Awesome things start happening when you dare to do something you’ve never done before. Like becoming a volunteer staff member of Indie Book Collective, a cooperative of independently published authors with the mission statement:
“The goal of the Indie Book Collective, founded in 2010 by Carolyn McCray, is to give authors, both indie and traditional, the marketing tools to create massive, positive change in their careers with long term sustainable sales, through industry relevant education, strategic sales events and innovative marketing programs. The Collective is committed to paying forward the knowledge and experience we gain for the overall good of authors and industry professionals because together, we accomplish far more than apart.”
I attended the RWA sponsored Desert Dreams Conference in late April of this year and met Kelli McCracken there at a little “after hours” party sponsored by Taylor Lee, fellow author and member of RWA Desert Rose Chapter. We started talking about our books and the ghost in Chaparral Suites, the hotel where the conference was held, and then she told me about IBC. Since I already knew and very much liked Amber Scott, another author who was also involved with IBC, I told Kelli I’d take one of the brochures and look it over with a view to doing “something” for the organization.
I joined IBC in May, but didn’t really get my feet wet until July when I did my first volunteer book review for YourNeedToRead, an affiliate of IBC. Then, I did a second review, which just recently posted to the site. I have yet to take advantage of any of the “perks” offered to volunteers, such as attending the online classes free. But, because I’m a staff member of IBC, I have actually had a very recent experience that I consider a “perk” even though it wasn’t offered through IBC but rather, through another staff member of IBC, George Sirois, Top 50 bestselling Kindle author of Excelsior.
On July 10, 2012, George sent out a group email to IBC Staff Members saying he had an idea for a challenge. I had just finished self-publishing my first novel, Ether Man, on Kindle, and since I wasn’t quite ready to go back to work on my second novel, I was up for his challenge, originally called “6 Days to Amazon”. The idea was to write a short story, edit it, get a cover done for it, and have it ready to launch for free on Kindle within 6 days, August 1-6, 2010. I posted on his site that I was “in” and sent him my email address, then waited to hear from him as the days passed and the challenge loomed closer.
On July 30, we who took on the challenge were reminded by George to keep an open mind, and basically to get ready to rumble.
On August 1, as pondered what in the heck I was going to write about—I still hadn’t come up with anything and here it was Day 1—I was digging in my jewelry box and came across my great aunt’s ring that had been passed on to me when my aunt died, and something clicked. I had the name for my story, Aunt Lottie’s Ring. (Yes, my great aunt was Lottie, and yes that’s really her ring on the cover.) I also “borrowed” a few other things from fact for this story, such as the descriptions of clothing, cars, buildings and euphemisms of the Roaring Twenties which I looked up online.
But a title was basically all I had, so instead, I spent my time Day 1 creating a title page, author page, and “also by” pages.
I’ve always been a “fly by the seat of my pants” kind of writer—I get an idea and just go with it, spinning my tales as I go along, listening to the guidance of all of my nine plus muses, but this was really hanging out on the breeze, since I didn’t even have the basic concept yet! Still, they’ve rarely ever let me down, and I trusted them to come up with something…
I had the first the glimmer of what my story would be about when I wrote about the old aunt who dies at the age of 120 (my aunt Lottie was also very long-lived, but not that long; she died at 96), and the great-great niece who survived her. The niece goes to view her aunt and sees a heretofore never worn engagement ring on her finger. I knew then that the niece, still single, would feel compelled to place the ring on her own finger and that something strange and scary would happen as a result. I just didn’t know what.
Day 2 (Friday, August 2): I attended the film fest screening of stage actor and friend, John C. Brown. He produced a documentary about the life’s work of Irving Benson, “The Last First Comic”. The screening was at the Yavapai College in Prescott, AZ, and I went with another mutual friend because John, who lives in CA, and who I hadn’t seen in over two years, was going to be there. I knew this would be a “blow off” day, but, as it turned out, it really wasn’t. When I finally got back home that night, I emailed George that I had done the groundwork, written one page, and had the concept down fairly pat in my head. Not 100% true, but I knew the muses would come through with the “rest of the story”, as radio personality Paul Harvey used to say.
Day 3: Another supposed “blow off" day. I watched the academy award-winning movie “The Artist”, at a friend’s house, swam in her pool, and had dinner there.
