I know…you’re asking yourself what the heck is this woman going to write about this week that has to do with Hell’s Highway? No, it’s not the forest fires in Arizona…although it is hotter than nine kinds of hell and half the state seems to be burning. (May the families and firefighters involved stay safe!) This week’s topic is my journey to publication…or as I like to call it…Hell’s Highway.
Those of you who know me well know that I’ve been on this journey to publication for about seven years now and it seems to be one of those freeway loops that takes you all around the town but if you drive long enough, you see nothing but concrete plants and airports and you always end up right back where you started. Welcome to my world!
When I first started down this path, I was starry eyed and full of wonder and excitement about writing perfect manuscripts that only needed one round of edits before they were WOW’d over by editors and agents across the planet. Publishers would vie for the chance to publish my stuff. I would be treated to book tours and signings scheduled from one end of the country to the other and there wouldn’t be enough hours in the day to sign all the books and talk to all the people in line. I would be invited to attend dinner parties and I’d be beautiful in my sequin gowns, with everyone fawning all over me wanting a moment of my time. My picture would be on the front cover of every rag on the newsstand and you couldn’t walk through an airport or grocery store without seeing the cover of my newest book on the end cap shelf. Every household would have a Kayce Lassiter masterpiece sitting on the bookshelf or the mantle.
Yeah…right. The alarm is going off, time to wake up and smell the roses. LOL
Reality somehow always seems to pale when compared to our dreams, especially when we are in the middle of the journey. Probably why we have dreams that are a bit unrealistic. Because I think if we fully understood the reality of a goal like this, we’d be so overwhelmed at the beginning, we’d never start. Sometimes ignorance truly is bliss. (That’s the story I’m going with…don’t burst my bubble!)
So…here’s what really happens. The manuscripts I write are rewritten no less than five to six times, there are 327 rounds of edits, and I’m reduced to trying to corner editors and agents in elevators and bathrooms to get their attention. That’s not working so well for me either (go figure). The book tours and signings would happen next week if I won enough money in the lottery to pay for them. Of course, if I can afford to buy the book signings and pay my own expenses across country, I expect the lines would still be long and full of awestruck people. Hey, this is my fantasy…get your own! LOL The dinner parties are sparse and the sequin gowns are still hanging on the clearance rack at Goodwill. What I’m spending time in these days is jammies, but the good news is that I have lots of jammies and they are more comfy than sequin evening gowns. My picture for the magazines got lost in transit but I’m sending another one, so look for it soon. (NOT) As for every household having a Kayce Lassiter masterpiece on the bookshelf or mantle—I’m still hopeful.
Not exactly what I’d expected.
The reality of the situation has been setting in slowly over the last few years, but I don’t think it really completely hit me until this last week when, in a fog of exhaustion, I realized this is a lot of freaking hard work. DUH! I know, every published writer I’ve ever known has warned me of that, but I was in a fog of expectation…I couldn’t freaking HEAR YOU!
So what’s changed? Well, what’s changed is that I’m going through the steps to become indie-published, which is the new term for self-published. What I’ve found is there’s a reason that publishers take a significant portion of the royalties on a book, and that’s because there’s a lot of damned hard work involved with getting it shelf-ready. But the publishing house has a huge staff of people to do it all for you while you slave over your next masterpiece. In the case of indie publishing, it’s a mom-and-pop shop operation with a staff of one…er, two…er, two and a critique group and a whole stadium full of cheerleaders.
What I am finding is that I didn’t know enough to know what I didn’t know. I didn’t know how much work it would be to finalize edits—and thanks go to my critique group here for the hours they put in (over a course of years, literally) reading the same story over and over again, every time I made new edits or added a character, or rewrote the darn thing. Those girls are saints! I also didn’t know that once the edits were done, that’s just the beginning. You work so hard to get the formatting just right for critiquing, and then you have to reformat it all over again for printing. Why? Because the print format is too hard to work with while doing edits. Who knew those formats I’d work so hard on were throw-away? I know, it should have been obvious and you did tell me. Did I not mention…I couldn’t freaking HEAR YOU?!
