I’m always thrilled for my writing friends when they take on a new challenge. Some decide to write in a new category or genre. Others decide to share their work via the self-publishing route. Today, I’m excited to share a guest post from Sarah L. Blair who shares insight into why self-publishing was the best option to introduce readers to her debut novel, DARKNESS SHIFTING.
I graduated college ten years ago. Like most new graduates, I entered the world clutching my shiny new Creative Writing degree with a bunch of ideas for what the future would hold. None of them included self-publishing. It was a whole different world back then, so long ago, yet not so far away. My professors all made it clear that getting published would be a long time coming, I’d be one of the lucky ones if I could turn it into any kind of career. It takes practice to hone your skills as a writer. 10,000 hours of doing something to become an expert. I knew I was a good writer, maybe even a great one. But I also knew I wasn’t good enough. Not yet. I also didn’t have any clue about how to get published, even when I was ready. I still have the 2006 edition of Writer’s Market in a box in the back of my closet somewhere, hiding out with a bunch of workshop stories that will never see the light of day.
About a year after I graduated, I got married and moved to Georgia. I still had no clue what I wanted to do other than Be A Writer, but I really had no practical experience in anything other than babysitting. So I got a job teaching at a pre-school. The hours were great, my boss and co-workers were incredible. And in my spare time, I wrote. I fussed around with a few ideas until one afternoon a girl walked into my head and said, “What have we got?”
I had no idea, but I wanted to find out. The idea took hold of me like no other story had before. I knew it was something, even if I didn’t know what.
It took me years to get that first draft down. But I finally had it. The End. And I revised and revised and REVISED. This book barely resembles what it once was. My scrap file is over 100k words. Finally, I thought I was ready to try to get published, because I didn’t know what else to do with it. By the way, it was still a hot mess.
Around this time I joined Twitter. This is where I learned everything about how to get published. Being able to see agent tweets, figure out what they were looking for, how they wanted to be approached, connecting with other writers just like me who were trying to find their way in the darkness of the query trenches—it was everything I didn’t know I needed. It was invaluable. I wish I could go back to 2006 Sarey and hand her this knowledge. There are a lot of things she would do differently.
I queried with a lot of positive response, but from the feedback I got, I knew it wasn’t ready. I revised. I queried again. By that time however, the market for anything paranormal or fantasy was starting to wane, and gauging what agents were looking for with things like Manuscript Wish List, I quickly realized that my little urban fantasy wasn’t what publishers wanted on their desks at the moment. Talking to friends, browsing through tweets from readers, and perusing Amazon lists, I still felt like it was something readers might be interested in. After all, I’d written a book I wanted to read, maybe other people would want it too? Self-publishing was a consideration in the back of my head. Maybe someday. It was at least a backup plan.
I took the advice of better people who had more experience and put my little urban fantasy away for awhile. I started a brand new project. Something completely different. I started something else. Even more different. I liked them both. But I stalled out. The characters just didn’t hold my attention the same way.
In the middle of trying to birth a book baby, I birthed two human babies. If you have kids, you know how time consuming they are. They need constant attention.
At the same time I was just entering the world as an intimidated but hopeful young writer, the idea of self-publishing was associated closely with the word vanity. It came with a certain stigma of entitlement and defiance.
Not anymore. In this past decade alone, thanks to technology and e-books, it’s quickly evolved into something else: A viable path to getting books in front of readers. Isn’t that ultimately the goal for most writers? We just want people to read our work, and hope that they love it, or at the very least, react to it in one way or another.
One day I sat down and thought of all the reasons I wanted to be traditionally published. The biggest one was that I wanted a team. I needed people behind me who were smarter and more objective than I was to help me hone my words into something better than I could make them on my own. I needed a great cover. I needed publicity and marketing.
And then I realized… I already had those things. Thanks to Twitter, I had an entire community of talented people who love me and my words, and want to see me succeed. I already had my team.
Another thing I realized was that I have two little kids who need a lot of attention. I’m a slow writer. I can’t get to the page every single day. It’s essential that my family comes first. At this point in my life, I absolutely need to work at my own pace. Deadlines are certainly important for meeting goals, but at this point in my life I need flexibility. I’m not the type of person to let other people down or be unprofessional. If I chose to pursue traditional publishing I’d have zero control over deadlines. I’d be beholden to other people who really didn’t care if my kids were throwing a fit, or sick and needing extra attention. They wouldn’t care why I didn’t meet my deadline, only that I didn’t meet it. They’d remember that and see me as sloppy and unprofessional. Sure, they’re all human. Agents and publishers aren’t heartless. They have families and get sick too. But the publishing world keeps going, regardless.
