Self-Publishing: The Journey Begins

Yesterday on the freeway, I spied a hay truck speeding along in the opposite direction. For those of you non-conversant with agronomist lore, you should know that when you see a hay wagon, you make a wish. I know this because in her youth my mother was a farmer, and we trace our roots (ha ha) to Scottish potato growers.

By the way, the name of my fledgling publishing company is New Potato Press. You like? Marilyn Ross and Sue Collier, authors of The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing, advise that “you come up with a name that will be all your own.” Make it personal, but don’t use your own name, they suggest.

At my family reunions, there’s always a coveted fifty pound box of new potatoes courtesy of an agrarian Idaho cousin, and during the auction this box generates almost as much excitement as the hand-made quilts. Hence, the name I chose: New Potato Press.

Be sure to use the word “press” or “publisher” in your title to avoid, well, a purchase order from McDonald’s for 1000 bushels of starchy, tuberous vegetables.

Anyway, as I spotted the hay truck yesterday, I began my customary recitation: I wish to find an agent/I wish to be published. Then I stopped. Wait, I thought, I don’t need an agent. Followed by I will publish myself. It felt a bit freeing. Of course, by the time I could think of a new mantra, something to do with actually succeeding in publishing, the hay truck had passed me by…

So, let’s get started, you and I, before the self-publishing momentum passes us by.

PREPARE

  • Write your best book. Avail yourself of critique groups.
  • Obtain editorial input.
  • Enlist a beta group. (Pay attention especially to what they find confusing or inconsistent. “I doubt Aunt Martha would drown her beloved Persian in a vat of boiling peach syrup” could be a helpful comment.)

RESEARCH

These books might provide a good foundation (and this is the order in which I read):

Of the above, The Complete Guide is the most thorough exploration of the industry, although Boot Camp provides better information on digital publishing. Buy the print version of The Complete Guide as the graphics don’t do well on the Kindle and it’s easier to flip to specific sections using the chapter headings.

IMPLEMENT

For me, this is the most difficult. I love to read, so I keep reading more books on publishing, more articles on marketing. In fact, I do more reading than doing. I devour interesting resources and make great plans. And then make more great plans. Therefore, for next installment of Writer Unleashed, I vow to create my author page on Amazon and upload more book reviews to Goodreads and finish my budget and attend my beta group critique of Moonlight Dancer. (I’ll let you know how that goes.)

Now, what about you? What do you plan to accomplish in the next two weeks? Drop me a line!

Ghost Novel Review: In Honor of Lunar New Year

I wanted to get a review out in time for Lunar New Year, which begins tonight. Notice I didn’t say Chinese New Year. In addition to China, Lunar New Year is celebrated in Taiwan, Vietnam and Korea.

As they say in Korea, “Sae hae bok manhi pah de saeyo!” (May you receive many blessings in the new year!)

In honor of Lunar New Year, I had planned to review Water Ghosts and dutifully read that novel. But in my reading I discovered that author Shawna Yang Ryan weaves in such intriguing mythology surrounding the Ghost Month that I decided to save this review for Ghost Month, which takes place in the seventh lunar month, roughly mid-August. Stay tuned for that one.

So, as a self-confessed Koreaphile, I went in search of a Korean ghost story. I was hoping to find a Korean author writing in English. What I found was Demon’s Door by Graham Masterton.

Our protagonist Jim Rook is a kindhearted, self-effacing, rather shy teacher of remedial college English who sees dead people. I sort of fell in love with this character and his wry wit, and I think I might enjoy reading a different novel in the Rook series.

However, I cannot recommend this book.

Part of this stems from personal taste. I really prefer my ghosts troubled and vulnerable rather than evil and vengeful. I rarely make an exception in my preference (and in this perhaps I am doing a disservice to the author who chooses otherwise). The one demonic ghost novel I heartily recommend is The Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill, simply because his mastery of character, prose and plot warrant it.

The other part of my disregard for Demon’s Door stems from sloppy writing.

On the first day of class, Jim Rook is confronted by a malevolent presence that mutilates and tortures pets and humans alike. Rook suspects student Kim Dong Wook of harboring the evil spirit that the narrator terms “kwisin” or Korean ghost.

Unfortunately, the character Kim is a caricature–an impassive, stoic, article-dropping stereotype unworthy of the role assigned him.

