Decide WHY You Write … THEN Decide How and How Much

If you think it unlikely that an op-ed on the topic of literature could raise the hackles (i.e., pitchforks) of those reading said article, you might be surprised.

As a writer who’s contributed, and had shared worldwide, reams of political, social, and artistic commentary over the last decade, appearing prodigiously on sites like The Huffington PostAOL NewsAddicting InfoShelf PleasureIndies UnlimitedWomen Writers Women[s] BooksindieBRAG, and others, I felt I had a good sense of which topics predictably stirred the ire of the masses: anything on gun reform, religious debate, LGBT issues, partisan politics, even home schooling, seemed ripe for rage. When I bit into any one of those, I did so fully girded for the onslaught to follow, poised for frothing emails, seething comments, and social media shares that inspired further froth and seethe. It came with the territory.

What I didn’t expect was to have my all-time most incendiary piece—the one that triggered the greatest volume of hate mail and trolling comments, countless responding articles ripping me a new one; ad hominem attacks about everything from my hair to my name to my bio to where I live, and, to this day, occasional snipes at my character—to be an article suggesting to self-published authors that quality ought to trump quantity in deciding how much to write.

“Dear Self-Published Writer: Do NOT Write Four Books a Year” (yes, there was some intended click-bait in the title) was a piece I wrote several years back in response to an instructive tutorial I’d found astonishing, one in which a “publishing expert” provided a list of “the ten best ways to be a successful writer” and her very first, her #1 suggestion, was: “write at least four books a year.” This was not qualified or offered with any caveat about making sure those books were expertly crafted, vigilantly edited and formatted, or beautifully designed and produced; no, just, “write four books a year.”

Corresponding comments under her piece, as well as comments shared in writers’ groups discussing these output suggestions, came with mountains of anxiety from writers struggling to get even one book done a year, much less four. But beyond the myriad emotional responses, I felt a certain misguidance was being promoted, one that adversely skewed what a writer’s priorities should be.

As a self-published author myself, and, perhaps more importantly, a reader of many self-published books, I had already been disappointed by the quality of far too many books crossing my path—poorly written, sloppily edited, amateurishly designed—and wanted my fellow self-pubbers to raise the bar, to take this new freedom-to-publish as impetus to demand the absolute best of ourselves, creating work that would position us favorably against any traditionally published author, burnishing opinions and easing stigmas ascribed to self-published work as a whole. So the idea, then, that an “expert” would blithely push self-pubbed writers to focus more on output than input felt anathema to me.

My article conversely (and, apparently, perversely) suggested that quality should always trump quantity in the debate about volume, and given the time and focus standardly required to produce qualitybooks, I posited that cranking out 4+ “quality” books a year would be a challenge for most writers, and, therefore, should not be prescribed as the “#1 way to be successful.”

“Off with her head!” they shouted.

The excoriation sparked by my thesis came largely from self-pubbed writers who clearly did write 4+ books a year, clearly did feel confident they’d met any quality demands, and clearly did take umbrage at my implications. OR it came from those writing 4+ books who’d prioritized sales over criticism of their books’ lack of quality. Or it came from self-pubbed writers who were just annoyed that someone (me) would suggest the self-pub market needed a standards upgrade.

But it was also because I hadn’t considered an essential precedent question: why are you doing this in the first place?

In my insular, perhaps myopic, worldview on the topic, I’d based my thesis on two things: 1.) The many comments shared by a large contingent of authors who didn’t appreciate or agree with the pressure to write 4+ books a years, and 2.) My own sense of why anyone writes and best practices in how that should be implemented. That second part is where I went wrong.

Because I’d made the (incorrect) presumption that all writers are driven to write and publish because they must write, and they want to write high quality books that can sit on a bookshelf next to any Pulitzer Prize winning, New York Times bestselling, positive review inspiring book without standing out as “less than.” That, even if one self-publishes, the goal—the non-negotiable criteria—is to produce and publish a book that, regardless of subjective likes or dislikes, is unassailable in terms of quality.

Turns out my presumption was just that: a presumption. And one I was quickly disabused of in the torrent of response that followed. Below is just a snapshot of some of the nicer comments flung my way (you’d think I was lobbying for child labor or the repeal of Christmas):

1. “I guess you’re rich, but most writers need to make a living and going for Pulitzer Prizes is a luxury we can’t afford.” (I’m not rich.)

2. “I write up to seven books a year and, sure, they may not be masterpieces, but my readers love them and have been more than happy to pay for them. Hah, it looks like you’ve only got two.” (Yep, just two so far.)

3. “Not everything needs to be a masterpiece. Maybe you’re picky.” (Sorta?)

4. “I don’t have time for that kind of quality. I’d rather deal with self-publishing stigmas than never make a penny.” (Hmmm…)

5. “No one in self-publishing is going to listen to her anyway. Elitist bitch.” (Ouch.)

Clearly what I’d left out was the (obvious) reality that not all writers operate with the same set of rules, have the same goals; are working with the same agenda, hold to the same standards, or prioritize their output the same way.

So, OK… what do we do with all that? Where do we go from there? How does any of that apply in terms of the persistent questions, “How much should I write?” and “How many books are expected of me in a year?” It’s said that things don’t really kick in until after your third book (I’m counting on that… my third is out next year!), and building your library really does give you a more powerful marketing position, so those remain good, valid questions to consider. Answering them requires that you sort out these two tasks first:

Figure out why you write.

It sounds so simple but it really is the crux of the matter. If your reason for putting words into form is that you have stories that demand to be told; memories that must be memorialized; imagined scenarios that clamor to escape from your brain into colorful, cohesive narrative, that’s why you write.

