Composing a Writer #12. What True Self-Publishing Means

I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been told I was destroying my life. It started in high school where every choice carried potential doom; if you don’t go to college, if you don’t go to the right college, if you sleep with your boyfriend, if you try drugs. I’m sure there are still people waiting for my unplanned pregnancy forty-five years later. Meanwhile, I did have an adolescent crush all right. On Shakespeare.

Choosing to self-publish started the doom threats again. Some literary folks believe not finding a publisher will destroy any credibility you or your book could ever have. That there’s a vain glory in waiting ten or twenty years, suffering for art like an unrequited lover. Balanced against that the fact that the average number of sales for a self-published work is a measly 250 over the lifetime of the book.

Publishing can feel hopeless but perhaps the way you can tell you’re ready is that you’ve completed the millionth edit of your book and you’re at a place where it’s harder to not publish than it is to go forward. Confidence has slipped in with the editors, beta readers, and re-writing. You got stronger through the process, you think you can survive the leap.

[Reminder: This is a series about writing; a map of the paths and stopovers that I made in my book process. I’m no literary expert but as a way of saying thank you, I’m sharing my attempts to navigate all the usual roadblocks.]

Self-publishing starts innocently. Someone asks if you know that Amazon will publish an ebook for almost no money. It’s true and it takes less than twenty minutes to become a published author. There are no quality checks –part of the reason eBooks get a bad name. You can publish without so much as a spell check. If you think your family and a handful of friends will be your only readers, it might be good enough.

Here’s the catch. Amazon is working on a plan for world domination. They have nearly put Barnes and Noble out of business and Barnes and Noble were the biggest booksellers in history, having already threatened to put indie bookstores out of business. It’s that big fish eats little fish model of capitalism. So, it makes sense that indie bookstores don’t buy CreateSpace (Amazon’s publishing branch) books. Better to not use their ISBN number as it catalogs your book forever as Amazon’s and you don’t get to support your local bookstore. It seems like a quick publish but is it worth the limitations and politics and ongoing royalties involved?

Then you research self-publishing on the web and find a range of options. Some are vanity presses that print for money. (Think bottom feeders.) They accept all books and then sell you services like editing and cover design for various amounts of money. You might even recognize their brand names. Some authors don’t want involvement in publishing “details” and are happy to pay for the convenience. Be aware that it’s generally over-priced with a large up-front investment from the author. Editing is included and there will be a required investment of a few thousand dollars. In the end, you get a percentage of the sale but so do they –forever. Do you really want to pay them a percentage going forward for work that you’ve already paid for?

Here’s the tricky part, where the sharks live. Vanity presses frequently call themselves self-publishers.  Those are two different things but it’s very hard to figure that out doing the research. It’s an industry secret of sorts. There are varying sales pitches with lots of gray areas. Some of those vanity press books are beautiful. Not to mention, they’re great at selling themselves to authors. It can sound reasonable because traditionally published authors get a few cents a book. If you sell like Stephen King, it adds up but for small fish, not so much. A true self-publish should mean that you get all the money.

Here’s where I say again, be aware. First-time authors are like fat trout in the stream, easy picking because we’re inexperienced and tend to wear our hearts on our sleeves. There is an industry of businesses who prey on our naiveté and passion and they work right beside professionals with ethics and knowledge to help us. It’s hard to tell the difference in the beginning.

Most confusing for me was a hybrid press that asked for submissions just like an indie press would. I got the thrill of being accepted, along with a flattering phone call, only to find out that it would cost almost $10,000 to get my book to press. Sure, they offered a bit more than the cheaper vanity presses but that was an impossible amount of money. They tried to make me feel guilty or uncommitted but the money wasn’t possible. Once I verbalized that, their enthusiastic interest in my book evaporated.

A big deciding factor for me with Stable Relation was that I’d paid for three professional edits in the process of writing. It was a wonderful and educational investment. The quality of my manuscript was a direct result of that but why pay for it again, as most so-called self-publishers or vanity presses required?

The family story goes that my first sentence was, “I’ll do it myself.” As a kid, I quit the Brownies after a month because I thought they were sissies, gluing macaroni on paper when there were horses to ride.

I guess it’s no surprise that in the end I’d self-publish but at least I’d taken the time to become well-informed about the process. I could write a book about publishing, but instead, here are the Cliff’s Notes:

I searched for a cover artist whose work I liked and found Jane in England. I chose the cover from a group of designs that I had input on. She has a great eye and got all the details in place. She was knowledgeable and made the process of cover and interior design quick and easy. The cover needed a bold visual and with my art background, I was picky. I wanted my true self-publish to stand proudly on shelves next traditionally published books. Hiring a professional achieved that.

