Five Reasons I Love my Small Publisher

I’m a full-time author. I have multiple short story publishing credits with two separate small, independent publishers. This month, I published a novella with my first publisher.

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I’m a “real” writer. I have an Amazon author page. I’m qualified as a Goodreads author. If that’s not enough, surely my website and business cards will prove it.

In the past, I strove to be traditionally published. Every manuscript was marketed to agents who have inroads with editors at the Big Houses. I figured these gatekeepers would insure that I didn’t put my work out there before it was ready.

But I would have zero publishing credits if I hadn’t changed my mindset.

I’m thankful for the ever-growing population of independents publishers with qualified editors and artists at their helm.
I adore the hard work these people do. They’re entrepreneurs with a love for authors, books and readers. In other words: my kind of people.

I wouldn’t trade my experiences with my two small publishers for anything. Here are five reasons why I especially love them.

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They always respond to every query

I’ve sent out hundreds of novel queries over the past three years. In that time, I’ve garnered a dozen or so “no thanks, but good luck”
form-letter replies.
Every submission to a small publisher netted me a personal response. Even if they said, “no thanks” it was written in a way I know the person who read the query wrote the letter.
And I have to say, I’m sick of hearing nothing. Because “due to the high volume of queries, we can only respond to manuscripts we’re interested in.”
Seriously? It takes so long to hit “reply” and copy and paste one of those form letters into the email?
Yeah. The message here is: we’re too important to spend even a minute responding to your crappy idea/query/whatever.

They’re prompt with payment

Okay, I’ve had a 50/50 experience with this, but the publisher who hasn’t paid me yet, isn’t behind with the royalties. In all fairness, I submitted to a charity anthology, so earnings from the first 500 copies were supposed to benefit a non-profit.
The publisher I have most of my work with pays promptly after the end of each quarter. The titles and sales numbers are plainly accounted for.
This is the same regularity I get from Amazon with my self-published Bible studies and Biblical fiction novella. And Amazon is a massive corporation.
Kudos to any small business who has the same consistency.

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They treat me like a person

Not only do I know the managing editor and marketing director by first name, they know me. If I ask them a question using Facebook Messenger, they respond. I’ve had several lengthy conversations about general policies, specific projects and promotions.
It’s nice to know I’m not a number on a spreadsheet somewhere. I’m an author who they respect as an integral part of the success of their business.

My input on covers is welcomed

If you get a contract with Random House or another major publisher, you won’t have an opinion about anything.
Well, you might be able to fight against some content edits. But when it comes to covers? Their designer will make all the decisions.
I’ve heard of authors being given four options and the one they chose wasn’t used. Why? Apparently, someone knows more about the importance of a cover than they did.
I’m in the process of writing a three-book series with Roane Publishing for their Novella Niblets line. I’ve already discussed how to keep the continuity in the covers and their designers were more than happy to spend HOURS tossing ideas at me.
Also, this is a “digital-only” line. However, the managing editor is open to discussing the possibility of taking them to print. (Because there’s something about holding your book in your hand and sniffing the pages.)

They pay better than the Big Five

It’s not about the money for me. Which is great because I don’t make much. According to the Tax Man, I’m earning in the negatives.
But my contracts with the small publishers offer me HALF of their net profit on every title. A traditional contract would have me splitting 40 percent (or less) with an agent.
I love my small publishers. Which is why I promote their other titles here and on my social media accounts. They don’t get the same sort of exposure.
You can show a little love for them, too. Buy their titles. Review the books on major retail sites.
What do you love about the company you work for?

Video Training: Does it train you?

Every year the school district sends a link to some video courses. It wasn’t one of the things I missed when I became a full-time writer. Now that I’m a substitute teacher, guess what?

I get a link to a bunch of video training classes and associate quizzes.

This year their were nine different classes. At least two of them were completely new. At least four of them I had taken at least ten times already.

But a refresher course is good, right?

As I clicked through the slides, scanning the classes I’d already taken, I wondered how much training I was really receiving.

Would I need to dispose of something blood-soaked while I was at the school? Did my knowledge of the homeless statistics and federal programs enable me to assist students?

In short—do these video training courses really train you?