Concerning this kwisin or Korean ghost that possesses Kim, the portrayal of this demon character didn’t mesh with my understanding. (And this is critical since I write my own version of kwisin in my novel Moonlight Dancer.)

I sat down to lunch with my friend Eun Kyung to double-check my own research. (Generally speaking, we authors are a self-doubting lot.) Eun Kyung verified my suspicion that the author Masterton doesn’t know a ghost from a demon from a mythical fox-woman spirit, but had mixed these Korean archetypes together like so many pick-up stix. My credo–if you’re going to borrow culturally, then please do your research!

The biggest problem with the novel, however, concerned the final third. The first two thirds were funny and rather sweet. I was just getting to know this quirky, dry-witted narrator (other readers will have the advantage on me as he’s been around in other novels of this series), when boom! We skim toward the climax with all the speed of a luge race. And that would be okay except for the fact that we don’t really know Kim at all, and suddenly, as a kwisin conduit, he’s purging himself of decades-old family secrets—a kind of verbal diarrhea, if you will. Neither pleasant nor credible.

The beginning of the novel is charming as are the narrator’s endearing attempts to connect with students and potential love interests. I also very much enjoyed the literature lessons the narrator provides his students. What worked less well was the pell-mell hurtle toward the climax with its attendant Hollywood style special effects sans character development.

As an educator, I would have to give this novel a C-.

Should You (Or I) Self-publish? Decision!

I have reached a decision in the self-publishing issue we’ve been discussing: Should You (or I) Self Publish Parts One and Two.

Drum roll, please.

With the encouragement of my husband, I have decided to self publish my novel Moonlight Dancer.

Yikes!

Many factors informed this outcome including the current turmoil of the traditional publishing industry and the unworkable delays in securing an agent/publisher.

I’ve been thinking a lot of the book The Animal Family by the renowned poet Randall Jarrell. As the hunter sits on a rock, pole in hand, the mermaid asks him what he’s doing. When he tells her he’s fishing, she laughs and says “It’s–it’s such a roundabout way of catching fish.” To her mind, the best way to fish is to decide what species you want and then to swim after it and catch it in your mouth. I’m sort of feeling that way about publishing. Fishing for an agent, hunting for a publisher, baiting and waiting with no guarantee you will ever even hook something.

There are no guarantees in publishing, but I would like to get on with the process.

Of course, I am excited and nervous. The good news is that I’m going to bring you along on the trek.

At Writer Unleashed, I will include the incremental steps, inevitable stumbles and, hopefully, victory leaps on the road to indie publication. If you are in the same indie process, I hope you will chime in with comments and insights.

So, without further ado, I’d like to highlight a blog post by Jody Hedlund on the barriers to successful self-publishing. In essence, she advises studying writing, hiring an editor, engaging in critique groups, and enlisting beta readers. You can read the full post here.

I have done all of the above with the exception of beta readers, which I’m going to rectify tonight by distributing my manuscript to my reading group. Next month we will discuss the same, and I will let you know the good, the bad, and the ugly of it all.

So, fasten your seat belts, kids. We’re about to jump out of the nest.

Ghost Novel Review: The House Next Door

The House Next Door by Anne Rivers Siddons

Simon & Schuster, Inc., 356 pages.

Colquitt and Walter Kennedy pursue a complacent lifestyle in an idyllic suburban enclave. Stimulating workdays. Patio cocktails. Garden parties. Tennis doubles.

You get the idea.

All that is threatened when an outsider buys the adjacent wooded lot, hires a brilliant architect and erects an imposing structure. Colquitt frets and bemoans the disruption of her perfect life and unobstructed sylvan view until I wanted to strangle her. Perhaps there is more than one malevolent motive afoot?

Disturbing events followed by uber disturbing events lead Colquitt to question the ambiance of the house next door. Could the house be haunted? The lives of those connected with it imperiled by an evil force?

In general, I like my ghosts troubled and bemused. Hateful and demonic spirits don’t move me. Of course, there are exceptions like The Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill, a book teeming with compelling characters and dynamic prose. Unfortunately, The House Next Door does not prove the exception, bogged down as it is by wooden characters and flat writing.

I was excited to begin this book because I’ve enjoyed other of Siddons’ novels–most notably Peachtree Road, which I loved. Because I didn’t love The House Next Door, I tried to figure out why. I discovered it was originally published in 1978. For me, The House Next Door is tainted with the same Stepford nimbyism redolent of the 70s decade–what we (those of us who weren’t in it) used to call “the establishment.”