Of Concerts and Self-Publishing; Are They So Far Apart?

by Janis Patterson

I went to a concert a couple of nights ago. That’s not unusual – I’ve been in and out of concerts on both sides of the conductor for most of my life. What makes this one different is that it was an amateur orchestra – an organization of people who got together to play magnificent music just because they love it. No remuneration other than applause for a lot of time spent practicing and rehearsing. And the program was ambitious – all challenging works by Beethoven, Bizet, Tchaikovsky, Bach, Mozart and Dvorak. As the concert was free, the members of the orchestra even paid for the audience’s intermission refreshments out of their own pockets. This is the truest and most shining example of the word amateur – one who does something for the love of it.

Was the concert flawless? No. There were unintended sharps and flats here and there, and one of the second violins definitely needed more practice on his/her fingering, but in spite of the flaws – or perhaps because of them – the evening was most definitely enjoyable. It was not the icily-perfect rendition of a professional world-class orchestra (which I also love), and perhaps was the more charming because of it. The mistakes were not egregious, and the love the performers had for the work shone through every note, even the ‘off’ ones.

Over the years the word amateur has been tarnished to a near-slur, degraded to mean a fumbler, an incompetent, any number of other derogatory terms, but that’s not right. A true amateur is one who does the best he can, one who learns and simply for the love of something

There are exceptions, though, and we can find far too many of them among the plethora of self-published books flooding the world. An amateur musician realizes that at the very least he must learn the basics of music, that he should be able to reach a certain level of knowledge and technical ability before even attempting a concert. It seems that the amateur writer does not.

No one would think of saying “I’ve always wanted to play in an orchestra” then sit down in front of an audience, grab an instrument and start banging away on it without any knowledge, instruction or practice.  That, however, is just what so many wanna-be writers do. Just because they speak English with a modicum of proficiency they think they can write a novel. They string together a fair number of words and, convinced that they are only minutes away from being rich and famous or at the very least being regarded as that magical creature ‘a published author,’ throw the book up on any sales platform they can reach. The words developmental editor, copy editor or even spell-check do not seem to exist in their vocabulary. The resulting messes degrade the entire idea of self-publishing.

Like a lot of currently/formerly traditionally published authors I self-publish. There is a growing number of authors who have never done anything but self-publish who produce wonderful books, books that are often better than the current examples of traditional releases. Despite this, ‘self-published’ is used among the ignorant and the spiteful as a code word for amateurish (in its worst connotation) rubbish, and this hurts us all. If we cannot raise the level of knowledge among the unprofessional writers, we can at least do our best to correct a wide-spread notion among the public that all self-published books are a thing inferior. Even if some of them are.



Public Speaking, Self-Publishing and Scars

by Janis Patterson

Last weekend I gave a workshop at our local MWA chapter on self-publishing. Not that I’m an expert, or anything like that, but you realize that to be an authority on something you only have to know a little more than everyone else, and I have been self-pubbing since 2013. Besides, I was dragooned into it by my fellow chapter board members!

Normally when I give a workshop or a public speech I write it out, agonizing on the exact nuances of words and the rhythm of sentences. Yes, I am a control freak. Unfortunately, that means I usually read the presentation, making sure each word is exactly as I wrote it – in other words, giving a boring program that would have been better as a magazine article.

I don’t mind public speaking; it’s not my favorite thing to do, but it is easy and not unpleasant. I know there are some who are absolutely terrified to speak in front of people – my own dear mother was one – but I just don’t understand that. Know that such panicky fear exists, and accept it, but don’t understand it. I don’t see any difference between talking to five people or five hundred.

Anyway, due to work and life and other uncontrollable things I didn’t write down my speech – only made notes of topics that had to be covered. And agonized about their order; apparently you can’t turn off the control freak gene. It would be okay, I thought; we’re a small chapter and I know everyone there. Ha!