Jane returned the finished covers and interiors, both paperback and ebook, in digital file format, along with bookmarks and PR images, and a bill for a few hundred dollars instead of a few thousand. The rest was easy:

  • I filed a business name for my publishing company. Prairie Moon Press was born for a few dollars.
  • I bought my ISBN numbers from Bowker in the name of Prairie Moon Press.  I bought a group of them; each book and eBook need its own identification number.
  • I set up an account with Ingram Spark. They are the largest international distributor of books; the place that Barnes and Noble and all other independent bookstores buy from. Uploading my book’s files was as easy as posting on Facebook and within a week, a proof of Stable Relation came in the mail. The cost for set-up is $49.
  • I set up free eBook distribution on Smashwords for international availability.
  • After that, I opened an account on Amazon CreateSpace, because I knew the vast majority of my sales would be there. They can buy the books from IngramSpark but they charge me more and availability is spotty. Meaning Amazon likes to do business with themselves best. I uploaded both paperback and eBook there, and again, a proof arrived in a week. No charge to set up with your finished files.
  • The books become available when the proofs are accepted. The whole process is fairly simple and although IngramSpark and Createspace take a small percentage for distribution, your royalty is much higher than you’d think. You are now an author and a publisher.
  • Finally, it’s time to promote your book. During this part, to beat a dead metaphor, you gasp for air like a prehistoric catfish landed in the Sahara. And you have only begun!

This is the last post of this series, and probably the least interesting –being more technical that creative. Please understand that I take this task seriously. There’s always business required for art to succeed and I respect that. I’ll continue to write about writing and I’ll tag to this series. I’ll toss out writing challenges from time to time. Thank you to everyone who’s played a part here. I want to end sharing the words we started with –a call to your craft:

“Writing is the art of molding our voices to say just the exact thing we mean, with honesty, vulnerability, and hopefully a little humor. Take your writing seriously. Whether the world ever reads us or not, it’s past time that we give our own words the respect they deserve.”

….
Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro

Composing a Writer #11. Submission and Rejection

I’m not proud of what I did. In my defense, I was in my early twenties; old enough to know disappointment, even violence, at the hands of men. I knew I wasn’t at my best. It had been a stressful, lonely couple of years. He was wearing a tie and he seemed sincere, quiet-spoken, and maybe an inch shorter than me. They say you fall for men who remind you of your father. Not me; this man was his polar opposite.

Still, there’s no excuse and I’ve carried the shame for decades. I can’t even quite admit the details now. I only said hello to be polite but then we were talking, haltingly at first. Before I knew it, one thing led to another and, it’s embarrassing to say this, he was kind to me. He told me that I was pretty. That’s when it happened. I crumpled and bought the vacuüm cleaner. I’m not sure if this makes it better or worse but I think he was at least seventy.

[Reminder: This is a series about writing; a map of the paths and stopovers that I made in my book process. I’m no literary expert but as a way of saying thank you, I’m sharing my attempts to navigate all the usual roadblocks.]

This is just to say that there’s a special mix of exhaustion and numb hysteria when a writer makes a choice…

I decided to submit my manuscript to small publishing houses. I did another few hundred hours of online research and found about twenty-five possibles who accepted memoir. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say I spent as much time researching publishing as I had to edit the whole manuscript.

Each publisher had slightly different submission requirements. They all want a cover letter, bio, resume, and first chapter. Some ask for a comparison statement and most want to know that you have a following who will purchase your book, and what you’re willing to do to promote the book. The resume has an obvious challenge for first-time authors.

Some publishers want a 50-word description, some want 250 or 500. Then maybe 2,500 words. After spending an eternity writing the manuscript, now you must hack it down to an enticing tidbit. Then, you need that tidbit to come in assorted sizes. It’s harder than it sounds. In the end, there’s a file on your computer filled with a few versions of each bit of required paperwork.

Then publisher by publisher, each submission got cobbled together; the same bits but in various orders. Finally, with a precious feeling of elation and dread, that last part… the submit click. Consider this the part of the roller coaster ride where there is a long incline before the big vertical drop.

I think I’m supposed to say something about patience about now. Here goes. When working with animals, patience is the place where all good things come together. Other trainers tell me that I redefine patience. However, when working with “the way of the world,” I consider patience another word for procrastination. Sorry. I probably redefine relentless, too.

The research never stops, but now is the time to do all the other things you should have done already. Make an author website and an author page on Facebook. I had a hard time even calling myself an author, without a book, so I opted to share my quest for a publisher in the first posts on my author blog. It felt sticky and vulnerable, but I was lucky that so many of my horse/life blog readers signed up for the new blog. Their comments on my older blog kept me going while writing Stable Relation, but now their comments on my new author blog, kept me lifted there, too. Bless those early readers. They carried me from the first word.

