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Not Enough: Four Reasons why I Can’t be Satisfied with Self-Publication.

Posted in Writing with tags , , , on September 27, 2016 by Jessica Crichton

“Why waste your time and energy on querying when you can self-publish?”

It’s a question I’ve grown used to over the years as I’ve posted on Facebook about my querying adventures… which always end in seemingly-obligatory rejection.  Because they love me, fellow writers, family, and friends all want to know the same thing:

“Why do this to yourself?” they ask. “It’s the digital age! You don’t have to deal with agents and publishers anymore!”

Actually, yes: I do. But it’s not always easy to explain why. After all, many writers have found great success in self-publishing, and it’s no longer a huge no-no even among the well-read.

Heck, I actually have self-published, even writing quite a few blog posts about my adventures. In fact, my self-publishing career has spanned longer than most know, as my very first self-publication came out way back in 1998: a story called The Veiling Society, which I wrote as a sophomore in high school (and — warning — reads like it). When print on demand came out, I was shocked and ecstatic, and jumped on the opportunity to show my stuff with Song of Spirit, and of course the “Guts & Glory” books.

But over the years I’ve found I have a few problems with the whole thing that I cannot shake. Maybe others have felt the same, I don’t know. But with so many asking the question, I feel the answer needs to be given in a detailed, rational way. So here goes: four reasons why I can’t be satisfied with self-publication.

1) I SUCK at Sales

Thirsty glasses looking for water on the desert.

Seriously. I couldn’t sell a glass of water in the desert. (I’d end up giving it away; people need to drink!) For this reason, my sales have never been anywhere near where they need to be in order for me to write full-time, and that is my goal. More than that, it’s my life’s dream. In order to make that work in self-publishing, I’d have to have a completely different personality — one that can sell — and I simply don’t.

There is one other way to sell enough books to make it viable — write a lot of them. The problem I have with that, to be perfectly blunt, is it’s simply not quality writing if I’m throwing out books every week like a machine. And I can’t put my name on something I’m not proud of.

2) I Write Kids’ Books

Thirsty glasses looking for water on the desert.

QUICK — think of a well-known children’s author whose stories are self-published.

Got nothing? Yeah, me too.

Most of the fellow writers who ask me about self-publication have one other thing in common: they write for adults and/or teenagers. And when it comes to publishing, their world is very different than my own.

Most self-published authors promote their work through social media and/or blogging. They can also go on small book tours, book groups and/or conventions where they can talk to their readers about the stories they both love.

My audience is a BIT harder to reach.

Children don’t read blogs, and while I can reach them through conventions, with a full-time job that has nothing to do with my writing, I honestly don’t have the money or time available to do as many as it would take to really get my name out there. Online, kids spend most of their time either on hugely corporate (AKA Disney) or educational websites, both of which are monitored and trusted by parents — and like Fort Knox to small-beans writers like me.

In order to reach my particular audience the way I need to, I have to have my books in libraries and schools.

School districts don’t trust self-published books (and as an educator myself I don’t blame them; there’s no regulation whatsoever and therefore no guarantee that the books are quality or even appropriate) and they don’t invite self-published authors to school visits, which are a huge source of revenue and promotion for kidlit authors. Unless one knows a librarian, public libraries aren’t much better.

In other words, if you write for kids, you’d better have a skeleton key of great magnitude in order to break through all of the doors between you and your readers. More often than not, that key is a big-five publisher.

3) I Still Need to Pay the Bills

Thirsty glasses looking for water on the desert.

I’m about to say something antithesis to many artists — including writers:

Money matters.

And self-publishing doesn’t make most people much money at all.

Now, I’m not talking about making billions of dollars. While that would be nice, it’s not really a huge item on my list. But what I DO want is to write… while keeping my electricity on. To write… while feeding my kids. To write… preferably under a roof of some kind.

Many of the writers who ask me about self-publishing are self-supporting. They either make enough from their books to pay the bills, are married to someone who pays the bills, or are content with writing on the side while they… pay the bills. I could go into this subject in an entirely different blog post, and maybe I will sometime, but for now I’ll leave it at this: in the end, I still need to pay the bills.

4) It’s Simply Not My Goal

Thirsty glasses looking for water on the desert.

When people ask me how long I’ve been writing, I honestly can’t tell them. Writing for my whole life is impossible, of course, but for as long as I can remember I’ve told stories, and for almost that long I’ve dreamed of a career in writing.

