I love book clubs, so much that they made their way into my debut in fun and silly ways. So, you can imagine how excited I was when a book club reached out to me. They were reading my debut, and they wanted me to answer some questions about process and indie publishing. My answers are below, please note that they contain some spoilers for My Cosplay Escape.
For me it was a market driven decision. Books about twenty-two-year-olds aren’t traditionally published. They fall into the New Adult literature category (older than the Young Adult audience, younger that the Adult audience—It’s in between. It’s New Adult!) and New Adult’s home is indie-publishing.
Often if a new adult book is acquired by a traditional publisher, they will ask the author to age up or age down the book. I didn’t want to do a rewrite where Sarah was in high school. Her backstory about her failed marriage and miscarriage wouldn’t have worked for me if she were younger than twenty-two at the beginning of the story.
I didn’t want to do a rewrite of My Cosplay Escape where Sarah was older—say twenty-eight. Because Sarah at the onset of the story lacked the maturity of a twenty-eight-year-old IMO. Because if Sarah was still trying to work out her same insecurities at twenty-eight… that’s a little depressing and not as much fun. There is too much coming-of-age wrapped up in the story for it to work for me in the adult genre. Plus, I got married and had kids outrageously young. I had something to say about this time of life, and I didn’t want that message lost or garbled in a Young Adult or Adult edit.
My editor, Deborah Halverson, who wrote the literal book on writing New Adult fiction, was very clear in her edit that this was a New Adult novel, and I needed to own it. My Cosplay Escape’s themes are specific to New Adult—growing sense of maturity and self, reconciling the messiness/less than picture perfect stuff that makes up adult life, thematic content that is more complex (ending a failed marriage, loss and grief, owning one’s sexuality–but still in a PG way for my book).
I wrote a New Adult novel and wanted to keep it that way. Looking at my other manuscripts that feature young twenty-something heroines, it’s pretty clear I have more New Adult novels to share. This is the main reason why I decided to indie- publish—I felt it was better for the stories I wanted to tell. There are other reasons to indie-publish. I have total creative control over my stories. I don’t have to make any of the changes that my editors suggest (although I do because I have a really great team). I set my own timelines and deadlines. No lugging my computer with me on family vacations because I’ve got to meet a deadline. If I want to genre hop, and turns out I do (I have fairy tale fantasy retellings, the first is coming out this spring), I can without worry. If I want to write sequels, I can do so at anytime without answering to publishers who own the rights to my stories and characters. I have final say in cover art (which is huge because covers sell books better than anything/anyone).
How do you indie-publish?
Being an independent author does not mean I can skip any of the publishing steps. I still write, revise, send to editors, revise, send to copyeditors, revise, send to proof readers, revise, format, revise, and then publish.
How that process is executed is different for every writer, but here is more info on me doing me.
Inspiration strikes. I have an idea for a story that is so fulfilling, fun and exciting that exploring it feels like playing on the holodeck (sorry if that Star Trek reference doesn’t do it for you). I draft. It’s a messy process. In the case of My Cosplay Escape the first draft happened in a single night (granted I was up for most of the night—I still remember the milk bottles clanking around 2 AM because we had a dairy service at the time that made deliveries early, early Friday morning). Yup. Me on my living room couch with my laptop having a blast.
From here it is a slow process of adding to the draft and making sure that it is a complete story with arcs, beats, believable and rising stakes, and lovable characters. This takes time. Stories can change, and I do not drive myself crazy stressing over deadlines here.
Eventually, I have a story that I can share. That someone can read. Earlier in my author journey I experimented with critique partners and beta readers. I discovered that I prefer working with a professional developmental editor at this stage. I’ve worked with the very talented Deborah Halverson for my last two novels. I pitch Deborah my story (I send her an email that looks like a query) and get in her queue. After I have a date with Deborah (she can book a month or so out), I do another round of revisions to get my story in even better shape.
The job of a developmental editor is to look at the plot, characters, and strength of the story. Does it meet the requirements for the target genre and audience? Is it any good? Is it making sense? Where are the weaknesses? Where are the strengths? Deborah reads my story and then sends me an edit letter. Her letters are pages long telling me where I went off the rails and what needs fixing. Deborah sometimes has a brief suggestion for how to fix something, but usually the feedback is more along the lines of “This scene isn’t working because of X and Y. Work on it in revision.” Or “The final chapter is not working for me. Try it again.”
