2018: Pulling It All Together

In an earlier incarnation of this blog, I called 2016 a Year of Initialization. It was that way for many reasons. I was newly single, living alone, and also new at my current job. It would be the year I released The Children of Amargosa. It was the year I needed to basically flail at self-publishing.

2017 was a sea change year for me personally. I began it quite lazily binge-watching two seasons of The Wire and getting a massage. It ends a few days from now with me sitting in the dining room of a fixer upper I bought this summer while my new fiancee sleeps upstairs. By this time next year, I will be married.

Naturally, some things got neglected, not the least of which were my writing and publishing. Alone, I could, if I so chose, devote whole days to writing or formatting or making better covers. I did not do that, partly because my new lady and I have been busy building a new life together. But she, too, was a writer at one point and demanded I dust off Jim Winter’s last opus, Holland Bay, to show a friend of hers in the publishing business.

So 2018 might be the year I go back to traditional publishing. It will not be the year I resurrect the Jim Winter name. Jim accumulated so much baggage over the years that I simply got tired of dealing with two identities. Quite frankly, it felt absurd near the end to be Jim Winter, a meaningless name originally designed as a prank against overly-obsessed Star Trek fans. I’d been James/J/Evil J/Jim long enough with no reward. And I was bored with what I wrote under that name.

But I also took shoddy care of the work I did as TS Hottle. So, since fall, I’ve been redoing the covers on all the Compact Universe novellas and novels. I’m currently creating standalone templates to use to create and update new versions ahead of the completion and debut of Second Wave. And I have what I write to write – the big projects, anyway – planned out. Which means…

  • Formatting – This part of self-publishing can no longer be neglected. I now have out 1 novel, 6 novellas, and a standalone short published. They all need to look consistent and be updated quickly. Release a new novel, and the Also By and promotional back matter need to be updated quickly. I’ve created or found tools I’ll share in the next few weeks to address that.
  • Covers – I think we can agree my earlier efforts were… um… loaded with potential. Over the last two years, I’ve learned not to use black backgrounds, how to blend text, and how to reasonably composite pictures. And making covers takes time. The new covers for Broken Skies and Tishla were done by someone else, and I’ve found reasonably priced alternatives to paying someone $300-$500 for one made from scratch. So when I do create one from scratch, it needs to be focused.
  • Marketing – You know, I used to listen to all the podcasts, and I do need to get back to some of them. But I really do need to get into mailing list building. I need to put together a better newsletter. And I need to indulge in that most effective of marketing tools: Getting out and talking to people. I sold more books in one day sitting at a comped table at NEO ComicCon last year than I did that entire month off Amazon or through Draft2Digital.
  • Going wide – This is one I’ve been thinking about for a while. When I started pimping my wares myself, I went to KDP Select exclusively for 90 days. (Hint: Remember to turn off the auto-renew function. Tishla is trapped in KDP for another month.)
  • Keep the betas fresh – I had Children professionally edited, but my editor had to raise her rates. She was basically working for minimum wage. Unfortunately, my sales didn’t justify spending the money. But all writers need editing. I don’t care what Anne Rice says. (Go look it up. She famously had a meltdown over the subject a few years ago.) I currently have three betas I can count on, but our lives will change. Our workloads will change. I always call for four when I do a new book. Inevitably, one will fall off because of real life, because it’s not a priority, because maybe the new person just didn’t like what I sent him. One of my betas is moving to another state to retire and is getting out of writing. One is writing faster and faster (and better and better as she does so.) Another has kids who are growing. Keep the betas fresh. And find the right ones. And maybe, just maybe, you might be able to pay for that editor.
  • Traditional publishing – My lady is reading Holland Bay and has a contact with one of the Big Five. I know a lot of self-pubbers who are screaming “Don’t do it!”, reminding me of horror stories about agents and publishing houses. It comes down to this: Very few people get in. Have you seen the slush pile? If someone is holding some of the doors open, you’d be a moron not to try. Because if you get in, even the most paltry advance is more money than most self-pubbers will ever see on there work. “But the percentage!!!!” Look, it’s all well and good you keep all the money. If that money absorbs the costs of covers, editing, marketing, and travel. (Yes, kids, you have to go out and talk to people. Get over it.) But 25% of $0 is $0, which is what most self-pubbers make in a month. 8% of what a major publisher expects to make is, quite often, much, much more. Percentages are vaporware. Dollars/pounds/euros count. When you start making large amounts of money, then your agent or an intellectual property lawyer can fight that out for you. By that point, you’re paying off your personal debts and possibly funding your retirement, even if modestly. The arguments against have proven to be, over the last two years, to be largely invalid.

It’s quite possible that all this will fall on its face come the end of January. Life is random like that. We deal with it and move on. But 2018 is the year I need to focus on this.

Gee, I guess that means less Facebook and more doing what I need to do.