And Now A Word From Our Sponsor

Some of my followers will know that I started as a self-published, Independent author. I may have gone that route for a lot of the wrong reasons–impatience, desperation, insecurity, frustration with the query process, et alia. I just wanted to share my work, e readers were becoming a thing, and people balked at reading manuscripts. I didn’t know at the time of free programs to convert Word docs to epub without actually publishing (if these existed; they may be relatively new). So when a friend suggested Smashwords, I jumped on it.

At first, I felt good about my choice. People read my work and I got positive feedback. However, I quickly came to realize that being an Independent author is harder work than I had ever imagined. I dislike doing marketing and promotion, and I don’t think I’m very good at it (which annoys me because I’m not used to not being good at things). I wanted help I had no way of getting. And, despite putting a positive face on things and all my protests to the contrary, I still didn’t feel like a “real” author. I wanted the validation of someone in traditional publishing telling me my work meant something.

As a consequence, shortly before Christmas, I pulled my books from publication, entered a couple pitch contests, and started querying agents. To my shock, both agents and publishers showed interest. Somewhere along the line, I got better at writing those despicable queries which I loathe writing so much. I also learned that I had hamstringed myself as far as most agents were concerned by uploading my work through Smashwords. When you self-publish in any way, whether you promote the hell out of your book or just give it free to your grandmother, most major publishers consider this “test marketing.” So unless you can demonstrate success to the tune of 10,000 units or more sold, an agent simply can’t sell your book.

I asked a number of agents about this, because it seems self-limiting for publishers automatically to reject something on the basis of low sales when an author may not have worked very hard or well at promotion. Lots of authors, I think, have NO IDEA how to go about this in any effective way. The clearest answer I got was: “That’s the rule in New York. They won’t buy it, so I don’t want to pick it up if I can’t sell it.” No clue why New York feels bound to this rule–the book business just doesn’t take the risks it used to, I guess. And I still haven’t had an answer to the question of why, if I sold 10,000 copies of anything, I would care about getting an agent in the first place. I mean, I’m fairly intelligent, and I have good negotiation skills and good boundaries, and 10,000 sales would double my family’s yearly income. So what would an agent do?

Anyway.

Until recently, I was still talking with a small press. But the more I thought about it, the more I began to wonder if any form of traditional publishing made sense for me. My genre, Supernatural and Paranormal, is a “hard sell” right now. I write unusual stories that might not appeal to the masses, especially because I do not have a typical world view. I want to write the stories I need to tell, rather than cater to some nebulous market or common denominator. The word counts of my novels often exceed “industry standards.” Most important, I admit to having trust issues and wanting to control my work as much as possible. I don’t like to think of this as a matter of ego, but it may well be. I honestly believe I’m smarter and more skilled than 90% of the population, and when it comes to writing I have a difficult time with the concept of someone telling me to do massive rewrites which may not suit my vision for my work. Although, I must say here that several editors gave me valuable feedback over the last months, which I have used.

The long and the short of it is, I made the decision to return to self-publishing. In the last weeks I have gone over each of the novels in my Caitlin Ross series and done a FINAL (I swear) round of edits. I also reformatted all of them. I’m planning on new covers, but that’s going to have to wait a bit. My books are now, once again, available through Smashwords and Amazon, both in print and e reader editions. In the coming days I will be adding a sidebar menu listing each book individually along with links for purchase. For the time being, however, here’s the list.

The Unquiet Grave Cover II Caitlin Ross #1: The Unquiet Grave

For Caitlin Ross, every day is a struggle. Born a witch, she renounced use of her powers out of fear of what they might bring to her and the people she loves. However, a ghost’s plea and a series of strange events at the bar where her Irish band is playing prove too much temptation for even her strong will. When she discovers that the bar’s owner is a magician bent on raising a demon with the power to destroy her home, she chooses to take up her powers once more, no matter what the consequences. In challenging the magician and ending the threat of the demon for all time, Caitlin will discover there’s more to the world, and to herself, than she ever imagined.

