Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Evolution of an Indie Author


1970-ish: How vain would a writer have to be to slap down good money in order to see his work in print? What unscrupulous publisher would take advantage of such self-aggrandizement? Vanity presses, indeed! I eschew the like.
Mid-1980s: As a college student, I concede that certain academics, writing on esoteric topics, could find it beneficial to self-publish in their field. But never fiction!
1990s: Several of the members of our local poetry club have published chapbooks. That’s quaint. Not something I would do, but I see the value, especially for their families and friends.
1992: I begin my first book, a picture-book with quite a bit of text, Up a Rutted Road. When it comes time to submit it, I begin at the top with a major publisher. One of the high-ranking editors likes it and asks if I would be willing to rewrite it as a middle-grade novel. Uh, yes. No self-publishing for me!
1993: The rewrite of URR is finished. I resubmit to the same editor, who eventually responds with a lovely personal note. "Unfortunately, our MG list is full now. We cannot consider another title for a couple years." Though discouragement rears its ugly head, I continue to study fiction writing, but abstain from submitting, waiting for the wound to heal.
Early 2000s: What in the world is going on in publishing? I hear of many writers who, after forfeiting all hope of being pubbed traditionally, now turn to print-on-demand, whatever that is. I’m pretty sure it’s a type of self-publishing. Meanwhile, I continue to study my craft and write occasionally.
2001: I co-founded Southern Indiana Writers' Salon, a group of local writers. A few of us intend to seriously pursue a writing career.
2002: My friends, Ron and Jo E., support my writing. They seem to think I have some talent and want to sponsor the—here it comes—self-publishing, vía POD, of my manuscript. I decline. “If I can’t find a traditional publisher, I’ll go unpubbed. I’m leaving my writing career in God’s hands.” And He would never want me to do such a vain thing. Would He? No. No. Of course . . . not. But is vanity the only thing that drives one to . . . ? Never mind.
2003: Now I can say I’ve met people who have published their own work. As for quality, that varies. Some works are very good. Most could benefit from a careful, critical editing by a pair of knowledgeable, objective eyes.
             I’m sticking to the traditional route. I approach the same editor again, ignorant that that generally is not done. She agrees to take another look. Alas, again she rejects it, saying it needs more conflict.
            At some point around this time, the Lord—always gracious and merciful—leads Ramona K. Cecil to SIWS. We become friends, and she urges me to look into ACFW membership, attend conferences, and beat up my darlings.
Late in the first decade of the 2000s: I’m following Ramona’s advice by attending conferences and having sit-downs with editors, never giving a thought to self-publishing, though I hear more about the issue, especially following the release of Amazon’s Kindle in 2007. (One of our SIWS writers actually brings one to a meeting for us to see. What a fun toy, much like the little Connect Four electronic game I carry in my purse. Nothing to take seriously.)
            At the first major conference I attend (the now-defunct Central Ohio Writers of Literature for Children Conference, Columbus), I present my work to two editors, since I now have two MG manuscripts to pitch. The first editor requests to see the full of Up a Rutted Road. “Your style reminds me of Cynthia Rylant, but for slightly older readers,” she said. Since Rylant’s When I Was Young in the Mountains is one of my favorite picture books, I was pleased by the comparison. Unfortunately, that editor had to take an extended medical leave and never got to read the full. The second editor also requested a full, but her publishing house was bought out, and she moved on, so—you get the picture.
            Self-pubbing is looking better. Just teasing. Sickness and loss of position, those things happen. I will keep praying, keep polishing, keep learning, keep submitting, keep attending conferences, keep on.
2011-12: The ACFW Conference, the main event for Christian writers, is held in Indianapolis! An hour down the road from me! Huzzah! When I receive my schedule, I’m thrilled to see the name of one of my favorite agents, and I get to have a sit-down with her to pitch my second novel, The Second Cellar. She likes it and requests the full. I have to admit it isn’t quite finished. “That’s all right,” she says. “When can you get it to me?” We agree that March would be good timing, after the holidays.
She retired from the agency in December, before she could see it, and none of the other agents handled MG.
            Lord, what are You trying to tell me? I honestly don’t know. What’s next? A battle rages within. I enter into a dark night of the writer’s soul. A shadow seems to hover over my computer. I want to write, but doubt my calling, doubt my ability to put words together cohesively on a page. The enemy tells me I should give up, use my computer to play Spider Solitaire and check Facebook.
2013: Southern Indiana Writers’ Salon lived a good life, lasting for seven years—longer than most writers’ groups—but suffered a tragic demise a few years ago. In 2012, a handful of Writerly Sisters, former SIWS members, began meeting at my writer’s nest each month.
          One of our scribes publishes some of her children’s books using and suggests I consider doing the same. She presents me with my own copy of Publishing E-Books for Dummies and some other resources. They sit gathering dust until—
May 2013: I have an internal debate:
Why do I write?
Because I must. It’s been in my soul since fourth grade. I can’t not write, not for long, anyway.  
What if I never get published traditionally?
That’s possible because publishing is changing.
Do I want to make money with my writing?
Well, that certainly would be nice. But it’s not my priority.
Then what is the true and important thing?
That my work glorifies God. That I write winsomely, pointing readers to Him.
No one is reading my work now. It’s languishing in my computer.
What if I go to all the work of e-pubbing and still no one reads it?
I have grandchildren, my "grandtreasures." They’ll read it. And if they’re the only ones, it’s well worth the effort. Maybe someone else will, also. And perhaps—just perhaps—the right agent or editor will stumble over it and decide it has possibilities. It happens!
But I’m writing middle-grade. Research shows that few middle-grade readers read e-books.

