Summer, bored kid, publishing, and no time to write

My fingers feel tight as I stretch my hands outward, forcing the muscles to loosen. There is a large spot of something sticky on my computer screen; is it a mocha splash from last Spring? I blow dust off my keyboard and sneeze. How long has it been since I’ve written anything?

Every summer is the same: my daughter is out of school and bored. She and I try to find things to do in this small town. Because of her disability, going outside in 95 degree weather is impossible. While other kids swim, hike, go to camp, or ride bikes, my daughter hides from the heat and counts down the days until school starts. We do our best to have fun by doing crafts and escaping to the city as often as possible. At least in the city there’s an air conditioned shopping mall, aka Mecca for teenage girls.

At last, school started. My daughter is happier, and I can write again.

Ebook cover 978-0-9797152-2-8

Besides being a full time, busy mom all summer, I also launched a new book through my press, Medusa’s Muse. Publishing takes as much concentration and energy as writing, and this book seemed to take even more. All summer, I struggled with printing problems, last minute manuscript issues, legal questions, and budget constraints. Shannon Drury and I worked hard marketing her book, and then just when the book launched and all seemed smooth sailing, Shannon broke her wrist. Not a fun way celebrate the launch of a first book. But the book is alive and slowly gaining readers. I am so proud of Shannon’s book and my part in creating it. It was my most challenging book so far and I learned a lot, but I am so excited about this book I would do it all over again.

My daughter left for school on the bus this morning. I pour myself more coffee and return to this long ignored blog. Now, what shall I write about…?

You know I’m working on my book if I’m not blogging

Or at least that’s what I’d like you to believe…

I actually am working diligently on the second edition of What You Need to Know to Be a Pro; the Business Start Up Guide for Publishers, so my blogging and other writing activities have been put on hold. Creating the second edition has been a fascinating process because so much has changed since I first started publishing. Five years ago, ebooks were just emerging. The Kindle was barely functional and the Nook wasn’t conceived yet. Only hard-core techno geeks read ebooks, or pirates who stole manuscripts off of hacking sites.

Today, more books are sold via the Kindle than paper books on The iPad has created a revolution in interactive books, and the Nook is gaining in popularity. My press, Medusa’s Muse, released its first ebook, the memoir Traveling Blind: Life Lessons from Unlikely Teachers, by Laura Fogg. This was the first book I published, so it seemed fitting that it was the inaugural book in our ebook start-up.

Because e-books have changed the publishing world, the 2nd edition of What You Need to Know needed a chapter on ebooks, which the first edition did not. Plus, technology has changed, so I’ve expanded the section on websites and the internet. Five years of experience has broadened my understanding of publishing, so I have a lot more information to share with start-up publishers.

I’ve been researching and revising and writing new chapters and creating exercises and lists for the “business book”, so that means I haven’t had much time to write new posts here or keep up with my favorite bloggers. It’s worth it; the 2nd edition of What You Need to Know is going to be excellent. I’m very proud of this little handbook of mine. Can you tell?

Muses hate taxes

“I’m bored,” my Muse whines. “When will you be finished?”

“Taxes take time. I have to get this right,” I say.

“But you’re not doing your taxes yet. You’re just totaling receipts.”

“These receipts tell me how much money Medusa’s Muse has earned.”

“And lost.” She slumps into a chair.

I scowl at her. “Thanks for fixating on the losses.”

“This year hasn’t exactly been booming for your press.”

“That will change.”

“You say that every year.”

Ignoring her, I focus on the pile of receipts again. Does the receipt for photocopies go in the supplies pile or the promotion pile?

My muse kicks my chair. “This press of yours is sucking more than money. It’s sucking your creative energy.”

I sigh. “Why do you do this every year?”

“Do what?”

“Bitch and moan about the press every time I have to do bookkeeping?”

“Because there is nothing creative about bookkeeping.”

“True, there isn’t. But to be creative I need to also be pragmatic. Bookkeeping keeps the lights on.”

“But it takes too long. Why not hire someone?”

“Because that would take money, which you so kindly pointed out I don’t have.”

She crosses her arms and sulks. “I hate this part of publishing.”

“Everyone does.”

“During the Renaissance, you would have had a patron to take care of all those incidentals. He would have paid your taxes and provided you food and shelter, clothing and entertainment. All of your needs would have been taken care of, simply so you could create brilliant works of art.”

