Monday, August 29, 2016

The Stresses (and Joys) of Indie Publishing

The Up Side

More and more people are choosing to publish their books independently these days. I've mentioned in numerous posts that the advent of eBooks has brought self-publishing into the mainstream in a way nothing ever has before. Much of the stigma that used to be attached to self-published books is gone. Yes, you occasionally find that bad egg, but you can also find quite a few rare gems as well.

The reasons for indie publishing are many. Complete creative control over your work is one of the most common. There's also the promise of getting your book out to readers immediately, as opposed to spending months, even years, submitting to agents and publishing houses. Many people just give up if they get rejected too many times, and rejection is a major part of traditional publishing. Of course, a negative review can also do a number on a person who has a fear of rejection, but at least they can say that someone purchased their book.

Basically, eBooks and print on demand have made self-publishing easy. Even trendy. Not that it's perfect (remember that bad egg I mentioned?) but it's offering opportunities for people to pursue their passion when they may not have tried otherwise.

The Stresses

I would love to write a post listing the pros and cons of self-publishing. As a blogger, I naturally think about search engine optimization quite a bit, and that kind of post would be just what I need to bring in lots of readers. But I can't make that list. The business of publishing a book is too complicated for that. The pros and cons, for me at least, seem to bleed together.

Yes, if you self-publish, you can get your book out there when you want it out there and you don't have to wait for someone else to make that decision. But, say you publish your book. Then what? Are readers going to magically flock to it as if drawn by some otherworldly force? No. It's your job to find those readers and bring them to your book. If you had traditionally published, the publishing company would do a lot of that work for you. If you are an indie author, it's all on you.

Once your book is finished, you don't want to spend your days sending queries to agents and publishers? Of course you don't. Who would? So you indie publish. But you still have to send queries. Have you scrolled through the reviews of some of the more successful indie authors out there? Have you noticed that many of them begin with the words, "I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review"? How do you think the reviewer got that free copy? The author sent it. How did the author find that reviewer and get him/her to review that book? By sending out queries. Or rather, review requests. It's basically the same thing. You scour the web looking for websites that are willing to review indie books, you compile an email list, and you spend hours, and I mean many hours, sending out requests to bloggers in the hopes that at least a few of them will want to read your book. I can tell you from experience that most of the requests you send out will not be accepted. That doesn't mean your book isn't good. It doesn't mean the blogger doesn't like you. It only means that they are busy, they have a lot of books to read, and yours, for whatever reason, didn't get their attention as much as someone else's did. It happens. A lot.

The Longing

Whether authors are indie published or traditionally published, they most likely all have one thing in common. They consider themselves writers first. They are not advertisers. They are not PR people. They are not website designers or graphic designers or anything like that. They are writers. But if they are self-published they have to be all those other things as well. Now, sometimes that other stuff can be fun, but usually it just takes time away from what they would rather be doing--writing. Yesterday I (finally) formatted Amelia's Children for print and uploaded it to CreateSpace. It took five hours. I already had my eBook cover, but for a print book, I of course needed more than that. EBooks only have a front cover. Print books must have a front, a back, and a spine. I thought just adding those things to what I already had would be a simple process, but...alas! No. It took up most of my afternoon. And I still don't have my print book yet because it is being reviewed by the powers that be to make sure it is formatted correctly.

Now, I have to admit, I do enjoy photo editing. It is a creative process, just as writing is, and I feel satisfaction when I finish a project. But did you hear me say it took all afternoon? Time I wanted to spend working on my new book. The one that is only a couple of chapters from completion. Oh, how I wanted to get just that much closer to publishing that one, but instead I was tying up a loose end from my first book that I had put off for far too long.

