Easy Pickings – an Exercise in Sharing and Self-Publishing

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For years I said that self-publishing was something I’d not consider doing, but that was before the advent of: the total change in the publishing world, the importance of the Internet to culture and society, the ease of e-publishing, and the failure of Borders. The world has changed. So have I. Change is a necessity, is part of the survival of the fittest, and to not change is to fail. I’m not fond of failure.

As most of you know, Catie (C.E.) Murphy and I worked on a crossover story with our main characters Jane Yellowrock and Joanne Walker. This collaboration was total fun, a sharing of skillsets, abilities, and people we’ve worked with in the past who would help us on the way to our destination. And yes – it was self-published.

I’d like to share how that collaboration came about, from my perspective, and I hope Catie will chime in with her insights. And I know that means it could end up like the blind men and the elephant – everything is different, nothing is the matching, yet somehow it’s the same beast. J

Last year, after the release of Mercy Blade, Catie read Skinwalker and fell in love with Jane. She sent a *fan* letter, and I sent back a mutual fan letter, because I had been a long-time fan of her Walker Papers series (among others of her work). I was so happy that she liked my Jane, but I figured that would be that.

And then Catie sent me a note that she had started a crossover short story with the two characters in a third universe, a universe that was neither hers, nor mine, a universe that had somehow sucked our characters into it. A universe with another New Orleans, a NOLA where much of the recent vamp history in Jane’s universe had not taken place.  

Catie sent it to me and I positively loved the opening. It felt magical and read like, well, like something I could get my teeth into. She asked if she could post it on her website, I agreed, and linked to her site on my site. The fans started to cry for more and so did I.

The next day, I added four pages or so to the untitled piece, from Jane’s POV.

Catie came back and said something like, “Wanna do a short story together?”

By that time I was bouncing up and down in my desk chair like a two year old (with glee, not needing a diaper change. Sorry. Odd mental image.)  I had two books to write that year, and three shorts, but no way was I missing out on this. This was gonna be fun!

The short was Catie’s idea, so I felt she should have first opportunity to pitch the plot line. Catie (who lives in Ireland) suggested we use DropBox which worked great for collaborating across the pond. We went back and forth with plot suggestions / changes for several days (maybe it was weeks?) before we figured we had something workable, each of us tossing in ideas, adding in places when each character used her magic, and how that magic might differ in the third universe. And we dove in.

The method we came up with was simple, and was predicated on our book schedules, family situations, and holidays. Neither of us pushed the other for a deadline; it was very laidback and easy.

Catie would write a section from Joanne’s POV, *tag* me and I’d revise her section before writing my word count from Jane’s POV. I’d *tag* her. Catie would revise my section and then write her word count. Here is where people who are insecure with their writing skills or with big egos might have had problems. Having someone else make changes or leave comments or questions in the margins might have bent some writers wrong. Fortunately, Catie and I were neither of those, and both of us were having fun.

It took us nearly nine months to write the short, in part because we are both busy and both wordy, and at about 15,000 words, it turned into a novella. Yeah. J So. Nine months. And as usual with anything in commercial writing, the writing was the easy part.

We needed a title, and I stink at titles. Always have. Catie named it Easy Pickings which was perfect for the storyline and the New Orleans setting.

We needed a cover, and I have a cover designer and a model who could look like Joanne.  Mike Pruette  (http://www.creativedragondesigns.com/ ) did a couple of photo shoots with the model (Alison Bolton) as Joanne, trying to get the body shape and positions right to photo-shop in existing shots of Jane. He had weapons and gear, and Alison can look kickass as Joanne. Trust me. I got to attend one of the shoots – which was very cool! Mike chose a New Orleans jazz bar on Bourbon St. as background and chose the purple tint, the color of the font, and the font itself. Catie (with a background in graphics) and Mike went back and forth on changes on all that. (I mostly agreed or disagreed with what they did.) The cover took several weeks.

Meanwhile, I (I think it was me) suggested that we offer a low-cost, fan-only, short-term opportunity to download the novella from our websites. Catie went for it.

