Chapter 20: Victory Lap

This chapter will be entirely dedicated to my happiness, so be prepared for cliches and annoying tears of joy…

When I started writing this blog, The Freedom Game was in the editing stages.  My sister Kristen read it for the first time last summer and as we were living together at that point, I was able to see a lot of her reactions.  She was happy when I wanted her to be happy, and furious at me when I wanted her to be furious at what was happening to my protagonist, Ethlynn.  When she finished it, she said she could genuinely see it on a shelf at a bookstore and my heart nearly exploded.  She also pointed out to me how much I had improved since the last book I finished (one the world will never read due to it simply not being good).  It was then that I decided that nothing would stop me from publishing that book.

The list of rejections goes past being able to count on my fingers and toes.  Several of the agents only responded with template responses, and the rest didn’t respond at all.  Each ‘no, but remember that this is a subjective field, so keep trying’ was another piece of my heart breaking.  The template emails were kind, but they weren’t ‘yes’, and that almost made it harder.  It made me sad rather than angry.

That’s where my sister Kristen and best friend Courtney stepped in.  They were the only two at that point who had read the book.  Not only would they ask about the agent’s responses, but they would ask about my characters.  It hardened my resolve, and I can say now that I doubt this book would be published now without them.

In January I reached out to Y. Nikolova at Ammonia Book Covers.  Several emails and six days later, she had the first draft of the cover drawn up.  That was when I purchased Successful Self-Publishing by Joanna Penn.  With my degree in Finance, I knew that I wanted to do everything right from a business prospective as well as a creative one.  I published in May, because that’s when “Fantasy/Sci Fi” sells the best.  I had people read the book prior to publication because I wanted their reviews posted on the first day.  I studied pricing so that I knew how much I could afford to ask for as a debut indie author.  I did everything.

On May 23rd, it published.  I was at my full-time job for eight hours that felt like eight years.  How dare the real world not put itself on hold for my special day?

I had people texting me pictures of the screenshot ‘Thank you for purchasing The Freedom Game by J.E. Brand’ and every single text was like picking up a piece of my once broken heart and putting it right back together.

It was that same week that I had my first unaccounted for sale.  I couldn’t trace it back to anyone I knew, and my heart might’ve possibly stopped beating all together.  I was also getting reads through people could read it for free (I get paid per page read) and I knew that anyone I knew wouldn’t choose to read it that way.  Within two days eight hundred pages of it were read, which is it being read nearly three times!  Then, on May 25th, a complete stranger rated it 4 stars on Goodreads and my heart might’ve stopped beating all together.  This meant two things: (1) a stranger had read my book from start to finish and (2) they had actually liked it.  It was my first completely unbiased review, and it was still good.

The thing about debuting as an indie author is that it’s a marathon, not a race.  I get a sale here and there.  That review from the 25th is still the only review of my book, and that’s okay.  I write because I love to do so, and I publish because I want to share what I love with the rest of the world.  An expression you often hear when depressed involves “making a mountain out of a molehill”, but let me say when it’s reversed, and every little victory is like conquering a mountain, the world is a very good place.  Every time someone buys my book, it’s another reminder that my dream actually came true.

None of it felt real until the picture posted above.  It was when I held my book for the very first time.  A book that I wrote was in my hands.  I could hold it and it was real.  I could flip through the pages and see words that I had written.  In the back was an ‘About Author’ section with my picture at the top.  The picture was taken after my freakish sobbing finally calmed down and my eyes weren’t as red, but definitely still producing a tear or two.  It was surreal but undeniable.  I’m now a published author, and I couldn’t be happier.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

I need to take a moment to give props to JK Rowling on the entertainment front.  She’s literally dipped into every almost avenue possible: books, movies, amusement parks, and the stage.  (Pictured is my best friend, Courtney, standing outside the stage of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in London England.)  Being an author is (sadly) about more than just writing good work.  You have to think about it as a business.  Not necessarily in the same way as Rowling.  But here’s the question I give you: how can I reach a wider audience?

Chapter 14: Action Plan

I’ve been querying the Freedom Game to several agents.  Right now I’m sitting at seven submissions and three rejections.  And, as most of you know, a non-response is still a response.  Every time I see the rejection email, I’m hit with that little twist right in my heart.  Several of the agent are very gracious, reminding me that the literary arts are subjective, and that just because they didn’t connect with my piece doesn’t mean that it’s not good.  Well, nice words aside, that’s exactly what it feels like.