I can't tell you how often I have wished I could devote all my creative time to writing my books instead of updating my blog, checking my social media profiles, formatting, sending review requests, platform building, marketing, etc. I've recently heard some fellow indie authors saying wonderful things about Wattpad, and have considered publishing some things there myself, but whenever I think about it my mind says, "Really? Another social media platform?" I just don't know if I have the time or the energy for it. But if I want to sell my books I have to find the time and the energy because they are not going to sell themselves.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Just When You Thought You Could Finally Call Yourself Bilingual

Let's Be Honest

Okay, I haven't actually been calling myself bilingual. I think I mentioned in a previous post that that word implies pretty much equal comfort in both of the languages you speak. I certainly do not speak Spanish as well as I speak English, so I have not claimed "bilingual" as part of my identity. One day, maybe, but not yet.

I am, however, quite proficient in Spanish. Enough so that I have started considering myself fluent. What's the distinction between bilingual, fluent, and proficient? Here's a link that may be of interest:

Defining Levels of Proficiency Avoids Confusion

So, according to those definitions, I am not bilingual, but I really did believe that I was fluent. But then an experience opened my eyes, as experiences are wont to do, and now I'm back to calling myself merely proficient.

Where I've Been and Where I Am

I began my Spanish journey five years ago. I took no formal classes, but that does not mean I did not go deep in my study of the language. I read three books in Spanish--real books, not children's books--during my first year of study. I watched Telemundo all day every day, just trying to understand a word here and there. I bought CDs of songs in Spanish and listened to them in my car (discovering some really good music along the way!). After that first year I branched out even more, downloading the Duolingo app and completing the Spanish for English speakers course, followed by the English for Spanish speakers course. Then I started the Portuguese for Spanish speakers course just for fun, but haven't finished it yet. I joined a Spanish conversation group. I interacted with Spanish speakers, in Spanish, in online forums. I bought grammar books and made myself spend time practicing verb conjugations. My point is, if you're obsessed enough, you can become fluent in a language without the aid of formal classes. And I really thought I was fluent. Until...

The Dream

I am a certified Yoga instructor and it has been my dream, ever since I began my study, to teach Yoga classes in Spanish. It took me a long time to pursue this seriously. Despite the fact that I had learned a huge amount of the language without the aid of a teacher, for some reason I thought if I wanted to know enough Spanish to teach an exercise class I would need to take a class myself. But there were no "Spanish for Yoga Instructors" courses to be found. And where I live I couldn't even find any Yoga classes being taught in Spanish. Attending one of those was what I considered to be the minimum prerequisite to teaching a class of my own. So I put the dream on the back burner. Until...

If you spend enough time wanting something, you eventually get to the point where you can't put it off anymore. You just have to do it. And I had reached that point with this Yoga idea. I had to start trying. So I modified my Google searches. Instead of looking for classes I could take, I started looking for helpful websites. Here are a couple that I found:

The Tough Realization

So I started working my way through my Yoga class, taking all of the stuff I usually say in English and translating it to Spanish. My realization was that I couldn't even teach half of my class in Spanish. I needed to look up nearly every other word. For example, a phrase that I say often in my classes is, "Scoot your right foot in a couple of inches, bend both knees, and sit straight down." Okay, so I knew how to say "right", "foot", "both", "knees", "sit", and "down". But there's a lot more to translating that sentence than just knowing those words. How does one say "scoot" in Spanish? I mean, it's kind of a cutesy word in English, right? So what would appropriately be its Spanish equivalent? I have no idea. And then "sit straight down"? When I say it in English I know I'm not literally sitting down. I'm just bending my knees and lowering my body a bit. But would that somewhat figurative language mean the same thing in Spanish? Maybe, but I just don't know. And if I can't say "sit straight down", what do I say? I've been at this for two days now, and I'm maybe a quarter of the way through my class. So much for being fluent in my second language.

My Advice to All My Fellow Language Enthusiasts

My takeaway is that I needed to do this. It was the necessary next step in my Spanish progression. The thing that will take me one step closer to actually being fluent and, hopefully, one day, bilingual. I would advise anyone who is trying to learn a language to engage in an activity like this. Take a subject you know a lot about, and try to prepare a presentation on said subject in your target language. You'll be amazed at how much you still don't know.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

The Personalities We Don With the Hats We Wear

We all perform various roles in society. We have our personal lives, professional lives, family lives, etc. With each one comes a different set of responsibilities, and sometimes a whole different set of personalities as well. Here are just a few of the identities I assume in my daily life. This is really just for fun.

