Self-Publishing News: 4.13.2021

news from the world of
self-publishing

This article from Amy Rosen for Toronto’s The Globe and Mail is everything we needed over the last couple of weeks: a dash of joy, and the solid affirmation that we’re not alone in looking for and publishing information on a new generation of platforms that have evolved in the post-print newspaper age. (Not that we don’t love print or newspapers! As with all new and wonderful things, these new ways and means will eventually, if they haven’t already, reach a new and happy balance with the old, and all will be welcome tools in the race to learn about this wild world of ours.) Writes Rosen, “From knitting and kneading to photography and illustrating, PDFs, e-books and other downloadable guides are surging in popularity. Selling DIY digital downloads is becoming the modern-day way to let your creative and entrepreneurial passions fly.” Rosen highlights one of the earliest DIY sources of such self-published projects: “On Etsy, makers sell digital downloads of face-mask designs, knitting patterns and printable 3-D gift boxes. No middlemen, no shipping, no waiting.” If someone hasn’t already immortalized that statement in needlepoint, one of us most definitely will––it’s our ethic, down to our very core. Rosen also covers the story of a cookbook author whose digitally downloadable new PDF ebook may “lack the cachet of the printed book,” but whose $5 download fee “translates into far more money per purchase than she’d receive with a traditional book deal.” She also points the way to numerous other kinds of creatives who have used the various ebook self-publishing methods available to them to take advantage of the pandemic-driven surge in experimentation and craftiness. This article is an injection of pure inspiration for those of us casting about for our next simple-but-productive project.

Entrepreneur.com has published many other thought-provoking pieces on self-publishing in the past, and continues that trend by hosting JJ Hebert’s recent collection of marketing tips for self-published books. (A list of five has always held an appealing degree of symmetry!) “Writing a good book is one of the simplest ways to establish yourself as an expert on a topic,” he notes early in his article; “Your book can serve as the ultimate business card, both as a way to connect with people and build your reputation.” And of course, he has both plenty of experience and a personal stake in self-publishing. “As the owner of a self-publishing company,” he writes, “I am an adamant believer in the value of self-publishing. Not only does self-publishing give you have complete control of your book, but you’ll enjoy higher royalty rates as well.” But how to find success in such a packed field as self-publishing? For Hebert, success ultimately comes down to marketing, and successful marketing comes down to branding, reviews, emails, a certain carpe diem attitude, and crafting a solid architecture of support. For more information and explanations of these barest hints, we highly recommend you read the entirety of Hebert’s article, linked above.

We’ve written about the three (primary or popular) models of publishing available to the average human before on this blog, but it has been a minute since we’ve revisited the topic, and Alinka Rutkowska does such a fabulous job in this article for Forbes that we recommend brushing up on the big three categories of publishing (traditional, hybrid, and self-published or “indie”) by checking it out. As Rutkowska notes straight off, “Traditional publishing is considered prestigious, difficult, long — and lucrative for a rare few.” While recognizing the perks of successfully navigating the traditional route, Rutkowska advises readers to be realistic about the likelihood of doing so; when it comes to searching for an agent, “only a very small percentage of the authors who pitch agents will hear back from them, so your chances are pretty slim. If you do make it, you should be prepared to relinquish some creative control as your book will now be ushered into the hands of a group of professionals.” As for the other routes, Rutkowska makes it clear that they, too, have some substantial benefits, and might just prove more accessible to the average writer. “The beautiful thing about self-publishing is that there are no gatekeepers and the market becomes the ultimate judge,” writes Rutkowska, before going on to allocate the lion’s share of the article to describing what she defines as “hybrid” (and it should be noted here that definitions vary wildly, and that some industry experts would consider what she describes to incorporate significant aspects of what others would consider plain ol’ regular self-publishing). With a devastating gift for brevity, Rutskaya’s article is a quick but interesting read.

