The Dreaded Bad Review

I’ve been thinking about this post for awhile and have hesitated to write it. The thing is, this is a sensitive topic. It’s sensitive because there’s a line that should exist between authors and reviewers. Reviewers should never feel intimidated or bullied or pressured into giving anything except their honest opinion of a book. As an author, when you ask for an honest review, you should understand that’s what you’re going to get. And it’s not always sunshine and rainbows. Some people aren’t going to like your book. It’s simply the way of things. Welcome to authorhood, you’ve arrived.

That said, I strive to speak openly here about the emotional experience of this whole writing journey, and I feel I would be remiss if I didn’t speak on the extremely emotional experience of receiving a bad review. Before we begin, however, I want to emphasize this isn’t a “sub-blog post” or something of the sort. This isn’t a direct response to any particular bad review I’ve received and “bad” is pretty subjective anyway. I think we can universally acknowledge that a one-star review is bad, but I’ve seen authors who also struggle with four-star reviews. Authors, as a breed, tend to be perfectionists, and anything less than perfect can sting.

Your Book Isn’t Going to be for Everyone

The best thing about art is that it’s completely subjective. The worst thing about art is that it’s completely subjective. Some people are going to be on the same wave length as you. They’re going to “get” your work and love it. Others aren’t. That’s okay. It just means humanity is diverse and beautiful and lovely and we all have different likes and dislikes. It’s what makes us interesting. And messy. And glorious. It’s important to try and keep that in mind when the inevitable bad review comes knocking.

It’s really interesting to me to see the responses I’ve received on The Wheel Mages. Some people think my world building is great, the best part about my writing. Others think it’s confusing. Some people think my style is unique and refreshing. Others think it’s stilted. Some think my characters are well-developed and believable. Some people think they’re one-dimensional and unnatural feeling. Some people think I defy conventions. Others think I play into tropes. If I take a step back and look at it all laid out before me, the differences can be a beautiful thing. They prove what I already knew: that humans are marvelously complex beings with diverse interests and tastes.

Developing a Thick Skin is a Real Thing

So if you’re involved in the writing community at all you’re going to hear that you need a thick skin. I’m sure I’ve said it about a billion times. It’s true. Very, very, very true. This industry is not necessarily the kindest one that ever was. But then again, life doesn’t happen to be particularly kind, at least not 100% of the time. Developing a thick skin is important, but so is simply being able to build yourself boundaries.

For example, some authors don’t read reviews at all. I don’t have enough self control for this, but I’m a new author. Maybe after I’ve been through this half a dozen times I’ll be able to ignore reviews too. For now, I can’t. If you can, awesome. If you can’t (like me), be prepared. Remember to build yourself boundaries. It’s okay to not check every day for new reviews. It’s okay to know you’re in a bad place and couldn’t handle it if you got a bad one. Heck, it’s okay to have someone pre-screen them for you (if you have someone that generous). Taking care of yourself is important. You’re important, and you are more than your words. Just because someone didn’t like your book doesn’t mean they don’t like you (they don’t know you, likely). Even if your main character is a self-insert character and people say they hate her, it’s still not personal. <– This may have been for myself. Regardless, you are more than your words.

Let it Sting

This is the hardest part for me, and it’s the hardest advice to give. Because it does hurt. The first time I received a bad review of my published work (which is infinitely worse than receiving criticism of something you can fix, so unpublished writers, sorry to tell you, it doesn’t get better), I crawled into bed and didn’t emerge for 29 hours. I didn’t cry because that’s not a thing I do much, but I did run my failings as an author over and over in my mind. I felt terrible about so many things: about inflicting this scourge of a book on the rest of humanity; about being insulted on the internet; about potentially hurting someone’s feelings or at the very least wasting their time; about how angry I was and how ungrateful and selfish and stupid and unworthy. I felt like I should never write again. I felt like my voice didn’t matter and then felt selfish and vain for ever thinking it should matter in the first place. What a narcissist I am, thinking someone should care what I have to say. What an arrogant, egocentric asshole I was for then being angry when someone didn’t “get me.” Every nasty thing I could say to myself was said. I didn’t eat, I didn’t sleep, I didn’t move, I just played this grotesque game with myself. It. was. awful. So telling you to accept that is hard, because I know what it feels like and it’s not pleasant.

What I really wish I could say is for you to just brush it off, mutter to yourself that person doesn’t know what the hell he/she/they is talking about and move on with your life. But I can’t tell you that for several reasons.

First, the reviewer probably does know what he/she/they is talking about. They are reading tons and tons of books, and they know what they like and don’t like. They also probably know a little bit about what a book should have. They know what world building is and pacing and plot and such. A lot of reviewers are writers themselves. That’s part of the reason it hurts so much to receive a bad review. I think for me, most of the sting of a bad review comes from being able to recognize that something in that review was true, at least for that individual, and that hurts because I feel like I’ve failed as a writer. Failure sucks.

