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Monday, December 7, 2009

Moriah Jovan: My Path To Self-Publishing



In the early to mid 90s, I was THISCLOSE to the brass ring with four different manuscripts over about a four-year period.

1992 MANUSCRIPT #1 I almost had a contract with Kismet, but they very soon after I got “the call,” they closed down because their parent company (don’t remember what it was) had bought it for a tax writeoff. Too bad it made money.
1993 MANUSCRIPT #2 I got an agent. She was bad, for a whole lot of reasons I won’t go into. She’s apparently still in business, but she was not good for me.
1994 MANUSCRIPT #3 A Harlequin editor called me on a Saturday morning and asked me to overnight it. Tuesday she called me and said she didn’t like the ending. I offered to rewrite it, but she said, “No, because it would change the whole book.”
1994 MANUSCRIPT #2 (Take 2) A Harlequin editor called me up and said, “I love this. Unfortunately, I bought something slightly similar last month. Yours is much better. But I haven’t been able to convince the editorial board to buy this one, too.”
1997 MANUSCRIPT #4 I got an agent with this one. She couldn’t sell it. Most of the rejection letter comments said, “It’s too familiar.” Then again, she wasn’t marketing it as a romance, I don’t think.

So you see, it’s not like I haven’t been in the trenches, and that was way back when self-publishing was so expensive as to make one’s bank account the slushpile reader. Don’t think I didn’t think about it, either, but I think my shame for even thinking about it overwhelmed any regret I might have had over not having the money to do it.

Anyway, by the time my last agent dropped me in 1998, I was tired of the too-close calls, which were far worse for me than the form rejection letters. I also put the project I’d been struggling with for three years (that eventually became The Proviso) away for, I thought, good. Life happened around me. I was struggling to survive and didn’t have much in the way of creative outlet, and furthermore, didn’t care. I wrote a few essays here and there (essay is my favorite format). Almost got a job at Hallmark as a writer, but after I’d gotten the job offer, Hallmark instituted a hiring freeze. Met a series of loser dudes, met my husband, got married, got a new stay-at-home occupation (which obligated me to set up my own business) because I got pregnant right out of the gate and I wanted to stay at home with my kids but still earn money.

But my DDJ (damned day job) sucks the life out of me, kills my self-esteem, and makes me wonder why the hell I bothered going to college. So my need for creativity came to life. Since I was already a successful business owner by that time, I thought I could do something with the visual things in my head and the needle in my hand. And I started my second business.

(And this is the key. This creative business of mine is one where you don’t “get” published, except in small-circulation magazines. You do it yourself, you sell off the web, you beat down the doors of the shops that carry your type of goods, and you have to compete with a gazillion other people just like you, in a smallish market anyway. “Getting” published is, well, kind of . . . immaterial. Publishing yourself is the mark of a professional.)

In 2005, we moved. I burned all my manuscripts because I didn’t want to move them and they were worthless to me. One night in August 2007, I got finished with a particularly grueling two weeks of DDJ, invoiced, and it was late. I’d made a lot of money, yeah, but I was dying inside. I opened up manuscript #4 (I had to go hunting for the FLOPPY DISK) because I was tired but not sleepy and I . . . Well, I just did. And I read. I read almost all night long. I went to bed at 3 a.m. and cried myself to sleep.

Reading that manuscript after all that time . . . It was like someone else wrote it. And it was good. I mean, REALLY GOOD (I can say that because it was like someone else wrote it). My first thought was, “Why had I given up on myself?” I woke up the next morning, having dreamed about the project I’d been struggling with when I quit writing. And I started in. I was obsessed. I didn’t work. I just wrote.

When I started trying to get back into the writing/submitting process and I went googling. I was SHOCKED at how the landscape had changed while I was away, not writing, not reading romance, no contact with romance or writing or publishing at all.