Catie worked on the inside material and turned the text into a .pdf for our websites. She also found two fantastic graphics to show each change of POV. She created her own paypal button and download pages for her site. I paid Mike (who is also my webmaster) to set up mine. While all this was going on, I had a deadline for Death’s Rival (the next JY novel) the release of Cat Tales to PR for, and PR for Raven Cursed to prepare for. Catie, I am sure, was equally busy.

We launched the .pdf sales on our websites, a $1.99 fan-only, short-term opportunity. The only PR was our sites, Face Book pages, Twitter, and blogs. This short-term offering went on for two weeks. I was quite happy with the numbers. So was Catie.

As the .pdf was running, Catie started to do the layout for Amazon and Nook and other e-book forms. It’s harder than it looks when you use graphics. (Remember those cool POV graphics?) My small press editor loaned me his digital guy, and I paid to get the story turned into all of the digital forms. Catie up-loaded them to the appropriate sites. This was a good division of labor vs. money for me.

As of today, Easy Pickings is up on Nook and Amazon, with decent numbers, and Catie and I are debating getting it on Smashwords (which takes a totally different set of digital info, and we’ll likely have to pay to get it done by the Smashwords people.)

Are the numbers gangbusters? No. Are they respectable? Yes. We are pretty happy with them, and, frankly, with the whole experience. It was fun, challenging, and satisfying. I learned a lot of new things, and I learned that I don’t want to bother to learn others. In my opinion, sometimes it’s easier to pay a third party to do some work. Catie, on the other hand, likes the challenges of it all and only wants to pay someone to do work when there is absolutely no way to do it herself.

Have we made a fortune? No. Have we hit any lists? No. Not even with the PR both of us together can generate. Would it have worked had we been unknowns? No way. Will we do it again? Oh yeah. We’ve even left open a way for the characters to reenter that third world for a second novella – this time set in Seattle, Joanne’s home town. Here’s a link to Easy Pickings on Amazon so you can see the fabulous cover. And buy it if you are of a mind.

So – let’s ask the obvious question and throw it open for comments and questions. After reading this – has it changed your thinking about self publishing?

Faith
www.faithhunter.net

 

 

 

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29 comments to Easy Pickings – an Exercise in Sharing and Self-Publishing

  • Faith – Thanks for filling in these details! I am always fascinated to hear how people collaborate on works. That’s something I’ve never tried, and I am in awe of teams that make it work! I hope that your next joint work is as enjoyable!

  • Faith> Interesting post. On a side note from what you say about self-pubbling, the collaborative writing sounds a lot like how Sarah and I write–we just discovered drop box this year and used it the same way you guys did over Xmas. Collaborative writing is a lot about ego-checking, I think.

    But in terms of self pubbing: After reading this, has my opinion on self-pubbing change? Nope. I think self-pubbing works for a few unknowns who successfully build themsevles a platform (Amanda Hocking, John Hartness), and they work hard at the platform and it takes a lot of effort, skill, and time. On the whole, though, most self-pubbed stuff vanishes if the authors don’t have a strong platform. You guys had a strong platform. You had fans who’d already be interested in your individual stuff. It wouldn’t surprise me if both of you saw sales in your original stuff from the crossover.

    So, for self pubbing for me, I don’t have the platform, I don’t have the time or skills right now to create a platform, so I’m not venturing into self-pubbing. I’d be happy to be a part of someone else’s. That is, if someone I know creates a journal, anthology, website, etc. But go it on my own? Nope. Not right now. Maybe someday. 🙂

