following through social media and use that to leverage an initial pop for sales for a new release. As major publishing houses control over the industry has continuously eroded more and more authors weigh the value of their services and decide whether to do more of the work themselves and reap the rewards of higher royalties.

From a reader’s perspective the rise of self publishing has provided millions of new titles that might never otherwise exist. But with the plethora of material out there the reader may be at a loss for which books to choose. The book cover and description become all the more important in the decision process. Reviews, recommendations and other factors such as previous purchase experience matters as well. If a reader has an overall positive experience the author may gain a new fan. Also the reader may effectively recruit other readers for an author through word of mouth recommendations and a fan base may begin to grow. But if the reader’s experience is bad it will be difficult for an author to regain lost trust. Also the negative word of mouth may spread and quickly destroy the author’s chances in the market place. The recent addition of try before you buy programs offering samples of books or allowing the actual borrowing of a book help counter the hesitation in the buying process. But still, it is the quality of the book that will close the sale.

From a consumer perspective the cover and description may be critically important in making a purchase decision, but the quality of the reading experience always determines the success of the book. If there are numerous errors, whether lapses in editing, misspelled words or critical flaws in the plot, the reader may forego reading the balance of a book and move on to something more appealing. This is why every author, whether self published or working with a publisher, needs to have a professional editor. Any author who believes that he or she can edit his or her own book is foolish. Regardless of editing or basic proofreading skills when dealing with other peoples’ works it is a proven fact that when working with one’s own writing an author tends to see what should be there as opposed to what is actually there. For the reader, coming across a glaring mistake interrupts the flow of reading and breaks the suspension of disbelief necessary for complete immersion into the contrived reality of a book.

If you are to become a successful, best selling, professional author, you must have a supportive fan base that loves your books. Your readers validate you as an author, not how the book was processed and made available for purchase. Without loyal readers your status as an author is questionable.

Me crop 2

 

#readers #authors #writing #publishing #self-publishing

Uncategorized

From a Misread Headline to a Manuscript and Beyond

There’s a new book coming-out soon. Nothing new about that – there are millions published each year. What’s different about this one is the odd title, Fried Windows (In a Light White Sauce) and the by line – it’s mine.

1385125_583453481711312_1220927499_n

Like every book I have written it was a labor of love though the creative impulse came unexpectedly. The core of the overall story – sixteen chapters really – were composed in less than a month in the early spring of 2012. I left a dead-end retail management job after more than four years and I had pretty much decided to pursue writing as a career. As is so often the case, it wasn’t the best of times to make such a choice.

The quirky title of the book fits the unusual story. It came from a misread news headline that, of course, drew me right in. I wondered what Fried Windows were and immediately pondered how one would serve them. In a light white sauce! – yeah, it was one of those days.

AF picture 1983

Somewhere along the way I was sidetracked, deviating far from my personal goals. Some of that I did because of three kids I believed in and a marriage I no longer did. I took that one last job in order to continue supporting my youngest while she finished high school. She lived with me for a couple of years afterwards before moving away, joining her older sister who was beginning graduate school up north. That event triggered something of a midlife crisis for me. Immediately after hugging her and her sister goodbye, I felt like I was left pretty much alone.

Certainly, I was not alone. My son still lived about fifteen miles away; he was also in graduate school. My ex-wife with whom I still communicated occasionally was on the east coast about an hour and a half away from where I was. My sister and brother-in-law lived on the west coast and my great niece was in the greater Miami area. Still, for all intents and purposes I was alone.

Family Photo around 2003 -1

My job frustrated me. I don’t know whether I had ever been satisfied though at first I believed a lot of the bull about being promoted, being given my own store, and the company’s desire to change its ways to become more modern and competitive. At first it seemed like that was happening, albeit slowly. Later on it became clear that it was a district effort that was not aligned with the corporate direction. The district manager was replaced. A company man took over and word went out that there would be changes. Foremost was an antithetical concept for me that I hadn’t had to deal with since leaving the military: we were being paid not to think but to execute on directions from above. That predisposes that upper management is always right and has an unambiguous direction in its policies – which was not the case at all. Ignoring feedback from the front lines is the formula for disaster in any campaign.

Anyway, there were other reasons for my eventual resignation. Many of those related to my unhealthy lifestyle that had evolved form working crazy house, making time to write trying to write, which was something I enjoyed, and dealing with the stress of working a job in which there did not seem to be any progress. A lot of what I was experiencing related to my desire to do what I always wanted to be before getting married and going to college. A little over two years ago it seemed like the last chance I might ever have to become a professional writer – a sort of now or never proposition.

