Archive for Self-Publishing

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?

SpoCon 2013 Wrap-Up!

Posted in scifi conventions with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 12, 2013 by Jessica Crichton

So, SpoCon 2013 is officially over, and the world (okay, Spokane… whatever) laments the loss of con-dom for another year. BUT, the weekend was an amazing experience across the board, and it’s time for all the blogging nerds to recap! So here are the highlights of SpoCon 2013, from my own kidlit nerd’s point of view:

Friday

Getting up early is not a regular occurrence for me, but it was worth it on Friday morning! In the early morning hours (okay, so it was 9 AM, whatever), we slogged downtown to the DoubleTree Hotel half-asleep to set up our table:

BoothSpoCon2103

Here we see Echo in his native habitat (kinda), and my amazing husband and daughter dressed up in their Nil-ish best!

I had two panels to sit in on Friday while my awesome “crew” manned the table: Writing for the Youth Market, and World-Building: Transportation and Trade.

I have to be honest — the first panel was my very favorite of all. Not only was it on the best subject ever — kidlit — but I was on it with my friend, kidlit fantasy author Deby Fredericks, and ultra-uber-superstar author Brandon Sanderson! That was pretty awesome. PLUS, and this was a BIG bonus, I made a couple of new friends: YA fantasy and romance author Fallon Jones, and YA fantasy author Shelley Martin. Like me, both are local to the Spokane area, so I’m looking forward to getting to know them better. Check out their sites — they’re pretty amazing writers. 🙂 Anyway, there’s nothing like being on a panel with other awesome authors, talking about a subject I both love and am pretty knowledgeable in.

The second panel I was on with none other than the great C.J. Cherryh! Just her and me. So yeah, I was a bit nervous. But she was amazing (of course), and I learned more than a few new things about world building for my own books. Plus, I actually had some thoughts to contribute, which surprised me. I guess you learn a few things writing for over two decades, even if you do  write books that don’t generally utilize transportation and trade.

Unfortunately, I wound down pretty fast on Friday night. That tends to happen when you’re not used to waking up before noon. So we headed home as the con was winding up for the night with dances and geek parties. That, and I had to do an emergency run for colored ink so I could print more bookmarks for the weekend.

Note to self: next year, drink a LOT of Red Bull.

Saturday

It was more difficult to get out of bed on Saturday morning, but still totally worth it! I began the day with a reading of Dr. Fixit’s Malicious Machine (wherein I lost my geek card by not answering the laden swallow question correctly — I cry foul; never ask that question of a sleepy geek), then sat at my booth signing and talking about my book with a lot of great fellow geeks (YESSSS).

And then there was the epic cosplay! Here are just a few examples of the costumed awesomeness that passed my booth:

1 2 3 4 56

I was on another panel Saturday — World Building: Developing a Realistic City Scape. This was another panel to which I wasn’t sure I could contribute, but I ended up really enjoying it — especially the discussion of post-apocalyptic cities, which I led. I also met a couple more new friends — fantasy author Jane Fancher and her house elf Wiishu (who is adorable). Fallon Jones was again on this panel with me.

Saturday I stayed up late, manning the booth while Mike (my husband) and Emily (my daughter) gamed in the gamer’s room until midnight. The masquerade ball and dance were both on Saturday, in the ballroom right next to my booth, so I had some great music to listen to while I signed my books. Two Monster drinks and a few trips to the Godsend of a food-stocked green room kept me awake, but then Emily got really hungry after the green room was closed, so we packed up and took off for home and bed, ending day two.

Sunday

Sunday was both the most exhausting day of the entire con, and the absolute best! Waking up on Sunday morning was akin to forcing ones-self to climb out of a tar pit with fifty-pound weights on one’s eyelids, but I did it. Because… again… it was worth it!