  • I was against self publishing of my own work for years. I would go to writer’s club meetings and see people who had printed up a box of books and were trying to sell them to fellow writers. Or more recently people who published their own book through their own publishing company. And most eBooks I saw were very poorly formatted. I was out to get a big time publishing contract, while not doing everything I needed to do. I was leery of agents, having been scammed once in the past, so only sent manuscripts to the three publishers who would look at unsolicited manuscripts in my genres. After getting very good multiple page rejection letters on several novels, the kind of letters that let me know they read the entire manuscript, but also let me know it wasn’t right for their market, I gave up for a couple of years. In 2010 I started sending queries to agents, a total of 50. Still rejections, mostly of the “I don’t have time to read your work, and I’m sure it’s good, but it’s not for me.” I have heard all the things about rejected work becoming published once a first sale is made. I got tired of seeing what I thought of as good work, as good as many of the novels I have seen published recently, sitting on my hard drive going nowhere. I got tired of the gate keepers keeping that gate closed. So I recently self published three books and will have two more on the net within the next month. I will still be sending work in to agents, but now I have another angle of attack on the industry. It is a lot of work, especially since I am no computer genius, and there have been all kinds of problems from programs not working the way they are supposed to the second time to books that looked really good when uploaded turning out looking like crap when customers get them on their Kindle. But to me this is a more hopeful endevour than sending emails and letters out and waiting the the “not for me, thanks for the look,” replies to come back.

  • MInday, this is the second time I’ve collaborated on writing projects. The first time, my co-writer and I had diferent responsibilities in *every* way. He came up with the storyline, and did all research, while I did all the writing. It was effective, but very slow. While this EP project took all of 9 months, it was still faster with two writers than with only one.

    Pea Emily, that *extra personal sales* possibility was part of the reasoning (for both of us) to do the crossover. I think with writers, if we don’t have more than one reason to add some project to our busy schedules, it is likely to fall by the wayside. Re: Drop Box. It is fantastic for collaborative projects. And yes, without a platform, My bet is that we would have had only a few sales, and been very disheartened.

  • Brother, this business is a business of numbers. 50 rejections is nothing. I got something like 120 on my first book, and wrote two others (and got them published with Warner Books) while trying to get the first one published. My mantra during this time was: If you give up, you will not succeed.

    I am curious how your numbers looked with the self published books. Are you satisfied? How long did it take you to reach 1,000 sales?

  • Yes and no. My thoughts are pretty much what Pea Faerie said. I don’t quite have that platform either.

    However, one piece I’m working on *is* a collaboration, and the other person does have a platform, if smallish. And I’ve been thinking that down the line, when it’s finished and seeking a home, self-publishing might be just where it fits. And we don’t quite know what will happen between now and then, which because of our schedules/committments/what else may come, could be ages away.

    So I can see it being a possibility, just not necessarily for my main work. Not yet, anyway. I might try a short story or two, just to see, if only to satisfy my curiosity.

  • Laura, I think as an adjunct to the commercial publication of larger works, self-pubbing small things is actually wise. It is part of a PR process that really works.

  • I can’t wait to read this piece. Thanks for the inside look at the process.

    As for self-pubbing, I remain convinced that it is something that established writers can use to get backlist back in print, to get projects that don’t have an obvious traditional-publishing home into the hands of readers, and to publish short works that tie in to larger traditionally published works. I think that it remains a risky and difficult road for authors who don’t have an established readership or other obvious PR platform.

  • Mikaela

    I am thinking about it. Some projects I intend to submit, but then there are other projects that I might Sell on Amazon and Smashwords. Like the 10 k Paranormal Romance Short story. It is too long for an ezine, but too short for most romance publishers. On the other hand, I might rewrite it from scratch, since I have grown a lot since I wrote it. Then there is the epic fantasy novella… ( Which also needs another rewrite.)

  • A good friend of mine from long ago collaborated on a story in much the same fashion, with back-and-forth edits and new content from two different POVs. But this was back in Middle School/High School, before I was any good as a writer (a condition that is arguably or potentially still true of me).

    It was a lot of fun, of course. But I didn’t grow as much as I wanted, as a writer, from the experience. This is because of the two of us, I was the acknowledged writer, so my friend largely relied on me for all the edits – which meant that my sections rarely got any edits at all, except remarks about mischaracterization on members of my friend’s cast of characters (we each had exclusive jurisdiction over certain characters in the story). It would be another experience entirely to work with someone who’s an accomplished writer in their own right, and can provide useful commentary and feedback.

