My New Venture: Teaching Online Courses

Every year in autumn as soon as the weather gets cool, I get the same urge: to teach. I think this stems from all the years of going to back to school. Well, that and for a long time now I’ve wanted to be a college professor. The bad news is I can’t afford to go back to school (again – I have 2 bachelors and a masters degree), so that PhD is going to have to wait.

But this past fall I embarked on a new venture aimed at satisfying my inner teacher (while hopefully earning some extra money): creating online classes. After researching many possible platforms, I chose to go with Teachable. Then I developed a series of 12 business and craft classes to launch my school, Professional Author Academy. But between my full-time job and releasing a book in November, I’ve just now launched the classes.

I love this option because it gives me a chance to take all the presentations I’ve done for speaking engagements (and a few new ones) and expand them out to people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to come see me speak. And it gives me something to do with all this knowledge and experience in my head. (In addition to the degrees I mentioned earlier, I have 15 years of professional experience in marketing. Here’s my whole list of qualifications.)

I’m a firm believer that one should never stop learning, so I’ve created classes for different skill levels from aspiring author to multi-published, as well as indie and traditionally published. These courses can be taken anyone:

  • How to Write Back Cover Copy That Sells
  • Marketing Plans for Authors
  • Business Plans for Authors
  • Branding for Authors
  • Websites and Social Media for Authors
  • Self-Editing
  • Writing Historical Fiction
  • Setting and Description

These are geared only to indie authors:

  • Steps to Self Publishing
  • Self Publishing 101
  • Audio Books for Indie Authors
  • Legal Issues for Indie Authors

See a complete course catalogue, including course descriptions. Samples are available for each course (just click on the course you’re interested in from the main page for Professional Author Academy and you’ll see a video on the top left) so you can see what you’re getting before you commit. Plus, if you want to experience my online teaching style, the How to Write Back Cover Copy That Sells course is free, so there’s no risk to you.

Convenient and Reasonably Priced
I know what it’s like to try to fit learning into a life already filled with work, family, writing and other responsibilities. That’s why they are short; most are around 30 mins and none exceed 2 hours. Plus, they don’t require any homework and can be taken at your own pace. All courses include a welcome video and narrated Powerpoint slides. Many also include a recommended reading list and other handouts for reference or use as a worksheet or template.

In addition, they are cheaper than your average college course, which runs about $1,500/course (at $500/credit hour), or even many Writer’s Digest Online Workshops, which average between $200-$600+. I offer a tiered pricing structure based on the amount of information in each course. You can pay all at once or installments.

Mini – Free (so you can try before you buy)

  • Back Cover Copy That Sells

Basic – $100/course

  • Legal Issues for Indie Authors
  • Writing Setting and Description

Standard – $200/course

  • Audio Books for Indie Authors
  • Business Plans for Authors
  • Self-Editing

Advanced$300/course

  • Branding for Authors
  • Website and Social Media for Authors
  • Steps to Self Publishing

Premium – $500/course

  • Marketing Plans for Authors
  • Writing Historical Fiction

Premier – $1,000/course

  • Self Publishing 101 (This course is several courses in one, including Steps to Self Publishing, Business Plans, Marketing Plans, Legal Issues, Web and Social Media. If you bought the classes separately, you’d pay more than $1,400.)

To register, just head over to Professional Author Academy.

Stay Up to Date
I’m planning to add new courses several times a year, so if you’d like to be notified when there is a new course or a current course goes on sale, please sign up for my course newsletter.

But for now, since the classes are done, I’m going to take off my teacher hat and put my writer one back on. It will be nice to think about fiction for a while again! Mistress of Legend calls to me, as does Isolde’s currently untitled story.

Have you ever taken online classes? If so where? What was your experience like? Do you have questions about my courses? What other subjects would you like to see?

What Makes a “Real Book?”

Purchased from Adobe Stock

When I was at the Historical Novel Society Conference at the end of June, an agent reportedly told a room full of writers that when querying him/her, authors should mention any previously published books, but only if they are traditionally published because “self-published books aren’t real books.”

