Saturday, September 7, 2013

10 Things I've Learned Since Publishing My First Novel

I published The Color of Thunder almost nine months ago. After much research and debate, (only with myself because I'm incredibly talented when it comes to self-debate) I decided to self-publish with Xlibris. I sent my finished manuscript, cover art, author photo and bio off on December 8th and had a published book, beautiful and complete 10 days later. So, what have I learned since then? Honestly, a whole hell of a lot. Here is a list of ten of those things:

1. Being an author isn't nearly as solitary a profession as I once thought it was.
Unless you've decided to co-write, I admit, the actual creative process is definitely a solitary one. Before I became published I had no idea that there was such an amazing community of writer's out there. Authors are insanely cool people who want to succeed in their craft and who want other authors to succeed as well. I thought that as a self-published author, I would have to rely on only myself throughout this entire journey. This was definitely a case of having to learn through experience. I now know that I can lean on my comrades out there to help with beta-reading and for publicity and other countless resources. I also know that it’s a whole lot of fun to support other writers and I’m very honored to be a part of this wonderful, creative group. I see often times on Facebook where authors help plug a fellow author’s new book, and just a few days ago, my all-time favorite writer, James Lee Burke wrote a beautiful piece in memory of Elmore Leonard. We are a tight-knit, supportive group, and while about 98% of my interaction with my fellow writer's is online and I haven't actually 'met' them in person, I definitely consider them to be my friends and feel quite lucky to be able to do so.

2. Reviews are very important...and hard to get.
I now have 20 reviews on my amazon page. It took a long time to get that many and I'm pretty sure a large percentage of my family and friends may never speak to me again. When you are just beginning and are completely unknown, who else can you ask to read and review for you but those people to whom you are the closest? A heartfelt thank you to all of you who have read and reviewed for me. Oh, and here’s a head’s up; I’m diligently working on my second novel and I’ll apologize in advance because I will probably ask you to help me again after the first of the year.

3. There are ways to get reviews without endangering your personal relationships.
Now that I am a member of this awesome writing community, I have found other ways of getting reviews. Writers, more often than not, are also readers. We're also a pretty open-minded group of folks who have learned that you have to go after and ask for what you want. If you need a review, ask for one. It's surprising how willing other writers are to take on a reading project and to give an honest review in return. On the flip side, I have learned that sometimes it’s nice not to have to ask for reviews and have become very diligent about leaving my own reviews for books I have read, regardless whether the author is self-published or carried by a publishing house. I think back to all of the books I have ever read that I didn’t write reviews for and cringe knowing that every review counts, not just for a beginning author, but for those who are well known in the business.

4. rocks.
I've been a goodreads user for years. It started a while back when I was looking for fiction books to enhance my homeschooling history curriculum. I did a Google search and found a list of books on goodreads that helped me as a teacher. Because I'm an avid reader, I was ecstatic about this wonderful website full of nothing but books! Books I'd read and could talk about or recommend to other readers, titles of books I'd heard of but wanted to learn more about, favorite authors I followed almost religiously and new ones I had yet to discover. As a reader, this site was like a fairyland! When I became an author I realized that goodreads is an amazing resource for writers as well. Now I'm a member of a reviewing group and a beta-reading group on goodreads. I have an author page and have participated in a very successful give away for The Color of Thunder. Some people can't start their day without a cup of coffee. Mine kicks off only after a glance at my goodreads page.

5. Reading books in a genre you wouldn't normally read can be a wonderful thing.
When I became a member of the reviewing group on goodreads, I signed up because I needed reviews. In return for those reviews I was asked to read other novels and give reviews of my own. What books are read by each person are chosen by a group of moderators and the reviews are not reciprocal. It is a lot of work to keep the ball rolling, I’m sure, but the group is fantastic and the moderators are not only organized but seem to have a lot of fun with the process. Because it is my responsibility to read the books assigned to me, I have an obligation to read things I would not normally choose for myself. I haven’t liked every book I’ve read but I really did like several of them. It made me realize that there are a lot of really great books out there that I've been missing because I haven’t been as open minded about subject matter or genres as I could have been.