“This wasn’t just urban fantasy fare; Lampe delves into the real New Age/pagan world of tarot, circles, gods/goddess (or patrons, if you prefer) and infuses it with a touch of fantasy… I look forward to reading more in the series.”–Sequential Tart

Buy The Unquiet Grave on Amazon

Download FREE on Smashwords

SMTtF CoverCaitlin Ross #2: She Moved Through the Fair

When her best friend ropes Caitlin Ross and her band into playing at a local music festival, Caitlin expects to be irritated with the whole affair. She doesn’t expect to find one of the festival promoters murdered with magic. As the only person with knowledge that the death is anything but natural, Caitlin sets herself to unmask the murderer, and discovers that he or she is after an amulet that grants wishes to those lucky–or unlucky–enough to obtain it.

Determined to find the amulet first and use it to lure the murderer into the open, Caitlin plunges into the festival armed with her magic and with her wits. But even as a series of chaotic events points her in the right direction, Caitlin finds out that her magical gifts have consequences she never imagined.

This second in the Caitlin Ross series continues to impress with multiple complex characters and action that sweeps you along into the story.”–Deborah Jaques

Buy She Moved Through the Fair at Amazon

Download from Smashwords

A Maid in Bedlam cover IICaitlin Ross #3: A Maid in Bedlam

After Caitlin Ross suffers a devastating miscarriage, she and her husband, Timber MacDuff, become estranged. Before they can work things out, he leaves on a quest about which he will tell Caitlin nothing, taking only his drum and his sword. Soon after, however, Caitlin discovers the quest is not what it appears, but a trap set by one of Timber’s old enemies, a ring of powerful mages who steal souls. Fearing for Timber’s sanity, she pursues him to a cabin in the mountains outside Boulder, Colorado, where she finds him broken almost beyond healing. To save him, Caitlin must persuade Timber to participate in his own salvation and face the demons of his past. Only then can the two of them confront the ring of mages who have caught Timber in their snare and put a stop to their evil once and for all.

“The most powerful descriptions of magical and emotional healing in Contemporary Fantasy.”–Stef Maruch

Buy A Maid in Bedlam from Amazon

Download from Smashwords

Parting Glass coverCaitlin Ross #4: The Parting Glass

Caitlin Ross is content with her life as the owner of a metaphysical shop in Boulder, Colorado. And although she doesn’t advertise her arcane abilities, she isn’t averse to applying them in good cause. When a Lakota medicine man with a drinking problem begs for Caitlin’s help, she has reason enough to get involved. But before she can do anything, he vanishes, leaving Caitlin with nothing but questions. Soon after, a stranger from Scotland appears on Caitlin’s doorstep, seeking news of the missing shaman. His insistence and his refusal to share any information about his purpose rouse Caitlin’s suspicions: is this Timber MacDuff what he seems? Or does he represent the very dark power the absent shaman was trying to avoid? For anyone who has wanted to hear the story of Caitlin and Timber’s first encounter, this is the book you’ve been waiting for.

“Superb writing and a knack for story-telling… It left me moved, teary-eyed, laughing, swooning, angry, and on the edge of my seat.”–Jennie Davenport, author of Hemlock Veils

Buy The Parting Glass from Amazon

Download from Smashwords

Cruel Mother resize v 2Caitlin Ross #5: The Cruel Mother

When Caitlin Ross was fifteen, her mother had her committed to a mental institution in hopes of curing her of magic. After a sympathetic psychiatrist helped Caitlin secure her release, she left her family, and ever since she has kept as much distance between herself and them as possible. But when her sister calls to tell Caitlin her mother is dying, she yearns for some kind of reconciliation and chooses to return to her childhood home. In Detroit, Caitlin runs into her former psychiatrist, who asks for her help with one of his patients, a troubled teenaged girl. Although Caitlin at first refuses to get involved, escalating family tensions drive her to visit the girl as an escape. Discovering the source of the girl’s problems will lead Caitlin into a world she’s only imagined, one that holds a startling revelation about her own origins.

“Katherine has created a world within a world that will twist, turn and bend your mind, imagination and leaving you guessing until the very end on a roller-coaster ride that your brain will still be reeling from long after the book is over.”–Keri Dudas

Buy The Cruel Mother from Amazon

Download from Smashwords

So there you have it. Give them a look, read a sample. If you like my work, post a review. I look forward to hearing from you!

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Respecting the Work, Respecting Ourselves

A couple weeks ago I ran across this blog post: “Do Writers Really Have to Learn All that Yucky Grammar?” Now, I am what is commonly known as a Grammar Nazi, but I count myself a Grammar Lover. I dig language. I dig how it works and how it’s put together. More than that, I find it easy. It resonates for me. I don’t always have an explanation for the way things work on the tip of my tongue, but I have a natural gift and I almost always get it right.

