Showing posts with label traditional publishing rules. Show all posts
Showing posts with label traditional publishing rules. Show all posts

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Trusting Your Own Instincts: Rules Vs. Passion


Trusting Your Own Instincts: Reaching for Your Star

By Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of the
multi award-winning HowToDoItFrugally series of books for writers


Advice divvied out to authors by fellow authors often makes me uncomfortable It is, after all advice. Really. Advice almost never applies to all authors, all genres. Even what we think of as “zero-tolerance” disciplines like punctuation and grammar “rules” offer style choices and exceptions. I don’t blame the authors. Many are operating on what they learned decades ago. The things is, the publishing industry is always morphing and that’s especially so in the age of the internet.  And language itself?  It’s a living entity. Shakespeare himself probably knew that the rules for sonnets he followed (or made) would one day be different. He also may not have realized that one day they would be considered sacrosanct.

For instance, nonfiction authors—well respected nonfiction authors—suggest that authors research the need for a topic among their presumed audience, that they check out competitive titles, agents who are looking for a specific topic, and on and on.  Some of it is pretty good advice. What it overlooks is passion. And the joy that passion brings to what we do.

I feel lucky that I hadn’t read this advice when I started my HowToDoItFrugally Series of books for writers. So here’s my story. I hope it gives a few authors the confidence to follow their dreams. I start this story backwards because the original going-against-advice started back in early 2004 and you, dear reader-author, may not put much stock in anything based on ancient history.  

So, this is 2021.  My series for writers has been prospering since 2004. I started thinking my books had outgrown their own britches—or I had outgrown mine. So, there was a nice person I had worked with way back then partnering with a writer-oriented organization. I had been vaguely aware he was publishing and because Dr. Bob Rich and Diana Raab, two of my online friends, had published with him. One morning when I felt overworked and underappreciated, I picked up the phone and called Victor Volkman, publisher of Modern History Press. No research. No book proposal. Yes, I knew doing it went against all publishing tradition, all common sense. I really expected a no after I gasped, “Do you remember me? We worked together on a podcast some time ago.”

“Yes, he said. And he kept saying “yes.”

The upshot was that he published a full book under his Modern History Press imprint and a slender booklet (a kind of nonfiction chapbook) in less than six months. So, he deserves credit for following…well, his instincts if not his passion. He went by the seat of his pants, here, too.  Two books, both with a September first release date? Really? And both books had been published before. Well, that was gutsy. No matter what you’ve heard about the possibilities of getting a traditional publisher for a self-published book, it is rare. That path is loaded with all kinds of dangers and I am the first one to warn a client of what she might be up against if that is her hope (all the while urging her to follow her star if the book is already published or there are other well-meaning no-nos pointing in the direction of her book, style, or whatever.).

Returning to the early days of The Frugal Book Promoter, I came to realize I had just mirrored an earlier foolish move I made when I first started writing again. It was early-internet days. E-books were just beginning. And the craziest stuff –some of it outrageously unethical—was going around the net in what we called Yahoo writers’ groups and other places. I felt I should be letting people know, maybe teaching, but knew that I didn’t have the graduate degrees necessary. But a friend at a party told me that the world-renowned UCLA Extension Writers’ Program valued practical experience above graduate degrees so…well, I just pitched them a new course based on avoiding the potholes I had just experienced publishing my first fiction effort. Again, no hesitation. “Yes.” And I had a class to teach that fall with no book or e-books written specifically for authors available to use as a text!

That series of books now includes six of them and hundreds of how-to articles. The joy flows. One of the most joyful aspected is helping new writers avoid the same potholes I fell into and maybe rope in successes they would never have had if they hadn’t ignored the rule-makers, the nay-sayers. We have instincts and passions that can work for us. We can be cautious about using them, but we should never ignore them.

Publishing is in big part about trusting our instincts. Publishing is intense. That means writers must learn to take care of themselves. That includes learning more so we become more confident in our own choices, can take better care of our own needs.

Because of my desire to help other authors avoid the pitfalls I had experienced with my novel, I dropped my fiction to write that text. I used a new concept—a chatty text. And I am still chatting through my nonfiction books (gasp!)—and finding some time for fiction and poetry, too. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love more than just one thing in their lives. That’s why we have hobbies—and some of us have one or more children.

And it happened because I didn’t let advice—and fear—deter me. It happened because I did what people should always do when they start something new, I asked for a whole lot of help from my friends. The publishing industry is very traditional but there are a lot of plucky souls in it. Most the authors I know are risk-takers. The authors who aren’t in that category still have manuscripts stowed at the bottom of drawers or the bowels of their computers.

Suggestion for Friends and Writers

Gifts for Writers
Everyone is a writer these days. The ones who aren’t may find my advice to write about what is bothering them helpful for their stress level. Maybe my multi award-winning The Frugal Editor  will help give them the confidence to actually send what they write to the power brokers of the world! Especially when they find that a whole lot of the rules that stifle our creativity aren’t rules at all, that we get to make style choices. Emphasis on the word choices.

The Great First Impression Book Proposal is one of the books my published by my new publisher, this one its second edition.  And now it’s an audiobook, too. I’m including it because it makes the point that sometimes doing something the easy way is the best way. (The subtitle suggests you can learn all you need to know on the topic in thirty minutes or less using this booklet.) A new book on how to make Twitter work for authors is in the planning stages. Watch for it on The Frugal Book Promoter page at Modern History Press or follow me on my Amazon author page at https://bit.ly/CarolynsAmznProfile page for automatic notifications of new books in the series.

 




Gift for Readers
I’m including my newest nonfiction book of poetry because I am making a point that we needn’t give up one passion to pursue another. Imperfect Echoes won a Writer’s Digest honorable mention award. Jim Cox, Editor-in-Chief of Wisconsin Bookwatch says, “[Carolyn Howard-Johnson is] an exceptionally skilled wordsmith, her poetry will linger in the mind and memory long after the book itself has been finished and set back upon the shelf. Very highly recommended for community and academic library Contemporary American Poetry collections . . .” Find Imperfect Echoes . And, yes, some of the poems in it are a bit risky.



Cover art by Richard Conway Jackson who is serving twenty-five years to life in a California State prison for receiving stolen property.



 

 


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