Newbie Self-Publishing: Highs and Lows

This post on self-publishing highs and lows from Denise Baer kicks off my Oktoberfest guest post series. This week I’m gearing up to do some serious traveling around western Europe, but rest assured, I have some great posts lined up for the month ahead.

 

Newbie Self-Publishing: Highs and Lows

WHEN I WROTE MY FIRST BOOK, Net Switch, during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in 2011, I had no intention on publishing it. At the time, I had a full-time job, so I put it in a folder on my computer and thought knowing I had written 50,000 words in a month was good enough. Then I let a few people read it in its horrible state and they convinced me to publish.

 

I hired an editor to work with me through the drafts. From the beginning, she wanted my book to go commercial, and in some ways hinted to taking it over for the screenplay. Since my original goal was to publish a novel, I declined her offer of a screenplay and continued toward publication.

 

Cover image of Net Switch by Denise Baer.

 

My goal was to self-publish since the big house publishers put me off. I would go into Borders to find displays of celebrity books—books that will make the publishers rich. I remember thinking that those ghostwritten books would sell for major profit, not because they were great literature, but because a famous name was behind the book. The days where a great writer published with the big publishers because of wonderful and sometimes ingenious writing seemed to be fading, so I decided to self-publish even though I had no idea what I was doing.

 

Newbie Self-Publishing Lows

 

Because I didn’t know anything about publishing, I decided to go with my editor’s new indie publishing company. She told me she was working with ten authors for publication over the next year and that it would be an honor to publish my book. I signed a contract of about $2,500 and continued to work with her on my book (I had already paid her $1,000 for editing). Later in my search, I would find out that there weren’t ten authors set for publication.

 

After the contract signing, she slowed down and stopped reading my book in its entirety. Per her suggestion, I changed the entire book twice. At first, she figured the best POV would be third person, so I changed the entire book to third person. She then said first person was better, so I rewrote it again.

 

Then the revisions seemed to take longer on her end, so I created my own book trailer to help promote my book. I pulled up YouTube, typed in book trailers, and watched many of them to figure out which ones pulled me in and which ones didn’t arouse interest. When I had an idea of how it should be, I collected pictures of my own, browsed the internet for music and came up with phrases that I had hoped would capture the viewer’s attention.

 

 

Even Lower Self-Publishing Lows

 

It was the middle of November 2011. We had set the printing date for late November, and publication for December. My editor/publisher had trouble committing to a specific date. A week before my book was to go to print, she contacted me to say she had given my book to three people and they hated it. They couldn’t even finish it. She said she had a feeling this would happen. Of course, I was angry and upset, because I didn’t understand why she did this a week before print, especially if she “had a feeling this would happen.” I remember crying to my boyfriend and mom telling them that I wasn’t going to publish. There were so many personal things going on in my life, and this news was too overwhelming for me. My boyfriend and mother said I had to publish because I worked so hard on it.

 

Instead of taking my publisher’s word, I listened to my boyfriend and mother and sent my book off to a few people to beta read. One of my readers didn’t like the book because it was too dark for her. This didn’t mean the book was unpublishable. I had another reader state the story and writing was better than many books he had beta read, and the other readers had a few comments regarding changes but really liked it.

 

I fired my so-called publisher and was out $2,500.00 because she wouldn’t give me a refund on any of the things I did, such as the author website, book trailer, and bookmarks (these were part of the contract). Then I thought, “Now what?” I had no idea about creating a book cover for Createspace, ISBNs, Library of Congress number, or formatting for Kindle and Nook, so I had to power learn in order to publish in December. And then my mother died.

 

After the wake and funeral, and I settled down for a few days, I kept hearing my mom telling me to publish. So I learned all there was to know about publishing on Createspace. I reformatted my book cover with my own ISBN, formatted for Kindle and Nook, and published two weeks after my mother passed away. I bought my own ISBN through Bowker, but I couldn’t get a Library of Congress number because I wasn’t publishing under an imprint.

 

Screenshot of Baer Books Press

 

Newbie Self-Publishing Highs

 

While I worked on my second novel, I came up with my own publishing imprint Baer Books Press. I bought a block of ISBNs from Bowker under my publishing imprint. It was cheaper to buy in bulk for $275 then buy (1) ISBN for $125, especially since paperback and electronic books need their own ISBN. Before publishing my women’s fiction / chick lit novel, Fogged Up Fairy Tale, I updated my poetry eBook, Sipping a Mix of Verse, by adding an excerpt of Net Switch and giving it a Baer Books Press ISBN. I also updated Net Switch, which received a Library of Congress number.

