Friday, October 19, 2012

The path less traveled

When I told everyone that we were moving to the country in 2002 to grow our own food organically, they all looked at me with a puzzled expression, and then finally asked, "Did you grow up on a farm?" When I said no, they'd ask how I knew how to raise animals and do all the things I wanted to do. When I told them I'd read books, they'd ask, "Well, what if you make a mistake?" At the time, I didn't think we'd make any mistakes. It seemed pretty simply and straight-forward. But of course, we did make mistakes -- lots of them. Plenty of people have told me that they wouldn't have been surprised to see us turn tail and run back to the suburbs. But we kept going forward -- even after I realized that mistakes were inevitable.

Was I afraid of making more mistakes? Of course! But no one ever reaches their goals if they don't face their fears and push past them. I push past a variety of fears every day. Rarely do I speak in public and not feel like I'm going to throw up or pass out at some point either before or during the presentation. But I just keep talking. And every single time I step on an airplane to go somewhere, I see the plane crashing, but I get on that plane anyway and remind myself that statistically I'm more likely to die driving to the airport. I know other published authors who could take their careers to another level if they would push past their fears of public speaking or flying, but they don't do it.

We all love our comfort zone. That's why it is our comfort zone! And I certainly am not a stranger to taking the easy way out. I was reminded of that last month when I was at Monticello, speaking at the Heritage Harvest Festival. On Friday, I rode the shuttle bus back and forth between the visitor center and the mansion. On Saturday, the line for the bus was rather long, and it was a beautiful day, so I decided to walk up the mountain. I didn't get very far before I realized why the vast majority of people were taking the shuttle bus. Walking up a mountain is hard!

But it also presented me with some great opportunities. I was able to see beautiful flowers in the woods that no one on the bus would see. And I realized that it really boils down to this -- if you simply do what everyone else is doing, then your experience of life will be similar to everyone else. The path less traveled is usually more challenging, but it is not impossible.

When walking up the mountain at Monticello, there were benches along the path where I could sit down if I was tired. And in our day to day lives, we usually have opportunities to sit down, even if just for a few minutes, to catch our breath, reflect on where we've been, and look at where we're going. If you don't like what you see up ahead, whether it looks too hard, or the ultimate goal doesn't look good enough, you can turn back or take a different route. But one thing you must realize is that you are the one responsible for the journey, whether the sun is shining or the rain is falling or the wind is threatening to knock you down.

When we're faced with challenges, we may be tempted to give up or turn back, or we may increase our resolve to reach our goals. As my second book is being released, and I'm on contract writing my third, I'm also watching two very important people in my life dieing as I am going through my own change of life, which are all constant reminders of my mortality. And the voice in my head keeps telling me to hurry up! Life is the ultimate race, but few of us ever know when we're getting close to the finish line. I'm determined to continue stepping out of my comfort zone. I know where I want to go, and the path is not well traveled, but I'm okay with that. As Robert Frost said, "I took the road less traveled by, and that has made all the difference."

Thursday, September 13, 2012

On the road again ... to book signings

I just sent out more than half a dozen emails to bookstores that hosted a book signing for my first book, Homegrown and Handmade. Some of the emails went like this:
When we had a book signing at your store for my first book last year, we sold 21 copies, and I expect my new book to have similar appeal to readers.
But one went like this:
The signing at your store for my first book was scheduled at the last minute, and we didn't really have great media, so sales were disappointing.
Okay, "disappointing" is an understatement. I'm pretty sure it was one or zero books sold. There was another book signing where only two books were sold, but there was also one where 32 books were sold! What was the difference between the events?

It's all about marketing and media attention. Book signings should be planned at least six to eight weeks in advance, and you need as much media attention as you can possibly muster. Do not think for even a nanosecond that you will sit in a bookstore for a couple of hours and sell dozens of books to passersby who have never heard of you or your book before the moment they see you.

In addition to the bookstore's publicity efforts, you need to work to get at least one story written about you in the local newspaper. If you can snag a spot on a local television morning show, that is also great, but in my experience, newspaper stories net the largest number of attendees at signings. It makes sense when you think about it -- newspaper readers are readers; television viewers are not necessarily readers.

