Thursday, February 11, 2016

Why I Decided to Self-Publish

Last year, I was at a crossroads. I knew The Vengeful Half needed to be my next book, one way or another. I've been revising this book for years (that's a story for another day) and I had gotten it to a place where I really loved it, and more than anything, I just wanted to stop keeping it a secret project.

But the tough question was whether to pursue traditional publication or self-publish, and that was HARD. I have been hearing for a while that hybrid authors make the most money in general...but on the writer forums I follow, there is definitely still a whiff of "last resort" to self-publishing. It's a choice you might make with sad resignation after shopping a book around for a while. And if you've had books traditionally published, there are experiences you tend to expect and enjoy from the publication process, like seeing a deal announcement in Publisher's Weekly, working with a great editor who fell in love with your book, and seeing your books at BEA or ALA, that you may feel sad to give up.

Then I started poking around some self-publishing forums and got a very different picture. The first thing I noticed was that self-published writers seemed less depressed. I'm sure there are sad, unsuccessful self-published writers who end up not really participating in forums and just give up, and there is surely commiseration in more private spaces. But...I definitely noticed a change of vibe, especially with the more successful writers. Traditionally published writers are...kind of depressed a lot, even when they're hitting bestseller lists. I also noted that some people were making a lot of money, and they weren't always writing romance or erotica, as I had previously assumed.

However, the self-published authors who are doing well seem to have many of these elements in common:
--Good covers and descriptions (obviously)
--Solid writing
--A long series of books, at least three but oftentimes more
--Writing in a popular genre
--A romantic element in the story (unless the genre is very masculine)
--The ability to put out more than one book a year (sometimes WAY more)

So I can see why it's not for everyone. But if you do have these elements in place, it seems to me that success might be just as likely with self-publishing as it is with traditional publishing, given a particular boost by the fact of higher royalties and control over publication schedule. I can certainly write two books a year and maybe even more, but I haven't published two books a year, because it's been hard enough getting publishers to put out one book a year from me, and I have also sometimes been contracted for projects I was less enthused about, and therefore wrote more slowly and reluctantly, while passion projects were set aside.

If I published twice as many books, for twice the royalties, then I would only have to sell 1/4 the a theoretical world.

In the real world, many ebooks are sold at a huge discount in 99 cent sales and the like, and my advances have been much higher than the amount of copies sold, BUT, I can't expect that to continue. 

Still, I wrestled with the decision. I had a hard time letting go of traditional publishing. It didn't feel to me like a "real book" without it. And yet, what is really more important to me? Putting out the book I want, in the way I want? Or just seeing it on the shelf of Barnes & Noble? (...I don't even live near a large bookstore anymore.) Why should I think this, when some of the stories that influenced me the most were indie comic books/graphic novels? I made some lists to help clarify:

Reasons to Publish Traditionally:
--Advance money
--No upfront expenses on my part
--Working with professional editor/copyeditor
--Potential to be on bookstore shelves
--Potential for reviews in trade publications, starred reviews, state lists
--Greater library sales
--More likely to be invited to events or eligible to apply for book festivals
--Publisher handles formatting, cover, distribution, some marketing
--If book "hits", publisher marketing machine can be amazing
--Sales rely less heavily on Amazon & potentially support indie bookstores

Reasons to Self-Publish:
--Income is more evenly distributed, not a lump sum
--No potential for getting a horrible cover and having to pretend to like it
--Can get books out faster
--Can publish a longer series
--More direct line to readers; i.e., can tell fans "the sequel comes out in fall" and know this is absolutely in your hands, no need to get permission to publish extra novellas, etc.
--Marketing has more of a "long game" aspect
--Can add artwork and "omake" (that's Japanese for extras...and if you've ever read manga you know what I mean)
--No fear of sudden, absurd deadline
--No fear of editor leaving, book getting pushed back, or other common roadblocks

There are some very valid points on both lists. On both lists, a lot are also more theoretical. Traditional publishing has the potential for a lot of cool things: the starred reviews, invitations to BEA, etc. has been very rare that any of that stuff happens to me, and that's true for a large portion of authors. Even bookstore presence is by no means guaranteed these days.

