Thursday, March 27, 2014

Truths and Misconceptions for the New Author

When I started writing, I knew with confidence (naivety) that within months I would be making millions with my vast collection of traditionally published (by none other than one of the top publishers in the industry, of course!) novels that every Walmart, Target, Books-a-Million, Barnes & Noble, Fred Meyer (etc, etc, etc) would stock up on to fill their shelves. Before they had them all up and displayed, loyal customers would charge into the store, demanding "Brittany Jo James" books and fighting in the isles over the last few copies. It would be a stampede- and as long as no one was "too critically injured" I would be fine with it. Every literary agent on planet earth would call me (begging for a chance to represent me, no doubt!) and I would have an enormous selection in my own "slush pile" to choose from. You know, they'd have to be brilliant because all the big Hollywood directors and producers would be in Oklahoma, knocking on my front door about media rights.

Needless to say, reality hit me pretty hard... not between the eyes though, more like directly to my heart. To this I respond, "You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one..." Since finally independently publishing my first two novels (seven months ago) I've learned a few things (firstly, that there was a reason for my first few books being rejected) and unfortunately, one of those things is that there are a lot of new writers out there having their hearts crushed just like mine was. It's because there are a few common misconceptions (and truths!) about finding success as an author.

  • Misconception: If you're talented enough to write a book, you'll easily find a literary agent. Wrong! If God places the dream on your heart to write, and blesses you with the creativity to come up with a 60k-100k word story, as well as giving you the english/grammar/writing/vocabulary skills to compose the aforementioned novel, and on top of that you miraculously have the opportunity (in this crazy world, "opportunity" translates directly to "time." When I started writing, I still had a full-time job, full-time college courses, a husband, two dogs, a car that broke down a lot, a house that <although we only purchased for $40k> we could barely afford payments on and I was pregnant with my first child.) to write, then finding a literary agent to represent you ought to be a walk in the park. Wrong! It's not easy at all. In fact, it feels pretty impossible sometimes.

  • Truth: If you're talented enough to write a book, you'll find success. I would like to say that you'll even "eventually" find a literary agent but, after five years of writing, I still have not... so I can't say that. However, I can say that I remain hopeful and everyone else should too. If God gave you the dream, creativity, skill and opportunity to write a novel, he's going to bring that good work to completion in His perfect timing and according to His will. We don't know what He has in store for us. Perhaps His plan is for you to start writing now, growing in experience, learning the trade, and find your success a few years down the line when you're "mature enough" to handle the "pressure" involved with being an author. Or, perhaps He has one specific literary agent in mind to advance both your career and his/hers and that agent isn't ready yet. We just have to trust, be still, and know that He is God.

  • Misconception: If you want success as an author, you must have a literary agent and be traditionally published. Now, I haven't made a fortune yet but I know a lot of talented authors who have done quite well for themselves without an agent or traditional publisher. It's not the only way to go! There are options that I didn't have a clue about until mid 2013.

  • Truth: If you want success as an author, you must do whatever it takes to get your novel published. Welcome to the world of indie authors and self-publishing! This is the age for ain't-nothin'-gonna-break-my-stride'rs in the writing world. Self published authors have absolutely dominated the market lately and, although I'm not a world-famous-superstar-writer, I know a few who are. I couldn't have said that seven months ago. Do you know how much I've learned from these industry-moguls who have created a career as an author from the ground up with no representation or publishing contract? A ton. Am I a better writer than I was last year, because of them? Absolutely. No comparison at all! The first thing I learned from these indie authors is that sometimes publishing is trial-and-error  where you learn as you go. Every negative review helps you on your next novel, every fan who points out a grammatical error in the middle of your book makes you more determined to do well, every returned book, low rating or poor best seller's rank turns you into that author you want to be. Only in a few amazing freak of nature circumstances (Yes, K.A. Robinson, I'm talking about you!) does your first independently published novel become so immediately successful that literary agents stalk you down.

  • Misconception: Your first book is perfect and ready to go. No, it isn't. You'll see. Mistakes will be found. Bad reviews are coming. Yes, you need it professionally edited. Yes, you need a cover designer. Even then, "haters gonna hate!"

