Sunday, December 29, 2013

Overcoming Hurdles for Newbie Self-Published Authors

Since the early part of 2013, when I decided to put more effort into my writing and more effort into sharing my writing with others, I have come across many hurdles along the way that every new writer will most likely have to face in their journey as a newbie author.

The intent of this post is to share some of the hurdles I have encountered in the beginning with you and give you a little advice on how to get through them in your trek to become known, more widely read and/or published.

Hurdle #1

What do I write about?

You have decided to take the first step and write something.  Whether it is a poem, a short story, a novella, or a full blown epic novel, you have no idea what to write about.  I had this same problem of not knowing what to write about in the beginning, so I attempted to just write about nothing in particular.

The actual action of writing - pen to paper or fingers to keyboard - is a great way to get your mind flowing with ideas.  It does not matter if the ideas are not good, the fact remains that writing them down will get them out of your mind and out of the way.  This step will also determine what your writing genre will be and what you like to write about. 

To get over this first hurdle, just simply write whatever comes to your mind. Once you have written hundreds of words, most likely the cream will rise to the top and you will have some very good words and sentences written.  If not, keep writing ... the good stuff will manifest itself once the bad stuff gets out of the way.

Hurdle #2

Who will be the "name brand" I  will promote? 

This seems like an identity crisis question to some.  But it was not something I spent much time on in the beginning of this journey.

One day, after submitting my work to several websites and literary journals, I realized that maybe I would rather use an alias or use my initials instead of my first name as my writing nom de plume. 

Google and other search engines have an annoying way of keeping whatever name you associate with your work attached to the search criteria for years to come - this is something that is not easily "undone" in the digital age.

My best advice on this hurdle is to figure it out what your name brand is before you submit anything to anyone. 

Hurdle #3

Where do I let others see my writing?

This was a daunting question for me as well, so after I determined my writing genre (short stories), I Googled "short story submissions" to see what would come up.

There are thousands of short story contests, as well as world-renowned literary journals that are currently accepting submissions.  I started with the lesser known ones and submitted several of my short stories to them. This was strictly to test the waters and luckily, one editor (at Midlife Collage) liked one of my stories and gave it a chance to be read by a wider audience.

Another great way to keep your short story writing skills polished and have a little fun as well is to write flash fiction stories and submit them to contests.  There are tons of websites that have flash fiction contests, but the one I like the best is Indies Unlimited.  This was the very first place that I submitted several of my flash fiction stories (250 words or less) to and actually won a couple of their weekly contests. (CAVEAT - Do not blindly submit flash fiction or any other items to them, please seem "How Indies Unlimited Works" for further details.

To get past this hurdle, the best thing to do is to find places to submit your writing to that match the genre of your writing.

(If interested, please see the right hand side bar of this blog for several websites currently accepting submissions for various genres).

Hurdle # 4

How do I keep the momentum going? 

This is very tough and is the one hurdle that I had the most problems with. 

This sounds simple enough, but once you have a couple of "wins", you may get stuck in the high of success (however small that success may be) and put too much of your energy into getting those first few stories read by more people.

Focusing on promoting your work is okay to do -  if you remember to keep writing while you are marketing your previously written short story/poem/flash fiction items.  No new singer or musician wants to be a "one-hit wonder" and this holds true for new authors as well.

In the end, the answer to overcoming this hurdle is simply this - Keep writing. Period.

Hurdle # 5

When do I self-publish?

This is one of the most important questions to an indie author and one of the most important steps in this journey. The absolute worst thing a new author can do is to rush to publish their very first piece.

If you have not taken the time or effort needed to make sure your work is free of grammatical errors and edited properly, it is very evident to the readers and reviewers.

Some readers or reviewers will be kind and give you positive feedback, but others can be very hateful or spiteful and give you a bad review.  Either way, it is up to you to present your very best work as a first impression to your audience.  There is no second chance at a good first impression.

For this hurdle, the simplest answer that I have is this.  Publish when you are ready, or rather when your work is ready - not sooner.

A Closing Note

My hope is that this post will help the newest writers begin their journey.

If you have more advice for beginners or comments that would help newbie authors who plan to self-publish, please feel free to respond in the comments section below.

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Year in Review - 2013

As I near the end of 2013, it is time for me to reflect on the past twelve months of writing, work and life in general.

I do this every year (you know, the year in review thing), so this year is not any different than previous years - except for one thing.  This year I became an author.  Or rather, I became a published author.

