In this month's #AspiringAuthors, we talk to Robby Dennis an aspiring author who made her dream a reality!
Hi, and welcome to the beginning of my journey as a self-published author...
Let me tell you all that this was not my first choice. In fact, I sneered at the whole idea of Indie, because I had no idea what it meant. I always dreamed of being published, it seemed that I needed the validation of a large publishing house to make me feel like a “real” author. My perception of Indie was that it was something others did when they failed to be “chosen”.
I chuckle about it now, as there will always be those who believe this nonsense. Sure, there are some authors out there that are below par and self-publishing cringe-worthy stories, but there are also many who are super talented and enjoying the freedom that indie offers them.
I’ve learned a few things in the last eighteen months. I learned that I personally hated the anxiety that came with submitting a manuscript for consideration. The word “synopsis” was worse than the “F” word. The long wait, the constant refreshing the send/receive button on incoming emails and seeing other authors celebrating their contracts was eating away at my confidence.
Still, I had a burning desire to see my book in print. This alone was the initial driving force.
Last year, two things happened that turned my world upside down. An old friend returned to Adelaide after being away for many years and my husband decided he would read my first manuscript.
I can’t stress enough how important it was for me to have two honest opinions when it came to my “babies”. The red pen came out, and so began the “editing” and carving of my stories. It was painfully hard and I hated them both for it. Especially when I could see how their ideas and suggestions had merit.
While they were brutally honest, they were also my encouragers. This was so vitally important to me, as I was on a constant roller coaster ride of emotions, from being excited to feeling sick with fear. I would wake up and think, “What am I doing? I can’t do this!” to “I want this so bad I can taste it!”
I also realised my limitations. I was and still am hopelessly useless at navigating technology and I have a very liberal finger when it comes to commas and other grammatical faux pars. I don’t touch type, and I tend to shut off when my husband tries to show me how to navigate Windows. However, he is far more tenacious than I imagined. He wanted to see me succeed and realise my dreams. So, after hearing Nikoo and Jim McGoldrick at last year’s RWA conference, I wondered if perhaps Paul and I could team up and make this happen.
I wasn’t ready to give up on my dream of being published, yet. I pitched and submitted my favourite story to three publishers and waited…The first two were “nos”. The third was a no too, but with a lengthy and encouraging explanation. It wasn’t the usual, thanks but no thanks. They informed me that they had seriously considered my work but for reasons they couldn’t divulge, they passed on it. They went on to encourage me to try other publishers as they felt sure there was someone out there that would embrace my work. They insisted that I not give up and that often manuscripts are rejected for many other reasons other than the quality of the narrative.
It made me think, perhaps I did have something to offer the world.
Over time, I started to think more about what I really wanted. Did I want to hound and wait for someone to love my work or could I do something about it? At first, I thought no. Talking to other Indie authors it all seemed far too complex for my blonde brain. I thought, let someone else do all the work. I was surprised to find out how much marketing and social media attention other published authors had to engage in. Then, I was dismayed with the stories of publishing houses “owning” your book, choosing your cover, title and sometimes even changing large aspects of the story line to fit their genre.
I really didn’t want to see my work end up like that.
I know I’m possibly exaggerating the extent some editors go to making a story palatable, but I wasn’t happy to let my baby go to someone else. However, I knew that I needed help with editing. I’m a lot better at it now, but compared to those that have the gift of editing, I’m still the proverbial bull in the china shop. That’s why, if you are going to spend money on your manuscript, you must find someone who can lovingly edit and suggest ways to improve your stories. This is essential. You cannot be the only one to view your work. It takes a village to sort through and find spelling errors and typos and inconsistencies in the story. Why did Amelia suddenly become Emily, and why has the colour of her eyes changed in chapter three?
I have at least four proof readers, and each of them finds errors that the other missed.
The next thing we focused on was learning to navigate Amazon, and to understand the whole concept. This was easy for me. I left that all in my husband’s capable hands. When the wheels came off in the early stages, it was good to have someone to blame. We got a lot of advice from other RWA authors. A fellow Adelaidean who had already self-published over 50 category romances in two years helped us with lots of good advice! She now writes for Mira Harlequin (on the side).
The next hurdle was designing the cover. There are a lot of great designers and they aren’t overly expensive. I don’t know about you, but I’m very visual. If a cover pops, I buy. My husband designed the cover for Love in Speranza, with my suggestions and feedback from other authors. The first cover was reminiscent of “Fabio eighties” and I cringe at the thought of having stuck with that one. Once again, saved by friendly, honest, suggestions that told us “you can do better than that”. I am proud to say he nailed it eventually. My cover completely reflects my vision of the story and my heroine is perfectly represented. The second cover took a third of the time, and I would imagine the next one will be just as fast.
A catchy blurb and tag line are important to get you over the line.
I sold sixty hard covers to friends and work mates in the first week of its release. I felt like vomiting for days. The joy and exhilaration of achieving my dream was in fact, not at all what I had expected. I felt naked and nervous. What if the book was a total lot of crock? People who saw me every day would think I was a deluded nut selling them something so ridiculous and cringe-worthy.
I second guessed everything I wrote. Especially the sex scenes. Did I really want my church friends to know what goes on in my mind? Apparently, I was succinctly told by someone, that everyone already knew I was a sexual deviant! LOL.
Not so. However, I am extremely vocal about relationships, marriage and love.
Sex, well that’s a big part of it, and yes, I’d like to think after 35 years with the same man, who still has my full attention, is worth drawing from. Doesn’t every reader deserve the hope of a love so powerfully beautiful and fulfilling that it transcends everything else? Well, I have that in spades and I like writing about it.
Now it’s the waiting game, as I prepare book two’s release in September, closely followed by the others. I have been advised that financial rewards tend to come when you have a catalogue of work your reader can go to after enjoying their first taste of your work. I agree. When I love a story, I tend to buy everything else that author has written. However, if you only have one book, don’t be discouraged. Everyone’s journey is different and yours could be great, awesome or AMMAZING!
I have no idea if I will ever make any money. I guess time will tell. However, I have achieved my goal and that is people are reading my stories. I held my book in my hands for the first time yesterday and it felt incredibly fantastic. (I’ve already picked the actress who will play me in my biographical motion picture! LOL)
So, to wrap it up, have people around you to encourage you through the tough days. Get your book edited and proof read as much as you possibly can afford. Get a great cover, blurb and tag line. Follow the Amazon instructions and read all their emails thoroughly. If you don’t understand any of it, find someone who can. Find a way to maximise your exposure, e.g. Facebook, twitter, blogs and newsletters (if that is your thing). Listen to all the advice, but don’t follow all of it. Find what works for you. Don’t let other authors’ successes make you feel intimidated. They may have been at it for years. Don’t expect any of this to happen overnight. Everyone’s journey is different.
The most important thing I can tell you, is that you must find a way to enjoy the process and continue to create new work. If it stops being fun, and becomes a burden, re-evaluate what you actually want from this journey. Very few make money out of it, but it’s like the lottery, you’ve got to be in it to win it. Take courage and grasp at your dreams.
Robby's first book, Love in Speranza is out now. If you would like to learn more about her published stories and her writing, you can find her on her website and on Facebook.
Are you an aspiring author? Have you made plans for your writing future? Share them with us in the comments or using #AspiringAuthors on Social Media and mark the date you officially decided to make your dream come true!