From Digital to Paper: A Teaser

This blog came into being when I self-published New Old World as an e-book in late 2016. Since then I’ve discussed the mechanics of formatting and publishing an e-book, the vicissitudes of bringing a digital work to the attention of the public, and to a lesser extent, the actual contents of the novel.

Now New Old World is starting a second, more traditional life as a book on paper. It did that once before, briefly, when I printed a few copies on the print-on-demand Espresso Book Machine at Powell’s Books in Portland in 2015.  It was the length, weight, and cost of that incarnation that convinced me to publish a digital edition instead.

The e-book was received well, if not with a ton of sales.  It garnered positive reviews at Apple Books, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble, and was acquired by the Multnomah County Library (Portland, OR) this year through their Library Writers Project.

But I knew I was leaving out a whole class of potential readers: those who either can’t, or prefer not to, read books electronically. By going digital-only I also had no physical object to show or sell at book fairs and nothing to place in the hands of professional reviewers, for whom e-books are essentially invisible.

Of course my hope was that the e-book would be discovered by a major publisher, who would then produce a print version.  But since that hasn’t happened, it was clearly going to be another DIY project.  It just remained for me to screw up my courage to reformat yet again (e-books and print books are whole different animals) and find a good printer nearby.

The woman who operated the Espresso Book Machine told me that some of her customers had moved on to Gorham Printing, in Centralia, WA. Gorham specializes in printing self-published books—of all sizes, shapes, style, and content. New Old World wasn’t too big for them, and the per-copy price was better than the EBM (which no longer exists at Powell’s anyway, the joke being that my big book broke it!).

I took a train up to Centralia in June to meet with staff at Gorham, had many questions answered about their capabilities and procedures, took a tour of the plant including their digital printing presses (not offset), and pretty much decided I wanted them to handle my novel. The rest of the summer was spent reformatting the manuscript, upgrading the photographs to a higher resolution, tweaking some language here and there, and updating the back cover with excerpts from readers’ reviews.

So, almost three months later, two boxes of books were delivered to me, a total of 25 copies (Gorham’s minimum run).  I’ve always dreaded having boxes of books in my proverbial basement, but this is manageable. Certainly I never want to be in the position of Henry David Thoreau when the remainders of his first book, “A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers,” came back to him.  Always the wit, despite the general view that he was dour, Thoreau said, “I have now a library of nearly 900 volumes over 700 of which I wrote myself.”

In my next post, I will officially announce the availability of New Old World as a print book, with the addition of a “Buy” button that will operate through PayPal. But first, I must get ready for a trip to France, which seems to be my go-to way of celebrating.  After all, it was to celebrate the publication of my first book, Faces of a Reservation, that I took a three-month trip to France…which provided the grist for New Old World.

 

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On Having My E-book in the Library

Isn’t it the dream of every author to have her work available in the local library? My first book, Faces of a Reservation, is safely ensconced on many library shelves around the country, an especially good thing now that it’s out of print. And I mean it literally when I say “ensconced”—it seems always to be available at our county library, as in not checked out!

That’s the auxiliary dream—that your book will actually be borrowed and read. I have that chance again with New Old World, which the Multnomah County Library recently chose to include in their e-book collection. Their annual Library Writers Project solicits e-books from local writers and chooses a number of “standouts” from the several dozen entries. This year the theme of the contest was fiction and memoir, and New Old World, which blurs genres, happened to suit both categories.

It was good fun to watch the initial rush when my e-book first appeared in the catalog along with the other Library Writers Project selections. Readers swooped in and there was an immediate wait list for most of the titles. The library had purchased ten copies of New Old World, and they soon ordered five more to shorten the wait time. Over the next month or so, the wait list dwindled from a couple of dozen to a handful to none. That is apparently the way of all books, even one-time best-sellers, albeit not that fast!

While it’s good for the ego to see people waiting for your book, the beauty of having no wait list is that borrowers can keep and renew the book for as long as they need it rather than having to return it when the three-week lending period is up. Because New Old World is such a long book, I wondered if anybody would actually be able to finish reading it during this first frenetic period. I did get two reviews on Kindle, which is the main platform used by the library to disseminate e-books, and since there hadn’t been any purchases at Amazon, they must have been borrowers who read quickly!

