This is the first in a planned series of three novels, each a standalone but interweaving throughout each other as Arabus the Undead spends endless time learning control and seeking acceptance. His adventures here are tied together by a narrator in present time who at first wonders why she was the one to find and translate his tales.Come for the horror, stay for the love. Like a little romance and horror with your history?
Why did you decide to self-publish? Did you have any doubts?
I used to run a writers group in Green Bay, back between 2011 and 2013, while I was going through a bit of a slump thanks to a job working at a museum taking so much of my time. After I left the museum I picked up one of my life goals of compiling a master database of pre-contact copper artifacts, something no one else has even attempted. So I blame that for my slump. My two authorized Bonanza novels had been published in 2005 and 2009 by Write Words, Inc., who called herself a traditional publisher because she paid an advance of the price of a single print copy. (When she retired, I put up new editions at Amazon.)
Anyway, the focus of my group was that we needed to help each other hone our work and get it submitted to publishers. It was here that I first heard the words, “If I don’t get an agent, I’ll have to self-publish.” I was horrified. And I’ve been reacting that way to those words ever since.
There are plenty of publishers who don’t require agents. The group gradually devolved, against all my suggestions, to turn to self-publishing, in part made easier by Amazon.
At this time, too, I was working with an author in Africa who wanted his books edited by someone into good English for the American market. That was a horror story I will never repeat. I was not surprised to find that one day he took the book, put someone else’s name on it as editor, and had it published at Amazon. I found it because I was still submitting the book, and curious over his silence. He hadn’t even bothered to change the title. Of course I went to Amazon because I kept all the proof that I was the one that worked with him. After harsh words with him and his fake editor, the book was self-published there appropriately. That was my first self-published novel and I told him, this isn’t the way to go. But he was too impatient. The book, Dancing with Cannibals, does not sell well, but at least it looks more professional, and reflects the seven years I spent with him.
When I left my writers group in 2013 I was still determined never to self-publish, so you can see how I had that first experience forced on me. And I still believe that every author needs to go through the submission process before deciding to self-publish.
I know there are other self-publishing routes than Amazon. But that’s the one that works for me. I have quite a long history with Amazon, having been a Vine reviewer then, and they’ve always treated me well.
What did you like best?
The best thing about self-publishing is, when you catch an error, it doesn’t take so long to fix it! You can also change the price at any time. I had Grimm American Macabre published by All Things That Matter Press (awful publisher) and the cover of the anthology turned out too dark. I asked them, can’t you fix that? And they said no. And then before I knew it, it was better. That kind of ugly control that publishers hold is not healthy for your work.
Another publisher, Solstice, gave me NO control over the cover of Adventures in Death & Romance: Vrykolakas Tales. I didn’t get to approve it. They just said, “here it is.” And I felt obligated, since this was in 2016 and my first contracted novel since 2009, to say “oh cool.” Until the day I saw the exact same cover on another book! That’s when I realized it wasn’t created for mine. So I had my son Adam (who does most of my covers now, not the copper ones, though) add a rose in the hand that is jutting out of the grave toward the sun. At least it would set the covers apart. And to their credit, they agreed to use it. After three years I let that contract lapse, decided to go back to the title, Journal of an Undead: Love Stories to further develop the trilogy. I felt it had been woefully misplaced as a paranormal romance, when it’s so much more.
So being in charge of all elements when you self-publish is great. All Things That Matter Press took a second book, Saving Boone, without even reading it all, saying they could tell it was properly formatted and spell-checked and all. Then they proceeded to tear the book apart, and put the worst cover on it that I ever seen. (I suppose it’s because I gave one of the publisher’s books three stars.) I was going to use the novel to join Western Writers of America, but I couldn’t, not with it looking like that. Eventually I forced them to cancel the contract because they also messed up the title of the novel per contract. When they canceled that one, they canceled Grimm, and good riddance.
But there I was, stuck with three formerly published novels that would have a hard time finding a publisher. What to do? Self-publish, of course. And the covers Adam created look great.
Another good thing is immediacy. After the pandemic hit, I found myself home with lots of time, as my tax office closed. I (like many) was abhorrent by the politics of the pandemic during an election year, so I created a book (actually started it in 2019) and got From Lincoln to Trump published by July 2020 on Amazon because I wanted it out before the elections. It would not have found a publisher to get it out in time, as it generally takes them up to 18 months to publish a book. I’m now prepping it for third and last edition.
I queried out as many as 200 times to find a publisher for Civil War & Bloody Peace, but the traditional presses told me to check with the university presses, and the universities told me to check with the trads. This was a 20-year project that took me through both my BA and MA in history and all around the country doing primary research. I wasn’t about to just discard all of that. So I self-published it. I had to do a lot of work getting photo permissions but then, I’d done a lot of that for a publisher who agreed to take it on back in 2014; they then saw it as too much work and threw it back.
For my first copper resource manual, I found several publishers who would take it. But I wouldn’t see any royalties from them, because these were academic publishers. And I’m not academic. My daughter is a professor and has to publish for her credentials. I’m not; I publish to get good, solid work out there, and I have a lot of expenses in doing so, so I better try to make some money at it.
The best thing about Amazon is that they pay royalties every month, like clockwork, and sometimes more than I expected. Never less. It’s easy to keep track of what sells and when, so you can see when a marketing approach works, and when you’re wasting your time.
