Going Pro, by author Danika Stone

I'm delighted to welcome author Danika Stone to my blog today. I recently read and reviewed her fascinating two-part novel, Intaglio (find my reviews here: Intaglio 1, the Snake and the Coins: Intaglio 2, Dragons all the way down), and I'm very much looking forward to reading CtrlZ soon.

Intaglio includes some of the most authentic descriptions of the artistic muse that I've ever read, but how did this artist/educator become a successfully self-published author? Danika describes her experience in the following five step program, and if you've got that writing bug, you really should read this. So, over to you Danika, and thank you for visiting my blog.

Going Pro:
Five (not-so-easy) Steps for the Self-Published Writer,
by Danika Stone
For as long as I can remember, books have been my obsession.  I was the kid who slept through first period because I’d stayed up all night reading by flashlight.  The one who read the assigned novel in a day, while the rest of the class plodded along for the month.  I anticipated book releases with the same enthusiasm my friends had for boy bands, and when reading wasn’t enough, I made the leap into writing too.
Sound familiar?  Yes.  You probably have the writing bug too.
But what is a writer in today’s changing publishing field? Everyone – from your Aunt Madge bragging to her Bridge Club, to your best friend who doesn’t understand why you can’t stop writing to discuss bridesmaid dresses – thinks they know what you do. Adding self-publishing to the mix has only made the question more difficult to answer.

When I wrote my first book, I assumed that I’d query the manuscript, and with any luck, find myself an agent who could get it into the hands of publishers, and from there to my local bookstore.  Many ‘thanks but no thanks’ rejection letters later, I realized that my dreams would have to take a detour.  While the traditional publishing door seemed stubbornly closed, the self-publishing window was one I could happily climb through.  Eloping with Amazon might not be the way I’d intended to get my novel out there, but it was better than languishing on my computer forever.

I only had the vaguest notion what I was doing when I started.  While some people have a marketing plan, others (like me) fake it really well. Strangely enough, that approach led me right back to where I wanted to be: an author represented by a well-connected literary agency and a novel headed to the traditional publishing stream.  So how did I get from point A to point B?  Here’s the eighteen month ride that led up to a contract in my hands.

Step 1: Build your Brand
Your author website is the equivalent of an online resume.  You wouldn’t hand in a handwritten CV on lined binder paper, so don’t plan on using your personal blog. A domain name based around your name is standard for professional writers. This is your brand and it needs to stick.  Work hard.  Don’t scrimp.  And if you have no idea what you’re doing, take a course, or, better yet, beg your cousin who hasn’t left his parents’ basement since 1985 to help you set up your website.  
With your ‘official’ page ready to go, start building your online presence.  Twitter, Goodreads, Pinterest, Tumblr and Facebook are a few I use, but there are new ones popping up daily. If you’re the kind of person who is always the centre of attention at parties, you’ll love this part of marketing yourself.  If you’re a wallflower by nature, you’ll hate it.  But there’s no getting around the fact that today’s authors – self-published and traditional – need a connection to their readers.  An unexpected bonus? Meeting other people in the industry.  Looking for an agent wishlist? Stop wishing. Tumblr already has it.  Need support from other independent authors? ASMSG is growing by the day. The internet is a potential wealth of support, insight and advice.  Embrace it.
Next step. Get your book on the shelves so you can—

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Step 2: Look the Part
Rushing a book to print is another place where self-published writers stumble.  Getting the interior proofed by an editor (rather than a friend) is just the start. Your cover needs to be AMAZING.  Mess up the design and it’ll follow you around like that terrible photo of you in acid wash jeans that keeps showing up on Facebook.  Covers, like your website, need an expert’s touch, because agents will see them.  Don’t do this part yourself.  Don’t get your fourteen year old niece who is good with Photoshop to do it either (unless you REALLY like Comic Sans and that guy from Twilight.)  And for the love of readers everywhere, DON’T use those prefab covers that print-on-demand places offer.  (I love free stuff, but… no.)  
Be as professional about what surrounds your book as what goes into it.  Be willing to pay an artist if you can’t do it yourself.  (DeviantArt is a fantastic place to connect with digital artists.)  And if you like the idea of staying litigation-free, purchase legitimate artwork, take your own photographs, or use images available through creative commons licensing.  Pixabay, Flickr, Shutterstock and Google advanced search are all great places to begin.

Step 3: Read and Review

Once you’ve got your book out there, forget about making money.  
No. I’m not kidding… that comes later.  First, you need to build your readership.  One of the best ways to do this is to get your book reviewed. If your novel is available on Amazon, you can check out the Amazon Top Customer Reviewers list.  Not all reviewers provide contact information, but some do, and you can offer them a free book for an honest review.  Finding reviewers is just as tedious and time consuming as it sounds but it’s a necessary evil.  One good part of this process is that many of those people who do review are willing to cross-post reviews to Goodreads, Barnes and Noble, and other venues.
Another great place to build readership is through book blogs and author interviews.  Some of the bigger blogs will only review if you have a certain number of reviews to begin with, while others do not accept print-on-demand titles.  Remember: Getting your book noticed so that agents notice it is the bigger goal. If that means duct taping yourself to your laptop and emailing review requests forever, get out the tape and DO IT.  Exposure is the name of the game.
Step 4: Stay in the Public Eye
Book trailers are another way to market, but the rule of thumb is that they need to be done well, or not at all.  (Search ‘book trailer’ on youtube, and you will see how bad some of them can be!)  I’m fortunate my nine-to-five job happens to be in the IT field, so trailers were relatively easy step forward.  But even if you aren’t, as with book covers, there are still options.  Multi-media promotions are becoming increasingly important in today’s market, and a person who has mastered this starts the race two steps ahead of the pack.

Many self-published writers get caught up in the rinse, lather, repeat cycle of self-promotion, but if the end goal is to transition over to traditional publishing, you can’t stop there.  Read everything that’s out: good and bad.  Celebrate your successes.  Learn from your mistakes.  Write another manuscript.  Write ten more!  Enter your books into contests, and online publications. 
Most importantly: Keep moving forward. 
Step 5: Do it All Again
When I wrote Intaglio, I thought it’d be ‘the one’ but it took me on a completely different journey than I’d expected.  It might not have been the door I was looking for, but by going through the self-publishing window, I wrote and learned more than I ever had before. With this experience under my belt, I queried another novel.  It was a radically different experience from the previous year.  I had replies from agents within hours of emailing. Some mentioned that they’d checked the reviews on my previous books, others congratulated me on making the ABNA quarterfinals.  Small steps – but all worth the effort! Within a week, I had five agents request the full manuscript.  When I received two separate emails advising me to "get in contact if anyone else makes an offer", I knew it was going to happen.
It did!
In the end, I think the biggest part of transitioning from self-published to a traditional author was the decision that I wasn’t going to stop just because someone had said ‘no’.  I’d find a way or make one, but I’d get there no matter what.  To quote Tracy McMillan: “Everything works out in the end. If it hasn't worked out yet, then it's not the end.”  Haven’t found your own fairytale ending?  Keep going.  The destination is waiting, but you have to walk the path yourself.

Danika Stone is a writer of contemporary fiction with a focus on strong female narratives.  An educator, artist, and mother of three, her involvement in the Arts and New Media has spanned a decade and a half.  Her novels include Intaglio: The Snake and the Coins (Volume 1), Intaglio: Dragons all the way Down (Volume 2) and Ctrl Z. Her upcoming novel, Tathagata, was selected as a Quarterfinalist in Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel of the Year Award (2013).  Ms. Stone is represented by Morty Mint of the Mint Literary Agency, Nelson, BC. 


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