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The Ten Commandments of Self-Publishing by Bill Mize

For our anniversary last weekend, my wife and I went to the Indiana Comic Con.  Yeah.  We’re nerds.  We saw awesome LEGO superhero costumes, got pictures with Jason Momoa and Jenna Coleman, and also heard a really good presentation on self-publishing.

The presentation was by Bill Mize, who is a self-published mystery author in addition to a self-help author.  He’s consistently in the top ten new releases for mystery fiction, and was self-publishing before it was cool.  That means he has a lot of credibility for what works and what doesn’t, so I’m sharing his “ten commandments” here, as well as linking to his blog and books at the end.  Some of these have been editing for language, but all of the ideas are his.  The links are books or products he recommends, but the affiliate links are mine.

#1: Thou shalt not write crap.

One of Mize’s best points was that Amazon has almost made publishing too easy.  You can throw up a horribly formatted first draft that has seen no criticism whatsoever.  I’ve started reading a couple of those.  Bad books have always been around, even in traditional publishing (Fifty Shades of Grey, anyone?), but the first rule is the most obvious: don’t write one of them.

#2: Thou shalt write every day.

The brain responds to habits.  As much as you can, write every day and at the same time and the same place every day.  Depending on what kind of day job you have, this may not be possible, but do it to the best of your ability.  Mize also recommends getting a low-tech word processor like Alpha Smart.  It doesn’t have internet, which limits the number one writing distraction, and it also shows a few sentences at a time, which prevents you from editing as you write (my number two distraction).  The way Alpha Smart works, as I assume most others do, is it holds a certain amount of storage, and once you hit that amount, you transfer it to your computer by a USB chord, where you can edit and format it.  Mize also recommends screenwriting books as a way of outlining, and recommends the book “My Story Can Beat Up Your Story
.”

#3: Thou shalt write only what you love

A lot of writers can get burnt out just writing whatever the latest fad is.  That’s thinking like a consumer, whereas you should be thinking like a creator.  If you just write what you love, you won’t be as likely to get burnt out, and you’ll probably be more successful, because people can smell that kind of insincerity from a mile away.  And I’ll add to those remarks that fads change so often, and books take so much effort to write, that the fad will probably have changed by the time you get it out anyway.

#4: Thou shalt read every day

Reading is important in general, especially for any author, but Mize recommends to take special attention to writers in your genre.  Read the important writers who formed the genre, and read their biographies.  He also recommends reading “how to write” books, but be selective with which ones you read.  Read them on recommendations from people you trust.  And in that vein, pick a writing system and stick to it.

#5: Thou shalt edit

Mize had four primary recommendations for this: read your work aloud, only send your manuscript to people after you’ve hit the third draft, focus on writing style first and do research later, and choose your editors carefully (and focus on people you know read in your genre).  He also recommended the book “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers

#6: Thou shalt pay for a cover

I would also add to pay for editing, but paying for a cover is a really big deal.  The mantra “Don’t judge a book by its cover” has almost no sway in the real world.  People do it every day, and if you want people to buy your book, you have to have a good cover.  That makes or breaks a book’s marketing.  If you’re looking for a cover designer, I’d recommend Cheryl at ccrbookcoverdesign.com.  Her design for A Gray Crusade blew my mind.

#7: Thou shalt invest money in your career

There’s a big difference between the indie authors who just publish for free every time and those who pay for professional services.  In addition to stuff like editing and book cover design, you should be reading writing books, getting hosting for a website, getting bookmarks and other promotional materials, and maybe even going to conferences and writing seminars.  That makes an enormous amount of difference in a writing career.

#8: Thou shalt be a professional

“Take yourself seriously and others will take you seriously.”  Where I see the biggest need for this is in paying for professional services like editing, formatting, and book design, but Mize also brought out an area that we as authors need to think about: behavior online.  Too many people get drawn into name-calling and other hateful behavior online.  I’ve personally unfollowed several accounts on both Facebook and Twitter because of that kind of behavior, and I told people about those groups as well.  Word of mouth travels fast, and you don’t want that kind of behavior to be the reputation that preceeds you.

#9: Thou shalt network

I found this one of the most helpful parts of the presentation.  When it comes to networking, most people think about making connections so that these people can do things for you, but Mize says it should be just the opposite: “Networking is about asking ‘How can I help you?'”  He urged everyone to remember that every person you interact with is a potential reader and a potential marketer, and that if you approach each of those relationships just being about what they can do for you, they’re going to broadcast that.  You don’t want everyone knowing that you’re selfish and just want to use people.  But if you aim to do what you can for others, that gets around too.  Be sincere and be helpful.

#10: Thou shalt not be a jerk

This one is pretty self-explanatory, but I want to specifically draw out another especially helpful thing he said: don’t worry about how many followers you have on Twitter.  Being obsessed with that kind of thing is a distraction, and getting into all kinds of online debates can propagate the idea of you being a jerk.  And that doesn’t mean you can never ever touch anything controversial–I tweet about my opinions on things like education and abortion, largely because it’s part of me being real on those accounts.  But take care with how you approach other people.

If you want to follow Bill Mize, here’s his blog, Twitter, and Amazon page.

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This is the worst possible year for me to do NaNoWriMo . . . which is exactly why I’m doing it

November means a lot of things.  It means we’re a month into my favorite season, that my birthday is just around the corner, and that my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving, is coming up on us soon.  But it also means something far, far more ambitious: NaNoWriMo.