Second, reviews can actually help your writing if you’re open to them. Don’t get me wrong, you’re probably not going to be open to them right away. But after the initial sting has worn off, a bad review can help you improve future books, so simply brushing it off isn’t always the wisest approach. This is especially true if the reviewer is in your target audience.

Third, if you’ve been hurt by a review, you’re probably not going to be able to simply move on. Period. You might be able to mask some of the pain (guilty), and if you have to do that for a little, do that. But eventually, you should confront it. Storing pain isn’t a great decision (trust me, I’ve got years of it I’m dealing with).

It’s okay to let it sting, to take a few days off, to recenter yourself. But get back up. It’s like falling off a bicycle (or horse, in my case). Confront the pain, but don’t let fear of falling stop you from doing something you love. You’re going to fall. Again and again and again. Learn to tuck and roll and protect yourself as best you can. When you fall hard, heal, then go right back out. Life is too short to let the voices in your head control you. And at the end of the day, those voices are yours. The review or the reviewer didn’t put them there. You did. Your experience, your self-doubt, your insecurities, those are what did that. Battle them. Valiantly. You deserve no less.

Do Not Engage the Reviewer

Seriously. Don’t do this. It’s an extremely bad look. Especially if you asked for the review. In my view, there is little more distasteful than an author coming for a reviewer. And if your reviewer is a teenager because you write YA or MG or what have you, please remember you are the adult in this situation and act accordingly. You’re a professional. Be professional. No matter how hurt you are.

I know it’s hard. Trust me, there have been reviews I’ve received where I’ve wanted to ask questions. To try and explain myself. To tell the reviewer if they’d just read a little bit more they’d see I was about to twist that trope or that wasn’t quite the way they thought it was or or or… Don’t do it. You had the words to make your point and for that person, you didn’t. There is nothing to discuss and it’s only going to turn out badly for you. There will be other reviewers and other reviews. Some of them will likely laud the very things that particular reviewer didn’t like. It will be confusing and annoying and frustrating. But it’s not your place to make a case or state a claim. And it’s not the place of your friends or fans, either. Of course you can’t control the actions of others, but if someone approaches you asking if they should/could come to your defense, the most professional response is to tell them you’re okay, thank them for their support, but explain it’s unnecessary. It’s part of being an author. This isn’t a courtroom. This is Goodreads.

Build Your Community

This is another biggie you’ll see on refrain in the writing community, and it’s also extremely true. Having a community of other writers to vent to is crucial in this business. Because it’s a hard business and when you do receive the dreaded bad review, you’re going to want to have someone (or several someones) to talk/scream/weep to. Fellow writers are great for this because they understand the sting in the way perhaps even your friends and family don’t. They understand it on a visceral, personal level, and good writing friends will be able to act as a crutch or talk you off the ledge or commiserate with you on the level you need. Having these people around will help you get what you need off your chest without doing anything rash (like… uh… coming at the reviewer). Writing pals are a Godsend. Make lots of them.

You’re not a Failure

You might feel like one. But you’re not. If you need it, take a few days off from whatever you’re working on to absorb the hurt, and then expel it however you do. I know that when I receive a bad review, then try to work on something immediately thereafter, it affects everything. I received, for example (again, not calling anyone out, just an observation), a review about my style once. Specifically, that it was stilted and this reviewer didn’t like that. I went to edit the same day, thinking my armor was well enough intact to get what I needed to get done, done. But nope. Everything I read that day felt fake and awkward and didn’t flow and was terrible and gross. My brain was doing a weird brain thing where it was absorbing my insecurities and bringing them to life.

Good news is I was able to recognize what was happening and put the pen down before I destroyed everything I’d written by trying to be a writer I wasn’t. It’s true that certain aspects of my style are stilted. I was trained to write postmodern literary fiction. It’s not necessarily a flowing style (as much as postmodernism can be defined as anything), and it does sometimes find itself out of place in the YA/NA fantasy world. Some people find this refreshing, some people find it off-putting. But it’s how I write. It’s what makes me unique. Was the reviewer who critiqued my style correct? Yep, absolutely. Does that mean I should change? Not today, it doesn’t.

Who knows, though, what tomorrow will bring. The only thing to do is to make sure there is tomorrow.

Keep writing.

❤ Always,

Aimee

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Next week on the blog: I’m going to the RWA Day of YA in Orlando! And I’ll hopefully talk about it! The Wheel Mages is up for an award, too, so I’ll be revealing the results of that 😛 Don’t want to miss it? Don’t forget to follow!

Dear College Writing Professors

Dear College Writing Professors,

It’s been almost a decade since I sat in your classrooms, bright-eyed and full of hope and naivete. A decade. Wow. Hard to believe how time flies.

I wanted to let you all know that I’m still here doing that thing y’all taught me how to do–write. I’m doing something else these days, too. Publishing.

My first book debuted last year. It’s young adult. And genre fiction. And self-published. I might have broken some rules in the last decade. But there are no teen girls crying in bathtubs! So there’s that.