If your desire to write is based on the conviction that you can make money putting out easy-to-digest books that fall into popular genres that appeal to wide swaths of readers; if you want to create simple tomes so family and friends can access books you’ve written; if you want to write solid books that don’t have to be prize-winners but will tap into active and commercial book selling markets, that’s why you write.

There are likely other reasons; those seem the main ones.

Then figure out how you want to write.

If your “why” is the former, it may follow that putting out the most beautiful, creative, editorially polished, breathtakingly moving book is your goal. If so, that’s going to take time. You might not need Donna Tartt’s eleven years, but odds are good it’ll take many fastidious, thoughtful, detail-oriented months/years to fine-tune your book to the level you desire. However it gets published, you may not ever see profit from it. Or you may. It may win the Pulitzer… or only get fifteen reviews at Amazon. It may garner stellar editorial response, passionate readership, and accolades from respected literary contests. Or not. But if it is the book you want it to be, it will be your creative legacy, and that, itself, is of value. But that kind of book will likely allow you to only produce one book a year, perhaps one every two years. Or so. And that’s OK.

If you’re the latter in the “why” camp, odds are good your “how” goals will be less lofty. You’ll choose to put out work that meets at least a modicum of quality criteria, but, like someone said, not everything has to be a masterpiece. And if your priority is making some bank, you can push yourself to get it written fast, accelerate the production timing, and get more than one book out a year. Maybe more. Maybe even the four that “publishing expert” advised. You might make money, even get some good reviews, but either way, if your goal is quantity and you’re meeting that goal, more power to you. Hopefully you’ll score in the dollars department as well.

 

The moral of the story is: if I had to write my original article over, I’d have written this one, because it’s more to the heart of the matter. Yes, I’d still insist to anxious authors that the demand to write four books a year is NOT the only way to be successful… not by a long shot. But I’d also make this most salient point: you do you. Define why you write and design the work model that best implements that reason. Once you’ve got all that figured out, the timing of production and the schedule of how many books to produce is easy to plot out, and all in your hands.

And though it may be trite, it’s stunningly true: Just enjoy the journey.

Photo by rawpixel.com on Unsplash

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Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

When It’s Time To Stop Auditioning, Give Yourself the Job: Self/Hybrid Publish

Let me start with a disclaimer: this is not a screed against traditional publishing. Yes, those are trendy and you’ll find lots of them out there, but this is not one. Life has taught me that when something sustains as long as traditional publishing has, it’s because it remains, however confounded and confused, a vital player in the scheme of things. I’d say that’s the case with the Big 5.

This is, instead, a few of my cobbled thoughts on the topic of why one might choose otherwise; why one might self-publish, or hybrid publish, or publish outside the realm of that iconic process of securing an agent who’ll, hopefully, wrangle a publishing deal, that will, hopefully, vaunt you into the stratosphere of big awards and New York Times bestseller lists. As much as one might dream of that starry-eyed path to literary greatness, there are myriad reasons why one might choose another turn. And very few have to do with not being good enough.

As someone who’s been involved in a variety of creative mediums throughout my career, the concept of stepping front and center to be judged toward some artistic goal is not a foreign one. Which is a convoluted way of saying, “I’m well-versed on the audition/rejection process,” which seems to apply to pretty much every step of life.

From birth on, in fact, we’re immersed in the act of striving for something: the cookie, the pat on the head, good grades, parental/teacher/coach approval, attention of boys/girls, that job we want, the lead in the play, first prize, the record deal, a deserved raise, and so on.

An actor? You submit your picture and resume; if you’re lucky, you book an audition. If that goes well, there’s a callback. If your luck holds, you go to the director, producer, network; whatever, and, usually, within a relatively short period of time, you know whether you’re in or out. Jobs, much the same timeframe. Record deals, boyfriends/girlfriends; that raise? All of these typically come to some recognizable fruition quickly enough to either celebrate tout suite, or launch your grieving process before the next snow.

If you’re an author? Not so much. The audition process toward getting traditionally published is far less linear, less step-by-step; less clear and more circuitous. It’s based less on talent and more on market trends; less on who deserves what and more on who knows whom. Less on right time and more on ‘how much time have you got?’ (a friend recently told me she’d just gotten a rejection from an agent she’d queried over a year ago!). Some of the words I’ve heard writers use to describe the process include: Time consuming, dismissive; rude. Arcane, confusing; contradictory. Exclusionary. Limited. Elitist. Devastating, elusive… impossible. And that’s just one Facebook writers group.

The Process

I’m sure there’s another, much jollier list of adjectives for those who actually make it through; who crack the code, score the agent, get the publishing deal. But this is about the other 96%, whose audition process might look something like this:

  1.  Write, rewrite; polish, re-polish the book and/or book proposal.
  2. Spend oodles of time (and money, if inclined to take classes, seminars, webinars, tutorials) fine-tuning the notorious query letter with the goal of meeting the arcane and specific demands of the literary agent world (which, most authors discover, will require several different versions of said letter).
  3. Diligently research which agents are open to unsolicited queries in your particular genre and note how they like to be approached.
  4. At this point, you should have your Excel spreadsheet out, organizing all the info you’ve gleaned into appropriate rows and columns (you do not want to double submit, for God’s sake, or query your novel to someone who won’t read fiction, or make the mistake of “checking back” if their site says “we only respond if we’re interested”).
  5. Once organized, put together impeccable packages with that perfect query letter and whatever else each specific agent prefers; then judiciously send them off in whatever amounts, order, and time increments you see fit.
  6. There. Done.
  7. Then you wait.
  8. And wait.

The seasons turn. You celebrate a birthday. Your sister gets married. The people next door move out. You lose the Oscar pool. Somehow you gain five pounds. You finish your non-fiction piece on elder care. You wait.