Another great strategy is to find a local group to sponsor your signing. A local sustainability organization publicized the signing where 32 books were sold. It should be fairly easy to figure out your market if you are writing non-fiction, but what if you're writing fiction? Where do you find a group of people who like to read romance, for example? How about other romance writers! Many cities have writer support groups, and people who write romance also like to read it. They would also enjoy listening to your story of publication.

And you will sell more books if you have a talk planned. Most people are more interested in hearing what you have to say, rather than just saying "hi" and having you sign their book. If they are going to take the time to go to a bookstore, you need to make it worth their time. Tell them about the writing process or what inspired you to write the book. If the book is autobiographical, tell them something that isn't in the book. Give them the chance to get to know you a little better.

Obviously my second email above did not end with a reminder of disappointing sales numbers. I went on to mention that many of my other book signings sold 20 to 30 copies with proper planning and media placement and that I was confident we could do as well if we scheduled another book signing with the store this year.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Is your writing good enough or better?

Deep within the "draft" section of my post list, I found this, which I wrote back at the end of January but didn't publish it to the world because I was afraid it wasn't very good. I'm still not sure that it is, but I decided to put it out there and see what everyone thinks.

Yesterday I finished the manuscript for Ecothrifty and emailed it to my publisher. On one hand, it was a great feeling. On the other hand, I knew it wasn't perfect, and deep down inside, I worried that it might be really terrible. In fact, in the email, I asked the editor to let me know as soon as possible if it didn't suck too badly.

While there are some people who get very upset about anyone editing their words, it seems that the real writers are far more worried that their writing is simply not good -- and all the editing in the world can't fix it. I think this might be the difference between a writer and someone who simply writes. If you think that you have perfectly expressed your ideas in a piece of writing and that no one should change a word, you don't really understand what it means to be a writer. A writer knows that even though you may have sweated and cried and lost sleep over your work, it still needs to be edited. There will be things that don't make sense to someone else. There will be things that should be re-arranged. There will be words that will seem out of place or out of character.

And that is the beauty of a great editor. She doesn't change things or make assumptions. She asks questions about what you intended to say. She lets you know when something doesn't work. She helps you to say what you really wanted to say. She is critical but fair and realistic. She doesn't let you get away with writing something that is simply "good enough." A good editor is worth her weight in gold.

But even the greatest editor can't fix something that really sucks. And a real writer knows that. And that is why we worry so much about whether our work is half decent. I know I'm in good company though. John Steinbeck complained in his diary about how he worried over The Grapes of Wrath, and J.K. Rowling used to call her sister crying when her latest Harry Potter book wasn't coming together the way she wanted. I can only imagine how unsympathetic her sister must have been after Rowling had become a huge success. But I also hope she was nice about it.

Even if the rest of the world loves our writing, we worry about it. Although that insecurity might drive everyone crazy -- writer and loved ones -- it is probably what made people like Steinbeck and Rowling such great writers. They refused to stop revising and rewriting until it was better than "good enough." They kept pushing themselves until it was really amazing.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The road to writing riches

A few years ago when I was teaching a freelance writing class at a local community college, a man came up to me during break. With a little grin on his face and speaking softly as if he were looking for insider information, he asked, "So, can you really make a lot of money doing this?"

Seeing articles like this one about an author who got a million-dollar deal for a diet book might lead some people to think that being an author is the road to riches. Uh, no, not really. Not even close. Actually, that isn't reality for about 99.9 percent of authors. I really don't know why the big publishers give advances like that. Are they really that scared that another publishing house is going to publish the book and make millions? Really?

In reality, a big publisher might pay the typical author an advance around $15,000 to $20,000, and if you're with a small publisher, it's around $3,000 to $5,000, so we are not getting rich. In fact, we're not even paying the bills unless we have a second job. "Advance" is short for "advance on royalties," so you have to "earn out" your advance before you ever see another penny of royalties. In other words, if you get a $5,000 advance, and you are getting a 10% royalty on the wholesale price of a $20 book, you will earn $1 on every book, which is 10% of wholesale, assuming wholesale is 50%. (Yes, this means the bookstore makes more money on the book than the author, but we already knew life wasn't fair.) That means that after 5,000 books are sold, you are now out of debt to the publisher -- your book has earned the $5,000 that they paid you before publication -- and now they will start sending you royalty checks twice a year on the books that are sold.

