Let Your Hair Down Once In A While

            This year, I got awarded a scholarship to attend the WyoPoets conference. (Thank you, thank you, thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you!) I showed up wearing my trademark Gibson roll, but by the end of the conference I literally let my hair down.

            Day two, I was having lunch with a nice lady who admitted it was her first outing since Christmas time. Covid changed a lot of things for all of us. I told her “Everyone is so kind and open here! I love it!” and I confessed “I showed up with my hair in a roll because I’ve trained myself not to swear when I can’t feel hair on the back of my neck… But someone dropped the F-bomb the first evening here in a poem!”

            She looks at me and says “So you literally let your hair down?”

            I had to laugh! Yes! In a literal and figurative sense, yes.

            You’d never know it, but my grandma raised me to have good manners. That, and I was super into princess books. *Coughs in Gishlan books* My thought process when I walk across the room is “Heel, toe, heel toe, you just made eye contact with someone so smile sweetly. Time to sit in a chair. Only use the edge. Never let your back touch the back of the chair. That is just there for decoration.” God help me if we’re eating. That’s probably why I need a six hour nap after “peopling”. Sometimes being prim and proper can be rather restrictive.

            Thankfully, the people at WyoPoets, while all polite and lovely, weren’t stuffy. It was just a bunch of people trying to write poetry, and often times that means talking about your childhood, or your family, or that nightmare you had last week. One poem that really struck me was about how the author had learned to play organ from her grandmother under a photograph of a stillborn baby. Another, the author prefaced with “I still have trouble talking about this”, and another made me laugh because it was “Kid, don’t climb into my tree house. It’s not safe.” The one with the F-Bomb was a rip on Robert Frost. Also hilarious!

            There was a load of poetry read there that weekend. But the ones that were my favorite were the ones that were the most honest. And, uh, yeah, I had to give back into that and share some deeply personal things in verse too. I feel like I connected with my new friends on a really deep level. Less chit chat about the weather and more “Where do we go now that there’s a vaccine? How do we carry on without our loved ones?”

            That’s my advice. Once in a while, keep it real. Do something that makes you uncomfortable because it’s honest. I usually buy myself a bracelet on trips like those, but this time it was a pair of hair clips.

The Self Publishing Industry is Not A Bad Thing

            It’s no secret, I have made some deprecating remarks on self-publishing in the past. I don’t try to hide it, I’ve said what I’ve said. The industry has changed a lot since I started out in 2010. It’s incredible to see the rises and the falls of all the trends in how books are published. Self-publishing used to be janky. Like, it was literally some stranger you hardly knew from the internet with a printing press in their basement. Which, hey, if that’s what works for you, more power to ya! I know people who’ve done it! Now, largely Amazon, has turned self-publishing in to an easy to navigate, user friendly, industry, that gives you equal publicity to traditionally published authors right out of the gate. That’s incredible.

            The self-publishing industry has given voice to the voiceless. Women, people of color, members of the LGBT+ community, and those who fall under all three labels have often said it’s harder for them to get published, or as readers find books they actually want to read. Full disclosure, I would totally read a high fantasy novel with non-binary, butch, lesbian, warrior princesses who are not white. You see how edgy that sentence felt? That’s because books like that aren’t mainstream yet. Yes, even in the sphere of fantasy. Now because of self-publishing you can actually find books like that for sale online. Now because of self-publishing, larger presses (I’m talking Harper Collins) are actually looking at books like that. Now books like that are making their ways into libraries and getting in to the hands of people who need them.

            The self-publishing industry is breaking creative boundaries. You know what the self-publishing industry gave us? New adult fiction! Love it or hate it, having a new genre is cool as all heck! If it weren’t for people self-publishing books about college-age kids I wouldn’t have ever thought to say to myself “What if a 26 year old dentist finds out she’s a changeling?” and thus, The Tooth Fairy was born.

            One of the coolest things I’ve watched is tropes come over from fan-fiction, to the self-publishing industry, into the mainstream. Unfortunately most of my examples have to do with sex, and I am not comfortable with having that discussion on this blog.

