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11-23-2016 Defending Self-Publishing

My husband, Dr. Roger McIntire, and I started our own publishing company 20-some years ago. He writes practical books for parents and his books have been published by mainstream publishers, but he got tired of their mediocre marketing efforts and decided he’d rather publish his books himself and retain control.

Fortunately, I’ve been in the writing and publishing business most of my professional life, so I had skills that complemented his in establishing our small press. I also joined the Independent Book Publishing Association, which provides invaluable expertise, information, education and marketing opportunities. Our books have received excellent reviews, won the approval of the Parents’ Choice Foundation, and been translated and published in eight other countries.

In the last five years, we developed the imprint, Amanita Books, to publish my fiction, which now numbers five novels. My novels also receive excellent reviews.

Still, when we discuss our books, we feel the stigma of being self-published, and no matter how good my reviews are or how much people say they enjoy my books, I cannot participate as an author or presenter at the Malice Domestic Conference. Continue reading “11-23-2016 Defending Self-Publishing”

Ever Upward

The commencement speaker at our grandson’s graduation from MIT in June was MIT alumnus Drew Houston, class of 2006 and CEO and co-founder of Dropbox, a service now used by millions around the world. Dropbox grew from the simple idea that people should have a way to access their files anywhere without relying on e-mail attachments or thumb drives.

His talk was unassuming, personal, and inspiring, which was a surprise to me since Houston is so young, granted that he is a millionaire many times over.  I scribbled a few notes to share with you, but essentially, his talk was about plunging forward, not worrying about making things perfect but about having an adventure. Life has no warm-up, he said, no practice buttons and failure doesn’t matter. “You only have to succeed once.”  

You can read his commencement address online at http://www.networkworld.com.

 When my husband and I started our publishing business, we had no idea what we were getting into or what a complex and frustrating business it is. But it has been an adventure and many times it has been fun.  As I’ve talked to other small business owners, I’ve found that for most of us, we had to take the leap and just begin and plunge forward. No warm-up, no practice button. You tackle things as you come to them.

 And now as I prepare to launch my third novel, The 90s Club & the Whispering Statue, I realize the same goes for this publishing venture as well. I have had two critique groups, two editors, and three beta readers peruse the book and comment on characters, plot, writing, and other aspects of a mystery novel. I could do this indefinitely in an effort to achieve perfection.

But at some point, the author has to say “I’m finished with this book and I’m ready to move on.” On the other hand, continuing to tinker with the manuscript delays the scary risk of sending it out to meet the critics.

Better to think of it all as an adventure, a learning experience, and a step forward in my own development as a writer. What I’ve written so far is the best I could do at the time, but what will I do next time? Where will I go next? How will I improve?

 At the conclusion of his talk, Houston said that his grandmother always ended their telephone calls with the word, “Excelsior,” which means “ever upward.”

I’ll end this blog the same way. Excelsior!

On Launching a Book

My second book in the 90s Club cozy mystery series, entitled The 90s Club & the Whispering Statue, has gone through two critique groups, two editors, numerous drafts and I’m getting ready to launch. This is when the fear hits.

Is it good enough? Will it sustain the reader’s attention? Are my characters developed enough? Does the plot make any sense? I am a worse critic of my own writing than the cruelest jibe expert.

It’s time to get out my copy of Rotten Reviews and Rejections* and read the nasty comments reviewers gave to such famous authors as Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, and Shakespeare. The book is full of examples. Of Charles Dickens’ Bleak House, George Brimley in the Spectator said: “More than any of its predecessors chargeable with not simply faults, but absolute want of construction…meagre and melodramatic.”  William Winstanley, 1687, said of John Milton: “His fame is gone out like a candle in a snuff and his memory will always stink.” The San Francisco Examiner rejected Rudyard Kipling with: “I’m sorry, Mr. Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.” Of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, the New York Herald Tribune called it “A lugubrious and heavy-handed piece of propaganda.”

A reviewer once said of a Laura Lippman mystery that her latest book showed her development as a novelist.  I, too, am growing as a novelist. Each book is the best I can do at that moment. I hope the next will show stronger character development, more intricate plotting, and a greater sensitivity to the human condition.  But right now, this is where I’m at.

I’ll be speaking April 17 at Charlestown Retirement Village in Baltimore on writing, publishing and my 90s Club mystery series. I’m looking for other speaking gigs as well. On April 27, we will have an exhibit at the Amelia Island, FL, Book Festival.

I continue to be astounded at what people in their 90s and 100s are doing in the world. My friend Pat sent me an article about a 100-year-old woman who’s a computer whiz at her retirement community and also creates its gardens. Pat met her at a birding lecture, where she wanted to know what flowers to plant to attract birds. They were sitting next to each other and walked out together. Pat thought she was maybe 70 or so and then came across the article  that she sent to me.