6. Taking the leap is worth the risk of failure.
I was so excited about publishing The Color of Thunder...until it was out of my hands and on online bookshelves everywhere and I realized people would actually be reading it and, more than likely, forming some pretty strong opinions about why it was good or bad. I recently entered a short story contest and got word back about a month ago that my piece had not made it into the final round. When I mentioned this at a meeting for my writing group this past week, my statement that I had entered but had lost was met with objection. One of my new found writing friends said, "You didn't lose. You won simply by writing the story and having the courage to enter it." I won't win every contest I enter, nor will every book I write experience glowing and positive feedback, but because I wasn’t too afraid to put myself out there, I can consider myself a success.

7. It takes however long it takes.
It took me a total of thirteen, almost fourteen years to complete The Color of Thunder. I was talking with my husband and sharing with him a very nice compliment I'd received from a reader about the character development in that book. I laughed and told my husband, "Well, when it takes you almost fourteen years to write a book, you really get to know those characters well." He reminded me that while I started the book nearly fourteen years ago, I hadn't worked on it steadily throughout that time. When it came down to it, the actual process took me about a year and a half which really isn't that long a time. The point is that writing is a creative process and it takes however long it takes. I think it's good to set goals. I have a goal for the second novel I'm writing and I'm going to try really hard to achieve it. Having goals is very important...but being self-published means that you set your own time frame. I have to be happy with my work. I’ll know when it's time to finish editing and let it go…and I will also, if I’m lucky, learn something new with each work I write.

8. The novel, (or primary piece you are working on) is important...but it's good to work on other projects as well.
I have written more since finishing The Color of Thunder than I did in the many years before the completion of that novel. Once the manuscript was handed over to the publisher I was then asked to write about writing the book. I was asked to fill out questionnaires and answer interview questions...and it was honestly a whole hell of a lot of fun. Two months after publishing I became a part of the Writer's Emporium. This is a writing group that meets at the library on the Vogelweh Army and Air Force Base. The librarian who runs the group and I had been friendly long before we ever started attending meetings. (As a long time homeschooler and an avid reader, I tend to make friends in a good portion of the libraries I visit.) She has challenged me to work on projects outside of my novel writing. In fact, one of the writing projects I did for this group wound up being the piece I entered in the aforementioned short story contest, and I've committed to NaNoWriMo this year with my fellow writing friends.

9. Not only is reading different genres a fun way to spend your time, but writing them can be beneficial, too.
My first two novels have had some pretty heavy subject matter in them. In The Color of Thunder I wrote about religion, the Civil Rights Movement and the loss of a child. Alabama Skye is a bit lighter. It definitely has a lot more humor in it but still, the story involves a murder, a hurricane and the effects of Alzheimer’s disease on the afflicted and that person’s family. The third book I plan to write, titled Red Beard and the Ravens, will be historical fiction about Frederick Barbarossa, a German king and emperor, and his wife, Beatrix. I’m playing with the idea of throwing in a bit of a ghost story with that one which will take me down a writing path I have not yet traveled. While I am very proud of what I’ve already written and excited about this future book, I do think it would be fun to lighten up a bit…perhaps go a little Janet Evanovich with my writing, or perhaps throw in a bit of MaryJanice Davidson. I have always been intrigued by Greek mythology and, after talking to my husband (who listens patiently and even enthusiastically about such things) I’ve decided that I may embark upon a trilogy of stories based on a fun (and a bit silly) idea that sprouted in my over active imagination about the goddess, Aphrodite. This ties back to plunging into other projects. I’m going to try to hammer out my 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo on this new novel idea in the month of November and see how it plays out. Barbarossa may have to move aside for a bit and allow Aphrodite to step up first.

10. It’s true what they say…the sky is the limit.

As a self-published writer, I truly have no boundaries. I can write about what I want to write about and write as much as I want. I don’t know what direction I want this to take me. I wrote and sent out a whole lot of queries years ago for my first novel. The book was a lot different back then and even carried a different title and ending. I still have the collection of rejection letters tucked away in a box in my office and, while that was very difficult for me, it was a step in the journey I’m glad I took. I may want to hop back on that train again, look for an agent and a publishing house. Then again, I may not. Being self-published is a pretty amazing ride, too. For now I will just continue to write. I will enter contests, read and write reviews and I will continue to publish as I have…and then what? Well, I don’t know. Honestly…the sky is the limit.