I said I’d never do it, but I did. I didn’t think I would enjoy it, but I did. If I sound like a middle-aged recent virgin, that’s how I feel. The IT in this case is self-publishing an e-book on Amazon. In case you’ve been considering doing the same deed, I’ll share the process that led to me going all the way.
First, I’m a writer because I love writing, I write before I get out of bed in the morning, I write last thing before I turn out the lights at night. I write because I have to. It’s as necessary as eating. I organize my ideas by writing them, and I frequently don’t know what I feel about something until I write it. Consequently, I’ve become an experienced writer. I’ve learned how to write tight, to evoke tears and laughter rather than describe them. That’s good. It makes my Dixie Hemingway Mystery Series a friend to many readers. That’s even better because I want more than anything to connect with readers.
The downside is that I have other stories in me too. Romances and thrillers and weird gothics. Children’s stories and fantasies. Metaphoric fables and oddball what-ifs. But once you’ve become known as a writer of a particular genre, that’s what people expect you to write. If you write something in a different genre, you usually have to write it under a pen name and bring it out as a “first book” — bookstores are full of first books by many-published writers, it’s just the first book under that name. Publishers don’t mind doing that, but they’re not keen on a first book that’s a stand-alone by an unknown author. If you write in another genre under a pen name, you’d better plan on making it the first book of a series if you want to get it published.
Which brings me back to my love of writing all kinds of fiction. What I hate, despise, abhor and detest is the process of getting something published. During my writing career, I’ve never had a problem getting an agent, but no matter how staunchly an agent stands behind you, he or she has other clients too. The typical agent takes home stacks of manuscripts every night, and so do acquisition editors. They rarely get through all of them in one night, and the next night they bring home another stack. They usually want an exclusive read, so you can wait for months to hear from them. I once had an agent who kept a manuscript for a year, sending me letters every few months begging me for more time, and then ultimately deciding it wasn’t for her. By that time I was deep into writing something else — something in another genre — and never sent the manuscript to another agent.
Prolific writing combined with my impatience with the way the publishing world operates caused me to acquire a closet full of unpublished manuscripts in genres that ranged from children’s stories to adult science fiction. And then one day I found myself a popular writer of cozy mysteries. I LOVE writing the Dixie Hemingway mysteries and plan on continuing to do it as long as they’ll let me, but I still feel that old need to write in other genres.
Enter Amazon’s program for self-publishing e-books for the Kindle. When I heard about it, I had the usual published writer’s faint disdain for anything to do with self-publishing. Let’s face it, self-published works got the reputation of being amateurish because so much of it was. Besides, I didn’t even like the idea of an electronic reader.
To convince myself that I didn’t want to have anything to do with Kindle’s self-published e-books, I downloaded the free Kindle for Macs, and then bought a Kindle self-published novel. It wasn’t the best book I ever read, but it kept me turning pages and was as good as a lot of print-published books.
When I finished it, I thought about all those manuscripts in my closet that would never be published by a print publisher. The stories were stories I liked, and if I liked them somebody else was bound to like them too. Even if they only found a few e-readers, they would give pleasure to somebody, which they sure as heck wouldn’t do on my closet shelves. I thought about how my real purpose in writing was to connect with readers. I thought about the number of people who prefer e-readers. It began to seem idiotic not to publish e-books.
I researched Amazon’s site and studied the instructions on how to publish an e-book. I found the instructions impossible to fully understand, but plunged on. For my first e-publication, I chose a non-fiction book that arose from text I’d written several years ago for a continuing education class I’d taught in eastern philosophy. I hadn’t been able to find a textbook I liked, so I’d essentially written my own and passed it out to the class. So many class members had sent copies of the text to friends that I thought it might be of interest to other people. An artist designed a cover for me, and I uploaded it as IN THE BEGINNING: AN INTRODUCTION TO HINDUISM, BUDDHISM, AND TAOISM. The formatting was bad, with too much white space, but in the first week eight readers bought it for their Kindle. Nobody returned it. I was amazed.
My mind went back to the manuscript an agent had kept for a year, with all those letters saying how much she loved it before she passed on it. I loved that story, and the characters in it still lived in my imagination. But it wasn’t a mystery. It was a historical romantic adventure. If I published it under my own name, people might expect a mystery and be disappointed. If I published it under a pen name, there would be no track record to assure readers that it wasn’t an amateur’s work. So I hit on using my own name as the official author but “writing as” Lee Silvey, which was my mother’s name. She would have loved seeing her name on a book jacket! The same great artist did a phenomenal cover for it, and I loaded it on Amazon for Kindle readers as DANCE OF THE MOON DAUGHTER. The formatting was awful. Lines too close together, not enough indentation for paragraphs. But people bought it and nobody complained.
Next I thought of all the short stories I had filed away. Some of them had been published, but most had never even been submitted because getting short stories published is even more exasperating and frustrating than getting books published. So I rounded up a selection, my artist did another cover, and I printed it on Amazon for e-readers as KIDS STAY FREE. Again, the formatting was awful, but people bought it and there were no returns.
That awful formatting drove me nuts. I kept looking for a solution, which turned out to be LegendMaker, which is like a magic wand. I downloaded it for my Mac (there’s also a PC version), printed out the instructions and bundled them into a manual. Then I followed the instructions exactly as they were given, which was dead easy, and in no time at all the formatting issue was resolved and all three books were available for any e-reader.
Now I’m waiting for the artist to come up with cover art for a children’s book. And I have a fantasy I’ll work on next. There will be others, too. I have a tall stack of manuscripts.
The issue for me isn’t paper-published books vs. e-books for enjoyment in reading. It isn’t the seventy percent royalty paid by Amazon vs. the fifteen percent paid by publishers, either, because seventy percent of the purchase price of a handful of books isn’t much. The tipping point for me was the idea that I’m a professional writer, I’ve written stories that I meant to be read, and publishing them as e-books allows them to be read.
Oddly, having delivered those beloved books that would never have found a traditional publisher has lifted a stone from the cave where my creative spirit hangs out and let in some fresh air. I’m now having new ideas for the next Dixie Hemingway book that I might not have had if I hadn’t shipped off my love children to e-readers.