Timber Howligan First Month Update: Success!

Self-publishing is a business, so here’s the accounting: I promised to donate any proceeds to charity, the animal rescue organization Alley Cat Allies.

Here’s what Timber earned in his first month out in the world:

$4.07 from CreateSpace (11 copies)

$11.87 from Draft2Digital (5 copies)

$85.70 from paperbacks I sold directly (28 copies, including 12 to my mother, who made an extra $20 donation. This might have been out of the goodness of her heart or a math error and knowing her, could have been either…I’ll assume the best. Thanks, Mom!)

That makes just over $100 to donate! Not bad for a cat who only recently learned how to use an iPad.

Screenshot 2015-07-03 15.07.11

They are not kidding about the “wealth of information” part…beware becoming part of their email list. Good thing I REALLY like cats.

I’m not going to get much into the nitty-gritty business details, except to say that you might notice I made less royalties on CreateSpace (paperback sales, mostly) than Draft2Digital. However, if I’d raised the paperback price to $12 or $13, the royalties might be more—it’s all about how you price your books in the self-publishing world. So I still think CreateSpace is a pretty good deal, I just didn’t take full advantage of it by raising my price. Not that I don’t think authors deserve to make every cent they manage to earn on their hard won literary sweat and tears, and not that I don’t think my book is awesome, but I’m not bold enough to put my first offering out there at the same price as something by someone who’s been doing this professionally for thirty years.

Some might not call a first month’s tally of less than 50 books sold a “success,” but I’m actually very happy. First, I’m DONE. Getting this book ready for publication happened to coincide with my children’s last few weeks of school—what the eff was I thinking? So while I was pulling together class projects, class gifts, and generally overdoing things in my usual style, I was trying to figure out how to put together an ebook with illustrations (Note To Self: do NOT leave this until the last minute), maniacally fix every last typo, and still put dinner on the table every night.

Some things slipped through the cracks. I did not win a lot of “warm fuzzy spouse” points during those last hectic days. My husband did not put it so gently.

But he DID read the book, and he laughed his…butt off. So that is the SECOND reason I call this release a success: I have fans! Not all of them are related to me. At least two friends have texted me to let me know their kids were engrossed in the book, and one was already asking for a sequel. That’s kind of cool.

The most important reason Timber Howligan is a success is that feeling you get when you know you’ve finished something big, something that will last. This is a book that will be on my children’s shelves for years. You can drive your kids to school every day, feed them dinner every night, and they will forget it by morning. But write them a book, and they will remember it forever—forever! Ha! Parenting subterfuge at its finest!

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Day before publication

Yesterday my husband came up with a really good idea for marketing Timber Howligan. “You should partner with Animal Rescue Societies, and get them to sell the book to raise money.”

What I should have said was, “That’s a great idea, honey. Thanks for thinking of ways to help out. In a few months, once the book has had some time to gather reviews, maybe I’ll investigate how to make that happen.”

Instead, I went, “BLAAAAAGH!” Which was better than what I was screaming on the inside: “I don’t know how to do that! Does that involve actual phone calls? Isn’t sending all the money to Alley Cat Allies good enough? I want to hide under a rock.”

All in all, I don’t think I’m doing too bad, considering I’m less than twenty-four hours before my stated publication goal. The ebook is ready to go—it will be available on iBooks and Nook. I don’t think Amazon will have Timber Howligan by tomorrow, but that’s my own fault—I fixed another typo, and didn’t realize there would be a several day delay between when I approved the proof and when the book became available. Oops.

I keep having to remind myself: I’m doing this because I like making things, and now I know how to make a book. (Though I STILL don’t know how to get it available for pre-order on Amazon. That befuddles me.) This week I’ve gotten a crash course in self-publishing: like how to edit an epub in Sigil and how to create a GoodReads author account. I even set up PayPal so I could sell signed copies—I already have one request! This week would have been a lot less stressful if I’d done all this ahead of time, but I’m kind of making this up as I go along. Until the book was finished, it was hard to see everything else that needed to be done.

On the bright side, getting Timber Howligan Secret Agent Cat ready for publication has already accomplished my main goal: I’ve gotten out Book Two from its dusty shelf in my office. I wrote it two years ago, a crazy first draft with a wild cast of characters. It’s going to be really fun once I figure out how to pull it all together. I can’t wait!

In the meantime, I should probably be figuring out how to get Book One up on Amazon…but at least tomorrow, you can get it on iBook and Nook. Maybe I will throw a “post-release” party in a few weeks 🙂

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One Bite at a Time

“I can’t wait until June.” My son’s friend came up to me at lunch today and spoke these words, rousing me from the Good Part of my book. I was supervising the class of fourth graders, who usually talked amongst themselves, played cards, or otherwise stayed occupied with age-appropriate activities. It was an easy gig.

I raised my head, expecting her to say something about the end of school—still eight weeks away. If I were a kid, that’s what I’d be looking forward to. “Hmm? Why’s that?”

“That’s when Timber Howligan comes out!”

Instant panic! I’m only half way through edits, and still have a cover to design. I’m researching the American Humane Society. I’m at least a month behind on blog posts. I’ve been trying really hard not to think about that looming deadline. The last thing I want is to be reminded about all the work I have to do. And at the same time—“That’s really sweet,” I told her. Because it was.

“Have you been working on it?”

“Yes! Yes, of course I have.” I hoped I sounded confident. I didn’t want to turn off one of my only fans. “I’ll keep you posted.”

She bounced off toward her friends, satisfied.

