Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Thank You Trixie Belden

It's been bothering me for awhile to start a series of gratitude posts about the stories and authors who made me want to be a writer, or affected my approach to writing. Thinking back I know that the first series of books I really got into was Trixie Belden. There were plenty of books prior to reading Trixie, as we were a very bookish family, but Trixie was the first series that was "mine." I spent my allowance on them, haunted the bookstore to ask when the next one would be out, and would re-read them when nothing else presented itself.

At the same time I was also collecting the Black Stallion series, which don't get me wrong, I LOVE, but it didn't have the same group camaraderie that infused the Trixie Belden books. And camaraderie is big with me. It's my favorite part of Star Trek (and Star Trek is about my favorite thing ever). Quite honestly, it is confusing that I was able to focus on just two characters throughout the entirety of Trials of Artemis. But I digress. Let me tell you why I love Trixie Belden and how it influenced me.

Trixie was a smart, spunky tomboy with two older brothers. This was instantly easy for me to identify with, except that I was keeping most of my spunky on the inside. (I was a notoriously calm and rational child. There are stories.) Trixie had a large, loving, and loyal group of friends which was something I didn't have, but wanted to. Each of the books centered on a mystery that Trixie and her friends (collectively referred to by their club name the Bob-Whites) would solve. So it was a little bit Scooby-Doo (darn those kids!), and Trixie was a little bit like a young, female Sherlock Holmes. She noticed details and was clever in deducing something from them. I... am not like that, but found that personality fascinating.

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and when I ran out of books to read I immediately set about flattering the Trixie Belden series by trying to write my own. Since I was all of maybe eleven we can imagine how well that turned out. Actually I don't have to imagine, I could go downstairs and dig the papers up, but that sounds like a terrible, terrible idea.

Trixie Belden, I salute your sassy self (and the writers that created you), because you inspired my first serious attempt at writing a series. Without you I wouldn't be me, and that makes you my very best tween-age friend. Thanks for everything.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Hello Publication Day. Nice to Meet You.

For years I "wanted to be a writer" as though I felt like there was a barrier between myself and "being" a writer. As with many things in life it turned out that the barrier, the glass (or jell-o) wall, was something of my own mind's creation. Lo and behold it came down to a process that has been preached by published authors since time immemorial.
  1. Sit your ass down.
  2. Write a book.
  3. Edit it until it doesn't suck.
  4. Get feedback on said book from people who have a clue.
  5. Edit the hell out of it until it's actually good.
  6. Follow your chosen path to publication.
  7. Have a party.
  8. Repeat process as needed.
The good news is that you are officially a writer before you even start, you're an author if you get through step 2, and you're a published author if you can make it to step 7.

Step 6 can be very difficult. Very, very, very difficult. It's not so much a step as a whole sub-process by itself. And these days the author has a "chose your own adventure" aspect here because they need to pick traditional vs. self-publishing. Granted, you could always self-publish but selling books out of the back of your car is quite different than having access to powerhouse markets like Kindle, Nook, and Kobo for a relatively low entry fee. No matter which path you chose on this adventure there are challenges aplenty.

Writers seeking traditional publishing will be querying agents, querying editors, and undoubtedly going through additional edits and changes to align with their publisher. It's rare to pop out of the gate with an acceptance (thank you so much Truman Capote for proving it CAN happen and making the rest of us have vain hope), so the process of getting an agent and an editor could take years. It's just hard to say. Then even once you have a contract it could be a year or more before your book hits the shelves.

Writers going the self-publishing route also have a hard row to hoe. All those things that the "professionals" do in the traditional publication route have to be picked up and paid for by the self-published author - usually on a shoestring budget. Professional quality editing, professional quality cover, publishing to multiple formats, and all of the promotion duties. All the risk for potentially high reward - if you happen to have the right mix of product, price, placement, and promotion. You know, that marketing stuff that the big publishing firms hire specialists to do. And yes, traditionally published authors have to do a big share of their own promotion, but not all of it. That first boost from the publishing firm can be crucial for sales. How many of us know who to send press releases to? Or have any faith that someone on the other end will pay attention? There's a lot to be said for the traditional approach.

Be that as it may, as soon as I heard about self-publishing in e-book format I knew it was my path. A fiercely independent nature has always worked out well for me. I'd never heard of home-schooling as a kid but at 13 I quit traditional school and set about educating myself. Yes, I went to college. And for my bachelor's degree chose an "adult program" for maximum flexibility and independent study. All of my graduate level courses have been done online and self-paced. It's not that I can't suck it up and be a good little soldier when necessary, but I will always look for the route that gives me maximum independence. High risk with potential for high reward? Even better. Taking Trials of Artemis from concept to publication is about the most fun I've ever had. Researching every aspect of both the art and business of publishing has been a delight. I'm looking forward to publishing more in this series, and starting a few other series to boot.

I've learned a lot and look forward to applying that learning to the rest of my writing career. And in case you wonder where my big "promotion push" is, don't expect to see it until I've got the third book in this series out. If I *know* that I'm going to write a series and I *know* how we series readers are (READ ALL THE THINGS!), then I don't see the point in making a big push and having people lament for months on how the second one isn't out yet. Right now I have a more-than-full-time job so I can't commit to cranking them out every couple of months.

Happy publication day to me. It's about damn time.