The Process

So many statutes govern public education. And I don’t remember what year the privacy act went into effect. Or when concessions were made advocating special services for homeless students.

Why do I need to recall the year?

But that’s one of the quiz questions. Every. Time.

The district sends a link. An employee or substitute clicks through and verifies their personal information.

The next step is to open up the list of courses you’re required to watch and pass a quiz over. Because we all know, people would just run the videos and walk away from their computer if their wasn’t a quiz at the end.

Once the course has finished running, there is a link to the quiz. Quizzes are between 8 and 20 questions, with most of them being 10 questions.

The Shortcuts

Of course there are ways to shorten the time it takes to go through the courses.

I don’t listen to the narration. Even though I generally am an auditory learner, I’ve taken these courses often enough that just reviewing the information visually will help me pass the quizzes.

After all, do I really need to listen to someone reading the screens to me.

Failed Power Point presentation=when the presenter says exactly what’s on the screen.

You can take the quiz without watching any of the video. I did this with the blood-born pathogen class. After taking the same thing ten times, I think I know the answers. It was also only an 8-question test.

According to the time ratings on my courses, it should have taken me 210 minutes to complete all the videos. Using my shortcuts, I finished in around 100 minutes.

Still a colossal waste of time in my opinion.

Putting it in Practice

To answer the question, I think that video training courses benefit regular employees more than they do a substitute. (No, I’m not just saying this because I don’t want to take the classes.)

Daily interaction with homeless students and educational records make an employee aware that their are rules in place. They might even use some of the best practices if they have affected students in their classroom.

The truth is, if I witness bullying, I will step in and stop it. And I will report it. Because that’s who I am, not because I read a bunch of Power Point slides on the subject.

And, yes, I passed all the quizzes. I have to in order to substitute in the school district.

But I don’t think these videos make me more prepared. I still need to adopt a mindset of caring toward the students. This will involve daily choices when I’m on a job.

What do you think? Have you completed video training? Is it effective? How is it better/worse than in-person training sessions?

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Back in the Classroom

Once upon a time there was a girl who loved to play school. She didn’t care if she was the teacher or the student, she just loved school. That little girl jumps for joy every time I get a call to substitute teach.

If you know me at all, you understand I have a LONG history of spending time in the classroom. My longest employment was with the St. Helens School District, where I worked as a classified substitute and temporary classroom aide for six years before getting a regular job.

My first two years were as a cashier in the cafeteria at a grade school (while still taking the temporary overload classroom aide positions). Finally, I managed to land a job as a special education instructional assistant at the middle school. I was there for seven years before leaving to pursue this writing gig.

Now I’m back in the classroom. Because this writing gig feeds my soul and keeps my hands and head flying in numerous directions, but it doesn’t pay well. Not with all my contracts being for royalties only. And I don’t push or publicize my self-published titles.

The Position

When I began pursuing my English degree, I planned to get a restricted substitute teaching license when I finished. That was 2010. At the time, there was a shortage of substitute teachers and some of our best subs had degrees in anything BUT education.

All that changed in 2012. School districts all over Oregon were down-sizing (had been since 2007). Suddenly, there were more licensed teachers than positions. The substitute pool became bloated with all these graduates who couldn’t score their own classroom.

Most of the districts rescinded their use of the restrictive substitutes. People who had these licenses were allowed to continuing working until the expiration. No new licenses could be issued.

When I graduated in July 2013, that was still the state of things in the substitute teaching world.

This fall, the substitute pool was depleted. Not enough people floated in the thing to cover vacancies.

The major school districts went on a recruiting campaign. They sent out a flyer to all the school reinstating their use of restrictive substitute licencees to fill classroom teacher roles.

The secretary at the middle school where I worked kindly forwarded the email to me. Her note: “There are plenty of people here who would love to see you subbing in our classrooms.”

Alrighty, then.

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The Process

First step: Attend a half-day conference-like event at the NWRESD (Northwest Regional Education Service District). They supply subs to most of the districts in northwestern Oregon.

At this event, you found out how the process worked, completed an interview and filled out an online application form. They would notify you within a week or two if you were selected to continue in the program.

Hurray! I was selected.

Step two: Register for the ORELA Civil Rights examination and pass it ($95).