So then I get to revise again based on Deborah’s feedback. This for me is by far the hardest stage of my writing process. Usually there is as long list of items that need attention (for my last book there were 16 different structural items that needed to be addressed) and it takes me time to figure out how. The level of overwhelm can be very high at this stage. I make a plan (usually a list of what to tackle first) and work my way through it. Once I know all hope is not lost, I contact my copyeditor and get in her queue.
A copy editor’s job is to read you story and edit at the line level. My copyeditor is not going to send me an edit letter that tells me my characters are weak, my story has a saggy middle, my ending needs work. She looks for typos. She looks for consistent spelling of character names. She fixes my bad punctuation. She even replaces my en dashes for em dashes. She is a superhero of copy. She will also drop a few comments—this sentence makes no sense, this is awkwardly phrased, scene continuity stuff (she already poured a cup of tea two paragraphs earlier). And my favorite: she highlights on a page when I overuse a word. It happens absurdly often. I look like an amazing writer thanks to my copyeditor. Most copyeditors will track changes in a document that authors work through.
Once I’ve worked through all of the copyedits. I send my story off to proofreaders. This is done serially because readers tend to catch the first typo on the page and skim over the missing word at the bottom. I use three to four proof readers for a story. (Some proof readers are family–Mr. Trent is always one of my proofreaders.) The amount of proofreading rounds depends on how many errors each finds. If the third proofer found thirty booboos, another round is still needed. And there is some statistic for typo tolerance that I always forget if you want to be more precise about proofreading… One type for so many tens of pages… I can’t remember.
After proofing it is time for formatting my word doc file into an ebook file. I have help with this step from my aunt and mentor, Grace Burrowes, but the software used at this step is called Vellum, it runs exclusively on Macs (boo) and it turns my word file into ebook files for kindle, barnes, google, apple, and a pdf for printing paperbacks. Vellum also requires proofing, but I do that—making sure the indents, spaces, chapter heading and everything look good.
I don’t know how technical you want to get, but before the formatting step a copyright page, dedication, front matter, and back matter for the book also need to be written and marketing decisions need to be made. Nothing sells your next book like your last book, and there is debate about how best to do this. Do you include a presale link in the back matter? Teaser chapters? Readers also want to hear from the author, and authors definitely need to thank their editorial team and important friends and family who helped them out in an acknowledgement. Do you ask for reviews in your back matter? Do you ask for newsletter sign ups? How much marketing will readers tolerate?
Then there is the discussion of covers, ISBNs, taglines, titles, series titles, and back cover blurbs. And the big decisions about whether to publish wide (across all ebook retailers) or to publish exclusively to Zon’s KU—kindle unlimited. These are all marketing heavy/ business decisions more than they are writing/creative decisions. Finding a cover artist that understands the genre and audience of your book is crucial because you want your book to signal the genre in the cover. ISBNs are no big deal, but I wanted ones that weren’t associated with Zon, so my mentor gifted me a couple of hers (because she buys them in bulk) from her imprint Grace Burrowes Publishing. As a result sometimes I call her my publisher—it’s a bit of an inside joke.
Titles and taglines and teasing enough of your story and characters in the back cover blurb to communicate to readers what your book is all about is tricky and maddening work. Eventually, you get to the step of having a gorgeous (but not perfect. No book is perfect) ebook file, and a cover file. And you upload them to the author dashboards, set a competitive price, and like magic readers can snag your book.
What about sales and marketing?
I’ve been told that having three books out is essential before an indie author invests in marketing, facebook ads, and the SEO whatevers. Word of mouth is exclusively how I’m growing for now (shameless plug to leave a review or rec to a friend). I hope that changes once I have two more happily-ever-afters in the mix. Although because I’ve hopped genres and started a new series, it could take longer. For marketing I did the bare minimum to get started. I built a website (it’s still a work in progress), started a newsletter, and hopped on two social media sites (Instagram and TikTok). Marketing is definitely a skill and some people are naturally gifted. Not one of those people over here, but I’m having fun exploring and experimenting.