Not a hobby. Not a small business. A career.

For me, that means book tours and big name publishers. Children all over the world reading and talking about my books. And my biggest bucket list item: a Newberry Award.

Self-publishing has taught me a lot, and certainly by way of conventions opened up a wider gate into the publishing world than I had access to before, but it’s not my end goal. It never has been.

To be honest, it simply will never be good enough for me.

My goals have not changed: Scholastic or Penguin publication. Newberry Award-winner before I die. I have wanted these things for as long as I can remember. I still want them. I don’t see that ever changing.

I hope this helps, and that those of you who choose to self-publish aren’t offended. Some people are happy self-publishing. There are a lot of pros to it, for sure. It’s just not for me. How about you?

Finally! A Simple Synopsis Generator!

Posted in Literature, Publication, Publishing, Writing with tags , , , on October 16, 2015 by Jessica Crichton

We’ve all struggled with it — the dreaded synopsis. I, personally, have such trouble with them because I tend to make my plots too complicated. Erm… well… convoluted is probably a better word.

ANYway, so most of you know I teach college composition. In the advanced comp class, I teach Toulmin’s Model of Argumentation. It’s a fill-in-the-blank, simple way to form a simple academic argument that’s easy to defend with reputable sources. I taught it last night for the millionth time, and on my way home from class I started to think: what if Toulmin’s Model was implemented for a fiction plot instead of an academic argument?

It’s now 6:30 AM, and after a full night of work, I have a synopsis generator that has worked, in the most simple form, for every story plot I’ve thrown at it… including my own. You can choose between a character-driven or plot-driven story. Try it out and let me know what you think in the comments!

 

I’m pretty happy with my own results… even if it doesn’t really resemble Toulmin anymore. 🙂

Click Here to Download: PlotGenerator2015

Jessi’s Five Simpl(ified) Steps to Signing with a Big-Name Publishing House

Posted in Publishing, Writing with tags , , , , , , , on May 30, 2013 by Jessica Crichton

I’m at the end of my eight-week wait to hear back from the uber-awesome-this-could-change-my-life agency about Dr. Fixit’s Malicious Machine. Monday will mark the first day I can nudge them according to their website, and each day that goes by has my gut in a tighter vice, as they could literally answer any moment.

If you’ve been there you know that right about now, my sanity is about to implode.

So to try and distract myself from the inbox, I’m writing a quick guide to trade publishing for new writers. If you’re wondering about self-publishing (AKA independent publishing), I’ve written a bit  about that, too. Just click here. 😉

And now, without further ado…

Jessi’s Five Simpl(ified) Steps to Signing  with a Big-Name Publishing House

  1. Write a book.
    Just that. You have an idea for a story? Then write it. That’s really all there is to it for now. Spend as much time as you need to get that story down. Period.
  2. Edit the book.
    Edit. Please edit. Pretty-please edit. Agents and publishers all over will thank you. Plus, without this step there’s really no point in going any further. Trust me on this.
  3. Write a Query Letter.
    This is a query. This is NOT a query. Don’t get them mixed-up.
  4. Send the Query Letter.
    Bur first, research the agents. Make sure they actually want to read what you wrote, and learn how they want to read it. Then, and only then, send them your query letter.
  5. Wait.
    This is pretty much the entirety of writing. Especially at first. Learn to wait.

Website Overhaul!

Posted in web design, Writing with tags , , on May 4, 2013 by Jessica Crichton

I’m excited about my new look. What about you? Let me know what you think right HERE! Thank you!

When Your Darlings are Habitual

Posted in Books, Literature, Publishing, Writing with tags , , , , , , on October 16, 2012 by Jessica Crichton

Hi.

How ya doin’? Good? Good. I don’t know what it is about Autumn that makes me want to blog, but I feel it in the air. And today I’ve come up with the perfect subject:

Commas.

I have found that I have been using them entirely too much lately. I don’t even know why, or where the change came from. I certainly didn’t used to use commas as if they’re going to disappear from existence at any moment. I’m trying not to do so in this blog, so maybe it won’t be noticeable here, (ugh! Or maybe it will!), but for some reason that is escaping me right now, it’s a habit I have formed somewhere along the way of which I was NOT aware. Maybe it has to do with writing LONG sentences for grad papers? Or maybe too much studying of those classic authors (*coughSwiftcough*) who used commas more often than breaths?