I was astonished at how quickly the room filled up. We finally ended up with more than double our usual attendance, and there were some people there I had never seen before. Well, it was too late to back out, so I sat down at my improvised speaker’s table, and started to talk. The Husband says there has never been a time I couldn’t talk!

I talked for over an hour, almost an hour and a half. (My father used to say, Wind her up and she talks…) There were some very intelligent questions, and some very elementary questions, but that’s okay, because everyone starts out not knowing everything – or sometimes anything. I stressed that what I was saying was based on my experience, that their mileage or choices might vary, that there were choices to be made that only they could make. That is the essence of self-publishing, I think – self responsibility. The choices you make will affect the results you get but – aside from a few basics – like to sell a book you have to finish it and get it out there – every choice and everything that is done devolves on you. If it gets done, you have to do it.

The workshop went rather well, though I must admit it was a little unsettling to see all these people – friends and strangers alike – scribbling down seemingly every word I said, just like I had maniacally taken notes at the workshops of important people. Yes, it was a bit of a rush – half elation and half sheer terror. And although public speaking doesn’t really faze me, I’m glad it’s over.

Will I do another one? I honestly don’t know. I’m glad I did this one. I hope that everyone there has an easier path to self-publishing because of what I said. I know I owe a lot to those who went before me into this brave new world, but even so I still accumulated my share of scars and mistakes. Perhaps that’s called growth

The Mystery of Romance – or is it the Romance of Mystery?

by Janis Patterson

Last weekend I was fortunate enough to be included on the panel at the public library sponsored Romance in Bonham, a nice county seat town a little over an hour away. The ladies of the library hold this event every other February, and it’s great fun. After the panel discussion and the book signing and everything is all over they provide the panelists and the family members they bring along a down-home potluck lunch. Always some of the best ‘lady food’ I’ve ever had! (Wish they’d do a cookbook…)

Although this is a romance-centric event, I brought several of my mysteries and was slightly astonished at the interest they generated. Apparently there is a growing interest for more mystery in romances – or more romance in mysteries. Both of which, I think, are a very good thing. For far too long readers and writers both have been pigeonholed into fairly rigid and unforgiving categories. Mystery was mystery. Romance was romance. Romantic suspense was a step in the right direction, but unfortunately it was soon codified into so much a percentage romance, so much a percentage mystery/adventure by most traditional publishers.

Now, almost in the manner of a superhero, self-publishing has started to break down the artificial barriers between genres, allowing them to become just stories with all kinds of elements. Want a mystery with lots of blood and danger and nary a kiss between characters? It’s out there. Want an exciting mystery where a couple falls in love while evading the bad guys/saving the world/whatever? It’s out there. Want a tender romance where a couple falls in love happily ever after while solving a usually gentle mystery? It’s out there. Want any combination of the above? Or just about anything else, including vampires, shapeshifters talking cats or kung-fu knitters? Even all at once? It’s out there.

I don’t know if the traditional publishers – the kind one finds on the shelves of your local bookstore, if there are many of those left – have twigged to how complete this revolution of thought is, but the virtual aisles of electronic/print on demand publishing are full of proof. You can find almost any permutation of any storyline now. Self and small publishing have opened up the world of stories, and readers/writers are no longer bound to restrict their desires to the small and rigid genres the trad publishers have decreed will make them the most money. True, in the days when traditional publishing reigned supreme and controlled not only content but distribution, print runs were enormous and had to be done ahead of release, then stored in gigantic warehouses. The publishers had to look to what would give the best return on their not-inconsiderable investment. Now, though, in the burgeoning world of electronic and print on demand self-publishing, such considerations are no longer the end-all and be-all of what’s available. Niche markets that were too small to interest the trad publishers are now flourishing and expanding.

