Two articles about the writing and self-publishing process

This post was originally sent to my TinyLetter subscribers.

It’s been over a month since The Biographies of Ordinary People: Volume 2: 2004–2016 launched, and since then I have gone on a mini-book tour, taught two classes related to writing and self-publishing (with more to come), spent a long weekend at Disneyland, and, most recently, published two articles about the writing and self-publishing process.

The first article is at Longreads, and it’s titled How the Self-Publishing Industry Changed, Between My First and Second Novels. If you’re interested in numbers, earnings, expenses, and (for obvious reasons) politics, you’ll want to go read that one.

If you’re more interested in the process of writing, you should read my Draft Journal essay titled The Five Times I Tried Writing My Novel. It took me roughly two years to write the draft that became The Biographies of Ordinary People, but that was not my first attempt at telling this story.

It’s interesting to think about the ways in which “all the books that were not Biographies” changed, over the years. My first draft, which I started (and quickly abandoned) when I was in college, focused entirely on a college-aged woman — there wasn’t any family in it, just ambition.

In the version I started drafting while I was a receptionist in Washington, DC, the Meredith character was named Therese Gorrell, and she had been born in the rural Midwest — she wasn’t a transplant from a larger city, like I had been as a child. (In Biographies, the Grubers’ move is a natural starting point for the story; not to misquote Tolstoy, but you could easily say that Vol. 1 is “a stranger comes to town” and Vol. 2 is “a woman goes on a journey.”)

In the version I worked on in Los Angeles, which was the most fully-formed of any of the drafts, there were four Grubers: Rosemary, Jack, Meredith, and Natalie. That was the draft that was too much like autobiography, and it wasn’t until I added Jackie to the story that it began to come together as a novel instead of a retelling of my own childhood. I created Jackie to force a different set of family dynamics and ensure I wouldn’t just write what I’d grown up with, but she ended up becoming this character that I intensely admire (and in some ways envy), and she allowed me the ability to branch the whole “how do ordinary people make art” question down a different path.

There’s also a version where Meredith is grown up and is asking Rosemary questions about her life, and the whole thing is a framing device for flashbacks to both the 1990s and the 1960s, and I’m really glad I got bored with that idea because I’m already bored just explaining it to you. (Plus I would have had to do a lot of research about the ’60s.)

So. What I mean to say is that you should read the Longreads piece and the Draft Journal piece, and be grateful that you got the current version of The Biographies of Ordinary People, instead of all the other versions I discarded along the way.

Photo by Dana Marin on Unsplash.

Self-Publishing Update: How Long Until I’m Back in the Black?

Sales/Expenses Since May 29

Books sold: 31 ebooks, 40 paperbacks

Money earned: $291.60

Money spent: $678.85

Total

Books sold: 481 ebooks, 226 paperbacks

Money earned (book sales): $2,186.55

Money earned (Patreon): $6,909

Money spent: $10,512.51


Right now I’m $1,416.96 in the red, which represents roughly 500 book sales. Considering that Biographies Vol. 1 sold more than 500 copies in its first year, I could very easily assume that Biographies Vol. 2 will hit the 500 mark — which, when combined with any additional Biographies Vol. 1 sales, would clear out that debt and help me break even by, say, May 2019.

I don’t anticipate any other major expenses for either Vol. 1 or Vol. 2, now that the mini-tour is done. Any additional readings or classes will either be local or combined with other travel (e.g. visiting my nephew and doing a reading in Washington, DC). I’m not submitting Vol. 2 to any awards, since it doesn’t really stand on its own the way Vol. 1 does. All I have left, in terms of costs, are the upcoming promotions on BargainBooksy, Fussy Librarian, etc. — and those are, like, $25 each.

So here we are. I need to earn back the costs of this recent tour, and then anything after that will be pure profit. (I could get to the “profit” stage a little faster by separating out the “reading” and “teaching” costs — I counted all of my non-vacation travel expenses as Biographies expenses, but my hotel and food expenses on the day I taught at Hugo House might belong in a different category. That’s worth considering, actually, and maybe I should redo my math.)


I don’t know if you read Longreads, but last week they published my essay “How the Publishing Industry Changed, Between My First and Second Novels.” I absolutely recommend reading it, because it’s got all of the analysis of these blog posts plus extra research and more polished writing. Here’s an excerpt:

Even if Facebook weren’t force-choking our posts (and we don’t exactly have proof that it is, aside from all of the evidence), we’d still have to deal with the ways in which social media both amplifies and dilutes any message we try to share. Everyone is asking you to read their thing, whether it’s a Twitter thread or a debut novel. Nobody has time to read everything, and the novel is longer and costs money (or a trip to the library).