*Facepalm* In a world where traditional (especially “Big 5”) publishers and agents are making getting a traditional book deal more and more difficult, especially for first-time and newer (read: lower-selling) authors, what else do we have to do to convince those in the traditional industry that we are just as serious about our careers as our traditional counterparts and that our books are just as real?

What makes a book “real,” anyway?

  1. Well, obviously it needs to exist. That means any book offered in print, ebook or audio form is a real book. If I can read it in some way, it is a real book.
  2. For the publishing industry, it makes sense the book would need to make money, which means it needs to sell. Okay, those of us who have sold a few copies have real books. I know authors who are making in the five- and six-figure range each year with self-published books. Sadly, I am not yet one of them. But that makes my books no less real.
  3. Maybe it needs to have fans? Indie books have those as well. Ask their authors and they will show you fan mail. Those fans will show you their ratings on Amazon. Yep. Real book.
  4. Beyond that, the only other thing I can think of is that it needs special fairy rainbow unicorn dust.

In fact, I would argue that our books could be seen as more “real” because we invest our own money in publishing and marketing them. That doesn’t make our books any more high or low quality than those traditionally published, but it does give us a financial skin in the game that doesn’t come when you are paid for your writing.

What a comment like the one the agent made appears to come down to is the argument that in order to be a “real book,” it has to have passed the approval of an agent and then an editor. So under that logic, only the books they consider worthy are real. What makes them any more qualified to determine that, given many of the stinkers they have published? Any avid reader should be able to make that choice in an informed manner, and with self-published books, those readers have an even wider array of books to choose from, not only the few topics the industry thinks are “hot.”

Around 4th of July I saw a meme that showed The Declaration of Independence. Beneath it were the words “This was a self-published document.” That is so appropriate because this whole argument is kind of like saying only the king and queen can say which books get published. Well, now the people are rising up and saying, “no, we don’t need you to make every decision for us. We’re going to take power into our own hands.” Like every revolution, the indie movement has its supporters and its detractors. But like the bid for US independence, the horse has left the barn and there is no going back. Call indie authors rouge colonists all you want, but we’re here to stay whether you approve of us or not.

Now I know not every agent or editor feels this way, and I’m glad for that. I have nothing against the traditional publishing industry. What I do have a problem with is the “be-all-and-end-all” attitude inherent in the idea that only traditionally published books are “real books.” All we’re asking for here is equality, plain and simple. You don’t have to like that our books exist. Just acknowledge us and our ability to produce our own work. (Hmm…does that sound like the suffrage movement to anyone else?) And let us include it in our query letters. You can still turn us down if you don’t think our books are valid or our sales are high enough.

But please, don’t tell us our books aren’t real.

When the Game Changes

I am — and always have been — a planner.

I was that kid who started drawing up ideas for my November birthday in February. (Hmmm, I turn 31 this year. Nice prime number. I should do something snazzy.) I floundered writing as a pantser until I got some weird externally-bestowed permission to plan out my books, and then I just ran with it.

(Sidebar: we are not amused with Stephen King’s assertion that outlines are the crutch of bad writers who wish they were writing a master’s thesis. Not everyone needs to spend 20 years reinventing the wheel, Stevie-boy. *grumble* Everybody arts their own way, and more power to them whatever it is. Good day, sir.)

Over the last few  years, I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time trying to plan my writing career. Anyone who’s ever tried that knows its sort of like herding fish in the open ocean armed with nothing more than a flimsy bit of slimy seaweed. (Not that I have much experience with that.) Ultimately, when it comes to traditional publishing, there’s really not much you CAN plan for. You don’t know if your manuscript will snag an agent or an editor, and if it does, how long either of those things will take or what they will mean when they happen.