So how does it work? It’s counterintuitive, but e-books behave just like physical books in that one copy can be borrowed by only one person at a time. Residents of Multnomah County who have library cards can go to the main catalog at https://multcolib.org and search for the title or my name. Then they can borrow a copy via the OverDrive or Libby app, a somewhat mysterious process that is more familiar to regular e-book borrowers than it is to me. One thing I know is that you have to choose whether you want it in EPUB (Apple Books, etc.) or MOBI (Kindle) form, depending on what device you have, and both the method of delivery and your reading experience flow from that choice. I’ll stop here before I get myself out on a limb.

As an author, I can say that it’s great to have this access to new audiences, and the library is to be commended for connecting local writers with local readers. It saved me having to market my book to the library acquisition people, which can be daunting when there are so many books and e-books on the market vying for attention.

If buying or borrowing e-books is not your thing, you’ll be glad to know that I’m currently creating a print version of New Old World. My next post will be to announce its arrival.

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Update Enhanced by Reading Guide

There are many layers to New Old World that can be missed on first reading, so I’ve created a new discussion guide for readers who want to dig a little deeper. Questions about style and structure, as well as characters and themes, will help book groups and independent readers get more out of the novel.

An updated edition of New Old World is now available at Smashwords, Apple Books, Amazon, and other retailers.  This 2018 edition also includes a couple of fixed typos and a handful of changes in word choice. But the major enhancement is the reading guide.

Here are a few sample questions from the guide that may spark your curiosity about the book, or nudge you into rereading it:

— New Old World is a novel but it often reads like Ticonderoga Fox’s memoir.  In fact it is the story of Ti writing her story while still living it. How is the first chapter like the beginning of a memoir?  Where else in the novel are we aware of Ti’s writing process?  Consider the changes in narration as well as the passage of time.

— How do the poems that bookend the novel enhance your understanding of the story, or of Virginia and Ti?  In what way are they gifts from mothers to their children, and what kind of guidance do they offer?

— Why did the author choose to make Ti a photographer? How does her visual nature affect the way she perceives the world, interacts with people, and conducts her life?

— How does Ti exemplify the freedoms and choices that faced women of the Baby Boomer generation?   Do you believe Ti ultimately found a satisfying balance of family and creativity in her life?  How might things have turned out for her if she had decided against motherhood and marriage?

To get your free update if you’ve already purchased New Old World, or to buy it for the first time, just click on one of the links under “Where to Buy.”

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Proud to Be an Indie Author—But Not Too Proud

First there were vanity presses, a pejorative term if there ever was one.  Any writer with enough money could pay to have their manuscripts edited, typeset, and printed by “presses” (for-profit companies) that stroked authors’ egos to get their business—and the lion’s share of the proceeds.

Then, when digital advances made it possible for authors to produce their own good-looking books on their desktops—whether on paper or as an e-book—the term self-publishing came into vogue.  “Self” is a bit of an improvement over “vanity,” but not much.  The biggest change was authors’ increasing control over their own material—and the bottom line.

Now, just as my self-published e-book makes its way into the world, we have a new term for people like me: “indie authors.”  I love it!  There’s no judgment involved—it’s a completely neutral descriptor.  But it has great associations from its antecedents: indie films, indie rock, indie design, etc.  Indie authors are outside the mainstream, having eschewed the years-long process of finding agents and conforming to the narrow and exclusive curation of publishers who are as motivated by profit as the vanity presses.  Indie authors are truly independent—of somebody else’s idea of what might sell, how a story should be told, what the cover should look like, and how an author should promote herself.

Of course they may be independent of money and attention, too, which is the risk indie authors take in order to retain control of their art and their lives.  But if they’re not averse to marketing (which I admit, I am), indie authors can find an audience and bring in enough to go out to dinner now and then.