    As for self-publishing, this story didn’t really change my own outlook on it. I still consider it an option-of-last-resort, and still consider the traditional path my ideal publishing career path, with certain caveats. And I still figure that even if I succeed in the traditional path, it’s likely that at some point I’ll self-publish something anyway, but if I do hopefully it will be with the added benefit of having first been commercially published and having developed an audience who can follow me into the digital medium.

    All that, of course, being bounded by a very, very big “if”.

  • sagablessed

    To be honest, after reading this I am even more trepiditious about SP. How you two found time to do all this is beyond me. But I may still take that route, if I cannot find another venue. Stories that are not told fill me with sadness.
    Collaberative? Hmmm, if only there was someone in my neck of the woods to do something like that with. *insert hint here* (You know who you are, lol.)
    And on a personal note, I am sorry to say I will miss you Faith at Marcon. I have another gathering I need to attend. (Suckage of the first order.) Maybe next year.

  • David, I’ll be interested in seeing what you think about it.

    Mikaela, it’s a hard decision to make. Let me know what you decide about these projects.

    Stephen, You still have time to try the traditional publishers. I agree that mixed bag of publishing experiences is the smartest route if you can make it happen.

    Saga, it *did* take a lot of time. And it was a steep learning curve, that would never have seen a positive ending if not for Catie and her talents and Mike and hsi talents. Alone, it would never have happend.

  • Nope, didn’t change my opinion at all. 🙂

    Welcome to the dark side. We have cookies.

    I continue to say that self-pubbing is a viable option for writers who are willing to put in the work, or have the resources to pay people to do things like cover design and editing. For people who don’t have the cash to invest, it’s probably not the right way to begin.

    There aren’t any black and white answers anymore. Five years ago there was a right way and a wrong way, and authors had to fit into the mold created for us or not work. Now we can choose what works best for each project – self-pub, big press or small press, and pursue the best avenue for our wallets and the project.

    It’s an exciting time to be a writer, because we have more viable options than ever before.

  • John, you are so right. Five years ago, it was a different world. And I like the dangerous evil cookies of the self pubbing world – but in my case, as an adjunct to the traditional method. You have made it work in reverse – self pubbing to traditional. After this experience, I admire that even more!

  • Faith, very cool. The back and forth with another writer sounds like a fun and enlightening experience. Definitely different than say a Wild Cards or Thieves World, where you can use another author’s character in your story (with restrictions) but still write the entire story yourself. I love how you edited each others’ work before cranking out new words. Fabulous.

    Cheers,
    NGDave

  • Julia

    Faith, I really appreciated your thoughts about the collaboration. I’ve never collaborated with another author on fiction, but I have done this once with an academic article and enjoyed the experience immensely. However, I have a second (bigger) collaborative project (with a different colleague) that’s a somewhat stalled at the moment — primarily because we’re both busy with other things and finding it hard to give the project the priority it needs to get off the ground.

    I’m curious: did you discuss how you would approach editing, before you did it? Or did you just jump in and hope for the best?

  • NG Dave, we did have a lot of fun!

    Julia, Ego has no place in a collaboration. Manners have the primo place.

    We were tracking the novella as we went, and on the first day of using DropBox, Catie asked me how I felt about her posting thoughts, questions, and comments in the margins. I told her to go for it. I have a thick skin and so does she. Yet, we were both very careful to be kind and to ask before we changed something the other had written. Because of the all the above, it was a non issue from the first.

  • I’ve collaborated with four different authors on four very different projects. Each collaboration experience was entirely different from the others, too. On the first, it started out in a chat room (anyone else remember GEnie?) and quickly moved to email. I’d write until I got stuck or bored, and send it off. He’d rewrite and add and send it back. I’d go back to the beginning, tweak, etc. It was a lot of fun.

    The second was with a Name. I wrote the complete first draft and sent it to him. He did edits and changes as he felt was needed and submitted it. I didn’t mind that division, because linking my name with his NAME pretty much guaranteed a sale. It was a good learning experience.

    The third was an accident. I was working on a story for an anthology and was stuck. Showed it to a friend. We talked through some possibilities and I said, “Well, write it!” He did, then sent it to me. I tweaked, made some suggestions and added an ending. Sent it back. He tweaked, sent it to me, we both nodded and submitted it. And so far have sold it twice.