Lately it’s been hard to get back into a writing routine, but that’s one reason I gave myself a deadline—and announced it. When I picked June as the publication date, back in December, it sounded so far away. Plenty of time! Over the past month, as the weather’s gotten warmer and summer has seemed suddenly closer, I’ve done absolutely nothing.

I know a writer writes. I know nothing is supposed to get between me and my craft, or my Muse will stomp off in a huff. I know anything I say is just an excuse. But we took a two week vacation with my family, and you know what? I needed that vacation. So did my family—and my kids needed me. I brought my laptop, I wrote some almost every day, but finding protected time to edit and revise my novel? Nope, that didn’t happen at the beach.

Then we got home, and my cat died. Not in an all of a sudden, over and done with kind of way. More a prolonged kitty hospice kind of thing. It is unbelievable how much time nursing a geriatric, terminally ill cat takes. Not everyone could afford to make that choice, but I did—with a lot of help from her vet—and we made her last week very comfortable.

By the time I picked up my novel again, I felt like another person. I’ve read at least a dozen books since I last worked on it. I’ve stared death in the eyes, watched it come in the middle of the night, breath by breath, and leave nothing behind at the end but a peaceful sigh.

I’m learning not to rush. Deadlines are good—they make things happen. But taking time off to renew myself was good, too. It’s important to write, but it’s also important to have something to write about.

Now I’m back, and I have to remind myself that everything will get done eventually. My husband calls it “eating the elephant,” usually in regards to his big work projects. You can’t possibly eat a giant pachyderm all at once, you have to do it a bite at a time. The same is true for writing a novel, especially if you then decide to take the leap and self-publish it. In the past week, I edited seven chapters and finished a blog post—that’s at least an ear, maybe half a trunk, don’t you think?

With all these books, do we need one more? (Hint: We do)

Have you read every book in the library? Every one in Barnes & Nobles? Do you have any idea how many used book stores there are in the world? Even if the book industry collapsed today, we’d all still have plenty to read for the rest of our lives.

But our kids especially want the next new thing. The books we read as children, as much as we loved them, seem outdated by the time we pass them on to the next generation. Some books will always be classics (Charlotte’s Web, Watership Down), some books are instant classics (Harry Potter, The Lightning Thief), but for the vast majority of middle-grade authors, trying to get noticed by kids who spend hours a day streaming the world directly to their eyeballs is an uphill battle. Your intended audience has no buying power. Your memories of the books you loved as a child have nothing to do with what kids are reading these days—nothing. In children’s literature more than ever, the publishing industry’s editors and agents serve as valuable experts—they know what kids are reading, they know what kids want. Better yet, they know how to market it, package it, and make parents want to buy it for their kids.

Why on earth would anyone, like me, try to self-publish a middle grade novel?

I’m realistic. Timber Howligan, Secret Agent Cat isn’t going to be the next Harry Potter. First of all, Timber Howligan is a cat, not a wizard, so I doubt he could even get into Hogwarts. While I would love for the world to enjoy this book, my goals in writing it were simple: my eight-year old son needed something to read. He was an avid reader who had devoured the first three Harry Potter books, but wasn’t ready for the complex, dark themes in the rest of the series. He could read anything in middle-grade fiction, but had no interest in books about middle school drama. Kissing and crushes? Yuck. Bullies as villains? Not interested. He wanted something fun and funny, full of adventure.

He read my first draft, stayed up late to finish it, and laughed out loud at all the right places. He’s already planned out my next ELEVEN sequels. I’ve drafted the next book, and he’s eager for me to finish.

You cannot, when querying an agent, use your own child as a reference. But when it comes to books, I trust my son—he doesn’t read anything he doesn’t like, especially if I recommend it, much less if I write it.

Having my son believe in me was reason enough to put this book out there—and reason to do it right. I’ve got the final copy edits, and will be working on incorporating those over the next month. I’ve commissioned an extra interior image because I was so happy with the first ten. I’m working with the artist on the final cover design, and I’m sure it’s going to be wonderful. Self-publishing is a lot of work, but it’s an adventure, and I’m enjoying it.

Finally, as I’ve mentioned before, Timber Howligan likes to help animals in need, and so do I. I’ll be using the book to raise money for the American Humane Association (not, as I linked erroneously in a previous post, to be confused with the Humane Society of the United States) or a similar agency. I’m going to do some more research and due diligence over the next month and report back—is the Humane Association the best charity to help animals? They have an A- from CharityWatch, but like any large organization, there’s overhead—not all funds go to their programs. Donating to a local shelter is always most effective, but that lacks wide appeal, assuming this book sells beyond my local region. Stay tuned!

Timber Howligan–The art is here!

The interior illustrations for Timber Howligan, Secret Agent Cat are done! Always trying to support local artists, I hired Wendy H. Wilkins, who is also a children’s writer. Here’s a sneak peek!

Timber, Lester, and Pfizz in Horgan's office

Timber, Lester, and Pfizz in Horgan’s office

Cleo Patter Paws and Timber Howligan

Cleo Patter Paws and Timber Howligan

Every spy cat needs a grappling hook!

Every spy cat needs a grappling hook!

Why You Should Self-Publish

Why You Should Self-Publish.

Great article by Hugh Howey in the Huffington Post, courtesy of The Passive Voice, and possibly the best quote ever about the subject:

Remember that it’s okay to write and publish just to make yourself happy, to make yourself fulfilled. There will be authors out there, readers, publishing experts, and booksellers who say that this outpouring of unprofessional drek is ruining the industry, which makes me wonder if these same people drive through neighborhoods yelling and screaming at people gardening in their back yards, shouting at them that, “You’ll never be a farmer!”