Then, oh happy day, you hear back! From some. Only some. Most are quickie email responses: “I’m not the right agent for you.” Some are scribbled notes on your snail-mail queries…same basic message. Others get more detailed: “Although it’s an interesting premise, I didn’t connect with the story the way I’d hoped.” They might give you some info as to why they didn’t connect or why they’re not right for you (usually not), but whatever you do, don’t write back and ask; they won’t tell you. Other than to tell you they’re too busy to tell you.

But, if you’re lucky, you garner a few requests for more (more pages, chapters, the manuscript). You’re excited to take that next step, thrilled that your sample grabbed them, your “premise was intriguing,” or your title “caught my eye,” and you send it all off, wishin’, hopin’, thinkin’ and prayin’…and then you wait. And wait.

Your parents take that cruise to Greece. You finally learn how to use Illustrator. More of the Arctic Shelf melts. You attempt making baklava. Your brother quits school to join a band. You start working out again. Your boyfriend gives you a cordless vacuum for Valentine’s Day. You wait.

Then you either hear back on the requested material or you don’t. If you do, you get something like, “I didn’t fall for the writing as much as I’d hoped.” Or, “Given the competitive marketplace, I need to love a project more than I loved this one.” Or, “You’re a white author writing black/Muslim/Hispanic/Asian characters and fear of cultural appropriation is too impacted a conversation right now.” Or… well, suffice it to say, rejection comes in a never-ending spectrum of hues and shades.

And then you…

You what? You’ve done your work, learned your craft, spent years honing it to a spit-shine by writing articles, blogs, short stories, screenplays, poems, etc. You’ve gained the expertise to know how to build a compelling narrative, construct a propulsive story arc, and conjure characters that jump off the page. Your dialogue is spot-on, you can make ‘em laugh and cry; your themes are resonating, universal yet unique, and those who’ve read your work are moved. Your book is loved (certainly by you), and it deserves life.

But after years of auditioning without finding the agent who is “right” enough to want you, your options are limited: traditional publishers aren’t welcoming to new writers who don’t have one of those. So what do you do now?

You shelve it. You write something else and try again. You set a bonfire in the backyard and burn your manuscript. You declare you’re done writing. You take up quilting, join a choir; finally paint the bathroom.

OR…

YOU DIY. You self-publish. You submit to respected hybrid publishers. You reach out to small presses that don’t require agents. You grab your destiny by the collar, drag it up on stage, flick on the lights, and make that sucker dance.

Like indie filmmakers, indie musicians; indie theater companies; freelance photographers, painters, potters, and mimes (yes, I do know some indie mimes), you take matters into your own hands, gatekeepers be damned.

You apply the same diligence to researching the art and craft of doing it differently, of doing it yourself, as you did researching agents. You suss out the pros and cons, talk with authors who’ve done it and have worthy experiences to share; you read everything you can on self-publishing. You zero in on the hybrid, small press, university publishers open to indie authors. You access professional book builders—content editors, copyeditors; formatters, proofers, cover designers—and you build the book you loved writing into the book you will love selling. One that reads, looks, and feels exactly as it should, with the edit, title, cover, and marketing plan you dreamed up and will launch with the help of skilled collaborators. A book that will sit comfortably next to any traditionally published book on any bookshelf anywhere in the world.

You stop auditioning and give yourself the job: published author.

And don’t let anyone tell you self-publishing is a consolation prize. It might be for some, but there are countless reasons why authors self-publish. Some, yes, see it as their only option. Others never even consider the “traditional publishing audition gauntlet.” A few straddle both worlds, bouncing back and forth, depending on the book, the available opportunities, or the experience they want to have.

My Experience

Me? After a year spent querying my first book, I stopped auditioning and gave myself the job. My second: no “auditions” at all; went right for the stage. Both experiences have been a wild ride of hard work, empowerment, and tremendous satisfaction, but after finishing my third novel at the end of 2016, I decided to set out, once again, on the traditional route. Bluntly, I wanted the experience; it was one I hadn’t had. But after another year of querying, and with time spent at writers’ conferences meeting with and listening to agents, publishers, and writers working on both sides of the publishing divide (one that is more disparate than I even imagined), it came down to this for me:

I want to write the books I’m inspired to write without limitation, without fear, without focus on “what’s trending in the marketplace” or what “impacted conversations” may dissuade others from inviting me in. I want to work with courageous, innovative people who look to nurture and develop good writers, who are willing to take chances, push against resistance, and advance compelling ideas and forward-thinking mission statements. I could either continue on my own, with like-minded collaborators helping me get it done, or, this go-around, I had the option to work with a hybrid publisher who met my criteria and welcomed me in the door. I’m lucky to have that choice: my next book, THE ALCHEMY OF NOISE, will be published by She Writes Press in early 2019, and I’m thrilled to have Brooke Warner and her team in my corner. That, too, will be a new experience.

But which ever way each of our roads turn, however we get to where we’re going, how lovely is it that we do have choices? Auditioning may be a valid option for some; that long, arduous process will likely always have a place in the publishing industry, and I wish well to anyone taking that particular path.

Luckily for us indies, it’s no longer the only path that gets us there.

“The Stage” by Laura Wielo on Unsplash
“You Are Here” by John Baker on Unsplash

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Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

HYSTERICAL LOVE Wins Solo ‘General Fiction’ Medal in New Apple Awards 2017 Contest

While I’ve been busy polishing, tweaking, and parsing notes from editors and readers on my third novel, as yet uncertain as to how and when it will be published, I was delighted to learn that my last novel, Hysterical Love, was chosen as the solo medallist in the 2017 New Apple Awards Summer Ebook Contest.

