Around 2 p.m. this past Sunday, I finally forced myself into my old SUV and pointed it away from my summer sanctuary, the campground where Steve and I had parked our ancient fifth-wheel for the last four months. I'd been fighting the inevitable - that the short Prince Edward Island summer was officially over, that the hot summer days and peaceful sunset walks along the beach had come to a close.Read More
Which it is. Dark and stormy.
Although in Prince Edward Island, it is not yet night.
It is, however, nearing the end of a rather unproductive late September afternoon. Seems fitting to wrap up this rainy day with a few thoughts about self-publishing.
This is for those of you potentially interested in embarking on a self-publishing journey. For the newbies out there, not those who have already dissected every self-publishing blog ever posted.
Ok, so here's the secret to self-publishing:
That's it. Don't tell me you don't have time. If you really want to write, you'll make time. If you want to self-publish, reach out to people like myself who once asked others for help. I would rather see you try than throw in the towel before you give yourself a chance.
This is the thing about me. To borrow an old cliche, I'm like a dog with a bone. If I want something bad enough, I'll go out and get it. Still, I get scared. Technology drives me crazy. But I once went to a workshop with a wonderfully inspiring P.E.I. writer, Patti Larsen, who said, "You can do this." And she proceeded to show me how. Did I get stuck along the journey? Yep. So I gritted my teeth and scribbled off an email to this gal who I now consider a rock star in the writing world. Guess what? She answered.
Patti taught me a lot over the years. First, she encouraged me to try self-publishing. Second, she took me a step further by sitting me (along with a few other newbies) down and showing me how to format documents as ebooks for Smashwords, Kobo, and Kindle. Prior to this mini-workshop I was using a company I liked (still like) very much, but they were expensive and any time I wanted to make a change to my books (egads, a typo? Me? Never! Uh, well...nobody's perfect!) I was required to pay a fee. By learning to format text myself, I could upload to Smashwords, who distributes to a number of channels including Barnes & Noble and iBooks, and then I could upload to Kindle (Amazon) and Kobo separately so that I could monitor my sales on a day to day basis at will. Plus I could easily swap my documents out when need be, at will. For free.
So...books online...sales happening, exciting reviews coming back and then...hmmmm, spending a lot of money on cover designs (well worth it, because my covers are beautiful as well as award-winning, and have sold many a book for me)...see?
ALSO spending a bit on editing...printing books for island bookstores...and I realize I need to step up my game. What do I do? Well, I scribble off another note to my rock star mentor, of course!
I wrote to Patti Larsen again (of Family Magic fame, amongst others, in case you are wondering) - see?
Her cover is gorgeous too! And the book (series) is compelling and original!
Best part? Patti is a lesson in 'giving.' And in giving well. She is gracious and sweet, and my next outreach to her resulted in a private meeting over cafe mochas at a cozy Charlottetown cafe. The question on the agenda?
"How the heck do I market my books?"
Her answer? Which was wise and delivered with an air of 'you can do this,' was both practical and realistic.
"This is a marathon, not a sprint."
Meaning, of course, that self-publishing a book (or books) is not gonna garner instant success. One day at the gym will not bring you a toned bikini butt. One day at the gym might get you sore and tired and maybe a little intimidated. But taking that first step might also inspire you to work towards something better, towards a healthier lifestyle that includes a wee bit of social time along with your Zumba.
Patti did give me some inklings as to how to embark upon the marathon. Mailing lists (some are better than others), price promotions (I'm doing one now! A Song For Josh is only $2.99 til the end of October on Amazon, Kobo, etc.). See? (I seem to like saying this!)
(Or I guess only $ 2.25 in US dollars!)
But mostly what I learned from Patti is that there is no 'silver bullet.' When it comes to ebook marketing, you need a good book (or series) and a helluva lotta patience. Best advice most writers will share with newbies like yourself?
Just keep writing.
Patti has it figured out. She is brilliant at the writing part. She is an absolutely lovely woman who can really spin a yarn in an entertaining and engaging way. But she can also market.
She is a writing rock star who taught me a lot (and who continues to share her knowledge with myself and others). And so I am happy to give back as well, to 'pay it forward,' I guess you could say.
So, Newbie. This leaves you. Are you sitting there with your finger quivering over the mouse, wondering whether or not you should drop a note and say hello? Are you wondering whether this is a journey you might want to take, but you're afraid because you aren't sure you can? Well, click that mouse and say hello. Take this journey, one step at a time. And don't hesitate to ask those of us who have come before you for a hand. We are happy to help.
