May I introduce… Stephanie Allen Crist

Over the course of the last four months Stephanie and I have been having some amazing email conversations about being writers – what’s involved, what’s needed to succeed, what does it all mean? These conversations taught me a great deal as Stephanie has a background in marketing however it was her vision of what writing truly is that has stayed with me. I was so impressed I asked her if she would do a guest blog on the subject. She said yes 🙂

Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce Stephanie Allen Crist on The Art, Craft, and Business of Self-Publishing.

Self-publishing is easy: You write it, you publish it, and then the readers come.  Or they don’t.  You won’t know which until you try.  The outcome is out of your control.

True, perhaps, but not quite so true so as you might think.  Self-publishing amplifies the dubious nature of the writing life.  You have all the uncertainty of the writing processing, whether you pursue traditional publication or self-publication.  Self-publication also turns you into a business person in a way that traditional publishing does not.  Both are uncertain prospects, but the ways of coping with those sets of uncertainty differ.

You start by writing a novel.  Is the story right?  Are the characters right?  Did you choose the right words?  Did you use enough words?  Did you use too few?  Did you get the pacing right?  Is your theme clear?  Will readers be able to envision your setting?  Are all the scenes necessary and effective?  Did you miss an important scene?  Do your chapter-breaks work?  Does your sub-plot work?  Do you end your story in a satisfying manner?  How is your character arc?  Does your character even have an arc?

Then, you publish your novel.  Now, you’re putting yourself forward: showing what you think, what you feel, what you imagine, what moves you, what ignites your passions.  You reveal something of yourself that, once you share it, you can never quite hide again.  And you don’t know how others are going to take that.  Will they understand you?  Will they care?  Will they be moved and ignited?  Or will it fade into the abyss of “nobody cares?”

Readers come or they don’t.  You make your work available.  You promote it.  Will it sell?  Will readers generate word of mouth?  Will they enjoy it?  Will they want more?

Now, perhaps you’re one of the writers who will see the problem with this scenario.  Perhaps you noticed that, for this undisclosed “you,” the questions got fewer and less intense as the scenario progressed.  Many writers, especially soon-to-be-published writers, focus so much on producing their novel that they don’t really know what to do with it once they’re done.  They turn to self-publishing, because there are no gatekeepers, because there is more potential for profit, because it’s less intimidating, because they have more control, because it’s faster, or because they don’t really understand their options.

There are a lot of good reasons to pursue self-publishing.  Chances are that anyone starting their writing career now—anyone who is in it for the long-haul—will self-publish at some point in their career.  But self-publishing isn’t a default, it’s a decision.  The criterion for this decision has little to do with art or craft.  It’s a business decision.

Writing is an art form.  Writing is a creative way to communicate that goes beyond the individual words in the same way that a painting goes beyond the individual brush strokes.  If you want to succeed, you need to communicate something your readers will enjoy and appreciate.  You can’t just slap something together and expect it to sell.  If you want to build a career, you need to communicate something of value.  Your story has to matter to you, so that it can matter to your readers.

Writing is a craft.  Writing is a set of skills you build and master over time in the same way that photography is a set of skills you build and master over time.  If you want to succeed, quality counts.  Spelling and grammar count.  A suitable, attractive cover counts.  An easy-to-read layout counts.  A story that is structurally sound counts.  Characters that evoke empathy count.  An intriguing plot that entertains the reader counts.  You can’t just rush off a first draft and expect it to sell.  If you want to build a career, you need to produce a novel that doesn’t detract from the story.  You have to invest your time and resources to produce a high-quality product, so that your readers can find your story, purchase it, and then read your story without distractions.

Writing is a business.  Writing is a business that requires an investment and a strategy to earn a return on that investment in the same way that a mom-and-pop shop requires an investment and a strategy to earn a return on that investment.  If you want to succeed, you need a product that people actually want.  You need to be willing to invest your time and your money in producing the best product you can, which will require building your skills and buying the services of those who have the skills you don’t.  It also means that you will need to invest your time and your money in getting the word out to potential readers.  You need to find the right readers and you need to learn how to reach those readers in a way they can appreciate.

