3 Lessons I Learned Self-Publishing


On June 1 I celebrate my first book birthday; it marks one year since the publication of Dissonance. I am not promoting one method of publishing over another; traditional has great benefits. I am simply recounting my experience taking the ‘least popular’ road.

If you haven’t read Dissonance, new readers make an author’s day; I hope you give it a try!


Years before I had a manuscript ready, there was strong bias against self-publishing. Everyone called it an easy way out, a quitter’s path. An acquaintance went so far as to label it ‘literary suicide.’

She wasn’t the only person I knew with that bitter view; we were fresh on our journeys in the writing life. All of us dreamed of being taken by a literary agency, as if only then could our talent be confirmed. It seemed that no one who took her work seriously planned to self-publish.

Then, people realized times had changed. More people dared take the indie route, but not because it was easier—they all had their motives. As their self-pub journeys proved not to be disasters, the world of indie literature grew.

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By the time Dissonance was ready to go, self-publishing had become a legitimate option. That isn’t to say my choice was easy: some people were so faithful to their bias against self-pub that I lost friends I considered dear.

Feeling rejected, it wasn’t easy to go on with my plan, but I was ready to be an author. Encouraged by friends and family, and especially my dear mother, I hit Publish and waited to see what would come next.

It was not ‘literary suicide.’ I have learned so much about writing, publishing, and business since releasing Dissonance a year ago. Here are three ways self-publishing helped me to grow and follow my heart.

 

I BEGAN TO DELIGHT IN FAILURE.

The artist’s journey is one of discovery and pushing boundaries, doing things others haven’t tried, shattering expectations—including your own. I’ve experimented with methods of promotion which fell flat, but at least I tried.

Historically, people have changed the world by carrying out experiments so silly no one else bothered with them. In rare occasions, those projects ended in success. Indie publishing gives me the chance to try things.

I will keep experimenting with methods as an artist and writer, even embracing the failures. What matters is that I try.

 

TIME IS LIMITED, SO I LEARNED TO PRIORITIZE.

If you want to find gold, take time to dig. Despite what many say, writing is a job. If you don’t take your work seriously, don’t expect to be taken seriously.

No one can write all day, and promotion never sounds exciting. However, indie publishing makes it fun! You get online and make friends, tell them about this story you wrote. Make them part of the process, and every moment you put in is worth it.

It’s important to live offline, too. Just don’t do your story an injustice by asking readers to spend time with your work if you aren’t willing to invest it yourself. Put yourself out there and find a loyal audience!

 

I LEARNED TO MOVE ON.

Indie publishing has the advantage of letting us make changes whenever we want. All writers know it’s hard to finish a manuscript and say this is it. However, with indie books, there’s not even a limit after hitting Publish.

You have to get the story right, and the edits, and the cover, and the marketing. But make sure you aren’t so caught up that you stop writing altogether. Your second book promotes the first.

Readers want a second book; it will lure more readers to the first. I’m eager to put out my sequel soon. I can’t wait to meet new people, grow as a writer, and have two novels to my name.

 

This is only my first book birthday, and I still have a long way to go. I have failures to learn from, friends to make, sentences to rearrange. Most of all, I have books to sign, stories to tell, and I’m comfortable knowing I took the first step.

Self-publishing was not literary suicide to me; it was growth. I learned how I could improve and what steps to take next. I realized storytelling is a business so delicate, we have to get extra creative to succeed.

Traditional publishing has benefits, and one day I plan to pursue it. But never let the bias of others influence your decisions. Ironically, many people who judged me for self-publishing stopped writing.

Every path is different. Embrace your freedom, storyteller, to choose the one which suits you.

Book Review: The Paris Winter by Imogen Robertson


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The Paris Winter leaves a proper chill in your soul after you finish reading it. It is the haunting story of Maud Heighton, an English painter who takes art classes in Paris, all the while struggling to get her daily meal.

Her situation doesn’t go unnoticed at the academy, especially when she starts to lose weight and ration meals. A fellow student from Russia named Tanya has sources; she takes Maud to find a job that’ll help her survive the winter.

Maud is employed as companion to the sister of wealthy, mysterious Mr. Morel. She is to teach Sylvie to draw, something she can do easily. It seems she’s finally found stability—she’s eating proper meals and sleeping in a warm room.

It was all too good to be true, however. The Morels had a sinister fate planned for her all along. They did not count on her surviving it, but she wakes with anger in her heart and a desire for revenge.

She’s been used in a scheme the Morels planned for months. When Christian Morel blames her for stealing the Countess’s tiara, she becomes a thief to society. He throws her in the river and claims she committed suicide, so she wakes up not only a thief but dead.

They could not have done more to destroy her reputation.

From childhood, Maud has learned to fight. They might have killed her in the eyes of society, but desire for revenge leaves her very much alive. With the help of her friends, she plans a comeback.

She works with the help of both Tanya and Yvette. A model from the academy, it was Yvette who noticed how thin she’d been getting. Roughened by a life on the streets, she’s courageous enough to stand by Maud to battle injustice.