I found Cerridwen Press first. And sneered. Oh, did my lip curl. “That’s not REAL publishing,” I thought. “How dare they.” I put that out of my mind and started submitting. But I knew. I knew it was going to be a harder sell than it had ever been for me, especially since it was such an off-the-wall book. The odds looked insurmountable. I got hundreds of rejections. Again. And finally I knew I just couldn’t do that. Again.

My husband, who doesn’t have the mindset that there is Only One Truth Path to publishing, said, sensibly enough, “Why don’t you publish it yourself?” After all, I already had what amounted to a self-publishing venture and it wasn’t like I couldn’t set up another business. But I tried to explain it to him because shame still filled me, and he still didn’t get it. My brother said, “Oh, don’t self-publish it. You’ll sell 100 copies and get your feelings hurt. Do it the right way.” I began to teeter on this weird fulcrum of shame and a growing feeling of independence, of freedom, because I knew I couldn’t subject myself to another round of what had happened during the 1990s—only worse. It was when I started playing with setting type and designing covers that I’d made my decision without knowing it.

Once I’d come to terms with it (as much as I ever was going to), I researched like crazy. What to do, how to do it. By this time I’d become a little more accepting of e-publishing and I went to several sites, bought some of their books to see what the quality was like. Read up on how they started. I eventually ended up using Samhain as my business template.

My husband and I came up with a business name.

I got an account with Lightning Source.

I bought a block of ISBNs.

I found an editor, who was really a “critiquer,” otherwise what I would have called a content editor. I swallowed my tongue when she told me what she’d charge, but I ponied it up.

I learned how to format e-books. Really well. By this time I knew what I liked in e-book reading and knew how I wanted it to look.

I designed cover after cover after cover.

I designed the interior of the book.

I set up a website and a shopping cart, which meant I had to learn how to do something other than FrontPage with frames and tables. (I can’t tell you how much that squicks me out just reading that.)

I started to blog.

I paid attention to what was going on in e-books and tried to keep up. I was sure I was missing some whiz-bang work process and I was a dinosaur, coding everything by hand (some days I still think I am), but it worked well and looked the way I wanted it to.

I released The Proviso on October 31, 2008, in print and E. I gave a lot of copies away. I sent it to two people (who are both rabidly anti-self-publishing but I didn’t know that then), and they both thoroughly humiliated me for self-publishing. One (an author) did it privately and at great length and with great glee (yes, you would recognize the name easily) and the other (a well-known anonymous-type editor in agent/editor bloggerville) did it publicly, with the same attitude.

I started getting some attention in the Mormon lit world because I was doing something that hadn’t been done before, at least in that world. I was approached about publishing something else that the authors (it was an anthology of literary type stuff) were not sufficiently business minded to figure out how to go about doing it themselves.

I created an imprint and my partner on that venture is now my editor.

So I just released Stay and yes, I still have tinges of what might have been. But the fact of the matter is, I’m an impatient control freak artiste entrepreneur. I read the blogs where the news is broken that an author’s third of a series has been canceled, where authors are afraid their second books won’t get picked up, where they spend their entire advances on marketing, where a bestselling author made a grand total of $24k after expenses and taxes, about this thing called “reserve against returns”—WTF? That doesn’t happen anywhere else in the manufacturing/wholesale/retail complex—where they worry over their numbers in the first 90 days.

I have time. I don’t have anyone over me waiting for my numbers to come in. I don’t have to worry about my next book. I don’t have to conform to anything except my editor’s expectations. I have complete freedom and creative control over my product.

And let me tell you something else: both The Proviso and Stay have paid for themselves. Stay paid for itself before it was officially released. I don’t “earn royalties,” and I don’t think in terms of royalties, and I don’t get a (questionable) 1099 at the end of the year. I make a profit, and I think in terms of income and expenses, and I report my sales.

So yes, this was as much a business decision as an artistic one, meaning I needed the artistic freedom that comes with self-publishing. When I read of a person getting a publishing contract after ten or fifteen or twenty years of trying, I don’t find that a triumph of perseverance. I find it a tragedy of living one’s life in fear. If writers write to be read, why do so many excellent writers play such bad odds to get that way?

