How do we handle rejection? Find a new path.

This past week rejection hit me right between the eyes. While I was not altogether surprised by the rejection, I was still disappointed. To the point of tears. In that moment, it helped to be reminded that even the best of writers have been where I am now.

I love my rejection slips. They show me I try.”Sylvia Plath

Fortunately, Sylvia Plath’s quote showed up when I needed it most. On the very day, in fact, that my new manuscript was rejected by the publisher who acquired Go Away Home. The reason I was not surprised is that my new manuscript is an issue-driven, contemporary story while Go Away Home is historical fiction. Yet rejection is rejection. And it stung.

Y in the road

Photo courtesy of morguefile.com

Plath’s quote reminded me that I had tried. I had done my best, writing the best story I could. During a good long walk, I came to see the opportunity, to realize that while this rejection diverts me from the comfortable path I’d been on, it opens another publishing path to explore.

My writing journey reflects the many faces of publishing. For a variety of reasons, I elected to indie publish my memoir Growing Up Country. That experience connected me with a host of talented, supportive indie authors who helped me learn the business. My marketing background offered the comfort zone from which I launched and promoted a book that continues to find readers 10 years later.

That effort was so successful that when it came time to publish my first novel, I didn’t even look for a publisher. The indie world had treated me well, and I launched with confidence, using everything I learned from the memoir.

Lake Union’s offer to acquire Go Away Home came out of the blue. I could not have been more surprised or delighted. The publisher’s editors built my writing skill, and their team opened marketing avenues I’d never have accessed on my own. The partnership remains a success even if it stops at one book.

Having experienced the power of a good publisher, I want that for my next work. So I embark upon a new path – Find an agent.

Finding an agent

Research is the place to start. I’ve begun to amass a list of agents who specialize in my genre and are open to new submissions. I’m researching the best query approaches. I’m preparing myself for the wait and see and inevitable acquisition of more rejection slips. I remain hopeful that one of these agents will love the story and want to work their magic with publishers.

No matter what happens, I know I’ll learn a lot. And that’s always good.

Authors, have you been this route? Do you have recommendations on agents or the process?
Readers, any advice on handling rejection?

Dressed up in a new cover – Go Away Home

A drum roll, please … When my novel Go Away Home re-launches on July 7, it will sport this brand new cover.

Bodensteiner-GoAwayHome-CV-FT-v1

As an indie author responsible for all aspects of publishing, I have to say cover design caused me the most anxiety. Still, I felt I found great designers for both my memoir Growing Up Country and for Go Away Home. Booksellers and readers told me in both cases I’d made right decisions.

So when Lake Union Publishing picked up Go Away Home, I asked, “What about the cover? Will we keep it?”

“We think we can do more to convey the time period and sense of the story,” they said.

I put my faith in their knowledge of what would appeal to readers, and we went to work. As with editing, cover design with Lake Union Publishing is a team effort. I worked with my editor and the designer to find the right clothing, landscape, and color. The right “feel.”

In addition to the images, size of elements came into play. The larger title on a light background ensures the title will show well in digital thumbnails. Smaller elements – the scissors and sewing machine, stitching and buttons – are surprises hinting at story elements for those who look closer. We went through several rounds to come to a decision we all liked.

Getting the right cover – one that grabs a reader’s attention and makes her want to read the blurb, then open the book and keep on reading is critical. As a marketer, I know there are generally several right answers. I liked the first edition cover, and I like this one, too.

I’m excited to see how readers respond. What do you think?

Are You a Book Reviewer? – Advance review copies of Go Away Home are available. If you are a blogger or journalist who reviews books, let me know so I can get you a copy.

The scoop on editing with Amazon Publishing

“What was it like working with Amazon Publishing?” “Did it bother you to lose control?” “Is it still the same story?” 

These are some of the questions I’ve received since my novel Go Away Home was acquired by Lake Union Publishing, an imprint of Amazon Publishing. Since the editing process is complete, this is a good time to report on how it went.

When I published Go Away Home last July, it was as good as I could make it. I’d hired a professional for cover design, copyediting and proof reading. I felt good about my debut effort.

Editing to make it shine.

Editing to make it shine.