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As a self-publishing author, you may find it helpful to stay up-to-date on the trends and news related to the self-publishing industry.This will help you make informed decisions before, during and after the self-publishing process, which will lead to a greater self-publishing experience. To help you stay current on self-publishing topics, simply visit our blog each month to find out the hottest news. If you have other big news to share, please comment below.

ORIGINAL BOOK REVIEW: “The Enchanted Rope” by David D. Bernstein

The Enchanted Rope by David D. Bernstein

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION*:

Young Jack’s mother has become an angel.

He misses her singing him to sleep, misses her reading him fairy tales and misses her love of wildflowers and dragons.

Under the Alaskan sun, in a field of dreams, Jack gathers up one hundred wildflowers and starts to weave an enchanted rope so he can climb up to the world of angels his mother is in. A school of salmon, a clan of wolves, a brown bear, and one bold eagle watch him as he weaves and weaves and finally sends the magic rope far up into the air.

When he returns from his adventure, he sees one red flower is missing from the rope. Jack smiles. He knows what that means.

In this magical and touching tale for children ages 6 to 8, David Bernstein explores the loss of a loved one by a young boy and offers an imaginative and comforting view of the possibility of reconnecting with someone who may have gone from earth, but who is not, in truth, gone.

REVIEW:

This week is something of a reunion for me, in that I’ve actually read the book I’m reviewing several times before, and am only now ready to post the review. I have also reviewed a book by this author before, and you may remember his name from my review of the middle grade novel The Portal several weeks ago.

So, why the delay?

The Enchanted Rope is a story of loss, grief, and what comes after. In particular, it depicts a child who has lost his mother and who desperately seeks to stay connected with her by weaving a rope made from her favorite wildflowers. It has a happy ending, in that he meets his mother in “the great beyond” (to quote Soul), albeit in a transformed state, and they do end up maintaining the connection he was so desperate to recreate. Those who know me well already know this, but my own mother has undergone a “health journey” of her own over the last five months, one that she is lucky to have survived––and yet she is changed, fundamentally, as the result of months of cascading problems totaling to a severe traumatic brain injury (TBI). The first few months I spent by her side, I thought we might have lost her. I am so, so grateful that her story didn’t end there, though, and that despite her total transformation as a person as a result I have another chance to forge my own new connection to her before facing the struggle that Jack, the boy at the heart of Bernstein’s The Enchanted Rope, must go through at the beginning of this book.

Yup, I read a children’s picture book about a child grieving the loss of his mother while I was at the bedside of my own precious mother, not knowing her fate. And as the weeks ticked by with little apparent progress, my ability to handle fictional portrayals of grief and loss over sick or lost mothers took a bit of a nose-dive. (Thus the delay. I’m so sorry about that.) I was already the kind of person to cry over a really good Christmas commercial, or anything involving injured animals, but this experience has sensitized me to a whole new range of possible emotional triggers. Including Disney (Disney+?) movies. Mothers don’t tend to last long or be very caring/capable in most of the animated classics. Even the new live-action Beauty and the Beast highlights the fact that Beauty’s mother has passed away and that she and her father grieve daily for her. My heart, my heart.

I should note at this point that The Enchanted Rope was not itself triggering for me, merely that its subject was one I wasn’t terribly well equipped to handle for a while, and yet I’m so grateful to get to review it now. In my years as a librarian, I came to realize that there are relatively few books for toddlers through elementary school that grapple with loss. There aren’t even a huge number of books on the subject of losing pets! (One good one, though, is Big Cat, Little Cat.) I continue to hope that authors and illustrators will add to the general canon more beautiful, sincere, and helpful books on grief. That David D. Bernstein goes down this road is in and of itself a rare thing for a children’s author, and that he finds a way to give voice to a child in need of connection to a lost loved one is rarer still. Sally Taylor’s illustrations are colorful and eye-catching, too.

