My Self-Publishing Adventure: Stepping-Stones Day

Today I was thinking about all the things I have done over the last two months to gain a presence online, and I realized that my original point in working so hard in the first place has been almost lost in the craziness of my self-publication adventure. But in the end, after all is said and done, I still want to be published by a major house that can do the marketing and other annoying business stuff and let me just… write. Some writers might be good at self-promotion, and some of those might even enjoy it. But not me.

I want to write. That’s my ultimate goal. Just that.

So today is all about steps toward that ultimate goal, both the ones that I have taken (in green) and those I still have yet to do (in red). No two writers will take the exact same path to publication success, but this is mine, and if it can help you on your way as well, well, I’m all about that. So here we go. Beginning to end.

1) Write the manuscript.

  • This is a pretty obvious step. If you haven’t done this yet you really shouldn’t even be considering anything else. And if you don’t know how, take some creative writing classes. It should go without saying that both before and while writing your manuscript you should be planning it as well — notes and character sketches and whatnot. I’ll probably write a blog about all that soon. I’ve spoken a bit on it, but not in detail yet. Sorry.

2) Edit the manuscript.

  • And edit. And edit. And edit some more. Seriously. It’ll probably never be good enough for you, but get it as close as you can. No publishing professional wants to bother with unedited nonsense… and they don’t have to so they won’t. The idea that a publisher can edit your work so you don’t have to is asinine. Not saying any of my awesome readers think that, but I’ve heard it. Often. Yes, they can and will edit your work. Once they have decided that you’re professional enough to bother with in the first place, anyway. And they don’t want to do more editing work than they should have to for polishing, which is their job. Yours is to get it as ready for that step as possible. If you can’t edit you shouldn’t try being a writer. Sorry if that sounds too harsh; it’s just how it is.

3) Build an Internet Presence.

  • This can be done while writing and editing your manuscript, and in fact it’s probably a good idea to do so as the longer you’re online on a daily basis before querying, the better. Unlike in literary days past, when you query an agent or an editor now they will look you up online to see who knows you and just how serious you are about your chosen career. They don’t want to see someone who’s attitude is that writing is a hobby they do when they’re not doing their real job. They want to see someone who is a writer, and whether you’re doing it part-time because you have to work elsewhere right now or not, you have to look like writing is your number one goal. After all, if you’re not serious about your work, why should they be? I’ve hit on some of the ways to build your presence online in past blogs, but here’s a short list:
  • Get a blog. This is so important, and I can’t believe I didn’t do it sooner myself. These days, if you say you’re a writer and don’t have a blog it’s akin to saying you’re a teacher and don’t have a class. If you’re a writer, you write, right? And a blog is a great place to show off your skill, as well as build a presence online that will tell everyone what you do. Get a blog. Period. I didn’t know what to write at first myself, but trust me… it does come to you. 🙂 And the best part is you can make your blog into your website with a domain and unique pages… just like I did! And nothing is more professional online than having your own website.
  • Get a Facebook fan page. Not a personal page. A fan page. There are differences that matter for a professional, and fan pages are free just like personal ones are. Also, you can link them to your personal page so that you don’t have to log in and out, out and in again between them.
  • Watch Your Personal Facebook Page. Your fan page will be linked to it, and agents and editors are far from stupid. One of the best ways to learn how someone really is is to read their personal Facebook wall… and agents/editors will. Look over your pictures and posts with a critical eye. Would you call any of it immature, offensive, or rude? Get rid of any “fishy-lip” or “gangsta” pics. It should also be obvious that you should be fully dressed in your pics. If that’s not obvious to you, you shouldn’t be looking for a professional career yet. Posts shouldn’t be full of profanity and/or negativity (unless you’re a poet… sometimes poets can get away with that since they’re considered emo anyway ;-)), and for the love of all that is good and pure, PLEASE make sure your posts read like they were written by someone who knows how to write! It doesn’t matter how perfect your manuscript is, if your Facebook posts are made up of netspeak and bad grammar, a publishing professional will write you off as unprofessional. Like it or not, your internet presence includes your entire presence… and that includes your personal persona.
  • Get a Twitter Account. I fought this one too. After all, I already have a Facebook page, why should I get another social networking page that entails less? Twitter is just posts… very short posts.. so what’s the point? The point, I found, is that Twitter is used a lot more for professional correspondence than Facebook is. On Twitter, you can send out Tweets to entire lists of people, both who you already follow and who you don’t, just by using hashtags in your post. For example, if I want to send a message to everyone who follows kidlit, I just have to post something like “Guts and Glory yay! #kidlit” and it’ll go to everyone who wants to see kidlit posts. I doubt I need to tell you how beneficial that can be.
  • Google+, etc. I’m still on the fence about Google+, watching to see if it’ll be big or not. So far it’s not, and Facebook has changed a lot of its features to match those that Google+ users have said they like, so it’s still up in the air whether this is a viable option or not. That said, this is a great example of watching the web to find where else you should be seen. If people use it to find literature, you should probably be there.
  • E-Mail. Get a professional e-mail address. Nothing screams unprofessional more than using your personal email for professional correspondence. Unless your personal email is your name and you don’t have a pseudonym. But even then, it’s a good idea to separate personal emails from professional ones for the sake of organization. Plus, you can give your professional email a “letterhead” signature.