This is particularly gratifying when one considers the sheer number of indie books submitted for such honors, in a marketplace where acknowledgement for the self-published book can make all the difference.

New Apple brands itself as a company “dedicated to helping independent authors find their way into the world of publishing.” I applaud their mission and hope this honor, for which I’m deeply grateful, will introduce Hysterical Love to a wider audience of appreciative readers, opening doors to publishers and others in the industry who may be intrigued to see what’s next… stay tuned!

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Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

Sharing An Editor’s Perspective On the Quality Debate: Meet Jamie Chavez

Jamie Chavez
Jamie Chavez’s Blog Banner

As one who is hellbent on making sure my points, my theses, are all thoroughly clear and understood, I find that when evidence suggests I’ve not succeeded, I occasionally go overboard with “clarifications,” addendums, updated material, etc., in a quest to correct the problem. What I discover is, more often than not, there really is no problem, just the dissent of those who do not share my opinion (sometimes with horribly bad manners!). So when a tweeting follower sent me an article that supported a controversial theme I covered recently, I paid attention.

When I published Dear Self-Published Author: Do NOT Write Four Books a Year, a strongly worded (I’ll admit 🙂 ) opinion piece about the “quality vs. quantity” debate that inspired prodigious pushback from angry writers, I considered that I’d taken, perhaps, too broad a brushstroke about who ought to publish in volume (those who vigilantly take the time and care to put out excellent work regardless of how often) vs. those who shouldn’t (anyone who doesn’t). But no amount of clarification would mollify the angry mobs who found my theory heinous, so I left it where I could and got on with my life.

photo_jamie
Jamie Chavez

Then this article was sent my way, That’s Not Writing–It’s Typing, and I felt the writer, developmental editor/writer, Jamie Chavez, not only echoed some version of my thesis, but very possibly did a better job of articulating the issues. Have a read:

A good friend of mine proofs for a small firm that publishes category romances. Her social media commentary about it is hilarious (and most of it unprintable in a family blog like this one, though recently I learned the word throbbing, among others, is currently out of fashion in the romance novel biz).

It’s a time-honored, legitimate publishing endeavor, the writing of romances—and whether they are PG or sexy or hard-core, there’s a huge fan base of smart, savvy romance readers out there. Don’t believe me? Check out the Smart Bitches Trashy Books website, which has been doing a booming review business for ten years now.

If you’re a writer, then, this is a huge market you might want to tap, n’est-ce pas?

Oui. As Entertainment Weekly notes, “Romance novels were once the book world’s dirty little secret. No more. Thanks in part to e-readers and Fifty Shades of Grey, they’re now the hottest fiction genre going.” Even Jane Friedman, to whose blog I subscribe, wrote a piece about a highly successful self-published author, Bella Andre, and what other writers could learn from her path to success.

Who is this Bella Andre? I wondered. EW says,

In 2010 Bella Andre was dropped by Random House after her firefighter romance series failed to generate sales. She’d spent the previous seven years shuffling between publishers, and now it seemed that her career was over. … Some friends and romance readers encouraged the writer to self-publish. So in July 2010 she uploaded the fittingly titled Love Me—a sequel that her then publisher, Simon & Schuster, had never wanted to put out. She sent personal notes to every fan who’d ever contacted her during her career, urging them to seek out the new book on Amazon. “I probably made $8,000 that month, which was bigger than the advance of $5,000 I’d been offered by Plume, and I retained all the rights,” she says. Five months later she self-published another sequel, and within weeks she became the first self-published author to hit the top 25 on Barnes & Noble’s Nook best-seller list, selling 1,000 books a day.

I didn’t know that when I read Friedman’s piece, though. So I looked up this woman’s best-selling books. They must be good, I thought. And I bought one, in spite of the dreadful cover. (That should have been my first clue.)

Continue reading full article….

Excellent piece. Excellent points. Thank you, Jamie, for your wise, experienced, and useful contribution to the debate.  

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Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

Words & Pictures: How Important IS Cover Art?

"Walking the Cambria Shore" original photo, Hysterical Love back cover
“Walking the Cambria Shore” original photo, Hysterical Love back cover

Someone asked me the other day what was the singlemost reason I chose to self-publish my books. Actually, I have two reasons, which, I suppose, makes this a “doublemost” situation.

First: while I would’ve loved (I mean, seriously loved) the help of an enthusiastic literary agent and the support and heft of a publisher with name value and cultural prestige, procuring those collaborators in our ever-changing industry has become an increasingly elusive event; it certainly was for me. I gave it my all over several years then decided I had no more all to give; since I truly believed what I was doing merited further advancement, and I’d gotten to the point where I just wanted to move forward, I leapt off the indie cliff.

Think I’m still in mid-fall!

Second: I wanted control over the work I put out. Frankly, if you’re not getting the perks of industry collaboration, there has to be some kind of trade-off; one of the most phenomenal trade-offs of “doing it yourself” is controlling exactly how your work comes to fruition. For the uninitiated, this is a big thing because, with traditional publishers, items like final edit, title, and book cover are typically taken out of the hands of the author. Certainly an unknown author. Which would be me. And since I was one of the brave souls striking out independently—for better or for worse—one of the “betterest” reasons was the ability to create and produce EXACTLY the books I wanted.

"Bene Bene" original photo, front cover, Hysterical Love
“Bene Bene” original photo, front cover, Hysterical Love

Now, if you’re like me, a creative perfectionist who’s driven many a musician, producer, co-writer, actor, director, sound mixer, editor, or wildly opinionated drummer crazy with detailed, nuanced, and very specific standards and opinions, you’ll understand that the perk of creative control for someone like me is a boon. I’ve always believed that, if you’ve put in the time to truly learn your craft, gain your experience, hone your expertise, and bring to life a beautifully imagined story and set of characters, you deserve the power to render the final edit, pick the title, and decide on your cover art. Certainly working with professionals in the arena of editing is essential, input on titles is always illuminating, and a cover designer is a must-have, but ultimately it all comes down to YOU.