A lot of the pros for self-publishing are simply avoidance of the more unpleasant potentials in traditional publishing. They're only potentials, but they do happen. I've never had a bad editor, but I have had an editor leave...luckily she was great, too, but I've known others that didn't have as much luck. I have had books pushed back. I've had crazy deadlines. It is pretty likely that if you have a few books, you'll end up having some kind of crisis moment. Most of these events are not a huge deal in the scheme of things...but with this book, which is so much a part of me, the dread of some unexpected unpleasantness increases exponentially.

These lists made one thing clear to me: the best thing about self-publishing is the control over the story and its presentation. In the case of this book, it was especially important because I wanted to do something very different with it. 

The other factor I considered...what does moderate success look like, in both cases? Let's say I was making $20,000 a year as an author. As an indie publisher, this means two books a year making $10k each over time, or about 4,000 full price copies. I'm a pretty happy girl. I'm not rich by any means, but the mortgage is paid, there's food in the fridge, and I'm doing what I love. As a traditionally published author, this means selling a book a year for an advance of $23,000, to allow for agent fees. This doesn't sound impossible either. Plenty of people manage this. But it does feel more unpredictable. Taxes certainly don't help. You're not on a salary, so if you average $23k a year, it might be more likely to come as, say, a large advance one year and nothing the next, shoving you into a higher tax bracket in that one year, sucking up a larger chunk of your money, and then leaving you with nothing the next year. This happened to me when I made $70k in one lucky year...had to pay $23k in taxes...and then made a mere $6k the next year. If I'd lived in a state with state tax at the time, as I do now, it would've been even worse! I would have kept more money if the amount had been averaged. 

At this point, it's all conjecture for me. I have no idea how well my books will do, if I'll sell 4,000 copies, or 400, or 40,000. But I can certainly see how some hybrid authors could enjoy great success...and 100% indie published authors as well.

As for which route is best, I think it is highly dependent on the type of book, your individual skills...such as writing speed or ability to conceive of a cover and/or hire a talented cover designer, and your personal dreams. I have no regrets about my five traditional published books, that's for sure. But I hope I can say the same about this series as well.

Monday, February 8, 2016

More books from me! MY FAVORITEST BOOKS!

I must confess, when I was a teenager, I thought the ideal thing for a fantasy writer to do was create one fantasy world and develop it really, really thoroughly until it seems like a real place, and then write stories set in that world for years and years. So I spent the entirety of my teen years writing entirely about a single fantasy world. And on into my twenties...basically, until I started getting serious about publication, and reality slapped me in the face.

As it turns out, go figure, it is hard to sell a "world". Most publishers want, like, a book? Maybe a trilogy?

At some point I realized, if I was ever going to do this, and do it right, I needed to do it myself, and thanks to the rise of indie publishing, I finally can.

Not only that, I illustrated the interior, because I have always been torn as to whether I wanted to be a writer or a comic book artist.

I am so terrified. This story is the story I have been waiting to tell forever. A story about magical organized crime, and doll people, and a world with elements of both high fantasy and pop culture, and my favorite romance ever. And I just put the beginning up for preorder. THE VENGEFUL HALF will be released March 10th.

TFAQ (Theoretical Frequently Asked Questions):

Why self-publish?

The deciding moment came when my partner Dade started asking me what the ideal version of this book would look like. And I thought, well...I would hire someone to do a gorgeous illustrated cover. And then I would add in little extras throughout like mini-comics and drawings of fake products mentioned within the novel. (I told one of my friends that this story is like The Mortal Instruments meets Parks and Rec, and I've also described it as 'The Godfather as a girls' anime'.) And it would be as nerdy as I wanted it to be without an editor telling me to take out the joke that references Totoro...

Where will it be available?

I put up the Amazon preorder first to light a fire under myself! No turning back now! But yes, I am working on getting the paperback version up as well as the other e-book retailers.

Who did the cover?

I did NOT do the cover; I am no cover artist. This beautiful thing is the work of Anastasya Ilicheva aka Pell aka Entrepreneurial: Deviant Art

You said it's a long series. Yikes, how long?

Don't worry! It won't be one ginormous epic that must be read in order. This series will be a complete story in five books and then, if all is going well, I would start a new plot arc that would not require prior knowledge of the world and characters.

When will book two be out?

This summer, for sure! Book two is already done! But it does need a good edit so for now it's chilling while I work on book three.

Can I get a review copy?

Quite possibly! Email me at with a link to your blog/Goodreads or Amazon review page, or basically, somewhere your reviews are posted so I can confirm that you are a real person. Note: Review copies will not contain all the artwork, but the story is not in any way dependent on the artwork.