Almost a month after quitting by job, I wrote a short story under the Fried Windows title. At the time I belonged to a writer’s group. I posted the story in two installments with the break roughly where the chapter breaks are now in the book. It received favorable reviews and some suggested I continue writing about the characters. Over the next few weeks I continued writing what I believed were related short stories. Afterwards, I shelved the project and continued working on revisions of The Wolfcat Chronicles, a ten book series I began seriously working on in 2002 though, honestly, the story has roots back to a character profile I created in a writing course at Purdue University in 1977.

Purdue-University Fall

For the next year what was left of my personal life pretty much fell apart. I experienced the worst parts of economic demise and personal embarrassment. I was essentially homeless by choice doing some couch surfing among my relatives. One can only do that for so long. The experience afforded me some time to finish revisions. One of the last things I worked on was Fried Windows. I wanted to submit the initial short story to a magazine. I always believed the story was good enough to be published somewhere.

A friend who lives a short train ride away from Toronto consented to editing the piece for me. Afterwards, I figured it was in pretty good shape for critical scrutiny. So, I submitted it, sincerely expecting that it would be published. My next concern was having something to submit as a follow up, envisioning the sixteen original stories as installments that the magazine would want after all the positive feedback they would receive my first short story. Yeah, I live in my own world a lot.

elgonwilliams-workspace

While revising the pieces I found some continuity of story line. I wrote a couple of bridging pieces and what was a collection of short stories took shape as a novel – one starting with chapter three of the present book because, after all, the first two chapters were a short story that I expected fully to be published in a magazine.

The same day the rejection notification from the magazine came I finished revisions to what had grown into a twenty-eight-chapter novel. The story connected well into the overall Brent Woods universe of my other unpublished fiction ventures. I was disappointed, of course, but at the same time elated because now I had an excuse to include the short story that began it all as the first two chapters of the book. I repackaged it, renumbered the chapters and prepared it for self-publishing.

In the background I had been working on building a fan base through social media. Part of that was building up my Facebook and Twitter following. Already I had many friends who were authors and some who were publicists and small publishers as well as a couple of smaller houses with affiliations with the major publishers. Those were not really great connections for getting a book published but you start with what you have. Also, I had been seeking a literary agent for the past three or four years, discovering that finding a good one was probably the only thing harder than landing a publishing contract with one of majors which is something more difficult the gaining admission into an Ivy League school.

Somewhere in the few moments between finishing the revision of Fried Windows and setting it up for eBook publishing I receive a tweet from a small publisher based in my favorite city, Austin, asking for new manuscripts. The name of the house intrigued me enough to check them out. In the process I discovered they were a traditional publisher with a very different mission statement that focused on building author brand rather than selling books alone. Deciding that I liked their ideas for growing their business, I read and followed the submission guidelines and reformatted my manuscript accordingly. I sent it to them instead of self-publishing it. I figured I could wait a few weeks for the rejection I’d come to expect. In the meanwhile I could move on to other projects.

There’s a funny thing that happens in most author’s lives surrounding rejection. Eventually you do grow numb to it. You warp the universe around you to actually set a goal of receiving the maximum number or rejections possible for any submission. It makes sense in a way. If you try every avenue you might find that one yes. You get to the point that when you don’t receive another rejection letter to add to your growing collection you’re almost pissed-off. But then, in the next moment of disbelief, you re-read the acceptance letter as the surprise turns more toward suspicion that 1) you must have read the thing wrong or 2) there must be some catch – start looking for the fine print. Paraphrasing the immortal Grocho Marx, you wonder if you want to belong to any club that would have someone like you as a member. You’re so accustomed to hearing that your baby is ugly you disbelieve that anyone could actually like it. Even more surreal was that it had been less than two weeks from submission to acceptance. That’s unheard of in an industry that routinely takes a week to decide to get around to thinking about doing anything and several months to actual years to finally produce a novel. So, I remained guardedly optimistic going into a conference call regarding the acquisition of my book.

IMG_0233

Although I had experience in self-publishing I didn’t have good results. The failure was not necessarily the quality of the material but the lack of promotion behind my releases. After all I was still growing my network of followers and establishing my author’s brand. That takes time. I didn’t lack from material to publish, though. At that point, I had twenty manuscripts ready to go. It was just that when I was working sixty to seventy hours a week. I had plenty of excuses for why I didn’t have the time or energy to put forth in becoming successful. I had been stuck in the trying stage of reaching my goal for so long I had grown roots and settled comfortably in obscurity. With the successful negotiation and signing of a publishing contract all that ended. Someone else believed in one of my books. Together we were going to embark on a journey toward producing a novel. A publisher was committing to provide professional editing, cover design and marketing. And so, the long journey of taking a raw manuscript through to a finished novel began.

final color pandamoon logo-2

Fried Windows (In A Light White Sauce) launches May 30, 2014 from Pandamoon Publishing. Sharing the dream begins then.