Promoting your self-published book can take as much time and energy as the dog-and-pony shows the big publishers send authors on.  These days, publishers rely on the “branding” you’ve done for yourself, your professional and personal connections, and your physical body and soul to get your book out there.  So why not do it yourself?  In your own style?

Perhaps, like many authors, you’re media-shy, or you don’t like to talk about your book, wanting it to speak for itself.  You don’t like listening to other authors read out loud and you don’t see the point of autographs, so why would you want to put yourself through that?  And hopping from city to city meeting the press and answering the same questions over and over?  You didn’t get into writing to be a celebrity or to wax wise on literature or speak for other writers.  Maybe you prefer to greet the public electronically from home, via e-mail or a blog.  Indies can do or not do whatever they want—and accept the consequences, with only their own reticence or laziness to blame.

But if your book is an e-book, you’ve put exactly zero dollars into producing it, so you get to keep the greater part of whatever you gross.  That’s thanks principally to the e-book publishing programs at Smashwords and Amazon, which allow you to publish for free in return for a percentage of the profits (they keep an average of 40%).  “Free” is a bit misleading, because if you’re smart, you’ve paid an editor to review your work and suggest improvements before you embarrass yourself in public. (This is a cost you might incur anyway before going the traditional publishing route.)  And if you’re not technically inclined, you may have paid a book designer to turn your manuscript into a handsome layout and give it a striking cover.  (I paid an editor but did my own designing and formatting for New Old World.)

So, you might ask, Smashwords or Kindle Direct Publishing?  I published in both places:  Smashwords for its distribution network and support, and Amazon for its cachet and accessibility.  At the risk of sounding like a shill for Smashwords, I’m super impressed with their program.  With one upload, my carefully formatted manuscript was converted into versions that could be read on Kindle readers, Apple devices, Nooks, or desktop computers.  Within moments my book was shipped to iBooks, Barnes & Noble, subscription services like Scribd, library distributors, and a host of other “channels” of my choice.

Even so, I went on to publish at Amazon because of the preponderance of Kindle owners out there, and the streamlined purchasing and downloading they’re accustomed to when ordering directly from Amazon.  Plus, people know what you’re talking about when you say Amazon!

While the giant was relatively easy to work with, overall I find Smashwords to have the more human interface, taking more interest in your success with a range of pre- and post-publishing support.  Through Smashwords’ technical guides, its blog, and its series of podcasts, indie authors can learn how to format and market their books and keep up with the state of the self-publishing “industry.”  They also have seasonal promotions that authors can participate in at whatever level they choose. (For example, my book is free this month as part of the summer sale, which so far has meant seven new sets of eyes on my pages that I wouldn’t have had at my regular $4.99 price.)

Being an indie author doesn’t have to be a lonely, reinventing-the-wheel kind of existence.  But it can be if you want it to—that’s the beauty of going your own way!

My next step along the indie path will be to create a print version of New Old World.  Not only will this new packaging reach a potentially different audience—those who refuse to give up the feel of a physical book in their hands—but it may send me on a different trajectory.  With a pile of books that I’ve paid for, I may be more motivated to market my novel in order to recoup my expenses.  And it may be an easier sell when there’s something tangible for people to look at and take home, with or without my autograph.

As an indie print author, I will still have complete control over the look and distribution of my book, 100% of the profits will be mine, and best of all, I don’t have to wait for someone minding the publishing gates to decide whether my novel should be admitted to their realm.  I’ll let readers judge.  The new world of indie authordom is not fueled by profit, name recognition, or exclusivity—it’s a wide-open democracy for both writers and readers.

And it has very little to do with vanity.

***

Here are a few links that might be helpful…

A good history of indie publishing on the Smashwords blog

Smashwords podcasts

Kindle Direct Publishing

And of course my novel, which you can get for free through July 2018 at Smashwords. Other retailers are listed in “Where to Buy” in the sidebar.

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A Word From Our Readers

I’m turning this post over to my readers, so they can tell you what they enjoyed about New Old World. Even though they’re mostly friends, their words were unsolicited and unscripted—just people speaking from the heart.  Sharing these reviews might help you decide to read the novel or to formulate your own thoughts about it.

