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Category: publishing

Authors, stop comparing yourself to Bookstagrammers

I have a little more than four weeks left until Community Klepto comes out, which means I have to spend a lot more time paying attention to social media. To prepare for upcoming podcast interviews, I’m listening to episodes with other authors to get a feel for the aesthetic and the kinds of questions they might ask me, and then also seeing how authors and the media are promoting their episodes.

Algorithms working the way they work means that you’ll start to see the author, their book, or both everywhere. Every other book stack contains that book that you just heard about 5 minutes ago for the first time, but all of a sudden the book has exploded and gone viral. That’s when you start to wonder… why isn’t my book everywhere? Why don’t I have a different Instagram live author salon every hour for the next four weeks? Am I really the talentless hack I feel like when I read my own book for the 800th time and find a typo I missed the first 799 times?!

Okay, so maybe that one’s just my own impostor syndrome projections, being so close to pub for this novel and deep in the dreaded saggy middle of writing the next one. But we’ve all been there, wanting to call the printer at the 11th hour and stop the presses because the book’s no good, right? Well, it’s too late now. The books are already in the warehouse and it’s time to put an end to this pity party of one and give myself a pep talk.

Here’s why I need to stop comparing myself to influencer authors on Instagram, and you should too.

No one’s the overnight success they appear to be.

Behind every celebrity-status author you think rose to stardom with a book that came out of nowhere is a human being who was rejected by 100 other agents and publishers, who submitted the same short story to open reading periods for three years in a row before it got accepted somewhere.

And the reason you suddenly start seeing a book everywhere is because algorithms work. They know it takes a number of impressions before you’ll take action and buy the book, and they also know a lot about you. It’s the same reason you search for a shoe you’ve never heard of and then you start seeing ads for it everywhere. And several of the social media platforms are pay to play. You’re seeing the book everywhere because someone is paying for it to be seen everywhere.

Which brings me to my next pep talk…

They pay for the exposure, too.

Anyone who tries to say publicity is free is full of shit. I interviewed several book publicists as part of my book journey for Community Klepto, and not a one of them offered to work for me for free. Even the big New York book publishers only invest marketing dollars into a book that they think they will make their money back on. Even authors who finally land that big 4 book deal with a sweet advance aren’t promised much, if anything, in publicity and marketing budget.

So who pays? The author, usually. Book bloggers might enjoy the perks of getting a mailbox full of free books every week, but they’re also in it for the money. No one buys a book they’ve never heard of, and getting your name and title heard will cost you.

And lest we forget…

Instagram isn’t real life.

Neither is Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, or whatever the hell the new-new thing is that I won’t hear about until the olds take it over. No one posts their rejection letters on Instagram (not all of them, anyway – some of them make for good entertainment; I once got a rejection for a book that wasn’t even mine). No one live streams the hours they spend rewriting the same sentence 20 times. No one makes a reel of all the pitches they make that go completely unanswered, but I’m willing to bet there’s a lot.

For all those live events that seem to happen every hour for those authors I see over and over, there are plenty of them with single-digit audiences. For every TikTok, there’s a quick shirt change and parting the hair on the other side between filming five 1-minute videos while the kids are upstairs watching Disney Plus because we don’t have time or energy to spend doing our hair and makeup for something spontaneous (at least I don’t).

Okay – pity party’s over. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna suck it up and make the most of my release because I have to out-earn my publicity spend!

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My least favorite part of this book process…

Earlier this week I got my design pages from my publisher! Not only is it a wonderful preview of what my book will look like in print (sans cover), it’s also my last chance to make any edits. In meetings with my publisher and other authors in my cohort, I knew it was coming, and I also was told repeatedly of two things I could do to make sure I was catching any last minute typos: 1) print my design pages on brightly colored paper and 2) read the printed pages out loud.

I think even your average author despises the sound of their own voice (good thing David Sedaris is not average… I can’t imagine anyone else reading his audiobooks). Because I have a speech impediment (stuttering), I hate listening to the sound of my own voice more than most, because the sound of my own voice – even when I am by myself in the master bedroom, because it is the only room in the house with interior locks, after draining my Buc-ees mug of coffee with Bailey’s – is sometimes a legit battle.

But since I can fit the amount of things I know about the business side of books into one tiny pinky nail, I trusted their word and printed out my design pages on bright yellow paper… because it was second cheapest. (Salmon was cheapest… but I just can’t bring myself to stare at that much pink while I read out loud.)