But there is a tradeoff for all that freedom and creative control.

People sneer at me. And I don’t have wide distribution.

But I can deal with sneers because I’ve got cold, hard cash, and so what I don’t have distribution? It’s the only thing I don’t have.

And I’m good with that.

In 1995, my mother said to me, “Why do you base your goals on decisions someone else has to make?”

Good things started happening to me when I finally followed my bliss.

You can find Moriah and her Tales of Dunham series at TheProviso.com.

36 comments:

Jill Sorenson said...

I've always considered publishing options this way:

1. print (best)
2. digital (great to start, depending on publisher)
3. self (not good)

I can't say that I've changed my mind, but I'm interested in the topic and thank you for sharing your experiences. The covers are very nice! I'm surprised to hear that you have an editor. Quality editing is one of the reasons I favor print over e, and have reservations about reading self-published efforts.

By paying for themselves, do you mean that the books earned back the publishing costs, or that you earned a certain amount for writing hours? (This from an author who makes roughly 2 cents per hour) :D

Moriah Jovan said...

Meaning, they paid for their publishing costs.

I have a five-book series planned, what I otherwise call my six-year plan. The hope/goal is that by the time my fifth book has been out a year, my sales will replace my DDJ income.

This is like any other business venture. I don't expect to get rich straight out of the gate--or ever. I expect to have a decent income after a few years of investment.

I'm surprised to hear that you have an editor.

The fact that you're surprised is problematic and part of the myth of "how bad self-published books are."

All the self-publishers I know have an editor. We wouldn't go without. It's like walking out in the freezing cold and snow without a coat and shoes.

michelle said...

Hi Moriah,

I've been following you on Twitter and always enjoy your tweets - hence my reason for finding you here.

It wasn't until reading this that I further appreciate your work and what you've done to carve out a career and lifestyle for yourself. Congratulations on staying true to your heart and for coming back to writing, for the world would be a less enjoyable place without you doing what you were meant to do. I haven't read your books, but they look interesting and professionally done - and I commend you also for that.

I often get strange looks when I tell people what I do (digital publisher), but the tide is turning and like the music industry, the publishing industry will change also - we're just a little ahead of the curve.

Thanks for sharing your story, and for anyone who puts you down for doing what you do, (in the pub industry or otherwise), I am sure you have a few appropriate words you could pass along from myself as well.

Most kind,
Michelle Halket
(ireadiwrite)

Penelope said...

Bottom line: Some books are good, and some books are bad, and some are in the middle. Doesn't matter if you're published with a big name NY publisher, a little e-press, or self-published, or giving away free stories on a website. Every single freaking book should be judged in just one way. The quality of the story. There are plenty of NY-published romances out there that suck. It does not mean that the quality of the book is necessarily something special. Anyone who judges you as lacking because you have self-published (without reading your story) is an idiot. There is something very appealing about becoming "The Master Of Your Own Destiny"---if you are willing to put the time and energy into publishing your own material, and it is good quality material, then God bless you.

Good luck!

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez said...

Great post, Moriah. I rarely ever use de.licio.us or StumbleUpon these days, but this one deserves it.

Kudos!

Dan Holloway said...

Graet post, Moriah. I think you write in a genre that really suits self-publishing because there's a well-defined readership.

What I was so pleased was to see you explaining the care and attention you pay to editing, formatting and design. So many peopel equate self-publishing with slapdash and for many of us that just isn't so.

Good for you. We've been sneered at and sneered at at Year Zero and we've learned not to care. Do your thing. Do it well, and be as damn proud of it as you deserve. Say you're a self-publisher and be proud of it (is there any other field of endeavour where having the front to start your own business and take on all the responsibility would be met with derision rather than admiration?). Don't let them get you thinking by their paradigms. One day they'll be thinking by yours: "What? You've got a what? Oh, a publisher. How cute. What was it you felt you couldn't cope with about doing it properly?"