 

What I learned about the publishing world is that whether you go traditional or self-publish, it’s important to know the stages of publishing along with promotion. For all my hard work on my books, promotion and marketing seem to be my biggest challenge. My desire isn’t there to connect with others for the sake of sales. To keep up with all the different social networks is daunting. Jeri is my hero when it comes to social networking.

 

One big thing I did learn was to go with my gut feeling. From the beginning, my first editor seemed more interested in taking over my book and writing the screenplay, and many times I didn’t feel comfortable with her suggestions. I could have saved myself a lot of time and money if I went with my gut feeling.

 

What have you learned from your publishing experience(s)? What self-publishing highs and lows have you encountered?

 

 

Please join me this week for my guest post on pitching literary agents on A. K. Andrew’s Writer’s Notebook.

 

The images uses in this post are for promotional purposes only and comply with fair use guidelines.

 

Author: Denise Baer

Denise Baer is a native of the South Side of Chicago, Illinois. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from DePaul University. She is the author of a collection of poetry, Sipping a Mix of Verse, comprised of traditional form and free verse, and a dark, psychological suspense novel, Net Switch. Her poems have appeared in Danse Macabre, and she ranked in the top 1/6 of the Summer Literary Seminar (SLS) with an offer to study writing and other cultures in Europe. Denise currently resides in Germany with her husband and four-legged baby, Shakespeare, learning German and working on her next novel.

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71 Comments

  1. Wow… so you created your own imprint Baer Books Press. What do you publish? Fiction? Non-Fiction? I have self-published twice now. It is quite an experience. My husband and I are going to publish a cook book together next. I will do the writing and he will provide the recipes. I am not the cook in our house, but I am a writer. He is not a writer, but he can really cook. Sounds like a good match, eh?

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    • Cheryl, I did create my own imprint because I wanted my books in the Library of Congress. In order to do that, you have to have your own imprint. Many people just come up with a name and use that so they could get a LOC, but I took it a step further and decided to add services to the name and give people the opportunity to publish under an honest press.

      “We embrace all types of talent, from the quirky to the introvert, and the sassy to the timid. Baer Books Press wants to make sure you are not sitting on the sidelines wondering ‘what if?’” Your book sounds great, and it’s simply WONDERFUL that you are doing this with your husband. I love cooking! I wish you the best with your book.

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  2. There is so much information out there today about publishing…how to, when to, what do, and what not to do. Even the brightest have a hard time navigating this world…and it’s changing every day. My heart broke for you… hard lessons. It’s the very reason that we founded a writers conference in Charleston SC dedicated to the business of writing…publishing and marketing, no craft. Email me privately if you’d like more information jacquie@pubsmartcon.com

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    • Jacqueline, You are right about the enormous amount of information. It’s very exhausting. I sent you a message. Thanks much.

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  3. Fantastic post on what to avoid Denise. Thi really sounds like the worst nightmare. I don’t know how people can be so unprofessional, and heartless. I’m so glad you persevered, but sorry you had to learn the hard way. Great heads up for people starting out in the indie world. Thank you

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    • A.K. Andrew, It was my worst nightmare, but I learned. The scary thing is, my old editor didn’t think she was unprofessional or heartless. Any services I provide to another will be nothing but honest and I’ll do the work as if it was my own. Thanks much for stopping by and commenting.

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  4. Wow Denise – sounds like you’ve had quite the go-around. I admire you for sticking with it and refusing to “go quiet into that good night”! Best of luck with “Fogged up Fairytale” – what a great title! Jan

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    • Jan, There have been several times where I’ve felt a tap on my shoulder and heard a whisper to jump ship, but I’m sticking with it. I appreciate your kind words. Take care.

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  5. Good for you for your perseverance and also the good advice of your Mum; they always have the best advice. I am only contemplating going down this road at the moment and with the embryo growing I love reading the experiences of others. All the best to you.

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    • Tim, Mum’s do have the best advice. I wish you the best. I’m sure with all the information you’re gathering that you’ll definitely find the right place for you and your works.

