Delilah S. Dawson: 25 Things I Learned About Becoming a Hybrid Mathematician/Porn Star, aka An Indie Author

One of the more popular posts here is a post by author and bludbunny-wrangler, Delilah S. Dawson, who describes 25 Steps To Becoming A Traditionally Published Author. Delilah has recently taken to becoming a “hybrid” author, which means her genes have been spliced with a slurry of DNA from Charles Bukowski, Chaucer, and at least four spam-bots, all named “Mary.” As such, she wanted a venue in which to offer up 25 thoughts on her troubling genetic transition, and at this point I’ll pretty much post anything Delilah sends me. It could just be a post of muddy handprints and I’d probably just click ‘publish.’ So, here she is.

* * *

Have you heard of Ava Lovelace and her mind-blowing geekrotica short, THE LUMBERFOX?

No? Well, nobody has. Yet. But they will. She’s only two days old, but that girl’s going places.

Ava is my version of Beyonce’s Sasha Fierce.

I’ve been playing by all the rules up until now. Agent? Check. Books with Big Five publishers in NYC? Check, and I hit my deadlines and send thank you notes, too. But then I got this wild hare. I wanted to write something short, sweet, sexy, and… weird. About geeks. About the Hothlanta snow storm. About the code word being Wookiee and non-awkward consent and safe sex and absolutely no seven-foot-tall immortal vampires in leather pants. And so I lugged out my Frankenstein machine, plugged in a hair doll, waited for lightning, and met my alter ego, one Ava Lovelace. The name was inspired by Ada Lovelace, famous writer and mathematician… and Linda Lovelace, porn star. Put them together, and you have my first foray into being a hybrid author.

And now, less than forty-eight hours after clicking PUBLISH, I’m here to tell you what I’ve learned and why you might want to start making your own hair doll with a weird name.

1. Going indie is like stage diving naked.

Jumping off the stage is scary because it’s basically a small cliff. But it still takes a major shift of thought to change your path and try something new, challenging, and possibly disastrous, especially when you’re not sure if you’re going to fall flat and break something. No matter how much evidence I’ve seen that being a hybrid author is the way to go (ahem, Chuck Wendig), it still took me a long time to decide how and when and why to venture into the self-publishing/indie world.

2. Deciding to write under a pseudonym is liberating. Like those cheese-shaped sex cushions.

Was that story a major flop? Was there a typo on page 42? Are the reviews scathing? Who cares? The author doesn’t exist. You can erase or change or murder your pseudonym whenever you want to, and you dont even need a bucket full of bleach.

3. But figuring out your pseudonym is harder than naming your children. Unless you named your children Apple.

If it hits big, you don’t want to be at conferences with a name tag that says Alotta Buttsex. You want to choose something different that stands out and has memory value—but not the bad kind of memory value. You want it to be pronounceable, spellable, and communicate that brand. It can’t sound too much like an existing writer, real or made up. In short, John “Alotta Buttsex” Smith, you’ve got a lot of thinking to do.

4. Being the one in control is giddifying.

When I write for traditional publishing, there are dozens of rules, both unspoken and clearly delineated, that must be followed. Readers of certain genres expect certain things, whether it’s book length, point of view, language usage, book structure, or a certain pattern of timing and behavior for romance characters. But when you’re self-publishing, you have more opportunity to experiment and fiddle with the expected. You can do anything. ANYTHING, I SAY. *holds up hands, Force lightning crackles*

5. But reining yourself in can be hard. Right, Emperor Palpatine?

Don’t let the power drive you mad. Get as weird as you want. Sometimes, weird is great, especially if you cashed in on that brief, beautiful period of Yetirotica. But you still have to consider that your readers also read traditionally published works and will bring the same expectations to your work. In short, just because you can do anything doesn’t mean you should. You want your readers to be satisfied. And you always want to have advisors or beta readers you trust to let you know when you’ve gone from reasonable Chancellor to maniacal (and not in the fun way) Sith Lord.

6. You’ll probably be fine if you work in Word. TO YOUR MOTHER.

I started off writing in Open Office as I usually do, with one inch margins all around, .5 first line indents, and double spacing. And the good news is that so long as I saved my story as a .doc, it was super easy to upload for Amazon Kindle. The guidelines for good formatting are likewise familiar and include using manual page breaks and avoiding tabs and hard returns, just like you do for agents and editors in traditional publishing. You do need to remove any headers, footers, nargles, or page numbering, though. Or else… KABLOOEY. Your laptop will EXPLODE. No, not literally. But your head will feel like it did.