Steep yourself in publishing information. Check out Goodreads and the back side of Amazon. Continue following writer’s blogs. You’ll find that the industry is changing fast and no one knows what’s going to happen. It’s been that way for years but it’s good to be reminded. In the middle, one thing becomes abundantly clear. It isn’t if your manuscript will be published, the only question is how you’re willing to let it happen.

Within the first two weeks, I’d heard back from the first wave of publishers. They told me that they didn’t accept memoir after all. I choked back my why say so then? remarks and thanked them. Then Feminist Press in New York asked for the full manuscript. Finally, someone wanted the whole book. I sent it within minutes.

More rejections came back, but always with a compliment about my writing. Two publishers initiated personal emails with suggestions because, although their press didn’t publish memoir, they had ideas for me. Somehow, I had no publisher but wasn’t rejected either. Feminist Press sent the kindest note –a kind of apology rejection.

A blog reader asked if I wanted to talk with one of her friends who was a retired publisher and that conversation was invaluable. I emailed a publicist who required a reading before taking an author on, but she responded with an in-depth book assessment that was nothing short of glowing.

Stable Relation had come a long way and the process gave me confidence. My writing was acknowledged as my genre was rejected. On the advice of a handful of publishers, I decided to self-publish. Not because my manuscript wasn’t good enough for a real publisher, but because the publishing world was complicated and Stable Relation wasn’t easy to categorize. They thought my book deserved a chance and I believed they meant it.

This Week: With one blog left in this series, this week is about your process. Please take a moment and tell me how your writing is going. Are you writing differently? How do you cross the line from wanting to write and writing –and even writing for publishing? Have your writing or publishing goals changed? Tell me about your research and add the link to your author website. It’s your turn to tell me a story about your writing –please and thank you.

Even the word submission is touchy for me, as a horse trainer and a woman. My reaction has evolved through my life and my memoir, Stable Relation, is that exact story.  The irony was not lost when publishing brought me snout to snout with another opportunity to submit. I held my head up, listened to varied advice, and made a choice.

I took the compliment without buying the vacuum cleaner.

….
Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro

Composing a Writer #8. Editing the Editing

I was raised by a woman who chronically rearranged furniture. It was a nervous habit. Coming home late you had to look for a particular end-table that got put in odd places, usually just in front of your shin. Then a week later, in front of your other shin. I had spent my life trying to not-like-my-mother, but there I was shuffling chapters around like a veneer end-table, a green Naugahyde sofa, and an orange and brown zig-zag afghan. How the mighty had fallen.

After a whole year of typing away on my manuscript for Stable Relation in predawn hours, I’d lost perspective. I had 80,000 words but I had no idea if they made any sense. I’d tried so hard to write in a way that did not draw conclusions, that didn’t tell the reader what to think, that I couldn’t tell what I thought.

[Reminder: This is a series about writing; a map of the paths and stopovers that I made in my book process. It isn’t that I’m an expert; there are as many ways to approach to writing as there are authors.]

I had an idea of how I wanted to tell the story when I started. I wanted the first chapters to feel rushed and a bit uncomfortable. Then that feeling would give way to an eventual sense of gratitude and ease. I wanted the writing style to reflect the story line as it progressed. I told the story in an episodic way, more than chronologically because I like stories that circle back on themselves. In hindsight, a more linear approach might have been easier but I wanted the story to unfold like we meet people; who they are gets defined by their experience but we only learn that over time, in bits and pieces.

My developmental edit hadn’t been what I expected …as if I’d written enough books to know. After the best rewrite (rearrange) I could do, I sent the manuscript to a second professional editor for line editing. It cost real money like the first editor, but my reasoning was that if I wasn’t willing to invest, why should a reader? I knew that a publisher would edit the book if they picked it up, but I wanted my version so tight that perhaps they’d let it be. I consulted the Editorial Freelancers Association and found three possible editors, interviewed, decided, and sent the manuscript off again.

My manuscript came back, digital this time, with red ink track changes in the margins. Who knew word tense was such a challenging thing? I made the same grammatical errors repeatedly but correcting them a few dozen times does drill the lesson. There were times the notes in the margin told me I was redundant and other times that I was preaching (no surprise). The edit was impersonal but at the same time, I felt she cared profoundly about my grammar and sentence structure. This edit was a lesson in how to write as well as a keen focus on the lumps and holes in the story. It transformed my ability to write a sentence, in this manuscript and going forward, and I joyously paid her fee. I had no idea if she liked the actual story; she was objective. Then near the last chapter, in a red track change, one word: [crying]. Through the editing, I had come to respect her abilities; I didn’t know until that last moment how much I wanted her to like Stable Relation.

