The Journey from Clueless to Indie Author
Fall 2002: This was when I first got the idea for EYES OF LIGHTNING. I was a junior in college, working in the ecology lab sorting macroinvertebrates from aquatic samples (seriously—that was my job). I’d recently seen the Stephen King movie Dreamcatcher, and that might’ve inspired the direction my brain took. The scene that popped into my head doesn’t happen until Book 3, so I can’t describe it without spoiling everything. Basically, I imagined four kids with supernatural powers. What does that have to do with macroinvertebrates and a movie about aliens? I have no clue. Just goes to show—you never know when or where you’ll get a killer book idea. The idea grew into several scenes. When I couldn’t get the characters out of my head, I knew I had a novel-worthy story.
2003 and 2004: This was a busy time when I was getting married and finishing college. But occasionally I would jot down notes or ideas for the story. I joked that someday I would write a novel as a “hobby” (cringing a little at how naive I was then).
2005: My son was born! Life changed forever.
2006: Right around the time my son turned one, I took a break from reading parenting magazines to read some YA fiction. It had been a LONG time since I’d read any book except Goodnight Moon & Co. Reading YA again . . . it was a jolt to my system. I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed it. I found myself thinking, “I wish I could write a book like this.” As time went by, I thought more and more about that old novel idea in the closet. Since I’d decided to be a stay-at-home mom, I wanted work I could do from home. Writing seemed like the perfect answer.
2007: I had a lot to learn. I needed to improve my writing craft. To get practice and reader feedback, I went through a fan fiction phase (this is not my proudest phase—moving on quickly). Once I got positive reviews, I felt confident enough to focus my efforts on writing my novel. I did research online, read some books on writing craft, and began an EXTENSIVE outline for the whole Thunderbird series. It’s embarrassing how much time I spent on that outline. The sad part is that the story has changed so much since then, most of that outline is now obsolete. I still get it out once in awhile to laugh at it.
Nov. 2007: My friend Syd decided to do National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and she talked me into trying it too. I was reluctant. She basically twisted my arm until I cried for mercy. So I agreed to tackle NaNoWriMo . . . and by the end of the month I had the first 50,000 words of EOL. Miracles do happen, folks.
Jan. 2008: I took December off to recuperate and do this thing called Christmas. By January I was ready to write again. So I wrote another 47,000, making a total of (approximately) 97,000 words. Which seemed rather monstrous for the first draft of a first novel. But I was ecstatic to have made it that far.
Feb. to May 2008: The second draft of EOL is a blur. I remember wanting to pull my hair out. It was so much harder, so much more tedious. I had to reread the ugly first draft and flinch at how bad it was. Then I had to try to make it better.
July 2008: I went to Conestoga, a science fiction and fantasy convention in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I met some really cool authors, and I learned more about the business side of writing. More specifically, I learned how to query literary agents. At one point during the convention, I had the chance to talk to author Jeri Smith-Ready. She was kind enough to ask about the book I was writing. I gave her a long and rambling synopsis (hadn’t yet learned how to give a one-line pitch), which she was kind enough to listen to and even express interest in. She said I should query her agent. I have no idea what I said in reply, because I was too stunned to know what I was saying. That was when I realized I needed to get serious about querying agents.
Fall and Winter 2008: I didn’t keep very good records of this time period. Actually, I’m sure I have records somewhere, I just don’t want to spend the time digging them out. In short—I queried literary agents. I don’t remember exactly how many queries I sent out, but I know it was at least fifty. If you’ve queried agents before, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, then imagine sending an email to a business professional. You’re trying to convince that person in three paragraphs that he or she should take a look at your story. You may hear back in a day. Or a week. Or a month. Or six months. Or never. During this LONG period of querying, I had four agents ask to read EYES OF LIGHTNING, either part of the manuscript or all of it. Three said no (in a nice way). One never replied. Each time I tried not to get my hopes up. Each time I failed. I knew it was normal . . . I read all the stories about authors getting rejected over and over again. It was like a badge of honor or something. But expecting it does not stop the feeling of disillusionment. If I did manage to secure an agent, I would then have to wait weeks or months or years for the agent to find a publishing house willing to buy the book. There are plenty of times when an agent is unable to sell a book. Traditional publishing is SLOW, and there are no guarantees.
Jan. 2009: This was the month my son started half-day preschool. Suddenly I had a good two or three hours to write during the day. I was burnt out on EOL and needed a break. So I began research for a new book: RIVER’S EDGE. By February I was well into the first draft.
March 2009: I attended the Quad Cities Christian Writers’ Conference. They offered some great classes on writing craft and editing. But the best part about that conference was meeting Ellie Ann. I didn’t know it at the time, but she would later become CRUCIAL to my writing career. Ellie was an aspiring author like me, and she was looking for a critique partner who liked fantasy. Soon after the conference we started emailing each other. It wasn’t long before we were critiquing and editing stories for each other. Meanwhile I finished my draft of RIVER’S EDGE.
Summer and Fall 2009: This was when life got crazier than usual. My son was on summer break, and my husband was looking for a new job. When he got a job, it meant moving to a new town and finding a house to buy. For weeks all I did was house-shop. By autumn we were packing up our belongings and moving, then unpacking and settling in.