Know someone who is turning 90? Give them a copy of my book, The 90s Club & the Hidden Staircase. They’ll enjoy the light touch and positive outlook on old age. High school or college reunion coming up? The 90s Club series is a wryly humourous gift for attendees. Contact me for a 50 percent discount off the cover price for orders of 10 or more. Email:  eileenmcintire@aol.com.

***

About The 90s Club & the Hidden Staircase: The 90s Club at Whisperwood Retirement Village discovers a simmering brew of thefts, murders, and exploitation bubbling beneath its active lifestyle in this cozy mystery, the first in a series by Eileen Haavik McIntire. Except for the evil underfoot, the mystery accurately presents life in an upscale retirement community while spoofing stereotypes about the elderly.  “A must” for readers of cozy mysteries” – Midwest Book Review.

 ***

* Pushcart’s Complete Rotten Reviews & Rejections, edited by Bill Henderson and Andre Bernard. Pushcart Press, Wainscott, NY, 1998.

About Self-Publishing

I received a comment from a “rookie writer” who’s afraid to self-publish because she doesn’t have any money and because promotion is a dark mystery.

I think the fear is misplaced. The real fear should come from the act of self-publishing, not the cost, which can be minimal, or promotion, which is daunting. A self-published book means that it doesn’t have the approval of an agent, review panel, editor, and publishing house and, therefore, lacks credibility to the buying audience. The praise of friends and family doesn’t count.

When I self-published my novel, Shadow of the Rock, I met that fear head-on. I’d been working on the novel for years. Now I was throwing my baby out to the wolves. Was I going to be obliterated by the steel blades of heartless reviewers? Would a reviewer even notice? Would all my friends and family snicker about the book behind my back?

But I surged ahead, because I had years of the sometimes savage critiques of my novel from the two critique groups I belonged to. These groups, formed under the auspices of the Maryland Writers’ Association, helped me hone my writing, throw out the information dumps, kill the adverbs, delve more deeply into my characters, and refine the plot points. Sometimes the critiques were hard to take, but they were always valuable.

I self-published because I couldn’t get an agent. But I knew my book was a good read; that I had written it well, and that it provided interesting insights into Florida and Moroccan history. It also had the foundation of excellent and painstaking research.

I’ve received two positive reviews from the reviewing media (Midwest Book Review called it “a riveting story of time and humanity, highly recommended”) and positive comments on Amazon.com and from friends and family, I feel good about Shadow of the Rock. Most comments do say it’s a good read and hard to put down.

So my best advice is to write, write more, read books about writing, and join a group of writers to critique your work. That’s the way you’ll grow as a writer, become a good one, and self-publish with confidence.

As for the cost of self-publishing, you can learn how to format your book as an e-book and mount it on smashwords.com (which has a complete manual on formatting) and Amazon.com. This costs little.  You can also use a print-on-demand house to print your book, but your book needs a professional layout and cover. This can be costly (around $1300 for both layout and cover) although you could learn to do the interior layout yourself, but it needs to look like a book interior. It needs to look professional. You absolutely do need a professional cover design.

Caution: Don’t self-publish until you know what the business of publishing is all about. Join the Independent Book Publishers Association (ibpa-online.org) and your regional publishers affiliate. Read about self-publishing. Learn. This is a highly complicated business with a steep learning curve.

Promotion, aka, getting the book out of the basement, is another issue, for another time.

Barriers Still Tough for the Independent Publisher

Amazon.com and the Internet have opened up publishing, promotion, sales and distribution avenues for the small press, but one hurdle remains. That is the archaic and mostly inaccessible review system still in place today.

This system is so jurassic that prestigious review organs such as Publishers Weekly and Library Journal still require perfect-bound galley proofs. Galley proofs! Nobody’s seen an actual galley for 50 years. And they require these bound proofs at least three months ahead of publication date. Even the Washington Independent Review of Books requires bound galleys at least two months ahead of pub date.

If you’re a small or self-published press, though, you don’t have to worry about this because they aren’t going to accept your book for review. That’s because you lack the credibility that comes from acceptance by an agent and then an establishment publisher. Never mind that these people pander to anyone who has a big name regardless of the quality of their product.

One way you could get this credibility is through good reviews from respected media. And you ain’t gonna get that. See above.

The two or three month requirement before pub date also belongs in the same extinction barrel as the galley proofs. Books can be printed and available for sale in two or three days with current print on demand technology. If it’s ready enough for bound galleys, it’s ready enough for sale.

I suggest an easy answer. Review media should accept finished books when they are available and publish the review when it’s completed regardless of pub date. The publisher can launch the book’s publicity and promotion efforts in line with the review’s publication, but the book could be available before that.

The Independent Book Publishers Association has done much to even the playing field for small, independent and self publishers. Their publishers’ University and other workshops have improved the quality of the books so that many of these publishers’ books can compete on the same level with the big guys.

Reviews are the last hurdle. How can we open up or expand access to credible review media?

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