“Social media and the internet have been instrumental in destroying the economics of writing,” Bradley Babendir told LitHub. He’s specifically referring to book criticism, which used to be a valued, paying gig but is now dominated by crowdsourced reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. Book critics still get work the same way that authors still get sales, but … no, I think that comparison stands.

I’ll leave you with that, so you can go read the whole thing. More news when I have news to share! ❤

Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash.

Writing & Money Episode 16: How to Self-Publish

How do you turn a file saved on your computer into AN ACTUAL BOOK? How do you get that book on Amazon? Or in bookstores? What about libraries?

This episode takes you through the process of publishing your book and getting it out into the world.

You might also want to listen to the episodes Why Self-Publish? and Talking to Dana Kelly about “Your Book, Your Brand.”

Here are two more resources I mention in the podcast:

Also, when I started writing the show notes, I found out that Amazon might be phasing out CreateSpace in favor of offering a new “print-on-demand paperback” service through Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing. (This industry changes so quickly!) The basic information in the podcast should still apply!

Self-Publishing Update: The Biographies of Ordinary People: Volume 2 has been out for ONE WEEK!

Sales/Expenses Since May 13

Books sold: 68 ebooks, 29 paperbacks

Money earned: $275.67

Money spent: $293.34

Total

Books sold: 450 ebooks, 186 paperbacks

Money earned (book sales): $1,894.95

Money earned (Patreon): $6,909

Money spent: $9,833.66


It’s been exactly one week since The Biographies of Ordinary People: Volume 2 launched, and during that time the book has sold:

  • 58 copies on Amazon Kindle (this includes the 35 pre-orders)
  • 1 copy on Barnes & Noble’s Nook
  • 1 copy on Kobo
  • 3 copies on Apple iBooks
  • 29 paperbacks

As a point of comparison, Biographies Volume 1 sold 85 ebooks and 58 paperbacks in its first week. Volume 2 hasn’t done quite as well, but you’d expect that for the second book in a series.

However, I also expect to sell more books over the next two weeks as I embark on my READING & TEACHING TOUR! (Is that what we’re calling it?) Here’s a recap of where I’ll be when:

  • Tuesday, June 5: Teaching “The Finances of Self-Publishing” at Seattle’s Hugo House. 6-9 p.m. Sign up here.
  • Wednesday, June 6: Reading and signing at Seattle’s Phinney Books. 7-8 p.m. Facebook it here.
  • Friday, June 8: Reading and signing at Portland’s Another Read Through. 7-8 p.m. Facebook it here.
  • Sunday, June 10: Reading and signing at Juneau’s Rainy Retreat Books, with music from Marian Call and Laura Zahasky! 5-6 p.m. Facebook it here.
  • Monday, June 11: Teaching “Getting Started as a Freelancer” at Juneau’s 49 Writers. 6:30-9 p.m. Sign up here.

There will be more READING AND TEACHING in the future, but this is what I have scheduled for now!

I also wanted to let you know that I’ve already started receiving emails from readers telling me how much they enjoyed Biographies Volume 2. Those are the best kinds of emails to receive, because it means that my book is doing what I hoped it would do: connecting with readers.

Thank you, all of you, for your support as I launched this second book! I hope you all get the chance to read and enjoy it. ❤

Happy Book Birthday, The Biographies of Ordinary People: Volume 2!

I am so excited to launch The Biographies of Ordinary People: Volume 2: 2004–2016 into the world!

If you pre-ordered your copy, I hope it arrived successfully and safely. (Also: THANK YOU!)

If you would like to order a copy, here are all the places you can get ebooks and/or paperbacks:

If you’d like to leave a review, Amazon and Goodreads are the best places for that. (Also: THANK YOU in advance!)

I hope you enjoy the second half of The Biographies of Ordinary People. I loved writing it, and I’d like to think the love comes through in the story. Guess we’ll find out together. ❤

Seattle, Portland, Juneau — I’ll be reading and/or teaching in your cities soon!

This post was originally sent to my TinyLetter subscribers.

We are just over a week out from PUBLICATION DAY for The Biographies of Ordinary People: Volume 2, and in addition to putting the finishing touches on the paperback (which looks beautiful, by the way) I’ve also finally put all the pieces together for the 10-day, three-city book tour I’m doing in June.