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  6. Denise, thank you for such an honest post. It can be such an excruciating decision to decide who to pay for services to help our work be the best it can possibly be. After this summer’s PNWA conference, I have two potential editors I am considering using to get developmental feedback on my novel. If I do end up going down the self-publishing route for my book, I’m more inclined to do as much as possible myself since the technical aspects are something I’ve learned from the short e-books I’ve been putting out. However, I would be sure to seek marketing help because marketing admittedly remains a topic I need to learn much more about.

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    • Jeri, Thank you for this opportunity. I hope my poor decisions help someone else. It is truly tough to trust someone you don’t know, but these are the chances we must take in life. Sometimes it works out and sometimes not. You’re doing pretty well with the social networking. Glad I met you through LinkedIn.

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  7. Oh my gosh Denise. I’m certain these lessons will stay with you, in particular how to listen to your intuition. On occasion I have a habit of doing that too.

    The other thing I’ve found, is add at least 3 to 6 more months on to whatever a publisher might tell you. At least that is my personal experience. I’m gathering up – good and bad lessons learned now.

    Jeri, thanks for hosting Denise.

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    • Patricia, I don’t think I’ll ever forget the lessons, and I’m glad I’ve learned from them. Thanks for checking in.

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  8. This a such a complex quite and epic process, with so many turns and twists …
    The whole first /third person thing truly left me speechless…
    I now understand why knowing the stages of publishing along with promotion is so important as you have highlighted above…
    The gut feeling might not have been that bad after all. But as the saying goes: “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger”
    Thanks for sharing, Jeri and Denise.
    Best wishes, auf wiedersehen, Aquileana 😀

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    • Aquileana, I wanted to choke my editor when she kept having me change the POV. It was maddening, yet I figured she knew what she was doing. I appreciate you stopping by. Tschüß

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  9. Wow. Writing the book was the easy part. By the way I have read any number of books by people who were famous for something other than writing and was usually sorry I wasted the time. Last one I read was by John Waters and it was pretty much complete garbage.

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    • Ken, Writing is the easy part. Thanks for letting me know about how you felt regarding famous people’s books. It’s good to know.

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  10. I am so glad you didn’t give up Denise. We only learn certain tricks of the trade when we plunge in. It was really unprofessional on the part of the editor, whom you paid so much and who backed out with a lame excuse! I am sure she was just interested in making her own buck. How people can betray our trust…so disappointing and saddening.
    Marketing is the toughest job even when we self publish, I can relate so much to your story. Thanks for sharing in such a candid manner.

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    • Balroop, Thank you so much. It’s kind of you to say. Yes, it is sad that people easily betray others without remorse.

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  11. It really is such a difficult process to figure out isn’t it? And what a learning process – painful as it can be. There is just so much information out there. It is really too bad that you got hooked up with that editor and to call you right before you were ready to print and tell you people hated it and she knew they would – how awful for you! I’m glad you listened to your boyfriend and mother and pushed through to the end. 🙂

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    • Susan, I hope some of my story will help someone else who might be in a similar situation. Thanks for stopping by.

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  12. First, congrats on finally getting your book out there. Second, it’s amazing how many pitfalls there are on the quest to self publish. Glad you found a way to do what you needed to do.

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    • Kitt, Thank you for your well wishes. In time, I think we all find what works for us and what doesn’t after several ups and downs.

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  13. Denise,
    First, let me say, congratulations on setting up Baer Books press! You’re a real inspiration to struggling indie authors everywhere. Just one of the set-backs you’ve shared would send many running for the hills. Self-publishing is a tough, yet doable process. The avenues you can choose are varied and fraught with potential disaster so we’re all learning as we go. I’ve started doing a self-publishing workshop to share my experiences as well and the strongest point I make at the end is ‘caveat emptor’… buyer beware. It’s hard to believe that there are so many predators out there, like your editor, but I think your final comment that next time you’ll listen to your gut, is right on the money! We have a lot in common… my mom’s my biggest cheerleader too. I’m sure yours is still watching from above, fist-bumping and saying ‘That’s my girl’! I hope to set up an imprint some day as well.