4) Self-Publish.

  • I’ve said all along that I’m self-publishing in order to build my platform, but how does that work, exactly? Well, I realized pretty fast that nobody was going to care a whole lot about my online presence if they didn’t know who I was in the first place, nor would they care about my books or my characters. In order to care about any of that, readers have to read, and they have to have something TO read in the first place. Enter self-publication. Offering my book as a real book lends credence to me as a professional writer, and gives readers a way to decide if they like what I write or not. Not only that, but e-book publication offers a fast and easy way to give my book to anyone who wants to read it, including reviewers… which we are about to get to. Also, you can tell agents and editors in your query that your book has been self-published… if you have a good amount of sales anyway. Otherwise it doesn’t matter to them either way. (A “good” amount of sales is 20,000+, so I for one won’t be mentioning it.)

5) Advertise.

  • I’ve hit on this before, but it warrants repetition. There are many ways to advertise, even for the poorest of us, and it’s very important because when an agent/editor looks you up on Google or Ask or Bing or whatever you need to be on the first page of results. Advertising is the best way to do that. For me, a Google search for “Morgan Marshall” brings me up under images,  but the rest of the first page is other people and businesses. If you look up “Morgan Marshall Books or any derivative thereof”, however, I’m every page one result but two and those are near the bottom. This is because I have put myself on a lot of websites, including Facebook, Twitter and here (“Build an Internet Presence”), Smashwords and Createspace (“Self-Publish”), and writer’s groups and networks such as SCBWI and AbsoluteWrite. All these sites (save SCBWI which I have spoken of before), are free, and a form of advertising in and of themselves, but together… together they are an unstoppable force of SEO value (which means they get you up on search engines really well). Another great result that comes up for me is my interview and book trailer on The Children’s Book Review. This wasn’t free, but it’s been worth it, and your fee can be anywhere from $105 (which I paid) to free, depending on what you want on there. Speaking of reviews…

6) Get Reviewed.

  • I have yet to do this one as I’m still looking into my options. However I will be doing it, as reviews are a wonderful way to gain skeptical readers (which many are). Well good reviews anyway. Bad reviews can do the complete opposite. But you have to take that chance, and if you truly believe in your work and feel you are ready for this step, then it’s beyond worth it. The more reviews the better. I received an email from a group called Bostick Communications that offers distribution of your press release to over 20,000 reviewers in print and other media for $175. Of course, I looked into the viability of the business as you never want to give your money to a scam artist (especially if your budget, like mine, is miniscule at best). I found they are legitimate, so I’m considering it. That said, reviewers often want a free copy of your physical book which with postage can really add up depending on how many reviews you get. Some will take e-book format, and that can help a lot. Still, far from all of them are willing to accept anything but the real deal. So it might be best to send your press release manually, starting with the most high-profile reviewers and working your way down from there to lighten the load a bit. Of course, if you’re up to your eyeballs in copies of your own book, Bostick or a group like it might be the right course of action. I’m blessed to personally know a great reviewer who has offered to review The Crows’ Nest on PinkRayGun in about a week, so I’m excited about that! Knowing she likes it helps, too, of course. That, too.

4) Query.