            The self-publishing industry empowers authors. Self-published authors amaze me. To be perfectly honest with you, ISBNs are a little mysterious to me. Yes, I know they’re the 13 digit name for a book, like a social security number, but you have to buy them? Cancel them? Who da what now?  I don’t know everything (shocker!) and what I don’t know, self-published authors usually seem to out of necessity.

            I gotta be honest, I love talking marketing with them because that’s one of my quirky special interests. Particularly social media! I’ve nearly ruined Christmas by chattering about how Facebook algorithms work. I am resisting making a Parler account. Resist!

            But what’s not empowering about choosing who gets to do your cover art, your editing, your marketing (it could be me), and setting your own prices for books?! You’re in control every step of the way! And when you need or want to pull your books you can. I saw an author publish a book, realize everyone was out of work due to Covid-19, and then drop prices the lowest they could on Amazon! Tell me that’s not empowering!

            You can do well if you choose to do well. Off the top of my head Diary of an Oxygen Theif, The Princess Saves Herself in this One, and Fifty Shades of Grey, are all books that were originally self published but are now a big deal. Googling it now, I just learned Milk and Honey, one of my favorite books of poetry, started out self published! I am so glad artist Joss Hellman told me to go read it.

            Anyway, what I mean by “you can do well if you choose to” is this: If you choose to hire a copy editor, if you choose to invest in good cover art, if you choose to get your friends involved as beta and sensitivity readers, if you choose to learn what you can about marketing, if you choose to put in the work you can go far. I, Helen M. Pugsley, crusher of dreams will not promise you that you will go far. I’m saying you have a much better chance. At the very least, you will produce a quality book. Most likely, you will end up with a tiny, but ultra dedicated fandom.

            All in all, self-publishing as a whole is a good thing. But at the end of the day you have to do what’s right for you and your particular pieces of work. I don’t want to self-publish the Gishlan series. That is not my dream, it never was. I want to traditionally publish that. I would self-publish The Tooth Fairy, because I wrote it as a break from Gishlan, and I don’t feel like watering down some of the more explicit content for the sake of a publisher’s comfort. This is your life. Choose your own path. But, hating on the self-publishing industry is cancelled.

You Don’t Need Money to Become a Published Author

            I have been in this industry for a decade. I have seen every type of scam, scheme, and actual honest help. There are scores of people out there ready to take your money so you can achieve your dreams. (Trust me. I have poetry about it written in glitter pens from a decade ago.) So let’s talk about what you think you need and what you actually need.

Scam: “Give me $1,000 and I’ll give you a book.” and sometimes they promise fame and fortune too. These people do a really crappy job doing exactly what you could accomplish all by yourself but often give you an inferior product. It used to be a guy with a printing press in their basement, now I’m sure it’s more of a guy who knows how Lulu dot com works. It’s basically vanity publishing, and often, because of that, your books won’t even be available on Amazon. Sometimes they just take your money and run. Don’t give them money.
(I’ll let you guys know of a few of the “publishing houses” that have approached me climb into my inbox. Tehe!)

Scheme: I have seen smallish companies that offer to do things like take over the production of your book from start to finish. Which, I mean, if you wanna throw $1,000 at someone to do that for you go for it! Just do your homework and make sure they’ll actually do the job right. They’re usually upfront with their practices. “We’ll do all the work it takes to get your book self-published on Amazon. Editing, cover art, listing it,” etc. They have different tears of help they can give. They’re not necessarily bad. They just do things you could easily do yourself.