  • Truth: Your first self-published book is critical to your career. Make sure it's the best it can be, brace yourself, and then publish that bad-boy. You'll grow from it. Your next book will be better. The first book I ever wrote (My Knightly Dreams) and then the second (At Least I'm Pretty) anddddd then the third (A Pirate Princess) were all complete before I "got in" with the independently published world. I knew nothing about what genres were popular, how to find an editor, the importance of a cover designer, marketing strategies, or how hard the entire process would be. I published the first two at once (my first mistake... don't ever do that!) and soon found that they were both riddled with poor writing errors. No, I didn't have an editor. No, I didn't have a cover designer. No, I didn't have a clue how to market them or what a "blogger" was. They're definitely not the best writing in the world and I'm not afraid to admit that! However, I'm extremely proud of both of them. I own them! I did awesome. Maybe they aren't perfect, but everyone has to start somewhere. One day I'll pull them off the market, change a few things, have them edited, put a fancy new cover on them and republish. Not today, however.

  • Misconception: You'll be an overnight success and tomorrow morning you'll wake to a full bank account. Please keep praying for that though and include me in your prayers because that would be soooo nice. I miss that dream!

  • Truth: You better be prepared to spend more than you make because unless you are one of those immediately successful few, you'll probably cry yourself to sleep a few nights and wake to find an empty bank account. I wrote for four and a half years before becoming independently published. That was approximately 1679 overnight successes that didn't happen. I'm bad at math, by the way, so that could be way off. Anyway, I've definitely made more money than I've spent on publishing... but not until the release of my third manuscript. My first two novels barely made their money back. My third novel has made enough to allow me to call this "my official career" but I'm still so far from having a full bank account. Ask my husband, he'll be more than happy to tell you about it.

  • Misconception: You should read this article and totally throw in the towel, deeming it "way too hard," "way too much work," and "impossible." If you're even capable of giving up on your writing dream, then you aren't meant to do it. I've "given up" about fifty times and it lasted for all of thirty or forty minutes before I was staring at a Word document again, pouring words out of my heart onto the blank screen, tears still moistening my eyes.

  • Truth: You should read this article and prepare yourself for the hard work and possibility of reaching your goal. Back to the beginning, when I stated that "You may say I'm a dreamer... but I'm not the only one" I'm telling you now to keep dreaming but do it realistically. If you want to be successful at writing (or any other huge dream) and you're prepared to pray, believe and work for it, then you can do it. It's not going to be easy though. It's not going to be overnight. --And if it is, that's absolutely amazing so don't take it for granted. One of my closest author friends made it overnight and she's the most humble, appreciative, caring individual. Appreciate every accomplishment (whether it's tiny or enormous) and grow as an author and a person with each passing day. Constantly improve! That's what makes you successful, and find your own place in the industry. Don't just write what's popular because it is. I've met successful authors who write about everything from culinary intern romance--to secrets of a cursed estate-- to rocker couples-- to bar owners named Z-- to serial killers named V-- to Christian fiction. Write what's right for you. --Or be like me and change your mind fifteen times. That's sarcasm, you truly don't want to do that like I did. 

So, in closing... There are many misconceptions and truths beginning writers have and they're natural. You'll learn. You'll improve. You'll succeed. Don't be afraid of a challenge. Five years ago I was working in a bank that I left from every evening in tears, drove to my night classes in a car that died at every stop sign, cried myself to sleep feeling like a failure who just so happened to have an aching back, throbbing feet and a protruding baby bump, counted the lack of money in my bank account every morning wondering if we would be able to pay all the bills that month or not, and never saw my husband who also worked a full-time job with full-time college courses. I sat down and prayed for God to just tell me what He wanted me to do with my life because I couldn't continue living like that for much longer. Writing was His glorious answer. Now, go do whatever you feel "called" to do. Fist bump! Yay! Power to the people!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Return Policy Petition

Everyone knows that being able to return gifts bought for us on Christmas by our third great-aunt, twice removed, who once married our fourth cousin after reuniting at the annual family reunion is the absolute cat's meow. On the other hand, when it comes to returning an independent author's latest, greatest, awesomely entertaining new release that you purchased last week and loved every second of, just so you can spend your $2.99 on a new novel... it's totally not the cat's meow, or the cat's pajamas, or the cat-scratch fever or whatever else the cat may own. I don't have a cat though, just so we're clear. Anyway...