I reworked the book with those edits but it was more like moving knick-knacks instead of entire sofas. Word by word, my confidence meandered back. I sharpened my points and got all my ideas on the same page; irony and humor returned. I said more with less and in the right tense. When the time was right, I sent the manuscript to a third editor for a final proofreading edit.

A few weeks later the manuscript came back, this time with fewer red track changes than ever, mostly grammatical, some capital letter mistakes with job titles. (The humans in my book had job titles; only the animals had names.) There were a few more word mistakes, like using one instead of on, one every other page or so, that my eyes had missed. In the process of making changes from the last edit, I had written new prose in a few places with imperfect skill. Editors are magnificent.

This Week: You’re a writer. You write. Words are your minions. They await your bidding with energy and a good ground covering gait. Miles of words pass through your fingers. After all the emotional and technical challenges of writing, you remember how much you love to tell a story.

Your assignment this week is to consider an old Akira Kurosawa movie called Rashomon. Tell the same scene from more than one perspective. Or write a story that tells something important in hindsight. Alter your voice in prose: Use sentence structure to help define the emotional aspects of your scene. Have a written plan for an essay and then stick to it; think fascinating introduction, the arc of the story with plot twists, and really stretch for an unexpected ending. Or for the fun of it, write a bit of nonsense with wrong words spelled correctly, in that one and on sort of way. Pick one of these ideas, or make one up that interests you, and just start.

And then let us know on our Writing Herd Facebook page. It doesn’t matter where you are in these assignments. Some new members have joined; say hello! If you are a founding member but have not shared your thoughts yet, chime in, whether it’s sharing a piece you’ve written or your thoughts about writing in general. We’d love to hear from you. Let us know how it’s going; let’s use each other for encouragement and talk about how we write and well as what we write. Most of all, Write on!

That final editor called me just before returning my digital manuscript. It was a Saturday morning and I was giving a riding lesson. I usually don’t answer my phone while teaching, but I will check caller ID to check if it’s a client. Seeing my editor’s name, I apologized to my rider and took the call. I listened as my editor said it was the best book she’d every edited. Then she said some other things. I forget what happened the rest of that day.

….
Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro
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Amazon Recommends My Books. To Me.

15289057_1183443898404722_5143139141458563265_o-2Do you ever have that experience where you tilt your head, squint, and hear a dubious voice in your head say, “No kidding?” 

My life is like that lately. It’s like I’m on a hijacked bus; the destination hasn’t changed, but wow, are we ever taking the scenic route.

This man in the photo is very kind and seemed to genuinely enjoy having his photo taken all night long. I’m always nervous when there isn’t an animal in the photo. We’re in Miami and that’s a gold medal around my neck. Head tilt. No kidding?

(This passes for formal attire. If anyone has held their breath in anticipation of who I wore for the red-carpet event, well, a very old kimono and brand new Crocs.)

I’m like you. I like to dawdle in the barn. I’ve been known to binge-watch Netflix.  I like being on the bottom of a dogpile on the couch. Clearly, ambition is not my middle name.

Then writing starts innocently enough. One day an idea comes along while mucking the barn and you scribble it down. It’s like a crossword puzzle that has an 80,000-word runaway. What used to seem impossible becomes irresistible.

Then there’s a choice. You can put the words in a drawer and feel good about yourself. Done.

Or, if you enjoy the awkward balance of wearing one flip-flop and one stiletto, then you decide to let the world scrutinize your words. Or worse yet, ignore them. And from that day forward, the line between anxiety and pleasure becomes a floppy, teetering stumble. Weirdly unbelievable things happen without warning. Head tilt. No kidding

So, like I said, I’m like you. I get those same emails from Amazon suggesting books for me–sometimes horse books. Recently, the subject line of the email was “Barn Dance: Nickers, brays, bleats…”  Squinty confusion.

When opened, the email suggested a list of books, like usual, but this time including both Barn Dance and Relaxed & Forward. In one email. To me. It’s unprofessional to say so but I still get such a thrill seeing my covers.

And the best part? This email was not my doing. It was you! Yes. Thank you, in the extreme!

An attempted explanation: I think the way this works is that books get stacked in a remote dark corner of the world-wide-web. Search engines don’t go looking on their own. You have to nag them for a while before they move, and even then, they have a very short retention span.

We indie authors are always trying to not sound too desperate when asking readers to leave a review on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Goodreads. It’s embarrassing; we don’t do it because we’re groveling for compliments.  Getting a marginal review, like one for Stable Relation that gave it three stars and went on to say she didn’t finish the book, is still good news. That silly search engine can’t read! It just wanders out back to look for my book. In that way, every review is good.

If you left a review, thank you so much for keeping my books moving. It makes a huge difference.