Maybe.

My point is, it’s become habitual for me to comma everything to death, and it’s annoying the crap out of me. But every time I go to get rid of the excess commas, I have a good reason for them being there.

Every. Time.

See? Look at that paragraph above. (Not the short one. The one above it. There ya go!) I know I could delete the second comma and not have any issues, but then the little voice inside says, “what if it’s confusing for people to read, having to read it in one mental breath and all?” So I think, “well, I can always make it two sentences…” Then my brain stops for a moment before completely imploding against the very thought of writing such short, clippy pieces of crap.

AARGHHH!

The old writer’s axiom of  “kill your darlings” can relate to many things, but what if those darlings are habitual, such as is the case with my current comma-frenzy? I am well aware, as a professional writer, that this will not stand, and my final manuscripts and papers are certainly purged of them (often along with my hair… strange coincidence), but what do you do when your first drafts always have the same issues which you can’t seem to break?

What about you? What are your habitual darlings, and with what do you murder them in cold blood?

Update on “The Waiting Game”

Posted in Books, Publication, Publishing, Writing with tags , , , , on July 18, 2012 by Jessica Crichton

Hello all!

So, I just spent a few glorious days in the woods with my husband and a few awesome friends, after finally receiving a reply from the agent with whom I hope to work  on “Guts and Glory”. It was a good reply. NOT a rejection (and the angels sing HALLELUJAH!), but not an acceptance either. However, it came with what any writer worth anything to the art and profession of writing covets like their own offspring: professional-level constructive criticism. Yes, you read that right: he actually told me what was wrong, what to do about it, and asked to read my manuscript again once I’ve done it!

WOOHOO!

Now, an agent with the kind of client base that this guy has (100+ clients), and the history and clout in the profession that he has collected over the years, does not just tell a writer that he’ll read her manuscript again to be nice. He doesn’t have time for that. So, he really does love my book, and just needs a little more to be tweaked before he sells it!

I can tweak. Oh, yes. I can tweak like a… tweaker? No. That sounds wrong. Um… like someone who can tweak really well.

Moving on.

So during the camping trip (ah, and we return to whence we began), my husband and I did some brainstorming on the details that will make up the changes that need to be made.Thanks to him, we came up with some amazing new scenes, and a great new simplified way to end the book. (The main issue the agent and his readers had was that the ending was too complicated.) I’m so excited to write these scenes! Sometimes you just need to get out into the woods and sit around a campfire, you know? Still, I also have some major reworking of the overall trilogy plot and worldbuilding to do, in order for everything to work together in a simplified way. That means lots more notes and sketches and… MAN do I love what I do!

Oh, and just to let you know, I’m not just letting this agent change everything about my story because he’s an agent and I’m a drooling “I-wanna-be-published-Master” noob.  I do agree with the agent on the points he made. In fact, I already knew these were issues, but I second guessed myself. Never do that. If you’re a born writer (and if you are, you know it), then you have the instinct. Don’t doubt that instinct. I have learned that lesson, and just in time; I won’t be sending my manuscript back to the agent until all my doubts are alleviated, because he won’t offer to read it a third time. This is my chance, and I am taking it!

All this is to say that you should NEVER  give up! It’s right when things look the bleakest, that the light you need to follow can best be seen. Will this take more time and work? Of course. But I didn’t get into writing because I ever thought it would be easy.

Follow your passion. It can lead you to great places. I’ll keep you all updated as “Guts and Glory” makes its way through the traditional publishing rounds, even while I work on another series via self-publishing (more on that to come)!

Momnapping 2.0

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Kids, Middle Grade, Sci-Fi, Writing with tags , , , , , , , , on November 17, 2011 by Jessica Crichton

Chapter 1

An Insidious Momnapping

 

I don’t know what tipped me off that something wasn’t right. Maybe it was the toaster sprouting wings. Maybe it was the dinner plates hurling themselves straight at my face. Or maybe it was the guys in suits growing four extra robot legs out of nowhere.

Whatever. Something was definitely not right. I knew that much.

The guys in suits looked normal at first. They were sitting in the livingroom with Mom when Tab and I got home from school. They wore identical black sunglasses to go with their sleek black suits. Their hair was cut exactly the same, too. The only difference between them was that one had gray hair and the other had black.