I saw a petition floating around the social networks this afternoon, beseeching the viewers to sign a request that the return policy on novels be changed to a twenty-four hour window. I totally filled out that bad-boy and when I hit the "sign" button, I pounded it like it was my worst enemy. To be honest, probably exposing my naivety, before becoming published I never knew you could return books on Amazon, that there was a problem with doing so, or how it affected the author. After publishing three books in the last seven months, I know how it works all too well.

Why do you feel so strongly about the subject, you ask? Let me explain from an independent author's point of view.

Independent authors spend countless hours, weeks, even months on researching, outlining, writing, revising, editing, formatting, changing, crying, hoping, dreaming, hating, loving, rejoicing, picking through thousands of stock photos or hiring a professional photographer, creating the cover or hiring that done as well, publishing, worrying, waiting, hurrying, screaming, shouting, kicking, dancing, marketing, planning, watching sales reports, figuratively adding what our potential paycheck might be, and then, unfortunately, subtracting half of those sales off again once the returns start pouring in, and then worrying some more over every single manuscript. Creating an entertaining story for our fans to read is what we live for. We skip meals, we lose sleep, we even occasionally go without showering in order to write page after page straight from our hearts to be molded into a suitable novel for our beloved readers. Then, just in order to even sell the book we poured our blood, sweat and tears into, we have to set the price at approximately the same we would purchase a McMuffin at McDonalds for. Regardless, everyone who purchases the book gets a fist pump and those who leave a glowing review receive tears of gratitude from the author. However, when said author (and yes, I'm talking about me) signs into her KDP account and sees that she's had four (or forty) returns in the last week literally makes her vomit. Like, I honestly turn green just thinking about it.

Let's go back to that McMuffin I mentioned earlier. Sounds yummy, doesn't it? I'm always hungry. Anyway, here's the scenario: You're totally craving a Sausage and Egg McMuffin so you drive to McDonalds and order one. After paying $2.99 for your breakfast, you go sit down and absolutely devour it. It was delicious. You loved every moment of it, except the rubbery egg, and you're already planning on buying another McMuffin from McDonalds the following week. Crumbling your paper-wrapper-thingy up, you make your way to the cash register with a satisfied smile on your face...

"Hello," you say. "First let me commend you on this awesome breakfast invention. The McMuffin is God's gift to humanity. It was amazing. Second, I would like to request my $2.99 back so I can spend it on my lunch at the Sonic down the road."

Of course, the baffled clerk says, "What? You can't do that. You already ate it. You have no complaints with it. We can't give you your money back so you can go spend it somewhere else. Not only would you be taking your money back, where we make no profit, but you would be costing us money since you consumed the product we supplied for nothing."

Then, imagine the disgruntled manager (let's name him Mr. Ama Zon just for the heck of it) comes running up and says, "Oh! You want your money back? Sure! Here you go. Come back next week and purchase another McMuffin and don't worry, we'll give you your money back then too..."

That's what happens when you return a book, along with the fact that you practically rip out part of my heart. Do you want that on your conscience? Come on, now.

Authors slave for months and do our very best to write a quality manuscript for the reader's entertainment purposes, mark it at such a low price that we can't even buy our own Sausage McMuffin (by the time Amazon takes their cut) and work our bottoms off (not literally, unfortunately, we have to spend money we barely make to pay for our gym memberships too) to make everyone happy. Why, then, if you enjoyed our novel, would you snatch our hard-earned money away to buy another book? For that matter, why would you at all? Let's try this scenario thing again... 

You go to McDonalds and order a Sausage McMuffin. You pay for it. You sit down and take a bite, then say, "Oh! Shoot! I meant to buy hashbrowns this morning! Not a McMuffin!" or "Wow. This is my first McMuffin and it's really not what I thought it would be. I expected it to be spicy but I was mistaken." or "I'm not a fan of McMuffins at all. I've never enjoyed McMuffins but I just keep trying them hoping I'll change my mind..." so then, you go and demand your money back from McDonalds. 

In truth, they would tell you, "Sorry! You asked for a McMuffin, you ate the McMuffin, you made your bed now you'll have to lie in it." Right???