7. But getting it into ePub form can be challenging, if you’re an ePub virgin.

Formatting for the very first time? I was. I googled something like “turn a doc into an epub” and got a bajillion hits promising it only took 3 easy steps. Yay! Those steps went like this:

1.Write a book!

2. Save it in Word!

3. LEARN HTML AND BUILD A COMPUTER FROM SCRATCH AND REWRITE THE ENTIRE PROGRAMMING OF THE MATRIX IN CUNEIFORM.

8. Luckily, if you have friends, one of them already knows how to program that Matrix.

I slightly freaked out, then did what I always do: crowdsource it on Twitter. My fantastical pal Adam came to my rescue and kindly turned my .doc into a .epub in the amount of time it took me to put my kids to bed. Thank you, Adam! Next time, if you could also put my kids to bed, that would be great.

9. You must choose a book delivery system. The cupcake cannon is not an option.

First of all, do you want to sell your soul to Amazon and try Kindle Direct Publishing, which gives you certain advantages to the Amazon rankings that now rule our lives? Or do you want to flick off the UberCo and make your story available for readers who prefer Nook, Kobo, or other e-readers? Smashwords? Lulu? Createspace? Smashspaceloops? GOOD LORD I CAN’T KEEP UP. Do you want your book to be free, sharable, lendable, or edible? Will you trust reviewers with a PDF or do you want to gift them a copy to help your sales but lose 75 cents from your pocket? For my first foray, I decided to go with the absolute easiest thing, which for me, meant Amazon KDP. But I’m happy to send an epub or PDF to friends and reviewers who can’t read it in other forms if they’ll consider leaving a review somewhere online. Or shooting me with a cupcake cannon.

10. And then we get to the legal part, and HEADSPLODE.

There’s a lot of virtual paperwork involved in getting your e-book out the e-door. DRM management, taxes, rights, tagging, bylines, blurbs, and entering information on how you wish to be paid your minor ducats. I had to google several tax terms that weren’t familiar. I now desperately hope I haven’t perjured myself accidentally. I don’t want to go to jail for naming a vibrator Han Solo.

11. Waiting for Amazon to approve your baby is freaky deaky.

They say it can take up to forty-eight hours for your story to get approved for KDP, but mine only took about two hours. Yeah, I totally stared at it, watching it waffle between PUBLISHING and UNDER REVIEW and MORE PUBLISHING and WE’RE NOT SO SURE and DID YOU PERJURE BECAUSE LAWYERS and SHE DID WHAT WITH HAN SOLO and WAIT WHAT I WAS GETTING COFFEE. If your book is longer/pudgier than my 42-page baby, it might take longer.

12. And then, when it’s finally up on Amazon, things get REALLY FREAKY.

Because OMG! You’re now SELF-PUBLISHED! You are a HYBRID AUTHOR! You are INDIE, BABY. You are VENOMOUS. You now take SPECIALIZED GAS and MUST BE PLUGGED IN OVERNIGHT TO RECHARGE.

13. And guess what? The money does not automatically fall from the sky like dead birds.

There’s this weird assumption that the second you self-publish, people notice your book and buy it. That it appears on some haloed shelf like the last Tickle Me Elmo, and the rabid readers fall on it like hungry sharks in an Elmo chumbath. HA HA HA YEAH NO.

14. But you do get to see sales lazily float down in real time. More like a dead butterfly?

Even if your traditional publisher is on the ball, it’s almost impossible for them to track sales. They’re always a month late, they only include these sales or that sales, they’re incomplete, they don’t include pesky things like ruined books or returned books. You often don’t know how many books you sold in a year until after the next year, when it’s too late to do anything about it. But with self-publishing, you can track that shit by the hour. THE HOUR. And it’s awesome.

14. And being able to track your sales by the hour is MADDENING.

I sold 30 books in the first five minutes, then none for two hours, then ten books, then two were returned, then WHY DOESN’T ANYONE LOVE ME WHAT IS WRONG WITH TUESDAY WHY GOD WHY? Knowing exactly when you’re making sales isn’t always a gift. Authors are already one toe into bag-of-cats crazy, and knowing that you can spend all day tracking sales or watching your Amazon rank fluctuate is like putting you in a room with a mosquito that you can hear but not find and kill.

15. Because suddenly, it’s up to you. You’re the only person who can sell your books. YOU ARE THE ONLY PERSON WHO LOVES YOU.

When you’re published by an established press, big or small, you know that you have an entire team of people whose livelihoods depend on helping you sell your book. Your agent, your editor, the marketing team, the booksellers. They all need to sell books, and if you’ve gotten far enough to have a book for them to sell, they’re doing the best they can on your behalf. But when you self-publish, you’re the only one with that responsibility. You are the writer, the editor, the marker, the bookseller. And you have to hustle. Because if your book doesn’t sell, there’s only one person you can blame, buttercup.

