Of writers, self-promotion, and Christmas

I’ve always been wary of self-promotion. As a self-published fiction writer, this leaves me in an awkward position.  Self-published and Self-promotion are twins, and though they may not be identical, when Self-promotion stumbles, Self-published falls. They’re close like that.

I have been letting Self-promotion stumble, with the anticipated result to Self-published. But if there’s one time to give Self-promotion a hand, it’s Christmas. At this most Holy and Commercial time of year it only seems appropriate to give alms to Self-promotion.  I won’t go so far as to suggest the Baby Jesus would endorse it, but I think the Three Wise Men would. After all, how could they afford gold, frankincense, and myrrh? They were wise men who built their brands through self-promotion.

I am now going to attempt to be a wise man, though I still probably won’t be able to afford any frankincense or myrrh by the end of the day. Following is an introduction to my books, which just might make decent Christmas gifts for the readers on your list (hint, hint).


Temp coverTemp is a great book for past or present temporary and low-level employees, and the people who love them. It’s also for people who like a good laugh in general. If you started out at the top of your field, love no one, and hate laughing, it might not be for you. Otherwise, you’re the bullseye of the target demographic.

(Book description/How to buy)

A Smile Through a Tear

BookCover9AA Smile Through a Tear is a collection of short stories, some funny, some serious, covering several different genres of fiction. If variety is the spice of life, this collection is a literary bottle of tabasco. If these stories get into your eyes, tears may result. Remain calm. It will be from your emotions, not physical damage; the hot spice thing was just a metaphor.

(Book description/How to buy)

A Housefly in Autumn

A Housefly in AutumnA Housefly in Autumn fits all sizes from young adult to old adult. If you’ve ever wondered what YA fiction would look like without vampires, post-apocalyptic survival tips, little people with pointy ears, or the ubiquitous love triangle, this is the book for you. Although I can’t promise there’s not just a hint of love triangle, but it’s certainly not beaten like a dead horse. SPOILER: There’s an actual dead horse for that.*

(Book description/How to Buy)

*Just kidding. Nobody beats the dead horse. It’s all very tasteful.

Well, that’s my self-promotion for this year. I hope I helped you get your Christmas shopping done.

The publishing process made me a better storyteller

Maybe I should have kept up my vigorous regimen of procrastination.

Fortunately, I hadn’t given up procrastination cold turkey, I was gradually easing off it as part of a 112 step program.

While I am waiting for my initial beta reader (wife) to list all the things wrong with the first draft of my latest book, I decided to twiddle my thumbs for a good long while before reworking one of the several unpublished novels I keep tucked away for later.

Incidentally, there are a many things wrong with the first draft of the latest book, so it may take her some time to compile them.

Thanks to the fascinating qualities of my twirling thumbs, combined with confluence of youth spring soccer and baseball seasons, and a big project at work, I have rewritten all of 12 pages in the last two months. The manuscript is more than 400 pages, so those dozen pages seem somewhat measly.

Yet, I am a man who can occasionally find sunshine in little things. (My initial beta reader may disagree with this, but she doesn’t always appreciate the subtlety of my understated sunshine.) I am pleased with what I have accomplished.

There’s a lot in those 12 pages. Mostly, there’s a much more engaging beginning to a story than there used to be.

I finished the draft of this novel about 10 years ago. I didn’t publish it because, though I believed it a good story, it wasn’t everything I wanted it to be and I didn’t know why.

Ten years later, I might have figured out why.

My presentation of the story did not measure up to the story itself.

In those 10 years, I could have written 10 novels and still not learned enough about storytelling. As it happens, in those 10 years, I spawned three children, so I may have changed 10,000 diapers but I didn’t write anything near 10 novels.

"How many diapers?"

“How many diapers?”

But it wouldn’t have mattered if I’d written 20. The thing that made me learn most about storytelling was publishing three books.

Publishing wasn’t a financial windfall by any means, but it was a learning experience, and a valuable one. Knowing I would put these stories before the public made me consider them from angles I’d never had to before. It made me focus on readers: how I took hold of them, how I held onto them, and where I led them. It forced me to act like a professional: to analyze my own work and that of competing writers with new attention to detail. It didn’t mean I was going to attempt to copy the successful ones, but it did make me think about the elements that made them a success.

The act of publishing made me more aware of many things about my books, but more than anything else, it made me constantly reevaluate how I present a story. There’s more to learn, but I’m better than I used to be.

If I can keep up this breakneck pace of rewriting, I may actually turn this old novel into a well-presented story to share in about five years or so.

Why I stopped submitting short fiction to literary journals

When I first got serious about sending short fiction to literary magazines, I didn’t realize the difference between getting a story accepted and actually having the story published. Those were callow days.

Before electronic submissions, you printed a copy of your story for each prospective journal. Each copy needed a cover letter. You had to remember to change the journal name on each letter and put the right letter into the right envelope if you didn’t want to embarrass yourself.

