SHINE ON SELF-PUBLISHED AUTHORS SERIES – AUTHOR ANNELI PURCHASE

Anneli Purchase (1)

When other four-year-olds were drawing pictures, I was trying to copy my mother’s handwriting. Later, in elementary school at Composition time I eagerly awaited my mark out of ten when the teacher handed back my writing. I remember the sting of being criticized for using the word “stuff.” At the time I saw nothing wrong with using “stuff,” but now I realize that there are many better words I could have used to add more detail. That was one of my first lessons in becoming a better writer.

As an adult, I wrote emails to a friend overseas, relating funny outdoor adventures I’d enjoyed. The friend’s computer crashed and he lost my emails. “Do you still have your old emails?” he asked. “Could you send them to me again?”

“No, I don’t keep my emails.”

“Oh no!” he wrote, “They were really good.”

The Wind WeepsThat got my wheels turning. Maybe I should pursue this hobby. I really love it so why not get more serious about it? I joined the local writers’ group. Not only did I learn a lot about how to write, but I met good friends there.

One of these friends became my trusted critiquing buddy. We encouraged each other to write. We critiqued and copy-edited each other’s work. We went to the Surrey Writers’ Conference together, in Surrey, B.C., with high hopes.

We each had a novel written and would pitch to the agents at the conference. I had no idea what to say in a pitch or how to refine my approach, but after the first one I began to get the idea. One of the agents asked me to send in 50 pages. I thought that sounded hopeful, but it soon became another rejection and I realized that a lot of agents ask authors for 50 pages.

The conference was by no means a failure. The day before the general writing workshops began, we took two master classes on some aspect of effective writing. At the end of the day, we were exhausted from the day’s travel and the intensive classes, but we both felt the master classes were so valuable that the rest of the conference would be a bonus. We had already experienced the best part.

During the ensuing year, my friend and I polished our novels with renewed enthusiasm. We were ready for the next year’s conference and the free pitch sessions. We soon discovered that many of the agents smiled and said nice things, but lost interest because we had no “platform.” I learned that if you were saleable you stood more of a chance, especially if you already had ten thousand potential customers lined up to buy your book.

Orion's Gift (1)Still naive, we went to a third conference, this time in Portland, Oregon. Here my friend and I pitched to the same agent each in our own time slot. We were each given reason to hope for good results.

Also, we had gone to a workshop that was a bit like American Idol. A volunteer read the first page of the manuscripts submitted anonymously, and a panel of three experts who knew what an agent would be looking for would raise their hands when the reader should stop, meaning they had lost interest.

Our first pages passed the test and were read all the way through without the hands of disapproval being raised. That was very encouraging for us, so we thought that the friendly agent we had both pitched to, would be seriously interested in our novels. More on that later.

The other thing of note at this conference is that one of the agents I had pitched to in Surrey, was at the Portland Conference giving a workshop on self-publishing. When asked why the complete about-face, she said, “The small publishers are buying each other up. They can’t compete with the big publishers, and e-books are the new thing. I’m going with the new trend.” That got our wheels turning, and for the first time my friend and I seriously considered self-publishing.

What put the icing on the cake was when we got the identical rejection email from the agent we pitched to, who didn’t know we knew each other. The character names and novels were changed but we each got the same ridiculous suggestion about fleshing out the characters more (in the first two pages of the novel). The agent had made multiple spelling and typo mistakes. We thought, yes, this is the last straw. Why would we give this person money when we could have it ourselves by self-publishing? We know our work is good. The “American Idol” style workshop reaffirmed that for us. So we helped each other along the way, and self-published.

Since then, I’ve heard horror stories of friends who have published with traditional publishers and they’ve all said the same thing: the publishers don’t do much marketing or advertising for you anymore, and the percentage of the profits paid to the author is a pittance compared to what self-published authors get.

Julia's Violinist (1)Having said that, I want to add that it is a long hard road to market your own books, no matter how good they are. You are up against the many e-books that are not edited properly and give self-publishing a bad reputation, and you must constantly work at putting yourself out there to let people know you have novels that they would enjoy.

Some websites and blogs with a large number of followers offer advertising. This is one way to market a novel. Local libraries often host authors for readings. Building your network and continuing to write and publish will eventually get you noticed. As you build your “platform,” it’s important to make sure that all your published work is correct and properly edited. Few of us, even great writers, do a good job of editing our own work, so hire a copy-editor and publish high quality writing.

Don’t despair if the sales are not what you expected. It all takes time. But, don’t go out and buy that Ferrari just yet. Few authors get rich from their writing, so the bottom line is, “You have to love your work.”

 Anneli’s books can be purchased online at  amazon.com and she writes frequently on her blog Words From Anneli

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