Then November happened. As you know, I was writing a novel in three weeks and taking a week-long vacation to the Oregon coast for Thanksgiving with my sister.

Step three: Attend a full-day training session at the NWRESD offices.

This is where we learned about the expectations of the job. Also, they gave tips and tools for surviving in a crazy classroom. The best part was acting out different scenarios.

Yep. I can still perform the role of snotty, rebellious teenager with pizzazz.

We also filled out all our employment forms and had our photos taken for an identification badge. I still have yet to see that badge, so who knows if the paperwork is even ready.

Step four: Complete the fingerprinting and background check process ($74)

I performed this step the Monday before Christmas, but the state never acknowledged it until a month later.

Step five: Submit the application with the appropriate fees and information (including certified transcripts). The fee had to include a $99 expedite fee or else you wouldn’t see your license until June. Just in time for it to expire. The application fee was $129.

Step six: Get a bunch of emails from the state acknowledging every slip of paper they get. However,the email stating what is still required – which is what the HR gal said they would send – never came.

Ever.

Two month after I sent the application (does that sound like expedited service to you???), I got an email stating my license was issued. There would be no paper license mailed and I should print the email for my records.

The Payoff

When I wrote this post, I had been in the classroom four separate days. However, I haven’t completed a payroll cycle yet.

I’m hoping theirs a payoff. It seems like the figure was $150 per day (before taxes, of course), I haven’t seen any actual money.

If you do the math, you can see that I’ve spent close to $300 to get the license. And it expires June 30, 2016.

Here’s hoping the renewal process involves fewer hoops and red tape. The next license will be good for three years.

I’ve discovered a renewed ear for teenage dialogue already. Getting back among my target audience is one of the primary reasons for going through all this rigamarole.

The State sent me a questionnaire about the fluidity of the process. Do they really want me to complete it? I think my numbers will skew their data toward the negative end of the scale.

The good news: I’m out of my office and in the classroom, interacting with teenagers.

I’ve missed these guys.

Even in Writing it’s who you know

My youngest son, recent college graduate, swears he doesn’t have to apply for jobs. “It’s who you know, Mom.” In writing, I’ve discovered, this adage is also true.

Not that I agree my son should sit around waiting for someone from his “network” to offer him a job, but I see that in the world – made much smaller by technology – people tend to “know someone” who would be “perfect” for that position.

That doesn’t mean you can sit back idly. Someone searching for employment should pursue the online application process and follow up an interview with a thank you email. Or in the writing world – send out perfected queries and submit to contests and anthologies.

Along with all that, you should reach out to other people in the business. Here are the ways I’ve done this – AND the byproduct for my “career.”

Following Blogs

I started my own blog as a college assignment four years ago. Since then, it has left the “free” WordPress site and migrated to my author website. It still doesn’t generate as much traffic as I need for my “discoverability.”

However, networking isn’t about people following MY blog. It’s about me following them. And I don’t do it just so I can ask for favors later (ugh! Using people: still out of fashion in this new era).

I follow writer advice blogs: Kristen Lamb, Jami Gold and Writer’s Helping Writers. I follow blogs of other indie authors: J. Keller Ford and Jennifer M. Eaton. I read their posts, comment when I have something to add, and share their content when I find it unusually valuable.

How has this network helped me?

Kristen Lamb critiqued a piece of flash fiction for me – just because she understood a new writer’s struggle to find good advice. I won a partial developmental edit from Jami Gold that took a story I was proud of to a deeper level.

The truth is, I have found helpful advice on these blogs and connected with the women behind these blogs in ways I never expected.

Connecting on Social Media

I am a late bloomer. I came to Facebook when it was no longer the edgy, fashionable thing to do.

The only reason I even signed up for Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest was because I trusted Social Media Jedi Kristen Lamb. If you’re trying to build an author platform, I highly recommend her book Rise of the Machines: Human Authors in a Digital Age.

It was on Facebook that I met J. Keller Ford (and began to follow her blog). She published a few short stories. I followed her publishers’ pages and shared interesting posts.

Thanks to my connection with J. Keller Ford, I found the submissions page to Roane Publishing, where my first short story was accepted to an anthology.

