If you remember my last post, I talked about how I’d be attending the Romance Writers of America National Conference, along with Amy Pfaff and Lisa Lin from Teatime. I got through my awesome London underworld workshop fine (thanks, Sasha for lending me your jump drive, Elizabeth Hoyt and Jade Lee for taking my nerves away, and thanks to the AMAZING woman who lent me her laptop), and the rest of the way I reclined in the sheer joy of being surrounded by so many wonderful romance writers. If you haven’t been to RWA, and you’re serious about writing (or you’re a librarian, etc), then I highly recommend it. I learned so much in those short five days that I can’t even begin to summarize it all for you. I’m sure we’ll have many posts on Teatime in the coming months spawned from our new RWA-centric knowledge.
For me, my focus was on the self-pub workshops. I attended several, from the spotlight on Amazon, the Top 10 Tips for Self-Published Authors by Bella Andre and Barbara Freely, and Courtney Milan’s Metadata and Back Matter. There’s been some wonderful posts out there relating people’s notes on these workshops (see the Publisher’s Weekly blog here) so instead of just saying exactly what they said, I wanted to give you my albeit more emotional take. Usually, I’m pretty content to leave the motivational speaking to Jennelle, but after this conference, I feel it so important to share with you the level of acceptance I felt at the conference.
I’ve never attended a huge conference like this before. I can’t speak for how it used to be–but hearing the intros at the RWA RITA awards dinner which talked about women who had to wait 10-20 years before getting the call makes me think it was a rough rodeo out there when traditional publishing was the only option. When I considered self-pubbing, I looked at my own series, which is the very definition of “hard niche” being that it’s set in the 1830’s, it does not involve the aristocracy, and it combines romantic suspense elements with dark, gritty history. I can’t say for certain, but I believe that I would have been one of those struggling stories. That’s a scary thought, yes, but in some way it’s also a very hopeful one–there are so many options now. Instead of going to a dinner at your awkward friend’s house and having to eat steak when you’re a vegetarian, suddenly you can eat tofu–AND you can have it with bean curd if you so desire. (Or, if you want to, you can eat the steak, because it’s good too and why not?) I’ve been telling stories since I was a child and bored the heck out of my mother in the carpool line, and the idea that I’ve now got control over not only what I write but how I distribute it afterwards is an awesome, earth-shattering feeling.
So in short, vaguely succinct fashion, here’s what I learned from the self-pub track at RWA. It’s just three things, because my memory’s pretty bad and I need to keep it simple lest I get…oh, squirrel!
1. You are a real writer.
Delilah Marvelle once said “a writer is more,” and after RWA, all I can say is that line means more to me than it ever did before. I learned, thanks to the self-pub rockstars who gave workshops and the seriously awesome writers I talked to from all walks of publishing, that I deserve to be satisfied with my work. That I deserve, as a writer and an artist, to put my soul into something and have it be appreciated. Not everyone is going to love it–some might hate it with the fiery undying passion of a thousand suns and write you hate mail, as one does–but some people will adore it and they’ll think you’re pretty darn awesome. But even if no one does, the fact remains that you as the writer deserve to feel like it’s your best work and a proper representation of your talents.
Because here’s the thing. No matter what avenue in publishing you pursue, you are a real writer. When I showed people my cover for A Dangerous Invitation, not one person turned up their nose. People asked me who my publisher was, and when I told them I was self-publishing, they all congratulated me. That’s amazing, as I was expecting a bit of the age-old stigma to still be there. Sometimes, you’ll read articles where people will tell you that self-publishing is the lazy man’s way out, but those are largely on their way out. In my experience at least, RWA met us indies with open arms, appreciating us for the writers we truly are. I wish I’d thought to get a picture of the very crowded first ever indie pub signing, because it was packed. What an empowering, amazing experience.
Because no matter how you choose to publish your books, if you pour blood, sweat and tears into your work, you are a writer (see how many times I’m going to italicize this so you get it?). If you cannot imagine not putting everything you have into this one story, if you are constantly looking at the world and wondering what stories it offers you, you are a real writer. If you feel like you need a glass of wine because you’re so damned tired from writing, you’re probably a real writer who likes wine. (As one does.)
2. Experimentation is your friend.
To start with, I feel like I need to state I’m against change. When something shifts in my world, it’s normally cue for a mental breakdown on my part. Every day pretty much, I follow the exact same routine and I’m quite happy with that. But in the world of the self-pubber, as Bella Andre and Barbara Freely pointed out, you’ve got to stay current.
One thing that struck me is what Barbara was talking about with changing the covers of her novels. There are some people who will change a cover until they see the right increase in their numbers. That’s a little more than I can handle–again, the idea of change makes me go ARGH–but the basic gist makes sense to me. Don’t be afraid to tweak things until you get the result you want. As a self-pubber, you have the incredible freedom of being able to directly impact your sales. You can change your back cover blurb, you can change your cover, you can fudge with the keywords. (Thank you, Courtney Milan, as I’ve now got a brief idea of what keywords and categories I want to use for my book).
Be bold. Be fearless. Know that if something isn’t working as well as you want, you have the freedom to change it. And you should because this is your career, your writing, your heart at work here. Do what you feel is best. By and large, it seems to me that the indie superstars are those who refused to do exactly what the rest of the world was doing. Bella Andre talked about her Lucy Kevin illustrated covers, which debuted in a time when most of the publishing world had decided illustrations on covers were totally blase. She filled a niche that publishers didn’t even know was there, and thus with little promotion, Lucy Kevin sold a boatload of books. Bella wouldn’t have done that if she didn’t experiment, if she stuck stoically to what was already established.
3. Never, Ever Give Up
I’ve saved this lesson for the last, but really, it’s probably the most important one. I think again of the women who introduced the RITA awards–when people told them they’d never get published, they just kept on going. They fought for what they wanted and today, they’re living their dreams.
I hear so many people who want to succeed in publishing saying that they just don’t know if they can do it. It’s hard, boys and girls, and it’s a scary, scary world out there. As writers, we’ve chosen a profession where rejection is part of the territory. No one likes rejection–it’s like stepping on your favorite puppy over and over again. But each criticism only makes us stronger. We become better for it, most of the time, and those rejections that don’t help us we toss aside as being immaterial. No matter what, when push comes to shove, we keep writing. Because product is key–produce a great product, that you truly believe in with all your heart, and you will succeed.
Maybe you’ve got a ton of books under your bed. Maybe you’re certain that your first novel should be consumed by the masses, and you can’t wait to share it. So go forth–try, strive, and become better. But most importantly, never, ever give up. Those rebels who have gone before you found their dreams achieved because they were persistent, stubborn, and utterly indefatigable.
So there you have it, my 3 rules for self-publishing success. Go forth, and publish thy novels!