Should You Self-Publish?

Earlier this month, when the wonderful Mysteryscape Bookstore held a Local Author Fair, a baker’s dozen of self-published and small-press-published writers came together to promote and sell their books. During the afternoon, as I sat there behind a display of my books, a tall, dark-haired young man asked me if he should self-publish his novel when he finished it. “Or should I try to get an agent?”

I couldn’t answer either question, certainly not with an unequivocal “yes” or “no.” Too much involved. When I taught Creative Writing, for instance, I spent an entire unit on marketing.

Now I’ve had time to think about his first question and to reflect on what I’ve learned this year as a publisher of my own fiction. And I have to say, “Don’t be in such a hurry, young man. Give yourself time to learn your craft and pay your dues. As the sayings go, it takes ten years to become a writer; you need to spend 10,000 hours on any art or craft to master it; you must write a million words to learn how to write. So, the novel you self-publish now probably isn’t the best book you could write. You might not want it out there embarrassing you as you continue your career.” This sounds like good advice for a young writer to me.

But what if you’re not such a young writer? What if you’ve been writing for at least ten years, spent at least 10,000 hours mastering the art and craft of writing, written at least a million words? That is, what if you’re more like me? I wrote my first novel nearly forty years ago, and I’ve been writing fiction steadily since 1986 when I drafted my second and third novels. I’ve completed ten novels and forty to fifty short stories. (I don’t have time to count my poems, nonfiction pieces, and the journal entries that fill well over a hundred notebooks.) Now retired, I try to write 20 to 30 hours a week.

As for the young man’s second question, from time to time over the last twenty-five years or so, I’ve attempted to get an agent, and I haven’t managed to interest any. Actually, I take that back. I did interest a couple, but neither of those nice ladies sold the project she submitted to publishers for me. And now the whole process has become demoralizing. The rejection depresses me, makes me doubt the worth of my work, and interferes with my writing. So I’m not doing it anymore.

I’m not alone in that decision. At the Local Author Fair where the young man asked his two questions, I sat next to Edna Bell-Pearson, author of the self-published Fragile Hopes, Transient Dreams and Other Stories, selected as one of 150 best Kansas books. A senior as I am, Edna observed that she simply didn’t have the time “to fool with those people.”

And so, though the technical aspects of publishing my own work can make me exceedingly anxious and the marketing aspects of being my own publisher like tweeting, branching out, linking in and befriending folk also take time away from my writing, I will continue to self-publish. Why? For one thing, I hope that the same time-on-task that made me a writer will also make me more comfortable with publishing and promoting.

And I already have lots of well-written fiction to bring to you, dear reader. This includes January Jinx, the first book in a series of historical mysteries set in Kansas City around 1900. Look for it next month. Meanwhile you can read Walls, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel as an eBook (www.amazon.com/dp/B00FQLQ2WI) or in print (ISBN: 978-0-9899504-1-1) and twelve stories that feature Cinderella as a p. i., her loved ones, her friends, and an enemy or two in Cinderella, P. I. and Other Fairy Tale Mystery Stories (www.amazon.com/dp/B00GMMUSTI and 978-0-9899504-4-2).

Juliet’s Favorite Reads for 2013

Becoming a publisher in addition to being a writer has cut into my reading time quite a bit this year, so instead of my usual rate of four books a month, I read fewer than three a month in 2013. But the five I’ve chosen would stand out in any year. (Please note that not all were first published in 2013 because sometimes it takes me a while to discover the book everyone else read the year or so before.)

# 5 – Marie Brennan’s A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent (2013)

When I spotted this novel on the new and current shelf at my local library, its intriguing title and cover drew me to it. I picked it up, scanned the cover with the picture of a dragon shown partly in anatomical detail, and read the back cover. I put it back since mostly I read mysteries. But the clever concept of a fictional memoir of a lady scientist writing about her lifelong study of dragons drew me back. I checked it out and read it with great pleasure. This story of a bookish young girl drawn to dragons from an early age and determined to find out more about them in a somewhat Victorian setting did not disappoint. The Tropic of Serpents, the second in the series, comes out in March 2014 and I’ll buy it in hardcover, along with the trade paperback of the first.

# 4 – Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette (2012)

When I found out how this book was written, it intrigued me for a rather specialized reason. It’s a fictionalized compilation of emails, articles from scholarly magazines, school documents, letters, etc. As such it goes back to two early traditions in English literature: the epistolary novel, that is, written in the form of letters, like Samuel Richardson’s Pamela, and fiction written in diary form, like Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year. (I have a vested interest in the latter style since I wrote my dissertation about thirty-plus pieces of fiction written entirely or partly in the form of journals. And actually, A Natural History of Dragons fits into the third tradition for the novel in English: the fictional memoir like Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe.) But no matter why I picked Semple’s novel up, I read it because it’s a touching story of a loving daughter trying to find where her eccentric mom has gone.

