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Of Elves & Editors: Explaining Self-Publishing with Lord of the Rings

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     ((A quick refresher on the story: The Dark Lord Sauron is searching for the One Ring of power. It’s currently held by Frodo, who sets out to destroy it in the fires of Mount Doom. He’s helped along the way by many, including hobbits, elves, dwarves, wizards, and kings. Forgive us any oversimplifications: we’re trying to write an article about LotR, not rewrite LotR.)) 

Beginning the Journey 

     In this analogy, you are Frodo with one manuscript to rule them all. Your goal is to scale Mount Doom, which is the bestseller list. You aren’t going to destroy your manuscript in the end by throwing it into the fire (though we suppose if you have a best-selling book, you can celebrate however you wish).

     But Mount Doom is on the other end of Middle-Earth. How are you going to get there?

Networking (The Fellowship of the Ring)

     Frodo would have been dead before leaving the Shire if he hadn’t had help. Similarly, successfully publishing a book requires other people. Start with building a publishing team of specialists. You’ll need a trained editor, a great cover designer, maybe a marketer, and a wizard if you can find one.

     In the Fellowship, the members have diverse but complementary skill sets. Legolas has superior elven vision and proficiency with a bow. Gandalf has his magic. Frodo isn’t the best fighter, but he is fully committed to the mission. That kind of drive benefits you in any long-term project. In the same vein, your publishing team should be composed of multiple people who each have a specialty. Your editor should not also be your cover designer and publicist. That would be like Frodo setting off with only Aragorn at his side. Frodo would certainly get farther with Aragorn than he would alone, but the full Fellowship of the Ring is best equipped for the challenges that lie ahead.

Creating a Fan Base (Assembling an Army) 

     Besides the core nine members of the Fellowship, Frodo has many more allies who are not named. Theoden, King of Rohan, fights on the side of the Fellowship, but Theoden also brings the armies of Rohan, the largely nameless and faceless mass of riders. Aragorn may be the heir to the throne of Gondor, but he needs the ordinary soldiers to defend the walls of Minas Tirith against Sauron’s armies.

     These faceless fighters are like your readers. You will not get anywhere without readers. Your readers probably won’t be willing to die for you, but they should be willing to act on your behalf: buy your books, tell their friends, retweet and reblog your work, leave glowing (yet realistic and helpful!) reviews. In return, you provide engaging, immersive, enjoyable stories. It would be nice, but nearly impossible, to learn the names and stories of each reader. However, you can treat them with respect, keep them in the loop, and remain grateful for their support.

Bringing in the Big Guns (The Ents and the Eagles)

     Frodo has his Fellowship, and his Fellowship has allies, but not all allies are created equal. The Ents and the Eagles have power far beyond that of a mortal. The Ents are giant living trees that shake the earth itself during battle. The Eagles can swoop in for a rescue or survey the terrain ahead.

     In the publishing world, the Ents are the big, influential book reviewers. They’re hard to track down and they don’t particularly like outsiders. They are also slow to respond. If you manage to engage their interest, they can be an extremely powerful force. But you have to trudge through dark forests and sit around waiting for a response (which is likely not going to be the response you want).

     The Eagles are the popular writing-related blogs. They make it their business to know what’s going on in the world of publishing. Besides providing you with news, they can temporarily elevate you above the rest of the online writing world with a positive review, interview, or guest post on their sites. They have the ability to help you, but they can also peck out your eyes or drop you in the ocean, so be careful. 

A Multifaceted Approach (Strategy during the War of the Ring)

     The original Fellowship didn’t simply charge at Mount Doom. Even though that was their intent, they had to break apart in order to succeed. It is Merry and Pippin who bring the Ents to fight Saruman. Aragorn commands both the Dead Men of Dunharrow and the Rangers. Elrond, the elf-ruler of Rivendell, sends emissaries to fight with King Theoden of Rohan at Helm’s Deep, and Theoden, in return, takes his armies to the aid of Gondor.

     Luckily, you don’t need to cross any mountain ranges to enlist help from around the world. Instead, look for writing communities on various sites. Pinterest, Tumblr, Wattpad, Twitter, and Facebook all have resources for writers. Independent forums like those at Absolute Write and the Kindleboards are also good choices. You don’t have to recruit support and maintain  a presence in every online community; pick a few favorites to focus on. 

Play to your skills and interests other than writing. If you’re a good cook, invent a few recipes for food specific to your world. If you make jewelry in your spare time, create items straight from your book. Tolkien’s universe is full of these minor details (like lembas bread and the Evenstar necklace) that can become real-world objects.

Online Bullies (The Nazgul)

     Though you’ll find many good guys in the online self-publishing community, you’ll also find some bad ones (and some very bad ones). Online bullies use tactics like spamming a page with one-star reviews, leaving aggressive comments on your site, publicly calling others to destroy your reputation, and, from the particularly dumb and tasteless, sending death threats. They are like the Nazgul, invisible, lurking in the shadows and incredibly hard to eliminate.

    Run away from a Nazgul? It gets a horse. Shoot its horse? It gets a FLYING horse (well, it’s more like a dragon, but still). Similarly, if you block an online bully on one site, he can come back with a new account or on a new site. In the War of the Ring, the only way to truly get rid of the Nazgul is by destroying the One Ring. And that’s what the online bullies want, too. They want you to give up, lie down, go home, stop writing.

