I received a note through my Contact Form from a fellow blogger, Novice Landscapes, asking about the process of publishing my books. Her question saved you all from a long, meandering post wherein I wondered about something everyone else finds obvious, so go give her some click love. Since there are lots of sites online that tell you the basic outline of publishing, I’m going to focus on the parts of the process that I didn’t know ahead of time. (And I LOVE hearing from readers of the blog or my books/articles on other sites. Please send your questions through the form or to summerkinard {at} gmail {dot} com.)

1.) Stop Worrying And Just Write

I have come across a jillion people who have stories to tell that they are cutting off with their own perfectionism and self doubt. I could name names, but instead, I’ll just raise an eyebrow at a lot of my friends. Here’s the secret secret secret about writing: you write for yourself. It absolutely has to be something you believe in and care about. And if it is, then write it down, because there’s no place for judgement and condemnation when you’re working on that kind of energy. You can figure out the audience and market after you’ve written your story.

I loved the elements of the story: reuse, fabrics, lucha libre, home shrines, flowers, interaction with saints. It was easy to tell people about my book! (This is the table I sat up at my launch and other readings.)

I loved the elements of the story: reuse, fabrics, lucha libre, home shrines, flowers, interaction with saints. It was easy to tell people about my book! (This is the table I sat up at my launch and other readings.)

2.) Author Platforms

You will get mostly wrong advice about author platforms. Some people spend years with an active platform but no completed manuscripts. First you have to write something. Then listen to yourself and figure out what you really care about. I am writing my third novel now for publication (fourth overall), and I am starting to understand the core of my writing. I write about women of faith navigating complex relationships with the aid of friends and tea. Maybe someday I will be able to write a book where tea is not a big deal, or where a friend or five does not absolutely save the heroine’s day. But probably I’ll use a pen name then, because the pattern in my writing is that deeply thoughtful women learn through faith and relationships.

I started out as a scholar, and thinking carefully or deeply is very important to me. I love people and theology and old fashioned patterns of living. There’s no way I could pull off one of those super cute blogs that we all love reading, where the mom makes fun of herself and mentions underpants a lot. Those are fun, but they aren’t me. (I’m tea party and opera flash mob and ridiculous bedtime story fun.) Takeaway for you? Don’t pretend to be someone you’re not, because no one will listen. It’s dead obvious when someone is faking or totally hiding behind a persona.

3.) I published with a small press, Light Messages.

The reason I published so quickly –which is rare — is because I was talking about my novel casually to friends. I talked about the book a lot because to made me laugh (see above about being genuine). It turned out that a friend of mine from church had recently taken on the position of Senior Editor at Light Messages. The press had previously specialized in partnership printing for academics (well-edited, carefully selected self publishing for authors with a speaking platform) and children’s picture books. I was one of their first few fiction authors! The Light Messages folks have been wonderful to work with, and they are growing in influence in the field. Several books that came after mine received national recognition as book finalists and award winners, and another LM author, Elizabeth Hein, is already getting stellar responses from her book due out this fall.

This may sound like a “who you know” story, but remember what I said about platform. You have to write something you believe in. Then, your enthusiasm and joy will show through to everyone around you, including people you meet at conferences or who are in the industry and can help you.

At the signing table at last year's Bookmarks festival.

At the signing table at last year’s Bookmarks festival.

4.) Editing is at least as important as writing.

In my case, Can’t Buy Me Love needed a major rewrite. Its heart was elsewhere than the plot arc in the first draft, and it showed. After the book was basically in shape and I had signed a publishing contract, there was still a lot of work to be done. Editing does not mean proofreading! Though my publisher has an excellent proofreader, she only went through the book after several rounds of revisions. Parts of the plot needed tweaking or sounded too vague or needed more dialogue; some of the love scenes came across as cheesy and needed to be redirected. I recall one line that was realistic to the characters that was not appropriate for the book. We wound up cutting it out altogether rather than rewriting, and the scene worked well.

After a couple of months of back and forth revisions, the copy editor took to the text with a fine toothed comb and found still more spots that needed attention. I tended to slip into too-formal English when my professor character talked, and that sounded unnatural. There were also a few spots where I had left in references to former plot points that had been edited out. And because some of my characters spoke Spanish, we had to contend with my terrible spelling of Spanish phrases.

THEN there was a review copy issued, where a few other spots were found. Still! And finally, the Real Book came out. I want to stress that every book needs to be edited. Not just by the author, not just in revisions before contracting, but several times once the ink is dry on the contract.

