My Indie Story (And Why I still *Heart* My Agent)

myindiestoryThere are a gazillion reasons why authors choose to go the “indie” route. (Wanting to use the word gazillion to the chagrin of every publisher out there might be one of them…. :-))

They want more control over covers and editing, more share of the profit, quicker publication. They may be tired of waiting and/or writing in a niche market that isn’t served by traditional publishers… the reasons are as wide and varied as the genres they write in.

I thought I’d share my story and my motivations, and why I still want, value, and love my agent.

IMG_5199My story is a complicated one. When I signed with my first agent and got that coveted first publishing contract, I was in the throes of a personal trial that was, to say the very least, difficult. My fourth daughter was born in 2010 with half of a heart and spent her first 308 days in the hospital.

About three weeks after she came home from the hospital, on oxygen and twenty different medications, and after four open heart surgeries including a heart transplant, an editor offered me a contract. I was also offered representation by an agent, all in the same week.

On one hand, I was ecstatic. This was my dream come true. And considering I’d given up my pay-the-bills day job to take care of my daughter, it felt like amazing timing.

What I didn’t factor in was a fun case of stress induced depression, ongoing medical issues with my daughter (including one very scary helicopter ride which included CPR… Boo!) and the immense stress of editing on a deadline and trying to market a book–all the while dealing with those deeply difficult, personal trials.

SandwichOnce my book came out, I kinda collapsed. I was exhausted and needed a timeout. I took the next year to recharge and focus on my family. Writing was almost laughable during that time.

When I finally emerged during the fall of 2013 and felt God nudging me to write again, I was met with a few stark and depressing realities regarding my writing career.

1.) Releasing a novel without a follow-up anytime soon does not make for grand sales history.

2.) Trying to market a book well during such a difficult time also doesn’t breed super quality sales either. While my book didn’t totally bomb, it fell much below my expectations, which probably didn’t help my depression either!

3.) Even if I polished up my finished manuscript and had my agent immediately submit it, due to publishing schedules, it’d probably be at least two years or more before it would actually be published, thus making a span of close to three years between book releases. The business side of me knows that isn’t ideal for marketing purposes.

So what to do?Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000026_00095]

I needed a book release sooner than later, and a way to build back up the platform I lost during my mental-health break. I looked at all those indie authors and wrinkled my nose. No. I’m a writer, not a publisher. That is not what I want at all.

But the more I rejected the idea, the more God pushed me toward it. Then ideas started flowing… what if I did some followups to the first book? Maybe some novellas, then finish out the series with a full-length?

The thought blossomed over a few months. God gave me some fun ideas for books and titles and put some amazing indie-authors in my path to teach me the ropes. I am forever thankful to them!

And you know what?

I don’t regret it for a moment. My sales haven’t been astronomical. My “grand plan” is to release three novellas then a final “full length” to wrap up the series, while my fabulous agent works her magic with a new series.

I’m using the three novellas as trial books, trying different marketing strategies on each to see what works, what doesn’t, and what I can do better. The first book, A Side of Faith, came out in August, 2014, and the second, A Side of Hope, came out March of this year.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000026_00095]A Side of Love will release later this year, and the full length, The Greatest is Love, will release in 2016.

It’s been a lot more fun than I thought it would be. I’d originally dreaded every single step in the process, but the idea of being a hybrid author is intriguing.

At this point, I don’t see myself going “full” indie. I LOVE my agent (waving to Sarah) and LOVE working on a team with a publisher. I know this idea isn’t embraced by all indies, and that’s super okay. What is good for one is not for another.

But this is my Indie story, and I’m very thankful I followed God’s leading and stepped out of my comfort zone. In the end, my hope and prayer is that my indie books and my traditional books can work hand-in-hand to help each other.

What about you? Have you ever thought of indie publishing? Why or why not? While I don’t claim to be an expert, I’m happy to answer what questions I can!