First, I want to thank you. Joking aside, so many of your lessons can be found between the pages of my debut novel. You were right when you said I wasn’t ready to publish at twenty. I had so much growing up to do, still do, really. My second book (which will be released in July) is better than my first, and I hope they continue to improve until the last.

Much of who I am today is thanks to you. You taught me how to pay attention and the fundamentals of craft. I recently read through the notes y’all left on some of my short stories, and I’m amazed how you managed to see through the clumsy mess of the young writer I was to the writer I could be. Seeing the potential of someone is hard, and I sometimes wonder if anyone ever recognizes that quiet but important skill. So, thank you. So much.

There are a few things I wish I’d known before this trial by fire that is the publishing world, though. Self-publishing wasn’t a thing a decade ago (I distinctly remember laughing with peers over the absurdity of “vanity publishing”), so I’m not here to talk about the method of publication, but the industry as the giant, problematic beast it is and has, apparently, always been.

See, the thing is, we never talked about publishing. We all thought about it, constantly. Sometimes we even discussed it in hushed whispers, but it wasn’t really a part of our college writing lives. It seemed a little like repressed sexuality–that thing a lot of us think about but don’t feel comfortable discussing for whatever read-between-the-lines reason. But the thing is, like repressed sexuality, not talking about it makes us think about it more, then when we’re confronted with it we don’t really know what to do.

Manuscript. Query letter. Agent. Publishing house. Check. I did gather that. I didn’t do that and that’s on me for better or worse, but we all know there is a lot more that goes into this business than those things. A lot I wish I’d had a better handle on before I jumped in with both feet.

For example, genre fiction is a thing that happens. And of course craft is craft across genres, but there are conventions at play in genre fiction that aren’t at play in literary fiction. It seems basic, but knowing that would have helped.

On a larger scale, though, some rules of decorum when approaching the industry would have really come in handy, because I’m honestly still a little lost. How are we supposed to act? What are we supposed to say to agents, to editors, to other authors, to readers? A simple list of dos and don’ts for approaching this book-making machine to tape above my computer would have been nice.

Granted, I think some of my confusion has been caused by how rapidly technology and social media has advanced in the last ten years, and I imagine not all of my concerns could’ve been addressed in your classes. Still, professionalism basics would have been good to know. [As an aside to liberal arts professors in general, please teach or at least encourage your students to learn how to use a copier. Seriously, I’m really proud of the fact that I can quote Yeats, but that didn’t make me feel any smarter when I couldn’t figure out how to un-jam a copier.]

Also, publishing is confusing. I know that now, but because we didn’t talk about it much, I sort of thought it might be simpler than it is. It certainly seemed linear. Manuscript. Query letter. Agent. Publishing House. Barnes & Noble (Borders back then, too!). Got it. But that’s not really how it works. There are conferences and workshops and expos and networking and connections to be made. There are market trends and charts and fads and movements. There are now Twitter pitches (again, I know you probably didn’t see that one coming, I don’t think a lot of us did). There are small presses and large presses, vanity presses and self-publishing. None of which we ever seemed to talk about. There’s a whole vocabulary I never knew existed.

I don’t know if we didn’t talk about it because we weren’t ready and you knew that or if we didn’t talk about it because you wanted to create an environment in which we weren’t tainted by the business side of things. I understand both reasons, but honestly, the secrecy wasn’t very helpful.

Maybe I shouldn’t feel this way. I went to school to become a writer, not an author, and I did learn that. But I mean… we all wanted to be authors, right? At least for those of us who advanced through the program, you knew our endgame was author, correct? Would it have hurt us so much to hear a little bit about the business we were likely headed for?

Because at the end of the day, this is a business. Much more goes into it than art. It’s branding and marketing and readings and seminars. It’s continued education on craft but also on being a savvy businessperson. Honestly, I might not have taken advice to consider a business or marketing class. Knowing me, I probably wouldn’t have, but there are plenty of writing students out there smarter and savvier than I am who would benefit from that tidbit.

At the end of the day, I want you to know I’m proud to have been your student. I’m proud to have learned as much as I did, and I’m extremely grateful for the knowledge you gifted me. But I’ve also made some pretty big mistakes when it comes to this whole writer to author thing, and I was hoping that maybe in the future, you could address the elephant in the room, too. Although now you might just direct your students to Twitter.

Respectfully,

Aimee

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On Failure

I learned how to fail at this gig a long time ago.

When I was eighteen, the University of North Carolina sent me a letter encouraging me to apply for its coveted Thomas Wolfe Scholarship. They’d seen my accomplishments in some writing competition or other and thought I’d be an ideal candidate. The application process was (in my opinion) more rigorous than applying for admission to the University. It required a fifty page prose packet and additional letters of recommendation. I agonized over my submission. UNC was my dream school. It was the only university I applied to; it was the only-thing-I-ever-wanted. Worse, I’d convinced myself that because they specifically asked me to apply, this scholarship was all but in the bag.