I think I’m one of those people who will always have a soapbox on balancing the text-to-page ratio in picture books, and I can’t even blame the typography professor at my alma mater, since I cleverly (and errantly) arranged to skip that class, despite my minor in Illustration. As Bernstein’s book goes on, there is simply more story that he wants to share than in its early pages, where he communicates much with very few words. I try to remind myself in many ways, though, that any objections I have on this front come down to taste, and not necessarily even all that educated of a taste, if we’re talking about my own. (Just imagine a self-conscious laugh-cry emoji here!) I doubt many of Bernstein’s readers would even notice the shift in text-to-page, much less object. It’s just … a thing that is there. There are one or two typos to get excited about, but nothing that detracts from what I believe to be an invaluable central message:

As Bernstein might put it, one’s connection to people gone or transformed is not necessarily severed by death, and in remembering and cultivating the kinds of beautiful things that our loved ones loved, we maintain our relationships with those who leave us for what comes next. Love, imagination, and a bit of arts-and-crafts know-how can be healing to the hurting heart. More of this, please!

WHERE TO BUY?

You can find The Enchanted Rope by David D. Bernstein wherever good books are sold, including Bookshop.org, Barnes & Noble and Amazon. You can also find out more about it on the book’s Outskirts Press listing.

WHAT NEXT?

Next week I will be posting my review for Kevin Fodor’s memoir, Turn it Up! Confessions of a Radio Junkie.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

* Courtesy of Outskirts Press book listing.

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ABOUT KENDRA M.: With nine years in library service, six years of working within the self-publishing world, as well as extensive experience in creative writing, freelance online content creation, and podcast editing, Kendra seeks to amplify the voices of those who need and deserve most to be heard.

ORIGINAL BOOK REVIEW: “Wailing Winds” by Patrick Scott

Wailing Winds by Patrick Scott

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION*:

This is a deep and soulful description of emotions, feelings, and inspirational moments in the life of one. These are memorable memories scripted in poetic form that shaped a life.

REVIEW:

I … am a terrible poet. And because I’m a terrible poet, my natural instinct is to steer well clear of it. That said, I have been extremely lucky in the poetry that has managed to squeak in through the cracks and climb my seemingly endless TBR pile, all the way to the top where they pop into my hands. Patrick Scott’s Wailing Wind is one of those few collections, and I’m glad for it.

There is a certain difficulty to reviewing poetry, however, that doesn’t crop up as often in narrative fiction and nonfiction: to read poetry is to encounter another mind, and to spend some time getting to know it. Wailing Winds is definitely a collection that abides by this general statement. Each of its poems is a testament to Scott’s lives–his life as lived in the world we all know, and his rich internal life as described and demonstrated by each poem included in its pages. I’ve been friends and family with far to many poets to fall into the trap of pretending that there is any easy way to separate “literary criticism” from a criticism of how the poet chooses to view and express their own lives, so I am going to try very hard here to describe the book without delivering any sort of rating or verdict. Poetry is personal.

There are 27 poems, beginning with “Poor Child” and concluding with the titular “Wailing Winds.” The penultimate poem, “In My Lifetime” indicates the overall arc of the book even without reading that closing poem (though I certainly encourage you to do so), from the instinctive reactions of childhood through the more informed–though still sometimes imperfect–maturity of adulthood. And those winds that wail? They are, as that final poem states, “feelings out and feelings in,” part of a constant cycle through which Scott has moved, is moving, and will continue to move.

After all, that’s part of the magic of poetry, isn’t it? Poetry holds the past, present, and future as one continuous whole, a spinning tangled mass of evergreen feelings. Scott opts not to annotate or endnote his poems, leaving the interpretation entirely up to his readers. He comments on neither individual poems or the collection as a whole; the collection skips past other potential inclusions, such as a preface or introduction, end notes, further reading, acknowledgements, or conclusion. Many artists use these sections in an attempt to guide readers to interpret poems the way that they, the authors, intended. But Scott chooses a different path. Do his poems translate to direct reflections on his life as literally lived, and make an accurate history as well as an historic artifact? Or do they arrive on the page slantwise, sliding in diagonally as reflections on possible lives both lived and un-lived, lives from which Scott is only separated by the choices he made? Are they strictly metaphorical in nature, forming a sort of spiritual or cultural commentary upon many more lives than his own? Again, here comes poetry, muddling all options together until it is all three simultaneously.