16. And here is the unpleasant truth as learned in a few short hours by someone who should know better: self-publishing is just as hard as traditional publishing.

It might be fun, it might be exciting, it might be empowering, it might be the ticket to all your wildest dreams come true… but it’s still work. More control means MORE WORK. The ability to see sales happening or flagging means MORE WORK. Finding typos or responding to constructive feedback TAKES WORK. Living with yourself as you don’t see the immediate success you’d hoped for MEANS MORE WORK. Just like querying, you keep putting in the work. And if that means writing the next book, as it so often does, then KEEP WORKING. AND TWERKING.

17. But you have an army of friends. Or frenemies. Right?

At least, that’s the idea. Your Twitter followers, your Facebook friends, your tumblr followers, your blog followers, your mom, all those people from high school who will hopefully spend a few bucks just to see if you’re shit or *the* shit. These people are out there, and they will hopefully help you by retweeting a link or sharing a review or just telling everyone else to buy it to see the class clown use the C word in public.

18. But don’t forget that your army of friends doesn’t translate into an army of booksellers. Unless you’ve been cloning booksellers in your spare time.

Here’s the weird thing about social media: just because people like you doesn’t mean they’ll like your books. If every person who followed me on Twitter bought one of my books today, I’d be a New York Times Bestseller. But that’s not how it happens. If you have 2000 followers, there’s no way they will ALL see your tweet. Even if they did, they wouldn’t ALL buy your book. If you tweet a link 5 times a day, they still might not see it. And the ones who do see it might think you’re annoying for tweeting the same link 5 times. There is no surefire way to use your platform to sell books, no matter how much people like you. And there’s no formula for turning personality into sales.

19. Still, people like to help. They want to be asked. THEY WANT YOU TO WANT THEM.

Here’s where reciprocity, generosity, and being a good social media friend can pay off. If you’re not a dick and you try to amplify the posts and links of others, they will hopefully be amenable to helping you. If you ask nicely that your friends and relatives on Facebook share your book link, they hopefully will. If you’re like me, it can be hard to ask for help. You’d like to think that people would just instinctually know that you want them to share your link. But dammit, they want to be asked. And then they want to be thanked. And then they get a seratonin hit and feel good for a little while, just like a lab rat with a heroin machine.

Good: (via FB status update) I’m super excited to present my new geekrotica short story, THE LUMBERFOX, which is only $0.99 on Amazon. I hope you’ll consider buying and reviewing it and maybe sharing it with your friends.

Bad: (via DM or PM) Hi, person I just met. I liked your FB business page. Please like my page and buy my book and RT and autofollow and if you think your editor would like it, send me their number!!!!!)

20. Giving away free self-published books can help. No, not to hobos.

When you’re traditionally published, free books are a pain in the ass. You either have to mail them yourself, which costs you (1) book and $3 in postage and (1) horrible trip to the post office, or you spend $5 to $7 on an e-book priced by the publisher. It’s a whole lot easier if your publisher gives the books away or if people just go buy the damn thing. But if you’re self-published, you own the rights, and you can get the benefit of giving your book to people for free in hopes that they’ll leave a review or rating, which is the most powerful way to encourage sales online. It’s all about trust and word of mouth, and a free book inspires both. Plus, it doesn’t cost you anything, because you own it. I love giving people free things. AVA LOVELACE WANTS TO GIVE YOU FREE SEX.

21. Seeing good reviews or kind words about your self-published work is ridonk satisfying.

Even if you paid a cover artist and editor (like I did), there’s still a good chance that you had more control over your product, which means that you can claim more acknowledgment for a job well done. It’s like the difference between putting together an Ikea dresser vs. chopping down the tree and building the dresser from scratch with a saw and nails. You made both of them, but you made one… a little more.