It wasn’t.

The rejection letter came in an envelope with the University’s famous Old Well logo on the front. I ripped it open, sure of my imminent success (in those days, I was still a big fish in a little pond, and I was always successful). As my eyes scanned the paper, my heart fell into my stomach. My chest tightened. My hands trembled. They didn’t want me.

I was inconsolable. I screamed and raged like a toddler. I threw fists and spat hurtful words. My father and I got into a terrible argument. I didn’t want to go to college. I didn’t want to do anything. I wanted to curl up and die, and I was sure I would, the rejection hurt that badly. I was a terrible writer. He didn’t understand. Look, there was a letter here to prove how awful I was at this thing-I-wanted-more-than-anything. I was nothing. My dream was dead. I would never write another word.

Little did I know, but that would be the first of many kicks Carolina would deliver to me over my three years as a student in their creative writing program.

If life has taught me anything, it’s that when you get kicked, you get back up, with a snarl and bleeding fingers if you have to. But you keep fighting.

Writing this, I’m torn between a chuckle and a wince. It sounds melodramatic, and truly, it was, but it hurt too. It tore at my foundation, shredded my already fragile self-worth. For someone who has been through as much trauma as I have, you’d think I’d have been tougher. But I wasn’t. Not about this. I lost a lot of innocence too young, but this was the one thing I’d managed to keep pure. This was the one Truth I thought I knew. I was the best writer. It was the only thing I was sure about. When it turned out to be just another lie, it felt like the last of what I thought I was had been stripped away.

One of my ex boyfriends used to call me his “tiger.” He said I was a fighter. He was too. It was the thing that held us together. We were both good at getting back up. Call it stubbornness or stupidity or maybe both. Whatever it is, it’s ingrained deep.

That day was no exception. I got up. I kept writing. I was accepted to Carolina. And when I got in, I realized you weren’t allowed to enter the writing program until your sophomore year. One of my roommates managed to find a way into the screenwriting track early, however–second semester freshman year. That felt like a kick, too. But it hurt less than the one before. And I got up and entered the fiction track my sophomore year.

The first day of class, my professor told the room full of eager students that if anyone would be happy doing something other than writing, they should do that, and there was the door. Four people walked out of that class. I didn’t. This was still my dream, and if I wasn’t the best, I would break myself and rebuild until I was. Fighter’s instincts.

My first piece was a fantasy short. My professor liked it but advised me that writing fantasy wouldn’t help me move forward in the program (when I was at Carolina, you had to apply for a spot at every level of the program, and the spots were limited). Another kick. I gritted my teeth and adapted. I started to write literary fiction. This was still my dream.

I applied for the second level of the program and was accepted. I met the Wolfe Scholar. She was both kind and talented, and somehow, that felt like another kick. I got up. Because this was still my dream.

Every critique I received from my peers and my professors felt like a kick, too. We were clumsy and competitive. We knew there were limited spots available, and we coveted them. We fought for them. Me more than some, maybe more than most. I was eager to fight, to prove myself tough enough. Every time I was kicked, I got back up, heart bleeding. I pushed through it, honing my armor as I honed my craft. And I failed and fell and stumbled and sometimes succeeded. And every kick hurt less and less, until getting up became easier and easier.

I made mistakes (most notably getting into a political argument with Stuart Dybek at a bar. For the record, I had no idea what I was talking about). Sometimes, my competitive edge got the best of me, and I fought those who only wanted friendship. Sometimes, I was more tiger than human, and my teeth were sharp. It’s a knife’s edge that’s hard for me to walk. Sometimes, I don’t know when to stop fighting.

Still, through that program, I learned perhaps the most important lesson you can teach an aspiring writer–how to fail.

So last night, when I arrived at a library where I was supposed to be giving a writing workshop to teens on how to craft a story, and no one showed up, I was pleased to find the armor I’d crafted years ago was still in place.

Don’t get me wrong. It still hurts. Armor only serves you until you take it off, and years of therapy have taught me that I do have to take it off eventually. But at least in public, I was able to maintain my composure, and the armor blunted the worst of the blow, so when I did later remove it, I was able to keep some semblance of control.

Failing is part of this life. It’s probably the reason that professor in my first writing class offered the door. She was trying to present a kindness to those who saw a different way. We all fail. Traditional and self-published both. In big ways and small. We are rejected from writing programs and literary agencies. Our writing is torn up by editors and reviewers. Our books flop. Our series are cancelled. We face walls of silence and empty rooms.

But we don’t talk about it much. And when we do, it’s after we’re already safe. It’s when we’ve already attained a measure of success. We don’t discuss the empty rooms when we’re facing one, but only when we’re standing before a packed house. We remember our failure fondly, with a different eye. We talk about our happily ever afters, and our hero’s journey arcs, and that’s okay, but it’s not the only Truth.