She Tumbled Down_v
“Street Memorial,” She Tumbled Down

Which is lovely.

And a book cover, to my mind, is one of the most important elements of the final product. Why wouldn’t it be? Books truly are judged by their covers and too often the covers of self-published books are artistically lacking, poorly designed, and amateurishly rendered. Those covers then become litmus tests to the perusing and reading public, signaling to many that this writer may not have a firm grasp on professional market standards and, therefore, likely hasn’t delivered a professionally excellent book. I’m sure that’s not true in every case, but from all reports: most.

So given my bona fides as a photographer with a deep catalogue of images from which to choose—convenient, considering my preference for photographic cover art—my design process was both financially beneficial and extremely simple. Add in the fact that my cover designer is a brilliant graphic artist from Chicago, Grace Amandes, who just happens to be my sister, and it was a foregone conclusion that I’d get exactly the covers I wanted. And I did.

AFTER THE SUCKER PUNCHwith its story of a woman who discovers on the night of her father’s funeral that he thought she was a failure, needed a female face in the background, one that reflected the mood and emotional tone of the piece. After pulling an image from my gallery—as well as finding a back cover image that illustrated another story point that takes place in Cambria, CA— I handed the images to Grace, who ultimately came back with a cover I loved: 

AfterTheSuckerPunch_front_cover

With HYSTERICAL LOVE, a more whimsical story about a thirty-something guy struggling to find the meaning of true love and his father’s long-lost soul mate, a through-line involving an ice cream truck became the inspiration. There was no doubt I’d be using a favorite photograph taken in my neighborhood and processed with a “selective color” concept (see original above). Grace found the exact right font and color for the title, and it has become a cover that people literally smile over. I do too!

HL front cover

For “She Tumbled Down,” a short story about a tragic hit-and-run, published only in e-book, I decided to design the cover myself, trusting that, since ebooks don’t require quite the specifications of a print cover, I could pull it off. Inspired by Grace’s work, I came up with another “selective color” version of an image also taken in my neighborhood (see original above). It makes the very poignant point.

She Tumbled Down

Working in both literary and photographic mediums, I’ve discovered my general thrust as an artist is, quite simply, storytelling. Whether visual, literal, or musical, the narrative I see and feel impels the work forward, and so it has been a natural marriage between words and images in bringing my books to happily imagined life…a result that makes all the challenges and occasional indignities of self-publishing all the more easy to forgive!

To view my photography galleries at Fine Art America click HERE.

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Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

Art of the Book Cover: Pictures Tell the Story

Walking the Cambria Shore_sm
“Walking the Cambria Shore” — original photo used for back cover of AFTER THE SUCKER PUNCH

Someone asked me the other day what was the singlemost reason I chose to self-publish my books. Actually, I have two reasons, which, I suppose, makes this a “doublemost” situation.

First: while I would’ve loved (I mean, seriously loved) the help of an enthusiastic literary agent and the support and heft of a publisher with name value and cultural prestige, procuring those collaborators in our ever-changing industry has become an increasingly elusive event; it certainly was for me. I gave it my all over several years then decided I had no more all to give; since I truly believed what I was doing merited further advancement, and I’d gotten to the point where I just wanted to move forward, I leapt off the indie cliff.

Think I’m still in mid-fall!

Second: I wanted control over the work I put out. Frankly, if you’re not getting the perks of industry collaboration, there has to be some kind of trade-off; one of the most phenomenal trade-offs of “doing it yourself” is controlling exactly how your work comes to fruition. For the uninitiated, this is a big thing because, with traditional publishers, items like final edit, title, and book cover are typically taken out of the hands of the author. Certainly an unknown author. Which would be me. And since I was one of the brave souls striking out independently—for better or for worse—one of the “betterest” reasons was the ability to create and produce EXACTLY the books I wanted.

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“Bene Bene” – original photo used for HYSTERICAL LOVE cover

Now, if you’re like me, a creative perfectionist who’s driven many a musician, producer, co-writer, actor, director, sound mixer, editor, or wildly opinionated drummer crazy with detailed, nuanced, and very specific standards and opinions, you’ll understand that the perk of creative control for someone like me is a boon. I’ve always believed that, if you’ve put in the time to truly learn your craft, gain your experience, hone your expertise, and bring to life a beautifully imagined story and set of characters, you deserve the power to render the final edit, pick the title, and decide on your cover art. Certainly working with professionals in the arena of editing is essential, input on titles is always illuminating, and a cover designer is a must-have, but ultimately it all comes down to YOU.

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“Street Memorial” — Original photo used for cover of “She Tumbled Down”

Which is lovely.

And a book cover, to my mind, is one of the most important elements of the final product. Why wouldn’t it be? Books truly are judged by their covers and too often the covers of self-published books are artistically lacking, poorly designed, and amateurishly rendered. Those covers then become litmus tests to the perusing and reading public, signaling to many that this writer may not have a firm grasp on professional market standards and, therefore, likely hasn’t delivered a professionally excellent book. I’m sure that’s not true in every case, but from all reports: most.

So given my bona fides as a photographer with a deep catalogue of images from which to choose—convenient, considering my preference for photographic cover art—my design process was both financially beneficial and extremely simple. Add in the fact that my cover designer is a brilliant graphic artist from Chicago, Grace Amandes, who just happens to be my sister, and it was a foregone conclusion that I’d get exactly the covers I wanted. And I did.