The first is an anonymous review on Barnes & Noble, unknown even to me and letting me fantasize that at least one of my readers drifted in from the Internet instead of being invited:  “I loved this book! It embraces what so many of us would have loved to experience in our youth.  Ti had the courage to travel independently and fulfill so many of her lifetime goals, whether it was the Indian reservation, jumping onto a rail car or traveling Paris. Anyone who reads this book will love her audacity and bravery.  The story will leave you constantly speculating what the next part of her journey will bring.”

From iBooks:  “This book has it all—great writing, intriguing story, and Ticonderoga Fox, her name a story in itself.  She is a complex character, and I was quickly pulled into her world as she leaves her old life in Oregon and travels to England and France to find a new one.  The chance encounters along the way, the relationships explored, the country landscapes and city life described all combine into a beautifully told, compelling story.  I was totally engrossed–and totally moved, almost to tears, by its perfect, beautiful ending.”

From Smashwords: “This novel is a page-turner! Cynthia Stowell is an excellent writer with a lively, entertaining style. Because the main female character named Ti spends a good portion of the story traveling through fascinating sections of the planet, the vividly descriptive prose never allows the plot to drag. Now I want to go on a bicycle tour of lovely Guernsey Island!  It’s top-notch wordsmithing, perfectly complemented by the author’s artful photography.”

My very first review, also from Smashwords: “This is a brilliant, absorbing, and moving work of fiction. Stowell’s story of a 40-something woman struggling to come to terms with her past and her future rings true to the experiences of women I know.  The style and narrative construction are innovative, but they work—they draw you into the protagonist’s mind and soul.  When I finished, I had to sit for quite a while reflecting on my own life.  Highly recommended, especially for those willing to let fiction challenge their life choices.”

Marketing can be really soul-sapping and riddled with self-doubt.  So, words like these give me confidence and hope as I try to secure my first professional reviews. Thanks, readers!

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An Interview with Myself

One nice feature of Smashwords is the self-interview that authors can add to their profiles.  Smashwords provides default questions, but authors can make up their own, or do a mix. I chose to use primarily my own questions, because I wanted to discuss the way my life intertwines with the novel and to explain a few stylistic decisions I made while writing. It was a fun exercise and I’ve gotten some good feedback from folks who found it enjoyable to read and instructive.

I’m going to tease you with a sampling of the questions, some of which have been partially answered in earlier posts and some of which I’ll discuss at more length in future posts.  Here are five of the ten questions in the interview:

  • What motivated you to write New Old World?
  • Why did it take you 25 years to write this novel?
  • How did you decide on your cover?
  • Why does the narration change from first to third person and include other voices?
  • Who do you think will enjoy New Old World?

Ready to read the whole interview?  You can find it at: https://www.smashwords.com/interview/CDStowell

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A Nice Mention During “Read an EBook Week”

You never know what’s going to happen when you give your e-book away.  But within ten minutes of reducing my price on Smashwords from 75% off to FREE during “Read an EBook Week,” I’d made a “sale”…and a half-hour later I received an e-mail from the buyer!  He hadn’t quite read my “magnum opus” yet (!), but he’d already posted a flattering blurb on his blog under the title “2018 Overlooked Ebook Gems for $1 or Less on Smashwords.”   You can see the post here, and I’ve provided a screen shot of his blurb below.  The blogger is Robert Nagle and he’s not just a writer and a fan of literature, but a producer and promoter of e-books in this brave new world of digital content.  I appreciated his post and hope to work more with people like this to get our books and businesses noticed.

Be sure to go to Nagle’s blog to see what other e-books he recommended, as well as his other posts and essays on a range of subjects: http://www.imaginaryplanet.net/weblogs/idiotprogrammer/

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Read an EBook Week

From March 4 to March 10, 2018, e-books all over the world are being discounted to encourage electronic reading—mine included! For just this week you can buy New Old World for $1.25 at Smashwords, a 75% discount from its usual $4.99.  Here’s the link that goes straight to my novel, where you’ll see the price slashed. Just click on “Buy with Coupon,”download, and start reading!