Well, guess what.  I don’t care.  I wrote a damn good book, and I know it.  Is it perfect?  No.  Is it better than my last novel?  Hell yes.  Can I honestly picture it on a bookshelf at Books a Million or Barnes & Noble?  Yes.

I can honestly see my target audience (Young Adult) picking up this book on just an average day.  I can picture them reading about my main character Ethlynn and falling in love with her.  I see people arguing over if she belongs with Nash, the main love interest, or her best friend, Wystan.  I can see my readers growing along with Ethlynn and finding their strength.

It’s going to happen.  I’ll continue querying, and will do so until March of next year.  That’s the deadline I gave myself.  If by then I’ve still only heard rejection, then I’ll self-publish.  Then I’ll self-publish.  Plain and simple.

So, what have I been doing in the mean time?  Writing the sequel.  I’ve told you all in the past how major selling platforms have algorithms set up to help you advertise up until 30 days and then another until 90 days.

Right now, I’m not sure how many books this series will be, but I know it’ll at least be a trilogy.  Even though it’s not for certain that I’ll be self-publishing, I want to be prepared.  (Also, I absolutely love these characters and writing their story.)  If I take the Indie author route, I want to be able to publish the novels within 90 days of one another.  I’m still a business woman at heart, and I can’t imagine not taking advantage of the marketing opportunity.

I’m still presented with the problem: me.  I’m a slow writer.  This year I’ve finished the Freedom Game and written over 17,500 words of its sequel.  In 10 months.  Thinking realistically, I want this second book to be completely finished before I publish the first.  Ideally, I’d like to be well into the third, already outlining the fourth.  (My writing style involves me writing the original outline of the following book whilst writing the predecessor.  This means that I can add in foreshadowing and adjust my subplots to make them more relating to one another.)

What’s the point of all this rambling?  Writing itself is the reward.  I don’t write for anyone but me.  With that said, I want to get books published.  I want them to do well.  The better my books sell, the closer I am to being able to do this full-time.  That means I have to come up with a plan.

My final thought: set up an action plan for your writing!  Make it happen.  Success hardly ever falls into our laps.  You have the same 24 hours in your day as any successful author.  Use them.

Chapter 9: The 3 Best Books for Aspiring Authors

I’d be a fool if I didn’t think my readers ever tired of my voice.  Ask any of my friends and they might say they don’t recognize me with my mouth closed – although ironically they’d equally be as keen to tell you I’m a fantastic listener.  Now, with all that said, I know you’re here looking to expand your writing knowledge.  I gave you a deviance from the norm last week with my sister answering some questions, and now I’d like to do so again.

To say I write my books without any help would be a damn lie.  Firstly, I love the works of K.M. Weiland.  Although I know her to write fiction, I was introduced to her via the Structuring Your Novel Workbook: Hands-On Help for Building Strong and Successful Stories (Link here or below).  You’ll notice the link is to the paperback, when normally I’m so fond of eBooks.  Although from my link you can easily press the eBook, I would suggest the hard copy.  Weiland was very smart about this book, and inserted space for you to write your ideas onto the book itself.  This way it’s easier to collect your thoughts.  To give you an idea how helpful this book is, when I finished my first novel last year it was at just over 25,500 words – and that’s with an outline before.  I had to go back through several drafts to flesh out the characters and plot.  I’ve used her book as a guide for my plot for my current novel.  My first draft was over double at over 50,000 words!  Not only that, but I could see the rise in quality.  All of my beta readers commented on how progressed this one was to my last novel.  I owe that to Weiland.

Another suggestion I have is The Emotional Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression (Link here or below) by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi.  As authors, we often find ourselves repeating the same phrases for different emotions, whether it be quivering lips or a tightened stance.  (Please, for the sake of your readers, avoid the clichés of a single tear and other nuisances.)  This book provides both internal and external sensations, as well as suppressed and acute!  Even when rejected, I’ve found literary magazines have complimented my emotional descriptions since I’ve began utilizing this book!