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Should Indie Publishing Be For You?

stack-letters-447578_640The average writer is no longer required to only do one form of publishing these days. When I started to investigate the literary world ten years ago, publishing houses just a few years before had started taking queries exclusively from agents and to publish your book without a publishing house was a frowned-upon shortcut for those who didn’t want to do the work on their book to make it publishable. Getting an agent to represent you was difficult as there were only a handful in the industry, but publishing houses wouldn’t look at your work without an agent and agents wanted you to come to them with a contract in hand.

Now, there are more agents than editors—all of them with projects they want to pitch to the handful of remaining houses, hoping their well-known or debut author will strike the fancy of the over-worked editor on the other side of the desk.

In consequence, agents are finding it increasingly difficult to land their talented authors and those that are landed are getting smaller deals or having to settle (which isn’t always settling depending on the author’s attitude) for a smaller house.

Publishing is far from what it used to be. Even as a reader, you can’t help noticing this fact.

So where does this leave the writer who is struggling to get picked up, is consistently being told that their product is good and has interest, but no publishing house is up for actually buying it? Are you settling to indie publish or are you giving yourself a leg up in a vastly changing industry?

First: It depends on the type of writer you are. Are you a go-getter? Are you fascinated by the publishing process and like having the control in your hands over the cover design, interior layout, editorial, content, price and release dates, just to name a few? Then indie publishing could quite possibly be for you.

Second: Indie publishing should not be your choice just because you haven’t been able to sell in a larger market. While it is often the #1 reason writers investigate this avenue, it shouldn’t be your only reason. Why? Because in our impatience to have a book published, oftentimes we can overlook the major flaws that have caused us to be rejected.  Which leads to my third point.

Third: Find out why you’ve been rejected as best you can. Is it because the publisher doesn’t think your topic will sell right now or is it a structure/voice/grammar/ability to write issues? To succeed at indie publishing, you’re still going to have to do the work, which means you better have a darn good product to release. Readers aren’t going to care if you’re publishing with a Big Five house or your own press; you write a poor story, that baby ain’t going anywhere.

Fourth: Be prepared to do the work. There aren’t any shortcuts about this: indie publishing is hard work. But then again, so is traditional publishing. There should be much wisdom taken into the decision to self-publish. If this is for you, I absolutely encourage you to get out there and get it done and I’ll be the first in line to buy your well-done product.

Self-publishing is all about the research. Research is King in this industry and knowing what you’re getting into beforehand, as best you can, is definitely Queen. Do your homework, ask those who have gone before you and succeeded and failed. On both sides of the fence. In doing this, you’ll be best prepared to make the right publishing decision for you.

Question: would you ever indie publish your books? What do you see are the pros and cons? And if you are a published indie author, what do you love or hate about the process?

How My Agent Found Me

agent found me

My agent found me.

It’s true.

I didn’t believe it at first either.

And I am oh, so grateful. Her council, editorial skills, business savvy, and contacts make a huge difference in my budding career.

And I know… it doesn’t seem fair.

How exactly did she find me?

Through two chapters released to The Festival of Faith and Writing in Grand Rapids, Michigan in 2012. As a participant of the conference, I submitted part of my memoir for agents to review.

Sarah Joy Freese found my chapters, and contacted me for the full manuscript.

But why did she find me?

Because people I met along my writing journey told me to work hard.

And I need to be able to say this although it feels a little strange, like a pat on the back or something, but I realize now that I did work hard. I worked hard and long for her to find me.

If you want an agent to find you, here are four things you can do.

1) Write well.

Make sure your writing continues to improve. Read a lot. Write even more. Attend a class. Submit your work for critique. Spend time in the chair, churning out pages. If your writing isn’t at its best, even if an agent finds you, he probably will pass.

2) Build your platform.

Gone are the days of a writer hiding away in an upstairs attic penning the next great American novel. In the publishing world today, writers have to do more than write beautifully. They need to build a following. Want to learn more about this idea? Read Seth Godin’s book Tribes.