When I'm At Home With My Family

What are we going to eat tonight? Why can't we all agree on a movie to watch? Why am I the only person who can locate a sock? Will everyone just be quiet for...I don't know...five minutes?

When I'm Dancing

Holy crap my legs are tired! Humans were not made to move this way! Why am I doing this to myself? Oh...check me out in the mirror! I look like a ballerina! Oh, I'm so pretty! I love dancing!

When I'm Writing

Nobody talk to me! I'm in the zone! Just leave me alone until I'm ready to be around people again!

When I'm Reaching Out to Members of My Spanish Conversation Group on Meetup

Come to me, oh my children, for I am gentle and have wisdom to impart.

When I'm Teaching an Exercise Class

Similar to me leading the Spanish Conversation Group, only with a little "Come and get your butts kicked!" thrown in just for fun.

When I'm Contacting Bloggers About Reviewing My Book

Greetings, ye gods of the blogosphere. I do not deserve a book review from you. You are great and I am nothing more than a worm. Less than a worm. I am the microbe you tried to kill with your antibacterial hand soap. I deserve to be killed because I am the lowest of the low. But if you, out of the kindness that I know resides in your heart, would consider a review of my book, I will be forever  in your debt.

When I'm Sharing My Blog

Hello world! I'm awesome! Everybody should be reading my blog because I'm freaking awesome! Just one little click and your mind will be blown! Reading my blog is a truly life changing experience! You don't want to miss this unique opportunity to see the inner workings of my great mind!

Those are a few of mine. What about you? What various identities do you find yourself morphing into on a daily basis?

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Are Creative People More Prone to Depression?


I am not a psychologist and therefore not an expert on this topic. If you would like to do some further reading, the following links may be of interest:

An Apparent Trend

We're constantly hearing stories about celebrities falling victim to drug addiction, or seeking treatment for mental illness, or even committing suicide. And every time it happens, there's always a discussion about the connection between creativity and depression. Does this connection actually exist? Is it creativity that troubles these people, or is it simply the stress that comes with their celebrity status? I personally think there are too many variables to answer that question effectively, so I won't even try. I will, however, tell you about my struggle to balance my creative side with my practical side.

Another Disclaimer

Wow...two disclaimers in one article! Maybe I should have been a lawyer. Well, anyway, here it is: I have never been diagnosed with clinical depression, anxiety, mood disorder, or, well, any psychological ailment. But that doesn't mean I've never had bouts of depression. I mean, we all get the blues sometimes, right? In this article I want to talk about some patterns I've observed in my own life that I feel shed some light on the question of creativity and its possible link to depression.

Domestic Me

I go through these phases where I want nothing more than to throw myself into domestic life. I want to be June Cleaver. I want to cook breakfast for my husband and kids every morning. I want to have a fresh hot meal on the table every night. I want to bake cookies. I want to keep my house clean. I won't say I want to scrub the toilets, but when I'm feeling domestic I do it and I do it with a smile. I am never happier than when I am feeling domestic. There may be some science behind this. After all, it's a well-known fact that clutter increases stress, and when I'm in a domestic mood I'm able to control the clutter in my home, thereby raising the happiness level of all who live here, including myself. This happiness is a wonderful feeling, but unfortunately it never lasts.

I said I go through domestic phases. Funny thing about phases. They don't last. I'll be cranking right along, cooking and cleaning and morphing into the perfect little Suzie Homemaker and then suddenly it will all end. I'll have a day when I'd rather watch YouTube than cook dinner. And while I'm watching YouTube I'll be thinking about dinner. But when I go to the kitchen to try and cook dinner I get overwhelmed and run back to the comforts of YouTube.