I had my last panel on Sunday — Writer’s Challenge: Design a System of Governance, again with my friend Deby. The challenge, I am sad to say, was not met. The panel ended up discussing real-world politics for the most part, until I broke in to remind everyone that we were discussing politics in fiction. After that we discussed fiction, but never did actually create a fictional system of governance. Still, it was  fun, and I learned a lot about the place of government in science fiction. As a kidlit writer I don’t use government much in my stories, but it will help a lot when I start writing Rise of The Nefarious Numbots. Score!

Then my crew and I went off to The Tournament of Crews to test our mettle on the Artemis Bridge Simulator, a game with six consoles hooked together to form the bridge crew of a Star Trek-style spaceship. My daughter Emily was our captain and science officer, I was the helmsman (which means, for you non-geek types, that I flew the ship — YESSSS), and my husband Mike was on tactical (AKA weapons). We had another crewmember but I never did get his name, sadly. We did pretty well, working together to take out alien scum and protect our four space stations (okay, so only one survived — whatever), scoring 85 in the end, which was higher than the con staff! YES! We didn’t win high score, but we DID win best dressed crew, which I would like to credit on my own Nil-based cosplay . 😉

It was also on Sunday that I sold Song of Spirit to the magical, mystical Fairy Princess Lolly. I’m pretty excited to see what she thinks of it! 🙂

As Sunday wound down and the other booths were being packed up, I felt a wave of sadness. The con was so much fun, I didn’t want it to end. Then the intrepid Tim Martin, without whom the con would not have been near as much fun for me, approached me with an invitation — the pros were going out to dinner as a wrap-up, and would I like to join them?

Um… YES?

So Mike, Emily and I went out to dinner with Tim, Brandon, C.J., Jane, Wiishu, and a bevy of other awesome writers and geeks, then after THAT, we joined them back at the hotel for an after party! What a great way to wrap up an amazing con weekend!

I’ll definitely be at SpoCon 2014. This time without a booth. Instead, I’ll be selling my books through the Marmot Market — the con’s official store — and focus on more panels and readings. Mike and I will also be working through the year with the con creators as official members of the con staff, bringing our own strengths to the table to help make next year even better!

All that is to say, if you can make it to SpoCon 2014, DO! You will NOT regret it!

ETA: Frog and Esther Jones were also amazing! I keep forgetting people and things, there was SO much there!

More on Self-Publishing: Chapter PLEASEFORTHELOVEOFGOD, EDIT!

Posted in Self-publishing, Writing with tags , , on May 27, 2013 by Jessica Crichton

The other day I wrote a post called “The Self-Publishing Myth”. For those interested, it can be found here. It turned out to be quite a  popular post, which of course made me happy. That said, when I re-read it to myself I realized that I accidentally downplayed something pretty important — editing.

Here’s the insidious thing about self-publishing — anyone can do it. Now I’m all for inclusion and caring about my fellow humans and supporting dreams and all that rot. I really, truly am. But just because you can self-publish, doesn’t mean you should. At least not right away. And I very much hope that my previous post didn’t give you the impression that self-publishing is an easy-in to trade publishing, because it’s not. Whether your story is in manuscript form or book form, no agent is going to be at all interested in shoddy work. In fact, a shoddy manuscript might get a once-over if you’re lucky, but a shoddy self-published book? Not a chance.

When I’m asked how long it took to write Dr. Fixit, I always give an answer that surprises people: It took me about six months to write the story… and three years to edit it. And even now, the finished version has small, aggravating mistakes that I am still finding (which is why I would love to work with a professional editor, hint, hint). Most of my editing was storyline-based, as I’ve been diligently working on planning ahead for a while now to avoid sticky knots of oxi-morons and redundancies, so three years of editing is a bit long. That said, you still need to go over your entire manuscript at least four times yourself, then give it to others to help you find mistakes you’re too close (or cross-eyed by then), to see. Then go over it again. And, for good measure, again. Editing alone should take a minimum of six months of part-time work, or three months of full-time. And that’s the minimum.

