Why I Chose to Self Publish

keep-calm-and-support-indie-authorsSo, as some of you know, I announced earlier this week that I’ve chosen to become an indie author. This was not a decision that I made lightly. In fact, if you would have told me six months ago that I was going to do it, I would have laughed at you. That’s because being a traditionally published author is a dream I’ve held for nearly 20 years. However, things change in that amount of time and I’ve come to believe that for me – as for several of my fellow Spellbound Scribes – this is the right path – at least for right now.

I want to be clear that I have nothing against traditional publishing. I may still end up agented and with a traditional house at some point in my career. I am closing the door to nothing.

If that’s the case, why did I decide to go indie? Two main reasons:

1) It was time for my work to get out there. It’s been four and a half years – and six books – since I started querying agents. It took me two years to get my agent. I was with her for two years before she left the industry, and though we got sooooo close to a traditional contract three times, she was unable to sell my debut work of Arthurian historical fantasy. Every single time it was for marketing reasons – traditional publishing doesn’t seem to believe that historical fiction set before 1066 AD will sell – or because I was an unknown author with no publication record.

Because of this, I shifted my focus to a much later time period, writing Madame Presidentess, a historical novel about Victoria Woodhull, the first American woman to run for President. While that MS was very well received with many full requests and at agencies I never imagined I’d have a chance at, I quickly ran out of time for an agent to be able to sell it and for it to get published before the 2016 election. (Traditional deals can take a year or more to secure and then another 12-24 months to produce the book.) The tie to the election, with the likelihood of Hillary Clinton getting the Democratic nomination, is the whole reason I pushed myself to write it so fast in the first place. So when it became clear a traditional deal wouldn’t make this possible, I chose to publish it myself.

Plus, I realized that even if I went with an agent right now, there is no guarantee they would have any better luck selling my books than the first one did. I was sitting on six books I’d already written (five fiction and one non-fiction) and I was tired of telling people to trust me that I had writing they would want to read. I wanted to prove it to them, so I decided not to wait another year or more for the traditional industry to say yay or nay. With self publishing, I control the pace at which my books are released, and I plan for it to be rapid. (This post gives my publication schedule for 2016.)

permission2) The industry is changing and I wanted to be in control of my career. The advent of ebooks changed publishing forever, removing (or at least lessening) the stigma associated with self publishing, and giving authors more freedom than ever. Couple that with a tight economy even so many years after the recession and this means agents are taking on fewer clients and publishers are buying fewer books from unknown authors, so it’s harder than ever to break in as a debut author.

I know my books have potential, and I’m confident fans will, too. No one knows what will be the next best-seller, but I want readers to have a chance to decide if it is my work. If so, FABULOUS! If not, I’ll learn from these early books and get better until I make it there. But I’ll never learn if my books languish in a drawer.

While self publishing has significant up-front costs (especially when you’re putting out four in six months like I am), I think it’s worth it. I’d have to do my own marketing, even with a traditional contract. Royalty rates are much higher as an indie and you have total control over your career. You get to pick the cover, decide when a book has had enough editing, write your own back-page copy and decide what order you’re going to write your books in. Plus, you never have to worry about being dropped if your book takes more than a few weeks to find its readership. To me, these are the important things – those that free me up to be an artist the way I want to be, without having to worry about industry trends or write what my publisher thinks will sell the best. Basically, being an indie author means being my own patron.

This also means that I take on the risk that I won’t break even, much less turn a profit. I know that is a possibility, but I don’t care. I’m doing this because I love it. As my mother mentioned to me the other day, if I had kids (which I don’t want), I’d be spending a ton of money on them. Instead, my books are my babies. If I got that MFA I was thinking about, I’d spend $50,000, far more than it will cost me to put out my first five books. This is an investment in my future – in my career as a writer and in my imprint, which is my company.

Suddenly, I’m very grateful I got that business degree and work in marketing. Everything happens for a reason, right? ;)

Fellow self-pubbers, what was your reasoning behind making the decision? Readers, do you care if a book is self-published as long as it is high-quality?

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When did you start writing?