Even so, when Jodi Warshaw, senior acquisition editor at Lake Union Publishing approached me, she talked about how another round of editing could make my story really shine.

I was not offended by the implication that the novel didn’t already shine. It attracted her attention, that was good enough for me. In fact, I was excited to to see what new eyes and additional professional editors would suggest. From my perspective, good can always be better. Warsaw assured me I’d be involved every step of the way and I was. Here’s how it worked.

Developmental Edit: “Trim” is such a gentle word. Much kinder, much easier to hear than “Cut,” “Slash” “Eviscerate.” My developmental editor Amara Holstein suggested “trimming” so often I found myself laughing. She suggested changes that tightened the writing in ways I’d never imagined possible. She challenged me when characters acted out of character, when I over-explained, when I didn’t give readers enough credit.

Amara and I spoke on the phone before she began her work. After she sent her comments to me, she remained available by phone and email to clarify, respond to my probes, and react to approaches I took in rewriting sections. She was encouraging, helpful, professional. I learned a ton that made this novel better and will improve my future writing.

Copyedit: While not near as intense or time-consuming as the developmental edit, the copyedit was equally valuable. Where the developmental edit looked at the big picture, my copy editor Kirsten Colton delved into details. Colloquial word use. Consistency of use. Transitions in and out of flashbacks. Use of em dashes. She discovered several words that were out of historical context – some by only a couple of years – words I never thought to question. This was a tad embarrassing since I thought I’d been so careful about being historically accurate. Again the importance of another set of eyes.

An amusing thing happened in the copyedit: where Amara trimmed with vigor, Kirsten encouraged fleshing out – more historical detail, more character description. Their suggestions were not inconsistent, simply focused on different things. Reviewers who mentioned wanting more historical detail will be happy with these additions.

Proofreading: This is the step of the process I’m most clear about since I’ve done proofreading myself as a magazine editor. A set of eyes looking at copy with a magnifying glass. Is everything absolutely perfect – spelling, grammar, punctuation, page layout.

Each of the editors had plenty to say, and I seldom disagreed with their suggestions. The editing process was not easy. At each stage, I had two weeks to make changes, write, re-write and return the manuscript for the next phase. I believe it was worth every minute of effort.

I was impressed with the team of editors that worked with me to ready Go Away Home for re-launch in July. Going in, I thought I would get push back from the developmental and copy editors on changes I made or didn’t make based on their comments. Quite the contrary. When I asked Warshaw if this was common, she said: “We want the author to be in favor of all changes and don’t want to change their vision or voice.” Errors excepted, of course.

The whole process made me think of a dedicated effort to get in shape physically. Trainers look at the big picture and what you want to accomplish. They recommend exercises to strengthen here, reduce there, tighten, trim. The person getting in shape is involved every step of the way and must do hard work to recognize the benefit. When you stick at it in the gym, you come out a better you.

Having been through the entire editing process, Go Away Home is stronger, tighter, a little shorter here, a little longer there. Is it the same story? Yes, only now it shines a little more.

Growing Up Country now an audiobook

Changes in the publishing industry have made life easier for indie authors with every evolution helping us reach more readers. As I launch the audiobook version of my memoir this month, it’s been fun to go back and look at the journey of my first indie publishing venture from the beginning.

Growing Up Country Audiobook Cover

Growing Up Country – Audiobook Cover

In 2008, I published Growing Up Country – Memories of an Iowa Farm Girl in paperback. To my surprise, printing after printing sold, and the paperback version continues to find reader interest eight years later.

In 2010 – after digital books were more than a gleam in someone’s eye – I jumped on the ebook bandwagon and converted Growing Up Country to an ebook format. New marketing opportunities abound.

Now I’m pleased to announced that Growing Up Country is available as an Audible audiobook.

While I know many readers enjoy audiobooks on a regular basis, I’m most pleased about this new format because it makes these stories available to people who have low vision, as my mother did.