All that remains is the poetry.

Well, the poetry and a contents page, the copyright information, and cover image. This is an incredibly brave choice, and many of Patrick Scott’s poems are themselves brave choices, either records or reflections on personal decisions both good and bad, but always real in a way that echoes compellingly in a way that sticks with me, even after I’ve finished the last word.

IN SUMMARY:

In a collection of 27 unique and yet interrelated poems chronicling life and loves in all their various stages, Southern veteran, photojournalist, and poet Patrick Scott’s Wailing Winds is both compelling and interesting, and indeed well worth a perusal by those curious enough to dig through to the heart of questions like “What makes a life a life?” and “What gives life its meaning?” Our mistakes, sometimes, hints Scott, but just as often our good choices and our loves lost and gained, our faith in others.

WHERE TO BUY?

You can find Wailing Winds by Patrick Scott wherever good books are sold, including Bookshop.org, Barnes & Noble and Amazon. You can also find out more about it on the book’s Outskirts Press listing.

WHAT NEXT?

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

* Courtesy of Outskirts Press book listing.

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ABOUT KENDRA M.: With nine years in library service, six years of working within the self-publishing world, as well as extensive experience in creative writing, freelance online content creation, and podcast editing, Kendra seeks to amplify the voices of those who need and deserve most to be heard.

In Your Corner: The Art of the Outline (III)

Two posts ago, I introduced the concept of outlining as a function of planning your next book, and in my last post, I began to present you with a buffet of possibilities you might mix and match between, with the idea that you could research further into the one or few that appeal to you. As it turned out, I had rather too much to say about too many possible options to put into just one post, so I had to break off about halfway through with the promise to finish in this, my latest post.

If you missed the previous methods of outlining, we covered the Bullet Point, Sticky Note, and Index Card methods, some of the apps and software available, and the Hero’s Journey, an organizational metaphor which might just provide a structure upon which to hang one’s outline. [You can read that post here.]

This week, I have four more outline options for you to consider.

FIVE COMMANDMENTS

If this method sounds a little biblical in nature, don’t worry, we’re not suggesting you carve anything onto stone tablets (unless you actually enjoy that–in which case, I admire you and your wrist strength very much). It is perhaps appropriate that the Five Commandments method would evoke visions of bygone days, given that it’s a well-respected outlining practice with a long legacy of usage. As with my last post’s description of the Hero’s Journey, this is an outlining practice distilled from an organizational metaphor. This one, as we’ve already noted, evokes the sense of a sacred text, but what it describes is the standard five-point plan often taught in high school and college classrooms to creative writing students. The points are:

  1. Inciting Incident
  2. Complications
  3. Crisis
  4. Climax
  5. Resolution

The general idea is for the writer to use these “five essentials of a good story” (as one of my professors once put it) as a starting point, or as a framework upon which to hang the coat of one’s entire book. Functionally one can make that outline as simple or as complicated as is useful–simple phrases or entire paragraphs answering to the implicit questions posed by each point. I absolutely must recommend checking out Joslyn Chase’s “How to Write a Book Using an Outline,” which covers both the Five Commandments method in detail as well as the next one I’m going to summarize here: the Nine Checkpoints. (She also points to some additional resources to flesh out your understanding of outlines, which is always nice.)