Here are the stops:

  • Tuesday, June 5: Teaching “The Finances of Self-Publishing” at Seattle’s Hugo House. 6-9 p.m. Sign up here.
  • Wednesday, June 6: Reading and signing at Seattle’s Phinney Books. 7-8 p.m. Facebook it here.
  • Friday, June 8: Reading and signing at Portland’s Another Read Through. 7-8 p.m. Facebook it here.
  • Sunday, June 10: Reading and signing at Juneau’s Rainy Retreat Books, with music from Marian Call and Laura Zahasky! 5-6 p.m. Facebook it here.
  • Monday, June 11: Teaching “Getting Started as a Freelancer” at Juneau’s 49 Writers. 6:30-9 p.m. Sign up here.

I’d love to see you at any/all of these events, though I wouldn’t recommend all of them because that’d probably cost you around $2,000! (Yes, I’m still tracking all of my earnings/expenses on my blog.)

If you’re in the Iowa area, I’ll be leading a discussion of The Biographies of Ordinary People: Volume 1 at Next Page Books in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, May 15. Discussion starts at 7, and I’ve heard there will be wine. I’m also planning some more local (to me) readings and classes for this summer, and the next time I’m on the East Coast I’ll see if I can set up an event or two.

Also, The Biographies of Ordinary People: Volume 1 was selected as an IndieReader Best Reviewed Book of April, and Kirkus selected The Biographies of Ordinary People as one of the 35 indie reviews to be featured in its May 15th issue!

I am so excited to get to share Volume 2 with you, and to see some of y’all on tour, VERY VERY SOON. ❤

Photo credit: James Wang, CC BY 2.0.

Self-Publishing Update: Well, I’ve Finally Spent More Than I’ve Earned

Sales/Expenses Since April 22

Books sold: 5 ebooks (Amazon), 10 paperbacks

Money earned: $213.60

Money spent: $1,978.42

Total

Books sold: 382 ebooks, 157 paperbacks

Volume 2 pre-orders: 35

Money earned (book sales): $1,619.28

Money earned (Patreon): $6,909

Money spent: $9,540.32


We’re now at the point where I’ve spent more money on The Biographies of Ordinary People than I’ve earned from it — which should mean that it’s time to stop spending, but it takes a little bit of money to get a book published (I still need to order two cases of books from IngramSpark, for example, to give to bookstores that sell via consignment), plus the expenses of going on tour.

It should also be pretty obvious that the Patreon money was the big reason why I turned any profit on Volume 1; if I hadn’t had the support of a group of readers, I’d be way way way way into the red by now.

I do anticipate earning money on both Volume 2 book sales and the courses I’m teaching while I’m on book tour, but I don’t anticipate earning more than it’ll cost to go on the 10-day tour — and yes, I could have chopped those 10 days down to 7 if I’d been more willing to trust that all the planes would get me to all the places on time, but flying out of Cedar Rapids often means delays, and flying in and out of Juneau can mean additional delays, so I built in a few buffer days.

On the plus side, those buffer days will enable me to keep up my full-time freelance workload while traveling, so I won’t lose any money that way. Plus, the whole thing will be a tax deduction — and, more importantly, it’ll be an opportunity to meet readers, teach students, see friends, and build connections with bookstores and writing centers.


So where will I be, on this ten-day tour?

  • Tuesday, June 5: Teaching “The Finances of Self-Publishing” at Seattle’s Hugo House. 6-9 p.m. Sign up here.
  • Wednesday, June 6: Reading and signing at Seattle’s Phinney Books. 7-8 p.m. Facebook it here.
  • Friday, June 8: Reading and signing at Portland’s Another Read Through. 7-8 p.m. Facebook it here.
  • Sunday, June 10: Reading and signing at Juneau’s Rainy Retreat Books, with music from Marian Call and Laura Zahasky! 5-6 p.m. Facebook it here.
  • Monday, June 11: Teaching “Getting Started as a Freelancer” at Juneau’s 49 Writers. 6:30-9 p.m. Sign up here.

There’ll be a few more local events to announce this summer, starting with the Next Page Books book club in Cedar Rapids! If you’re available on Tuesday, May 15 at 7 p.m., we’ll be discussing The Biographies of Ordinary People, Volume 1.

Am I planning any readings on the East Coast? Well… the next time I’m on that side of the country, I’ll definitely look for an interested bookstore! But I’m not currently planning a multi-day tour. (See “gotta make sure I don’t go too far into the red,” above.)


I also wanted to share a couple of recent accolades:

  • The Biographies of Ordinary People: Volume 1 was an IndieReader Best Reviewed Book of April!
  • Kirkus selected The Biographies of Ordinary People as one of the 35 indie reviews to be featured in its May 15th issue!

Plus, I got to hold, review, and sign off on the print proof, which means you will be able to start ordering paperback copies soon. ❤

Photo credit: Abby Lanes, CC BY 2.0.