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Archive for the ‘self-published novels’ Category

… with More to Come!

One of the questions I’m asked by authors who are getting ready to bring out their first books is whether or not I think that contests are worth the time, effort, and entry fees. And my answer is–especially for the increasing numbers of authors who’ve opted for a non-traditional publishing path–yes! Enter every contest you can get your hands on!

That resounding encouragement is not just because my second novel, Separation of Faith, has proven (unbelievably) to be a story with “contest legs.” Contests are not just about placing or winning. (And so far, Separation of Faith has not grabbed a first prize but has come so-o-o-o close! A full list of the contests and the specific placements is at the end of this post.) For all of us, yet particularly for those of us carrying the entire promotional load required to get our work into the hands of readers, contests can provide a much-needed assist. Each contest–even the list comprising all of the “festivals”–has a separate and independent panel of judges, and no matter how your book ends up doing overall, you’ll receive at least one piece of valuable input per experience. Of course, that input might not be something you want to hear, but sometimes the toughest feedback can turn out to be the most important in the scope of your entire writing/publishing Journey.

A case proving that particular point involves my first novel, The Truth About Cinnamon. Just like every other aspiring author out there, I was absolutely convinced that Cinnamon was what the publishing community had been missing. This novel was going to change the world! Well … that was seven+ years ago, and although the world has changed, Cinnamon is certainly not the reason. Contests, however, were instrumental in helping me understand a lot of things about my debut novel, not the least of which is the key role professional editing needs to play in your process if you’ve decided to follow a non-traditional publishing path. Unfortunately, as I was working on the final iterations of Cinnamon, I still believed that all of the edits I’d performed on the book myself (especially since I was an official freelance editor, which surely gave me all the tools I needed) would be more than sufficient. Plus, the book had been put through several proofing rounds performed by educators in my circle of family and friends. What more could I have possibly done? Well … a lot! And I could not have been more wrong about thinking I could manage that critical element on my own! That fact first began creeping into my world through feedback from contest judges.

The Truth About Cinnamon never placed once in any contest. And, after awhile, I stopped entering the book because I recognized that the results were never going to change unless I pulled the book out of circulation, made a ton of major changes, and then handed the book over to a serious, professional editor. Eventually, that’s exactly what I did do, but not until I’d finished writing Separation of Faith, which was subjected to intense (and seemingly endless, at the time) rounds of professional editing from the get-go. Many of the major lessons learned through The Truth About Cinnamon originated in feedback from contest judges. Those lessons included favorable input on characterization, descriptive elements, and the basic storyline. “Needs improvement” comments almost universally centered around point-of-view inconsistencies, unnecessary background information, and confusion in the timeline. But the single most cited reason for Cinnamon’s lack of success in every contest was the poor editing.

That lesson was so indelibly (and painfully) etched on my writing psyche that Separation of Faith–my second novel and the beneficiary of lots of heartbreaking input from novel #1–has actually been cited for editorial excellence! And the whole subject and scope of editing was covered extensively in this blog as I was documenting the editing phases of Separation of Faith in real-time. If you search this blog for “editing,” you’ll find a whole bunch of stuff that might be of value to you, because the time to concentrate on editing, of course, is before you publish you book–:-)–not afterward, as I originally did with Cinnamon.

When readers order copies of The Truth About Cinnamon now, though, they receive a re-edited Second Edition that has addressed the issues raised by readers as well as contest and other feedback while also cutting 20,000 words. That re-editing effort took nearly a year (as I squeezed that work into the rest of my life). Aspiring authors often get themselves into the same situation because they’re so excited about “finishing” their first book that they become impatient. If they’re pursuing a traditional publishing path, they begin sending the manuscript prematurely to agents and editors and end up with piles of rejections. If they’ve decided to take an alternative publishing path, they do as I did and publish too soon. Note to aspiring authors: If you’ve finished writing your first novel, that book is still an early draft until you and the book have been through at least two rounds (and probably more) of professional editing. If you’re sending in a manuscript–or if you’re publishing a manuscript–that hasn’t been professionally edited, you’re submitting/publishing a premature draft that will inevitably disappoint you. And that was the most important lesson gleaned from contest input.

Even after pulling Cinnamon and basically rewriting the book, the editorial quality of the new version still doesn’t equal that of Separation of Faith. But at least the new Cinnamon is miles better than the original–and I’m even considering submitting the novel to a few contests again, just out of curiosity. 🙂

Meanwhile, Separation of Faith is on a contest role–and although the story and characters have obviously made some contribution to these placements, another primary reason for the novel’s success is the excellence in editing. A few competitions haven’t announced the winners yet, and I have a list in front of me of another dozen contests to enter (all named below). Here’s what’s happened so far:

  1. Amazon’s 2011 Breakthrough Novel Award: Made Round 1 Cut. Feedback from Round 2 was interesting and included reports from two judges. One evaluation was glowing and would have moved the novel into Round 3. The second evaluation was the exact opposite and didn’t even sound like the same book had been read by the two judges. So, keep in mind that there’s a great deal of subjectivity in contest judging–just like there’s subjectivity in readers themselves. That’s why I’m entering as many contests as possible. The more feedback you can get, the more you’ll see the consistencies (the positives and negatives) come through in the feedback.
  2. 2011 Paris Book Festival: Runner-Up to Grand Prize Winner.
  3. 2010 DIY (Do-It-Yourself) Book Festival (one of the most prestigious and most important for self-publishers): Runner-Up to Grand Prize Winner.
  4. 2011 San Francisco Book Festival: Honorable Mention (2nd from top) in General Fiction.
  5. 2011 Beach Book Festival: Honorable Mention (top of list) in Fiction.
  6. 2011 New York Book Festival: Honorable Mention (top of list) in Fiction.
  7. 2011 Hollywood Book Festival: Honorable Mention (4th from top) in Fiction