Regina Carlysle said...

Cerridwen NOT REAL? Um, I know many many fine authors who would disagree with you about that. They certainly get real paychecks. Best of luck with your self-publishing efforts.

Moriah Jovan said...

Regina, is that the only thing you got out of my post?

That's too bad because A) I consider the contemporary romance work I've read from Cerridwen Press the best in e-publishing, if not better than most of the NY pubs' I've read and B) obviously I GOT OVER IT and C) Cerridwen Press would have rejected me, too.

It was the good editors at The Wild Rose Press who gave me the validation I needed to put out THE PROVISO with seven little words: "We don't know where to put it."

Michelle, Penelope, Guy, Dan... Thank you so much.

I don't really know what good sharing my story will do. I don't want to evangelize; I despise that. However, maybe somebody out there needs a little nudge, with a good dose of hope and empowerment.

It pains me to see so many unpublished yet EXCELLENT writers gnashing their teeth. You have to have faith in your work, and by and large, I find the people with the least faith are the best writers.

Dan Holloway said...

"You have to have faith in your work, and by and large, I find the people with the least faith are the best writers."
That is SO true.

Barbara said...

Good for you for pursuing your goals and not being discouraged to the point of quitting by naysayers. I follow you on Twitter. This is the first tI'me I've read your blog. It won't be my last. I'll also set up a link to my blog nttp://barbaramaller.blogspot.com.

Tracy Cooper-Posey said...

I had to follow up on Regina's comments and your response, Moriah.

I'm glad you clarified your comments about Cerridwen, because from your original post, it wasn't at all clear that you'd "got over" your feelings about Cerridwen at all. It was the one named publisher amongst all the agents, publishers or trades in the entire post, and the scathing description you gave it certainly made it seem like you held scant respect for the imprint, and there was no further clarification anywhere later in the post to show that you'd recanted your attitude towards Cerridwen.

So I'm glad to know that you do feel differently about the publisher, having singled it out for such a scathing description in the first place.

Cheers,

Tracy Cooper-Posey
National award winning, multi published author of thirty titles
and Cerridwen Press author.
http://www.TracyCooperPopsey.com

rebyj said...

Katie your line up this week is potential award winning blog work! I'm looking forward to each day's guest.

Moriah, excellent article! Very informative. Even though I'm a reader not a writer I can appreciate your journey and you already know I enjoy your books. Proviso was touching to me on several levels and I totally enjoyed the story. Stay is on my nightstand waiting to be read when I'm able to read again.

Moriah Jovan said...

>>>So I'm glad to know that you do feel differently about the publisher, having singled it out for such a scathing description in the first place.<<<

Then I apologize most profusely. My intent was to show my comeuppance, and I obviously failed.

heidenkind said...

“Why do you base your goals on decisions someone else has to make?”
Words to live by.

It sounds like a lot of your success is based on your business acumen. Do you self-publishing would be any sort of good idea for someone without business experience or sense?

orannia said...

That was a fascinating post Moriah - thank you very much for sharing your story and all the best!

Carolyn Crane said...

Wow, how heartbreaking to come so close to having the book picked up, and I'm so impressed you went your own damn way with it and put it out yourself!

There's always another way. I think this is so cool.
I love your DIY spirit, and your covers are awesome!!!

Moriah Jovan said...

In fact, Regina and Tracy, I will tell you WHICH titles from Cerridwen Press impressed me so much I'm STILL thinking about them.

THE WRITE MAN FOR HER by Christie Walker Bos

and

WHAT PRICE PARADISE by Katherine Allred

For whatever reason, those touched me and were the books that humbled me for my attitude.

Cindy Spencer Pape said...

I applaud your courage, Moriah, in both the self-publishing AND in standing up to talk about it. It's nice to live in an era where there are so many paths to getting out work out there. (Including Cerridwen--and thanks for the clarification--it is appreciated, says a Cerridwen author.)