  • I’ve halved this one for whether I’ve done it or not because I have queried more agents than I care to admit… and been rejected or ignored by all of them. Pfft. But I haven’t queried editors yet. Mostly this was because I didn’t think any editors actually took unsolicited queries no matter how many blogs and articles said otherwise, since my Writer’s Market is full of “no”s in that respect. But then, on a particularly difficult day of agent rejections, I received my “SCBWI Publication Guide” in the mail (many reasons to join a writer’s society *ahem*), and lo and behold, it listed tons of them! Why these publishers aren’t listed as accepting unsolicited queries in the Writer’s Market I don’t know. It may have something to do with being a SCBWI member in which case I’d strongly urge you to join. That said, I feel the need to support my fellow struggling writers by listing just a few of these “secret” editors who will, in fact, read your query even if you aren’t agented (though as I said you might have to be a SCBWI member). Please keep in mind that SCBWI is for children’s writers (unless otherwise stated, send full mss for picture books):
  • Boyds Mills Press: 815 Church Street Honesdale, PA 18431 / Publisher: Mary-Alice Moore / Editor: Larry Rosler / Query for novels, full mss for picture books. Snail mail only unless overseas.
  • Bloomsbury Children’s Books: 175 Fifth Ave, 8th Floor New York, NY 10010 / Publishing Director: Melanie Cecka / Editorial Director: Michelle Nagler / Editor: Margaret Miller / Queries must include synopsis and first few pages or chapters. Do not sent SASE and include phone number and/or email address in cover letter.
  • Holiday House: 425 Madison AveNew York, NY 10017 / President: John Briggs / VP and Editor-In-Chief: Grace Maccarone / Associate Editor: Pamela Glauber / Send full manuscript, no SASE.
  • Puffin Books: 345 Hudson St New York, NY 10014 / President and Publisher: Eileen Bishop Kreit / Editorial Director: Kristin Gilson / Query with outline and sample chapters. Include SASE.
  • Scholastic Press: 557 Broadway New York, NY10012 / President, Trade Publishing: Elanor Berger / VP and Editorial Director of Picture Books: David Saylor / VP and Editorial Director of MG and YA: David Levithan / Query for novels and nonfiction with sample chapters and outline.

In case you’re not sure how to query, I’m planning a blog on that subject in the near future. For now, however…

Writing a Query Letter

Writing a Cover Letter

Writing a Synopsis

Query Packages

5) Attend Conferences.

  • I haven’t attended a conference as an adult, though I did in middle school. All that will change this weekend, when I attend the SCBWI Northwest Regional Writer’s Conference. And I am so excited! I volunteered to work the conference as well, both because I genuinely want to contribute to my regional chapter and because volunteers are invited to an exclusive meet and greet the night before with the conference speakers which include agents and editors! SQUEEEE! I’m spending this week readying for it, which entails getting an outfit that doesn’t consist of jeans and a wife beater, ordering a professional set of business cards:

Aren’t they pretty? OK, so the scans don’t do them justice…

  • and readying my first few pages of Escape from Igh Schoo for a blind critique (which I’m a bit nervous about but I need to do anyway). I’ve already sent in the first ten pages of The Crows’ Nest for a one-on-one sit down critique and done half of my volunteer work, passing out fliers for the conference. The other half will be manning the front table that morning. Did I mention I was psyched? EEE! *Ahem* ANYway, so the reason conferences are so important is something I’ve mentioned a few times here already: one-on-one time with real agents and editors in person! Many of them only find their writers at conferences, and when you have time to talk to them, you have a lot better chance at impressing them with your ideas since conversations aren’t limited to a short one page query letter. Of course, the critiques are nice too, as they can really help you understand what works and what doesn’t for future queries. Conferences aren’t cheap, and often you have to travel, but I was amazed to find one in my own city and SCBWI gave me a scholarship to attend, so do some research before you write them off as too expensive. Just be sure you’re ready before you go. Dress professionally and carry business cards. Lots of business cards. You want anyone and everyone who asks for your contact information to get it in a professional and quick manner. After all, that’s a large part of the point, isn’t it? 😉

These are all very important steps to publication with a large house. Really, it all boils down to tenacity and professionalism. It takes time and hard work, but in the end you have to ask yourself: am I seri0us about this? If so, then be serious… or go home.

I hope that helped you in some small way. Now I have to go and set up a LinkedIn account…

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5 Responses to “My Self-Publishing Adventure: Stepping-Stones Day”

  1. Wow. You have your act together way more than I do. Good job!

  2. #2 (Edit) is my least favorite 🙂
    I just started a twitter account based on someone telling me that it is good for announcing new blogs, news, and great posts that you want to share.

    I started a blog to start an internet presence and it has morphed into my main motivator to write!

    • Yeah, I hate editing too. Pfft. But it’s important, so it has to be done. That said, I do wish I wasn’t right that publishers won’t just edit for you if they don’t know you. LOL My blog has morphed into a much more interesting experience than I expected, being a fiction writer and all. Overall it’s been a blast!

  3. Huh. The green isn’t working in some parts. What a pain…

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