If I hadn’t been following her, I never would have discovered this small New York publishing company. Further, she is the one who shared her online critique group with me.

In fact, once I become a best-selling author, Jenny and I are taking a tour of castles in Germany. We’ve never met face-to-face, but I owe her a good deal in the scope of my confidence as a writer.

Joining a Critique Group

I’m leery of critique groups because I’ve been a member of a few. I wrote critiques like crazy. Read everyone’s stuff and offered advice about everything from word choice to character arc. In return?

“Too much telling. Show more.” No examples. Or they gave me a rewritten passage that was nearly identical and doesn’t feel any more like showing than what I wrote.

However, after I helped J. Keller Ford with an opening to her second novel in a three-book deal (I know! Crazy that a published author thought I had anything to offer her manuscript), she recommended me to a critique group in Scribophile.

It was here that I was offered some advice by Jennifer M. Eaton. When I rewrote my short story using her feedback, it was accepted to a short story anthology by a larger independent press.

Additionally, I meet monthly with a local group of writers. Several of them are independently published. We are regularly encouraged by a local published author (sci-fi novels and short stories).

We don’t do formal critiques. At first, I wasn’t sure about that. Everyone is welcome to read for five minutes and request specific feedback. Then we use various writing prompts to free write and share that writing for the second hour of the meeting.

This group helped me streamline the opening of the first short story I had published. One of the writing prompts helped me generate the opening for another short story I submitted. (It wasn’t accepted, but it turned into a marketable story.)

Paying it Forward

I’ve met with a local author a few times. Mostly, he has offered me advice about my next steps. I have hopes that he may help me with synopsis writing or perfecting queries in the future.

Other writers helped him, and he believes in paying that kindness forward. Without the encouragement (and introduction to an editor and agent) he received, he believes he would still be a moonlight writer. Rather than an award-winning short story author with a five book deal from Tor.

He’s the one who connected me with another local writer. She’s a humorist pursuing nonfiction writing. Now.

I invited her to Willamette Writer’s Conference last year because I didn’t want to go alone. Since then, she’s critiqued opening pages for me and offered me advice when I bounced ideas off her. She constructively criticized my website, helping me identify how to make it cleaner and easier to navigate.

Conversely, I’ve pointed her toward some of the writing resources that have helped me improve. I’ve asked her questions when she threw ideas toward me that set her on paths that have led her to paying work.

More importantly, I have another creative mind to jabber with about all the things no normal person wants to hear about. She celebrates my successes and kicks me out of my funk when things aren’t going well in my writing world.

In the end, networking isn’t just about WHO you know, it’s about how you reciprocate the good will with people you meet. In our ever-connected-to-the-Internet age, most of these people may live across the country – or across the world – but that just means your network can reach further than ever.

So, go ahead: network with other writers, editors, publishers and readers. Someday, they might drop your name in just the right place at the perfect moment.

What are so other ways writers network? Do you have recommendations for enlarging our circle of writing acquaintances?

Defining Hard Work in an age of Sit-down jobs

I’m a writer. I sit down while I work. And I hate it. Really.

Before this, I was a teaching assistant, and I sat down for my 30-minute lunch. Every day. Five days per week (except for summers – such an awesome benefit). You can bet I was happy to take a load off once I got home.

In process of writing my latest novel and getting it reader-worthy, I’ve worked so hard my back ached, my head ached and I saw spots dancing before my eyes. All of this while sitting in front of a computer.

Isn’t hard work defined as physical labor?

I raked a load of bark dust over my flower beds. Thankfully, I wore gloves and spared myself blisters. I dripped sweat, got a first-class kink in my lower back and suffered from stiff shoulders the next day. Must have been hard work.

When I watch movies of life in the pioneer days or earlier, I shudder to think of living in such a time. I like having time to sit on the deck and read a book. Those people sat down and fell asleep because their bodies needed to rest.

What constitutes hard work in an era when most of the desirable jobs involve a high-percentage of sitting and utilizing brain power rather than brawn?

This is my take on this subject. Five things that might mean you’ve worked hard:

Something gets accomplished

It might just be all the clothes washed, dried, folded and put in their appropriate spots. This is one task I would have despised as a pioneer. Washboard anyone? I’ll pass.