How can I stay updated and make sure I know about new releases, sales and extra content?

You are all asking that, in exactly that clunky wording, I'm sure, and that's why you want to join my MAILING LIST!

Are you ready for this? Have you made a horrible mistake? Can you get some sleep yet?

Oops...those are just my actual frequently asked questions in my own mind. *hides under bed*

*peers out* More posts soon, about the series and the process of self-publishing!

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

David Bowie 1947-2016

When David Bowie died, so many people said they lost the Goblin King. Or a Starman.

While it isn't unusual for actors to be associated with their roles, Bowie went beyond that. Did we ever really believe he was from here? I'm not sure if he was from Faerie, or space. But he always made me feel like I had peeked past the veil of reality.

I'm sure his friends and family would probably insist he was an ordinary, if extraordinary, human named David Jones at heart...that all his personas were just roles and masks.

But a lot of performers have tried to present themselves as alien or magical. Few are so convincing. That isn't something you can pretend. It's just in you.

Bowie came to me, like an angel, at a time when I needed him most. It began when my cousin showed us the movie "Velvet Goldmine", based loosely and not entirely flatteringly on his life and personas. The movie led me to the real man and the first thing I noticed is that he looked just like my favorite of my own fictional characters, Det Arianni. Det was beautiful, weird, a little alien, a little androgynous but decidedly male, idiosyncratic and authoritative. I didn't think a real Det could exist. But I immediately realized that he DID...and by pure accident, they shared the same birthday.

It was like Bowie was in my head long before I knew who he was.

I was 20 years old, thereabouts. Newly adult and confused about how to make it in the world. My parents had taught me a lot about life but they hadn't quite taught me how to be an ARTIST. How to bridge that scary thing of putting your soul on the page, and then sending your soul out to be judged, rejected or accepted and given a monetary value. I was lost in my dream worlds, while the real world seemed mundane and a little depressing. My self-confidence was somewhat shaky.

David Bowie taught me this: You don't have to wait for money and fame to treat yourself like a star. You don't have to wait for the real world to turn magical on you, you can let the magic come from within. You don't have to stay the same. You don't have to listen to what the status quo says.

"Oh no love, you're not alone! You're watching yourself but you're too unfair, you got your head all tangled up but if I could only make you care," he sang. "All the knives seem to lacerate your brain, I've had my share, now I'll help you with the're not alone!"

Bowie made me more brave, and more confident, and more proudly weird.

Many gay kids of the 1970s have said how much it meant to them to see Bowie invading their suburban television sets. In the early 2000s, that vision was still pertinent. I was a girl who identified most strongly with my male characters. Who liked dapper male clothes. I was attracted to guys, mostly, but not the typical ones. At the time the spectrum of sexuality and gender identity were barely spoken of and I didn't know that was an okay way to be, but when I saw Bowie I knew it was.

Few and rare are the people who can truly help others be more themselves, without ever meeting them.

Only for a short time was David Bowie my favorite musical act. After some listens of Roxy Music's "Stranded", my ears fell hard for Bryan Ferry. (Bowie is still #2, everyone else far behind them in the rankings.) But I won't mourn Bryan the way I mourn David. Bowie was more than his music. He was a rare mind. A fashion icon, a visual artist, an actor, a voice who inspired countless other artists.

It is said that the music video "Lazarus" was the last thing we left us, a dark musing on death. But really, it was this photo, wasn't it? Bowie was dark, but he could also be hilarious. Taken two days before his death, the last thing we will ever have from Bowie is a smile full of humor and joy, that seems to say, he is all right...

...and the song goes on forever.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

On (Sort of) Leaving Social Media

A month ago, I walked away from social media. I wasn't planning on it beforehand. In fact, if you'd asked me a month prior if I could live without Facebook I might have said, "Never!!"

Basically, I kind of snapped. I started doing all the things I never do and never should do. Arguing about politics. Arguing about stupid stuff. Arguing with friends. Crying about internet dramas I was not involved in.

I think a lot of us have sensed that the internet just...isn't the fun place it used to be. Back in the 1990s it was actually ANONYMOUS. That's crazy. Now the internet often feels less anonymous than real life. Then I remember the Livejournal and blog days, when social media consisted of people writing long posts in their own words about their lives. I still miss that.