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AFTER THE SUCKER PUNCHwith its story of a woman who discovers on the night of her father’s funeral that he thought she was a failure, needed a female face in the background, one that reflected the mood and emotional tone of the piece. After pulling an image from my gallery—as well as finding a back cover image that illustrated another story point that takes place in Cambria, CA— I handed the images to Grace, who ultimately came back with a cover I loved: 

With HYSTERICAL LOVE, a more whimsical story about a thirty-something guy struggling to find the meaning of true love and his father’s long-lost soul mate, a through-line involving an ice cream truck became the inspiration. There was no doubt I’d be using a favorite photograph taken in my neighborhood and processed with a “selective color” concept (see original above). Grace found the exact right font and color for the title, and it has become a cover that people literally smile over. I do too!

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For “She Tumbled Down,” a short story about a tragic hit-and-run, published only in e-book, I decided to design the cover myself, trusting that, since ebooks don’t require quite the specifications of a print cover, I could pull it off. Inspired by Grace’s work, I came up with another “selective color” version of an image also taken in my neighborhood (see original above). It makes the very poignant point.

She Tumbled Down

Working in both literary and photographic mediums, I’ve discovered my general thrust as an artist is, quite simply, storytelling. Whether visual, literal, or musical, the narrative I see and feel impels the work forward, and so it has been a natural marriage between words and images in bringing my books to happily imagined life…a result that makes all the challenges and occasional indignities of self-publishing all the more easy to forgive!

To view my photography galleries at Fine Art America click HERE.

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Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

Writer or Author? What To Call Whom and Other Industry Silliness

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A writing colleague of mine sent me an interesting article recently; wanted my opinion on a piece written by a book blogger with a rather fierce agenda about who gets to call themselves an “author” these days. The piqued pontificator asserted that there are fundamental distinctions to be made between “author” and “writer,” nuances he deemed essential to preventing confusion in the literal and virtual book-buying marketplace.

And here I thought readers just wanted to know which were the good books!

This inexplicably grumpy guy (who shall remain nameless and linkless in a nod to collegial decorum), purports to have his finger on the pulse of the book industry’s beating heart, and takes personal umbrage at our loosey-goosey tendency to let just anyone use the term “author.” Since it’s a matter of great importance to him, and, unfortunately, many others in this rapidly evolving marketplace, I decided to give his thesis a whirl:

According to our parsing pundit, the title of “author” applies only within this very limited parameter: a writer who makes a living with the books they write. Their full-time living. No side-jobs. No article writing, copyediting, babysitting; mowing of the neighbor’s lawn, or even the occasional catering gig. If there is any under-the-table commerce unrelated to the business of the book, well then, they are not an author. They are just a writer.

Why that assignation—writer— is considered lesser, I do not know; but, apparently, it is.

Obviously this semantical corralling would include most self-published authors—I mean, writers—because, except for the select few who’ve managed to self-publish their way to enviable fame and fortune, the rest are busy selling real estate, proofing web copy, or teaching grade schoolers while pursuing their passion on the side…and until they hit their literary jackpot. Our bitching blogger believes distinctions are to be made for these folks.

But even if you agree with him, I have to ask: why should the distinction matter…to anyone? And yet it does. To that particular blogger and others I’ve encountered along the way. So much so that self-publishers who dare refer themselves as “authors” are likened, in some ways, to paralegals posing as attorneys, interns marching hospitals in doctor whites, or security guards puffed up like the NYPD Blue. In other words: pretenders, imposters, frauds.

Really? The distinctions between writer and author are SO carved in stone as to allow the Word Police to pejoratively deny one group use of the more vaunted descriptive of author?  Well, how ’bout we leave it to the dictionary? 

Author: noun; 1. a person who writes a novel, poem, essay, etc.; the composer of a literary work; 2. the literary production or productions of a writer; 3. the maker of anything; creator; originator. Verb: to write; be the author of:

That seems clear. Shall we continue?

Writer: Noun: 1. a person engaged in writing books, articles, stories, etc., especially as an occupation or profession; an author or journalist. [emphasis added]

Yep, as interchangeable as driver and motorist, teacher and educator; trapeze artist and aerialist. More importantly, did you note the first, most important definition of “writer”? According to the dictionary, it’s the writer who’s identified as the professional, not the author!

Holy bloviating blogger, that drops the whole theory on its head!

But while I poke fun at the condescension of said cynic and his ilk, the sad fact remains that they are emblematic of many who marginalize independent, self-published authors as dilettantes and amateurs, relegating them (sometimes literally) to card tables in the back room rather than up on the dais with the “real authors.” Fair? No. But the nose-snubbing endures.

It likely began with the vanity press, that notorious business model that gave amateur writers the opportunity to publish their work for a fee. The narcissism of the option was presumed: anyone who would pay to have their own book made, a book they obviously couldn’t get published through professional means, must surely be a vainglorious sort.

Forget that they might have just wanted a few copies to leave the family.

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But moving past vanity presses came the even more paradigm-shifting digital revolution, which first hit the music industry like a hurricane, forcing analogue studios into Pro Tools machines, and traditional record companies upside-down-you-turn-me. No one was sure how to adjust (it’s still a conundrum…see Taylor Swift and Spotify; see Apple and Spotify, see Spotify and Pandora…), but adjustments were and continue to be made. And artists who’d previously been kept outside the gates were suddenly making and selling their own, affordably recorded, music, while payment formulas, arcane to begin with, went up in smoke. No one knows how anyone’s making a living these days, but there’s lots of great music and many excellent (heretofore ignored) singers, songwriters, bands, and musicians who are finally able to get their work out there. That, alone, is worth a great deal to a great many.