And as much as I would like for this blog post to be a refutation of my publisher’s recommendation… goddammit they were right. I’ve probably read this manuscript at least 20 times and have done so with the eagle eye I’ve been told I have on multiple professional occasions. And yet, by reading it on piss yellow paper in my wavering stutter, I’ve already found missing words, transposed words, and an entire section in the wrong verb tense… and this is AFTER the proofreaders did their worst.

So, I’m going to fumble over my words and finish reading this super-yellow manuscript out loud until page 277, because I am magically catching things I should have caught years ago, and because it’s making my book a better book. Even when I can’t pronounce words that begin with R.

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Another feature in Moms Don’t Have Time to Write

This essay was jostling around in my mind long before Moms Don’t Have Time to Write put out a call for submissions about holiday topics, but I was hesitant to even give voice to the negative feelings I was having. More than anything, I was scared to submit the essay because I was worried how it would be received by my family.

However, as a writer, I’ve found that whenever I find myself writing something that scares me, that’s actually the place where the gold is. The minute I start self-editing is the minute I stop being authentic, which is a disservice for me and my readers. Needless to say, after much hand-wringing I submitted the essay for consideration. This week, they surprised me by publishing it!

Check out my published essay here.

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Community Klepto is coming to a bookshelf near you, courtesy of She Writes Press

After COVID reared its ugly viral head and caused my prior publisher to shelve all its projects, I thought long and hard about what I wanted for my book. I’m biased of course, but I knew it was a polished, funny, marketable book (it wouldn’t have had two offers to publish it already if it wasn’t). Not wanting to sell myself short, and feeling like I had nothing to lose, I submitted COMMUNITY KLEPTO to She Writes Press, after reading that it took the prize of Independent Publisher of the Year in 2019. I also started aggressively querying other publishers and agents, not letting the sun set on a day where I submitted less than two queries.

A couple months later, I woke up to an email from She Writes Press saying they wanted to publish COMMUNITY KLEPTO. Today, I made it official and signed the contract, making me She Writes Press’s newest author! COMMUNITY KLEPTO will be released sometime in the Spring of 2022 (hopefully by then, things like in-person book signings and launch parties won’t be frowned upon by the CDC).

It goes without saying that applying my signature to a book deal is the easy part and now 18 months of hard work begins to bring my newest book into this world, and I guess it also means that I’m finally going to have to go back to my hair salon since my last cover photo is now a decade old. Mask up, stay safe, and follow along on my ride as a SWP author.

About She Writes Press:

She Writes Press is an independent publishing company founded to serve members of SheWrites.com, the largest global community of women writers online, and women writers everywhere. She Writes Press is both mission-driven and community-oriented, aiming to serve writers who wish to maintain greater ownership and control of their projects while still getting the highest quality editorial help possible for their work.

In 2014, SheWrites.com and She Writes Press became part of SparkPoint Studio, LLC, creating a powerful combination that no other hybrid publisher brings to the table, including a strong editorial vision; traditional distribution; two award-winning hybrid imprints (She Writes Press and SparkPress); and an in-house marketing and publicity team through its publicity division, BookSparks. The SparkPoint Studio family is a female-run company with a strong vision, passion, and work ethic. In 2019, She Writes Press was named Indie Publisher of the Year.

– She Writes Press 2020
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What is this “book” thing the hipsters keep tweeting about?

While I was procrastinating further on writing the pitch for Community Klepto tonight, I decided to go through my Twitter list of publishing people. It’s a list that I’ve been building ever since I joined Twitter, which Twitter tells me was 7 years ago, so most of the accounts I’ve followed on that list about about as old as I am, in Twitter years. As I opened profile after profile, URL after URL, I had waves of mixed emotions as I saw the following:

  • 404 Not Found
  • Domain for sale
  • We have ceased operations
  • We are no longer accepting new submissions

I admit that between switching careers and giving birth to two children on the same day, I haven’t kept up with all the happenings in the publishing industry like I maybe should have; but at the same time, I think I can outline the trajectory of the 7 year Kelly’s-Twitter-publisher-list timeline easily enough:

  1. E-books happen. Some publishers resist all changes. Others pop up looking to cash in early.
  2. E-books gain popularity. Some publishers still resist all changes. Others adapt and innovate. Shitty books get self-published.
  3. E-books soar. Some of the publishers who resisted all changes die. Some who adapted and innovated succeed, some don’t. More shitty books get self-published. Readers start to realize most of the free books they downloaded are shitty.
  4. E-books sales to fall off. The resistors shout that they were right, even as they continue to publish marketable turd sandwiches. Authors of shitty books stop making money on their shitty books. Some of the innovative co-op ventures find they are no longer viable.
  5. Hipsters make physical books cool again. Resistors decry TOLD YA SO. Everyone else is saying Now what?