This is the most amazing journey I have ever taken. (I would add this - packing up my old Sunfire and driving my kid and myself across the country to live in Vancouver to go to Film School at age 41, but let me just say that was simply terrifying. So I won't - although it had its own perks and life lessons!).
If you're not sure whether you want to try, run a little test. Ask yourself this - do you have a burning passion to tell a story? Do you stare at others' books all lined up on Kindle or bookstore shelves and visualize your name on the book cover? Do you hang out with your characters when you're lonely or depressed and wish they were real? (Ha ha! Yup. I do.) Then do yourself a favour and don't let fear stop you from realizing your dreams. Reach out to someone who has mapped this world before you, or if you're shy don't be afraid to go to the gazillion other blogs out there in Google-land. Navigate your way through the ins and outs. Make the Google search bar your friend.
And share your stories with the world.
May I just add one little note - thank you, Patti.
A high school friend of mine...
...(you know who you are!)...saw a photo I posted on Facebook a few days ago and said This reminds me of Jessie .. beautiful, beaten, broken :( .
Here's the photo:
There are a few things I find interesting about her observation. One, Jessie was on her mind while she scrolled through Facebook in her leisure time. Two, I've been taking a few of these kinds of pics lately (so what does this say about me?). And three, what is it about Jessie Wheeler that leaves a lingering effect on people? As my friend added, It's like she is my friend that I have this unhealthy loyalty to...and who doesn't have a friend like that? One who is a train wreck and you know it - but you can't help yourself...you are her biggest fan, her biggest critic, you could kick her arse and dry her tears...she exhausts you, but you can't and will never give up on her...
As more and more readers discover the Drifters series, many are reaching out to me. It's quite humbling, and I find myself trying to figure out what it is that makes Jessie resonate with folks. My high school friend nailed it. She's battered and broken, yet she's got this inner beauty that comes forward in her music and in her way of seeing the world and the people in it, that gives her the strength and courage to go on.
I struggled a little last week - I feel a bit lost now that the Drifters series is done. I spent most of the summer writing new drafts (yes, plural - takes twelve drafts to get to the first real draft) of my screenplay, formerly Atlantic Blue and currently known as Still the Water. I enjoyed writing the story, but now it's all down to business, which is much less fun than writing - do I sell this thing? (My L.A. mentor says yes, get it into the marketplace). So I wrote some query letters and had some interest right away, but was then told by one producer that my film is a six million dollar film and as an unknown SELF-PUBLISHED writer with no meaningful awards, I am not bankable at that level. (I was a Finalist in the 2011 Writing Atlantic Writing Awards for unpublished manuscripts, but I guess that is small potatoes, ha ha!)
That's fair, it's totally fair, and I admired her honesty. But I guess this is where the Jessie in me comes in. I've been struggling for a lot of years to find my real place in this world (aren't we all?) and comments like these (which, let's face it, feel like defeat) make me feel a little smaller, a little more beaten, a lot more battered. But - back to Jessie - I have this pull to keep going. To regroup, to say, okay, so it seems like the odds are against me, so how do I turn this around and make it work? And I think this is a lesson for all of us. Many of us are too quick to throw in the towel on our dreams and on our hopes, or maybe even in relationships with lovers, with family, with friends. Filmmaking is a tough world - how do you find money to shoot something when the world seems bleak and at this point you don't even know when you'll see your son again because flights to Vancouver aren't cheap? Why does the world have to revolve around money, anyway? I get such joy from writing...but writing is fantasy, not reality. Filmmaking is fantasy. Some would say Get your head out of the clouds! Get a real job!
It's so easy to have people tell you that you can't do something. This film needs six million dollars in order for it to happen...I disagree. I live on P.E.I. where there is no media incentive to help cut costs, but where there is interest from local MLAs and even our Mayor to see this film happen here. Where there is a quick Sure, you can shoot in my rink, and I won't charge you, and a We can get you some office space at no charge, and a I'd be happy to help (from a local fisherman). Steve says there are tons of old fishing boats we can sink (oops, spoiler alert), and guys that would likely haul it (and remove it again from its resting place) for free. There are actors looking for work and, sadly, even N.S. crew who would likely come over and help since their province has messed their industry up rather royally, I don't mind saying. Sure, crew might have to accept being billeted, but Summerside's good for that - our townsfolk always jump in and help out when they are needed. I could likely even find volunteers to help with the driving, or the food-making, you name it. Retired folks, for instance, looking for something to do for a few weeks in the winter. (Let me add that I would pay those who make their living in the industry - crew, for instance. I would pay whomever I could - but I know there are some folks not in need of funds who would help out if needed as well, in order to see this film get made in Summerside, to give us a little economic boost and a lot of fun, and something else to be proud of).