NINE CHECKPOINTS

The Nine Checkpoints method sounds a bit more bureaucratic than biblical, which can be either freeing or somewhat discouraging in the way of standing in lines at the DMV. In reality, it’s simply an unpacked version of the previously described commandments, only instead of five points around which to cluster one’s ideas, there are nine:

  1. Hook
  2. Backstory
  3. Trigger
  4. Crisis
  5. Struggle
  6. Epiphany
  7. Plan
  8. Climax
  9. Resolution

In this outline method, one can look at the hook, backstory, and trigger sections as equating roughly with the Five Commandments’ “Inciting Incident” point, with the crisis, climax, and resolution sections all have exact correspondence. The only loose points remaining, then, are the struggle, epiphany, and plan sections. It’s easy to see the correlations and divergences between the two methods; what’s less easy to see is the organizational metaphor behind this outlining method. In my mind, each checkpoint in a line of checkpoints carries equal weight and priority, which may or may not reflect how I actually feel about the work I’m writing. Perhaps I know with absolute certainty what I want for one or three or eight of the points, and the others are able to flex and be sculpted around those certain ones. Perhaps I don’t. It all depends on the specific demands of the work in progress.

GROCERY STORE

Before this last month, I would have ended my list of suggested outlining methods there, with a Cold War or Man From U.N.C.L.E. reference regarding checkpoints. But then, while researching additional resources to point you to, I stumbled across this excellent piece on Sharon Watson’s blog, “Fun with Outlines. No, Really.” (Putting a positive spin on things is one sure way to always hook my attention!) Watson’s post on outlining introduced me to the idea of the Grocery Store method, as well as the final one I’ll summarize, the Restaurant method. What I love most about these methods is that they flow naturally out of a more intuitive writing process, and they flex in exactly the way that I hinted at earlier. This is not to discount the value of a more evenly-weighted lists or principles around which to circle an outline, which I feel have significant benefits in ensuring even pacing and a sense of “completeness,” particularly if one is drafting a work of creative nonfiction or memoir. That said, I might just love the intuitive means of the Grocery Store method best.

Grocery stores are easy to picture in the mind’s eye. They’re organized in intuitive ways, with snacks near drinks since they tend to be consumed together, and household cleaning supplies near pet supplies since, well, half of caring for a pet is cleaning up after her. (I’m putting off vacuuming right now. Why do cats have to have so much fur?) It’s also easy to put yourself in the mindset of a shopper in a grocery store: you go in with a few items you have to get on your list, but a couple of other things catch your eye as you walk up and down the aisles. This is where you need to be in order to use the Grocery Store method to outline your next book. Then, all you have to do is picture the contents of your work in progress as the produce filling the aisles. You can reflect this structure in a bullet point list (taking us alllll the way back to my first recommendation in respect to outlining!), or you can mock up a visual outline more along the lines of the Sticky Note method: sketch some aisles, and fill them with all the information you feel is important going into your book, leaving room for extra items to fill out the shelves as you get underway.

RESTAURANT

Last but certainly not least, the restaurant method is another outlining option I first read about in Sharon Watson’s outline post. This one is a little harder to visualize mentally, since Watson is sharing tips as an educator with other educators in mind, and her worksheets are designed with high schoolers in mind. The challenge she issues to her students is to picture the variety of restaurants and how they’re arranged, from a fast food restaurant to a buffet to a sit-down gourmet restaurant. In a sense, I can see this as a useful starting point in the quest to outlining your next book, as it may present you with a range of organizational metaphors from which you need only pick one to develop further using one of the other methods I’ve described over the last two of my own posts. I did think it worth including, however, simply because of its novelty; we’ve all heard of sticky notes and bullet points before, but have you thought of using a restaurant to outline your work before? Chances are there are some seeds of possibility there.

Looking for yet more information on outlining, and how to make it work for you? I’ll be back in two weeks to close out this series and to answer any questions you might have.

Thinking of you always. ♣︎

Elizabeth
Do you have ideas to share? Please don’t hesitate to drop us a line in the comments section, below.
ABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 20 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Director of Sales and Marketing for Outskirts Press. The Sales and Marketing departments are composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.