Actual honest help: Okay. This is what I do. It’s still not ideal, but it’s what’s working for me. Over the years I have accumulated a team of freelancers to do everything I can’t do well myself. Poor Richard does my cover art, and sometimes gets memes about how crazy I drive him made about him, even though he assures me I’m not that bad; Caren Speckner is an awesome human who edits my stuff so I don’t look like an idiot in public while allowing me to keep my Goshen County accent. (Most people cry “That’s not grammatically correct!” but that’s how I talk…) Cierra does my logos in that traditional American tattoo art I’m so fond of and allows me to pay her in bones and bottles, because I’m a cowgirl who likes booze. In Tales from the Gishlan Wood she’ll be doing the flags.
If you choose this rout Pay. Your. People. That street runs both ways and I’ve seen authors walk off with 35+ hours of work without paying their freelancers. Not a “I’ll pay you $5 a month until it’s done.” just poof! Not cool.
The reason I say this is not ideal is because these people’s services are something a traditional publisher should be paying for. The reason they should be paying for them is because traditional publishers know more about making books than you or I. At least they’re supposed to. Poor Richard’s cover art might not fit current marketing trends! Accent or no, it’s still grammatically incorrect. And traditional American tattoo art? Not in my good Christian suburbs. The price you pay for a good traditional publisher is less creative control. But. I am confident that if I got a wild hair and started self-publishing my books, say, next week, it’d be the best quality product I could offer the public. Perhaps, one day, I will find a traditional publisher that shares my vision.

            Like many things in life, you don’t need money but it sure as Heck makes things run smoother. Jeeze. My biggest expense when I published War and Chess was buying copies to resell. I’d buy them 50 at a time, so that costed about $300.  I remember I would save my money $20 bill by $20 bill at a time in a ceramic pig I made in middle school that sat in the corner of my parent’s house. (Obviously, I have no money hidden there now.) It was a big investment but I made the money back by selling copies at book signings. Those were some treasured and adventurous times.

            Not having money doesn’t mean you don’t have to work. It means you have to work twice as hard to accomplish the same thing. You can publish a book without spending a dime (especially if you self-publish on Amazon). If you’re sleeping on your own career because “YoU cAn’T aFfOrD iT.” I’m here to tell you it’s bullsh*t. You can do anything you set your mind to.

How To Donate Your Book to a Library

            Having worked for James Bond’s library I have up close and personal experience with the subject. But every library is different so I turned to the Library Think Tank – #ALATT on Facebook. One of the biggest groups of librarians online. I asked them what’s their process for accepting donations from indie authors. (You’re not James Patterson. I promise.)

            The short answer: Don’t.

            If you’re afraid to have your feelings hurt you can stop reading right here. Otherwise, I’m going to hurt your feelings.

  • Build a connection with your library.

The library you visited on vacation and casually decided to gift them a copy of your book is more likely to put it in the book sale rather than on the shelves. Your local library, where people know you, and actually like you are more likely to support you. People in your hometown want to read your book but some folks just don’t have the cash to get their own copy. Your local librarians understand this. If they think there’s patrons that want to read your book they will be twice as likely to actually put it in the connection.

DO NOT just buy a copy of your own book from Amazon and ship it to the library without a note. It’s a sure fire way to make a librarian go “What’s this? Hmm. Weird.” Then toss it in the cart that runs over to the book sale without a second thought. I’ve seen that happen more than once.

  • Get reviews.

Yes. Even if you and the librarian have matching friendship bracelets you need to get reviews. Preferably from people who don’t like you. Or just don’t know you! Embracing the stranger danger is probably best in this case!

Why? Because librarians have a lot to do and don’t feel like reading your book in their personal time. (I told you I’d hurt your feelings.) Personal time is when you can read Chuck Tingle if you want to! Or fan fiction! They want to read the reviews at work and see if it’s a good fit for the library’s collection. Also, the librarian you’re friends with might not be the librarian in charge of acquisitions.  The folks in cataloging get the final say. That’s their entire job. And if they can’t quickly discern if your book fits the collection they’re going to set it aside with every intention of cataloging it later. Later could very well mean never.

  • You gave a gift. Don’t pester them.

You remember that time your aunt gave you that weird bowl with cats painted all over it, and she got mad you didn’t fill it with Orange Fluff and bring it to Christmas? But you still had it. It was just in your house holding out of season fruits you paid too much money for? And then because she made a big deal out of it you started resenting it and now it sits in your cupboard holding other bowls? Yeah. That’s what happens if you call them up twice a week and ask if your book is on the shelf yet. That’s the trickiest part of gifts. When you give someone a gift they’re under no obligation to use it. Hopefully they like it. Don’t be your mean aunt.

  • Build a quality book.