Are they, then—those scratching out a living however they can while playing gigs, hawking CDs, and keeping hope alive on the Internet—allowed to call themselves musicians, recording artists, bands, and so on? Of course! Because they actually are all those things. How they get their art produced and delivered, or how much money they’re able to accrue in the process, has zero bearing on their talent, skill, or the value and artistry of their work.

Or what they’re called.

Is it all good work? No. But it never was all good work, even when record companies were stationed like trolls at the gate. But much of it is astonishing music that would have never seen the light of day under the old regime. And now it’s the audience, the marketplace, that not only has access to many more artists by virtue of this democratization, but will be the arbiter of just how the supply and demand piece plays out.

That same paradigm shift is happening in book publishing.

Since sites like Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo, iBooks, IngramSparks and others have created platforms for independent authors to upload, publish, and sell their work, similar fears, criticisms, and condescensions have percolated. But just as those who naysay indie musicians tend to be backward travelers, so, too, are the curmudgeons who’d generalize, dismiss, and denigrate independent authors across the boards.

Because the talent, skill, and artistry of authors is not based on whether or not they fit the narrow demands of publishers scrambling to stay relevant (or solvent); nor is it based on whether the sum total of dollars they’re able to earn is enough to cover their bills. No; the talent, skill and artistry of authors is based on…drum roll…the talent, skill, and artistry of each individual author. Period.

Is every book by a self-published author a good one? No, of course not. That’s been established. But many are as profound, as resonating, as any good book sitting on the shelf at Barnes & Noble. And, conversely, all one has to do is ferret through a book bin at CVS, peruse the racks at an airport, or consider some of the most viral of bestsellers put out by traditional publishers to find examples of the kind of drek that makes our blogger’s teeth grind.

It’s past time for the media, the publishing industry, book stores, and cultural taste-makers to move beyond elitist, myopic attitudes about the clearly indefatigable self-publishing world. As that demographic evolves, the authors within it will raise their own bar to demand the highest standards from its members: constructive peer pressure designed to make sure the steps are taken, the funds invested, and the necessary work done to deliver the most excellent books possible. And what will happen then is that more and more of those authors will break through the barriers to slowly but surely make more money, get more attention, and find their way onto bestseller lists, award tables, Kindles, and bed stands of discerning readers.

Because they are authors, just as the dictionary confirms: “writers creating original, literary works.” Which is exactly what self-published and independent authors have been doing all along.

Image courtesy of Wellcome Images @ Wikimedia Commons

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Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

Because We Can: SHOULD Everyone Publish a Book?

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Did you know that recent stats indicate that 450+ thousand books were self-published at last count? That’s a lot of books, garnering a lot of conversation about where the trend is headed and if it’s headed in the right direction.

A book site called Women Writers, Women[s] Books invited me to discuss what has become a compelling topic of debate not only in the book marketing world, but amongst the community of writers, some of whom view self-publishing less as a profession and more a hobby, while others fiercely fight to raise the bar.

My own view, excerpted from the article: 

I sit somewhere in the middle. As one who’s chosen to self-publish for a variety of reasons, I believe the ability of quality writers to get their work out, despite exclusionary practices, has been a boon. I’ve read several self-published books that are so excellent it’s impossible to understand why they’re not being hawked by one of the Big 5 (particularly considering some of what is being hawked!). But I’m also someone who’s bemoaned the unwise and oddly entitled attitudes of far too many self-pubbers who eschew certain standards of professionalism. When you hear writers commenting that they can’t afford or don’t wish to budget for professional editors, formatters, or cover designers, you know there’s a conversation to be had.  

To read on, click the linkShould Everyone Publish a Book? And be sure to share your own opinion in comments! 

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Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

Here’s To The Ladies of the Valencia Hills Book Club

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Being an author is a somewhat mysterious and solitary trade, regardless of how one ultimately publishes their books. When you’re self-published, however, there’s a whole other level of mystery that gets stirred into the mix, questions and opinions about why you published the way you did and what it all means in the big picture of how your value, your book’s value, is perceived.

Those outside the industry, however, the readers, generally keep their focus on the books: the stories, the covers, the draw of the narrative; the reviews, the word-of-mouth, etc. What they generally don’t think about? How or in what manner an author got their book published. Which is good. It shouldn’t matter. All anyone should give a hoot about is whether or not a book has been well-written, well-produced, grabs their interest, and, ultimately, delivers the goods.

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Still, stigmas persist, so when you do find reviews on Amazon from total strangers expressing delight with your work, when a heretofore unknown blogger announces your book is one of the best he’s read in 2014; when a publicist plucks your work out of the ethers to declare it a “top read of the year,” you are all the more touched. Because you take none of it for granted.

And when a venerable book club that’s been around for over fifteen years chooses your book to be their March read, gathering to enthusiastically discuss that book with wit and intelligence… well, for this self-pubbed author who’s been through every kind of artistic gauntlet over a long and largely independent career, Book cover cookie1that’s GOLDEN. And not to be taken for granted.

Frankly, I wasn’t sure what to expect when my college pal, Eileen Butler (part of the group), sent a note informing me of the March selection of AFTER THE SUCKER PUNCH by the Valencia Hills Book Club, extending an invitation to attend the “discussion” gathering at her home mid-month. I wondered if a tight-knit group of women from Valencia, CA, might find my somewhat rough-edged tale a bit off-putting and unrelatable. I wondered if they’d find me a bit off-putting and unrelatable (I am not getting out that much! 🙂 ); I wondered if… hell, I had absolutely NO idea what to expect, but either way, I was honored and certainly up for it. I ordered some of my Chicago cousin’s famous book cookies, printed up some “coming soon” cards for my next book, Hysterical Love, and circled the date.