#3 – Colin Cotterill’s Killed at the Whim of the Hat (2011)

I’d been a fan of the Dr. Siri Paiboun mysteries for their humor and exotic setting in Communist Laos for some time before I discovered Cotterill’s new series with Jimm Juree, a young woman journalist who lives with her eccentric family in a southern Thailand resort town. Just thinking about the title and other quotations from George W. Bush that start the chapters makes me laugh out loud. This is a very enjoyable, lively read.

#2 – Charlie Lovett’s The Bookman’s Tale: A Novel of Obsession (2013)

I’m putting this first novel near the top of the list not because one of my former students wrote it or even because it’s beautifully constructed of three different plot lines skillfully interwoven, but because at its heart it contains a touching and timeless story of a young man who finds the love of his life through books, loses her, and finds her again, also through books. It is not my top pick only because of my pick is

#1 – Louise Penny’s How the Light Gets In (2013)

When my friend Sally Ooms gave me this book for my birthday this year, I hugged it to my heart and beamed. (You can see my joy in my picture on my Facebook profile page.) The ninth in Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache series demonstrates this masterful writer at the top of her game. The bad news for those of you who haven’t read these books is I can’t recommend this book to you. The good news is you get to read Still Life, the first in the series, and the other seven wonderful books that precede How the Light Gets In.

The Hunger Name Games

Naming Characters Can Be Hard

When I joined an online fiction writers group some time ago, the current topic of discussion was naming characters. I identified with this since I had a terrible time naming a set of characters in Walls, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel. I won’t say who they are precisely but here’s a hint: there are seven of them and they’re all extremely short. Initially I gave them names that alluded to these characters as presented in the first Disney full-length animated feature. But I worried through several drafts that the Disney lawyers would not consider this fair use and would sue me up side and down the other for copyright infringement. So I finally decided I had to revise the names and also the characters of my little seven.

But how?

Suzanne Collins supplied the answer to my question in the thoughtful, systematic, evocative way she named the places and characters of The Hunger Games. Character names also suggest things about the nature of the characters and often hint at the roles they’ll take in the plot.

Effie Trinket, who escorts Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark to the Capitol for the games, has a downright satirical name that reminds this English major of Mr. Thwackum and Squire Allworthy of Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones. She could hardly be more aptly named. Doll-like, superficial, and artificial with her pink wig and heavy make-up, she counts for very little in the overall world of the Hunger Games.

Overall, the names of girls and women in The Hunger Games resonate with meaning and portent. And often they arise from nature. In our world the plant katniss doesn’t exist, but in the world of the Hunger Games, it’s a healing herb. The last name Everdeen reminds us of evergreen, a kind of tree that’s always alive and green. What better name than Katniss Everdeen for the savior of her world? Katniss’s little sister Prim’s name evokes that character’s innocence. Her full name of Primrose evokes her sweetness. The tribute from District 11 is named Rue, which is a healing herb in our world, but the character’s name also evokes her rueful end.

The names for men are evocative, too, especially that of Katniss’s fellow tribute from District 12: Peeta Mellark. Presumably Peeta is derived from Peter, but it’s pronounced “pita” as in the Greek bread. Peeta is the son of a baker who earlier saved Katniss’s life by letting her have some bread when she and her family almost starved.

Katniss and Peeta’s mentor, the drunken Haymitch Abernathy, doesn’t have an out and out symbolic name. Yet his name evokes the strong Scots stock that populated Appalachia in the 18th century. And as a West Virginian born and bred, I must remind you of my home state’s motto: “Montani semper liberi.” Mountaineers are always free. Take that, you decadent Capitol citizens.

Many of the men from the Capitol have names that allude to ancient Romans, for example, Seneca Crane, the game designer, and Caesar Flickerman, the television host. (His last name perfectly evokes the flickering screen images that Panem citizens watch during the games.) These names make us recall ancient Romans with their cruel and bloody gladiatorial games. At least Roman gladiators were grown-ups trained to fight instead of children aged 12 through 18 chosen by lottery without consideration of their abilities to defend themselves and survive.

Speaking of Panem, I’ll do a little riff on place names. “Pan-” as a prefix means “all,” suitable for a nation’s name, but in The Hunger Games series, Panem is a country in which the individual identities of its states and regions have been replaced by nondescript Districts and numbers, from the rather privileged District 1, source of luxury goods, through the ill-fated District 13, destroyed many years earlier. Panem also alludes to “panem et circenses” or the bread and circuses with which the leaders of ancient Rome soothed the populace.

Coriolanus Snow, President of Panem, is very aptly named for the ancient Roman leader accused of robbing the populace of their bread. And while his last name comes from nature, Snow is a cold, mindless, harsh force.