And that’s all to the good. Choice is a good thing, and genre-blending is a good way to expand reader interest. If there is a downside, it’s that the freedom of self-publishing has opened the floodgates to an unbelievable amount of pure dreck. There are people who believe that not only putting down X number of words is writing a book, but that doing so will guarantee them fame and fortune. We can only hope that their number dies off quickly, because this wave of badly written, badly conceived and badly formatted messes is reflecting badly on self-published books as a whole. There are self-pubbed books (usually written by veterans – or perhaps we should say survivors – of the trad publishing industry) whose quality is unquestionably equal to or better than anything from the Big 5, but they are shadowed with the prevailing belief that all self-published books are rubbish. That’s a misconception that only time and persistence can alter. But it will, it surely will, and writers and readers the world over will benefit from it.


Dying for a Deadline

IMG_1610By JL Simpson

Last year I decided to take on a new role. Not only was I going to be the author of my Daisy Dunlop mystery series, but I was also going to be the publisher. Gone were the days of typing ‘the end’ and then sending it off to someone else to do all the other stuff. Now I needed to sort out an editor, a cover artist, learn to format the finished masterpiece, set up accounts with Ebook retailers and finally to upload and publish the books. The feeling of power when you’re master of your own destiny is amazing. I can give books away, change the price, advertise where I want, and do my own thing with the plots, provided the readers still enjoy the story.

This was all positive stuff. I love power, it’s a heady drug. But with the positive comes a couple of negatives. The first, if my books fail I only have myself to blame, and the biggest negative of all, no one is cracking the whip. I don’t have anyone to set deadlines for me, and that can be a real problem.

From my experience people fall into two categories, those who are self-motivated and 19386145_snormal people. Self-motivated people are the ones who set their own goals and meet them. You seem them out running as the sun’s rising. Meanwhile, normal people are flailing an arm out from under the bed covers in a desperate bid to hit the off switch on the alarm clock whilst mumbling “coffee” into the pillow, hoping their spouse will rise to the challenge and get the much needed caffeine fix they require to jump start their brain.

19117412_sSelf motivated people nibble on a salad, whilst normal people inhale doughnuts swearing they’ll get back to dieting next week. Self motivated people stride down the confectionery aisle at the grocery store without so much as a sideways glance, because chocolate is not on the list. Self motivated people have organised desks, tidy houses, color co-ordinated wardrobes, their whole lives are planned, and everything runs like clockwork. They don’t forget to pay a bill, or realize they are out of milk after the stores are shut for the day. They’re not the ones running around the shopping mall on Christmas Eve looking for gifts.

If you want to be an Indie Author then you need to keep working. I’ve just read a book called, “Write, Publish, Repeat” and it’s brilliant. It says the way to success is to keep getting books out there. The more books you publish the easier it is for readers to find you. So you might think, seeing as I have only two books to my name, I’d be writing up a storm, but you’d be wrong.

I have the curse of being a normal person. My desk is cluttered, as is my mind. My house is clean but untidy, my color co-ordination is hit and miss. I forget my glasses. I lose my keys. I even forgot my son when he was a new born and left him parked at the meat counter in the supermarket until the girl at the checkout asked when my baby was due.

My day job is deadline driven. As a tax accountant their are lodgement dates that need to 36965961_sbe adhered to. Miss one of those and the tax office let you know about it. At work I’m organised and regimented because big brother is watching. With my writing no one is watching. I used to write to publisher’s deadlines. I used to have a critique partner who read along one chapter at a time telling me to hurry up and write the next, but her career took off and I was lost in the madness of it all. Now it’s all down to me.  Time marches on. Days, weeks, months fly by with little progress.

I may never stick to my diet, wear clothes that go together, tidy up my desk, empty my inbox, remember my sister’s birthday, but if I ever want to make something more than an on-again off-again hobby of writing I simply have to get a grip. And the best way to do that is set a deadline. I know that if I’m ever going to focus and finish book 3 in my Daisy Dunlop Series I need to set a publication date and book an editor. Maybe I should set a date for just before Christmas, but that still leaves the question, ‘which Christmas?’

JL Simpson

Where mystery and mayhem collide.

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