Visible results

Some people might say this is the same thing, but I think there’s a difference. After all, anyone who’s done laundry knows that all the clothes are never done. What happens when you get ready for bed on wash day? Right. You throw a bunch of dirty clothes in the hamper.

I wrote three blog posts today. Then I put them up on my website, programming them to automatically post on the appropriate day. I can show you this using the “All Posts” tab on my WordPress dashboard.

You feel it physically

Let’s face it, they don’t call that hour-long kickboxing class a workout for nothing. You will work your body. You will sweat. You will grunt. If it’s been awhile since you did it, you will groan for a few days to come.

Things like accounting and marketing don’t require the use of the same muscles as your cardio class. They do, however, make your brain sweat. My eyes feel like crossing after looking at the computer screen too long. I’m feeling it in my body.

Someone pays you to do it

Okay, I personally hate this one. I don’t consider some things people are paid for “work.” For instance, sitting at a front desk, smiling at people and showing them to the right room.  I know people who get paid to do this. I do consider revising and editing my manuscript brain-straining labor, and no one has yet to pay me for doing it.

Satisfaction follows on its heels

This is the biggest indicator. Labor for hours and finish a project. Afterwards, you can sigh and say, “That’s done.” (If you’re a mother, you will have to do the same exact thing again tomorrow.)

Work should bring with it a sense of accomplishment. I have had jobs that gave me nothing more than a paycheck. Some of them were physically demanding, and I worked quite hard while on shift. Afterwards, I just left tired.

When you do the work you’re meant to do, a sense of satisfaction rides on the bumper. Even in the midst of the project, you can look at how far you’ve come and feel good about it.

Why do people want to avoid work so much in this era? I have never gained the same flood of joy from playing a game or watching a movie as I do from writing a single scene in my novel. It just feels good to finish a job.

What’s your definition of hard work? Do you think a strong work ethic is being emphasized in today’s American culture?

What do you want to do when you grow up?

When I first started school I wanted to be a teacher. Who wouldn’t want to boss everyone around? By fourth grade, I loved making up stories, so I decided I wanted to be a novelist. Later…solving mysteries seemed exciting, so how about becoming an FBI agent?

Like most kids, my thoughts about the future vacillated from one end of the realistic spectrum to the other end of unrealistic. Dreams are grand. Dreams inspire us to reach higher.

Dreams are dreams. Expectations are a 1000-pound weight on a tired swimmers back. Throw them into the sea of swarming high school students who think they know everything. Is it any wonder kids drown?

When you know your purpose

I wrote my first “book” when I was nine years old. I filled dozens of spiral notebooks with short stories, longer stories, poetry and general musings from that time until after I graduated from high school.

Writing has always helped me express my emotions and sort out my problems. It’s safer to bleed your secrets on a sheet of paper than divulge them to people. A pen ranting on notebook paper gets a person in much less trouble than a verbal confrontation.

My yearning has always been to write. I used that yearning to write copy for a non-profit newsletter, lessons for classes I taught at church, and plays and skits for the youth group to perform.

I submitted a few stories to contests when I was younger. Tried my hand at writing articles and even wrote a novel. Rejection letters deterred me. My family needed me to be present in the moment rather than rattling around my make-believe worlds.

Most people don’t know what they want to do until they’re at least in high school. Some people don’t discover their “calling” until the age of 40, 50 or beyond.

If you’re 18 and don’t know what you want to be when you grow up, big deal. Don’t decide you won’t grow up until you do know. Follow a path. Experiment with different things. Purposelessness has a purpose when you’re using it as a barometer.

How to find your purpose

Some people volunteer at the animal shelter and they know they want to be a veterinarian. Others volunteer at the veterinarian office and decide they love animals, but doctoring the four-legged creatures isn’t how to express it.

The only way to find your niche is by doing. Try sports. Try theater. Try writing for the school newspaper (I did). Sing in the choir. Play in the band. Sell lemonade and deliver newspapers.

My oldest son found out he didn’t want a manual labor job after he worked at one for the summer. It inspired him to work hard in school so he could go to college. How did he know he wanted to be a computer programmer? You’ll have to ask him. His dad is and he always wanted to follow that path. Go figure.