A simple question. One that many of us have been asked before. A question I think about all the time because it’s a reminder of what I’ve always wanted to do. Write.

This past week I got to meet some amazing people at Authors After Dark. One reader was sixteen and an aspiring author. She was asking everyone about when they first started writing.

There is one key moment in my life that I remember wanting to be an author. It was in elementary school. Fourth or fifth grade. We had a local author come to school and tell us about her career. How she started. Why she wrote realistic fiction. I was hooked. I wanted to be her. There was a contest we could all enter. All we had to do was write a short story and submit it in the contest. So I took the leap. And I got to go to the mini-conference they had for everyone who entered. For one whole day I got to talk to authors, I got to learn how to write a book.

Now, I don’t remember all the details of the day. But I remember the amazing feeling of knowing I could write. Knowing I wanted to do that for the rest of my life. I wanted to go to a school and inspire kids the way she had inspired me. Of course back then I thought I would write realistic fiction.

Things change. Our perspectives change. I’m not the ten year old with a dream anymore. Now, I write. One day I will make this my career and I won’t have to worry about the day job. Until then, I’m so happy to have the chance to publish what I can. To edit for authors who I fan girl over.

My dreams are coming true each and every day. I hope the young lady I met at Authors After Dark will get the same opportunity. I hope she will follow her dream. I have a question for you…when did you start writing?

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Kristin’s Big Announcement

Originally posted on Kristin McFarland:

There’s a big announcement and a dancing Ewok at the end of this post, but first I’m going to ask you to bear with me for a little while.

Most of the books I’ve written have been, somehow or another, about hope.

The stories I’ve told have been about learning to believe in ourselves and our power to shape the world around us—sometimes literally. My characters find themselves or land themselves in dark places, and then claw themselves back up, because that’s what stories do: stories take us apart, with a character as our stand-in, and then they put us back together, brick by brick, until we can stand up again, even if what’s inside of us has changed a little.

Fiction shows us what we are and what we can be.

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When I set out to write SHAKEN, the very first book I queried, the book that got me my first…

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I’m doing something scary

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That’s right, my tiny beach town, Ventura, has their own Comic Con – Central Coast Comic Con, or C4 for short – and it is this month. The last weekend of the month to be exact and little ol’ me will be attending as an author.

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I will have my very own table in Artists’ Alley with stacks and stacks of books surrounding me, ready for signing and sale. I have my special, color-coordinated Sharpies. I have buttons and bookmarks and I’ll have candy to entice passersby. I have little stands to make my books more visible. I have my magic card swiper and a cash box all ready. I have my outfits pretty much planned out – including a shirt advertising the trilogy I’m hawking. I even have tiny Moo business cards.

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I am ready!

And I am FREAKING OUT.

I can’t believe how nervous I am. I’m questioning what the hell was I thinking when I told Kris, the head honcho of C4, that I wanted to attend when he said they love having locals there.

Why, why did I sign up? I AM SO PANICKED.

I don’t know what I’m doing. I’ve never done anything like this before. I have this horrible fear that I’m gonna lug in 55 copies of my books Friday morning only to lug out 55 copies of my books Sunday afternoon because I am going to sit there for three days with no one stopping by my table. Maybe they’ll take a free bookmark and a piece of candy but then they’ll mosey on down the alley.

I’m not an artist who can take commissions and sell them. I’m not a comic book author. I’m not very well known – most of my readers who have actively reached out to me seem to be in England and on the East Coast. What the hell was I thinking?!

But I’m doing it. Even if I don’t sell one book. Even if all I get out of the weekend is a selfie with Doug Jones or sitting on Baby (the Impala from Supernatural – yes one of the actual cars the boys sat in on the show), because I’m definitely trying for that. I’m doing it because maybe it’ll be good exposure, maybe I’ll make some contacts, maybe I will sell one copy of my books to someone who really, really loves them and that’ll make it worth all this anxiety. Right?

So yeah, if you’re anywhere nearby that weekend, come down, it’s way less intimidating that SDCC and it should be a good time. Also, I’ll have candy.