The conversion to audio was far easier than I expected. I chose Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX) to do production. If you haven’t checked into ACX, I recommend it. There are two key questions you’ll have to answer as you get started:

  1. Do you want to pay for production or do a revenue share with the talent? Cautious soul that I am, I chose to share revenue so I didn’t have to go out of pocket. I will make less on each sale, but it’s a new revenue stream for me, so I’m okay with that. Of course, I hope my narrator makes a ton on this one.
  2. Who will narrate? To find a narrator, you put a sample of your book up on ACX. Interested narrators do a sample read. You can choose one of them or if you don’t like any who apply, you can put the request up again. I found a narrator who was just right on the first try. You can also find a narrator independently of ACX and upload the finished piece through ACX, but staying within the system is much easier and can be less expensive, even free, as it was for me.

Once you choose a narrator, the two of you agree on a production schedule. My book took about two months, start to finish.

While production is turnkey, the author is responsible for making certain the final product is perfect. I listened to each chapter, following along in the book, noting any errors using the time code. I told the producer who fixed the errors and sent me a corrected file to review. Easy.

When you and the narrator are finished, the project goes through ACX review. That can take a couple of weeks. Once ACX approves, they set the price and post the Audible version on Amazon. They also send codes for free copies you can use in marketing.

Back in 2007, I had no expectations of what would happen with this memoir – other than that my mother would read it. So, it’s been fun to see my stories reach new readers as each new format opens the door to more folks.

Speaking of reaching more folks, on to marketing. This is where you, dear readers, come in.

  • Do you know someone who enjoys listening to memoirs, stories of family and childhood, Iowa, history? Please tell them Growing Up Country is not available as an audiobook.
  • Do you know anyone who would be interested in listening to Growing Up Country and doing a review? I have a limited number of audiobooks to give away for just this purpose. If you do, please let me know.

Finally, if you’re an author who’s looking at an audiobook conversion, what questions do you have? I’m always happy to share whatever I’ve learned.

Readers vote authors out of publishing slush pile

Authors look for ways to get their writing noticed. Publishers search slush piles for the next hot author. Author Annamaria Bazzi alerted me to Kindle Scout, a new program from Amazon that could help both author and publisher reach their goals by involving readers before a book is published.

Annamaria is testing Kindle Scout with a campaign this month, and she agreed to share what she’s learned.White-Swans-FINAL-Amzn-1

How did you get involved with Kindle Scout?

Quite unexpectedly, I received an invitation from Kindle Scout to submit while they were still hashing out the program. I really thought about this program since I never seem to have enough funds to market and my poor novel is just sitting there collecting cyberspace dust.

What is a Kindle Scout campaign?

Amazon is a publishing company with hired editors and all, but they do things a bit differently with this particular program. Once they accept a novel, it is launched in this campaign and the author has to gather votes. Novels with the most votes are considered for publication. I’m sure they have other criteria they go by since they don’t show how many votes each novel gathers. With this program, Amazon is hoping to publish books that are popular with their customers. A good plan that will equate to profits for the giant.

What was enticing about this program?

Well, Amazon will market the book, which will give the author the opportunity of exposure and possibly some good sales. I thought it would be a good way to get my name out there.

Every submitted novel has a thirty-day campaign to gather support and votes. My Kindle Scout campaign started on November 17 and will run through December 17.

What are enough votes?

I’m not sure of that. The one thing I do know is that each novel, to make it, needs a lot of votes. As a new author I’m at a disadvantage because I don’t have a fan base to support me. Therefore I’m using any means that are legal to gather supporters to vote for my novel.

White Swans A Regency World is a Young Adult fantasy series with a pinch of romance. This is book 1. In the campaign, readers are able to read the first three chapters of all the novels competing to determine the stories they would like to vote for.

To look at all the books in the campaign, click here. Every reader can vote for three different novels. Therefore, if you see more than one book you’d like to vote for, you can. If the books you vote for are chosen for publication you’ll receive a free copy of the published book.

Sound interesting? Readers, here’s an opportunity to help encourage authors and books you enjoy. When you visit Kindle Scout, be sure to check out Annamaria’s book White Swans A Regency World. Authors, you might look into Kindle Scout as a publishing option.

White Swans A Regency World
Book Blurb:

Kendíka’s second chance at life begins as a nightmare. Will the eerie eyes always looking down from the sky reveal themselves? Kendíka challenges the aliens no one has ever seen to bring about a better life for the humans trapped in the surreal Regency world she wakes up in. While getting to know her alien owner, she discovers the aliens aren’t so perfect and have much to learn about humans. Will Kendíka survive or perish, attempting to make life better for the people living on Regency?
 