My point is, sure, my film could be a six million dollar film. It could be a twenty million dollar film. Or it could be a 2 million dollar film. Could it be less than that and still look good? Heck, yeah. I can tell a story. I can be resourceful. And I feel most like myself when I am on a film set in jeans and a T-shirt, and brown cowboy boots, ha ha! (Gotta focus on Jessie's resilience, might as well borrow her boots!). What I can't be is someone who lies down and doesn't try something just because someone tells me I can't.
This producer gal (who I really liked, truly, she was someone I know I can work with if I ever get the opportunity) ended the conversation by saying I hope I didn't discourage you. She did, for an hour. But I was off to the shore to spend the rest of the day with Steve and I didn't want to bum him out because I was bummed out, so I rallied. (Thank you, Jessie). So what I also can't be is someone who gets defensive and upset if the world doesn't always go my way. Instead, I choose to take Jessie's attitude (or maybe she has mine?) which is beat me and batter me, but I will remain beautiful. To others and, especially, to myself.
A little music goes a long way when one is having a hard day. This guitar was taking a rest at Twin Shores' Mussels and Music last Saturday, and I was feeling wonderful, singing along to Sweet Caroline (Bamp bamp bamp!!!) as loud as everyone else despite the gnarly hit to my soul earlier in the day. I've since rebounded and am thinking again about making this film myself. I suppose it's partly because I'm afraid other producers might also not see me as a bankable entity, despite the fact that readers are constantly telling me the Drifters series is their favorite series ever. (Not bragging, I swear, although my self-published little ego needs that bit of a pump up once in a while)!
We're all broken and battered in one way or another. Do my challenges compare to those of the Syrian refugees? No. Let's keep things in perspective here. Thankfully what gets me down is not the same as what Jessie's up against, either, unless you count on a metaphorical 'single parent broke seemingly forever' kind of thing.
My message to you today is to keep on going. Keep up the fight. If Jessie Wheeler can help you stay positive and reach through to tell you that you are okay, that you are still loveable and your dreams are still attainable despite what you might think deep down inside, then she's done her job. And I've done mine.
Now I just need to keep listening to her myself, huh? And maybe someday Still the Water will get made.
In the meantime, here's a tune to brighten your day. Lemme hear ya! Bamp bamp bamp...!
P.S. FREE for the next five days on Amazon, my critically acclaimed short story from the novel of the same name -
P.P.S. Um, this one's FREE for five days as well...happy reading!
Before you panic and think I'm ready to shuffle off this mortal coil, let me just say I've had days when I kinda felt ready to go. I was tired and disillusioned, and (let's blame this on hormones), my PMS was getting the best of me (may as well tell it like it is, eh girls?).
But these days, nah, I'm good. What I mean by running into the sunset is that I realize time is marching on and the days left for me to accomplish my goals are becoming limited, or, shall I say, more limited. Does that scare me? You bet your girdle it does! But that awareness has actually, of late, been serving as one great big push. And I think that's a good thing. So I'm running, with my head held high and my biggest dreams still on the bucket list.
Today's been a weird day so far. I had to go to Chartlottetown (about an hour from my home in Summerside) to see my eye doc. On the way home I passed two sandstone inukshuks and a big sign that read something like, 'You're never too old to follow your dreams.' Of course, me being me, I was listening to sad iTunes songs as I drove, yet my heart was filling with a growing excitement. I will also add that, me being me, I felt that both of the inukshuks as well as the sign were, of course, placed by that particular stretch of earth-shattering gorgeous Prince Edward Island highway for me to see. For one, I never drive home on Hwy One, yet today I did, for a change (lots of eye appointments equals lots of driving time, and I get bored), and for two, I've been thinking a lot about ageing lately.
I think when a person spends their entire adult life driven by an all-consuming passion to fulfill one's dreams, one tends to start some sort of countdown as the years tick by. Lately though, like today, I feel like I'm being handed a number of messages telling me that it's okay, life's not over yet, I can stop counting and just enjoy each moment, and it's not too late to make the rest of those dreams come true. (If it is too late? Well, what's the point of worrying? Enjoy today!)