Moriah Jovan said...

>>>Do you self-publishing would be any sort of good idea for someone without business experience or sense?<<<

I don't know. I'm not going to advise others to do what I did; I can only relate how I did it.

I'm pretty laissez-faire and I think people have a right to follow their bliss. It's not my job to oversee others' foolishness and save them from it. Some of the best things in the world come from people who don't know they shouldn't do that.

Carolyn Crane said...

You know what else I'm thinking about with this, is, it must be really great to have complete control over your product. I'm self employed in my DDJ, and it's hard, but it's all me. There's totally something to that.

Smokinhotbooks said...

Great post Moriah! Even though I have absolutely no writing talent, I can understand the pangs of rejection and constantly being told no. I dip my hat to you for sticking in there!

SarahT said...

Wonderful post! Thanks to Moriah for sharing and to Katiebabs for hosting this discussion.

Heidenkind brings up an excellent point re: business acumen, or lack thereof. While I'm not disputing that the self-publishing route is a valid option for some writers, I'm sure there are many who would be unsuited to the business side of publishing.

While I was in grad school in Germany, I taught English as a foreign language. I worked freelance, but many people I knew opted to earn less by working for a school simply because they knew they had no head for contract negotiations with companies, billing, filing taxes and all the other pesky stuff that goes with being self-employed. I'm thinking there are many writers who would feel similarly. In this sense, the much-criticized Harlequin Horizons (or whatever they are now calling themselves) does serve a purpose for writers who want to self-publish but don’t want to concern themselves with certain aspects of the business. Is there any middle ground between a writer doing everything herself and opting for a vanity press?

Erotic Horizon said...

Congrats Moriah and I have gleamed so much from your journey..

It is good to get this kind of info straight from the person who has been there..

E.H>

Likari said...

Moriah, thanks for telling your story here. You're an inspiration.

Querying is horrible. In fact, another form rejection just came in my email while I was reading your article!

Do you ever worry about things like copyright infringement -- not just piracy, but plagiarism? Does it worry you to be "out there" without an agent or publisher to support you

kittent said...

Hey, Moriah...

I hope you get to ditch the DDJ! I love your work and you have given me some wonderful ideas if my SSO (senior significant other) ever gets off his ass and starts writing again.

Also, I am looking forward to subscribing to this blog, because it seems like yet another great place to hang out.

Moriah Jovan said...

@SarahT

>>>Is there any middle ground between a writer doing everything herself and opting for a vanity press?<<<

It’s like getting your home remodeled.

1. You can hire a contractor, who coordinates all the different trades (subcontractors), sets the schedule, pays the subs, and collects all the money from you.

2. You can be your own contractor and hire out those trades you know you can’t do (for me, it’s plumbing and electricity).

3. You can have a mix.

IMO, the DellArte thing is like hiring the most expensive contractor possible because he’s got all these “master” tradesmen he has to pay. Now, whether you can tell how masterful they are or not depends on your life experience, but likely you won’t (I wouldn’t).

My ONLY objection to DellArte is that they cost so damned much. There’s no reason for that and to still make a profit.

So basically I was my own contractor and hired out the editing.

The only thing between what I did and DellArte (or equivalent service) is Lulu, where they have lists of freelance editors, designers, artists, and do not pressure you with extra services. You can look at those lists and pick for yourself.

@Likari

>>>Do you ever worry about things like copyright infringement -- not just piracy, but plagiarism?<<<

Yes on the piracy. It's always a worry; but it’s just the high price of doing business, just one more risk.

Plagiarism? No. If I never find out about it, it’s a nonissue. If I do, I’ll go after him/her with everything I’ve got. I make sure to register my copyright and I am not a kind person when my territory is breached.

>>>Does it worry you to be "out there" without an agent or publisher to support you?<<<

No. I’ve spent my life DIYing and standing alone. If I get support from, say, a readership, it’s heartwarming, comforting, humbling, and very much appreciated. In fact, it’s a little bewildering because I never know what I’ve done to warrant it. But if I don’t, that’s just status quo for me.