And how many copies do most books sell? That is pretty much impossible to answer, even with a ballpark figure. A first-time author's novel sells around 5,000 copies, but could sell tens of thousands. When it comes to non-fiction, you can't provide any type of meaningful number because it varies wildly by genre -- and yeah, diet books tend to sell very well, along with books telling people how to get rich or find the secret of success. But some non-fiction books sell a thousand copies while other sell more than a hundred thousand or even a million. But you can see that unless a book sells at least 20,000 copies a year, you are not even above poverty level without a day job.

So, why do people write books? Because we love to write, and we love to share our knowledge or our stories with readers. I've been writing ever since I was a young girl. It is just something that I have to do, along with eating and breathing. If you're a writer, you understand this. But if you're not a writer, maybe there is something else that you absolutely love to do, and you would do it every day, even if no one paid you -- like playing the piano or drawing.

Although we may not be rolling in the dough, writers are enjoying a rich life. We may very well complain about the lack of financial riches, but at least we are doing something we really love.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Almost done!

I just finished reading the galley for EcoThrifty. It's so beautiful! If I sound like an expectant mother, that's because the experience is pretty similar -- at least mentally. (No morning sickness, thank heavens!) Seeing an electronic galley for your book is sort of like seeing an ultrasound of your baby. There it is on the screen, and you can hardly wait until you're actually holding it! Although it takes about as long to see a book concept come to life as it does to grow a baby, that's where the similarities end.

With a baby, you don't have any control over whether you get a boy or a girl, one with blue eyes or green, or one that grows up to be short or tall. With a book, you are responsible for how it turns out. You'll get the kudos if it's good, and you'll get the blame if anything is not so good. And that is where the angst comes in! You know that no one has ever written a perfect book, but that's the goal.

One thing that will never cease to amaze me about writing a book is how many mistakes there are in the galley, even though the author has read and revised multiples times, and a professional editor has read and edited multiple times. I can see why self-published books have a reputation for having a lot of typos and errors. While it may not be that hard to write a well crafted blog post or magazine article, there is a big difference between cranking out 1,000 words and 70,000 words! When reading the galleys, I made a point of getting up and walking away from the computer at the end of every chapter. Even then, I'm sure it is still easy for me to miss a mistake because I've read it so many times, I know what it says!

And while we're on the subject of self publishing, I'm not sure I'd ever do it because putting out a book requires a huge amount of work by many people. While I'm proofing the galleys, copies have also gone out to reviewers, potential endorsers, and someone to write the foreword. After corrections are made to the galley, another person will go over it with a fine tooth comb and make sure all of the corrections were made and no new ones were introduced into the text.

Between the time that I finished revising the manuscript and was waiting for the galleys, I wrote up a proposal for my next book, so I'm also waiting for my publisher to get back to me with a yea or nay on that subject. As I was writing EcoThrifty and promoting Homegrown & Handmade, I swore I would never again write one book while promoting another one, but I like the idea of having the books come out in the fall just in time for another Mother Earth News Fair. It's a great place to launch a new title with such an enthusiastic audience. If my proposed topic for book number three flies, however, I'm expecting it to be much easier to write than EcoThrifty, which required a ton of research! And a lot of that research wound up being edited out of the book. So in other words, I wasted a lot of time.

So, now my list of corrections will be sent back to the publisher, and I wait ... wait for the corrected version to come back to me and wait for feedback on the next book proposal. And in the meantime, I can get caught up on blogging and all those other things that have been pushed to the back burner.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Blurbs for Ecothrifty

I'm having a terrible time thinking of whom to ask for blurbs for Ecothrifty. Blurbs, or endorsements, are those quotes on the back cover of books from famous people who say how much they love your book. It was easy for Homegrown & Handmade -- just ask other people who've moved out to the country to live a more natural life, and there are plenty of them who've written books, so people will recognize their names. However, figuring out who likes saving money and doing the green thing is harder! Rich and famous people don't need to save money. Although there are plenty of celebrities who live greener lifestyles, they're about as hard to contact as hermits -- maybe harder.

So, if you can think of anyone who is into greener living and saving money and has a name that people might recognize, speak up! And if you also happen to know how to contact them, you get extra points!