    The fourth was just fun. Two of us sitting together talking, swapping, changing. That one was written in one sitting (several hours worth) and we both contributed (and I typed). The antho it was aimed for folded before production and was too narrow-focused for other markets. Oh well.

    The point is, as Faith said, curb the ego and enjoy the process and remember that each tweak, comment, suggestion, etc. is to make it Better. And writing is too lonely a business in most cases to reject sharing when you can!

    As for self-publishing? I might put together a collection of short stories one day for e-pub, but for a novel, I still want the thrill of holding a professionally published BOOK in my hand. Call me old-fashioned, but I won’t feel like I’m ~there~ until I can do that.

  • *insert hint here* (You know who you are, lol.)

    I see what you did there. 😉

    I haven’t really collaborated on anything with anyone but my wife for a long time. I think I have something sitting on my hard drive that my cousin and I started working on back when the Commodore 128D was big. 😉 I’ve revised it a lot since then and one day I’ll actually finish it. Be funny to hand him a check for some of the advance and tell him it’s for his contribution to that old story we started on the Commodore long ago. 😉

    I’d probably collaborate with someone, but I’d have to kind of hang with ’em for a bit. Get to know ’em some, see if we mesh creatively, understand their head a bit. Share some work, perhaps. I honestly don’t have much ego (a bit, enough to feel I’m good, not enough to feel as though I can’t learn any more). I have more a pessimistic streak that I’ve been trying to beat down into a dark corner of my mind for the past, well, a long time. I’ve been working hard to accept criticism with an open mind and without it making me feel like I’m a hack when I realize they’re correct.

    I’ve been considering trying to self pub some short works, but I’ll have to find time to edit them all some more, learn how to convert them to the proper formats, get a cover done, etc. I’ve got a number of friends in the art community local that can work to spread word to others who aren’t local and advertise if I asked. Even a small following would still be a following that would buy a novel later and spread the word to others instead of starting cold once I’m published. But I still need to finish the duology and get the next work finished before I can think about switching gears.

  • The Mathelete

    Fascinating post, Faith. I love that you and Catie were somewhat mutual fans before you started this collaboration. It’s great that it’s been a positive experience for the two of you. Can’t wait to read the story (and novellas are SO nice with my schedule right now — something for the random spare afternoon that work isn’t piled up over my head).

    I’ve been pondering the e-self-pub thing for a while (since early summer), and your post brought me back to a list of questions I jotted down back then. After reading your post, I decided to dig them out, tweak them, and ask them again to see if anything had changed. These were my questions (insert Law and Order bell here):

    Q1)There’s a lot more required in editing/outlining/error checking if you go it alone as pointed out in a post a few months ago. Formatting, cover design, placement, and marketing all suddenly become personal not publisher expenses. Can you afford this? What of this could you do yourself for free or on the cheap?

    Q2) Do you already have a fan base? Could you cultivate other areas of your life (1000000 facebook friends, professorial bully pulpit, local newspaper column, reddit group, some other creative circle, etc.) into fans/viral marketeers of your books?

    Q3) What would you hope to get out of an e-pub? How would that differ from your expectations with a traditional publishing contract situation? What would you be willing to sacrifice to avoid jumping through the traditional publishing hoops and hurdles?

    The tough one, since it’s about my babies.

    Q4) Would any self-respecting agent/editor ever option these things you’ve written? Do your works fit into categories that publishers are making/losing money on today? Will they be as margins possibly contract because of extended bad economic conditions and shifts in the publishing paradigm?

    A) I answered these questions for myself very honestly on a separate sheet, and personally, I think I’m going to hang out in the undecided column a bit longer. For me, phrasing it this way has clarified what’s going for me and what isn’t in e-pub vs. traditional debate, and even if these questions aren’t the ones that someone else needs to ask, I bet any avid MWer can come up with a similar set of 5-10 questions that would clarify where he/she stands on this issue. It’s a fun exercise. I highly recommend it 😉

    For me, right now, spending hours churning out difficult and soul-sucking queries (that all get rejected anyway, compounding the soul-suckitude) sounds a lot less fun than Photoshopping myself some cover art, but frankly, neither sounds half as much fun as writing a new chapter. Until I see the way the winds are blowing, I think I’ll just keep on writing and thank God (Satan, Buddha, Dawkins, Flying Spaghetti Monster?) my other career is responsible for paying the bills.