So once the manuscript is done, then the arduous journey begins to format the document to fit within the print format…which means making sure the headers all are consistent, the top and bottom of the page is consistent, there are page numbers, it is two-up, and it fits within the print window. Oh, and did I mention there is some sort of icky thing in Word that causes lines to overlay each other if you insert a word or delete a line somewhere? Yeah, I didn’t know it either. So you’re flying along and all of a sudden there’s these lines that are all garbled in your document and you suddenly realize you are going to have to go through your 350 page manuscript line by line to make sure Word hasn’t “helped” you a little too much. Okay, those are just some of the editing/formatting nightmares. I’m not yet all the way through the process, so I’m sure there are more to come. (Stand by for more whining!)Then you get to the cover. Who knew you’d have to spend hours cruising stock photo sites looking for the perfect pictures? You know, those pictures you’ve seen millions of times in ads and on the covers of other books, but now elude you as you try to find something (anything) to suit your purpose. You’re bleary-eyed, you’re sleep-deprived, you’re cranky, the internet is acting hinky, the photo site is frozen, and you’re about to turn your laptop into a Frisbee. Finally, you find what you think are not the perfect pictures, but they are close enough. Then you realize to purchase those pictures, it’s going to cost you about $200, which is probably more than you’ll make off the sales of your first book. Really? So then you spend another 3 bleary nights searching for cheaper but equitable substitutes. Then you’re relieved that you’re done. LOL Stupid Girl! In my case, I am damn lucky that I have a wonderful friend who is a web and cover designer (see http://www.bellamediamanagement.com/ ). She is going to build my cover for me and walk me through the process. (I’m sure she had no freaking clue what she’d bitten off!) So I send her the pics and I’m off to finish reformatting for print.
I’m thinking I’m almost done. Oh, hell no, I’m just getting started. Carol comes back to me with a mock up of the cover using the pictures I’ve sent her. This is the first stake in the ground and this is where the real work begins. Now we start picking out font styles, font colors, background colors, background patterns, rearranging pictures, and changing pictures (because after you stare at them for hours on end, you come to hate them). You try different sizes, different page layouts, you make the font bigger or smaller, you turn it all upside down or sideways and throw it in the trash three times, rescuing it each time to begin all over again. Have I mentioned yet that I love my cover designer, Carol? She’s another one that should be up for sainthood. I’m sure she has a picture of me on the wall over her desk with a quiver of darts at the ready, but she’s always so kind and loving as she sinks one of those darts into an eyeball on the wall.
So once Carol thinks she has a good idea of what this author wants, she goes off and buys pictures and builds the real thing. She lovingly incorporates all of your brilliant (and stupid) ideas into a cover that is so gorgeous it makes you cry when you open the file for the first time. Have I mentioned yet that I love Carol? Then as you stare at it through your veil of tears, the nitpicking begins. You think maybe the font color should be chartreuse instead of brown, you think maybe the entire color scheme is all wrong, you think the cover should be turned 80 degrees, you think maybe the girl in the picture should be Asian instead of Caucasian, you think maybe you should go into pig farming in Montana in the dead of winter instead of being a writer!
Now you send your designer another email with all of your new suggestions and she lovingly sets to work on the changes (after slugging back a shot of Jack Daniels and emptying the dart quiver once more). She sends you another mock up that is exactly what you asked for and, again, it’s so beautiful that it makes you cry when you open the file. Then as the tears subside, you start to compare it to the first version (the one that was the wrong color, had the wrong font, and the wrong picture…yeah, that’s the one). You start to notice that there are additional changes that can be made to the new version—tweak the font a little here, change the font color a little there, change the font color on the back cover completely, switch the front with the back—you get the idea. Now it’s back to Carol, who polishes off another five shots of Jack, pulls out a pistol to practice on your picture because the darts are not doing enough damage, and then returns to the drawing board.
Carol then comes back with the perfect cover flat. Everything is exactly as you asked for, but more gorgeous than you can even begin to imagine. It’s stunning. It’s a masterpiece…but it’s not quite right. Hmmm. You put it up on the screen next to the first one and now you realize that the first one is really the one you love. It’s perfect. Well, perfect except for the last set of changes you had Carol make to the second version. So you put on your suit of armor and you send Carol another email asking if she can make the additional tweaks to the original version because you’ve come to realize that you like her color scheme better than yours. Why? Because she is, after all, the professional DESIGNER. Stupid Girl! So Carol, because she is the consummate professional, polishes off the remainder of the bottle of Jack Daniels and sets your picture and the darts on fire in her living room, before returning to the drawing board. Have I mentioned yet that I adore my designer, Carol?
Well, that’s where I am now. Carol has created an absolutely stunning cover and as soon as she sobers up and airs out her living room, I’m going to talk to her about modifying the cover to work with an e-book version. Have I mentioned yet that the woman is a saint? So watch for the announcement of my debut release, Katie's Rock, which will be coming out SOON!!! Yahoo! I'd show you the fabulous new cover, but it's too soon. So you will just have to stay tuned. Have I mentioned yet that it's got a couple of yummy cowboys in it? Uh-huh...that's right.
Okay, that’s the update on the early part of my journey…Indie Publishing 101. And, as I’m starting to learn, I’m sure the work has only just begun. So it’s coming…wait for it…I really am going to get a real book out there one day VERY SOON. That is, if Carol and I can survive Hell’s Highway. Let’s hope this doesn’t turn out to be another Thelma and Louise adventure!
That’s my story, hellish and horrific, and I’m stickin’ to it. Hang on tight now ‘cuz we’re gonna go real, real fast!