There are far too many people out there who believe that editing is only for editors. “Why should I waste time fixing my work when an editor should do it for me?” is a very average complaint amongst the unpublished masses. Well, from one “unpublished” writer to my fellows, here’s why — because the job of an editor is not to take your rough draft and turn it into a best-seller. The job of an editor is to work with you to polish and sell the manuscript you have already perfected as much as you possibly can. This is your work. Nobody is going to see what you see in it until you make them see. You can describe a grand painting all you want, but don’t expect someone else to paint it and give you all the credit for the idea.

Also, if you’re still in the querying stage, whether you’re self-published or not, don’t do this. Just… don’t.

Writing is a profession. Be a professional. That is all.

The Self-Publishing Myth

Posted in Publication, Publishing, Self-publishing, Writing with tags , , , on May 22, 2013 by Jessica Crichton

gavin-self-publishing

Okay, I’m going to be perfectly honest here: There is one myth going around about self-publishing vs. trade-publishing that I am tired of reading. Seriously tired of it. So today I am going to give it to you straight:

No, self-publishing a book is NOT an automatic death-knell for any writer who wants to be trade published.

Yet AbsoluteWrite is still insisting that it is to anyone who asks, and most of the writers asking are brand-new to the game, so they willingly believe it. A large majority of established authors will also agree to this assertion if you ask them, and there are plenty of blogs and articles out there that continue to agree.

Now, this is mostly because it used to be true. I’ll freely admit that. But if you still believe this, you haven’t been paying attention at all. And if you are perpetuating it, you’re going down the wrong road… the road to the past.

I recently posted about an agency that has my full… for Dr. Fixit’s Malicious Machine. Yes, THAT Dr. Fixit. The one that’s been self-published and which I am selling right now. So what did I do? Did I conveniently leave that fact out of my query letter? Did I lie and tell them it wasn’t published? Did I somehow find a portal to a parallel universe where agencies don’t care about that? Is the agency even legit?

In short: kind of, no, no, and yes.

The original query to this agency did not mention my manuscript being self-published… because it wasn’t yet. Between the time I queried and received an answer, I made a gut-decision to self-publish for many reasons, none of which were easy. Then I got this full request, and was faced with a decision: ignore it and keep going with my own thing since it was obvious they wouldn’t want it anymore after finding out anyway, send the full without even mentioning the publishing (and attempt to erase all traces of its publication from the interwebs… yeah… sure), or… tell the truth.

I never once even considered the second option, but I’ll admit I thought long and hard about the first (except I wasn’t going to ignore it — that would be rude — I was going to write to them and apologize for self-publishing at least). Like so many other unpublished writers out there, I had done my share of research about self-publishing and found the same line spoken over and over again: “if you want to be really published, don’t do it yourself”. I knew from countless forums, blogs, and writing events, that no agent worth anything would ever ask for a manuscript that’s been self-published (unless it’s sold HUGE numbers anyway).

But this wasn’t just any agency. This was a major agency. In fact, it’s the tip-top of my choices. It’s so prestigious that I only queried them on the off-chance that maybe they’d say no to me nicely. Seriously. It was a crap-shoot.

And then they requested a full.

In the end, what choice did I even have? And what did I really have to lose? I sent the full, along with a short message that it had since been self-published.

Less than a week later I got a short reply, thanking me for letting them know, and telling me they were looking forward to reading it and would get back to me with their thoughts asap.

I. Was. FLOORED.

In one very short email, everything I knew about self-publishing vs. trade was obliterated. They still wanted to look at it? How? WHY? I was happy, for sure! But I was also very confused. How could all of those writers and other publishing professionals be wrong?

That night, I Googled for all I was worth. Here’s what I found:

According to Forbes, more and more literary agents are opening their doors to self-published writers. More and more authors, too, are finding a new way of querying by self-publishing. And PBS reports that some agents are even taking on self-published authors as their consultants.

These are only a few examples of the up-and-coming change in attitude, but you get the idea. Are all agents willing to look at a self-published book? No, of course not. But some are, and that number is growing. As it is with everything else digital, from e-mail queries, to e-book publishing, to online platform building, the savviest agents are changing with the times. Self-publishing might not be the wave of the future for all books (and in fact I don’t want it to be — there are still far too many self-published writers who don’t know the difference between editing and a blank page), but it is becoming a phenomenon that the trade publishing world can no longer ignore.