“Go to your rooms,” Mom said before either of us had a chance to ask what was up. “I’ll call you when dinner…”

“We wish to speak with the children,” Black-Hair interrupted. His voice sounded weird, like my grandma’s old turntable music

“Yes. The children. The twins… must stay,” Gray-Hair said.

He nodded and I thought I heard his neck creak. I glanced at my sister. She gave me a look. She’d heard it too.

Nevermind what I said before. That was when I realized something was up.

“Gentlemen, the children do not need to be involved,” Mom said. “They…”

“They are involved,” Gray-Hair said. “More than you are, woman.”

Mom stiffened. I held my breath. These guys had no idea who they were messing with. Nobody talked to Mom like that. She was the toughest person I knew. Tough enough to kick my dad’s butt and throw him out forever when he beat me up. Tough enough to do the same thing to these two weird-ohs.

Tabitha glanced at me with a little smile. My twin sister was thinking the same thing.

But then Mom closed her eyes and took a deep breath.

She patted the couch. “Come sit by me.”

That was it. No telling the creaky men that they were jerks and yelling at them to get out of her house before she made them. No threats to call the cops. Nothing.

Tabitha and I looked at each-other with wide eyes. Suddenly, these guys seemed a lot scarier.

We sat by Mom on the couch. I pulled my legs up to be as far away from Gray-Hair as possible.

“Mom, what’s wrong?” Tab asked.

Mom just shook her head and pulled us close. She didn’t say anything. She held onto me like she was afraid I’d disappear.

“Children,” Black-Hair said, leaning close to us. He smiled, but it was a weird smile. It almost looked like it hurt him.

I liked his frown better.

“We are members of…” he thought for a moment, then nodded to himself. “CPS. Yes. Child Protective Services. We have come to take you away from this woman and keep you… safe.”

I looked up at Mom. Her lips were pursed. She glared at the men. But she still didn’t say anything.

My twin sister wasn’t so quiet.

“But… why?” Tabitha said. “Dad’s gone now. We’re already safe!”

Gray-Hair shook his head. More creaking. “Your mother is… wrong. She does not have what is… needed… to raise you… properly.”

I raised my eyebrow. “Properly?”

“Yes, properly,” Black-Hair said. His smile looked plastered on his face, like a sticker-grin. “Do you wish for the… definition… of the word?”

It was my turn to glare. Mom always said I got my temper from her. I hope so. I don’t want it to be from my dad. Either way, I’ve never been very good at staying calm.

“I know what properly means,” I said. “I’m not stupid. I happen to have a very big vocabulary for a fifth grader.”

The weird men looked at each-other, then back to me.

“Yes, you are very… smart… Trevor Tate,” he said. “This is why your mother cannot raise you…”

“Let me guess. Properly?” I said. “Let me give it to you straight, Mister Whoever-You-Are. Me and Tab aren’t going anywhere. This is our home and…”

Mom squeezed me. Before I had a chance to snap at her (I do that a lot when I’m mad), she whispered in my ear.

“Bacon.”

My eyes went wide. I looked back at the weird-ohs. Temper or no temper, I knew what “bacon” meant.

Not too long after Mom kicked my dad out, she set up a secret word for us to use to keep us safe. It was bacon. (It’s OK. I can tell you. We have a new word now anyway.) If anyone tried to pick us up from school or football practice or whatever, we were supposed to ask them for it. If they didn’t know it, Mom never sent them and we weren’t supposed to go with them.

No matter what.

Of course, Mom wasn’t using the word quite right, but I could tell what she meant anyway. These guys weren’t from CPS. They were strangers. Dangerous ones, too.

Tabitha looked at me funny. I mouthed “bacon” to her. She nodded, understanding right away.

Sometimes it’s good to be a twin.

I have to admit I have doubts about Tab and I. We’re so totally different that I have a hard time believing we’re even from the same parents, let alone twins. Tab’s popular and outgoing. I‘m… not. Tab’s all about science and logic. I’m a lot happier reading fantasy and science fiction stories. Tab loves a good mystery. I’d rather fight my way out of a problem. The only things we have in common are our brown hair and blue eyes. And our freckles. Those too. Mom’s a scientist, after all. I figure Tab and I are an experiment gone wrong and she just doesn’t want to break it to us.

Still, sometimes it does feel like we can read each-other’s minds. So maybe I’m wrong. Who knows.