Together, the art, craft, and business of writing mean that sometimes you have to make hard choices for the future of your career.  For example, you may have to choose to put that story you really want to write on the backburner, because you know you lack the skills to pull it off.  You may have to choose to write a less ambitious story you know you can pull off, because it will help you build the skills necessary to tell the story that burns inside of you.  Or, instead of investing in yet another writing conference that will fulfill your need to socialize with other writers, you may have to choose to invest in a copyeditor who can help you clean up your manuscript.  There are a lot of choices out there, and the decisions you make now will influence how successful you are in the future.

Self-publishing is a wonderful opportunity for writers, but it’s only as much of an opportunity as you make it.  Be the artist, the craftsperson, and the businessperson your writing deserves.  Your future readers will thank you.

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About acflory

I am the kind of person who always has to know why things are the way they are so my interests range from genetics and biology to politics and what makes people tick. For fun I play online mmorpgs, read, listen to a music, dance when I get the chance and landscape my rather large block. Work is writing. When a story I am working on is going well I'm on cloud nine. On bad days I go out and dig big holes... View all posts by acflory

12 responses to “May I introduce… Stephanie Allen Crist

  • acflory

    Yes, animated as in cartoon. But a very simple cartoon. My daughter is the one who drew the creatures in my bestiary and she’s doing a course in Maya for video games so she’d be perfect for the job. [hint, hint!] I’m trying to talk her into it while I can still pay her with chocolate mousse cakes 😀

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  • Stephanie Allen Crist

    Animated as in “cartoon,” then, versus animated as in bouncing text and scrolling pictures or video?

    Like

  • Stephanie Allen Crist

    I don’t know what you mean by animation package. The technology exists to create some pretty stellar trailers, the problem is that the learning curve is pretty steep. Might be better to create the concept and then hire out the work to realize that concept on video.

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    • acflory

      I guess what I meant was that I’d like to have a fully animated trailer. And yes, the learning curves on all of those nifty tools are steep – way out of my range unfortunately.

      Like

  • Stephanie Allen Crist

    Wow, I’ve been gone way too long. That’s the business end of things for you!

    The great thing about this transition period (and what will follow) is that all the Internet tools that are coming available sort of level the playing field for us neurotic introvert types. We’re getting to the point where we can host a signing from the comfort of our own home, sign a book cover on a tablet, and send it to a reader on the other side of the world. Sure, social interaction is still required, but traveling and hopping from store to store to store isn’t. I’m not sure whether this technology works very well yet, but it is available and it is going to get better.

    For me, it’s kind of exciting to wonder what they’re going to come up with next!

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    • acflory

      Yay! Anything that lets me hide behind a keyboard is good technology 😀

      Now if only they would come up with an animation package that would allow total n00bs like me to create glorious, moving book trailers and I’d be set.

      Hmm…I wonder how I can persuade Daughter to make me just a teensy weensy animation? Guess I’m going to have to work on that too 😀

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  • medmcn

    Very good post, Stephanie, and yes, the “business” part of the whole endeavor is often the part that comes hardest to we scribbling types. Neurotic introverts that we sometimes tend to be. 😉

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  • Stephanie Allen Crist

    Thank you. I’m glad you found value in my post. You’re right that finding a supportive agent and a supportive publisher are difficult in the present climate, and that those are good reasons to pursue self-publication. Why waste so much time finding the right support system when you can build your own support system and start selling so much more quickly?

    At the same time, you do need a support system. Everyone does. Writing can be a lonely career and we can all get myopic about our work without meaning to, and without noticing that we’ve become so. The right people can help get us on the successful track our work and our efforts deserve.

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  • lorddavidprosser

    Thanks ACFLORY for inviting Stephanie to share this blog with us. It’s a fascinating insight into making oneself a better craftsman. Oh, if only I’d seen this before I started writing ! Everything Stephanie says flows together so well as though she was in fact crafting a novel here.But the points made will I’m sure help many a person struggling to start and will make them better authors.
    For some the choice of self-publishing is made because it’s now so difficult to get an agent to present work to publishers who are less willing to take chances. Self-publishing has revolutionised the industry but without copy editors and proofreaders.a good book may be passed over because of it’s errors so it ‘s good advice Stephanie gives when she recommends finding and using these resources.
    Nice work Ladies.

    Like

    • acflory

      Apart from having the ability to see talent when I see it I can take no credit for this post but I too thank Stephanie for this post and for all the things I’ve learned from her already. Good job Steph!

      Like

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