What was the hardest part?
Formatting is not a lot of fun, but once I learned how to use the templates, I never went back to trying it on my own. It’s also difficult knowing what size book to use, what kind of paper, to bleed or not to bleed on the page (I never bleed). For a while I went to 7x10 for the novels because people complained about the size of the print but I’m back to 6x9 again. I use 1.5 line spacing because that makes it easier to read, though some pros would say that looks amateur. To them, maybe.
But yeah, being in charge IS hard, too. If you don’t have access to a graphics artist, like I do, it can be pricey. If you don’t feel comfortable with your editing skills, your product is going to get that stigma we all hear about with being “self-published.” For example, I had been asked a number of times, especially back when I was a Vine reviewer, to review someone’s self-published book. And I tried, honestly, but I couldn’t get past the first page in most cases of any self-published book I sampled or agreed to take on.
Again, I implore writers to go through the submissions process, to not be in a hurry to publish. To get feedback to determine how ready their books are to be published. I edited novels for several writers and in all these instances I told them this draft wasn’t ready for a professional edit. If you’re so sick of your book that you’re handing it off to an editor you then pay to fix it, are you sure you want to be a writer? With my first novel, “Felling of the Sons,” I was happily editing it for the 40th time and still loving it. That’s the relationship you need with your book. Without that, don’t bother readers with it.
The worst thing about self-publishing is the stigma attached to it. “Oh, so no publisher liked your book enough so you had to self-publish. Well, why should I read it?” That might be more in my head than anything. But it’s there, anyway.
Would you do it again?
I honestly have no choice anymore. With 11 self-published books, it feels like there’s not a publisher in the world anymore who’ll take me on. Journal of an Undead has two more in the series that have not been published. One of them I will put up the end of the year myself if I don’t find someone. It doesn’t help that Journal of an Undead: Love Stories isn’t selling. Good cover or no, or all the times I’ve put it out there on social media. Some have read its first incarnation and aren’t willing to give it another go, though it is a better edit than the previous one was. Would you believe Solstice gave it an editor who told me he doesn’t like to read this kind of material? Aghast!
But all my copper books will be published by me, at Amazon, so I can keep the style the same for each. Third edition From Lincoln to Trump is the easy just to put it up there. I’m working currently on Grimms American Fairy Tales, which will have some new material, some old removed, and all contributors will have their stories bought outright, with the stipulation of more money should sales take off. My son did a fantastic take on a new, more whimsical, cover, too.
But that doesn’t mean I’ll stop submitting to publishers. I just put out two queries on Grimm this week to publishers who might take on a project like this. And if they ask, why are you writing this? I’ll say it’s because I’m a Grimm. It was my grandmother’s maiden name. I even put some of the history of Grimms, Wisconsin, where my dad was raised, in the preface, making connections to Germany and the original Grimms Brothers.
But I won’t stop submitting to publishers in favor of self-publishing. It’s that stigma thing. I want to think I’m creating something someone else will want to help me with. I know publishers take the cream share of the royalties. I know that. Solstice paid me 71 cents per book, while I can make up to $2 at Amazon per sale (Amazon does keep a portion, but you publish there for free). And I know that most of these small presses don’t do much for you. But as a Bonanza novelist, I know how important that support system is, rather than going it alone.
Along with the two Journal novels, I have a historical thriller set in 1968, a modern day murder mystery set in the world of archaeology, an erotic fantasy, and all going through submissions. I have a new nonfiction that I hope will find a publisher, but it’s a pop culture historical that has probably limited potential in that respect.
So yeah, I am doing it again, and it does get easier. If my writing group could see me now, with only self-published books, they’d laugh their heads off, without realizing I am doing exactly what I told them to do.
What advice do you have for authors just starting?
As I mentioned, take your time! Be patient with the process. Very very few writers can come up with a great book in one or two drafts. Very few writers can write a great book without some kind of planning behind it. One gal in our group finally gave up on her book, written without a plan, because it “bored her.” Your idea needs a reason for its life, a reason for you, and readers, to spend time with it. It’s up to you to find it. You should find it before you start writing it.
Don’t waste your time trying to find an agent right off the top. Get one novel published, preferably by a small press, and help it to sell well. Then try to find an agent for your second. That’s really the best plan. I got my agent for my Bonanza novels without even trying. And she was unable to do anything for it. Getting an agent is never a guarantee.
And never ever go into this thinking you’re going to make a million. Fifty Shades of Gray was a fluke. Don’t we all wish we could write a fluke? Longevity means you write well consistently. I keep writing because I think my next one is going to be so good that readers will then buy up all my previously published. There’s always that hope.
Put a lot of short writing out there. Find a place to blog. Find a place to share snatches. Find a place to get feedback. People have found agents that way, too. I have an active writing group on Twitter. They’re fun to hang with.
Monette Bebow-Reinhard is a lifelong actress; writer/author since 1983. She earend a master's in history in 2006. And she became authorized Bonanza novelist in 1996. She has been traditionally published but currently is only self-published, with 11 books at Amazon. She's also have written stage plays and movie scripts. Lots of on-the-road primary research, traveling solo, have given presentations around the country. She's fond of cats, biking, staying in shape. She's in love with her children and their families.
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