Someday, I hope to tell that triumphant story, but right now, I can only tell the story I know, and that is the one of an uncertain ending and an empty room. It’s a story about learning to fail, about getting kicked, and feeling lost and helpless and worst of all–silenced. But it’s a story of triumph too, even if it doesn’t have a happily ever after tied to the end.

Because in this story, I still get up.

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Step by Painful Step

I recently shared with you how and where The Wheel Mages was born. Now, I want to share with you the more technical aspects of how 238 handwritten pages became an eBook and a print. This is only a skeleton of what went into the launch of The Wheel Mages and some things were not successful or how other authors would do them. I learned from the launch of my first book as most authors do and hopefully you’ll find some help in those failures.

Step One (May, 2016): Beta Readers

In May, 2016, I started soliciting beta readers for The Wheel Mages. I’ve read recently that some authors don’t use beta readers, but for me, this was a crucial step. Beta readers will help you save money on editing costs and will immensely improve the quality of your work. When you send your manuscript to your editor, you want to send the best possible version. You want to hand your editor something that you feel confident you could publish tomorrow. That way, when the editor gets it, he or she will be able to dig deep into the work and help guide you to the next level, beyond even your own expectations.

I found my beta readers by putting out a call on Facebook. I posted a brief synopsis of my manuscript and asked if anyone was interested in reading it for me to tell me what he or she thought. I was fortunate to get a lot of great feedback and interest. Not only did this call help me find beta readers, it also helped me gauge interest and potential target market. The people who responded to my call were the people who were most likely to become future readers.

I intend to write an entire post on beta readers in the future, so I’ll leave you with this: don’t expect your beta readers to blow smoke up your ass. If you’re looking for someone to tell you your work is perfect and not to change a thing, you’re not ready to publish yet.

Step Two (May, 2016): Cover Art

I did this a little bit out of order. For the second book in my series, I intend to send my book to the content editor (see Step Three) before I hook back up with my designer for cover art. The reason I did the cover art for The Wheel Mages before I did anything else was to give myself a little bit of encouragement. Once I paid that invoice, there was no going back. As soon as there was a book cover with my name on the front, I was committed. It helped give me a little bit of bravery I needed.

My cover art and all the graphics for my website, Facebook page, Twitter, etc. were done by Fiona Jayde Media. I found Fiona through Google research. I viewed the portfolios of dozens of artists before I settled on her. It’s important to note that finding a cover artist who works in your genre is important. People do judge your book by its cover. Make sure you pick an artist who not only creates a breathtaking cover but also understands your market and target audience. Remember: I write because I have to, I publish to make money. To make money, you have to create something appealing to your audience, not you. If you find the right designer, you’ll hopefully end up with both, but if your designer tells you that your idea for a cover isn’t right for the market—listen. They know what they’re doing, that’s why you’re paying them.

Step Three (July, 2016): Content Editor

In July, after I’d overhauled my manuscript based on the great insights provided to me by my beta readers, I decided it was ready for a content editor. This step is important. I cannot stress enough how crucial it is for your manuscript to be reviewed by an editor before it’s published. A book coming out of a publishing house would never be sent to print without being reviewed by editors (plural). In order to compete with the publishing houses, your book has to be a professional product, which means it has to be handled by editors. My editor, Katie McCoach, has a great blog on this explaining it from an editor’s perspective which you can read here.

If you’re serious about writing, you’re also serious about the process. Editors are arguably the biggest part of the process (perhaps even bigger than writing the dang thing). A good editor will better not only the manuscript in front of them, but your future writing as well. They’ll help you evolve as an artist. They’re expensive, there’s really no way around that, but they’re worth every penny.

I found my editor on a list provided by the fabulously successful indie author and fierce advocate for self-publishing, Joanna Penn. Joanna’s insights are incredibly helpful and I highly recommend reading her blog, following her on Facebook, and listening to her podcasts. She is a wealth of FREE knowledge.

Step Four (August, 2016): Re-Read 

After I received my manuscript back from Katie, my content editor, I spent a few days mulling over her critique. I think as artists our gut instinct is to go on the defensive when receiving critique, even when it’s handled well. The reason I find Katie to be such a fantastic editor is because she tells me what I’m doing right as often as she tells me what I’m doing wrong. Both are important.

Still, receiving feedback is never easy. It feels like a gut punch to the soul. Let me be completely honest with you here. When I received Katie’s first critique of The Wheel Mages, I was an angry, snarling beast. I was like a toddler throwing a temper tantrum. She didn’t GET it. She didn’t UNDERSTAND. She was blind to MY VISION. I couldn’t believe I’d paid her so much money.

I received her report on Friday, August 5th. On Monday, August 8th, after I’d had time to settle down and think, I re-read the critique and realized she did, in fact, get it. She wasn’t blind. She had her eyes wide open. I was the blind one. I was the one who didn’t understand she was trying to make my vision more accessible to the reader. She’d done everything I’d asked her to do and more. It was time to suck it up and stop being a petulant child because there was work to be done. I sent her an email on August 8th and fibbed a little (Katie: If you happen to read this, sorry!). I didn’t feel the need to share my gut reaction because the gut reaction wasn’t helpful to anyone. Instead, I told her my new truth—her critique was insightful, well thought out, professionally presented and, most importantly, helpful.