Warning: when you begin to work on a platform, you will feel ridiculous. When I started a Facebook author page, I joked with my friends about ‘fans’ liking the newest dirty diaper I changed at home. As a stay-at-home-mom with four children to wrangle, I didn’t think I was qualified to have a fan page, but I did have a goal: to publish a book. So I began.

Other platform ideas: blogging, speaking, writing e-books, the list can get really long and daunting. The important thing is to start, and to remember platform building as an important element to your future in publishing. It needs to grow with your writing skills. You need to be a package deal.

3) Have polished, edited chapters of your current work in progress ready.

Spend time on a couple of your favorite chapters in your work in progress. Make them strong. Hire or ask someone you trust to edit them. Rewrite them. Rewrite them again. Make sure that even if you don’t know every nuance of the book that you have a general idea of the story arc, so that your chapters fit when you pitch the idea to the agent.

My husband and I cobbled together funds so I could pay two freelance editors to work through drafts of my recently published memoir Sun Shine Down. After writing a third draft of the same book, I started to feel like I had something I could show someone with my head held high. Yes, it takes work, and time, but your best work is worth it, and it is your best chance to have an agent ask to see more.

4) Attend writers conferences.

Before attending conferences, I queried countless agents to no avail. I hardly got back a standard rejection email.

I can’t stress enough how helpful conferences were/are to my career. In 2012, I attended Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference, and the Festival of Faith and Writing, where I met my agent. Both were amazing experiences. I shook hands with people, passed out and retrieved business cards, and submitted my work for review and critique. While buoyed in my fervor for the written word, I soaked in lessons about the craft and business of writing.

I think every writer should attend as many conferences as they can.

Be encouraged.

If you want an agent to find you: do good work, put yourself out there, be ready at a moment’s notice to submit, and go where the writers, agents, and editors go.

If this stay-at-home-mom, queen of diapers and ruler over tantrums can do it, so can you. I’m rooting for you!

Now get to work. Your agent may be looking for you right now.

*Do you have an agent? How did that relationship come to be? Do tell.

agent2

Unpacking a Rebuke

????????????????????????????????????????We’ve all met at least one—the writer who simply cannot take any criticism of his work. Such folk gleefully hand you their writing for review. But when you offer a tiny suggestion about a passage they’ve written, small funnel clouds begin to form over their heads. They’ll have none of it. Their eyes pinch. They are certain you are thick, even dim-witted, and probably don’t floss or exercise. Such writers typically don’t last long in the world of words, because as Justice Brandeis once said,

“There is no great writing, only great rewriting.”

Then however, there are those of us at the other end of the spectrum. We are so certain that the opinions of others must be more credible than our own, that we buy into anything anyone says about our work. This can have us constantly scurrying off in the direction of the most recent advice.

So when evaluating a rebuke or criticism, where is the balance? What questions should we be asking?

Was the rebuke from the wrong person? In my critique group we have a few poets. But I don’t get poetry. There. I said it. Thus, any constructive comments from me must be taken with a grain of salt. In fact, I typically find myself saying the same thing over and over again:  I don’t get poetry, but I love your imagery. Not very helpful. Our poets would be perfectly sane to pause before taking my poetry advice.

But what if the rebuke came from someone a bit higher up? What if a book proposal to an agent was rejected?

Was it a good idea with a bad pitch? I had a great talk in my roster of workshops but no one ever selected it. Finally someone said, “Yes, we want this talk! But you’ve GOT to change the name.” When they explained why, a light bulb went on. My title had completely misled would-be attendees as to what would be presented. Most hadn’t even read the description because the title sent them packing. The same thing can happen in a query or cover letter. You may well have a great idea, and your writing might actually be ready. But if the agent or editor didn’t catch the fever in your pitch, or if it left them confused, they most likely never went on to your writing.

