Old dogs can learn new writing tricks: True confessions of a new author

When you retire, the learning doesn't stop. It's just time to stop chasing cars.

When you retire, the learning doesn’t stop. It’s just time to stop chasing cars.

From the safe perspective of time and distance, we can all review our lives and notice the milestones, the pitfalls and missed opportunities and vow to do better in the future. This is especially true of writers.

In my own case, the year 2014 has been as chock full as someone with ADHD could possibly cram it (I have not been officially diagnosed, but it would excuse or explain a lot of my habits). Here’s what happened in the first nine months of this memorable year:

• I published a memoir on Smashwords, Createspace and Kindle.

• I went on Medicare and heaved a huge sigh of relief in saying good-bye to my former $5,000 health insurance deductible.

• I became a first-time grandmother.

• I absorbed the equivalent of a college course in book marketing and social media skills.

It’s the latter that compels me to sit at the computer on a Saturday morning to pour out my soul and suffer through a painful  episode of True Confessions of a New Author.

In my arrogance, I assumed that my experiences as an editor and newspaper publisher for 30 years, (and as someone who helped others publish their books), would make the transition to book publishing relatively painless. (Ring the X button here).

Here is what my arrogance led me to . . .

• Knowing I would be publishing print and electronic versions of my memoir, like a dummy, I had two files going . . . a Word file and an InDesign book file. When it came time to make revisions to those files, you writers might be able to imagine the nightmare that ensued–two sets of corrections! Like the multi-tasker I have always been, my practice was to make the corrections in Word on the PC laptop on my left, then find the same spot on my InDesign file on my iMac in front of me. That got old really quickly.

• I got lazy and began making corrections on the PC, knowing that I could copy and paste on the InDesign file. That was fine until I got dizzy with all that pasting and pasted the same content or parts of content twice. Did not discover that until the book was published in all its formats.

• While I was not so arrogant as to assume that I could catch all my own mistakes and had three beta-readers and a retired English teacher as the ultimate proofreader, there were some electronic glitches. Only now, after publication, do I realize that the corrected file I got from the latter did not arrive with all the side annotations for corrections. Sigh!

• I was so tired of multiple revisions, I just wanted to get the book published and get it out of my 24/7 awareness. Off it went to Createspace and a few days later, my proof arrived. Made corrections and ordered 50 print copies. When the poor UPS man nearly developed a hernia delivering two heavy boxes to my doorstep, I gave my son a copy and he found a mistake on the first page he opened. Later, a professional friend sent me a cryptic text that read, “Everyone knows you’re not supposed to end a sentence with a comma.” Well, curses and damn these bifocals!

• In the middle of all this turmoil, I’m frantically reading everything I can find online about marketing #books and indie publishing, in addition to subscribing to various email lists. I participated in a wonderful and inspiring virtual marketing seminar by Dvorah Lansky and immediately learned that any author thinking they will make even enough money to cover their costs on just one book is sadly mistaken. No, the prevailing theory is that you must publish multiple books, including several eBooks. Okay, that makes sense. But it doesn’t stop there. You also must dedicate yourself to morphing into a social media guru, leaving room in your already full schedule to additionally acquire skills to do podcasts, webinars, seminars, personal coaching and develop e-courses . . . in your sleep perhaps?

I wish I had read author Anne Allen’s blog, “Five Biggest Mistakes New Writers Make” http://annerallen.blogspot.com/2014/09/the-biggest-mistake-new-writers-make.html prior to publishing my memoir. It would have saved me some frustration and time.

With my background in newspaper publishing, and with lots of new knowledge about the book publishing industry, I have now discovered some startling similarities between the two fields. And here is my earth-shattering conclusion: Newspaper, magazine and book publishing are changing at warp speed. In the last two decades we’ve gone from fields that were predictable enough to allow writers and publishers to take their money to the bank through traditional marketing and sales channels. In those good ole days, we were all specialists in our niches. In the newspaper business, we relied on cameramen in the pre-press rooms to tweak our photographs, mask around images to cut out backgrounds and otherwise make us look good to our readers. We had reporters, feature writers, editors and publishers with clear lines of demarcation and predictable job descriptions that seldom blurred.

Today, at least at community newspapers, everyone knows a little about features, news, photography, advertising and even videography. Now, instead of publish or die and meet your deadlines or die, journalists know they need to use social media or die. They also must know the meanings of terms like media convergence.

I am discovering similar patterns and challenges in book publishing in the new indie-driven market.

Way back when, in the infancy of my newspaper career, all I really wanted to do was write. But I had to learn how to sell advertising too, among sundry other skills. Now, in my second, late-advent career, all I want to do is write, but there is little time for that when your days are consumed with learning new tricks in the hope of someday selling your writing.

It’s enough to make an old writer want to die and be reborn as a 30-year-old.