RachelT said...

Moriah - I thought you might like some feedback on this from a reader's perspective.

I am afraid that I hadn't heard of you until I read the open thread Author Promo on Dear Author at the end of November. I am usually fairly dismissive of these posts - lots of fantasy, paranormal etc and self promotion with no evidence (I am an auditor, and we always like evidence!). However, you posted an excerpt from Stay which really caught my eye. I followed the link, and because I am anal about reading a series in the correct order, I bought The Proviso as well as Stay.

I have just spent a wonderful week or so, reading straight through both books. I did a bit of googling (as one does) part way through, and discovered that you self publish. I thought that usually means poor editing. I had been a bit dubious at the start about the 800 pages in the Proviso, wondering if it would be 'padded'. But I want to say how 'unbloated' the writing is - it has obviously been well edited. Every page belonged in the book. I also thought how nice the formatting is, the font and presentation were among the best I have seen in an ebook.

I'm just sorry I have to wait another 16 months or so for the next volume!

RachelT

Moriah Jovan said...

@rebyj @kitten @rachelt

Thank you SO much. I cannot tell you how precious it is to know people read what you wrote and found value in it.

The dirty little secret is that some days it’s really NOT about profit; it’s about being read.

JFBookman said...

Moriah,

What an honest, straightforward account of your experience. Thanks for taking the trouble to write it out. No one else can really follow your path, it's what you've lived to get to the place you are today.

One of the things that motivated me originally to help self-publishers, back when all the work I was doing was for publishing companies, was the sadness of all those books sitting in the bottom drawer of somebody's desk. There is a virtue in an author finding their readers, no matter how few there are.

Best,

Heather Massey said...

Thanks for sharing your story. Very inspiring.

Kinsey Holley said...

Moriah:

A fascinating and extremely lucid post (no surprise). I so admire your grit and pluck and moxie and your big brass balls. Self-publishing is like self-employment - if you're not temperamentally suited to it, then no matter how hard you work, it won't fly. My husband has been in business for himself for almost three years now. I'll quit hyperventilating one day very soon, I'm sure. I don't have whatever it is that makes a person say "fuck it. This is what I'm going to do, this is how I'm going to do it." I need validation from others, but I need less than I used to and that's progress, I think.

I really think the public perception of self-publishing has started to change - it will take a long time, I'm afraid, before the average person looks at a self-published author the same way he looks at any other self-employed person, but it's coming.

Just thinking about you've accomplished with the DDJ and the self-published books makes me tired. I'm gonna go lie down. And I'm NOT starting Stay until I've finished my WIP, dammit. See you in RD chat sometime soon.

Moriah Jovan said...

>>>Just thinking about you've accomplished with the DDJ and the self-published books makes me tired. I'm gonna go lie down.<<<

I blame the ADD. ;)

Honestly? I couldn't do it without my husband and his faith in me, and what he sacrifices to make this work.

RKCharron said...

Hi Moriah :)
Thank you for telling your story here today. I was thinking that self-publishing in the e-book world is akin to when publishing first began. Do you think you might expand and put out titles by other authors?
There was a lot here to think about, especially in the comments. Thank you to everyone here who gave such intelligent thoughtful comments and to Moriah for answering and clarifying.
All the best,
RKCharron
PS - I posted about this on my blog for 5am EST Tues Dec 8th.

Moriah Jovan said...

>>>Do you think you might expand and put out titles by other authors?<<<

I do. I have. I intend to do more in the future, but I'm looking for very specific stuff, as is my partner.

In the meantime, I do offer storefront space to other indie authors who might otherwise be stuck with Amazon as their only outlet.

Mark Barrett said...

That's a cool story -- thanks for taking the time to write it up.

And thanks for formatting that doc and letting Coker host is as a template. It made the Style Guide much easier to follow -- and to ignore in place. :-)

Mark Barrett said...

...places.