I've been working on a museum contract at the Wyatt Heritage Properties these last few months, and, let me tell you, you begin to appreciate how sacred life is when you run your fingers over a magnificent dovetail-jointed writing desk lovingly created by a nineteenth century craftsman. Suddenly life becomes this whirlwind vortex that you can't begin to wrap your mind around because your days are peopled by folks who no longer exist (well, maybe they do, in spirit). You read journals and notes left in cubbyholes that were meant for you to find. These have messages like this one - that a particular Windsor style chair was handmade by the rather famous Barnett Wilt from Fortune, P.E.I., who made it around 1850.
You realize that the person who left the notes was once breathing in and out the same way you are. And that she was surrounded by family who also roamed the beautiful old Victorian home where you are now so carefully and lovingly studying the furniture left behind, the tangible proofs of their existence, where they stored their things, where they snacked on cucumber sandwiches, where they played the piano and entertained lonely airmen training for war at the local flying school.
Working in the museum world is incredibly humbling.
But working amongst ghosts has also given me a rush of energy to get out there and get moving on my next creative project. Will my name be left in cubbies for future generations to find? Perhaps my books will live on and some young gal will pull one out of a dusty drawer and wonder who Susan Rodgers was. Will she blow off the dust and give it a read? Will Jessie Wheeler, Josh Sawyer and Jacob Ryan live on? And what about the folks y'all have yet to meet - Jordie MacAulay and Abby Ryan? (Yeah, Ryan is a family name, guess that's why it shows up in a few of my books! And why do so many of my characters have names that start with J? I dunno, that just happened. Worked out great for my new wrist tattoo, lol!).
The point is…thinking about the past can make speculating about the future much more relevant. It's interesting to look behind me and see how what I've done before has informed the present. My life is seriously a bunch of big puzzle pieces that are only now starting to fit together and make sense.
My Ophthalmologist, Doc O'H, I call him, put it quite succinctly. (Yeah, we rarely discuss my eye, that's almost an afterthought after years of seeing the guy for the same eye issue - instead he's like a wise sage whose advice and thoughts I've come to cherish). Anyways, Doc O'H once said I needed to do other things in my life in order to get me to where I am now, and to feed the knowledge and experience I need now. I tend to agree. During those 'down' times, I got discouraged as hell. Damn straight I did. We all do when things don't seem to be going the way we want them to. But suddenly now it's like a big 'ole rainbow is opening up. A friend of my mother's told me, when I was seventeen, that I would be a late bloomer (yeah, she was talking about my boobs, but I ate lots of red smarties and they came around…ha ha…). These days I am giving her thoughts another perspective. I am saying in terms of dreams, I'm blooming late.
But whatever. We're all on our own path. Who says life has to be sorted by the time you're twenty-five, thirty, forty, fifty, or even sixty? I am forty-nine, and not afraid to admit it. I'm in the best shape of my life thanks to tons of Yoga, Pilates, and Zumba, mostly. My guy is even older and he looks amazing (trust me, yum). I just finished an eight novel series that is exploding in popularity (scary in its own way), and I am blessed beyond belief to have been accepted into the 2015 PEI Screenwriters' Bootcamp, which starts this Saturday.
I am not making any predictions as to how things will go for me. There are too many factors beyond my control to even consider. But I hope I travel safely to and from the bootcamp, and I intend to work my new Yoga butt off to make the next dream happen. The dream is my feature film, Atlantic Blue, which I will be fine-tuning as a screenplay at the bootcamp, and will also be writing as a novel this summer.
Mucho work is about to begin again - seeking investors, financing, a team to help make the film happen…you name it. But I'm disciplined and beyond excited, because there is nothing in this world that, to me, equals the simple MAGIC of matching story to image and image to music. I've accomplished that in the books, to a certain degree, but now I want to give Drifters fans (and new fans) the next level of what I know I am capable of in terms of evoking passion and inspiration. (Y'all know my stories are about down on their luck folks who find ways to believe in themselves…right?).
Getting older? Pshaw. I'm becoming wiser and more at peace every day. I hope you are too. 'Cuz you reading this blog is my kick in yer everlasting pants to get out there and make your own dreams come true. Ain't nobody gonna do it for you. So stop whining. Stop looking for others to blame. Just - make - it - happen.
I'm gonna try.
Whatever happens, happens. I've got the time this summer, I've got the support, and I've got the desire.
Atlantic Blue, it's time. You are NOW.
Where's that stunning Prince Edward Island sunset? I'm running towards it, with my arms outstretched, with a wide and joyful smile, and with music in my heart.