    Happy Writing and Publishing!
    Anne

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    • Anne, Aw, thanks Ann. I think my mom is watching over me too. It’s wonderful to hear that your mother is your biggest cheerleader. We all need one in our corner. Yeah, there are so many people out there looking at the money and ignoring integrity. All I can say is I put my all into everything I do for others and myself. Why would I want to put my name on something that I didn’t work hard on? If you have any questions about setting up an imprint, please don’t hesitate to contact me at denise@authordenisebaer.com. I wish you the best with your future endeavors. *Fist Bump*

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  14. Hi Denise – congratulations on getting your book out there but also seeing and filling the need with Baer Books Press. I think that’s wonderful. It’s unfortunate that you ran into the editor you did, but that is such a nice thing about this BHB group, there is so much support out there, that when our turn comes, there are any number of people we can turn to. Thanks for sharing the pitfalls.
    Lenie

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    • Lenie, I really appreciate you stopping by and commenting. Getting to know people through networking and blogging is such a great benefit. I wish I was involved more in both when I decided to publish my first book. Take care.

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  15. I experienced some of the same things you did although I was lucky to realize sooner that the publisher I’d chosen wasn’t what they said they were and only lost a small down payment. Good for you, becoming an expert on self-publishing!

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    • Beth, I’m sorry to hear you had a similar experience, but I’m glad you didn’t lose too much money. Even though I did learn much about publishing, I wouldn’t say I’m an expert.

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  16. Great article about what to avoid, Denise. Perseverance is what makes us succeed in the end, though:-)

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  17. That’s so interesting about creating your own imprint and buying ISBN’s in bulk. I think your lesson learned about listening to your gut is so valuable in many different walks of life. Best of luck to you and your books!

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    • Meredith, You’re right about gut feeling. I should remember to go with it more often. Thanks much, and the best of luck to you too.

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  18. I bet if we got 100 authors and asked them about their experiences with a small publisher, we would get about 80 similar stories. I feel your frustration in dealing with this editor and publisher.

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    • William, It’s a shame you have or are going through any frustration regarding publishing. As writers, we should be able to enjoy the love of writing and not have to worry about deception. Unfortunately, deception is in all aspects of our lives. I wish you the best.

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  19. I really felt sad about the problems you have faced during the publishing of your book. But finally you created your imprint Baer Books Press and did what you wanted… I was wondering though one asked you to go for screenplay and other thought that it was dark… I am happy that you listen to sounds of your mother and did what she wanted you to do… She will be happy for you.
    I think now you know a lot about publishing and surly will help many as you will not want anyone to face same situation that you have faced.
    All the best.

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    • Andleeb, Thank you so much for your kind words. My editor wanted to take my book and make it into a screenplay, but I declined. When I sent my book to one of my beta readers, she found the contents dark, which is fine because it is a dark, psychological suspense novel. All the best to you.

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  20. Hello Denise and thank you for taking the time to chronicle your journey. I was exhausted and sad reading through the the middle, but the triumph at the end is encouraging! I’ll weigh in – I hired a “writing coach” a couple of years ago to help me write my novel. We spent weekly sessions over several months, sending my manuscript back & forth. I edited as she requested, sometimes rewriting multiple chapters or completely deleting them. Also made many, many grammatical, sequencing and POV changes.

    At the end she (an author with more than forty books published by numerous imprints)sounded very positive in her feedback. I suppose my naivete showed, however, when she told me what she’d done wasn’t actual editing but just helpful suggestions; I’d still need to hire an editor to go over the book thoroughly. Sigh…all the money had been spent that could be spent, so the book went back on the shelf.

    I’m looking it over again but that experience left me feeling foolish. Would love to hear your opinion on writing coaches.

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    • Kate… it’s too bad that your writing coach didn’t explain the difference between what she was doing and what an editor would do. I also mentor other writers through the writing of their books but would always recommend hiring an editor upon completion. There’s a difference between ‘developmental editing’ (sort of what your coach was doing) and line editing and proofreading. Once the changes she recommended were made and your first draft was completed that’s when the real editing begins. Your novel should go through 3 or 4 rounds of editing before it’s ready for publishing. My process is – I finish my FSD (first shitty draft), wait a week or so, then go through it myself for the first edit (after a full spell check, of course) but we all know that we can’t see our own mistakes, we’re just too close to it. I’ve just purchased a software called AutoCrit (it catches redundant use of words and phrases, cliches, run on sentences, etc.) so my new next step is to run the MS through that and then send out to a handful of Beta readers (asking for reviews at the same time to include on the back cover and in other marketing materials). Then I’ll bring in a line editor. I’ve done this on trade or had a close friend who is ‘meticulous’ do it but there are ways to mitigate the cost. Please don’t get discouraged. Pull that book down off the shelf and keep going!

