(This guest post was written by our very own A Teacher.)
The story of a novel
Today I joined the ranks thousands of writers and made my first full length novel available for purchase on Amazon.com. How did I go from a simple school teacher to a self-published writer? The story has some interesting twists and a few lessons for the novice, though I hardly consider myself an expert on writing or self publishing.
It started with National Novel Writing Month back in 2007. I set out to write a stalker drama playing on elements of online relationships and how little we know about the people we say we know via online channels. That year I failed to meet my goal of 50,000 words by the end of the month. In 2008 I tried again but with a twist: I set the entire story at a massive fantasy and science fiction convention. My wife and I are several year veterans of Atlanta’s Dragon Con and have become friends with many who make their hobby doing the convention circuit. On Dec 1st, 2008 I had a manuscript in hand.
It follows Allison Cavanagh, a graduate student and geek. She spends every summer preparing for Fantasti*Con, a weekend of science fiction and fantasy fun. This time, however, there are odd notes, text messages and rooms full of roses left for her. Instead of having a weekend of fun, she spends most of it panicked about what this stalker knows and can do to her. She also spends the weekend with her best friend Tori, a non-geek who comes along to meet guys (and to give me an excuse to explain geek things) and her gaming friend Joanna, who is there to learn everything there is to learn about the MMO Realm of Tethys.
In general, writing a novel is actually an easy process. Editing, revising and updating? Now that is a true battle. I knew for a fact that there were typos, missing words, and some scenes that just plain needed to be rewritten. I just had no desire at all to do it. So working on revisions was a project that was going to wait “until next month”. And this fed another problem: the book had an expiration date. Throughout the story are numerous references to movies, books, television shows and the like. At one point in the novel, the characters are serenaded by the messenger cowboys from Dr. Horrible’s Sing A Long Blog. Allison, the heroine, and her friend Joanna, a hyperactive undergraduate student, spend part of the weekend in Battlestar Galactica Uniforms. The Watchmen had just come out and one of the first revisions was to add a costume from the movie into the story, somewhere.
Here I was blessed with some awesome friends who were willing to read through the book, chapter by chapter and provide feedback. Mrs. Teacher was one of the last to do this and it was probably best given that she is a raging bibliophile and a harshly honest critic. I was lucky enough to send out chapters and get back a list of revisions and suggestions.
Finally in the spring of 2011 I declared the project as complete as it was going to be and began to send out letters of inquiry. And this is where I started to hit my first road blocks.
Firstly, writers no longer work with publishers. Until recently, a writer would submit his manuscript to a publishing house. If they showed interest, he or she would then seek out an agent to represent the book and get a good deal for it. Now, however, a writer goes directly to an agent. The agent agrees to represent the project and then begins work at getting the book sold. So my primary challenge was to know where to send the book out to.
Secondly, there is not a lot of room to get the attention of an agent. Most agents only want a letter of inquiry, and every source repeated the same mantra: Only give an agent what they want. If they want 3 chapters, send them exactly 3 chapters (not 5, not 2 and not the whole manuscript). So having written the novel I now had to figure out how to make it sound worth reading in three sentences.
Fortunately I got my rejection notes fairly quickly. By quickly I mean within a few weeks. Most of them were polite, a few were so clearly form letters that there was little point in judging their politness. One was downright rude, in my opinion. But at the end of it all, no agent seemed sold on the project.
I have also been amazed at changes in Print on Demand self publishing. When I first investigated this a year ago, websites such as CreateSpace were full of templates and measurements. To self publish I would have to learn the ins and outs of book formatting, graphic design and marketing. Even the pricing was a little odd in that you would set your royalty and the basics of website would tell you what the price had to be. This week I discovered that they have made massive changes to this process, providing templates for covers, better formatting checking and a much more direct pricing system. I was able to upload the PDF and have the website scan the file for formatting errors. I put in the price I want the book to sell for and the website tells me the royalty I get for a given sale. Apparently I wasn’t the only road blocked beginning writer. At the time of this writing the process is moving through review.
In addition I was able to already publish as a Kindle Direct Publish. If enough copies sell, I plan to look into selling print-on-demand edition. Amazon is interesting in this regard. I earn a royalty on all sales but the book is also available for free to Amazon Prime members. If one of them checks it out, I get points and at the end of the month a fund of money is distributed to everyone who has points. So if a lot of Prime members “check out” my book I get a larger piece of that pie. On the other hand, if a lot Prime Members check out a log of books that piece gets substantially smaller. I’m curious to see, at the end of the month, if this exercise has any impact on my book circulation.
What remains now is my very limited advertising campaign. The novel is written to appeal to fans of conventions, of geek culture and light romance novels. Fortunately I can nail down to just those groups on Facebook and in a few weeks plan to throw a little money at those annoying FB ads in the sidebar. For a change, the data collection there will be working for the little guy: me.
For now, however, I need to continue to refine the book’s description and hope to get some old fashioned social media interest spread. Once a few sales come in, the power which is the Amazon like system will start to slip the novel onto the “people who bought this also bought that” list. I am already working on a new project as well, a Trek-esque mini-epic that will be written to better capture the power of the eBook as a writing medium.
One thing that I noticed about the eBook, which Mrs. Teacher says is not commonly used, is to really cash in on the hyper linking available in the electronic format. When a character encounters an unusual race, I don’t have to have one of them provide explanations of the race’s history or its relations to the Crown. Instead I can provide what would be logical for the story and then link back to an article in the “back” of the eBook which provides that information. I can also link to short stories, events from a different character’s perspective and additional resources. In a paper book it is much harder to encourage a reader to look at the appendix, where with an ebook it’s a matter of them making an electronic book mark (no dog eared pages) and then following a link to the direct article they want.
Even so it’s exciting to be able to search my name on Amazon and have a book come up for sale.