But, in all, honesty, this is a terrible year for me to be doing NaNoWriMo.  It’s my senior year in college, I’m taking 18 credit hours, I’m in 2 student organizations, and I have a part-time job, not to mention I got married earlier this year and I now have a house to keep up with.  Every previous year I’ve shied away from doing it because I’ve been too busy.  But this is without a doubt the busiest I’ve ever been, and I’m taking the plunge.  As a matter of fact, my draft is already started.  Why would I do this to myself?  Because only doing NaNoWriMo when you have a bunch of time really ruins the purpose of the event to begin with.

NaNoWriMo is about writing.  That’s obvious.  But it’s about more than just writing.  It’s about writing under pressure, which takes an all-elusive virtue: discipline.  If you don’t have anything else to do, then writing 50,000 words in a month may seem pretty feasible.  But when you have a job, classes, and other commitments to tend to, then it’s an enormous challenge.  And that’s exactly why I’m doing it.

I’ve been writing since I was 12 years old.  I published my first book in March of this year.  I can say without a shred of doubt in my mind that the most difficult part of writing for me has absolutely nothing to do with writer’s block, editing, or word choice.  It’s discipline.  I can daydream about a story all-day, but it’s difficult to sit down and take the necessary time to write a complete draft of a novel.  I love writing and it’s still difficult!  Like many writers, I’m a bit ADHD.  And, ironically, that’s why I’m doing NaNoWriMo this year.  To set a firm and difficult deadline.  To force me to be disciplined and dedicated.  To break me in the hard way.

So if you were considering doing NaNoWriMo, but think you’re too busy, that’s exactly the reason you should do it.

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This is me saying things

I’ve done a lot of blogging.  I started a personal blog for whatever random things I wanted to write about when I was in high school.  In college, I’ve mostly blogged about entertainment, but also about some other occasional topics I wanted to write about.  But when I started an author blog, I had no idea what I was supposed to write about.  Then I decided, what the heck, I’ll write what I want to.

So here’s what to expect from me.  I’ll be blogging about writing stuff.  Because I’m a writer and I like to talk about it (it’s worse if you catch me in person, believe me).  I also figure you might like to know a little about me beyond the stuff I write about, so I’ll try to give you some interesting tidbits of my life as well.  This is the first of those.

Speaking of writing, I should be doing more of it.  I was doing great about writing all of the time, but it gets hard when you’re a college student.

Oh wait, had I told you that before?  Maybe not.  Well, I am a college student.  I’ve been at Purdue University for a couple years now and I will be graduating in May.  In the meantime, however, I’m taking three summer classes.  I only have one right now, but it’s what they call “Maymester,” (which is weird, because only half of it is actually in May).  Basically it’s a 16-week course packed into 4 weeks.  That sounds like torture, I know, but I’m somewhat enjoying it.  It’s about technology and communication (my major is Public Relations, which is a major in the Com Department here), which is pretty fascinating.

It’s a cool class.  But it’s also very time consuming.  For example, next week in that one class I have an exam and two presentations to do, in addition to keeping up with the readings.  Oh, and by the way, I’m starting a new day job tomorrow.  I’m also married, in case I hadn’t told you that yet.  I also write on four different entertainment blogs.  Is your head spinning yet?  No?  Maybe it’s me.  My head’s always spinning . . .

Regardless, I still manage to find the time to write, even if it’s not always as consistent as I’d like it to be.  I am sad to say, however, that my progress on A Gray Crusade has been slowed by the many facets of my life.  I’m not going to venture to say how this will affect the release date because frankly, I haven’t a clue.  I will say, however, that I recently did some reworking in the plot that I believe will make it better and stronger.  I’m looking forward to it.

So until next time, keep in touch.  Be sure to follow my Facebook and Twitter accounts, and to sign up for my newsletter if you haven’t already.

Live Long and Prosper.

-LJ

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One Week Mark

I’ve been a self-published author for about a week.  I’ve thought about how I’m going to address my “public image.”  Whether I’m going to pretend to be some big time author or if I’m going to be honest with myself and what few fans I have.  I’m going to be honest.

There are a lot of dreamy pictures associated with being an author.  A lot of things are left out.  Like how many traditionally published authors are making ridiculously low royalties on their work.  How authors need to do their own marketing.  How you have to work to gain a fanbase.  I’ve known all of those things because I do a lot of reading about this trade (as every aspiring author should do, and precious few actually do).  However, they’re sinking in quickly.

The end result?  I love it.  Every bit of it.  I love emailing book blogs and updating my social media sites and writing newsletters and blog posts and planning promotion ideas and thinking about my next books and, most especially, writing my next book.  It’s incredible.

Now, as of the time I am writing this post I am not a full-time author.  Far from it.  I’m still in college for Pete’s sakes, and I haven’t even made $100 on the book yet.  But I absolutely love the process, and I’m proud of my work.  That makes it a whole lot easier to be okay with the fact that I’m not successful yet.

I’m being pretty transparent.  Consider that a sign of things to come. I’ll be writing til I die, so I’m not going to drop off the planet because I’m not an overnight success (hello, no one is.  This is an oversaturated market, after all).  So stick around, because I’m here to stay.  And if you don’t like my work, that’s fine.  Thankfully the internet is pretty non-discriminatory.  If you like it though, I’m very grateful to have you as a fan.  And you should sign up for my newsletter.

Hey, I said authors have to do marketing.