About the author:

annamaria Bazzi authorAlthough born in the United States, Annamaria Bazzi spent a great deal of her childhood in Sicily, Italy, in a town called Sciacca. Italian was the language spoken at home. Therefore, she had no problems when she found herself growing up in a strange country. Upon returning to the States, she promised herself she would speak without an accent. She attended Wayne State University in Detroit Michigan, where she obtained her Bachelor of Science in Computers with a minor in Spanish.

Annamaria spent twenty years programming systems for large corporations, creating innovative solutions, and addressing customer problems. During those years, she raised four daughters and one husband. Annamaria lives in Richmond, Virginia, with her small family where she now dedicates a good part of her day writing.
You can visit Annamaria at:
Blog / WebsiteFacebook PageEmailTwitter / Goodreads
Check in on Kendíka’s Facebook page

Six thoughts on seeking advance book reviews

Laying the foundation for a strong launch.

The manuscript of my historical novel Go Away Home was edited and ready to publish in February. With today’s technology, I could have had the book on sale in a matter of days. But I didn’t. Instead, I set the launch for July – five months out. The reason? I wanted to secure advance reviews.

Reading takes time. Getting a review does, too.

Reading takes time. Getting a review does, too.

Traditional publishers build lead time into publishing schedules in part to allow time to line up the glowing reviews used on the book cover, in “Praise for …” comments inside the book, and for other marketing. Third-party endorsement for a book helps springboard the launch.

I don’t have evidence that says having a certain number of reviews makes a difference in book sales, but reviews do add credibility. Reviews matter to me personally when I check out a book. Reviews appear to matter to Amazon in terms of marketing they do for a book. Reviews also come into play with many book promotion sites.

As an indie publisher, this is yet another of the decisions I get to make. So, I’m giving the strategy of sending out ARCs – Advance Review Copies – my best shot.  I don’t have a magic target number; my goal is as many reviews as I can get. I found a really useful article on the topic at Your Writer Platform that set me on the path.

Time will tell whether my efforts are successful; I’ll let you know. In the meantime, here’s what I’ve done and how I think about it.

Give yourself time – Reviewers get hundreds of review requests, and you may find yourself in a very long queue. Most reviewers ask for 10-12 weeks. One blogger I contacted wasn’t promising a review before January 2016.

To pay or not to payYou’ll find many sites will review for a price. Sometimes a hefty price. I make no judgement about whether paying for a review is a good idea. I lean toward not paying because I’m giving reviewers time. I also hope the concept of my novel will be strong enough to attract on its own merit. Plus, not paying fits my budget.

Target reviewers in your genre – I’ve sought out people and organizations that specialize in, or have an affinity for, historical fiction. The Indie View has a list of bloggers willing to review.  It’s a long list and you have to search for reviewers in your genre. Morgen Bailey offers reviewers by genre on her writing blog.

It takes a lot of time to identify the right bloggers and to tailor pitches according to each blogger’s specifications. I created a table to keep track of my contacts, format requested, ARC distribution, and follow up. I’ve been meticulous in giving reviewers what they want. No form letters. I’ve made all e-formats available, plus paperback.

Utilize the social networkI put the word out to my social media contacts to see if any were willing to read and review, preferably in time for my launch. Questions have been raised about the value of reviews by author friends, so I’m judicious in asking. I also make it clear to each volunteer that I expect an honest review. That the bonds of friendship don’t apply for this task. I mean it.

Playing the numbers game – Again following the lead of publishers, I’ve created ARC giveaways on Goodreads and LibraryThing. These giveaways run through the month of April. I state specifically that the objective is to give out copies to garner reader reviews.  Of course there are no guarantees. I understand from other authors that if 10-20% of the people who win a copy actually post reviews, that is a high return.

Keep breathing – Seeking reviews is a marathon, not a sprint. Finding the right contacts, sending the right information, waiting, waiting, waiting. Then there’s the anxiety regarding whether any reviewer will actually like my baby. When I began sending out review copies, I realized I spent a lot of time holding my breath.