Then, I got to work making revisions. Shortly thereafter, I sent her a revised version of the manuscript for a re-read.

Step Five (October, 2016): Copy Edit

After the re-read and more revisions, I felt like I was ready for a copy edit. I chose to work with a copy editor that works with Katie. By that point, I knew Katie well, I was pleased with her work, and wanted to stick with people she recommended. A side note, it’s pretty important to trust your editor. If you feel like you’re being taken advantage of, you probably need to find a new editor. The copy editor Katie suggested was a little bit more expensive than I had originally budgeted, but when I saw a sample of her work, I decided it was worth it.

Step Six (November, 2016): Publishing

In November, after my book came back from the copy editor, and I’d reviewed and made decisions on her changes, I started to shore up the last pieces of the puzzle. I worked on formatting (formatting for print is the absolute worst, by the way), I launched my website, started an author Facebook page, got myself a Twitter and an Instagram, filled out tax information on the platforms I’d decided on, purchased ISBNs, and spent an incredible amount of time floundering around like a fish out of water. Here’s a brief overview of what services I used and how I’d fix errors I made:

ISBN Numbers: There’s only one place you can purchase ISBN numbers in the United States and that’s from Bowker. It’s really important to know that you need a different ISBN number for every single version of your book so if you’re going to sell a print version and an eBook, you’ll need at least two ISBN numbers. Smashwords, which is a distributor for indie authors, says you need a separate ISBN number for every online retailer as well, so if you distribute your eBook to Amazon and Apple, you need two distinct ISBN numbers. This advice seems to be somewhat different depending on who you talk to and Smashwords appears to be taking the most cautious approach. Regardless, it makes the most sense to purchase 10 ISBN numbers at the very least.

Website: WordPress. I actually started working on my website in the late summer. This was a great idea and for those who aren’t technologically savvy like me, I recommend it. Working with websites is hard on me. I get frustrated easily when it comes to technology, so having lots of time where I’m not pressed up against a deadline worked in my favor. Website designers are super expensive, so if you don’t have a limitless amount of money in your budget, this is probably something you’ll do on your own. Be patient with yourself.

Social Media: I have a Twitter, a Facebook and an Instagram. I briefly dabbled with the idea of launching a Snapchat but I don’t understand Snapchat and running a blog and three social media accounts while working full time, editing my second and third books, working on a fourth, taking care of three animals, and trying to maintain a home is already probably too much.

eBook Formatting: To format my eBook, I used Vellum. Vellum is an Apple-only product (sorry PC users) and it was a Godsend. All I had to do was plug in my Microsoft Word file, choose a format I liked, and Vellum created all the file formats I’d need for publishing. It. Was. Awesome. And all for the low, low price of $29.99.

eBook Platforms: My book is currently directly uploaded on Amazon and iBooks. It’s also registered with Smashwords where it’s distributed to a bunch of other smaller retailers, including Barnes & Noble.

Printer: To create a print on demand version of my book, I used CreateSpace. For me, preparing the book for print was the most painful part of the process and the one I made the most mistakes with. First of all, in hindsight, this would be the very first part I prepare. If I could do it all over again, I would’ve set the print up weeks in advance. This was by far and away my biggest failure with the book launch, so I’m not about to give you any advice on it except to tell you CreateSpace is the way most indie authors do it and warn you to learn about the process in advance. Way in advance.

Whew. Okay, this blog is already 2,000(ish) words, so I’m going to cut it off there. Keep your eyes peeled for a future blog containing more detailed information regarding the above and some things I didn’t do and why.

❤ Aimee

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The First 100 Books

There is a ton of advice out there about how to sell the first 1,000 copies of your debut novel. So much advice that 1,000 copies became kind of a mantra of mine. If there’s all this advice, people must be doing it, right? If they can, I can.

1,000 copies became a magic number for me. At first, it sounds like a ton but when you think about the population of the United States (320 million or so) that’s only .0003%. Statisticians wouldn’t even look at a number like that as being relevant except in lottery chances.

It can’t be that hard, right?

Well… as it turns out—it is. According to my editor, 90% of self-published books will sell less than 100 copies. After I heard that, the way I looked at my book changed. It was no longer about selling the first 1,000 copies. It was about selling the first 100 copies. It was about breaking into that elite 10% of self-published authors.

This means selling one book at a time.