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Ten Things TO Say to a Writer

Earlier this week, a hashtag took my Twitter feed by storm. In case you missed it, that hashtag was #TenThingsNotToSayToAWriter, and it quickly had everyone from budding writers to well-established authors bonding and venting about the ridiculous things people say to writers.

Because let’s face it: most people have no idea how to talk to writers. If I had a penny for every time somebody offered me an unsolicited idea for a novel or story, or asked how I made money, or whether I had a real job…well, I’d probably have like $2.50.

But as amusing and on-point the hashtag was, the whole thing also felt a little negative to me. Yes, a lot of people have no idea how to talk to writers, and yes, many of the things they say are awkward verging on offensive. But writing also isn’t the most well-understood of careers, partly because we’re all creatives with different processes, and partly because most of us are solitary little mouses scribbling away in our quiet mousey-houses.

It’s easy to think of the things we wish people wouldn’t say to us. But what do we wish they would? Here are my top ten things people should say to a writer*!

1. “Would you be able to proof-read this document for me? Oh, and what’s your hourly rate?”

2. “Sitting in front of a computer all day, talking to no one but the voices in your head, as you spin entire fictional universes out of the ether? Boy, that sounds really hard!”

3. “Do you want this spare bottle of wine I accidentally bought?”

Six whole dollars

4. “I can’t wait until your book releases so I can purchase it for its full sale price!”

5. “The wifi here is free.”

6. “I always wanted to write a book, but then I came to the realistic conclusion that I have spent zero time devoting myself to the craft of writing and probably have neither the tools nor the commitment to follow through on such a project.”

I wrote a whole book about zombies.

7.  “As a working professional I’m sure you have a set schedule, so I won’t assume you can drop everything to have lunch with me in 2o minutes.”

8. “But if you are hungry I have some free food here I’d love to share with you.”

Writers are always hungry

9. “I have many fascinating life experiences under my belt, but now that I think about it I doubt any of them would make particularly compelling works of fiction.”

10. “Thanks for being a writer. Without people like you, there wouldn’t be any books.”

How do you wish people would talk to you as a writer? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below!

*This is meant to be a humorous post. Please do not take offense with any of my silliness.

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Five Reasons to Watch Puella Magi Madoka Magica

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If you follow me on Twitter, you’ve probably noticed that I recently watched and was completely floored by an anime called Puella Magi Madoka Magica. It’s a well-known and highly, highly praised series in anime circles (to which I really don’t belong), but I came across it because Netflix thought I would like it.

Well, Netflix was right.

The plot centers around a young girl named Madoka and her friends—and what happens when a magical creature offers them one miraculous wish in exchange for signing up to become a witch-fighting magical girl. Sounds simple, but naturally it gets oh-so-complicated.

I’m not an anime expert by any means, but I gather that this show is a deconstruction of the magical girl genre. In that way, like Neon Genesis Evangelion, it succeeds because it’s both the culmination and a critique of the typical genre stories. The beauty of Madoka, though, is that it’s an artistic triumph, quite literally beautiful, and it stands on its own merits as an excellent piece of storytelling.

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So here’s why you should watch:

1. The show revolves around the power of female friendship. So many shows center on romantic relationships, whether gay, straight, or something in between, that it’s easy to forget the most important relationships in our lives aren’t all about sex. While some might argue that Madoka contains romantic relationships, on its face, it’s really about female friendship: the depths of our hearts to which friendship can reach and the heights to which it can drive us to achieve.

2. It’s a masterwork of feminism without being about feminism. There are almost no male characters in this show. The magical girls aren’t special because they’re girls who are powerful. Rather, they’re special because of the sacrifices they make to protect the human race. Neither sex nor gender is an issue. To see a show like this beloved by a geeky audience is a huge triumph, particularly when women’s right to enjoy any kind of geekery, whether written works or visual, is constantly under threat. Plus, the juxtaposition of “girly” visuals and genre-elements with true darkness and despair is gloriously true to realities of human nature, let alone womanhood.