And if you have thought about it and have a moment, please consider writing a brief review of Barn Dance or Stable Relation or Relaxed & Forward. (Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Goodreads.)  Self-published books gratefully rely on word-of-mouth support. Thank you.

Last week found me in Elgin, Illinois, working four days at a wonderful therapeutic riding center there, followed by a two-day riding clinic at another barn that shares my blog and books. One of the participants at the second barn was a very serious rider; a man in his seventies who came with his two chestnut mares. He’d managed to ride five lessons in two days. Well done!

At the end of the clinic, he had his horses loaded for the haul home when he came to say goodbye. I stood to shake his hand, but then we hugged instead. I thanked him for riding and he said, “You’re just exactly the person you are in your book. Just the same person.”

There’s no squint in a barn. No head tilt. “Thank you,” I said, “that’s my intention.”

….
Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro

Nickers, brays, bleats, howls, and quacks. Now.

longear-approved

We are Long-Ear approved. A whole lot of books do not have this designation.

Barn Dance has been available for a week, and the race is on. But it’s an endurance race and not a sprint; perfectly suited for a contrary herd like us. The start was a bit uneven in an attempt to answer readers asking for a holiday release. I let Amazon have a head start. They are bigger and stronger and didn’t need it.

Independent bookstores are my love, and in order to have my books available there, I do a list of extra things. If you have a bookstore you love, you can get any of my books from them. Tell them Ingram has it; especially if you are located outside the U.S. In a day or two now, Barn Dance will be available from my personal favorite, Barnes and Noble. Support them when you can, but getting it there before the holidays is doubtful.

(Ebook versions are all available on Smashwords, iTunes, and all the usual online locales.)

And if you want to go old-school, you can still get a book from me, signed and with a sweet bookmark or two, by clicking here. There’s no extra charge for the Corgi hair that is bound to be included, as well.

If you like my books, please consider telling a friend or writing a review. You, sitting there with your coffee, are my entire publicity plan. Here’s the crazy part: It’s working. Thank you. I’m so grateful for the precious time you spend reading. It would be painfully dark and quiet without you!

And finally, to introduce my spokes-donkeys today, with Nickole in the photo: Ajax and Comet are here for some training. They are available for adoption through the Colorado Horse Rescue Network. And photos never lie. They are smart asses.


Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro

BARN DANCE *Book Launch*

behind-me

Excuse me. Um. Barn Dance is now avail…

***

Speak up. Enunciate. 

***

He’s right behind me, isn’t he?

***

What you want to do is take a deep breath, relax your ears, and then PROJECT!

***

He is a donkey-publicist of strong opinion and this isn’t the first time he’s corrected me in public.

***

Get to the point, old girl.

***

pr-barn-dance-3d-cover

BOOK LAUNCH:

BARN DANCE

available AT AMAZON now,

AT BARNES AND NOBLE,

or SIGNED books available on HERE!

***

Bray it out! That’s me on the cover.

***

Paperback and ebooks at Amazon now and Barnes and Noble.   Signed copies on my website. (Slower than Amazon but comes with a bookmark, too!)

***

Buy Barn Dance now. Thank you. The goat says thanks, too.

***

And please consider writing a review of Barn Dance or Stable Relation or Relaxed & Forward. (Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Goodreads.) Your words will kick-start the search engines in our direction. Self-published books gratefully rely on word-of-mouth support. Thank you.

***

YOU should bray it out, too. Help her. She’s only human. 

***

Well. Isn’t that the truth?

….
Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro

A Word from My Publicist (Cover Reveal)

pr-barn-dance-cover-ebook

My name is Edgar Rice Burro. I’m the publicist for Prairie Moon Press. I got the job because I have the loudest voice, and I’m not afraid to use it. Also, I’m not afraid to tell humans what to do. I’m helpful that way. 

***

I am the human and I used to think I had a thin veneer of control on this farm. I might have been exaggerating.

***

My human finally took my advice and put my handsome face on a book cover. She’s slow on the uptake, but she gives a good ear rub, so I’m patient with her. This book will sell like cold carrots on a hot day.

***

I do the hard jobs for Prairie Moon Press. I wrote the book, for instance. I paid for everything. He just came in at the end and brayed about it. Like it was all his idea. Okay, maybe it was.

***

This book has stories about all of us in the barn. And the barkers and mouse-killers that live across the paddock in the human-barn.  Even goats, and if she let goats in, she has very low standards, but like I said–my human gives good ear rubs.

***

We’re a farm that also fosters and re-trains rescue horses, as well as rescue dogs. The book also includes memories of those who didn’t stay with us forever but are still part of the extended herd. The thing that they don’t tell you about rescue is that it’s an inside job–I think I’ll probably always need it.