Friendship is important in this novel. There’s no romance for Maud; as a main character, her strong relationships are with friends. They stand by her when she becomes the ghost of herself in pursuit of revenge.

This emphasis on friendship made the book unique. These women are there for each other in the face of horrific things. I wish more books focused on the strength one can in find a good friend.

Though Maud gets her justice, the ordeal changes her for life. She returns to England with Yvette, hard of heart and angry with life—but driven to start anew as an artist, respected and alive.

This will join my collection of Paris books as a favorite, having caught my attention from the start. Not only does it have a beautiful cover, it’s got an intense plot and strong relationships.

I recommend The Paris Winter to people who, like me, devour any book set in the City of Light. It is also great for fans of historical novels and thrillers. You will be satisfied by the ending; I am sure you’ll find a new favorite in it, as well.

Why Write Realistic Heroes?


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Your hero has been chosen to carry out a risky, important task. Lives depend on their ability to get the job done. They will face countless obstacles enduring sleepless nights in the cold at the mercy of nature. There is a chance they will die carrying out this quest.

How do they react to all this?

Heroes shouldn’t embark on these quests feeling no apprehension for what’s at stake. It depends on the character’s personality, of course—a hero who’s been raised expecting this sort of thing will experience less fear than a peasant offered as a sacrifice to the dragon. Some characters can and should be fearless in the face of this challenge.

Sometimes, though, writers get so anxious to finish the book that we’re tempted to skip a crucial step in making our protagonist react realistically. This is a horrible mistake: heroes need to be relatable, and if they’re not, there should at least be good reasons for why they’re so fearless.

REACTING TO THE HERO’S JOURNEY

Many books feature a Chosen One, and he often knows from childhood the ordeal he’ll be put through as a hero.

A character who’s lived with this knowledge will probably make all his choices before that ordeal keeping in mind he may die early—he’ll avoid attachments or long-term commitment, he’ll train for this event all his life. He may come off as cold or unfeeling.

Not all characters will be like this. Like in all cases, it depends on their upbringing—on what kind of parents they had, if they were revered or mocked at school for being ‘condemned’ to this quest. The point is, a character who knows what he’s going to face will live acting like it.

Even if he dreads it and is in denial, that denial is sign that he knows he’s been chosen. There’s no escaping the emotional effects of an assignment with this magnitude.

Now look at the unfortunate peasant plucked off the streets and chosen to fight the dragon. If he manages to slay the beast, he may be promised riches and the princess’s hand—luxuries he never dreamed could be his.

But he hasn’t lived anticipating something like this. He’s going to be scared. He’s going to fight it, at least for a while. He’s going to question at some point whether the mission is worth it.

WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?

What I’m getting at is this: The way a person is raised determines how they react to giant plot twists. The knight raised from childhood is more likely to be cocky and fearless than the peasant who’s been mocked all his life.

Too often, books do not notice the difference. Perhaps the peasant has had passing thoughts of a glorious quest to improve his life, but he hasn’t been living it; he probably hasn’t taken those thoughts seriously. They’ve always just been daydreams.

When facing this possibly fatal quest, he’s likelier to get cold feet than the knight raised from childhood.

Realistic humans don’t switch to hero mode in one night. Storytellers, make sure you explain why the peasant accepts this challenge so quickly, or why the hero doubts his mission.

Characters need to feel human.

WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?

Heroes who don’t hesitate at logical moments can be annoying. There needs to be a reason for them to change directions. If our characters behave in ways that contradict their personalities, it may seem that we don’t truly know them.

Or worse yet, readers get the impression we think they’re too stupid to notice.

Stories are about people. If readers can’t sympathize with the people—or at least understand them—the story will fall flat. Few people in real life would jump with excitement if told they’d be sacrificed to a dragon.

Peasants do not become brave knights in the span of five pages. Few books would be able to pull it off; we don’t want to risk writing a story that won’t touch the heart!

REALISTIC HEROES

Of course, we shouldn’t cling to stereotypes! What I’m saying is to aim for realistic protagonists, people with reactions so strong and human that it hits readers right in the heart. We want readers to think, This is how I would react. I’m living through them.

If the peasant goes on this journey despite his fear, slays the dragon, and improves his situation, readers will know even they can get past any obstacle to reach a better place. If the brave knight does it, readers learn the value of bravery, of preparing oneself for the worst but believing they can win.

These five-page heroes need to stop. Stories are about people, and if they can’t resonate in a reader’s heart, they lack in the most important magic of all. We cannot settle for two-dimensional characters who will only mock human emotions.

Humanity—even when fearful, unstable, or wrong—is still precious. Make sure your characters behave according to human emotions, because your readers are human; there is no better way to write a story they won’t forget!

Are you a storyteller? Let us know how you ensure your characters act realistically!

3 Things Writers can Learn about Storytelling from Children


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HOW MUCH EFFORT DOES IT TAKE YOU TO TELL A STORY?

I don’t mean with regards to practice and skill—it’s important to produce quality writing when your storytelling medium is the written word. Readers can usually tell when we haven’t paid attention to quality, and few things are more irritating than starting to read a book and discovering it has sloppy writing.