22. Having more say in your cover is as exhilarating as a tampon commercial on the beach.

I have very little input on the covers for my traditionally published books. From the concept to the finished product, from the cover copy to the series names, I basically had final say and little else, and I mostly trust my teams to do what they do best. But for THE LUMBERFOX, I had total control of the title, series title, cover copy, and cover image. I told my artist what I wanted, she gave me a range of options and links to hunt for a stock photo I liked better. When the first volley came back with a  font I didn’t dig, I requested a new one—and got it in five minutes. And because the cover wasn’t a hugely expensive thing like they are in NYC, I know that if I ever decide to try a different cover, it’ll be a reasonable expense. Having a not so fresh day? NO MORE. *throws boxes of cotton ponies*

23. Fate is fickle, and Ava Lovelace might not have the chops. 

Everything I read says that self-publishing success does not happen overnight. That sales will go up and down, and authors will tweak their covers and blurbs to attract new readers. Word of mouth takes time, and most writers report that nothing sells self-pub work like a back catalog or a free book on Amazon, which I don’t have yet. Twenty-four hours of hybridization does not a sensation make. In traditional publishing, the first week of sales are utterly crucial to spreading excitement, hitting lists, getting publicity, and telling the publisher that this writer is a hot commodity. But in self-pub, you never know how your work will sell over time. The best you can do is start working on your next story while doing all the other things you have to do. Or that’s what I’ve read. I DON’T KNOW YET BECAUSE I’M ONLY 2 DAYS OLD.

24. But there’s hope! Endless possibility! More tales to tell! MORE FOXES!

Like anything new, self-publishing for the first time can be scary. But once you’ve done it and lived to tell the tale on Chuck’s blog, you suddenly realize that it’s just one more string in your spider web, one more arm stretched out toward hope. You have infinite stories and very few rules, and you can feel free to write and play and publish and unpublish and tweak and change it up as much as you want while continuing the other aspects of your career. The part of you that says BUT I CAN’T suddenly says BUT MAYBE I CAN BECAUSE WHY NOT THIS IS FUN.

*throws laptop on the floor*

ANOTHER!

25. Overall, what did I learn?

That that Ava Lovelace chick has a hell of a good time.

* * *

You can check out Deli… er, Ava’s book, The Lumberfox, here.

Delilah also has a lovely new website at: Whimsydark.com.

29 comments

  • This blog post = The Entire Tucson Festival Of Books. Give Delilah a mic and a loudspeaker, a crowd of 120,000+ and we’re done. (Oh yeah, and put all of her books on Spritz so everyone can read her entire library for fast.)

  • You sold 30 books in the first hour! Wow! That’s more than I sold in my first year. Wait. Should I admit that? Damn. Smacks forehead on desk and goes back to editing.

  • There’s definitely an advantage to being hybrid vs being strictly one or the other. You have the benefit of name recognition (even if you are pointing followers to a pseudonym) and a lot of the connections in place to make things of high quality. Everything you said was entirely true, and many of your points were are the reasons I tend to lean in the direction of indie-publishing.

  • Your book might not be edible, but your hero certainly is. Rawr.

    (Seriously, go buy this book, people! It will warm the cockles of your little geeky heart. And other body parts. Did I mention “rawr”?)

  • Great post, though I do wish you had waited more than a couple of days to come out of the closet, so to speak. I would have been interested in seeing more about that first week, or even month, as a pseudonymous self-published author. ^_^

    • Oh, I’m sure I’ll update on that topic, as time passes. But I thought it was important to record initial responses, as it seems fairly common for indie authors to wait until much later to start talking about their experiences– when they’ve already seen success or given up. Hindsight is great, but a fresh and immediate perspective on challenges, fears, and hopefulness is something I had a hard time finding while doing my own research.

  • Just a note that selling your books at Amazon does *not* mean you have to be exclusive. KDP allows you to sell your books at any other retailers as well as Amazon. The exclusive program is called KDP Select, and you have to choose to opt in to it. Lots of indies don’t. ;)

  • Now that was funny. I seriously enjoyed that. Love your voice. :-( I wish I had a voice like that. I know! I can steal it! *smiles and rubs hands together* HE HE HE.

    COME HERE DELILAH. i JUST WANT TO TALK. ;-)

  • God, what IS wrong with Tuesday?

    Also, the taxes are a terrifying reason for me to not self publish. I’m not mathematically savvy, and like a good American, I’m wary of/angry at the Taxman. Oh yes, and my adeptitude at visual art is that of a 5 year old, and plain black book covers apparently only sell well to sociopaths like me, so I’d be screwed there as well.

  • Go, Lisa! You can do it! I mean, if you can hand-crochet a bludbunny, you can do anything. :)
    And we had to get a real accountant when I started writing. He’s 1000x better than H&R Block, too. Of course, my H&R guy called himself Ol’ Petey and typed with his pinkies, so…

  • Great post. While I don’t normally read erotica you and the reviews made it sound so intriguing I’m giving it a try. Hmm should I admit that publicly? Again great post & may you have much fun as well as success as a hybrid author. :D

  • Having invented the term hybrid author in 2011, nice to see everyone jumping on board and offering their expertise. The system is evolving and changing and this year will see more change than ever. I’ve predicted it’s going to be a bloodbath and its only just begun.

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