***

And when my human wants to rant–and she does love a rant–about being an awkward age, whatever that means, she calls herself an old gray mare. Something I respect, by the way.

***

Final proofs are being finished now but publishing is slow this time of year. In order to expedite the process, I’m not letting the goat help. Stay tuned; I’m publishing as fast as I can.

***

Look into my eyes. Now it’s my job to say, “Buy this book!” But how can you resist? There are words and stuff, but the cover is the real deal–photos don’t lie! Intelligence, sincerity, and donkey scruples. I’m irresistible. 

Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Equine Pro

One Book Award; Two Bar Incidents

wm-toasting-spirit

The 2016 Readers’ Favorite Book Awards were held last weekend, in conjunction with the Miami Book Fair International. Stable Relation won a gold medal, and since I never went to my high school graduation, I decided to attend. As if that passes for logic.

I’d been there before and love south Florida, even during election years. It’s always been culturally diverse with many Spanish-speaking residents, so I did my best. By that, I mean that I made a point of saying hello, smiling when I didn’t understand, and following with gracias. It felt good to make the effort. I can also order a beer in Spanish, but that’s about it.

A convention of introverts. Just think of it.

On Friday night, there was a meet and greet for authors at the hotel. Apparently, no one eats on airplanes anymore, and I’d had a close connection, so by the time I finally got to the hotel, I’d already missed two meals. I went down to the bar early and ordered dinner. As I sipped my wine, I took a keepsake out of my pocket. A client had given it to me years ago; a small stone with a word, or in our case, a name, etched into it: “Spirit”.

Forty-five minutes later there was still no sign of dinner, I’d had a second glass of wine, and tears were flowing. It wasn’t the first or last time that I’ll cry over a good horse. And it wasn’t just my gratitude for thirty years with my Grandfather Horse, who changed my life. It was also the memory of saying a final good-bye to him two months ago.

Yes, I flew to another state to get dressed-up and cry in the dark corner of a bar.

I guess the best thing I can say is that, at my age, most people look right past me. It’s one of those backward age-perks. Dinner never came; then I sat through a series of presentations about book marketing, and among other things, was reminded for the umpteenth time to thank people you might want something from in the future.

Public relations is a quandary for me. Self-promotion is necessary. At the same time, strategizing about it always feels grimy and insincere. Call me a dweeb–maybe even a Labrador–but I’ll take my PR cues from dogs. They seem to get it right most of the time. Then I stumbled off to bed, after a bag of chips from a vending machine. Wrung out. Gracias.

Saturday morning and I did it again. Me, the one who is usually up and writing at 3:30 in the morning, missed breakfast and the bus to the Miami Book Fair. I Ubered (a new verb) there, got some coffee and had a great time. Then I rushed back early, determined to nail down an entire meal and have time to get “formal” for the award presentation, as requested.

The presentation was like I imagined graduation would have been. We walked across the stage, got our medals, and smiled for the camera. Applause, and more kind people. And more photos. I hope I smiled–but not too much. What I didn’t expect, descending the steps on the other side of the stage, was the overwhelm of gratitude I felt for how much words have always meant to me, on so many levels. I felt elated and humbled. All the good words.

The biggest weekend takeaway was how affirming it was meeting people who had done what I had; authors of true crime and young adult and historical nonfiction. Like Cary Allen Stone, and Tyler, and Michelle Rene, and Karen Hoyle and more than I can list here. New friends and word geeks, one and all.

book-awardOn Sunday, I checked out and got the airport early. I was feeling giddy; I’d been recognized for my gold metal… by the metal detector. Wow, it’s changed me already.

I swaggered into the airport bar and pulled out my notebook. The last three weeks, I’ve had a chronic case of blurbitis, and without that measly sink-or-swim paragraph, the next book languishes in limbo forever. No pressure.

But I must have snorted when the men next to me at the bar made a joke. That was all it took. They welcomed me in, telling me they were just back from an amazing trip to Cuba. They were Texans; I know better. But they told me about visiting Hemingway’s house and seeing his pet cemetery. They had a photo of four small headstones; I think three of the names might have been some Spanish variation on “Blackie” and one simply said, “Linda.” Conversation sped on to the Cuban economy, vintage cars, and the professor who was their guide; these two longtime friends had quite a time together. I’m certain we didn’t vote the same ticket. Then they ordered a second round.

Hemingway; the man’s man author; I asked who their favorite woman author was. The dead air didn’t last long. “Barbara Kingsolver. Poisonwood Bible.” And we have a winner!

Eventually, they asked me what I was doing in Miami and I told them. Then I told them they’d heard me right. Heaven forbid getting googled in a bar, but I was there, loud and proud. My life limped and groaned while passing before my eyes. Gracias again, for the statute of limitations. Or maybe it just felt that way.

