Decisions, Decisions

IWSG

The idea of self-publishing used to terrify me, but not for the reason one might expect. It had nothing to do with a fear of failure; as an overweight, divorced, bankrupt and often-unemployed woman nearing her fiftieth birthday, I pretty much deal with failure on a daily basis. Believe me, I could write a long and detailed blog post about all of the areas in my life where I have failed.

I fail at a lot of things, and I usually do so spectacularly.

I am not afraid of failure.

But I was afraid to be a self-published author.  You see, I heard all the horror stories. I read the warnings when I haunted the writing forums to learn what the self-published authors were talking about. I learned terms like “carpet bombing” and “Goodreads bullies” and “trolls” and I almost bailed without ever trying.

It was intimidating. No, it was terrifying to think that years of hard work and effort could all be washed down the drain for reasons that had nothing to do with writing skills — or lack thereof. I was afraid to self-publish because I was worried about ending up on the wrong side of the wrong people. I was scared of pissing off someone who might take revenge on my book, because, hey, I read about it happening all the time.

But I have never been able to resist a challenge, so I swallowed my fear and self-published Her House Divided in February of 2014. I made a lot of mistakes and I realized that I had a huge learning curve ahead of me, but it’s been a great ride. A bumpy ride, but still a  thrilling one.

And the people I was warned about? Yep, they exist. Trolls and Bullies and Whackadoodles, oh my!

But I’ve learned that those guys are the minority. A noisy minority, to be sure, but a minority nonetheless. For the most part, the world of self-publishing has turned out to be filled with helpful, supportive, and productive people who really do seem to look out for each other. I have been so warmly welcomed into the community by writers in every genre, at every different stage in their writing careers.

It’s a matter of finding the supportive people and walking away from the destructive ones.

Easier said than done, right?

Here’s how I see it. I can go to the writing forums and spend my time with the people who want to look for the negative in everything. I can argue with every writer who swears Amazon is stealing their money or lying about their sales, and I can end up embroiled in unproductive arguments about every aspect of writing and publishing. In the end, it would be sort of like arguing with a rattlesnake to convince it that it’s a garter snake — it’s an argument I can’t win, and I’ll just end up filled with venom.

Or . . . . I can surround myself with the kind of professionals who understand that we are all part of the same community.That’s been the “bumpy” part of the learning process I referred to earlier. I’ve wasted far too many hours over the past year and a half, spent far too much time around the kind of folks who are more concerned with dragging down than raising up.  

For every author who spends their time mocking a particular genre or writer, there are authors like Marysol James and Mae Martini, who are always ready to offer honest feedback and practical suggestions of what works for them.  There’s an M. Lauryl Lewis  standing by to chit-chat about marketing strategies and share her ideas.

For every author who takes delight in the poor sales of a competitor, there is a Nancy Gideon offering words of encouragement instead.  There’s a Jasinda Wilder reaching out to say “Don’t be jealous of me honey! … Just keep writing. Get the next book out because that is more room on the shelf. I’m rooting for you.”

For every angry blogger posting insults and criticisms aimed at their fellow writers, there are bloggers like Ryan Lanz, Chris McMullen and Kristen Lamb, who use their blogs to offer guidance and support to their fellow writers.  And let’s not forget that Kristen Lamb is also responsible for creating the “MyWANA” hashtag, which is there to remind us all that we are not alone.

We are not alone. That’s what Alex Cavanaugh and his Insecure Writers Support Group are all about. We share our insecurities, and our fellow writers swoop in to offer advice or encouragement, or sometimes just a bit of virtual online hand-holding when needed.

If you go into self-publishing expecting trolls and whackadoodles, chances are good that you’re going to find exactly what you’re looking for. So why not look for something better? Be something better. Surround yourself with those who lift each other up, and try to do a little lifting yourself when you can.

In the week ahead, I want to challenge all of you to step out of your comfort zone and do something nice for another writer. Share a link to someone else’s book. Leave a comment on a blog you’ve never visited before. Reach out and offer a word of encouragement to an author who’s dealing with slow sales or a bad review.

Make a choice. What kind of writer do you want to be?

This has been my monthly post for the Insecure Writers Support Group. If you are a writer struggling with insecurities or just in need of a little support, please check out this FABULOUS group of wonderful people!  http://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com/p/iwsg-sign-up.html

BBA or Not BBA?

When I was a kid, one of my favorite authors was a woman named M.V. Carey.    She was the only female writer on the list of professionals writing for the Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators series that I loved so much, and she inspired me more than any other writer at that point in my life.  In fact, the pen name I have chosen for myself is sort of an homage to her.

I wrote her a letter once, asking her a lot of silly questions and giving her all kinds of suggestions for storylines that involved abusing my favorite character, Pete.   And she actually answered my letter!  I don’t remember the specifics of her response, but I remember that it was kind and gracious and oh-so-encouraging.

Fast forward nearly forty years.  I am an author now.  Not a hugely successful one by any means, but an author all the same.  Over the years, I’ve contacted other writers via email, and I still get that same fangirly rush when I hear back from them.  I can hardly believe it when writers like Jasinda Wilder and Nancy Gideon take the time out of their busy schedules to answer questions and offer encouragement to a nobody like me!

Let me confess right here:  I actually cried for a minute or two when Nancy Gideon started following me on Twitter.

Yes, I get emotional like that sometimes.

Basically, I’ve been spoiled.  Up until recently, my interactions with other writers have been overwhelmingly positive.  I’ve been proud to call myself a writer.  It was a huge step for me to go from “I want to be a writer” or “I’m trying to be a writer” to “I am a writer.”