When it happened, there were no crowds cheering, there were no offers of a book contract and there were certainly no buckets of cash delivered to my front door. And honestly, that is perfectly okay with me. 

The reason that all of this is perfectly okay with me is that I really do not like being the center of attention.  I am an introvert by nature and writing is a solitary thing.  It is something I can do alone and away from the chaos and drama in the world.

Besides, the main goal of my writing is not to become famous or wealthy like most authors strive to be, but to have an outlet that makes me content.  I write because it makes me happy. Period.

One other thing that is different this year is that I stepped out of my comfort zone and decided (actually forced myself) to expose others to my writing.  As luck would have it, many people actually liked my writing and this led to publication of several of my short stories.

The first two short stories were winners of a weekly flash fiction contest through Indies Unlimited - a wonderful place for writers/authors/reviewers to gather  ideas.  They also produce a yearly anthology of the flash fiction weekly winners which will be available on Amazon in early 2014.  (CAVEAT - Do not blindly submit flash fiction or any other items to them, please seem "How Indies Unlimited Works" for further details.

The third short story I submitted was an essay accepted for publication on another great website called Midlife Collage.  I did not have much hope of acceptance when I submitted my short story, "Her Name was Half Calf" to the editor.  But, again, as luck would have it, the editor liked my story and decided to showcase it along with four other stories in a weekly contest.  I was thrilled to win the contest along with a $50 prize. 

After the hubbub of winning the first few short story contests had died down, I decided to try NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month)  in November 2013.

The main reason for attempting NaNoWriMo was to determine if I had a full-length novel inside of me.  By November 25th, it appeared that I did indeed have a book inside of me waiting to be written.  The working title of my debut novel is "Before the Rooster Crows" and I am currently editing the draft for publication in mid to late 2014.

Since the end of November, I have been "cocooning" and keeping to myself for the most part. Along with working 10 - 12 hour days in my normal job as a systems engineer for a major bank and taking care of many family issues along the way,  I have been writing several more short stories to be included in a collection that I plan to publish on Amazon in the spring of 2014.

Looking back on 2013, I am pleased with the progress I have made as a writer/author, corporate worker, spouse and as a human being in general.  I have learned a lot this past year about myself and about the writing business.

To sum up the year in one sentence, it would be my most used mantra in 2013 - these five simple words:


Thank you, my dear readers for a wonderful 2013 and I look forward to what is to come in 2014.  May you all have peace, prosperity and happiness in the coming year.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Taking a Break from Facebook 

Over the past few weeks, I have noticed that instead of writing or editing, I was spending way too much time on Facebook.

It started out, innocently enough, as a reward for writing the daily word count goal during my first ever attempt to write a draft of a novel within NaNoWriMo.

Soon after the beginning of December, after I patted myself on the back for winning NaNoWriMo, I would skip days of writing so that I could "edit" the draft of my NaNoWriMo novel.

When editing was not really going the way I wanted it to, I then rationalized that my writing muse was exhausted or that my day job was taking up all of my time or a myriad of other excuses to convince myself that it was okay not to be writing.

Instead of writing or editing, I would sit for hours and go through the motions of  mindless "Facebook-liking" of people and pages that I had not even really taken the time to get to know, let alone taking the time to even determine if I truly wanted to like or  follow them on Facebook.  It became automatic, robotic and a very bad habit within a matter of just a few short weeks. Soon, I was getting so many invitations to so many pages, I could not keep up with it all. I became overwhelmed.

Once I realized just how much time I was wasting each and every day, I made the ultimate, conscious decision to unpublish my Facebook author page and deactivate my Facebook account in a rather startling, "cold-turkey", "pull-the-bandage-off-quickly" fashion.

I felt a little guilty about it, so I left my hundreds of Facebook friends a post stating that I was deactivating my account for the holidays (possibly longer) and wished them a happy holiday season.  In response to this, only a handful of people responded to the post and a couple of people sent emails expressing their concern.  But they all understood my need to take a break from it.

I am not sure if this break from Facebook will be a permanent one or just for the holidays.  But, I can say  one thing is certain ...  I have been 100% more productive in life and in writing since I stopped using Facebook just a mere twenty-four hours ago.  I feel a bit more focused now and am living life outside of my writing cave and away from my laptop.

If you are a Facebook addict like I was becoming, why not give it a break for a bit?

Trust me, your Facebook friends will still be there when you re-activate your account.  In all honesty, you true friends will still keep in touch with you even if you are not of Facebook.

Happy Holidays to All of You!