If you’ve decided the self-publishing route, I have to suggest Successful Self-Publishing: How to Self-Publish and Market Your Book (Link here or below) by Joanna Penn.  I’d like to stress that this book is permanently and completely free.  It’s an easy read, but has numerous helpful tips that I look forward to using!  Although I haven’t personally read any more of her books, I’d suggest looking into them!  She also has a podcast that can be found here.  Also, look for “How to Write a Mystery With Rebecca Cantrell and J.F. Penn” where she gives me a shout-out!

Don’t be a hermit stuck in your little writing nest.  Authors have already made the mistakes you’re currently making, and a few like the ones above have taken the extra step to publish a book to help aspiring authors.  Take advantage!

Chapter 8: Questions on Questions

Hello again, my dear readers!  I am so terribly sorry about my lack of posting these past few weeks.  My internship has exhausted me far past what I originally expected.  But, the hiatus is officially ended!   I sat here thinking how best to kick back off my writer’s blog, and then realized: I have a sister who just so happens to be a published authors.  As to not overwhelm her, I kept this interview short; but, I thought you’d enjoy hearing some responses from the beloved Kristen Brand.

Question #1: What were the biggest factors in your decision to become an indie author rather than traditionally publish?

I’d been thinking about self-publishing for a while, as Hero Status had gotten rejection after rejection from traditional publishers and agents. I thought Hero Status was great, but part of me still worried I was biased and the book wasn’t as good as I thought. But then it happened! A small but respectable publisher was starting a digital-first imprint and acquired my book. Success at last!

Three months later, I got an email from the press saying that they’d acquired too many books and unfortunately had to drop some authors—including me. Now, they were a class act about the whole thing and returned my rights (You hear horror stories from authors where less reputable presses did no such thing), but it was still disappointing. And yet. And yet, these publishing professionals had deemed my nerdy little book good enough to acquire. That was the outside validation I needed, and I decide to go ahead and publish Hero Status myself.

Question #2: How did you decide on your editor?  Cover artist?

There are loads of freelance editors and cover artists out there whom indie authors can hire, some good, and some not so much. The key is research. There are online resources out there with lists of recommended editors, but instead of taking the word of some random person on the internet, I think it’s better to look at some of your favorite indie authors and see who they hired. Authors will usually thank their editors at the end of the book, so this isn’t as hard as it sounds. I approached my editor because she worked on one of my favorite fantasy series, and I didn’t remember seeing so much as a single comma out of place when I read those books.

As for cover art, I went with an artist recommended by a friend and fellow author. That’s another great strategy: hang out on forums with other indie authors and see who they had good experiences working with. And of course, look at other covers the artist has done in your genre.

Question #3: What has been your biggest challenge as an indie author?

Definitely marketing. I think I’m like most authors in that I like to write, not sell things. Figuring out how to get more people to buy my books has been a challenge—but a fun one. The indie author community is great about sharing strategies and helping each other out, and I’ve learned so much since I got started. I read plenty of blog posts and listen to podcasts on the subject (The Science Fiction & Fantasy Marketing Podcast is a favorite), and while I’m better at it than I used to be, I still have a long way to go.

Question #4: You’ve a two-book superhero series with one set to be published later this year.  What’s it been like to try to take over a genre that’s considered to be an “unmarketable” genre?

It’s funny that superhero fiction doesn’t have a bigger place on the shelves of bookstores. With superhero movies being so popular and profitable, you’d think there’d be a ton of superhero books out there, but I haven’t found that to be the case. Still, there are definitely readers who love the genre. It may not be as popular as something like paranormal romance, but plenty of indie authors have found success by serving a smaller niche.

Question #5: Do you have any advice for people considering self-publishing that you wish you knew?

I’d probably advise people that if you’re writing a series, wait until you have two or three books finished before you publish the first—at least if you’re a slow writer like I am. Putting books out three or so months apart can help give your series momentum and keep it selling well. Being able to publish so fast is one of the major advantages indies have over traditionally published authors, since it keeps your books fresh in your readers’ minds.

Compare that to me, who publishes one book every year or so, and…yeah. It’s an area where I have definite room for improvement.

Question #6: Where can these readers find you and stay updated on your writing whereabouts?

You can find me at my author website, KristenBrand.com. It has information about my books plus free superhero fiction you can read online. I’m also on Twitter at @BrandedKristen, where I talk about writing updates, comic books, and other randomness.