Day 4 (Sunday): The images I had roiling around in my brain—all the vaudeville and burlesque shows of Irving Benson’s (the first last comic’s) early days; the silent film images of “The Artist”; picturing my Aunt Lottie young and newly married in the 1920’s and also remembering how incredibly young she still was at 96 when she died—coalesced and combined to present me with terrific elements for “Aunt Lottie’s Ring.” And I was off and running until… I cooked dinner that night on my little old electric stove. I had dished up the meal and had moved pots and pans off burners to cool. Then I saw a piece of potato that had fallen into one of the burner plates, and without thought, I lifted the burner to take it out. The still very hot electric coils hadn’t yet begun to cool down. After I let out a scream that could be heard throughout my apartment building, I grabbed ice and stuck it to my thumb (which was fortunately the only appendage I’d lifted the burner with). Still the burn was deep, and I had to keep ice on it all the rest of that night until I went to bed. Every time I took the ice off even for a minute or two it would burn like fire all over again.
Day 5: Despite all the icing, the thumb still blistered and still needed yet more icing the next day. I posted that I hoped to finish the challenge, and I prayed that I could, but I couldn’t do another thing on the story that day. I type with all my fingers, and the thumb was still too sore for that.
Day 6: I worked like a fiend to finish the story now that my thumb was semi-operational. I stopped only to enlist the help of my neighbor downstairs because I needed a ring box in which to position the ring for the cover I had in mind, and to take pictures and design the cover. I finished the story at exactly 11:51 PM, and crossed the finish line by emailing it to George on the stroke of midnight. Whew!
It was a wild ride, but it wasn’t over with yet. Though I had completed the story on time, I still had to await George’s approval on the formatting and the seal that he would add to the cover. I have to commend him. Even though he himself didn’t finish the challenge, he was a great source of moral support to the three of us ladies who did. He was very kind and helpful; always commending us, putting the stories into correct format for eBooks himself, designing the winner’s seal and then, when I decided I’d rather have it in gold than white so it would show up better against the ring box, he changed that, too. Not only these things, but he informed us, as soon as he was aware of it, that there was a glitch with putting our stories up on Amazon for free, we’d have to use Smashwords, and the challenge would have to be renamed. (I can’t help it; I have to take credit for it—the change to “6 Days to e-Launch” was my idea. And George was man enough to admit my rename was better than what he’d come up with.) Then he wrote a story-specific preface for each one of us. What a guy! I’ve never met him in person, but I already feel that I’ve made a wonderful new friend.
Still the very worst challenge was yet to come—uploading my story to Smashwords. It was a very involved process, and when I got to the area in which to choose the category my story fit into, the “working” icon hung up and wouldn’t let me proceed to the next step. It went around and around for over an hour, during which time, I impatiently bypassed it and filled in the rest of the form, uploaded my cover and story and hit “publish” hoping it would go through. It did, but I got the message that I hadn’t chosen my categories correctly, so I went through the process all over again, and this time, I stopped to really read through the terms. Good thing I did! It was then that I discovered (or so I thought at the time) that the “promo” pages I’d inserted at the end of the story (with the exception of my “About the Author” page) would have to go, AND I would have to tweak that “Author” page to meet the conditions set by Smashwords. Frustrating! I had hoped that I could use my little free story to promote my other works that aren’t free. However, Smashwords did allow putting links to your social media and your website up on your bio page, so there was some promotion, after all.
THEN I discovered that I had inadvertently published “Aunt Lottie’s Ring” twice, a glitch I resolved correctly by unpublishing the version I hadn’t yet gone through the process of assigning an ISBN to. Another whew! But, all was finally done and the story was available free until I decided to give it a price. George recommended a month’s time. As of August 16, it had only been up on Smashwords for two days, and it had already been downloaded a total of 71 times and added to 10 personal libraries.
I've since discovered, while reading through Mark Coker's Style Guide (he's the founder and president of Smashwords) that the stuff I'd originally put in for promotional reasons, and then took out, could stay in. It was really confusing. I highly recommend reading ALL of the free Style Guide Mark offers to those publishing via Smashwords BEFORE publishing. So, back went all that stuff. And a Table of Contents done Mark's way. I've republished the short story several times since the first time to get it to meet all the qualifications needed for all the e-retailers Smashwords deals with. It's finally reached Premium Status (8-23-12) and will be available on all those platforms in about a week, so I've priced it now, too.
What an awesome experience, as I’m sure my co-winners, Brandy Banks and Linze Brandon will also attest.
Here are the links to their stories:
Hunger by Linze Brandon: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/213647
Fairytale by Brandi Banks: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/213586
And here’s the link to George Sirois’s site: http://www.georgesirois.com/