You probably thought I’d forgotten Gale Hawthorne, Katniss Everdeen’s fellow hunter and confidant. But really his name provides an excellent example of Suzanne Collins’s systematic and thoughtful naming of the characters in The Hunger Games. His last name evokes one of America’s greatest writers, but also the sweet-smelling flowering shrub hawthorn, that has lots of thorns. Furthermore, his first name Gale evokes another mindless, powerful force. As you read Catching Fire and Mockingjay, you’ll be wise to keep an eye on Gale Hawthorne.

And so, with Suzanne Collins’ excellent examples in mind, I finally resolved my difficulties naming my short characters in Walls, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel.

Seven? I asked myself. What else has seven? I wondered. Well, duh, the days of the week. And for that–oh joy! We have a popular nursery rhyme. And so my little people became members of the same family, got names or nicknames and at least one character trait apiece. The oldest is Moon, “fair of face” in spite of being extremely overweight. Next comes Toot, “full of grace,” especially with his hands. Wednesday’s child, “full of woe,” is Mopey, an epic poet always moaning and groaning about his work. (As a writer, I really identify with Mopey.) Thursday’s child is Thor, who has “far to go” because he’s completely deaf. His twin sister Frieda, the tiniest of the seven, is “loving and giving.” Saturday’s child Whip “works hard for a living.” As the mining company foreman he makes sure the others work hard, too. And finally Sunny, born on the Sabbath Day, is “bonny and blithe and good and gay,” that is, he has a really sunny, upbeat personality.

You can get to know these characters even better by reading Walls, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel now available through Amazon.com as a Kindle eBook (www.amazon.com/dp/B00FQLQ2WI) or a trade paperback (ISBN 978-0-9899504-1-1).

And I’m very pleased to announce that Cinderella, P. I. and Other Fairy Tale Mystery Stories is now available as a Kindle eBook featuring Cinderella, P. I. in SIX NEW STORIES, twelve stories altogether, “twenty years, three kids, and a few extra pounds after the ball.” Buy it for only $2.99 at www.amazon.com/dp/B00GMMUSTI.

 

Hello Again, World!

Two months ago some pervert hacked my website and I was so offended that I took my website down. But more than one person has pointed out that a writer who publishes her own work needs a presence on the Internet, some central address beyond her Facebook and Twitter pages. So here I am again.

In this first installment of my blog reborn, I want to talk about what sorts of posts I made in the past before I lay out plans for future posts.

(Please don’t worry about my losing my previous installments. When I was in graduate school at Ohio State, I had a class with Richard D. Altick, the great Victorian scholar and author of the lively book called Scholar Adventurers. Altick warned us in no uncertain terms to make copies of our dissertations, even going so far as to advise us to keep a copy in the freezer in case the house burned down. So now I print hard copy of all my work. I also back up all my work on my computer and to other devices that now include an auxiliary hard drive. If the house burns down, I can grab it and run. This discussion reminds me to copy my finished books to the flash drive I keep in my purse in case the house burns down while I’m out and about.)

Back to my past blog: For nearly two years, as Juliet Kincaid, Fiction Addict, I wrote about the lessons that I learned from the books I read–mostly mysteries–that help me write my own, fairy tale mysteries featuring Cinderella, P. I., twenty years, three kids, and a few extra pounds after the ball. These essays often included very detailed analyses of fiction I admired along with how I could apply those insights to my own work.

They were lots of work, you bet your bippy, sweetheart. For instance, I spent nine hours (three writing sessions for me) on a piece about James Church’s superb A Corpse in the Koryo. These nine hours were in addition to reading it.

Downside: Spending that much time every other week on somebody else’s work severely cut into my own writing and slowed my progress. And I simply can’t take the time to do that sort of blog now. (However, this past year, I’ve occasionally republished some of these blogs as “golden oldies” with updates on the writers’ careers and how I’m doing on my own “Work-in-Progress.” I might do some more of that.

Later in 2012 I also began to write about myself as a Late Bloomer, someone launching a career after age 60. Also I reflected from time to time on aging generally including where I’ve been, where I am right now, and where I’m going.

These feel more comfortable to me for future subjects though I reserve the right to write about just anything I please. Hey, there are among the perks of being an old gal.

Enough for now. You can expect more installments on the second and fourth Thursdays of every month. To receive notifications, please subscribe to my blogs through RSS.

Best, Juliet

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Currently available as Kindle eBooks are five of my fairy tale mystery stories including the first, “Cinderella, P. I.,” and Walls, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel. All feature Cinderella twenty years, three kids and a few extra pounds after the ball.

You’ll find “Cinderella, P. I.” at www.amazon.com/dp/B00BAZPXEM and Walls, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel at www.amazon.com/dp/B00FQLQ2WI.

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