What was I waiting for? I had a team. I could set my own timeline and adjust as needed. My decision to self-publish was made.
It’s probably best that I didn’t know exactly what I was getting myself into, because the learning curve has been enormous. Thankfully, I’ve got Trisha Leigh and Laura Oliva, my self-publishing gurus to hold my hand and guide me through this process. Their advice and input has been invaluable. The best advice I can give anyone else considering self-publishing is to find someone who has done it several times and snuggle up under their wing like a baby duckling. This is not something you can do alone. I mean, you can do it alone, but it’s a lot better with help.
The first step I took was to hire a professional editor. I sort of fell into this. I wasn’t looking seriously, yet. But my friend Julie Hutchings mentioned one day that she was needing a project and I knew I had one. We struck a deal and it was the best thing I’ve ever done for this book. Julie got it. Every single thing about my book, she nailed it. Not only that, but she helped me bring out the very best of my characters. She showed me which parts needed to be strengthened, and guided me into making this book so much better than I ever could have made it on my own. I was extremely lucky. I already knew Julie well enough to know she’d be a great fit for me and my book. If you’re looking for a professional editor, do your research. Read other projects the editor has worked on. Follow on twitter and other social media. You’ve got to find the right person, someone who understands your project as if they were inside your head already. It’s worth the time and effort, trust me.
The next step was a cover. I had no clue what I wanted. I scoured pre-made covers, and browsed other books in my genre to try to figure out what the trends were. I endlessly searched stock photos, trying to find something that caught my eye. Again, my critique partners, and self-published experts came to my rescue. We played around with ideas until I finally had a concept that I loved. I found a couple of stock photos that were perfect. My husband helped me put together a general idea of what I wanted, but he’s not a professional cover designer so he could only get me so far. I took my ideas to local cover artist and photographer Vania Stoyanova to put everything together into a finished product. She absolutely did not disappoint! What she came up with was so much more than I could have done on my own. I’m absolutely in love with it!
While I was waiting for Vania to work on my cover, I decided to tackle getting everything uploaded and ready for publication. I used CreateSpace for my print copies, and they’re great, but there’s definitely a learning curve. Everything is laid out in a step-by-step checklist, which really helps. But as far as formatting goes… I won’t lie: It’s been a total headache. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve tweaked margins, and spacing, and font-size. No matter what I’ve done, there are still a couple of spots with widow and orphan lines hanging on for dear life, alone and desolate at the top of the page. It’s been frustrating beyond belief. But at some point, I realized there’s truly only so much I can do. No book is 100% perfect in every way. Not even those written by the greatest authors of our time. Yes, even Harry Potter books have typos. You can only do what you can do, and then you have to let go.
And so I have. This book is as ready as it’s ever going to be to head out into the world. People jokingly talk about their book babies, comparing them to real children, but there’s a lot of truth to the analogy. As a parent of humans, I do what I can to guide my children, support them, and urge them into becoming the best they can be. I want them to be good people and grow up to do amazing things. I hope my book babies will do the same. I’ve spent countless hours honing, guiding, and shaping this book into something I want to put out into the world for others to experience. Who knows, maybe it’ll even surprise me and do something spectacular? I have no idea. For now, I’m keeping my expectations low and my hopes high.
More on DARKNESS SHIFTING…
Paranormal Investigator, Sidney Lake doesn’t jump at shadows. The weird stuff is her jurisdiction. When the mangled body of a supposedly extinct creature turns up in New York City’s subway system, she’s number one on the Medical Examiner’s speed dial.
But this case hits too close to home when clues point her toward the truth about her parents’ brutal murder twelve years ago. Her boss Mitchell Harris, questions whether she should continue to investigate. However, Sidney insists on facing her greatest fears and putting her parents’ memory to rest once and for all.
What she uncovers sheds a light on secrets that reach further into the darkness than she ever wanted to go… and leads her to a future she never imagined.
Sarah L. Blair earned a BA in Creative Writing from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. While spending a semester abroad at Swansea University in Wales she traveled to nearby Bath and Glastonbury often, drawing inspiration for her writing from the myths and legends surrounding the area. Sarah now resides just north of Atlanta, Georgia with her husband, their two children, and chihuahua. While writing is her first passion, she also enjoys sewing, tater tots, catching up on her teetering TBR pile, and hanging out on her porch drinking sweet tea.