Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Poppin' Cherries

Once I’d established myself as a fanfiction writer on fanfiction.net, I found that one of my pet projects was luring new writers out of their shell. I started there on fanfcition.net five years ago as a brand spanking new writer, unsure of myself and timidly posting my first stories. Once I found my footing though, you couldn’t shut me up, and after posting seventy stories, I still love it.

I entered many contests on fanfiction.net and placed in several, tying for first place in a couple and winning second place in some. There were also quite a few in which I didn’t win anything except new readers, which is about as good as gold to a writer.

I’ve also been asked to judge a lot of contests, and I’ve said yes every time I was asked. I hosted one as well with my friend, Thyra10, and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, virtually jumping up and down every time we’d get an entry. I don’t mean we literally jumped up and down; I mean we jumped up and down in an internetty kind of way, separated physically by an ocean and a handful of countries.

One of my favorite contests in which I was a judge was the Poppin’ Cherries contest. Writers could only enter if they were virgin writers and had never posted a story on fanfiction.net. This was when I first felt that groove of leading a new writer to water and watching her take her first glorious sip. I’d found joy in writing, and I wanted others to do the same. And some did, I’m happy to say.

Night Orchid was a regular reviewer of my stories. She was bawdy and funny, and I looked forward to her comments every time I posted a chapter. She sent me a message one day and said she had tinkered with a story idea, and asked if she sent it to me, would I use it to write a story. She wasn’t a writer herself, but wanted to see her idea in print.

I tweaked it a tiny bit—just a few minor edits, and returned it to her saying she had already written it and I insisting she post it. When she did, she filled my message box with gushing remarks about how great it felt to be a writer. She got some very nice reviews, and experienced a kind of pride she hadn’t expected. I knew just how she felt, of course, as I’d been there myself not too long before.

Night Orchid never posted another story because shortly after that she died. I’d never met her in person and only knew her real name was Jaime, but a friend who knew her in the real world delivered the news to our little virtual world, and I cried over the loss of her. I’d considered her a real friend in spite of the limitations of our online relationship. And I was glad I’d had a hand in her becoming a writer. I still go back and read her messages to remind myself how happy she was about her accomplishment.

At the same time I was coaxing Night Orchid into the writing spotlight, I was handed the reins to a weekly writing challenge our community had been enjoying for a year or so. The weekly prompts had inspired many of my own stories, and I took the responsibility seriously. I’ve been posting the weekly challenges for four years now, and am proud to say my prompts have inspired many fanfiction writers. I’m particularly proud of the virgin writers who have written and shared their work for the first time.

Now I have a book out and I’m writing more books, shopping others to agents and publishers, entering more writing contests. While promoting my book, I was asked to give a talk at a local women’s group about writing. After I told the story of my entry into what is now my favorite way to pass time—how I took a little women’s writing workshop and then discovered fanfiction and started posting stories, one of the women raised her hand and asked if we could have a writing workshop in our town.

I hadn’t thought of it, but it was an excellent idea. Now I’m no longer the timid new writer, but the teacher, helping a group of new writers find their voice and hopefully a new joy in their lives. Will they go on to write books, publish stories? I don’t know, but I’ve already gotten my reward from Night Orchid. Whatever else comes will be the cherry on top.


Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The heartbreak of Malaprop's

As a new independent author, I’m learning how to get my books into stores as well as to sell them online. I do my own publicity and scheduling, and have set up several book signings by contacting local bookstores and event coordinators.

When my book was first published, I heard from an author friend that Malaprop’s Bookstore in Asheville, North Carolina, was unfriendly to independent authors, and my heart sank. I grew up in Asheville, and I love the shop. Located in downtown Asheville, it’s a prime example of a very cool little indie bookstore, and I knew I could muster some sales there through social media and local press since I’m from Asheville and still have family and friends in the area. I live an hour away.

I went into the store, armed with my book, and was greeted by a very friendly young woman who gave me a brochure on their consignment policy and the email address of the event manager.

I read the brochure and was struck by two things: a $25 fee to set up a consignment account and a policy preventing books printed through CreateSpace from being consigned. (Their online policy omits the no-CreateSpace line, by the way.)

I had never heard of a fee to set up an account, and I even asked another indie bookstore owner in a nearby town if this was the norm, and she’d never heard of it either and couldn’t imagine what the fee was for. Malaprop’s brochure says: “These fees allow us to accept professionally-produced, self-published books from our local authors.” That line explains nothing, of course, and particularly not why other bookstores have no fee and Malaprop’s does have one. What exactly does it pay for? They get a cut of the sales when the books are sold. What would a fee on top of that be for?

I was also puzzled by the policy that prevents books printed through CreateSpace from being consigned. CreateSpace is Amazon’s self-publishing print-on-demand company. When my original publisher had to close their doors, they recommended that I self-publish the second edition of my book through Amazon and CreateSpace, and so I did. I can’t imagine an easier process. Even though I consider myself to be techno-challenged, CreateSpace made it easy for me to publish my book. And it was free. They keep a portion of the sales, and I have to do nothing beyond setting up the book except spend the money once it’s transferred into my bank account every month.

I’d imagine a great deal of self-published books are printed through CreateSpace only because Amazon is so huge in the print-on-demand business, and I wondered why the Malaprop’s policy excluded CreateSpace books.

I sent an email to the Malaprop’s event coordinator, got no response, and so called as well. She was very nice on the phone, but confirmed that Malaprop’s would not take my book on consignment, and therefore I could not have a book signing at their store. When I asked her about their no-CreateSpace policy, she explained that Amazon was not friendly to independent bookstores (ironic, coming from a bookstore not friendly to independent authors), and suggested I publish my next book with Lightening Source. She said Malaprop’s doesn’t do business with Amazon, and I thought that an odd thing to say since by consigning my books, they’d be doing business only with me, and not with Amazon. She also listed a handful of other local indie bookstores that would likely be more receptive to my book, which I found to be very helpful.

Fairly befuddled, I googled Lightening Source and CreateSpace, and studied the differences, both from an author’s perspective and a bookstore’s. From what I read, CreateSpace is a bit better for authors, and Lightening Source is a bit better for bookstores.

Lightening Source charges fees to authors that CreateSpace doesn’t (including a $37.50 setup fee, which might have been the inspiration for Malaprop’s setup fee?). I looked further for evidence that would justify the Malaprop’s policy, and found that CreateSpace’s fee for wholesale and retail distribution channels is $25, and Lightening Source’s is $12, which might have been a factor in the Malaprop’s logic except for the fact that in a consignment situation, there’s no setting up those channels. The author just walks into the store with a handful of books in her hot little hand and plops them down. No fees.

So, why, you might ask, am I whining about Malaprop’s? Why don’t I just move on and set up signings at bookstores who want me? Well, I have. And I will continue to do just that. But I wanted to get this little injustice off my chest, and I wanted to explain to other local authors who might have heard the rumors about Malaprop’s being unfriendly to independent authors that yes, indeed they are. I hope someday that won’t be the case, that they’ll make their policies more author-friendly like other area bookstores. My hopes for a signing there were dashed by a policy I don’t understand. And yours might be as well unless you’ve used Lightening Source to print your books and don’t mind forking over $25 for no good reason.
How I look signing books at stores that welcome local authors: happy.