First, turn to page 101 in War and Chess. Now click this link. This is why I don’t deserve a PS5. Out of all the book signings I’ve had, and all the places I’ve been to, there are five places in the world that have my book. All of them are in Wyoming.

Get yourself a good copy editor, an ISBN, and there are a lot of libraries that absolutely require your book be translated in English. America has no official language but English seems to be the most common tongue. If your book has type-os, ugly cover art that doesn’t match the story, disturbing imagery for the target audience─ There was one librarian who told me a story about reading a book about the tooth fairy to her story time kids. It was written by a local author. But what made it memorable was the tooth fairy ripping off her face in the end. That story time group is in middle school now but they still pop in and complain about their shared trauma.─ all of these little things will prevent your book from entering a public library’s collection.

            Last of all, you need to understand that your book might not make it in. Every library is different. Some libraries have an acquisitions board! Some libraries are prepared for you and have instructions on their websites! But you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. The real trick to getting your book in a library is putting in the time and work, and making a good book. There’s more to books than plot. If you do make it in understand you’re lucky and always say thank you.

Join me next year for a whole new bundle of blog posts! Don’t forget to subscribe so you won’t miss a thing. Thank you for all your support. You reading this means you helped me achieve my goals of keeping a monthly blog for one year! Thank you! As always, if you’ve got questions, something I didn’t address yet, or you just want to say “Hi” go visit that Contact tab off to the left. I practically live on social media! Merry Christmas, Happy Yule, Happy Hanukkah, and New Years! (We survived!) Be blessed.

NaNoWriMo Is Weird

            NaNoWriMo is weird. You’re just expected to write 50,000 words in 30 days!? Do you have a death wish? Don’t get me wrong, the whole non-profit organization is great. I love it! In my own way I participate every year! But the holiday, NaNoWriMo, concerns me.

            Have I ever told you the story of my music career? I have? Well here’s the story again: Once upon a time there was an operatic soprano who played trumpet. If you’ve met sopranos, and you’ve met trumpet players individually, you would know that a trumpeting soprano is the human version of glitter. Really arrogant glitter.

            This little trumpet playing soprano left home at 18 and played on street corners for tips. She traveled all around the continent (yes, Canadian and Mexico too) dooting for dimes, moved into an apartment, then only played a mute because it was too loud, then stopped playing all together after a while. She stopped singing in choirs in favor of getting a job *Snorts in global pandemic*

            Why did she stop making music? She got burnt out.

            I loved music. It was everything to me. But one day, after a while, I just stopped! My stereo is still more important to me than my TV, I have a display of instruments in my house (pretty, pretty please don’t rob me), and I sing to myself but other than that… I’d like to think that writing was more of everything to me but in all honesty, I got burnt out.

            DON’T GET BURNT OUT.

            I cannot stress it enough. Do. Not. Get. Burnt. Out.

            You know what happens when I sit around making jewelry for my Etsy store until my fingers hurt? I don’t want to look at the pretty things I just made, I don’t want to think about jewelry, I don’t want to wear jewelry. I want it waaaaaaay the heck over there! Thankfully, I keep going back to it, but only when writing is too much.

            Do not use NaNoWriMo to hurt yourself. I know we all want the good grade but it won’t help you in the long run if you write for thirty days, wind up hating it, and then never touch a keyboard, a typewriter, or pen again. If you’re having fun then by all means keep going! If you’re loving the extra accountability, then keep going! If you’re just having a good time himming and hawing, and actually having someone listen to you talk about your book, keep going! But if you’re going to use NaNoWriMo and all its weirdness to hurt yourself throttle back. When you get obsessed that’s how you know it’s time to take a break.

            NaNoWriMo is weird and it is not kind to those of us who want to be the very best that no one ever was. We put too much pressure on ourselves and it’s not a good time. NaNoWriMo is weird, here’s your permission not to break your neck and make yourself hate writing.

If you want to see me epically fail at my NaNo goals you can find me on their website. I’m nelehjr. Next month’s blog post will be about gift giving! How to Donate Your Book to a Library! Of course, if you want me to cover something I haven’t yet, smash the contact button, or drop me a comment.