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      • Anne, thanks so much for the helpful comment. Now that I’m in my third year of revising my book I definitely wish I had used a writing coach. Live and learn, I guess. I’ve been meaning to take a look at AutoCrit, so thanks for the reminder.

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        • You’re most welcome! I’m actually on a high right at this moment because I just typed ‘the end’ on my latest WIP! Woo Hoo. Now, I will continue chapter by chapter, running it through AutoCrit. If you do give it a try I’d love to hear what you think 🙂

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    • Kate, It’s horrible when people either don’t communicate their intentions or deceive those they think they can and get away with it. I’m sorry you had to go through that. At least we both learned something from our horrible experiences. I’ll admit that I’ve never had a writing coach. When I come upon an issue with writing, or need to learn something, I turn to reading. I always learn something and it helps with writer’s block. Thanks for sharing.

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  21. Thanks for sharing your story. There are a few lessons to take away for those of us who have not yet published a book (self-published or otherwise). Congratulations on sticking it out and learning to trust your gut.

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    • Donna, I say now that gut feeling is a warning. I’ll continue to pay attention to such warnings.

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  22. Congratulations on coming so far, Denise!

    I’d like to know, however, how you set up Baer Books Press. Can you tell me here, or did you blog about this somewhere? As a self-publisher, I’m very curious…

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  23. What a story – but thankfully there’s that happy ending…and a lot of knowledge that came out of it! I know this information will be extremely useful to many of the members of this Bloggers Helping Bloggers group who are writing for a goal of being published.

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  24. It is good hear what it takes to publish a book. I guess with anything you had quite a learning experience. However, if you didn’t go through all the trials and tribulations you would not be where you are today. Never giving up is why you are where you are today. Thank you for sharing your story

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  25. Denise, so glad you persisted after your initial bad experience. Did you ever report that “publisher” to anyone, like Victoria Strauss at Writer Beware? And is that person still in business?

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    • Laura, I didn’t report her to anyone. At first I thought it was all in my head, and I guess you can say it’s hearsay, my word against hers. She has published other books along with other authors being okay with her.

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  26. This was a great share with a wonderful ending! Not only independently published but also with your own publishing company, you made it work. It doesn’t get better than that. That was a nice trailer, too. Thank you so much for the information.

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  27. Publishing a book is more like an adventure than a job. I admire authors who publish, it takes a lot of work, courage and commitment. More often than not it also means taking on tasks that are so far outside of the discipline of writing that I can’t imagine how you it get done. Congrats on sticking with it and seeing your way through.

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    • Debra, You’re definitely right about taking on tasks outside of writing. I believe all writers would love to just write and let others (without much cost) promote and market.

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  28. Wow, what a story of lows and then wonderful highs! Congrats on getting your own imprint! I bet there are, unfortunately, many so-called publishers out there that are getting writers signing contracts that really don’t have their best intentions in mind… which isn’t right. Thanks for sharing your story to hopefully prevent someone from having a low (or two).

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    • Christy, Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I do hope it prevents others from having publishing lows.

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  29. As hard as it was for you to go through the experience, it is great that you can share it to help others avoid the same pitfalls.

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  30. So many good tips in here. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to handle Nanowrimo this time but it’s good to see publishable work coming out of it. Love these Guest Posts.

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    • Carl, I was thinking about doing NaNo this year just to see where it gets me. I have a few ideas in mind.

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  31. Its good to know that you did not give up in your bad time Denise. Thanks for making this post for all low people.

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    • Dr. Diana, Aw, thanks much. I wish there weren’t so many people out there that got hit with low publishing times, or any lows for that matter.

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  32. Denise,
    We learn by trial and error but that gut feeling is very important. I have learned to listen to it myself. Your lows happened to bring you to the highs (Sorry to hear about your mom) which has inspired me to keep pushing in my own endeavors.

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  33. Promotions and marketing seems to be a challenge for many in this day and age as the boundaries of creativity seem to be pushed more and more in terms of advertising and branding (book covers for writers). And I agree, Jeri is a Hero as she is leading the way in many aspects in this world of writing.

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