Now what. Some publishers have died horrible deaths because they refused to innovate. Some died because they were counting on a fad to sustain its growth indefinitely. This is a sad but predictable reality. Some of weathered the storms, adapted where they needed to, and are doing really cool things now. This makes me happy and excited to see what’s next.

I’m not going to go so far as to say that e-books were a fad. I mean, I still read them so they must be cool, right? And I like the papercut and smell of an old book as much as the next hipster. But in a world where evolving technology is changing every industry, publishing is not immune. Their battles for market share aren’t over, even if the e-book is losing ground. The future may be uncertain, but I am certain that as more traditional publishers broaden their horizons (and re-open their wallets), it’s a good time for me to be diving back in.

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Portrait of Woman in Ink available in paperback

After some deliberation and figuring out what to do with Portrait of Woman in Ink: A Tattoo Storybook now that my contract with my publisher is up. Since I’m in the middle of a career change, uber-frequent visits to my doctor, and deep in the throes of editing my third novel, I opted to go the way of the Amazon and just put it out there as part of my growing “backlist.”

I was partially lucky because I had already done the long, time-sucking work of formatting a print copy of my manuscript: sections, section headers and footers, right-facing pages, page numbers, front matter, back matter – pretty much everything you don’t have to worry about for electronic format books. Even so, it still took a good couple weeks of back and forth with CreateSpace to get my cover positioning just right, which proved to be a frustrating couple of weeks. But at long last, the print paperback is complete and available everywhere (CreateSpace print paperbacks are sold).

So if you’d like your very own dead tree version to add to your Kelly I. Hitchcock collection of works, you can find it here!

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The last chapter in the CLR saga…

Seeing as the newest season of Doctor Who just premiered, it seems only fitting that we should jump in our time machines for this post…

This week, I finally received my contributor copies of the first publication that ever accepted a piece of my work, Clackamas Literary Review. It is a damn fine publication, but in case you’re new to the drama that is Kelly I. Hitchcock’s literary life, here’s a summary of the timeline around this little interaction…

Sometime in 2009: I submit 3 poems to CLR for consideration.
February 2010: Clackamas accepts 2 of my poems for publication in their 2010 issue.
November 2011: I receive word the issue is going to drop publication any day.
February 2012: I once again receive word the issue is going to be published soon, and that I will receive 7 contributor copies instead of 2, and that I can purchase copies for $5.
March 2013: 2010 issue is published, with promise of shipment for 7 contributor copies, which I do not receive.
September 2013: Tired of waiting, I order my own copy for about $10. Thanks, Amazon Prime!
August 2014: I mysteriously receive 3 contributor copies in the mail.

You may be looking at this and thinking “Wow, that’s a really long publication cycle,” and you’d be right. What made the whole thing even weirder was that 1: I received 3 copies, not 2 (which was the original number) or 7 (which was the later promised number). 2: These poems came to the name I use on Facebook – not my Facebook author page, but my personal Facebook timeline, same punctuation and everything. 3: The envelope they came in looked like it had been attacked by a rabid wolverine; I don’t even know how the mailman got the books to stay in the manila bubble mailer.

With practices like this, it should surprise no one that more and more authors are moving away from traditional publishing. This isn’t really an anomaly; actually, authors have been screwed over on much larger scales than this by even more prestigious traditional publishing houses. Looking at timelines like these, it’s no wonder Type A authors (like me) who like control (like me) are publishing works at the rate of 1 new book on Amazon every 5 minutes.

That said, I truly am grateful that Clackamas Literary Review published my work and I have that name to attach to my own. I know it’s hard for university presses to get their jobs done in the face of changing market demands, technology, and budget constraints. I just wish they’d learn to do more with less a little faster than 5 years, and adapt quickly like the rest of the world’s been forced to.

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I got my contributor copy… 3.5 years later

I’ve blogged several times about the issue of Clackamas Literary Review that I was recently published in – a publication timeline that looked a lot like this:

October 2009: I submit 3 poems via snail mail with a good ole SASE.

February 2010: Clackamas accepts 2 of my poems for publication in their 2010 issue.

November 2011: I receive word the issue is going to drop publication any day.

February 2012: I once again receive word the issue is going to be published soon, and that I will receive 7 contributor copies instead of 2, and that I can purchase copies for $5.

March 2013: 2010 issue is published, with promise of shipment for 7 contributor copies, which I do not receive.

September 2013: Tired of waiting, I order my own copy for about $10. Thanks, Amazon Prime!