I don’t know yet what the verdict is for Dr. Fixit, but the agency has had it for seven weeks and counting now, since that initial confirmation e-mail. The website says that they reply within eight weeks, so I haven’t nudged, and I’m not planning to. At least not right now. Am I nervous? Duh. Are some days so long with the waiting that they feel like they’ll never end? Sure. But one thing every writer worth that title has to learn is patience.

Or, at least the semblance of it. 😉

One thing is for certain, though: when I hear back from them, I’ll let you know. Whether it’s a rejection, an R&R, or (holy grail of holies), an offer, I’ll post it. And you will be impressed by this agency. They have undeniable clout. And they don’t care that my book has been self-published.

Let that sink in a bit, then do your own research. Listen to your gut. Edit, edit, EDIT. Then make the choice that’s right for YOU. The future offers more forks in the road to publication than we have ever seen before. Maybe yours is a new way, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad one.

I’m Gonna be on the Radio! (Take Two… er… Three!)

Posted in Books, Family, Publishing, Self-publishing, Writing with tags , , , , , , , on May 15, 2013 by Jessica Crichton

Spokast-Logo-Generic

Some of you may remember way back when I was a guest on Miraj’s Metaphysical Madness, talking about my middle grade kids’ fantasy series “The Elementals”, and its first book, Song of Spirit (which is now available to read online. ;-)). Then I got to guest on the morning show I grew up listening to (“The Breakfast Boys” on ZZU, which is now called “Dave, Ken and Molly in the Morning”), talking about my middle grade science fiction book, Dr. Fixit’s Malicious Machine. And that was so great, even if I can’t give you a fancy link to that particular archive, seeing as it doesn’t exist (poo).

Well it’s happening again! I swear, I never thought I’d be writing a blog inviting you to listen to my THIRD radio interview. I’m giddy!

EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!

*Ahem*

ANYway, so this time it’s a local podcast called SPOKAST. Just like Miraj’s Metaphysical Madness, SPOKAST is online! So you can listen no matter where you are. MAN I love technology (sometimes). Anyway, so here’s the pertinent info already:

Live Stream: http://spokast.podbean.com/2013/05/16/036-hey-kids-jessi-the-writer/

From Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Spokast?fref=ts

You can always return to those links to listen to the archive at any time.  And, as always, thank you for your amazing support!

My Top Five Reasons for Self-Publishing

Posted in Publication, Publishing, Self-publishing, Uncategorized, Writing with tags , , on February 21, 2013 by Jessica Crichton

There seems to be a general attitude among many (read: not all), in the professional writing community that those authors who self-publish are “giving up”, “lazy”, or simply “not talented enough to make it in the real publishing world”. Miraculously, none of these reasons came into play when I made my particular decision on the matter, and this got me thinking: what if these scoffing writers  are just misinformed?

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am well aware there are many self-published books out there that make us all look bad, and self-publishing certainly doesn’t automatically turn a writer into a Newberry-Award-winning-genius. That said, there are some very compelling, legitimate, and yes, even professional reasons why serious writers are taking their publication into their own hands these days. I can’t speak for everyone, but for this SCBWI member and Master’s student of literature and writing who has been putting pen to paper for over two decades, I can assure you that my own reasons were quite  sound:

5) People wanted my book. 

Not a million people, of course, but I did have fans who were sad to find that not only couldn’t they read my next book, I couldn’t even tell them when it would be possible to do so.

This is not good for one’s career.

Anyone who has had any kind of experience in this field knows that it’s not easy to accumulate initial readership, so the very last thing you want to do when you gain readers is to alienate them. Can we say death-knell?

Of course, not everyone has readers beyond their family and friends (who will usually understand if it takes some time), and even I don’t have quite a large enough fanbase for that to be the one and only reason I chose to self-publish…

4) I wanted my book.