In some ways, this shift in mentality is extremely disheartening. I’ve spent close to $4,000 on my debut novel. To recoup that investment, I have to sell over 1,400 copies of my e-book (you see now another reason the 1,000 copies was a magic number for me). For the record, I don’t regret my investment at all because that’s precisely how I see it—an investment. Investments don’t typically return money overnight. They take time to mature, which is what I hope my novel will do. As I said in a previous post, I write because I have to. I publish to make money, but I realize that takes time. The old adage that “you have to spend money to make money” rings true. Additionally, I can’t imagine my book without my team. I didn’t simply invest in my book, I invested in talent and that’s something I’m extremely proud to have been a part of (and will continue to be a part of).

In other ways, however, thinking about selling my first 100 books is refreshing. Every single book I sell feels like a victory. Every review on Amazon brings a fresh spark to my veins. I get excited about the process all over again. It gives me the fuel to keep going. I have a feeling it won’t always be this way, so I’m trying to focus on the little things and hold this moment close. One book at a time.

When I started this blog, I promised myself I would be completely transparent with my readers. In the name of transparency, I’ll tell you it has been 3(ish) days since my book launched and I’ve sold 20 copies. All 20 have been on Amazon. Most of the 20 were to people I know, but there are a couple I can’t account for. The mystery readers are especially exciting.

I am one-fifth of the way there!

Of course, this journey is only beginning, but I want to use this blog as a place to keep track of my thoughts while they’re happening in the hopes that one day I can look back on it and smile to myself about how far I’ve come and think about how silly I was. I also hope one day others can read about this journey for what it was. I’ve had tons of people send me encouraging messages about how many times J.K. Rowling was rejected and how she struggled, but I think it would be an interesting experiment to watch the struggle in real time with a real life person who probably won’t ever be J.K. Rowling-famous. Maybe one day, if I ever make it, aspiring writers can look at this blog and know they’re not alone. Maybe even if I don’t make it, I can help one person feel less alone.

So… here are some brief thoughts for the first 20 copies of my book:

1. Facebook ads will attract “likes” but not necessarily sales. This is really bizarre to me, by the way. I posted an ad on launch day with a link to my book on Amazon and I had 24 people “like” or “love” it (95% of whom I didn’t know) and as far as I can tell, not a single sale. I’m confused who would like an ad without buying the product, but I suppose that’s neither here nor there. I haven’t completely given up on Facebook ads because well… it’s only day four, and I’ve heard they can be successful, but the early results are not convincing me.

2. The internet loves cats more than dogs. Okay, I don’t actually know how true this is, but I tweeted a picture of my dog Gabi and a picture of my cat Maia and Maia won the mini-Twitter war. This doesn’t have much to do with book sales, but I did want to mention it in the event you were considering putting an animal of some sort on your cover—pro tip: pick a cat.

3. There are people who literally Instagram pictures of books. This was something I didn’t know but is really fascinating to me. One of my friends told me I should send copies of my print version book to some IGers and see if they’d post. I was thoroughly confused. When I looked into it… my mind was blown. These photos are incredibly beautiful and strangely calming to look at, but I had no idea this was a thing.

4. People who say they’re going to buy your book probably won’t. If you’re relying on people who hear you’re writing a book and say, “I’ll definitely buy it”—don’t. Some of them will (especially friends, family and coworkers who are forced to see you every day and know you will shame them if they don’t support your work) but most of them won’t. I really thought that first 100 books would be no problem because I had at least that many Facebook friends tell me they’d buy it. All right, that’s not being entirely honest, I had maybe 40 Facebook friends tell me they’d buy it, but whatever. Not that many did. That’s okay, though. They’re mostly not my target audience anyway, and I’m building a business here as much as a book. I want readers who are in my target audience who will continue to come back for more.

5. It’s okay to be sad. Yesterday was a rough day for me. I was disheartened. I’m normally a pretty logical person but yesterday my emotions got the best of me. I knew I wouldn’t wake up on Tuesday and have sold 10,000 copies. I knew it would involve a lot of work. Everyone tells you it’s going to be tons of work—your editors, designers, other indie authors, they tell you. I told myself, over and over, but I still harbored thoughts that was going to be the exception. When I wasn’t, I was bummed. I cried. “I worked so hard,” I whined into my pillow and to a couple close friends. “I spent so much money.” “I did everything everyone said.” (I didn’t, by the way). “I feel like a failure.”

I got a lot of advice. “It’s only been two days.” “Keep marketing.” “Tell everyone.” “There’s always a publishing house.” “Sometimes it just takes luck.” “You’ll get there eventually.” The best bit of advice I got though was: “Cry it out now. Just get it all out and then once you’re done, take some deep breaths and make the decision that you’re going to keep working at it until it IS successful.” So. Much. This.

There’s so many people in our lives who will tell us to suck it up and stop whining and put our nose to the grindstones and if “you’d just work harder” we sometimes forget we’re freaking artists. We’re spiritual, emotional, creative beings and we need to feel. We need to suffer. We need to allow ourselves to suffer. If I hadn’t suffered, I wouldn’t be where I am now. I wouldn’t have these words to share. Suffering made me a writer. Suffering is the one thing all people have in common. It’s the great connector. To block ourselves off from it is to block ourselves off from the one thing that makes us writers. So go ahead and cry. I know it’s stupid and trivial, and it feels foolish to cry over shit book sales in your first three days because there’s war in other countries and people are starving and your first world problems are nothing in comparison to the problems of many. But it’s fine. Do it. It will help refresh your creative spirit. And then when you’re done, get back to work. There’s another book to sell.