What could I do? I tossed my suitcase onto the bar stool, like a saddle over a horse, and rummaged through dirty clothes to produce two copies of Stable Relation. At the same time thinking, “Who is this woman?”

UPDATE: Cover image; check. Ebooks formatted; check. Blurb for back cover edited into submission; check. Barn Dance is almost done, just a pile of technicalities left to do. It’s up to Prairie Moon Press now.

Then our flight was announced and we all hugged like old friends, still as different as Americans can be. Standing in my line, I turned and saw one of the men, looking exhausted, half-drunk, and clutching Stable Relation in his arm.

Here’s to you, Spirit. The ride isn’t over yet.

Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Equine Pro

Word Geek Needs Prom Date

“She’s insufferable with this stupid human game. What’s wrong with tossing a ball. What an embarrassment. We try to sleep through it.”
“She’s insufferable with this stupid human game. What’s wrong with tossing a ball? We try to sleep through it. This woman is an embarrassment.”

I was once on the very brink of practically passing as sophisticated. It isn’t the same as actually being sophisticated, but I swear, this blog is like a trashy “True Confessions of a Dork” tell-all. Bad boundaries? I was routinely accused of that, but I’ve moved beyond that to shameless.

I’m winding up to brag about my vocabulary. That’s what all this honesty has come to. Someone, please, stop me before I drag out comments from my grade school teachers!

First, just because I’ve never played a computer game in my life, doesn’t mean I don’t understand the theory. I want to announce I have just taken up something remotely like a computer game, only obscure and arcane and, well, it has the stench of a long over-ripe Honor Society membership.

Okay, here goes.

I call it writing but that’s a poor description. I spend a few minutes gathering words around an idea I have, and then hours editing them. I move them around like furniture, I replace words with better words. I struggle with punctuation and adverbs and pronouns. Then I check for words that I repeat too often or not enough. Writing is the very tiny part of the job.

Sometimes I use software programs like Word, but more often, I like the software here on WordPress. Their spell check is powered by an elderly English teacher with a very sharp ruler. For longer work, I like Scriveners, a writing software for arranging a book that is no less than co-author worthy in its ability to hold it all together before it actually exists. Even if their spell check is a bit more like a Junior High English teacher who also coaches soccer.

I’m getting to the part where it’s all as exciting as playing Call of Duty. (I had to google a game title. Is this a good one?)

Some word geeks play scrabble and call it good, but the game I dream of is software that can tell that I should have used to instead of on. You can’t imagine how invisible those little words become during editing. Oh, of course you can. You see those mistakes in my writing all the time. I’m the blind one.

Obviously, I troll around on word software sites because I get their solicitations… that’s how I stumbled upon Grammarly. I downloaded the free version and then had a picky judgment fest about it. I’m that kind of crazy on a Saturday night. There is a page switch aspect that I don’t like, but it wrangles commas pretty well. In my dorky opinion.

It all changed when I got an email summary from Grammarly that used the word “Mastery” in relating that in the last 39,620 words I’d written, (more words that 99% of users did in the same time period,) I had used 1424 unique words (a larger vocabulary than 97% of users).

Okay, I like this game. I think you can see why. I would never be the kind of person who liked statistics. That’s math and I would rather fanatically over-tip a server than do math.

It was WordPress who taught me to love statistics. I check them all the time, it’s a compulsion. Because they flatter me. Something math has never even tried to do. “Readers in 161 countries.” Wow. Humbled and flattered. It’s getting remotely close to 1,000,000 hits. (It would have been easier to type a million hits, but I wanted to gloat over all those zeros.) This is how it came to pass that I bored the dogs into a coma.

Like all good embarrassments, I was standing there at the corner of No One Cares! and Do You Know Who I Am? And smiling like a fifth-grader in cat-eye glasses and a buttoned-up sweater because Grammarly is my new best friend.

“Pathetic,” the dogs mutter in unison.

gold-shiny-hrReal Life Update: This Friday, I fly off to the Miami Book Fair International to receive my award for Stable Relation. This is an awkward invitation to be my prom date. Please. There’s a Saturday night formal event and as usual, the dogs weren’t invited and I think no one else will ask me to dance. So will you come? If you can’t show up, will you talk me through it on Facebook? I’ll be posting about it on my author page here. 

“Like” the Facebook page and follow me there, so you can share my angst of not wearing barn clothes and sleeping dogless. But know it won’t be as much fun as editing, just so you can prepare. 

Barn Dance, the next book, is still on track for January release. I think we have the cover photo nailed down, just looking for that perfect, witty tagline. Oh, and some more obsessive-compulsive editing. I know there are some stray commas and semi-colons roaming aimlessly through the text, but at some point, you just have to hold your nose and jump.