I’m not going to pretend here. I wanted my book. I wanted to hold it, feel it, and yes, smell it. Maybe it’s not the most professional reason on my list, but there you have it. I, too, am human.

3) Having a paper-and-ink book is a great way to advertise.

Blog tours are a blast… as long as you have a book to promote. Similarly, talking to bookstores about doing a reading is a lot easier when you actually have a  book to read from. When you’re a writer, you really need physical proof of your art. Poets have chapbooks. Journalists have magazine articles.

I’m a novelist. I need a novel.

Still, I have self-published before. So why did I have to do it again?

2) Three and a half years of work deserves closure.

“Guts and Glory” was awakened in me as I was falling asleep one night in 2008. Since then, I have written five versions of the same story,  had countless scenes critiqued and criticized, had the whole thing workshopped, received advice and compliments from two New York editors and their readers, and edited and revised so much that it’s made me dizzy (literally, at times).

I have also been rejected by agents and editors. A lot.

Now,  I know this is all part of being a writer. I’m not at all complaining — it’s to be expected, and I had years before “Guts and Glory” of the same. You kind of get used to it… mostly. However, I came to the conclusion that the story I worked so hard on for so long would never see the light of day if I didn’t do something about it… and after all that hard work, I wasn’t about to just let it die.

That may sound like quitter talk to you, but remember — I’m a professional. That means that I didn’t come to this conclusion lightly. The fact of the matter is…

1) The Market Rules All

In the end, this is the number one reason I chose to self-publish. Above wanting to see my book in print, above rejection and hard work and hope, I had to self-publish because the market wasn’t going to allow my book to be read any other way.  How do I know this?

Simple: the industry told me.

See, when you get nice, personalized rejections from agents and editors, it’s usually a good sign that you’re headed in the right direction. Just a little more tweaking, a bit more editing, and your masterpiece will be accepted! But my personalized rejections were a little different. Comments like, “this is a phenomenal story, but we can’t accept it at this time”, and “I absolutely love your voice and energy, but this story isn’t for me”, mixed in with sometimes paragraphs-long replies of the same, told me that my problem wasn’t the story. It wasn’t my voice, or my characters, or any other in-text reason a writer gets rejected. Everyone loved all of that. So why was there a problem?

I turned to some of my published writer friends, who confirmed my worst fear — the 2013-14 market was already flooded with dystopian science fiction.

My book, if accepted by a publisher, wouldn’t be out until 2014-2015 at the earliest. They thought my story was awesome. They felt that my characters were great. But by the time a trade publisher got to it, nobody would care anymore. That is a problem that only has two solutions: give up over three years of hard work and dedication… or get it out now, when the genre is still hot, all by myself.

As you can see, it really wasn’t a choice at all.

As I said, I can’t speak for all self-published writers. But for me, it was neither an easy choice, nor a rash one. As for future series? You bet I’m going right back to querying and editing.

After all, I haven’t reached my personal goal yet. Someday, I will write for Scholastic. 😉

Overhaulin’

Posted in Books, Publication, Publishing, Self-publishing, Writing with tags , , , , on November 10, 2012 by Jessica Crichton

So, you may have noticed a few changes going on around here. Don’t worry. It’s just a bit of site overhauling I’ve been doing in order to streamline my dual publishing careers.

I will continue to self-publish some titles under Morgan Marshall, including “The Elementals” series. But for “Guts and Glory” and any future trade publishing work I want to do, I will be using my real name of Jessica Rising.  For now, I have changed the site to reflect the Jessica Rising brand in order to better present myself and my work to agents and editors. The site will continue to change as my career on both sides progresses, depending on editor feedback, trade advertising, and independent sales, among other things. It is possible I will have to split it entirely, depending on how things go. I am willing to do so, if need be, but for now I believe this is still a good medium in which to discuss and promote both.

I don’t know exactly where my career will take me, but I am thankful you are all here for the ride, too! Thank you for your wonderful support!

John M. Cusick

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