What I mean is, could you tell a gripping story to someone in the elevator? If a person was blind and couldn’t read, would you still be a storyteller? How dependent are you on letters and perfect phrases to transport your audience somewhere else?

I hope to one day be able to tell stories in everyday speech with the ease and enthusiasm of a child—here’s why.

THE HEART OF STORY

Though books consist of words on pages, they’re so much more than that. A good book hinges more on truth than the words recounting it. I’m not downplaying the importance of talent, but there’s a difference between quality writing and complicated writing.

Take a moment to put the notebook away and think: What’s the heart of a story?

Consider a child with limited vocabulary who won’t stop talking. I’m sure you’ve met one who told a story so vivid the narrative blew you away. How could a six-year-old’s words impact you when they probably don’t make sense all the time?

The difference is a fearless passion we lose growing up. Children don’t worry about the order of their words; something has happened to excite them. They want to share the excitement—it’s so great that it can’t wait, and everyone needs to hear it!

This is the passion storytellers should aim for. We want our audience to experience tales and love characters as we do.

3 SECRETS

What qualities make a written story powerful, like one a child may tell?

Children don’t filter their stories. They don’t rearrange words to make them sound better, nor do they worry about offending. Because of this, it can be difficult to follow their stories, but the beauty is that they don’t care—they keep going.

How thoroughly do you ‘clean’ your words to keep others happy? When that clean-up is finished, is it the same story you started with? Be careful with overediting, for it can change everything.

Children don’t compare. They aren’t trying to sound better than anyone; they just want to be heard if something has caught their interest. They speak what’s in their heart and care little about how much better that other person tells it.

How much do you compare yourself to other writers, envying their talent or audience? Try telling your story simply to be heard; if you’re passionate, improvement will come naturally.

Children are unapologetic. A child tells his story the way he sees it, unfiltered and raw. It’s worth asking yourself if the worldview that matters most is that of a child; there may not be a clearer mirror in which to see yourself.

Have you changed your point of view to keep from hurting someone’s feelings? A story that walks on eggshells with readers risks becoming weak. Instead of worrying about the reader’s opinion, tell things as they are to you; that honesty might accidentally make you a bestseller.

HAVING COURAGE TO DREAM

Children allow room for imagination. They haven’t wandered into the trap of real life; they can see the world outside the box. Hearing a tale from them is a real gift, a flashback to that innocent world we’ve long outgrown. They remind us there is magic, and growing up is optional.

Are you afraid to daydream and apply that magic to real life? This is a tumultuous world where people crave escape; be the one to write a story that’ll help them return to their childhood dreams.

One sentence told with the passion of a child could touch a listener forever, because children are so real and human! It’s never too late to see the world in all its magic once more; you just have to be brave enough to see with the eyes of a child.

Book Review: Under the Trees by Ashley Maker


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Desperate to prevent an abusive arranged marriage, Princess Araya flees to a neighboring kingdom, only to land at the mercy of the impulsive Crown Prince Thoredmund, who provides refuge in a secluded forest and teaches her survival skills. Her surprise at the unexpected hold the prince has on her heart mirrors his shock at falling for the one girl he can’t have.
As the young couple’s feelings for each other grow, the fragile alliance between the two kingdoms threatens to break apart. With a vengeful duke and an enraged king fast on their trail, Thor and Araya must decide how much they’re willing to risk for love.
Even if staying together means starting a war.

A beautiful fantasy romance, Into the Trees follows Princess Araya’s flight from home in search of freedom.

Araya is escaping an arranged marriage which looms over her like a shadow. Crossing into a neighboring kingdom, what is her luck? She runs into that kingdom’s prince, who has an impulse for helping people in need; hearing her story, Prince Thor swears to get her to freedom—and loses his heart to her on the way.

It’s a quick and charming escape for those who love fantasy worlds, written at a pace to reflect Araya’s urgency. Betrothed to a disgusting man, she would rather abandon her life of luxury and her title than marry him.

However, it’s not that easy. Having been raised a princess, she doesn’t know the first thing about living as a commoner; she can’t start a fire or figure out how people greet each other in a different kingdom.

Small details such as these make incredible worldbuilding. More books ought to pay attention to customs, otherwise cultures sound unrealistically similar. When at times the book got too fast-paced, Maker’s worldbuilding made up for it; she put satisfying thought into the realm she created.

I loved the scenes in the forest! I could almost smell the nature and trees—the river, moisture, flowers. This forest sometimes had more life than the characters wandering it.

Most of this tale takes place in the forest, where great love and panic unfold. Could these trees whisper about what they saw after the story ended? I wouldn’t be surprised, for the environment teemed with magic.

I felt the resolution was rather abrupt, but the ending satisfied me as a reader. Under the Trees is a tale where beauty and magic are balanced with corruption; there’s a charming prince as well as dark characters quick to abuse their power.

Araya wants to escape a grim fate; she’s willing to leave her comfort zone for it. The story sweeps you into her journey, so you experience both giddy love and foreboding fear. I finished this book satisfied that everyone had gotten the ending they deserved.

If only there were more books like this–focusing on the beauty of love in a lively setting, like that place under the trees.