I understand that not everyone has the same advantage, not even everyone who writes. When I Beta other writers’ manuscripts, I find a lot of mistakes, and that’s fine. That’s part of why you get feedback–so someone else can point out things you might have missed from being too close to your work. So you correct them and move on, or if you don’t understand the issue you might ask about the problem or look it up and learn to avoid it next time. It goes with the territory.

But I don’t get people who claim a writer’s identity, who object to learning the basics of the trade. So when I read the above-mentioned article my gut reaction–the same gut reaction I have when I read any article along the same lines–was: Why is this even necessary? Why does this have to be said over and over again?

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Are you really going to make me explain this again?

I have a long history with the arts and humanities. I’ve done visual arts. I’ve studied music since I can remember, play a variety of instruments, and have been in several bands. In college, I majored in Dance (and Psychology), and I’ve held starring roles in numerous theatrical productions. But my first love has always been writing. I’ve seen it as my calling since second grade, when Mrs. Stahl told Julie Johnson that she should be an author and I piped up, “No, I’M going to be an author!” And I have never seen any of the arts treated with the same bizarre combination of reverence and disrespect that people bandy around when the subject of writing comes up.

In the disrespect corner are the people who say things like, “My family always tell me I write such great letters, I think I should write a book.” The acquaintances who greet the news that you’re a writer with, “Hey, if you need any help editing let me know!” There’s the lady in town who writes poetry in the bathtub, reads it that night at the local coffee house, and receives any suggestion that her work might be made cleaner as an affront. The relative who tells you, “I’ve got a great idea for you to write about in your spare time…” I’d also include those individuals who refuse to learn proper spelling and grammar, as well as those people who submit unpolished manuscripts and query agents without following their guidelines. These things are so common that there are a couple memes circulating about them. And at first, you greet them with sighs and eye-rolling, but as time goes on and you hear them over and over again, they make you want to bash your head repeatedly into the nearest wall.

BeatingHeadAgainstWall-495x401-e1332166063852
No, really. This is less painful

On the reverence side of things, you get a weird conglomeration of stuff. The hushed awe some people show you upon learning you’re a writer, as if you’ve announced you just dropped in from Alpha Centauri, or perhaps discovered a cure for cancer. The massive advances that some A-list writers get. Book fandom turns popular writers into rock stars. Readers obsess over the fates of their favorite characters and line up for signings and treat the winners of the Hugo or the Edgar the way other people treat Oscar winners. Prominent authors become spokespersons for political causes and their names become household words. All of it contributes to this feeling that writers are a race apart, with talents that set them far above the average Joe. And I don’t know how other writers react to the intersection of reverence and disrespect, but in me it causes a kind of cognitive dissonance, a feeling that my ability to use words to convey a coherent story is a kind of superpower, but it doesn’t really count because anyone could do the same if she felt like it. Anyone at all could sit down at a computer, or with paper and pen, and write a hundred thousand words, and transform herself into the next Stephen King by breakfast next Sunday. Because writing is, after all, an easy way to make a quick buck.

I’m  not sure where this idea comes from, and I think about it a lot. Maybe it’s because in the First World we’re all (allegedly) taught to write in school. Most people experience words on a daily basis in one way or another. We write emails and Facebook status updates. We see words on cereal boxes and street signs. They’re not mysterious, like the ability to dance or act or play an instrument. Society’s focus on literacy for everyone has made them accessible, and don’t mistake me, I think that’s a good thing. I think words are great, and do good things, and people should have access to them. But being able to send a witty letter to Mom or tweet your emotional state in one hundred and forty characters does not equate to being able to write a novel, or even a short story.

The thing is, while most people learn some form of literacy, a great many of those people don’t absorb the annoying details. Grammar, unless you’re me or share my fascination for language, is neither easy nor fun. Neither is spelling. No more so  is the logic of structuring a coherent plot, or many of the things that turn a string of semi-related words into a novel that someone might actually want to read. And so people don’t learn them, or if they learn them, they often forget them as soon as the test is over.