Each mailing contained a stamped, self-addressed envelope (SASE) for the reply letter. You carted off your stack to the post office. If you were productive, the trip could be expensive.

It felt good to get a bundle of stories out. That feeling faded as the waiting game began. Still, walking to the mailbox every day held a little extra drama. There was always a journal that responded quickly, with words that meant: we didn’t bother to read your story; nonetheless, we’re sure we didn’t like it.

Over time, the rejections trickled in. They were terse, rarely requiring a full sheet of paper. Some editors scribbled a note in the margin to make it seem more personal, but rejection was rejection. NO was enough.

I began expecting all SASEs in my mailbox to contain rejections. One day I was opening a rejection when the strangest thing happened: I couldn’t find the word NO. The letter said Yes, as in, Yes, we would like to publish your story. It wasn’t a famous magazine, but few literary journals are. I put the letter on the refrigerator to show the world (or the part of it that passed through my kitchen) my success.

I knew it would take several months for the publication of the story, but it would be worth the wait.

I waited, and waited, and waited.

After several months, I emailed the editor. I got no reply.

I sent emails to everyone associated with the journal. Finally, someone replied. The magazine didn’t exist anymore. The non-profit publisher ran out of money. They wouldn’t be publishing my story, no longer having a vehicle for publishing stories.

This disappointment was superseded by other events . I got another story accepted and published by the first journal to which I sent it. They worked quickly and did an excellent job with the presentation.

Then I got a story accepted by the journal of a well-respected university – a name everybody would recognize. The story was published in a timely manner, but the presentation made me hesitant to hand out copies to everyone I knew.

They’d requested an electronic copy. When they converted it to a different format, some punctuation appeared as random symbols. They didn’t catch this, and it was printed with the odd symbols.

Soon after, a story was accepted by another university journal. It wasn’t a big name, but I was still happy to celebrate any success. That story has never been published. It never will be. I can’t tell what happened to that journal. It just sort of disappeared.

I don’t submit to journals anymore. Not because of the uncertainty or the disappointment. I stopped because of the modern ease of self-publishing. In 2011, I gathered my best short fiction: stories published in literary journals; stories accepted but never published; stories never accepted; and stories never submitted. I put them together and self-published the book: A Smile Through a Tear.

The roller coaster ride of journal submission eventually led to this.

The roller coaster ride of journal submission eventually led to this.

It was a great experience. I controlled the content, the timeline, and the appearance. It’s a modest endeavor, but it’s all mine. I hope to add many more books to my little self-publishing catalog. But if my projects fail, at least I won’t have to wait months for somebody to tell me about it.

The 5 stages of self-publishing

This book is going to happen. I’ve approved the final proof, and more importantly, I’ve entered the last psychological stage of self-publishing.

Some might claim self-publishing is nothing but grief. I wouldn’t go that far, though it does bring its fair share of grief with it. Looking back over the years it’s taken me to produce A Housefly in Autumn, I realize I’ve gone through at least five stages self-publishing. If you are familiar with self-publishing, you may recognize some of these emotions.


This thing will never come together. You’ve rewritten it over and over, and it’s still not right. You don’t know why you spend so much time on this project. If you ever get a decent book out of it, it won’t be worth all this aggravation. Maybe you should just start something else. But what? You’ll just work on this until you come up with an idea for something totally kickass that writes itself.


Why do you have to have this compulsion to write? Why couldn’t you have been a painter? Then, you’d just paint a picture and be done with it. Now, you’ve got to locate beta readers, editors, a cover artist, and God knows who else. Too bad writing doesn’t involve more writing and less coordinating. If you wanted to run a business, you’d open a coffee shop.


Okay, you may not agree with all the beta readers’ criticisms, but you have to address them. They are representative readers and you can’t afford to ignore their suggestions. You’ll address their concerns, but only to the point that it doesn’t turn the story into something you don’t mean it to be. It should appeal the greatest possible number of readers, but it still has to be the story you want to tell.

Depression (mostly simple anxiety)

This is getting to the point of no return. It’s a new genre for you. You wonder if you did it right. Does it even fit into a genre? Have you come up between genres? Is the tone right? Are the characters likeable enough? Are they too likeable? Do they need a harder edge? Is the writing style universal enough? Is there enough emotion? Is the emotion over the top? Too many commas?


It’s done. Some will like it; some won’t. You could toil over it for 20 more years and it would still be the same: some will like it; some won’t. There’s no point in worrying anymore. You wanted to be a writer didn’t you? This will give you a good chance to see how that whole thing is working out for you. If you want to be a success, you’ve got to take the risk and put yourself out there. If worst comes to worst, with all your self-publishing experience, you could probably open a coffee shop.


Author anxiety

“Don’t worry about it, James. You put lots of unnecessary words into the novel, didn’t you? Then I’m sure people will love The Back Woods Guy who Couldn’t Resist Giving Long-winded Speeches to the Last of the Mohicans.”