“Talk to Rick. Maybe he can get a fourth job and rescue me from all this toil.” I clip a stack of receipts together and then label them postage.

“Don’t you want to take a break and work on your play?”

“Yes, I do, but I have to get this done first.”


Swiveling in my chair to face her, I snap, “If you don’t stop interrupting me I’ll never get this done, which means I’ll never get to work on my play.”

She regally stands, looks at me, and in a calm voice says, “Don’t forget you have a deadline on your play. You told UPT you’d finish the rewrites this week.”

“I know.”

“I’ll leave you to it then.” With a toss of her snake tresses, she softly walks from the room.


Where was I? Crap, I know I have more receipts for travel. Where’s the one from the dinner in October

Your Resources


(From: What You Need to Know to Be a Pro: The Business Start-Up Guide for Publishers)

Your resources are your money, personal talents, equipment, knowledge, and expertise that will help you and your business thrive. It’s important to understand what resources you need for your business. All the talent in the world won’t support your business without cash. Cash won’t make up for talent. It takes a balance of resources for your business to thrive.

Before I became a publisher, I worked as a grant writer and program director for non-profits. Much of my time was spent managing and evaluating programs to make sure they were viable and financially sound. So many wonderful programs and projects were rejected from the beginning because they didn’t start out with a clear understanding of what they needed to support the project. Or the programs slowly died because they didn’t set up a strong enough structure to support the needs of the staff and clients.

Examining the gaps in available resources is a step organizations often skip, which is one of the reasons so many excellent programs shut down before they can really help anyone. Once the weak parts of a program are identified, the organization must determine the best way to address those weaknesses. Do they need additional funding for more training, to hire extra staff, or to contract with a translator? Can the administration keep up with the extra paperwork of a new program, or will they need extra support?

Once an organization identifies its needs, it must continue to regularly analyze its resources because things can change quickly: staff leave, grants end, overhead costs increase. And occasionally circumstances occur beyond an organization’s ability to adapt. I once had to lay myself off and shut down the program I was managing when both of the program’s primary funders changed their grant focus at the same time, cutting us from their future funding plans.

To create a thriving publishing business, you need more than just a desire to publish a manuscript. And you need more than money. You must start with a thorough understanding of what you HAVE and what you NEED to create your business, and a recognition of the gaps between those two.

It takes a lot of money to start a business, let alone launch a book, which is why the majority of start-up businesses, and many established companies, lack enough financial resources. Acquiring financing can be tricky, so you need to determine how you will finance your business before you begin. Do you have enough cash set aside for such an endeavor, or are you planning to use credit cards or get a loan? How much available credit do you have and how much can you reasonably use? Remember, credit is a loan. That means the money isn’t really yours; you have to pay it back. How much can you borrow and still make the payments? Or maybe you have a rich uncle, or several friends, who’d like to invest?

Before you figure out a budget for your business, look at the resources you already have. Don’t worry right now about how much publishing a book costs, we’ll get into those details in Chapter 11. For now, look at your finances and understand how much you can realistically invest in your company. That will help you figure out how much you’ll need to borrow.

I started with $3,000 cash (my prior year’s tax refund) and another $2,000 in credit. However, I was lucky, because I have talented friends who were willing to donate their time to the press, saving me thousands of dollars.

Talent can make up for weak finances, but not completely. Some things, like printing, cost money, period. But your personal talents and those of your friends can make up for some of the costs connected with publishing.

In Chapter 2, we looked at the various jobs connected with book publishing, like design and editing. If you can do some of those jobs yourself, you’ll save money.

Here’s one caveat to that idea, though. Just because you can do it, doesn’t mean you should. It is very important to be bluntly honest with yourself while figuring out your resources. Don’t assume since you’re a good watercolor artist that you can design a book cover. Do you know what elements make a good book cover? If not, then cover design is not a resource you possess. However, if you’ve done some graphic art with a computer and know how to use Adobe Photoshop well, you probably can design your own cover, but only after you do some research into book cover design.

Go back to the previous chapter and take a look at all those required jobs in a publishing company. Which jobs can you do already? Which ones do you know a little about and could learn to do well with practice and research? Which ones do you know nothing about? And could a friend or acquaintance help with any of those jobs that you don’t know how to do?

Anything you already know is a resource. Everything else can become a resource once you identify where to get the help you need to fill those gaps.

Managing a business takes another set of skills separate from publishing, but they are just as important. Again, you need to figure out what you already know, what you can do yourself, what you need help with, and how other people can help you.