3. It’s visually stunning. I have never seen an anime as gorgeously and triumphantly experimental in its animation style. As the characters shift between worlds, the world literally shifts and becomes Other. Each witch has her own style of magic, and it’s hair-raising to see the differences between them. While the human world is beautifully drawn, the supernatural elements are phenomenal. (Sidebar: the music is also incredible.)

4. The plot twists will gut you. Any time a magical bargain is struck, there’s bound to be a price. In this case, the price is so heart-breaking that you’ll feel devastated halfway through the series—and that’s before you even get to the meat of the central story. Despite what may seem like a played-out premise, the story told here is not a simple one. Prepare yourself for heartbreak.

5. Every character is well-drawn, but Madoka and Homura could walk out of the screen. The two main characters have layers of depth that put both onions and parfaits to shame. The timid, girly-girl who initially wants power for its own sake, just so she can feel special, shows herself to have more true compassion than a Catholic saint. And the journey she takes to finally own her power traverses roads through fear and doubt most stories never touch.

And Homura? Well. You’ll just have to see.

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Darkness and Starlight – My Eternal Love for Final Fantasy VI

It was the Christmas of 1994 and Wee Little Me was preparing to open his presents, hoping beyond hope that one particular gift was there among all the glittery wrapped packages. It wasn’t that tough to figure out that it was – if you were a nerdy kid in the ’90s you could probably tell the shape of a SNES cartridge, even wrapped up.  I tore into that package, each piece of wrapping paper shed revealed more and more of that treasured box art until it was displayed in all of it’s purple-silhouetted, Moogle-emblazoned, Nintendo-licensed glory. Final_Fantasy_III_(NA)_(SNES) My writing and storytelling is informed by decades of consuming science fiction and fantasy novels, video games and comics, but nothing captured and fueled my imagination quite like Final Fantasy VI did (it was released as III in the US at the time, like the box above says, but it was really the sixth game in the series. Weird distribution issues at the time or something, I guess). The diversity of characters, the intricacy of the plot, the epic scope of it all (the gameplay was excellent too, especially innovative for the times) was beyond anything I had ever seen at that point in my life, and it still remains my favorite game to this day. (Some will say Final Fantasy VII is the best game in the series (or of all time). They’re wrong and they should feel bad for being so wrong). So in today’s post I thought I’d share with you a few reasons why Final Fantasy VI is so important to me as writer and how it’s influenced my stories (and life in general) so much. Spoiler warning for a 20 year old (OMG HAS IT REALLY BEEN THAT LONG) game, I guess?

MAGIC-SLINGING, SWORD-SWINGING SUPERWOMEN

Final Fantasy VI has enormous cast full of diverse and compelling personalities, fourteen playable characters in all, but the two “main” characters were and still stood out the most to me.

TerraThe game opens with Terra Branford leading squad of Imperial soldier into the town of Narshe, seeking to capture a magical creature known as an Esper. Terra does not do this of her own free will – she is enslaved my the Empire, a magic wielding warrior, brainwashed to serve the Empire’s nefarious ends. Terra has a strange reaction to the Esper, freeing her mind from Imperial programming and setting her on a quest to discover her true nature (she turns out to be half human/half Esper) and save the other Espers from the Empire’s clutches.

What drew me to Terra was not only is she a sword wielding, fire hurling badass, but she’s also a wayward soul, being from both in the human and Esper worlds, but truly belonging to neither. This spoke to me, myself and so many of you I’m sure have had times where you felt astray, unsure of who they are the path they should take.  I like to put this uncertainty into my characters as well, the hero’s journey should not be only to defeat whatever villain is set against them, but it should be a journey of self discovery.

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Celes Chere is much like Terra, she works in service to the Empire, but instead of enslaved soldier, she’s an honored general. She becomes disillusioned with the Empire after learning the true depths of depravity it has delved to in making many of its conquests. She battles against her former compatriots, to take down the Empire and expose their vicious crimes.