While you’re at Smashwords, don’t miss my new interview!  Either scroll down past my profile on the New Old World page or go straight to the interview.

 

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Now in the Amazon Store!

New Old World is now in the Kindle Store on Amazon. Same price as the Smashwords and iBooks versions ($4.99) but much easier for Kindle owners to purchase and download.  (It was possible to buy a Kindle-compatible version from Smashwords but awkward to get it into the library of a Kindle device.)

Check out the New Old World listing at Amazon and read my new blurb. You can “Look Inside” or, better, download a sample to your Kindle or Kindle App, where the formatting will be more true-to-life.

On Amazon, you can also take a look at my Author’s Pages, where you’ll find my other book listed.  Faces of a Reservation is a photographic and written portrait of the Warm Springs Indian Reservation, published by the Oregon Historical Society in 1987.  Even though it’s out of print, Faces is almost always available on Amazon as a used hardcover or paperback.  You can also see the photographs from the book at my new website, faces-of-a-reservation.com.

I may write a blog entry about my experience with the Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) process.  It was a mixed bag—the initial formatting and uploading easy but nailing down the details not so easy.  In the meantime, let me know what Amazon is like from the customer’s point of view!  And enjoy the book.

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Novel vs. Memoir II: Story Within a Story

Even though I knew I would be drawing heavily on my life for New Old World, I never considered writing it as a memoir. In my head, it was always a novel—because I love novels and wanted to try to write one, but also because I knew that my own life didn’t have all the dramatic turns that a good memoir needed.

For most of my career I’ve been a non-fiction writer, in journalism, public relations, and business settings, so a memoir might have been more within my skill set. I’d already stretched the bounds of journalism with Faces of a Reservation by taking a fairly personal approach to my photographic and written portrait of the Warm Springs Reservation. And I wanted to stretch even more by creating fiction out of my own life.

Like Ti in New Old World, I first planned to fictionalize my time on the reservation, but I was waylaid by life events, which agitated for a wholly different novel. I did finally start on the reservation novel about ten years ago in a largely futile attempt to move some material out of my page-heavy New Old World manuscript, but the “prequel” wanted to be its own thing and resisted these transfers. Now I have seven original but very tentative chapters sitting and waiting for me.

Back when New Old World still bore the working title En Face de L’Eglise (Opposite the Church), I wrote an opening chapter that was an amusing riff on genre. In that throat-clearing essay (“Apologia”) I described all the possible genres that my book was not, maintaining that I just wanted it to be thought of as a Story, with a capital S. I’ll be reproducing this chapter for comic relief in an upcoming blog post.

I realized even then that I was a bit torn about genres, but that I was also willing to play with them. As a result, New Old World is a kind of memoir-novel hybrid, a novel about someone writing a memoir. I suppose every novel narrated in the first person essentially is that, except Ticonderoga Fox has an acute awareness of her writing process, which creates an extra layer of story. The careful reader will see that part of this story-within-a-story is Ti’s desire to create more distance from her subject, as she gradually turns her memoir into a novel.

New Old World is a bit like a 19th-century novel in the slow, expository way it presents Ti, her family constellation, and their history. One device of older novels is to have the central story be told by someone in a tavern or around a fire or at bedtime, with the author as listener. Ti is that storyteller within my novel, and while it may seem that she’s telling the story to herself, she clearly hopes that her son, and her elders, and her lovers are listening.

Ti starts out intimately and nostalgically in the first person, but then with little warning the next three chapters are in the voices of two family members and a lover. Where did they come from? Ti invited them, in a way. She implies in her first chapter and in “Interlude” that she has drawn on the letters and memories of loved ones because it’s their story as much as hers. During the time covered by the early chapters, Ti wasn’t giving a lot of thought to her childhood or her relationships. She was raring to get on with her trip and not very interested in looking back. As the author, I saw this as an opportunity for her family and lover to introduce her and offer some backstory until such a time as Ti wanted to address those subjects herself.