Agents and acquisition editors aren’t magical. They don’t have a clairvoyant wisdom that lets them know exactly what’s going to take off and what’s going to fizzle.  Even with decades of experience and loads of algorithmic analysis, it’s still a highly unpredictable business. Which means they sometimes get it right and they sometimes don’t. (Well, all except for Word Serve Agents. They really do always get it right. Whew. Dodged a bullet there.)

Say what you want about the Harry Potter series; I still cannot imagine anyone reading through some of J.K. Rowlings writing and saying, “Ehhhh. I just don’t see it. This won’t interest a soul.” And yet. . . twelve publishing houses said just that.

Learn to Unpack a Rebuke

Most of the time, we really could improve what we’ve written. Most of the time, our writing needs some work. But don’t chase after every single comment as though it is Gospel. Measure it. Weigh it. Give it reasonable consideration. Develop a mature view of your own work. Most of the time, there is value in the criticism. But in the end, if you think your reviewer got it wrong, stick with the plan a bit longer. Look for the gatekeeper who gets you.

The obvious conclusion of this line of reasoning is that even advice from this writer must be evaluated carefully and perhaps dismissed. I’ll admit, sometimes I get it right. And sometimes I get it wrong. For example, if I had been on the committee to evaluate and select new TV programming, we’d never have heard of World Wide Wrestling or Honey Boo Boo.

Do You Need to Schmooze an Editor or Agent?

I’ve attended over 7 writers conferences since walking the road of an author. One thing I’ve come to observe at these conferences is they way we interact with one another.

Editors and agents are seen as the gate keepers to our dreams. They are the ones who will accept our book and validate our work.

Janalyn Voigt and I at Northwest Christian Wrtiers Renewal

This is sort of true and sort of not. Editors and agents will let you know if your work is ready. They’ll let you know what you need to work on. They do not hold your dreams. You do.

Having our work published will not validate us. Only Jesus can do this. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking your worth is measured by a contract and sales figures.

I’ve seen some writers completely crushed when an editor/agent declined on their pitch. I’ve been one of them. Jesus gently reminded me that He is my agent. And He’s yours if you’re willing to give your writing over to Him.

I don’t mean He will do everything. We still have to hone our craft, build our platform, and continue learning.

At conferences, I’ve seen editors and agents hunted down by well-meaning enthusiastic authors. They couldn’t get an appointment with the agent/editor they wanted, so they stalk them at meal times, breaks, in line at the bathroom….

I’ve had some wonderful chats with editors/agents at meals and in the hallways. But I’ve also seen a weary trapped look in their gaze.

We should never become so focused on what other people can do for us and our careers that we forget they are people and children of God first and foremost.

Take the time to ask them how they’re enjoying the conference. Chat them up like you would meeting someone at a neighborhood barbecue. Take the time to get to know them a little. They’ll eventually turn the conversation towards writing. After all, they’re there to discover great writers.

Even if they turn your project down, they’ll remember a friendly person. Later, circumstances may be different and your project will be the one. You can never go wrong investing in people and relationships.

You should spend some time schmoozing at conferences. Just make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons. If we look at every person and situation with the attitude of how we can help them, instead of how they can help us, we’ll get much further.

Have you ever made new friends at a conference? How have you helped someone else and had it benefit you unexpectedly?

Mentored by The Best Selling Author

Best Selling Author - Anita Brooks

I had no idea what I was doing.

I went to my first writers conference with zero expectations. I simply wanted to explore this crazy dream God had planted in my heart.

At my allotted appointments, I sat across from editors, agents, and publishers and said the same thing, “I don’t have anything to pitch. I just came to learn. Can you tell me what you think I should know?”

Every person demonstrated gentle patience and gave me a huge boost of encouragement. One discussion, spurred by a workplace pet peeve, kept me awake most of the night jotting down notes.

On the last day of the conference, I knew my life would never be the same. And I was right.

I flew home feeling overwhelmed. My mind swirled with a mix of anxiety and anticipation. A professional thinks I have potential. A professional believes my differences are a good thing. A professional requested a book proposal. I don’t know how to write a book proposal.