Right now, I’m not so proud of the writing community.

Maybe it’s because of the immediacy of the internet; maybe it’s because of the politically-correct positive-reinforcement brainwashing that has tried to convince us that we are all wonderful.  Perhaps it’s because not all of us have examples like Carey, Wilder, and Gideon.

Whatever the reason, there are a lot of authors out there who need a visit from the Reality Fairy.  They’re referred to as BBA’s, or Badly Behaving Authors, and they are an embarrassment to the rest of us.  Upon getting a bad review, they whine, complain and cry about cyber bullying or harassment or the unfairness of life in general.   They rage against reviewers and book bloggers with accusations and threats that are sometimes laughably over the top.

Like me, some authors are also bloggers.  And in recent weeks, they’ve been coming out in droves to throw in their two cents’ worth in certain high-profile situations involving authors and reviewers, most notably the Kathleen Hale/Blythe Harris kerfuffle.  Everyone’s got an opinion, no matter how ill-informed; everyone’s got to jump right up on that bandwagon.

Several book bloggers have joined forces this week in a blogging blackout.  In other words, they are taking the week off from reviewing new books in their blogs.  Bloggers all over the place are standing up to join forces or to criticize the effort.

My first impulse?  Move over; make room for me on that bandwagon!  Sure, I’ll take a week off to show solidarity.

But . . .

I’m not a book blogger.  My joining them would be meaningless because I don’t use my blog to review books, and because I often go weeks without a new post anyway.  Going a week without reviewing a new book in my blog is sort of the status quo.

The world isn’t exactly going to tremble in response to my saying that I want to be part of a blogging blackout.  My joining in at this point would, in a sense, minimize the efforts of those who really do have a stake in this.

I don’t know what’s true and what’s been exaggerated out of proportion about BBA’s like Kathleen Hale or Maggie Spence..  But I do know that the authors I admire, the authors I respect, the authors who have inspired and encouraged me . . . well, they don’t answer their reviewers on Amazon.  They don’t argue with book bloggers who don’t like their work.  They don’t write tell-all articles for The Guardian about the time they stalked a reviewer.  They don’t complain about being cyber-bullied or harassed.

They don’t show up in articles about Badly Behaving Authors.

They write.  They write books, and they act with dignity in the face of the occasional bad review or criticism.  They treat fans and detractors alike with equal grace and courtesy.

They act like grown-ups.

I’ve written two books, with a third one almost finished.  They aren’t perfect; I still have a lot to learn.  Of course, I want to “make it big” and be remembered as a great author!  But if people are talking about me twenty years from now, or even fifty years from now, I want them to talk about my books, not my behavior.  I want to be remembered because I made people laugh or cry with my words, not because I acted like an ass in response to criticism.

And since I just got my first 1-star review, I guess it’s time to find some Toblerone and go practice what I preach.

A Wilder Thought

I am having a major problem completing my novel.

I blame blogging and Jasinda Wilder.

Let’s tackle blogging first.  Some days, I really struggle to write anything worth posting.  It’s hard work.  It’s not fun.  And when it’s finished, I usually don’t like it.  On those days, it’s not that there’s a problem with the actual writing itself; grammatically speaking, it’s fine.

It’s just . .  . cold.  Flat.  Lifeless.  A well-written Wikipedia entry.

But then I have the days when everything flows.   I sit at the computer and zap! I’m just along for the ride.  It doesn’t feel like work at all.  It feels like play.  It’s fun.  My stories and essays write themselves, just borrowing my fingers on the keyboard to give them life.

I can feel my face flush with the exhilaration of knowing that I am creating something good.  I am writing things that I will later look at with awe and ask, “Did I really write that?”

Blogging has taught me that, while writing is a business that requires hard work and planning, it’s also something I don’t ever want to give up again.  And that some of my very best work is the stuff that comes out when I’m enjoying myself, not when I’m trying so hard.   And that lesson has made me doubt the work I have done so far on my own novel.

My novel isn’t fun.  I’ve spent two years fighting with it, and it’s still not finished. I’ve started to hate my main characters.  Part of me wants to put the whole damn thing away for a few months and take a break so I can write something fun, but the logical part of me knows I will never come back to it if I do.  I know that follow-through is not my strong suit, and that I tend to quit projects because of self-doubt and fear.

Besides, an agent wants to see it.  I can’t blow this opportunity!

Then there’s Jasinda Wilder.  She and her husband were facing foreclosure when they decided to write an erotic romance novel a la Fifty Shades of Grey. In less than thirty days, she did her market research, churned out and self-published Big Girls Do it Better, and sold more than 500 copies in the first day.   Since then, she has published several more, and according to CBS News, she now averages over $100,000 in sales per month.

I want to hate her.  I want to dismiss her as a talentless hack.   But I’ve read her books, and they’re pretty good.  Not always to my taste; I’m really not a fan of erotica, and my favorite romances tend to be the more chaste ones.  But she writes very well, and I have to say that she deserves the success she has found.

She also seems to be a very nice, down-to Earth person.

But.

If she can knock out book after book after book faster than the speed of light while I do everything but pour my blood on the page, then maybe I’m not meant to be a writer.  Should it really be this hard?

If it’s this hard, maybe it’s just not meant to be.

So I am asking my fellow writers for advice.  What do you do when self-doubt and frustration attack?  How do you keep from being jealous of writers like Jasinda Wilder, for whom it all seems to be so easy?

How do you know when it’s time to give up on a project or just keep pushing to break through the tough spots on your current one?

How do you convince yourself to finish something when it has stopped being fun?