Much earlier, in my very first draft, I had made a similar decision about the final chapters, though “decision” isn’t the right word because it’s just the way the chapters flowed out. It had felt natural, after Ti’s climactic event, to tell the end of the story from the perspective of observers, as if their friend/daughter/niece/wife/ex had withdrawn first to heal and then to embrace her new life, unready to give her own account of those months and years. The opening chapters were always more elusive. After reworking them many times, usually in the first person and sometimes in a mixture of narrative and journal entries, I finally hit on the idea of other people laying Ti’s foundation and then getting her on the road. This gave me my final structure—the differently voiced chapters that bookend the novel. It was a late choice that felt right.

Once Ti starts her cross-country road trip, it’s her story again, told in the first person, still in a kind of memoir style. But just before she’s ready to put herself on the plane to England, her real life intrudes: her baby has become a toddler and is not taking naps anymore, while her husband is going blind. It’s just not the right time to be writing a memoir! So she stashes it away and picks it up again—twelve years later.

That’s the enigmatic “Zigzag” chapter, where it might seem that as the author, I am interjecting myself, but it’s really Ti moving away from and back to her own just-launched opus. If this chapter is difficult to sort out, just imagine the leap of faith that would have been required in my early drafts, when Ti actually gave the manuscript to her cousin James to finish! I clung to that device for years, but realized, with the help of a couple of volunteer readers and the one editor/advisor I hired in this whole process, that it was important to keep the manuscript in Ti’s hands during the heart of the story. It was a trust issue between author and reader.

During the elapsed “down time,” Ti has come around to feeling some distance from her story. She has perspective now that she didn’t have when the events were so fresh, and she feels a natural urge to tell the story in the third person and in a more novelistic fashion. So as “Zigzag” moves along, she begins referring to herself in a mix of first and third person, trying to make a distinction between the old Ti and the new Ti, and preparing the reader for the next sections of the book, which are in the third person.

While this sense of time and distance vaguely mirrors my own experience of working on the novel over three decades, I never put the manuscript down for more than a matter of months. In fact, my own son’s early school years were my most productive time, and before he’d finished elementary school, I had a complete first draft, which I’m not proud to say I’ve been tinkering with ever since!

So now, in the “Old World” and “New World” sections, we’ve entered a third-person story that’s still very much inside Ti’s head, but with passages from other characters’ points of view as they become more important to the story. After the climax, the telling is handed back to friends and family in a long dénouement that sees Ti through a period of grief and rebirth—her new old world. We don’t hear directly from Ti again until the final poem, which adds some new information and gives a sense of circularity and completion to her story…a tale that has gone twenty years beyond her original scope.

What kind of memoir has the narrator popping in and out of her story? What kind of novel shifts the narration from first to third person as well as voice to voice? Maybe the kind of novel-memoir hybrid written by a self-taught fiction writer who feels no compunction about breaking the few rules she knows. Since I write by instinct and then edit with slightly more of my left brain (but not as much as would be engaged in an MFA program), I can only say this with assurance: that New Old World is intended as a novel about a woman who believes she is writing a memoir, until she decides she’s not.

As Ti’s alter ego and creator, it was my job to make sure she told her story as honestly and entertainingly as possible. That meant making my own life infinitely malleable, within the bounds of credibility and the conventions I created for that new life. By choosing to adhere to some aspects of my reality and to imagine others, I may have complicated matters for readers who know me. But I’ve also allowed myself to explore new, unfamiliar things like motherlessness and grief—issues that end up having more bearing on other women’s lives than on my own.

I haven’t attempted in this post to expound on the stylistic and structural differences between a novel and a memoir. But I’d like to quote my editor/advisor, who bravely attempted such a distillation in her report to me. My favorite line: “A novel, mostly unconstrained from fact, is its own unforgiving driving force, with needs that must be met, and curiosities that must be satisfied.”

By this definition, I believe my final version of New Old World is more a novel than it ever was in its 27-year-history. But it also reserves the right to be a memoir whenever it suits my protagonist and her story.

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