Self-Publishing News: 3.24.2021

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news from the world of
self-publishing

I love this piece from Barbara Winard of Travel Awaits, in which she chronicles her own path and progress from childhood as a reader to an adulthood as a travel writer. As she does so, she sets out to answer the all-important question: How can a person, much less a woman, much less a woman past 60, become a successful–and well-paid–travel writer? According to Winard, the answer is rather simple: First, become a reader; second, become a traveler; and third, embrace those unexpected changes that life tends to throw our way. (And let’s admit, after the year we’ve had, change is now something of a constant.) Winard closes her article with a series of lists, including tips for writers and those looking to raise their own profiles as travel-writers, and some reflections on what she might have done differently if the opportunity had presented itself. Spoiler: Winard credits her experiences as they were lived, rather than wished, with a great deal of her own personal evolution. She sees travel writing as a cluster of enriching events that she would rather not have gone without. Her full piece is well worth a look.

There has been plenty of talk over the last decade over the role of platform in empowering and promoting marginalized voices, from communities of color to voices from the LGBT+ community, from the deaf community to women as a whole. Even here on our news blog, we have lifted up and amplified the volume of news relating to the democratizing influence of self-publishing on the larger world of words. In this article from Forbes’ Bianca Barratt, Barratt opens by noting that “However far we like to think gender equity has progressed, the truth remains that the world of books is still very much a man’s one,” and points to statistics reflecting the numbers of men versus women winning literary awards, and the ease with which men (or women posing as men) pass through the agent and manuscript review process, compared to women. With all that has been spoken and written on the subjects of equal pay for equal work and equal advancement for equal contribution, this is (regrettably) far from a fresh topic than it is a retreading of familiar ground with the added message that one possible route to making progress in lifting up the voices of female entrepreneurs is by way of self-publishing. It is somewhat unfortunate that we still require tools such as these in the year 2021, but the good news is that all of us involved in self-publishing might just be in a position to help make a difference.

Substack, an e-newsletter platform, has been mixed up in the conversation about self-publishing from the very beginning, and its rapid expansion in the age of the pandemic has only expanded its presence in that conversation. This may not be quite right, opines Peter Kafka of Vox, who covers the current controversy surrounding Substack’s profit model. Kafka spoke with Jude Doyle, a non-binary influencer who started putting out newsletters through Substack in 2018 but is now choosing to abandon the site in favor of another, nonprofit, newsletter platform. Said Doyle, “Substack isn’t a self-publishing platform [….] It curates its writers. It pays them, sometimes massively, and it makes choices as to who gets paid well and who doesn’t.” It is not, Doyle argues (and Kafka records), truly aligned with the payment model most associated with self-publishing. While straightforward in splitting subscription fees with its authors and its payment processing company, the company also commissions authors to produce content by way of its “Substack Pro” deal, and in that model “the general thrust isn’t any different from other digital media platforms we’ve seen over the last 15 years or so.” From what we can see from the Vox article and others, the argument isn’t so much that the subscription model doesn’t work but that hidden contracts like those offered by “Substack Pro” lack transparency and cast a pall over all authors using the platform, even those legitimately self-publishing via its services. It’s a difficult and complex story to summarize, so we not only recommend reading Kafka’s article but also Megan McArdle’s opinion piece on The Washington Post (Opinion: The Substack controversy’s bigger story) and Annalee Newitz’s post (on Substack about Substack, in the most meta account of all) which helped kick off the entire discussion to begin with (Here’s why Substack’s scam worked so well: They paid a secret group of writers to make newsletter authorship seem lucrative). If you are an author who has been using Substack to self-publish or promote your other self-published work, we absolutely do not mean to cast any possible aspersions on your valuable work. Whether you choose to stick with this particular popular newsletter platform or move to one of its competitors (there will be more news soon from Facebook on this score, and both Medium and Ghost are providing additional color to the dialogue), we want you to receive the credit–and payment–due your hard work.

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As a self-publishing author, you may find it helpful to stay up-to-date on the trends and news related to the self-publishing industry.This will help you make informed decisions before, during and after the self-publishing process, which will lead to a greater self-publishing experience. To help you stay current on self-publishing topics, simply visit our blog each month to find out the hottest news. If you have other big news to share, please comment below.