It's not always YouTube. Sometimes it's a book I'm reading. Sometimes it's a book I'm writing. Sometimes I just want to sit and play piano for hours on end. Whatever it is, it distracts me from my domestic duties. And when I say it distracts me I mean that I can barely focus on a task because I so desperately want to be doing something else. So the house gets cluttered. Fast food gets purchased and all plans for a healthy diet or a balanced budget go down the toilet. And the happiness level of the home plummets. We all become stressed and cranky and just plain unpleasant to be around.

Creative Me

The end of a domestic phase usually heralds the beginning of a creative phase. Even watching YouTube can be a part of the creative phase because the things I watch get my creative juices flowing. Sometimes I get obsessed with a movie or TV show and it sparks an idea for a story I'd like to write. Sometimes I spend hours watching dance tutorials. Sometimes I get into watching all those videos describing the subtle differences in the various dialects of the English language. Whatever it is, it gets my mind thinking about anything and everything except what needs to be done right here and right now. And then I get depressed because I still have to live in the here and now but I don't want to do the things the here and now requires of me.

The Opposite of Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a specific form of meditation in which all concentration is focused on what's happening this very moment. The goal is to prevent the mind from wandering. I have a mind that cannot be contained. It wanders constantly, and it sometimes goes to some very weird places. Ask my husband. He could tell you some stories. Think Anne of Green Gables. That pretty much sums up the internal world I inhabit.

Have you ever walked outside and noticed the beauty all around you? How does it make you feel? Do you feel content? Glad to be here and thankful to be alive? Do you know what I think and feel when I go outside on a beautiful day? I think, "This looks like a scene from a movie." Then I feel sad because it's not a scene from a movie. It's just my mundane life. So I think, "One day I'll come outside on a day like this and make my own movie." Then I get depressed because I've set a goal for myself that I don't know if I'll ever achieve. And then I think, "What if I do achieve it. I'll have made a movie on a beautiful day, but it will be just a movie. It won't be real." So reality makes me sad because it's not a movie and movies make me sad because they're not real. These are the thoughts that are provoked by every sunset I see, every cool breeze I feel, every birdsong I hear. I told you my mind is a weird place.

The Origin of Art

I don't want to generalize. I don't want to imply that happy people can't be creative. But I do believe that a large amount of art is born out of pain. When we're feeling sad, angry, or just frustrated, we need a safe way to let those feelings out. So we sing, or we write a poem, or we paint a picture, or we dance. So maybe the truth is not that creative people are depressed. Maybe it's that depressed people are creative.

Unrequited Creativity

Have you ever seen an artist without a creative outlet? Again, my husband could tell you some stories. One of them involves me walking around my house singing Let It Go at the top of my lungs, usually with tears in my eyes, every day for about six months. Yeah, I actually did that.

If you follow me on Twitter you may know that my pinned tweet states, "My four great passions are writing, singing, dancing, and speaking Spanish. When I can do more than one at a time I am deliriously happy." What it doesn't say is that if I can't do one of those things I am utterly miserable. And then my inner Elsa comes out and...well...let's just say it's not a pretty sight. I need a creative outlet. When I don't have one I feel like I'm not really living. Like I'm just sitting on the sidelines watching the world pass me by.

Reclaiming Domesticity

I've said that I'm happier when I'm feeling domestic than I am when I'm feeling creative. When the domestic phase starts to wane I get desperate to hold onto it. And I do some pretty weird things. I watch 50s sitcoms. I read the Little House books. I surround myself of images of diligent women caring for their families with smiles on their faces, all to motivate me to do the laundry. But here's the thing. Those images are fake. I'm trying to use art to make me crave reality. So I end up standing at the kitchen sink thinking to myself, "I feel like June Cleaver." Then I get sad because I'm not June Cleaver. I'm just mundane me. So I think to myself...well, I've already outlined this train of thought to you, so I won't do it again. I think you get the picture. Or maybe you don't. If you're a perfectly normal individual whose brain doesn't go off on odd tangents at the drop of a hat you may have no idea what I'm talking about. But just the same I hope you found this article enlightening.