As fast as things change in the world of publishing, that could turn overnight. Up a Rutted Road waiting for them.

I have no plans to e-pub my second MG novel, The Second Cellar, or my third. I’ll leave those decisions to God’s leading. For too long, I held the misconception that members of ACFW eschewed indie books. I've since learned that many of my brother and sister scribes have self-published. I’m sure I’ve read and enjoyed some of their work without knowing it because they took the time to do it right through careful revision and editing and by creating (or paying a professional to design) a professional-quality cover.
This topic came up for lively discussion on our ACFW members loop recently. One writer put it in perspective by reminding us of how blessed we are to have so many options open, considering that in closed and threatened countries, any type of Christ-proclaiming publication is outlawed. Apparently, those who would muzzle Christian writers understand the power in the printed word.
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I would love to hear your thoughts and/or experiences with indie publishing. Please leave a comment.
Write on!
Because of Christ,

Friday, May 24, 2013


CAMIE McCAIN had never met a hermit, not until Claude shows up smack-dab in the middle of Aunt Charlene’s old-timey kitchen. Camie reckons Uncle Glen is the recluse’s only friend. Off and on that summer, she spies Claude in the most unlikely places, but he vanishes before she can catch up to talk to him. Does he really live in a barrel in some lonely holler like the kids at church say? Is he on the run from the law? How come he shies away from folks like a skittish colt?

Camie has the summer of her life and one adventure after another. She tames an ornery rooster, helps put by for winter, learns to swim, and goes to camp meetin' with all the mountain folk.

Then one day tragedy strikes the mountain. Camie blames herself. Angry and afraid, she bolts into the mountains where she gets lost in a thunderstorm, tumbles down an incline, wrenches her ankle, and encounters Claude—this time in an abandoned mine. She tells him of the grief that has come to her family and claims it’s her fault. After all, didn’t she pray all wrong? And didn’t she keep a deadly secret?

Up a Rutted Road is available for your e-reader at and

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Jack's Mama's Loadin' the Wagon!

HUZZAH! Jack's Mama's a-fixin' to be at the Cincinnati Appalachian Festival on Mother's Day. She's all set to tell her far-flung tales about her boy, Jack, 'n' other folks from over home. Take mama to church meetin', then head on out to the doin's. Don't stop fer dinner, 'cause dinner's a-cookin on the grounds.

Some folks says ye can pert nigh hear the screen door creak and taste the ice-cold apple cider when ye hear an Appalachian tale told by Jack's Mama. Jest a plain ol' mountain woman, Jack's Mama has been a favorite of audiences for over a quarter of a century.

More about the Stories Jack's Mama Tells
When this country's first settlers came, many arrived with few possessions. The stories that had been such an integral part of their heritage, however, did survive the perils of sea and land, stored securely in the memories of the people.
Most of the stories that make up Appalachia's oral tradition came from England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Germany, France, and Africa. Once in this country, many of the tales - as well as the people - mingled with the Native Americans who already were here, and had their own stock of stories. The Jack Tales constitute an important cycle in this tradition.

Many of the motifs found in the Appalachian stories are found in literary works such as Beowulf, the Arthurian Legend, Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, Shakespeare's works (including King Lear and The Taming of the Shrew), the Bible, and Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, to name a few.

Despite the origin of the tales, the characters usually became Americanized as they were passed down in this country. For example, Jack, the Appalachian giant-killer, is likable and easy-going (except when it comes to giants), unlike his English counterpart, who is a cocksure, arrogant young hero. Jack, in fact, is Everyman.

Research for this program was funded in part by a Lilly Teacher Creativity Fellowship grant.

With nearly 60 tales from which to draw, Jack's Mama is adaptable to all audiences and ages, as well as a variety of venues, including festivals, schools, libraries, museums, and churches. All of Clifton's shows are family-friendly.