There’s also this idea in some circles that the picayune details don’t matter as long as a person expresses herself honestly. I remember back when I was in high school hearing about some Urban District where an English teacher was having great success getting kids to write by telling them not to worry about spelling or grammar or any of the rules; just get the words down. Needless to say, this approach sent my English-teacher mother through the ceiling, but I do see the value in it. My own husband, who is also an English teacher, sometimes has to resort to it just to get his students to do the work. And I’ve seen it used to good purpose in groups like Writing Down the Bones, where the point is to overcome the fear of writing and the debilitating tendency to self-censor. Just write. Worry later. I say it to myself when I’m working on a first draft. Just write.

The problem comes when people get so enamoured of the idea of self as writer that they forget that Just Write is the starting place. The process of writing gets entangled with the ego to the point where any criticism, any suggestion that you might perhaps want to subject your work to a little critical analysis or perhaps learn how to construct a sentence in a more effective way is seen as a personal attack. And I get it, really I do. The act of writing, or creating with words, is intensely personal. Taking what’s in your heart and putting it on the page for everyone to see is scary. But isn’t that a good reason to make it as tight and coherent as possible? “Well yeah,” you might say. “But what about the idea that my words have intrinsic value? That I, as a person, have intrinsic value? If you’re telling me I can do better doesn’t that mean you think what I’ve done so far is shitty? Who are you to judge? My books are my children!”

To this I really must ask: “Do you really refuse to bathe or toilet train your children because they weren’t born with those skills?”

I’ve seen this conversation a lot in the self-publishing community, which is fairly well divided between those who believe in working at their craft and making it the best it can be and those who think that uploading whatever words come off the tops of their heads to Amazon and calling it a book is just fine. (You can probably guess where I stand on this debate.) It’s the kind of thing that leads people to write articles demanding that those who self-publish shouldn’t call themselves authors. And it certainly isn’t helped by the fact that it’s demonstrably true that going the traditional route (or subjecting your work to gatekeepers, depending on your slant) does not always result in a superior product.

But, you know,  as it says in the article that prompted me to write this: you wouldn’t want to take your car to a mechanic who didn’t have a full range of tools at his disposal. Deciding you’re a novelist because you write good letters is like deciding you’re a brain surgeon because you were good at Operation in your youth. The two aren’t the same. And there’s another side to studied ignorance of your craft that directly contributes to some of the stuff that annoys writers most: When you don’t respect what you do enough to do it well, other people won’t respect it either. So they’ll continue to misunderstand what being a writer means, and continue to make those comments we find so hard to hear. Like these things:

10-things-people-say-to-creative-writers
And the next time I hear any of these, someone’s going to get punched in the mouth.

Everyone might have a story to tell, but not everyone needs to write a novel (which is my problem with events like NaNoWriMo, but that’s probably a different blog). It’s not an easy way to the big bucks. It’s hard work with less return, on a monetary level, than most people would like to think. If you manage to finish your first draft, there are edits, and sending your work out to critique partners; shit, there’s the whole business of finding a good critique partner before you even share your work at all. And then, more edits and, if you decide to go the traditional route, there are queries and synopses to write, which is an art all of its own. And more edits. And all that is no guarantee that a publisher will pick up your book, or that the public will buy it.

There are lots of ways to be creative with words. My husband (the English teacher, remember) creates beautiful and lavish worlds. I envy his ability to do so; he has one of the most original and creative minds I have ever encountered. Sometimes I tell him he really ought to do something with those worlds he creates. His response, inevitably, is “Oh, I don’t want to do all that work.” And that’s fine. Not writing a novel doesn’t make him any less original or creative.

I’m lucky. I have to edit far less than most other writers and I never fall prey to the tendency writers often display of looking back on early drafts and thinking they’re shit. Most of the time I can go over my work and know that, even if the words I’ve written aren’t the right words, they’re good words all the same. A novelist friend of mine recently told me, “The words you pull out of your ass are better than the ones I’ve gone over a dozen times.” But the reason for this is that I have spent forty years loving language, studying my craft, and learning to organize my thoughts so I can churn out 2000 words on short notice and have them make sense. (As some proof of this, I offer the fact that this post appears as it came out of my head, with only one edit to add the sentence about books as compared to children, because I thought of that when I woke up this morning.)

If, after all this, you still feel that novel pushing against your breastbone, write it. But please do yourself a favor and get the tools to make your book the best book it can possibly be. Study grammar. Learn how to spell. Read the work of other writers and ask yourself what does and doesn’t work, and how you’d do it differently.

Teaching other people to respect the process of writing starts with respecting it ourselves.