    Obviously, you’re not going to do that. So rally your friends, find your own Fellowship, and prepare for the adventure.

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Three Important Lessons Learned from Freelance Writing

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      When I tell people that I’m a freelance writer, they immediately have a bunch of questions for me. Where do I work? What do I write? What kind of money do I make? Can I get them a job? Everyone (from cab drivers to business owners to drunk tourists) wants to know.

      I see the light in their eyes as they imagine putting words to paper, seeing their books in stores, and receiving praise while the money rolls in. Every time, that bright light turns into careful consideration when I explain the reality of a freelance writing career.

1. It’s not you, it’s them. But it’s on you.

      This is something I didn’t figure out until I began my freelance writing career: your ideas are only half of writing. Whenever you are writing with the intent to publish, you are writing for other people. These mysterious and faceless people determine the success of your work. They must be able to understand your writing.

      Reader comprehension trumps personal expression. Do I hate it when my carefully constructed sentences are deleted or shortened or ripped apart? Of course I do. But I just shrug and move onto the next assignment. It’s nothing personal. 

 

2. Being your own boss means kicking your own ass.

      My income comes entirely from freelance writing and copy editing. I literally cannot afford to take it easy. Sure, there are mornings when I want to lie in bed and watch TV, and days when I want to ditch work and go to the zoo. That’s the worker side of me. The boss side doesn’t allow it.

My boss is like a separate character in my head who tells me what to do. If there are a ton of deadlines coming up, she tells me I need to stay in and work late. An article I really don’t want to write? The Writer can whine and cry and sulk at the keyboard, but the Boss stands over her shoulder with a grim smile and says, “Write.” She’s not mean, though. I do get vacation time and days off, but I have to earn them. Just like time off from any other job.

3. Panning for gold means throwing out a lot of dirt.

      It doesn’t matter what I write: I throw out material every time I create something. If I’m lucky, I’ll just ditch an introduction and a few sentences, then write new material. If I’m having an off day, I end up throwing out more words than I use.

      Right now, I’m writing in WordPad. I put the good material at the top. If I don’t think a paragraph fits here, but it might work somewhere else, I put it at the bottom of the document in a sort of writing graveyard. This article has 378 words in the graveyard, not counting the few paragraphs I scribbled by hand and the sentences deleted forever.

      When I’m writing for myself, I don’t mind a big graveyard: I can work the material into another post. If I’m writing for someone else, it’s time-consuming and counterproductive to have a graveyard bigger than the finished document. However, I have no hesitation about killing off paragraphs. The more you write, the less attached you are to individual sentences.

Ready to be professional about your writing? Grab a free copy of The Weekend Book Marketing Makeover by our friends at Duolit by tweeting about it or signing up for email updates. Toni has graciously allowed PopularSoda to provide an exclusive preview of the book’s contents. Take a look!

Preview from The Weekend Book Marketing Makeover by Duolit

Tweaking the Flavor of PopularSoda

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PopularSoda is a few months old now. We’ve been tweeting ebook news, writing blog articles, and connecting with writers since the beginning of the year. And through all that, we learned something:

We’re not interested in being a general ebook blog. Our real passion is finding, encouraging, and rewarding professionalism in independent or self-published ebooks.

Don’t worry, we’ll still cover the same basic areas. We still plan to offer self-publishing contests and award prizes for writing, cover art and design, and marketing.

However, we’ll be examining ebook technolgy, industry news, marketing, and the editing and design processes from a new perspective. A business perspective.

See, we don’t want to just help you self-publish any old ebook. At PopularSoda, we want to help you publish your best possible ebook. Whether it’s helping you find an editor, explaining how to avoid common cover mistakes, keeping tabs on relevant ebook news, or figuring out an appropriate marketing strategy for your ebook, we’ll do everything we can to help you get a polished final product.

Our interview with Michelle Halket of Central Avenue Publishing got our blog off to a great start. Central Avenue is a lovely example of effective independent publishing. (PS- they’re celebrating their third anniversary next week so you know they’re doing something right.)

Here at PopularSoda, we’re collaborating with designers, marketers, and copy editors on upcoming articles designed to help independent authors.

We also want to know what YOU want. Are you stumped on marketing? Confused about covers? Drop us a line on our contact page! We’re here to help.

Though you might be self-publishing, you are not alone.

Popular Soda

Coming Soon: Something Big

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This week, PopularSoda is blogging, tweeting, pinning, and posting from New Orleans! We’re here for ACES 2012, the 16th national conference for the American Copy Editors Society. It’s our first conference, and it could not be any better. We attended some great sessions, ate crawfish sushi, checked out the sponsors, ate more crawfish, and met some friendly and fantastic copy editors (while also eating crawfish).

But let’s go back to the title of this post: something big is coming soon from PopularSoda! Here’s a hint: those soda bottle pictures are not just decoration. We’ve already spoken to certain copy editors at the conference regarding the plans for those pictures. That’s two hints for the price of one! Though we can’t (or won’t) say any more about the soda bottle // copy editor connection right now, make sure to subscribe so you’ll be among the first to know when we blow the lid off the bottles.

Blue PopularSoda bottle with yellow border