Shame In The Eye Of The Beholder

Sunshine On My Shoulders should be available in just a few days. As part of the publication process, I decided to go with a new cover artist, and then asked her to redo the covers of previous books. I’m beyond thrilled with the results.

I’ve been thinking about these changes, beyond just the business aspect.

First, let me say that there was nothing wrong with the previous cover artist. She was new to the trade and I was new to the design aspect, and neither of us knew how to make our needs clear. There were misunderstandings and mistakes on both sides. The end result was three covers I never liked.

There’s a bigger issue though.

Shame.

I wonder how many indie authors feel that. I’ve written about it before on this blog. The struggles to feel like a ‘real’ author when there isn’t a large publishing house behind the book.

There are a lot of things that contribute to this, like opportunities for beginning authors, but only if you’re traditionally published. Yes, there are some opportunities for indie authors, but the market hasn’t reached the point yet where they are equal. Same with trying to get indie authors through the doors of book stores and libraries. Which leaves many feeling not good enough.

Then there’s the indie publishing process itself. It’s so easy. Which results in millions of books. When I started this, the thinking was that if you were professional, if your product was polished, you’d float upward through the masses while those books that were tossed out with no editing, no writing experience, etc., would sink and disappear. Maybe they do, but again, with millions, if not billions, of books out there, that means a lot of sinking and rising to do.

If I look one of my books up and see that it’s ranked around five million, I don’t see rising going on, only failure on my part. After all, I’m just an indie author.

That underlying shame is not something I’m often consciously aware of. It doesn’t impact my writing. Nothing can take me out of the story world. But it surfaces when I squirm with certain phrases in the real world.

I’m an author. I say, I’m a writer.

I have published books. I say, I have stories out there.

I’ve been invited to speak at an author’s panel. I say, I’m going to talk about writing.

But with Sunshine, I realize that shame has always been there when I look at my book covers. Just that little brief feeling of uncomfortable. That back-of-your-mind thought where you wish your books looked better when you’re at those author panels.

That really never sank in on a conscious level until today when I saw the final concept for Sunshine’s cover. When I saw how professional it looked.

SOMS Screen Shot

Finally, after four books, I feel like an author.

And the weird thing, which is also rather sad, is that feeling like an author has nothing to do with the story, with the words inside that cover. My feeling like I have something now to be proud of comes from the beautiful artwork of another.

I don’t mean that I’m not proud of the story inside the cover. There are lots of pieces in there that I like. But I’ll be the first one to tell you that I see the world through words, not color and design. I can’t even tell what colors go together. It’s just that the visual, the first impression, all comes from the cover of a book.

That first impression, I think, just got a lot better. So a great big thank you to Monika Younger of Younger Book Design.

The other book covers should be redone before too long.

Feeling like a real author will take more time. Well, probably a LOT more time. But hey, I have a lot of stories still to tell, so we’ll consider that a work in progress. I’m sure I’m not alone in that.

When You Write Slow

Someone once told me that my books start out like an easy ramble through the woods and you don’t realize you’ve been sucked in until it’s too late.

tree on Mt Pilchuck

How long did it take this tree to get like this?

I liked that even though I spent an inordinate amount of time wondering if it was a nice way of saying I better work on pacing. Well, okay,  I still wonder that.

It takes me a while to write a book. I firmly believe that if I outlined in a traditional manner, I could publish books much faster. But that type of outlining has never worked for me. I prefer to amble along daydreaming the story.

On the positive side that means I usually don’t have a lot of revising to do at the end (unless my editor asks me the ONE question I never thought of that impacts the whole story…thanks, Susan Schreyer). It also means I’ve given characters plenty of time to show me who they are and how they fit in the landscape.

Mt Baring

Mountains – my favorite story landscape

But on the not-so-positive side, it means two things in particular for the story I’m writing now.

I’m working on the ending currently. And one of the characters finally decided it was time to tell me about family relationships. Really? You wait until NOW to tell me? Yes, okay, that makes sense as I think about it. Yes, okay, it ties perfectly to the theme of family angst in my stories. But still, NOW?

I started Sunshine On My Shoulders almost three years ago. At that time certain things were going on with the Sunshine mine in Wallace, Idaho. Now that I’m almost done, those things have changed so the story is now out of date. Some of the plot moments can be left because this is, after all, fiction. But as I revise, I’m going to have to bring several things up to date or the book will be ‘old’ before it’s ‘new’.

Does all that make me feel pressured to write faster? Not really. I enjoy the slow ramble through the woods. I love the process of the story unfolding in its own time.

I saw an article recently that questioned whether slow writers could survive in this day and age of everything delivered instantly and the vital need to stay in the public eye or be forgotten. I didn’t read the article. Why? Because the purpose of writing isn’t to quickly shove product into humanity’s hands. It’s to tell a story. And any story, in any writer’s hands, will reveal itself in its own time.

My stories just happen to be a bit shy.

taken by Art

There’s a story out there…

Writing Relief

I started working on book four a couple months ago. It dragged so blogged about it, and then met with my sounding board, author Susan Schreyer. I told her what direction I hoped to go with the plot. This one will touch on the Sunshine Silver Mine fire of 1972 in which 91 miners died. Because I know families of those miners and because I’ve been down in that mine, I also shared my worries with Susan. I didn’t want to write a fictional mystery that would be disrespectful to those who survived or to the families of those who didn’t.

Wardner&Kellog

Courtesy of Wikimedia. Historic photo of the Wardner/Kellogg, Idaho area where the Sunshine is.

But I’m still bored with the story. Still dull. Still dragging.

So last night I started analyzing why. And these were the questions I needed to answer and the answers I discovered. Which are good questions whenever a story starts to drag.

How does the plot idea tie to the protagonist? Realization: it didn’t.

Why would the protagonist care about what was happening? Realization: she wouldn’t.

How does the plot idea create conflict for the protagonist? Realization: there wasn’t any conflict.

And finally this realization. The story as written was going nowhere fast. I’d spent two months and was only on page 34.

There are two new characters I like. There were some bits of dialog I was pleased with as well as some interactions. But overall there was nothing to make me excited to sit down and breathe in this new story.

So this morning I made a copy of version one. I’ve learned over the years to never delete early versions. And then I started on version two.

I wrote this morning for a couple hours.  I’m up to page 37. I added a scene at the beginning that creates questions and a bit of nervousness for the protagonist. I discovered the connection between the protagonist and the murder victim. A connection that is going to cause her conflicts with multiple characters.

There are still questions I need the characters to answer for me, and I still need a way to tie an event in the 1960s to the mining disaster in the ’70s and to the present. But those are the kinds of things my subconscious plots out for me and I discover as I write.

I’ve given this advice to others in similar situations – that sometimes the story dies and you just have to start over. Today I listened to my advice and the excitement is starting to simmer.

I so love this process of discovery.

BurkeID

Historic photo of Burke, Idaho, courtesy of wikimedia