And if you haven't already "liked" it, head on over to Facebook and check out the Ecothrifty page!

Friday, May 25, 2012

There's good news -- and bad

My writing life seemed to be going extremely well about a month ago. I was notified that Homegrown and Handmade was a finalist in the Book of the Year competition held by Foreword, which is a publishing industry magazine. Then I received word that the book was going back to the presses for a second printing because the first 5,000 copies had almost sold out! And I heard that my second book would receive an endorsement from Mother Earth News! I felt like jumping up and down almost all day for a couple weeks.

Then the rug got yanked out from under me when I received a letter from someone claiming to have a trademark on the word that was to be the title of that book -- yes, the book that Mother Earth News had just endorsed, the book that was almost through the editing process, the book whose cover was already complete, the book that was already in my publisher's fall catalog, the book that was already on Amazon and other online sites for pre-order.

I won't bore you with all of the legal details, but in our increasingly global economy, this type of things should not come as a huge surprise. The man with the trademark on that word is from France, and although he only uses his trademark on a website that is in French, he decided to trademark the word in the U.S., Canada, and other countries. It never really crossed our minds that anyone would trademark a word that is being used on no less than 16,000 websites, according to Google.

The last two days have been a whirlwind of emails between myself and multiple people at the publishing house, trying to figure out what we should use for the new title. I voted for Ecothrifty, but there were some other possibilities on the table, and I even tossed out the question on Facebook to see what my friends thought, and Ecothrifty seemed to be the favorite there also, although there were a lot more possibilities suggested than I had ever dreamed of! Maybe I should ask people on Facebook to help me name my next book?

So, this afternoon the decision was cemented to use Ecothrifty as the new title. The editor has done a find/replace in the manuscript, and ecothrifty works perfectly in place of the old word. Ecothrifty has replaced the former word in the book's cover. Being about the same length as the previous title, it was easy to just replace the old word without needing to redesign the cover. If you don't look at the cover closely (on the right), you might not realize the title has changed.

Today I also sent the final copy of the manuscript back to the editor, and it will now be sent to the page designer who will turn it into a book. I should be kicking back with a glass of wine to celebrate, but instead, I'm scrambling to create a new Facebook page for the book with the new title, and I just replaced all of the old title info on this website. I suppose I should be relieved that this unpleasant chapter of my life seems to have ended, and I am, but I also have a dreadful headache, so maybe I'll just go to bed early tonight.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Is it writer's block?

I post on this particular blog so seldom that is it unlikely anyone has wondered why -- other than me! I remember saying once that I had writer's block when I was in college, but even then I think I realized that it was just an excuse. And I still think that "writer's block" is an excuse for someone who is simply avoiding writing for whatever reason. If you say you want to write, but you're not writing, do you know why?

I have a pretty good idea why I don't post on this blog very often, and it has nothing to do with writer's block. It has everything to do with worrying that no one wants to read whatever is on my mind that day. I've started nearly a dozen different blogs in my life, and I've managed to keep up with one religiously since 2006 -- my Antiquity Oaks blog, which chronicles my farm life. When I succeeded at that one and "failed" at so many others, I came to the conclusion that it had to do with passion. I was passionate about my life on the farm, and I couldn't wait to share it with my blog readers. And I do believe that passion plays a big part.

A writer's blog seemed like a great idea, but I'd always resisted it because I wasn't sure that anyone would want to read what I might write about writing or the writing life -- even though I was passionate about the subject. But after I got my first book published, I convinced myself that a writer's blog made sense. Now I'm not so sure. There have certainly been plenty of times that I've thought about posting on here, but I'd talk myself out of it. I'd tell myself something like No one wants to read that or People might think you're just full of yourself if you write that.

The simple truth is that most writers have a horrible fear that whatever they write is just terrible. And the more personal it is, the more you worry that a rejection of that writing is a personal rejection. A few months ago, Jenna Woginrich, author of Barnheart and Chick Days, blogged about how nervous she was talking about her personal homesteading journey at the Mother Earth News Fair last September. She said that she had no problem talking about chickens or sheep, but talking about herself was really tough. That's how I feel when it comes to writing about my writing life.

So, I'm going to try to get over that. I'm always saying that life is a journey, and we need to step out of comfort zone if we're ever going to get anywhere, so here goes!