When Twitter and Facebook happened, we suddenly had the ability to connect with a much larger group of people, and faster. And we are now able to share things with a click. It's been great for spreading important information...and also makes it easy to spread misinformation, rage, and stupid stuff. Even the harmless stuff often seems like an unnecessary part of life. (Why did I spend three minutes watching a cat video while ignoring my actual cats??) For over a decade I have started my day by checking the internet. In recent years I've noticed that inevitably one of the following happens:
--I spend too much time clicking on dumb articles. Where did my morning go?
--I see something that deeply upsets or scares me. ("Scientists say butterflies will be extinct in 2 years if you don't sign this petition!")
--I see something that angers me that I want to argue with, but I usually don't, because arguing on the internet has never made my life better aaaaand I'm not sure I've ever changed anyone's mind either.

It also has made it really easy to communicate in groups. For a fairly shy, socially insecure person like me, this has made it easy to talk to others. It feels safe to make a post to a group in general and comment on other people's posts. But I started realizing over time that my individual, private communication with other human beings was down. Like, WAY DOWN. Like, 85% of my interaction with other humans, besides the human I live with, was in a semi-public text-based group context. When I did have something I wanted to talk privately with someone about, I became paralyzed about which friend to choose, because I was so used to just posting to a group and not reaching out to a single person. WHAT IF THEY DON'T REALLY WANNA BE MY FRIEND? It was easier not to try.

For creative types, there is also the failure-ish feeling of signing on and seeing everyone else's good news, day after day. Logically, we know that when our fellow writers have great news, they post about it 99% of the time, and when they have bad news, they post about it, like, 5% of the time. It isn't true that everyone else is more successful than you. But it is still emotionally difficult to be bombarded with it every day.

I've realized lately that I have been a lot more depressed in recent years. Sluggish. Disconnected from my magical worlds and close friendships. Always short on time for doing the things I love doing, like reading...but also sometimes unmotivated to even do the things I love. I have long sort of suspected that social media is a contributing factor, but I was afraid to leave. "What if I lose all my friends?"

I decided, abruptly, that if all my friends were on Facebook and Twitter, but Facebook and Twitter were making me feel sad, angry or discouraged every day, I would just have to figure out something else. So I just...left. I didn't look at social media AT ALL except private messages and every day, I didn't touch the computer until 6 pm.

That 6 pm rule, especially, improved my life immediately. I've had more energy to cook good food and keep the house clean(er...). In the last month I've finished two 500+ page books and several smaller ones, and I've had time to beta read for people too, while also getting more of "the day job" done. I've been more cheerful. And I've definitely been MUCH more creative. I've stopped scrolling through Facebook and Twitter. I glance at the top of the page and freely block anyone who stresses me out even if I like them. Mostly I just chat or email my friends. I was surprised that my social life didn't seem to suffer at all. In fact, I think I've gotten closer to some people because of it and I really hope that continues, but I think the lonely times may prove easier to weather because, most importantly, I've felt way more connected to that world beyond this one, where stories whisper in my ear. Since I've forbidden myself to write in the mornings either (no computer, not for any reason!) I've been spending a lot of my mornings sketching and I think even just that act unlocks many things in my mind.

I'm not telling you this to convince anyone to leave social media. It can be an amazing tool and I have so many good friends because of it. I'll certainly be making use of it again in the year to come, as I have some Secret Projects cooking I am bursting to talk about. But it can also be very, very addictive.  A balm to loneliness that doesn't really solve a damn thing. It can start to feel like the virtual life is the real one, especially if you work at home and don't live near any real life friends and family, as I do. If you're starting to get a deep down feeling that this place isn't healthy for your soul, I encourage you not to waste any more of your time. Put down the screen and go outside. The butterflies aren't dead yet, no matter what Facebook tells you.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Glittering Shadows blog tour ahoy!

Shane at Itching for Books was kind enough to set up a blog tour for Glittering Shadows for me. Although the book came out in June, I have much more time to talk about it now, AND, honestly? It's a very October-ish book if you ask me. It takes place across the fall and winter...and it's creepy.

I'll be linking to the giveaway and posts as they go up, but here is the sign-up if any of you who blog would like to participate: Glittering Shadows Sign-Up

Speaking of Halloween, I'm currently working on a middle grade about witches, and it involves a Halloween dance! So I'm feeling very Halloween-ish this year. It's rare when my writing actually matches the season so well. Sometimes I feel like I'm always writing about winter in the summer, and summer in the winter. Which maybe isn't so bad, as I tend to wish for the opposite when it's TOO hot or cold, but when it's October? I don't wish for anything else. I hope you're all having a lovely autumn too.