To start and manage a business you need

• A bookkeeper

• A marketing manager

• An accountant

• Someone to do customer service and fulfill orders

• Legal assistance

• A human resources manager if you have staff

• Computer support

• A production manager to oversee the creation of your product.

How many of those tasks can you do yourself and who will help you with the rest?

How do you want to be published?

So many of us write the book and then think if we pound on enough doors eventually one will open, allowing us to enter the world of Literary fame and fortune. We’ll join the likes of Amy Tan and David Sedaris, Sharon Olds and John Updike. Maybe we’ll even be included in the hall of fame with Mark Twain and J.D. Salinger.

 I admit, I want that too. I dream of being the kind of writer people discuss at dinner parties as brilliant, and that publishers throw gobs of money at. I want NPR to interview me and Time Magazine to put me on their cover as the greatest writer who ever lived.

 Probably not going to happen.

 I mean maybe… you never know what the future will hold. One of those novels buried in my bottom desk drawer could be the hidden gem to bring me fame. It could happen to you, too. Alas, the odds are not in our favor.

 The good news though, is that it’s even easier to be published now than ever. Don’t get snobby with me and say, “Being published by a micro-press, or (shudder) self-published isn’t really being published at all.”

 Stop right there, because you are full of s**t.

 Seriously, if you hold fast to only that one dream of being legitimized by Random House, you might as well stop sending out those query letters and save money on stamps; bury your head in the pages of your manuscript and spend your days dreaming.

 Today, getting your work out there to the reading public has never been easier. You are free to make your own way, thumb your nose at the crumbling halls of the big publishing houses (who are in as bad shape as the music industry), and take control of your future as an author. Deciding how you’ll be published depends on what you dream of.

 First, let’s acknowledge that we do indeed want that three-figure advance, three book, deal. But what is plan B? That’s where you find the route to seizing your publishing dream. Your own personal Plan B… actually, let’s call this Plan P, for “Published.” Your personal Plan P will show you what you need to do to get published.

 For example, let’s say you really want to make a living as a writer. You’ve got a three book fantasy series living with the candy wrappers in your top drawer, and you’d really like other people than your grandchildren to read them. You’ve got a little money set aside you could invest in marketing your books, but you don’t want to self-publish. Instead of only focusing on the big houses, find some smaller, e-book publishers who are willing to take a chance on a new writer. There are many on the internet now, and with more and more e-readers being bought, there’s a strong need for new books to read. Many of these publishers also sell print copies on a print-as-needed basis. The only way to stand out from the pack of ebooks is through marketing, which luckily you’ve got the money to go to conferences, buy some target ads, and hire someone to build a dynamite web site. You can even set up a blog, a Facebook page, and a Twitter account and start networking with other writers and people who are interested in fantasy. It’s a lot of work marketing your books, but here’s a little secret you may not realize: if you were published by a bigger publisher you’d have to do the same amount of marketing work. Many of those authors you see on book tours are paying their own way.

 But maybe you don’t have the money to launch a marketing campaign. You can do a lot of marketing, but you’ll need to do much of it yourself and primarily on line. Rather than a website you can set up a Word Press blog which allows you to customize your page for free. This will take more time and work than investing money in your book campaign.

Or maybe, that’s way too much work. What will really make you happy is a few people reading and enjoying your book. Sure, it would be great if more people bought a copy, but a hand-full of people in love with your work is perfect. You want to devote your time to writing, not marketing. You don’t give a fig about how many “likes” you have on your Facebook page, or even want a Facebook page, you want to write and get those pages out into the world for anyone who wants to enjoy.

Because when it comes down to it, just being able to write is the greatest dream. All of us get so caught up in being validated as authors, when we should be spending that energy on our craft. We should make damn sure we’re writing our absolute best work, not worrying about how many people have visited our blog that day.

It’s a balance, as all things are. We must balance the joy of writing with our need for publication. And if the need for publication steals the joy from writing, then we’ve given up too much of our creative selves on our dream of success.

When you think of being published, what is your dream? How much are you willing to give up for that dream to be real (money, time, writing time, sanity)? If you made all those sacrifices, will you still be happy? If so, then go for it. With hard work you can be published and will sell books. If not, then keep pouring your heart and soul into writing. Give your work away, or self-publish. All that really matters is that someone reads what you wrote, and finds pleasure in it.