2010 and 2011: It’s amazing how fast time flies by. It’s not that I forgot about writing . . . but I wasn’t making it a priority. I needed money NOW, not in some fairy-tale future with hard-to-get agents. So I started working part-time at the library and part-time for a local vegetable farmer. I fell in love with yoga and was offered the chance to take yoga-teacher training—so I jumped at the offer. The writing dream was always there in the background. I went to an Illinois SCBWI conference in 2010 and an Iowa SCBWI conference in 2011. At both I improved my writing craft, and at both I received agent critiques of the first chapter of RIVER’S EDGE. I revised the story based on the critiques. Meanwhile, I was still editing for Ellie, and she edited RIVER’S EDGE, giving me some great ideas to improve it. I never really considered self-publishing at this point in my life because it still had the stigma, the mistaken belief that all self-published books are low-quality. I didn’t research it because it didn’t seem like a viable option at the time.
2012: The stigma was changing. Self-published authors were having huge successes. More and more writers were trying it. Ebook sales were on the rise. The traditional publishing industry was struggling. And it wasn’t just the publishing world that was changing. I was changing on a personal level. I wasn’t getting any younger, and time would keep flying by if I didn’t do something about it. Yoga had made me more confident. The farmers’ market provided me with a venue to sell products—such as books, if someday I had them. And I still harbored this writing dream, no matter how desperately I tried to forget it. Why did I try to forget it? Because writing is HARD, and there’s no guarantee of money, and it’s about the worst job prospect you can imagine. But I wanted that writing career more than anything else. I didn’t want to wait years for it to happen with traditional publishing—I had already waited years, to no avail. I was fine with the idea that only family and friends would read my books. If that were the case, it would be better to get the 70% royalties that Kindle Direct Publishing promised rather than 10% royalties from a publishing house. So I took the plunge and decided to try self-publishing.
September 2012: Since EOL had already been shopped to agents, I figured it would be the better option for self-publishing. Then, if I later decided that I hated self-publishing, I could always try to publish RIVER’S EDGE traditionally. Plus, self-publishing is better for books that don’t fit neatly into one genre box, and I’ve been told that EOL is such a book. First I wanted to make EOL as good as possible. I did a massive rewrite, completely changing the beginning, end, and some parts in between. When I had polished as much as possible, Ellie edited it for me. Remember earlier how I mentioned that Ellie would be CRUCIAL to my writing career? Here’s why: NO ONE SHOULD SELF-PUBLISH WITHOUT A REALLY GOOD EDITOR. If you try to do all the editing yourself, or if you get an inexperienced editor, I guarantee you’ll have a low-quality book that lives up to the stigma of self-publishing. If you want any chance of being successful in the biz, you must have at least one good editor. Ellie is mine, and she makes all the difference in quality.
October 2012: This was a crazy busy month where the learning curve felt as huge as Mount Everest. I had to decide which company to use for print-on-demand books. CreateSpace and Lightning Source are the most popular options. If you need more info, Google “CreateSpace vs Lighting Source.” They both have pros and cons, but I went with CreateSpace because it has lower fees, is more user-friendly, and it offers immediate availability through Amazon. Which is, of course, the world’s largest reseller—kind of a big deal. I know Amazon isn’t perfect, but this is the world we live in. CreateSpace will even help you with services like the LCCN and ISBN. I had to research all the details to decide which options were best, but CreateSpace made it pretty easy. So then I had to learn how to format my book and design the interior. You can hire a professional to do this, but I was trying to cut costs whenever possible, and I have the attention to detail necessary to learn formatting. Luckily, there is a ton of information available online or in books—more every day. If I can learn to do it, odds are good that you can too. One thing I couldn’t learn to do was design a cover. After shopping around, I was lucky enough to have my sister-in-law recommend Rod Karmenzind, an amazing digital illustrator. Hiring him to design the cover was one the best decisions I made. Despite the warning not to judge a book by its cover, obviously readers do just that. So the quality of the cover really does influence sales. If it’s a low-quality cover, the reader will assume the story is low-quality too.
November 2012: I also had to learn how to convert my manuscript to ebook-friendly files and reformat everything so it would look good in an ebook (which is NOT the same as what looks good in print). Since I would be selling copies of the print version, I had to register my own business for the purpose of paying sales tax and income tax. I made what felt like a million last-minute checks and adjustments . . . and then I was ready to publish. My book released the week of Thanksgiving. Notice that a decade passed between the idea for the book and the production of it. I want aspiring authors to remember that. What often seems like an “overnight success” is usually something the author has been building up to for a LONG time.
February 2013: Skipping forward to the present. I’ve learned so much about self-publishing, but I still have more to learn. I recently attended the online conference IndieRecon, which was an amazing source of information. Wish I’d had this last year! If you’re considering self-publishing, I strongly suggest you check out IndieRecon, because the posts are still up and visible to anyone. The best thing about the conference was the feeling of empowerment. I didn’t have to hang my head in shame for self-publishing. I can keep my chin up because I’m an independent author, an indie. I have my own business and I make my own decisions. I have complete control over everything related to my books. I have skills that many traditional authors do not. Don’t get me wrong—I would NEVER bash traditional authors/publishing. Who knows, someday I might choose that route. It’s still a preferred option in some respects, depending on the author and the situation. But for now I love being an indie author. I love working with Ellie, Rod, and my wonderful test readers. I love getting higher royalties for each book I sell. And I love getting to decide my future. RIVER’S EDGE is set to release in April, and WINGS OF THUNDER will release later in 2013. Plenty more books will release in the years to come. I love my readers, and I love writing for them. I hope I can continue to do so for the rest of my life.