We work really hard to appease our fans, knowing that it's absolutely impossible to please everyone. It hurts when you don't enjoy our work, because we truly want to make our readers happy, but we're all different. We all have a different taste in books (or McMuffins) and that's what makes us unique and special. So, if you purchase a book of your own free will and decide that you loved it, hated it, etc... It's still your book. You bought it. You own it. I don't want it back (laughing... but seriously) when you finish it. I do, however, want to keep the approximate $1.70 I make from a $2.99 book sale that I intend to put toward my sons' college educations.

If you're a reader/fan of indie authors then I give you the biggest pat on the back in the world. Here's a virtual hug. Here's a handshake. Here's a happy dance. Lastly, here's my exaggerated fist pump and it's all for YOU. We love you. We appreciate you. You absolutely make our careers. You're the best and we want you to know it. Life as an indie author is rewarding, painful, exciting, difficult, etc... but without our readers, we wouldn't even be able to pursue our passion. To all of those who read, review, and support us, you have my heart and to those of you who read, then return every book for your money back... perhaps you didn't realize how much if affects the indie author and I totally understand, but I hope this sheds some light on the topic. I didn't get it either until I started writing. Now, I know. A person should have no more than a twenty-four hour window to return a book to Amazon after purchasing. Anymore than that just cheats the author out of his or her hard-earned money and time.

If you're interested in signing the petition, here's the link:

Thanks for understanding and for supporting indie authors!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Signed Paperback Orders!!

I'm taking orders for signed paperbacks between today, March 13, 2014 and March 30, 2014. All three of my published novels are available. Prices, important dates, etc... are all on the order form below. =) If you have any questions, just email/call/text/msg me. Thanks loves!

Brittany Jo James

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Rebels: Teaser Time!

Hello loves,

There's still no official date for the release of The Rebels but I'm aiming for summer. My plans are to publish Prettier Than You (the sequel to At Least I'm Pretty) before I publish The Rebels because I feel like I should tie up some loose ends before I jump into publishing something so different. My first three novels were historical romances meant for a young adult age group and swayed to the literary fiction side of things; whereas, The Rebels is a contemporary thriller, suited more to new adults, and definitely more of a commercial fiction. Let me know what you think about this look into Chap 4! I'm dying for feedback, so make my day by leaving a comment of your thoughts! Keep in mind that this is all still unedited and subject to change... but, without further ado... Here you go!

I walked through the night, slowing my pace to take a drink of water or eating a cracker but never stopping. By midnight, my water and crackers were gone and I kicked a tree just because it felt right. By 2:00AM my sides ached and hurt, not to mention that my foot throbbed. Why did I have to kick that tree? Smart, Temper. Real smart! By 4:00AM I wasn’t worried about it anymore. I didn’t care about anything except making it the next few miles. I was nearly home.
Ashdown city limits. The little green sign was so welcoming. It was covered in bullet holes and I ran my finger gently across one, remembering a happier time. Prom night, five years ago, in all its glory. Voss and I had just started dating and I had been dreaming of how amazing prom night would be for weeks. It was only my junior prom but for Wesley and Voss, it was senior prom, the biggest night of the year for Ashdown High. The three of us, along with mine and Wesley’s two first cousins, Cash and Destin, went together as the inseparable team we had always been. The twins and Voss were groomed to perfection that night and even Wesley had cleaned up for it.
We had all piled up in Wesley’s truck, decked out in tuxedos and my bright yellow prom dress, ready to dance the night away. Wes, Cash and Destin had already promised dances to just about every single girl in school, along with a few who weren’t so single. Two plastic cups of spiked punch and a fist fight between Wes, Voss, and the twins verses half the football team later, we were thrown out and sitting in the back of Wesley’s truck, shooting our shot guns at this green road sign. 
I had been in love with Voss since the first grade. He knew it but had been too shy to do anything about it and I got tired of waiting, which is why I started dating Sutton Sorenson my sophomore year. Sutton had a dream of the two of us living in a used double-wide trailer on my daddy’s land but when I mentioned college, he just snapped.
“You choose me or school, Temp…” Sutton had said.
“Fine then,” I answered as I walked away.
“Temper, you walk away from me and it’s over. I’m done. You understand?”
“Clearly,” I called, never slowing down.