In the second half of the game, a great cataclysm separates Celes from the rest of the party and for a time, she becomes the main character. She’s alone in a desolate hellscape, but instead of laying down and dying, she takes up the task of gathering the heroes together again and setting the world back the way it was. Again, like Terra, Celes battles not only there enemies in front of her, but her own conflict within. Having spent her entire life being groomed for and in service to the Empire, she’s also astray, trying to find a new purpose. Her strength to battle onward against impossible odds showed me what a true hero could be, and I’ve tried to inject that never-say-die attitude in my most heroic characters too.

What so great is that even though they’re so different, Terra Branford and Celes Chere are two side of the same coin – both were weapons of the Empire, one against her will and one of her own volition. The story of how they fought against forces controlling them, keeping them from becoming who they really are and finally overcoming and them is really quite inspiring.

They were Strong Female Characters before people asked Joss Whedon about them at every single con he attends. Both took hold of their own destinies and carried the weight of the story on their shoulders during different parts of the game. Both eschewed the roles that had been given to them and cut their own paths both together and alone.

THAT OTHER SUPER EVIL CLOWN

KefkaEverybody’s talking about Jared Leto’s Joker right now (I love it, for the record) but let us not forget about another hateful harlequin that inflicted more death and destruction then Mistah Jay could ever hope.

I take a great deal of pride in creating villains that have depth of character, are actually competent in their schemes and a real threat to the the heroes. The main antagonist of FFVI, Kefka Palazzo, informed a great many of those features.

He’s not even the main villain when the game begins, the Emperor is, but over the course of the first half, he manipulates both your characters and the other members of the Empire’s inner circle, eventually grabbing the power the Emperor seeks for himself. He’s equal parts Joker and Iago, an agent of chaos who uses intricate plotting and deception to incite hysteria. He’s smart villain who while sneaking around always feels like a threat and eminently hateable becuase of all his despicable actions (like poisoning the water supply for a whole city). Each move he makes is one step closer to his ultimate goal – absolute power and total global ruin – and guess what?

He actually succeeds.

Manipulating both his enemies and allies, Kefka becomes a god and actually destroys the world halfway through the game. The heroes are soundly defeated and you, the player, are left to pick up the pieces. It was the ultimate cliffhanger – were this the end of a book, I would have begged my parents to bring me to the local Friar Tuck (now that’s a dated reference) to pick up the next volume.

What made Kefka’s villainy so great to me and something that’s been impressed upon my writing, is the fact that his machinations set the heroes up against impossible odds. He destroyed the world and scattered them across its scorched remains. As a kid playing the game back then, it seemed like an impossible task for me and Celes to bascially start all over again. The hopelessness his actions instilled into me and the characters made the journey of gathering the team back together and finally defeating him all the more satisfying.

STEAMPUNK MAY BE COOL, BUT MAGITECH IS MILES DAVIS

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Just look at that cityscape. Yoshitaka Amano is incredible, isn’t he?

One of the most important things that stuck with me about Final Fantasy VI was the aesthetics of the world. It was a mash-up of old school fantasy settings (which the series had pretty much only been up to this point), but also infused different types of technologies into it. At the very start of the game, Terra and her crew are riding into Narshe in Magitech armor, which are basically huge, plodding magic-powered Iron Man suits. The Empire’s capital of Vector is a sprawling industrial monstorsity of factories and laboratories where the Espers are drained of their magic and made part of the Empire’s engines of  war.

This blew me away as a kid, having never seen this kind of fusion of magic and technology (except of course when I would throw caution to the wind and mix and match my medieval and space LEGO sets, but that was a rare occasion). The amalgamation of classic fantasy & futuristic tech is something I’ve carried with me into my writing too. The capital city of Rooksfell in FATES in designed much like Vector and in RADIANCE OF BLACK, there’s spirit-powered automatons, designed much like the Magitech armors.

The whole magic and machine is probably a bit overused at this point in the genre, but I don’t really care, I still love it and will use it from now until an evil clown destroys Planet Earth.

So there you have it, a few reasons why Final Fantasy VI has been such a huge influence in my writing. What about you guys? What work of fiction had the biggest impact on your writing and why?

Also, Terra’s Theme is the best video game song ever too.

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