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Eileen Butler (left) and the ladies of the Valencia Hills Book Club

And when I met the Ladies of the Valencia Hills Book Club—Linda Skvarna, Sandra D’souza Benjamin, Shelly Paolucci Coleman, Kimberly Briggs Reed, Patti Paglia, Alice Sain and Suzanne Rioux —I was more than delighted to make the acquaintance of a group of smart, funny, progressive, really interesting, and really interested women. To hear them discuss the book’s characters by name, debate covered issues of cults and religion, talk about the epilogue song, look to me for answers about my thinking on certain plot elements and story twists was like being surrounded by people talking about and discussing the finer points of my child…what “parent” wouldn’t love that?

I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know a bit about each of them: their fascinating stories and backgrounds, the kinds of books they’ve read over the years, and certainly about their late founder, a woman whom they speak of with deep respect. We shared good food (thank you, Eileen!), great conversation, and tremendous mutual interest.

I walked away from the evening imbued with a sense of having been honored. To have such an eclectic group of remarkable women give their reading time and attention to me and my book is no small thing. Certainly not something I take for granted. And regardless of how or in what manner I might choose to publish any of my books in years to come, I hope I always feel that way.

Thank you, Ladies of the Valencia Hills Book Club; you truly made my day!
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Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

Who Do We Have To _____ To Get a Little Respect Around Here?

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The cheers of indie authors who’ve FINALLY found outlets for their books — whether Amazon, Smashwords, Lulu, indie bookstores; wherever — can be heard far and wide from every corner of the globe. It’s been loudly exclaimed by everyone in the know that it’s the dawn of a new day for writers everywhere. After years of dismissal and disrespect from traditional publishers and their gatekeepers across every element of the literary landscape — from query letter browbeating, ice-cold rejections, overly possessive editors, and blasé publishers with no marketing budgets — independent authors have now taken control of their destinies and ventured forth, filters, limitations and grumpy gatekeepers be damned.

Good, right?

Yes, in some ways. In others, we indies are still very much the ugly stepsisters to our more vaunted and valued legacy colleagues. Don’t think so? Just today I clicked on the website of a “recommended book blogger” (whose name I will leave out for the sake of decorum) who seemed hell-bent on insulting those self-published writers who’d had the audacity to contact him for reviews. His FAQ page not only went out of its way to discuss how unreadable he found most self-pubbed books, but his hissing condescension about “amateurish” writers incapable of even understanding the word “no” led to a sneering pronouncement that he didn’t want to read, hear about, or otherwise experience the books of said authors and, therefore, please don’t waste his time by contacting him.

Sheesh. The fumes of disdain emanating from his page practically choked me.

And he’s not the only one. Media sources abound with snitty-toned announcements that they DO NOT TAKE SUBMISSIONS FROM SELF-PUBLISHED AUTHORS (caps are theirs). Review sites that cover legacy authors free-of-charge gouge self-pubbers in the hundreds of dollars. Feature writers who ooze admiration for the latest debut novelist from the Big 5 have actually figured out how to roll their eyes on Twitter over the pathetic shenanigans of indie writers trying to get their attention.

We’re definitely the “not cool” kids on the playground and this persistent — and, in many cases, undeserved — marginalization makes launching an indie book all the more difficult. When the overriding presumption is that your book is — to put it bluntly — a piece of shit (a presumption with which I personally take umbrage), you’re not only starting from zero in the world of marketing and promotion, you’re climbing from less-than-zero.

Fair? No. But let’s face it; we kinda dug our own hole, we self-published writers. Despite the fact that the industry is changing and evolving on a daily basis, with increasing numbers of options and outlets available, and more and more authors — even some from the traditional world — opting to go the self-published route, the rickety stage set early-on was built largely by anxious amateurs eager to define themselves as “authors” before availing themselves of the various elements of true professionalism. There are still far too many self-pubbed books that are amateurishly written, with poorly edited copy and covers that fairly scream “I’m a self-published writer!!!” And, unfortunately, still too many authors who relegate those necessary tasks as negotiable rather than essential — a professional blunder akin to a restaurateur opening a bistro without a qualified chef, a decent waitstaff, or a well-designed room. The resulting customer and industry response (see above) is the sad and subsequent remnant of that miscalculation.

We are all, every one of us, tarnished to some extent by the mistakes of the early (and prevailing) corner-cutters, but those mistakes are, hopefully, being mitigated by the growing number of independent authors who do approach their work, their books, and their presentation with impeccable and unassailable standards. And that growing number (of which I count myself) deserve to NOT be automatically generalized into a category of “subpar” by media, reviewers, bloggers and the like. Just as many traditionally published books (to once again put it bluntly) suck, yes… so do many self-published books. Conversely, just as many traditionally published books are profound and not-to-be-missed works of literary wonder, so, too, are many self-published books.

That the aforementioned blogger and his snarky cohorts refuse to consider that is evidence of literary shortsightedness. Like geezers who discount useful technology as “newfangled” or antiquarians who bemoan penmanship while ignoring heartfelt emails, they’re missing out. Of a gem. A “stunning debut.” A “keenly executed character study.” A really good book.

Their loss. But the unwillingness of the wider media to explore indie authors with the same open-mindedness — and vetting and reviewing protocols — implemented for those traditionally published, is creating a literary ghettoization. And the resulting deficit is felt not only by the writers being dismissed simply by virtue of being self-published, but by readers who have less access to those authors and their work because of that ignorance.

Just as self-published writers are obligated to evolve and demand of themselves the highest levels of professionalism, so, too, must accompanying media evolve away from their myopia and literary bigotry. If they do not, what is being wasted is far more than their time; also lost is the cultural embrace of much talent and many good books being written by courageously independent authors who deserve at least a look.

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Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.