Kara Logsden reading Go Away Home

Kara Logsden reading Go Away Home

And now for some good news:  I heard from two reviewers this week. “Well written. Compelling. Engaging,” said Kara Logsden of the Iowa City Public Library in a review posted in her blog. She took my book to a radio interview and posted the picture on Facebook. I was in heaven. To read more of Kara’s review, click.  A second, equally positive review, won’t be live until July when the book is for sale and Amazon lets readers post reviews.

The review process can seem arduous. But now I have early confirmation of my effort. Now I can breathe again.

What do you think? Authors: What was your decision regarding seeking reviews? What worked best? Readers: How much do reviews matter to you?

Five writing tips from Julia Child

The famous cook’s experiences span the kitchen and publishing

Julia ChildJulia Child describes her book My Life in France as autobiographical stories of “the things she loved most in life,” – her husband, France, and the pleasures of cooking and eating.  She does not mention writing.

Yet when I read this memoir Child wrote late in her life, in collaboration with Alex Prud’homme, I was struck by how much of Child’s life was spent writing, publishing, and promoting her now-famous cookbooks. I was also taken by how applicable her approach, even when she was talking about cooking, was to me as a writer.

Learn the craft.  “Learn how to cook –try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun!” – Julia never stopped learning about food, testing recipes, and enjoying every step along the way. She signed up for classes at the famous Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and continued to learn from chefs wherever she traveled and dined.

Writing workshops have sharpened my writing skills, introduced me to countless talented teachers and writers, provided constant inspiration. At some point, though, it’s time to stop going to class and start writing. Julia was tuned into that, too. She says of cooking: “The great lesson embedded in the book is that no one is born a great cook, one learns by doing.”  So it is with writing.

Don’t give up – Because my own novel has taken five years to write, I was encouraged by Julia’s odyssey to write Mastering the Art of French Cooking. She began working on the 600-page manuscript her co-authors had compiled in 1952. In 1959 they submitted the manuscript (in its second, and “final,” iteration) to Houghton-Mifflin. Only to have The Book rejected.

Julia’s response? “We have only begun to fight.” With another publisher, a new editor who believed in the project, and yet another almost complete rewrite, The Book finally reached bookshelves in October 1961, and Julie and her co-authors came to view the rejection as a blessing.

Be open to input –  Julia’s vision for The Book was far more grand than her publisher and editor believed could be successful. Julia’s first response was to reject the publisher’s opinion. She wrote a letter to that effect. The following day, she threw that letter away and wrote a letter agreeing to a more market-friendly version of The Book.

I’ve allowed myself a few nights of righteous indignation when comments have come in calling for significant rewrites. When I opened up to accept that the readers were right, I dove in to the rewrite. The result has always been better.

Build relationships – “The French are very sensitive to personal dynamics, and they believe that you must earn your rewards.” Julia espoused “the value of les human relations.” From fishwives to waiters to chefs to her writing partners, Julia took time to get to know people. Her interest was genuine, and those relationships paid off throughout her life.

As writers in 2014, we have far more opportunities through social media to be in contact with people.  Social media takes a lot of time. But then what worthwhile relationship doesn’t?

julia-child-my-life-in-franceBe bold. Promote.“Knopf had agreed to take out a few advertisements, but most of the promotion job fell to us. I had no idea how to arrange for publicity, so I wrote friends in business and asked for advice.” Even a major publishing house did not  provide much promotional support. So as all authors who hope to be successful must, Julia took hold of publicity herself. 

Many authors find marketing to be the hardest part of writing. It is comforting, is it not, to find that even someone like Julia Child had to manager her own promotion?

Though I don’t have the passion for cooking, as I read My Life in France, I felt a genuine camaraderie with Julia as a writer. Her voice was so clear and so human. Her book both entertaining and encouraging.

Today I leave you with two thoughts from Julia that struck particularly close to my heart as I bring my novel Go Away Home to publication:

“Nothing is too much trouble if it turns out the way it should. Good results require that one take time and care.”

“Alas, this book may not be as perfect as you might wish, ma cherie, but it will be finished.”

Ah, yes. Bon appetit!