  • The Mathelete

    Egads! Holy unterminated link, Batman! Apologies all. It’s late; I’m sleepy. That last post should have said “as [link bit]David[link bit] pointed out. . .” David’s article is an interesting counterpoint (though I wouldn’t say contradiction) to Faith and Catie’s experience. Give it a click — it’s apparently my WHOLE previous post 😐 And yes, I do know how to write an anchor tag. Just forgot to add the second bit or deleted it with my sleeve cuff. I swear, can’t take myself out in public, even on the Internet . . .

  • I look forward to hearing more about your adventure in self-publishing. I had a project I was considering for this, but eventually found a traditional publisher for it, so I’m still on the fence. But I have other things in the works which might be suited for this avenue. Thanks for the update.

  • Lynn, I think the *accidents* are often the best way to go.

    Daniel said >>Get to know ‘em some, see if we mesh creatively, understand their head a bit.>>

    Very smart! Knowing someone and knowing their work is a great way to begin.

    >>I have more a pessimistic streak that I’ve been trying to beat down into a dark corner of my mind for the past, well, a long time.>>

    Yeah, Daniel. Me too. It’s like, if you can say *failure* out loud, then it won’t hurt so much when it happens. Sigh. Been there, lived that.

  • Mathelete, you have ben doing yoru research. Very smart. And as to the link thing — not a problem. 🙂

    AJ, for us it has been a nice PR project. 🙂

  • Oh, I think Faith has largely hit the nail on the head here with her writeup about the whole endeavour! “Easy Pickings” was really truly for the fun of it. Neither of us would have bothered, I don’t think, if we hadn’t seen the potential to make it a paying gig (because c’mon: this is our job. We need our words to make money for us, even if they’re fun to write!), but with the advent of self-publishing through the internet as an at least tentatively-viable process, it seemed worth a shot.

    I’ve done collaborative work before, so for me this was really interesting just in terms of working with a different writer on a piece. I think one of the huge, huge advantages to working together with someone is the editing and polishing process can take place during the writing: as Faith said, we’d leave comments and ask margin questions, and add or change things (we edited our own characters’ dialog to sound more like themselves when written by the other author pretty much freely, but everything else we ran through an “this is what I did/will do, is that okay?” process on it). That gave us a chance to shine things up, which is what a third party editor would normally do. And don’t get me wrong: there were at least a couple of things that our beta readers noticed that we’d missed, so even with the collaboration, having another set of eyes on the project helped a lot.

    I’ve just added our numbers up. Since the “fans-only” website sale went up on December 9th, we’ve sold just under 1200 copies of “Easy Pickings”. Nearly half of those have come from Amazon in the past two weeks. B&N is a much slower starter, with only about 100 sales, and the others are split between Faith’s and my websites. We’re very pleased with those numbers.

    Now the trick is figuring out how to improve them! 🙂

  • jlmurray

    I think the mistake a lot of you are making is the assumption that writers would only choose self-publishing if they couldn’t get it published by an editor.

  • Tom G

    600 sales at $2.99, so you split 2.09 times 600. In two weeks. Yeah, y’all are doing ok. LOL

    Really, writers with backlists out of print really have a golden opportunity to make some nice sales/money. I’ve been readling DWSmith’s blog since last spring, and he makes it sound pretty easy. Though he doesn’t pretend you’ll make a ton of money like some of the “indie” writers claim. If you have an established name, and fans looking for more of your work to read, they you’ll do good. If not, it’s a crap shot.

    BTW, I picked up a copy after reading this post. Looks like fine, and I do like the graphics that show who the POV is. Well done.

  • […] Easy Pickings was born, and turned into a novella. For a more full version of the creation story, here is a link to a post on […]