Okay, in an attempt for fairness, it wasn’t all hearts and flowers with Grammarly. I confess that Grammarly also noted that I missed commas in a compound sentence 274 times. I made 94 mistakes with missing articles. Perhaps most tragic, there were 168 mistakes in comma splices. I didn’t even know that happened to commas. Let’s just state the painful truth. I have comma drama.

Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Equine Pro

 

 

The Devil Is In the Details

 

wm-lateral-lilith-fauxcoverHow to create a homemade project that looks professional and inviting and even artistic–that’s the dilemma.

I would love to weave a romantic tale about my dilettante author life; that my groom delivers my horse while I pose on the mounting block in my baby-seal-skin riding boots. That I write at dusk by a sapphire pool while owls perch on my shoulder. That my personal masseuse/bodyguard/Corgi wrangler travels along in my Lear jet, as I flit to book talks in Paris, Rio, and Commerce City.

Can I just say there is nothing romantic about writing? It’s more like a bad habit. I start at 3:30 in the morning because I actually have a real job. If you can call horse training a real job. I’m not great company by dinner time, either. But if there is something less romantic than writing, it might be publishing. A friend suggested I write about this part; she thought it would be interesting. I’m dubious.

I’ve spent hours this week laying on the ground in pens here on the farm. I’m trying to take a photo for the next book cover and there are new power lines from a huge wind farm that cross-hatch all my backgrounds, not to mention miss-matched fence panels and a flotilla of wheelbarrows. So I was trying to get an angle where there is little background (like the llama in this photo) and just sky behind. Of course, when I lay on the ground in a pen I get dirt in unforeseen places. Then I wait, while the animals all tilt their heads at odd angles. Eventually, they saunter over to begin the C.S.I. work. In this photo, Lilith thinks I might be a bit unbalanced, but she doesn’t want me to die before lunch. The activity behind the camera makes her look absolutely sane.

If the devil is in the details, then so is the art.

I’ve done the same thing with a few different animals, at odd times of the day for a couple of weeks now. I’m not sure who be on the next cover. There are a few hundred photos. The photos have to have the right kind of spacing so the title works. Remember the cover for Stable Relation? Hundreds of shots there, too. Nubè was catatonic by the time I gave up.

It wasn’t my intention to use my photography at the beginning. I have friends who are professionals and I respect their work. Besides, I’m not very sophisticated. I use my phone and if I need a tripod, I use a donkey. My books are as homemade as canned beans.

I do work with a book designer in the UK; she started with the first book, Stable Relation. I gave her some random ideas–like I liked the original cover for Wild with the hiking boot. I told her the covers I liked in her portfolio, and sent a couple of “kinda like this” photos. She did six mock-up covers, five of them with commercial photos and one of my photos. I shared them around to friends for their opinions. I loved one of her ideas especially… but eventually decided on the black and white idea because the “feeling” was right. I also learned that I could disappoint people (friends) before the book even came out.

When it was time for a cover for Relaxed & Forward, I was all set to skip the group-vote folly and just use that spare cover from the first book. My designer sent me six mock-ups again, different colors and fonts on that first image, along with similar images from online photo stock. Then she pulled one of the interior chapter photos out, did a mock-up, and, well, she was right. It was perfect.

UPDATE: I’m a little over half-finished editing the final draft of Barn Dance. Then I’ll read it one more time, trying to pretend I’ve never read it before. I’ve set up the ISBN numbers for the new print and ebook, I’m wrangling interior photos, and chanting bad would-be tag lines. I have to write one small perfect paragraph describing the book, making it sound so indispensable that strangers will buy it instantly, form a cult, and send me all their goats. And then there’s the matter of the cover… I’d like Edgar Rice Burro, but he shuns the spotlight. Clearly, some of these tasks are more challenging than others. I’m hoping for a publish date in January for Barn Dance

I’ll be collecting an award at the Miami Book Fair International in mid-November. Anyone else going? There’s book shopping!

And one more time, I want to thank everyone who posted a review online, at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Goodreads. It means the world. Literally, people around the world read them. Now that you have a view inside of my fabulous publishing dynasty, it’s probably obvious that readers are my publicity budget. Thank you for poking the search engine into a grinding, squeaking rattle with the question, “Anna who?” Thank you! The reviews that slowly trickle in now are from people whose names I don’t recognize. It worked!

Now I’m down to details on the new book. Idiosyncratic editing. Numbers, dimensions, and abbreviated descriptions. I’ll head out in early light in the morning and hit the dirt again. No baby-seal-skin boots. No Lear jet warming up. And if I had an owl on my shoulder, she’d be checking my hair for mice and grubs. Romanic, isn’t it?

….
Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Equine Pro