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Why I Chose Indie

Before I started this journey, my publishing knowledge centered around traditional publishing (being published under the name of a publishing house). While I didn’t hear much about publishing during my studies at the University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill, what little I did hear was all about traditional publishing. “When you’re ready and your craft is honed, write a query letter, find an agent, and he or she will find you your publisher. But you’re not ready yet.”

When I decided it was time to get serious about The Wheel Mages, I assumed I would be traditionally published. To my knowledge, it was simply the way things were done. So I did what I’d been taught to do, I prepared a query letter and hunkered down for the long process of first finding an agent, then waiting, hoping, praying, stressing, and worrying about whether or not my agent would be able to find me a publisher.

As I researched ways to polish my query letter, articles popped out of the rabbit hole that is the internet—articles about a different form of publishing—self-publishing. To be honest, I wasn’t sold. A bias I didn’t know I had surfaced. Self-publishing must be for people who can’t get a publishing house to take their work, I thought. Not for me.

I silenced the nagging voice telling me to give self-publishing a deeper look. I wanted the gatekeepers in the traditional publishing world to hand me the key. I was desperate for them to tell me I had the right to call myself an author. I believed that being an author was so sacred I couldn’t bestow the title upon myself. It had to come from them. Anything else would be too arrogant, too much like Napoleon crowning himself.

But the articles continued to appear, and to silence the nagging, I read them. And the more I read, the more I started to think: Huh. You know, this is something people do and do successfully. Maybe the game is changing, maybe I shouldn’t dismiss this.

I started to open the door to the self-publishing voice’s cage. “Okay,” I said to it. “Prove it to me.”

I was sure I would defeat this defector, but after a lot of research, it won out. And, in list form, here are the top three reasons why:

1. Self-Publishing is faster

Self-publishing isn’t a quick process by any means, and I’m still leery of those who say it is. It’s taken me about a year to publish The Wheel Mages, from writing the first words to e-book launch. I imagine that as I get more accustomed to the process, it will speed up, but I don’t see myself ever being able to write, edit and launch a book in 60 days. Still, self-publishing is a lot faster than traditional publishing which takes closer to 2 years (when all the stars align). And while faster isn’t always better (I won’t sacrifice quality for speed when it comes to my writing), it is a great boon to the most important people in an author’s life—her readers.

All authors are readers first, and we empathize with the struggle that is waiting for a new book to come out. And while that may not be as much of an issue with a debut novel or a standalone, I was aware of what the struggle could be with a series, and I wanted to start down a path that would get my second book into my readers’ hands as quickly as possible.

2. Collaboration is Awesome

It’s not that authors who are published traditionally don’t collaborate, they certainly do, but one thing about self-publishing that really appealed to me was the ability to choose who I collaborated with. That was exciting (also nerve-wracking). I got to choose the designer of my cover art (Fiona Jayde Media) and the host for my website (WordPress) and my content editor (Katie McCoach Editorial) and my copy editor (Nikki with Katie McCoach). My hands are all over this book, every facet of it is sealed with some part of my blood, sweat and tears. But the marks of those who have touched it are there too, making it a unique creation.

3. Self-Publishing Pays Better

I write because I love writing. If no one read The Wheel Mages, I would still write. No one has read many of the manuscripts sitting on my hard drive, but that never stopped me from creating, and it never will. I am the best version of myself when I’m writing.

I publish to make money. It sounds harsh and unromantic, but it’s authentic. I have to pay my bills, the same as anyone else, and if I can do it with writing, that means I have more time to do what I love, which is writing and connecting with my readers.

In traditional publishing, writers can expect to see about 15% royalties (with a good deal). That means that if your publisher sells your book for $10.00, you’re only going to see $1.50 of that. In reality, a $10.00 book is probably a paperback and royalties on paperbacks are more like 10%, so the author is only going to see $1.00 of that. To make $50,000 a year (a round number for illustration), an author needs to sell 50,000 copies of his/her book.

The royalty rates in self-publishing are much higher. If an author uses Smashwords, for example, he/she gets 60% royalties (4 times more than a traditional publisher, for those keeping track). That means he/she can sell his/her books cheaper. (Bonus: This is also awesome for the reader). If the author price points his/her book at $5, he/she gets $3 of every book he/she sells. That means he/she can sell under 17,000 copies and still arrive at the same $50,000 per year.

The difference is huge.

Now, none of this means that I wouldn’t consider accepting a traditional publishing deal in the future. I don’t want to burn any bridges, or close any doors, but for right now, self-publishing is what works for me! And I hope it’s what works for you too!