The men stood up at the same time. Their creaks were louder, amplified double.

“You will come with us now… twins,” Gray-Hair said. Somehow he made the word ‘twins’ sound like a cuss word.

Me and Tab looked at Mom. She wouldn’t let them take us, would she? Her eyes were steely. Just like when she kicked Dad out. Just like that.

I smiled. No. She wouldn’t.

Then everything seemed to happen at once.

Mom stood up and pushed us behind her. “You’ll have to go through me first, SlaveBots!”

Black-Hair hissed. “So be it, woman.”

That’s when the weird-ohs grew legs from under their suit jackets. I swear. Legs! Not normal people legs either. Metal robot legs. Four of them each, all spidery and long. They grew all the way to the ground, then kept growing, lifting the guys so high off the floor that their heads brushed the ceiling.

Gray-Hair smiled again, only this time he opened his mouth. His teeth were metal too. And sharp.

I shuddered. “Mom, what..?”

“Shh!” she said. “No matter what happens …”

With screeching screams that sounded like the rustiest brakes ever, both SlaveBots lunged at us.

I was sure Mom was toast, but I guess she had a few more secrets to show us. She pulled a weird looking gun out from somewhere in her white lab coat and aimed it at the bots. It looked like a laser gun, only really old and fat. Like a tiny rusted blimp with a handle.

Blimp or not, the SlaveBots seemed to think it was dangerous. They hissed and jumped away from Mom, holding their hands in front of their faces like babies.

But before I had a chance to feel relieved, the kitchen door exploded inward. Every plate in the house came whizzing through the tattered hole like razor-sharp Frisbees. Mom grabbed us and pulled us down in front of the couch just before the plates smashed against the wall and through the livingroom window behind us.

Glass shattered everywhere. I looked up and saw the SlaveBots smiling again. Black-Hair shot a metal leg out and kicked Mom’s gun out of her hand. It sailed across the room to the ruined kitchen door just as the toaster flew through at us.

Yeah. I said the toaster.

It had grown tiny metallic wings but didn’t seem to know how to use them. It flew like I always thought a bumblebee should, heavy and slow, low to the ground, bumping into everything it passed.

It was so ridiculous looking I almost laughed. But then it started to shake. Its metal surface took on a red tinge. The shaking turned into shuddering. The tinge became a red glow.

I sucked in a breath. With each moment that passed the toaster was looking lees and less like a bumblebee and more and more like a…

… bomb.

Apparently Mom thought so too.  She pulled us to our feet just as the SlaveBots lunged again.

“Run!”

We didn’t have to be told twice. We took off through the broken glass towards the kitchen door, slipping easily under the SlaveBots’ gangly legs. I didn’t ask Tabitha if she knew the plan. I was a faster runner than her anyway. She’d follow me out the back door and to the neighbor’s…

I stopped dead just inside the kitchen. Tab ran into me.

“Hey!”

All I could do was point. My voice wouldn’t work.

It seemed every appliance in our kitchen had come to life. The blender walked along the counter on metallic legs that looked like miniatures of the SlaveBots’. The automatic can opener had grown wings like the toaster. It flew just about as well, too. That was lucky for us, since it was starting to redden and shake. The microwave hummed like a laser, glowing red on the inside…

I ducked just as its door flew open and it shot a sizzling red beam at us.

Tabitha screamed. I looked back and was relieved to see she had ducked, too.

“What do we do?” she said. “We’re trapped!”

I turned back towards the appliances just as the fridge started rising up on tank tracks.

“How the..?”

“Trev! Tab! Come on! Hurry!”

I looked towards the basement door. It was open a crack. My fourteen-year-old sister was peeking out of the dark slit. Her blonde hair fell over her face in ratty clumps. Her blue eyes were terrified.

My jaw dropped. None of us kids was allowed down there. The door was always locked. Mom kept the key.

“Emily? How..?”

“What are you waiting for, a written invitation? Come on!”

I grabbed Tabitha’s hand and pulled her along the wall. We were though the basement door faster than lightning.

Emily slammed it closed just before the house erupted in a fireball.

Please let me know what you think about this new first chapter of The Crows’ Nest, whether you have read the original or not. I will be finishing up the first five chapter rewrites soon and upload them as a new preview .pdfI will also be changing the inside pages of the paperback and let you all know when the new volume is available for purchase. ~ MM

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