My husband went to college to be an electrician. Yep and he ended up as a computer engineer. Electrical engineer or computer engineer. Slight difference, right? He’s been happy with the choice.

Some people like to do many different things. That could mean they would be happy in multiple fields. It might involve tons of experimentation before they find the right fit. Don’t give up. Keep trying.

You never know until you try. Words to live by – just saying.

What stands in the way

Let’s face it, when you’re a teenager, plenty of things stand in the way of finding out your genuine heart’s calling.

A short list:

  • Teachers: you know the one’s I’m talking about “You’re the best artist I’ve had in years”
  • Parents: “Writing? But what will your day job be?” “You’re going to take over the family business, right?”
  • Friends: “You should go to Western because I’m going there.”
  • Money: You either have it or you don’t. Don’t let that limit your vision.
  • Locale: If you live a million miles from nowhere, it’s hard to know if you’d like a career in the city or some other more urbanized setting.
  • Other nay-sayers: “What can you do with a degree in history?” “If you don’t go to college, you’ll never amount to anything.”

What other things have you heard that made it difficult to find your true calling? If you have advice or experience, please share it in the comments.

Electronic Job Search

Times have changed. The new paradigm of job hunting aptly reveals this truth.

Not that I was a fan of “beating the streets” but it seems so impersonal to search for a job from behind my computer.  There’s no such thing as an application anymore, but there is an electronic application process.

I’ve discovered that searching online for jobs could be never-ending. The ability to refine searches only eliminates all possibilities from view. Thus, a wider range must be left in place offering hundreds of hits on every job search site. And these sites rival the number of open positions they advertise.

LinkedIn

I have a profile on LinkedIn. It isn’t very exciting, but I plan to spend some time sprucing it up now that I’m officially finished with college.

Many of the jobs I apply for use my LinkedIn profile to fill in their online application. In fact, I applied for a technical writing job with Kelly Services and they did just that, even though I found the job opportunity on another job search website.

It seems to me that learning the appropriate key words to use in your profile is essential. I don’t claim to know what these are or that I’ve gotten them in place. I do know that using job descriptions that are posted online can help you identify these words.

Online Application Process

The ease of applying for positions online, when compared with the old-fashioned completion of a double-sided job application, amazes me.

Most of the sites I’ve applied to use either my resume (after I upload it) or my LinkedIn profile to auto complete most of the form. The worst thing about this process is that some things aren’t converted or are put in the wrong place.

For example, a job I recently applied for didn’t have the correct dates and my job titles got matched to the incorrect employers. It was simple to fix these errors, but if I hadn’t reviewed the form carefully, I might have missed them.

There’s always a review page and then the opportunity to return to the earlier pages and correct information. However, the process generally requires clicking through every page, so it isn’t a quick fix.

Drawbacks

  1. Information overload: As I mentioned, sometimes there are just too many positions to wade through. A better system for narrowing results needs to be invented. When I applied on the Kaiser Permanente site, they had a streamlined process for narrowing the prospective jobs. Employment advertisers should mimic this system.
  2. Lack of specificity: Based on certain keywords, a plethora of jobs will be displayed. For example, if I have “management” in a search field, the variety of the postings is vast. Again, some websites do a better job of narrowing the search, but not all of them. Employment advertisers should have two or three levels for even a basic search. For example: I could choose “management” and then “publishing” and then “editorial” and be assured that only editorial jobs would be displayed.
  3. Sterility: What is the office environment like? What sort of commute will it entail? There’s no way to be informed about these sort of questions with the online job search. What a waste to head to an interview only to discover the commute would be brutal or the staff seems unhappy and unfriendly.

Impersonal approach

I think the biggest shortfall of this new, expedited, technologically advanced method of applying for jobs is the lack of personal interaction.

Appearances aren’t everything. Appearances can be deceiving. Unfortunately, many times the external qualities of an employee are quite important. For example, in a customer service industry where this person will interact with stakeholders face-to-face, employers want that “face” to represent their company accurately and positively.

Any experiences with this new method of job hunting you’d like to add? I’d love for you to share your wisdom with me (since I’m a newbie).