I’ve seen people go from query to agent to book deal in literally a week and a half. I’ve also seen people query for 4-5 years and not get an agent. Or get an agent and not get a book deal. Or the agent turns out to be not so nice. Or the book deal falls through. Or the agent has to leave for whatever reason. Advances are huge. Or they’re tiny. Or they’re non-existent. Or they’re somewhere in the middle. They arrive on time. Or they arrive after eight months of OH-MY-DOG-BUT-THE-MORTGAGE.

I’ve seen people who had agents squabbling over them not sell, and I’ve seen people who sell huge flop.

Essentially, you can’t plan this shit.

Sometime last year, the unthinkable happened for me. I sold four books. Three to a major publisher. And then in the space of three weeks in September-October, my imprint closed and the other pending book deal with a different publisher floundered, and we backed slowly away after someone changed the game without telling us. This is the first time I’m talking about this publicly. Suffice it to say that it hurt. A lot. THE MASKED SONGBIRD came down from sale the week before Christmas, and I was a hurty ball of mess.

The game changed. It changed fast. It changed hard.

At that point, I had already been making other plans though. I had started self publishing my little Eva Jamieson smexy books. I had planned to self publish STORM IN A TEACUP, the book that had the deal fall through.

So when the book came down, I already had ideas lined up — once my rights reverted, I’d self publish my urban fantasy and submit the epic I was working on to editors. I’d go full hybrid steam ahead.

But the game kept changing.

Let me just say: for a planner like me, it’s really, really hard to stay grounded when everything is shifting beneath your feet. Where do you stand? How do you walk straight? Are you DRUNK? What is happening, and why do I have glitter in my hair?

Samglitter

STORM came out at the beginning of this month, and it became my anchor. It was, for the first time, something I had control over. When everything was shifting, ironically enough, it was a book called STORM IN A TEACUP that gave me back something I’d been lacking.

Looking ahead, things are still changing — and very quickly. Within a month I’ll have probably two big crazy sets of news.

The important thing for me, regardless of which path of publishing you choose (traditional, indie, hybrid, self), is to find the things over which you have power and do the best you can with them. There are no guarantees regardless. Books sometimes surprise you, and that can happen in the self publishing world as easily as the traditional publishing world. Ultimately, you have the power over your craft, to keep bettering it with every book you write. You have control over that. You can keep pushing yourself.

You have control over how you handle setbacks. Maybe not how you react to them (Dog knows I’ve spent plenty of time in the fetal position crying into my cats in the last year — and anxiety isn’t something you can just flip the switch on), but how you respond to them. How you care for yourself, and how you press on (whatever pressing on means to you).

You have the power to decide each day what it is that will help make things better, even if it’s only a teensy bit better. Some days that might be outlining a new book or writing a few thousand words. Some days it might be watching your favorite episodes of Buffy with an entire pizza and a Big Mac and a double Filet-O-Fish and a carton of cookies and cream and an entire bag of jalepeno Cheetos and NO YOU DO THAT NOT ME SHADDUP.

Some days it might be doing a Whole Other Thing.

For me, it was a lot of those things (ahem). It was also finding out that I could set a schedule for self publishing and work to grow my career that way while I worked on things I felt were more suited to the traditional market. It was figuring out what it was I wanted most from my career and setting out goals, specific goals. Like a motherfluffing business plan or something.

It could be any number of things for you. The crux of this is that the game will always change. If there’s anything I learned in the Year That Will Not Be Named, it’s that the game will keep changing. At all stages. Pre-agent. Post-agent. Pre-publication. Mid-contract. Sometimes those changes are hard and scary and painful and feel like someone’s pulled the whole ground out from under you. I had several of those moments last year.

But if you keep stringing ropes from tree trunk to tree trunk and rock to rock, if the ground falls away beneath you, at least you’ll have something to grab on to.

Which Box Do You (and Your Book) Fit Into?

book-genreLately I’ve been thinking a lot about the proliferation of genres in the publishing world. When did we get so freaking many and why has it gotten to this level of craziness?