As publication timelines go, this is a crappy one. Despite the long bouts of miscommunication and having to buy my own copy for full price, there truly is n substitute for the feeling you get when you see your work printed on the pages of what has historically been a very highly acclaimed publication, even if the publication management leaves a thing or two to be desired.

Was it worth it? To be honest, had I known it would take more than 3 years to publish, I might have pulled my poems from consideration after the first unanswered email from the Editor in Chief. Sometimes, though, you just have to stick it out and hope that things eventually pay off. And, even though I had to buy my own copy, I can look on the bright side knowing that my money is going to a graduate writing program that is probably suffering the same kind of fate graduate writing programs are facing all over the country.

And if I do eventually receive my 7 contributors copies, you can bet I’ll be sending a copy to the guy who told me one of the poems in it was “desperate and whiny”.

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Shakespeare Got To Get Paid, Son

BuyMyBookI’m going to go ahead and make a bold statement: If you want to become an author because it’ll make you lots of money, you’re in it for the wrong reason. Yes, there are authors who have publishers back up to their front yards and dump truckloads of bundled cash every day, but they are very, very few and far between and there isn’t one of them who didn’t toil away in obscurity for a long time before getting the elusive “big break.” There are also a decent handful of non-A-list authors who do make a decent living selling their books, and yes, some of them do so completely by self-publishing, but pretty much all of them have the following in common:

  • They had books published traditionally before they began self-publishing
  • They spend a LOT of time marketing
  • They have editors who make sure they don’t put a load of crap on the shelves

And even then, all of them will tell you that they didn’t start writing because of the financial promise of publishing. I say this bold statement as the author of 13 published works, only one of which has earned me any money, and as someone who often comes across people who feel lured into writing a book simply because they see dollar signs behind the 75% royalties services like Amazon direct publishing provide.

I’m not taking a stance on traditional vs. self-publishing. They each have their share of advantages and their equal share of drawbacks, and I think all good authors should have a healthy mix of both in their portfolio. Case in point, if you are an author with a healthy backlist of published novels that are now out of print, you’re a moron if you don’t have them on Amazon. At the same time though, if you think hastily writing one book and self-publishing it on Amazon will yield you infinite riches, you are also a moron.

I understand as well as the next guy that writers need to get paid, but the labor of writing should never be driven by money. This is of course my opinion, and it’s why I have a full-time gig that keeps me housed and clothed and whatnot so that my writing can always be a labor of love, and the two-average book sales I make per month are just icing on the cake that buys me a pizza every now and then. Granted, I could probably make more sales if I spent more time advertising, but as I already mentioned, I have a full time job that monopolizes much of my time (which I am fine with), and I also recognize that my efforts are better spent not trying to market my first book, but to write a better book. Your first book is never your best book. If you think it is, you’re a moron. Not my opinion there, either; you’re objectively a moron. I once thought my first book was the best and I could never equal it. I was wrong, and also a moron.

So in long-awaited conclusion: if you’re writing and selling a book for the sole purpose of making money, don’t. Even if it manages to not be an inferior piece of work, you’ve got a hell of an upstream swim to keep sales rolling in if you haven’t already made a name for yourself or don’t know how to effectively promote (less-than-semi-pro tip: tweeting “Buy my book!” 80 times a day is not effective promotion). If you love writing and want nothing more than to see your name in print, do what Kevin Carroll calls “the lonely work of a champion.”

  1. Take the time to write a really great book. I mean super soldier serum great. Write it until you think it’s good enough, then rewrite it until it’s actually good. Then write it again until it’s great. Don’t put something on the shelf that you wouldn’t be proud to call yours.
  2. For the love of GOD, don’t skip the editing process. There is a reason editors have jobs, and it’s impossible to objectively judge your own work. Assume your readers have half a brain and vomit in their mouths a little when they read a typo in a published work. Don’t make your readers vomit.
  3. Do some serious evaluation before self-publishing. Maybe it’s right for you; maybe it isn’t. Calculate how much time you have to devote to marketing. Put some queries out there to publishers to get a feel for how the book might be received. No one’s going to force you to take their book deal (I promise you), and yeah, some of them are crappy.
  4. Build a brand for your author persona, regardless of how you publish. Yes, it is easier said than done and I am still figuring it out myself. When I figure out the magic sauce recipe, you’ll be the first to know.
  5. Write more books. It’s a lot easier to earn a year’s salary when you have more things to sell, regardless of the royalty percentage you get. And spend some of your royalty earnings on pizza. It’s my version of living the high life.
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