Friday, July 24, 2015

On not going to college

For some reason, I've gotten quite a few emails this year asking or commenting on the fact I didn't go to college. Usually either from teenagers facing this big decision asking me how I came to that decision myself, or from adults who are sorry they went to college just, uh, giving me the thumbs up I guess. Usually where there are emails, there are also non-emailers, just silently THINKING their questions, about a blog post?

First, not going to college was kind of easy for me. I was homeschooled, and my parents are pretty unconventional. No one pressured me to go. Actually, when I turned 18 I just felt lost and directionless and I wished someone would point me somewhere, so if my parents had insisted I go to college, I might have been relieved at the time. But, college is EXPENSIVE.

In 2000 when I graduated, this was not as much a topic of discussion as it is now, was still expensive. The college students I worked with were juggling full-time school and a full-time job and they could barely afford life. And they were always SO tired. "When would I have time to write, if I did that?" I thought.

My entire life has basically been formed around the idea of having time to write. Because without time to write, my emotional state goes down the tubes fast. Sometimes it feels selfish, but frankly, it's just...survival.

Most people incur student debt going to college. I was petrified of debts I didn't have a plan for paying off. That has always been a rule of life for me. You do NOT borrow money if you don't know exactly how you will pay it off. 18-year-olds are definitely not flush with plans for paying off debt. They say money is freedom, but not needing money is even BETTER freedom. Plus, I didn't know what I wanted to be when I grew up, besides a writer, and I didn't need college for that.

I'm not anti-college, mind you. Some people totally want to go to college, can afford college, and thrive at college. If you are one of those people, this post is not for you. There was a point in time where I very much wanted to go. My friend was at the University of Toronto, and I visited her, and thought, "I want to live in Toronto and have a professor with a sexy British accent and also take a course on the history of children's literature." It looked pretty fun, let me tell you. That was basically the point in my life when I started looking into college. I got catalogs, I researched scholarships (which usually require information about one's high school career homeschooled kids don't have)...I decided I would become a librarian.

Then, almost as quickly, I decided I didn't want to be a librarian unless I'd tried to become a writer first, and I gave myself a 4-year deadline. Which set me on my current path. I sold my first book 3 years later and I've been a writer ever since. I never have much money, but I also have very little debt and no regrets. Do you know how many of my friends who went to college ended up getting well-paying jobs in their field? ALL OF THEM! (No, like, seriously...not even half.)

Some of you reading might be teens facing this decision yourself, and you might be thinking, "Well, that is all well and good, Jackie, but my parents ARE hammering on me to go to college and get a good job and make lots of money. I just want to be a writer. (Or whatever, but that's usually what you tell me, teens. I assume those of you who want to be like, a musician, are off emailing a musician instead.) What do I do?"

--Obviously I can't decide that for you. You might have various factors to weigh. Like, your parents are threatening to kick you out if you don't go; you have a scholarship that requires you to go now (that's a thing, right? I don't even know); whatever. But let me assure you, 18 is a great time to do something adventurous or crazy with your life...go backpacking, move to New York City with six roommates, write your first novel; it's even just a great time to get a weird dumb job and play video games for a year or dabble in your passion for cosplay or book blogging or crochet, as you let high school wash out of your system and have a chance to really think. You are super young and flexible, even though right now it probably feels really heavy and important. You can take 5 years to figure it out, and in the long run, no one will notice.

--There is no rule that you have to go to college at 18. It'll be there for you at any time.

--Any debt you incur in college will be on your head, if someone else isn't paying for it. Consider whether you know what you will do with the fascinating and impractical degree you probably went for, being an artsy soul, and your newfound debt load. Or the very practical degree for a job you possibly, in fact, don't want to do. Now, plenty of the artsy degrees can lead to a real job, often after adding an additional degree. Like the librarian job I was considering. And those can be good paths, and paths you might figure out while you are at college. But I do think it is worth considering taking a little time off to figure out a potential plan before plunging in.

--You need money for food, shelter, heat, transportation, and medical care. Beyond that, it is never as important as fulfilling your soul. Listen to your soul, and not anyone who tells you otherwise. This is true for all aspects of life.