I stress the fact that editing is a huge part of the process for two reasons: 1) I have come across friends who have the misguided impression that some people write perfect books that need no editing. That never, ever, ever happens. I know a lot of published authors through writing groups, and they all edit -even the famous ones. Everyone edits. Everyone. 2) If you are not willing to spend a lot of time EDITING – not just proofreading or having your friends say they understand you – then you will not write a book that deserves to be published. You may write a book that you decide to self pub (which is not a bad option in itself), that goes on to sell 100-200 copies to your friends and social network. But it will not be your best work. Great authors who self published work very hard and hire real editors to help them with their stories. You cannot skip this part of the process, even if you love the sound of your own words and voice.

5.) Marketing? What’s that?

I’ll tell all of you aspiring writers right now: Facebook ads are a waste of money. I spent way too much trying to extend my book’s reach through Facebook ads. They were not worth it. Every now and then, I may promote a blog post, but I’ve given up on the idea of reaching anyone through social media ads.

The fact of the matter is, as a writer, I’m a really good listener, but not so great with facades. I love other people. I think every single person I’ve ever met is fascinating – like the 10th and 11th Doctor (hi, Whovians!) fascinating. I write to make sense of things. When it comes to marketing, I may be able to give you a cool pen or some insightful advice, but if you read my books, you’ll see that what I’m really offering is my attention.

Readers have said that my books make them feel like they are part of intimate friendships. My books are not autobiographical, but that feeling is. I write because I care.

Which is really just a way of me saying, you’ll have to read some books and hire someone for specifics for you on the marketing question. All I have figured out about it is that I have to be genuine, that I care about my readers, and that I love conversing with them. I have a great Marketing Guru – Tivi Jones – who has helped me find ways to bring my specific interests forward through articles, and I count on my writer friends and editors to help me do the best work I can. You’ll need your own team to help you with your message.

6.) Reviews.

Once your book is in the wide world, some people may review it. Most of them will not. I sold a little over 2,000 books in Can’t Buy Me Love’s first six months. I received two trade reviews, one major mention in a big source (USA TODAY Happy Ever After pick for Women’s Fiction), and a few blog mentions. Then, over the course of about four months, I received 39  reviews, 11 of which Amazon removed because they were trying to figure out their review policy and decided that the tone suggested the reviewers knew me personally and that was not allowed (It is allowed, but you can’t argue with Amazon). So, I currently have 28 reader reviews up on Amazon, most of which were very positive. And 11 positive reviews from some fellow authors, distant cousins, and old friends that aren’t allowed to be posted, oh, well.

The thing you need to know about reviews is that they are not necessarily about your book. Some people write reviews to make themselves feel superior; some write them because they like to sound smart to themselves (like the ones where a reviewer suggests that the author edit or rewrite the already published book – as though they were grading a term paper instead of reading a published (finished!) book); some reviewers will be absolutely awesome and generous in the way they share their thoughts about your story and its effects. But even great reviews should not be taken personally. I am always grateful to read a good review because the reviewer’s encouragement spreads good will and makes me feel heard. But I know that some really good people in the world may just not resonate with a particular story line.

You can't do it alone! Some of my local writing connections.

You can’t do it alone! Some of my local writing connections.

7.) Professional Organizations

This is not a direct part of the publishing process, but if you want to publish, I highly recommend joining professional writers organizations. I am a member two branches of Romance Writers of America, the North Carolina Writer’s Network, and sometimes participant in a local speculative fiction writer’s group that happens to be excellent. I also have a few trusted writer friends to whom I can send trouble passages for advice. I have learned so much about writing from my fellow authors. Unlike some professions, authors are not in competition, really. No writer could fill the needs for even one avid reader, much less millions of them. Perhaps that’s why they are so generous as a group with assistance, advice, and practical guidance. Search online for genre specific groups, or check Meetup for general writers’ groups.

8.) I have been writing since I was 12.

I published my first novel when I was 36. In between winning the Promising Young Writer’s Award in middle school and publishing, I spent years writing and grading advanced academic papers and reading a LOT of books. I also worked on and off on the craft of writing. The main ingredient in publishing is writing, writing, writing. When you become trustworthy to yourself, your inner voice will speak so you can hear it. Then you keep writing till you’ve told the story. Then you tell the next story. (My next novel, Tea and Crumples, will be published by Light Messages in October 2015.)

9.) I’d love to hear from you!

Please comment with specific questions, and I will do my best to answer them. Have you published? Do you have an idea you’d love to write about but don’t know where to start? Let’s talk about it!