When I was young, there was fiction/literature, mystery, western, romance, sci-fi/fantasy, horror, children’s, teen (which was barely one shelf, not its own section like it is now), and non-fiction (which of course had its subsets by subject).

For the reading public, I doubt those have changed much.

But if you’re in the industry, oh Lord, that is just the beginning. Now we have (in addition to those mentioned above) suspense/thriller, women’s fiction, chick lit, steampunk, literary fiction (I STILL don’t know what that is), historical fiction, urban fantasy, paranormal (sometimes romance, sometimes not), dystopian, cozy mysteries, middle grade, picture books, chapter books, new adult, new fiction (a new one to me as of a few days ago; apparently it covers the 25-30 age range between new adult and adult), and on and on. And for writers, each one of these comes with specific parameters your book has to meet in order to be classified as such.

monk-weirdIt all makes me want to yell: “FFS! (For f***’s sake) STOP!” I realize that publishers have to know how to target their audience and market a book, but this is has gone beyond that to OCD levels even Monk would find weird.

It’s also really hard on writers. Most of us don’t start out saying, “I’m going to write a steampunk space opera with paranormal elements and some romance targeted at the new fiction market.” (And even if we did, we’d have problems because that doesn’t fit into a nice, neat little box. More on that in a minute.) We start out saying, “I have this story in my head and I’m going to put it down on paper so other people can enjoy it.” Period. End of story. We probably know its general genre, but that’s about it. It used to be an agent/publisher’s problem to deal with how it was classified. Now, if we write a book that isn’t easily put into a marketing template, we risk it not selling to a traditional publisher.

Why am I harping on this? Because I have a book that doesn’t fit nicely into any of the traditional descriptions. It is a love story – plain and simple. I call it a romantic comedy because that’s what it would be if it was a movie (and it is pretty darn funny, if I do say so myself). I wrote it for myself and for others like me who are over 30 and have yet to find our happily ever after, not thinking too much about whether it was a romance, women’s fiction or chick lit. Here’s the feedback I’ve gotten from publishing industry professionals on those categories:

  • Romance – It doesn’t follow the usual structure or tropes and is written in first person, so it’s not easy to put in that category.
  • Women’s fiction – It may not have enough “other” subject matter beyond the love story to qualify as women’s fiction.
  • Chick Lit – It’s light and fun, but it’s also smart and deals with issues beyond sex, shopping, etc., (namely education and how we make books and writing relevant for the next generation in a digital world) so it may not fit there.

books in boxesGuys, I’m scared  to death this book won’t ever get published because it doesn’t fit into a nice, neat little box. I know I can always self-publish it, but I’m not ready to consider that yet and I really want to get it out there traditionally.

Then I look at the next contemporary book I want to write and it’s got paranormal elements (but no creatures) and a strong love story, yet deals with issues of mental illness and drug abuse. How am I going to market that?

(Even historical fiction has some of these same questions, but with that genre it depends what time period is currently selling. If you write a book set in an unpopular location or time period, you’re going to have trouble selling it.)

In some ways, this quandary isn’t new. When Diana Gabaldon sold Outlander in 1991 no one knew what to do with it. It started out in present day, but was primarily historical, but also had time travel in it and a romance. The publisher who eventually took a chance on it couldn’t decide where to shelve it. Eventually they stuck it in romance. Now it is acknowledged as blurring genre lines.

I don’t know about the rest of my fellow writers, but I can’t make myself write books that fit into neat categories just so they are easy to market. I guess this is my plea to the industry to please ease up on the specificity of genre restrictions when you’re deciding whether or not you know what to do with a book. As authors, we aim to give you a great story and try to make your marketing life easy, but sometimes the lines aren’t as clear as any of us would like.

I know everything in life is getting specialized from the content we’re served on the Internet to the TV programming we watch, but there is such a thing as going too far. Sometimes, fiction is just fiction and love is just love. Sometimes not everything needs to fit in one box.

Thoughts? Reactions? Comments? Please share!