I was a long way from being ready to submit anything, and I knew it.

When I arrived back at normal life, I needed help. But where do you turn when you live in a tiny town in the Midwest? What kind of education can you get when there’s no college close? How do doors open when you have no degree or credentials in writing?

You ask the Best Selling Author of all time for help.

Wanting to do nothing less than excellent work, I got on my knees and asked God to personally mentor me. I figured since His book, the Bible, had sold more copies than any other book throughout history, I should try to learn from Him.

My schooling took months, even into years. I turned the television off and got to work. I spent hours soaking up assigned books on the craft of writing. I practiced with devotions, articles, and blogs. I listened to the professionals He sent to help me develop better habits. Then I re-wrote my devotions, articles, and blogs. Sometimes it took many copies to get the words and punctuation just right.

I graduated to the study and practice of book proposal writing. I wrote at least three dozen drafts while my Mentor patiently encouraged me to keep trying. All the while, prayer and a listening ear helped me maintain a teachable heart.

Only three years later, I signed with WordServe. Recently, I signed a book contract for the original non-fiction idea I’d had at the conference. This may seem like a long time, but in publishing years, it’s pretty fast.

Today, I still need my Mentor. He’s guiding my mind and hands as I finish my book for publication. Because of Him, I hope to write many more.

If you’re an aspiring or experienced author, I encourage you to call my Mentor. He’s available 24/7/365. His name is God, and he turns good concepts into strong books. There’s no better Muse than the one who created your mind.

Do you have a mentor? Where do you go for guidance and encouragement?

Anita Brooks - Best Selling Author

God’s Story – The Best Selling Book of All Time

A How-To for Meeting Editors

Book acquisitions editors are some of the busiest people I know and the most elusive. If they admit what they do for a living, people want to send them their grandmother’s self-published poetry or a best friend’s novel that she wrote in high school.

They aren’t flashy dressers. They don’t talk about publishing trends in the checkout line. And at parties, if someone asks them what they do for a living, they mumble and then wave at an imaginary friend. “Nice meeting you,” they say before darting to the other side of the room.

Then how can a writer catch a break? Ah, my dear contestant, you must know the secret lives of editors…not bees. Following are ways to meet an editor:

1. Make friends with other writers, especially those who have published at least one book.

They’ve made the leap, and many are willing to give you advice or help you achieve your dreams. Attend their workshops at writers’ conferences, listen carefully, and ask thoughtful questions. Learn the craft of writing and how to market a book while you write your manuscript.

Published authors know editors, and if you’ve written a manuscript that other authors like, they’ll be more willing to give you a recommendation or an endorsement.

2. With your polished manuscript in hand, query an agent.

Make sure to read an agent’s submission guidelines before you approach them, or pitch your project to an agent at a writer’s conference.

Attend the best conference you can afford. One of the perks of attending a conference is that you can request an appointment with an agent. Agents know editors, and they know whether your manuscript is ready to be published. Listen to their advice, and rewrite your manuscript if necessary. An agent can be your best ticket to meeting an acquisitions editor.

3. Acquisitions editors attend writers’ conferences as well.

They set up appointments with agents, and they take 15-minute appointments with conferees. Sometimes they will agree to critique your manuscript for a fee.

4. Attend workshops taught by editors at writers’ conferences.

Editors teach a variety of workshops that vary from character development to plot development to self-editing. They will tell you what kinds of projects they’re looking for so that when you get your chance to meet an editor, you’ll be prepared.

5. Attend meetings of a local writers’ group.

If the group is large enough, they will invite published authors to speak, and through the friendships you make with authors and other members of the group, you can support each other through the process of becoming a published author. If you don’t have a local writers’ group, consider starting one.

Finally, what’s the best way to meet an editor? Keep writing and improving your craft until someone takes notice of you. Editors love fresh, unique voices. You could be the next American Idol of the publishing world.