Still waiting for results:

  1. 2011 Reader’s Favorite
  2. Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards–winners to be announced October 14, 2011
  3. USA Best Books 2011–finalists and winners to be announced in October 2011

Contests still to enter:

  1. Los Angeles Book Festival
  2. Benjamin Franklin Awards
  3. IPPYs (Independent Publisher Book Awards)
  4. Los Angeles Book Festival
  5. Foreward Magazine Book of the Year
  6. London Book Festival
  7. New England Book Festival
  8. 2012 Indie Excellence Awards
  9. Green Book Festival
  10. Hudson Valley Festival of Books

And I’m sure there are others. You can’t enter too many, in my opinion. Remember, also, that placing is fun, but what you end up learning about your writing and the story you’ve entered is the most important part of the process in the long run.

Good luck to you if you’re also on the contest path! Please let me know how you’re doing!

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No … This Isn’t About Me

Not yet, anyway. 🙂 The author’s name is John Locke (www.DonovanCreed.com). He’s a 60-something baby boomer with big dreams, sort of like me. But there’s a major difference. As of June 21, he has self-published seven novels (Donovan Creed, the detective, is a recurring character), plus two unusual western novels (by his own definition), and now a how-to book titled How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months! (http://www.amazon.com/Sold-Million-eBooks-Months-ebook/dp/B0056BMK6K/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&m=AG56TWVU5XWC2&s=books&qid=1309223049&sr=1-1). And those five months were all in 2011! Here’s the link to this week’s news about his historic accomplishment: http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/bookselling/article/47669-john-locke-hits-1-million-on-the-kindle.html

If you’re a struggling writer out there who’s just happened upon this blog, or if you’ve been following this Journey since the blog launched on November 4, 2009, there won’t be any surprise in this news: I purchased Locke’s How I Sold … book for my Kindle within moments of reading two days ago about the man’s success.

Locke does not present himself as a great novelist–a refreshingly realistic perspective, especially since I’ve recently read a couple of best-selling novels, which were published through one of the big six mainstream traditional houses and which I could not believe ever saw the printed light of day. Locke does believe he’s a good writer, though, who’s become a better novelist over time as he’s crafted seven Donovan Creed stories for a relatively small, carefully defined, “niche” audience (the “niche” being a key element of the “system” he presents in How I Sold …). And, even though I don’t think I fit into Locke’s description of that niche, my curiosity was definitely piqued. So, a few minutes ago, I ordered two of his Creed novels–his earliest and his most recent, in order to experience his writing growth. 🙂 After all, the books are only 99 cents on Kindle (another key part of his “system”).

But the most important aspect of discovering Mr. Locke (for me, at least, and I suspect for a whole bunch of you as well) is that, until a few short months ago, he was in virtually the same position that I (and many of you) are in now–where we’re only selling a handful of books, despite back- (and bank-) breaking promotional efforts. He was languishing along with us in the ever-growing quicksand field of self-published authors, taking solace only in his unflagging determination and the encouraging legitimacy conveyed by his readers.

One significant difference between where he was and where I am was that his body of work is much larger than mine, due, as I learned at the end of his How I Sold … book, to his goal of completing a new novel every eight weeks. In one of the messages I wrote to him after finishing his book, I suggested that, whatever method(s) he uses to create a novel every eight weeks might be a great subject for his next how-to book! I already know that I’m taking way too long per book, but I’ve been working with the goal of producing a book each year. The idea of cranking out six per year never even flickered through my head. In fact, I’d be happy with a novel every six months. Would I buy a book by Locke that explained how he creates a new novel every eight weeks? Especially since that book would undoubtedly be priced somewhere between 99 cents and $5? Well … let me think.

At any rate, in less than six months, John Locke went from selling dribbles of his books on Amazon and other sources to being the first self-published author (and only the fifth or sixth author of any kind) to break through the 1 million book level on Kindle. And this wasn’t just by happenstance. He created a plan–a “system”–which he follows faithfully. And then, when his system actually worked consistently, he took a little time (a few weeks, apparently) to write a book that captures that system for the rest of us, in case we’d like to give the concept a try.

And that’s exactly what I’m going to do! I’ll use Locke’s system for the nonfiction work in progress, hopefully due out on eBook by early fall, and then again for my next novel (which I’ve decided will definitely be a sequel to Separation of Faith–http://tinyurl.com/3tljkpc).

“Isn’t that going to be sort of risky?” you might ask.

Au contraire! “What do I have to lose?” is the question circling around me. What would any of us risk losing, compared to where we are now?

Imagine this: thousands of self-published authors–even tens of thousands, perhaps–suddenly experiencing wild success through eBook sales! Sure would be hard to marginalize that statistic or question the validity of authorship when paired with such soaring numbers of happy readers!

I’ll definitely keep you posted on what happens–and please let me know if you give Locke’s ideas a try yourself! From the beginning, I’ve been saying that there’s enough room in this dream for all of us!

Suddenly, the lyrics from an old boomer song by Buffalo Springfiled have begun rolling through my head: “There’s something happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear.” That song spoke to a whole generation in the 1960s and early 70s about huge and very serious changes taking place in the country. Although clearly on a lighter, much smaller, and far less dangerous scale, I do believe there’s a revolution underway in the publishing world today. And I would like to be on the leading edge. How about you? 🙂

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