Update on the Rodeo Ride to Get Published

Written by Charli Mills

Charli Mills, a born buckaroo, makes literary art accessible at CarrotRanch.com. She writes about the veteran spouse experience and women forgotten to history.

March 14, 2016

RodeoI have this analogy at Carrot Ranch: That the path to publishing a book is like a rodeo ride. My father, his father and his father were all bull-riders. My father gave it up after high school. I really wanted to ride bulls, coming from a family that did so. I rode training barrels, goats and steers. I never made it to the level of bulls. If I had, all I would have needed was one eight-second ride at a rodeo to prove my merit. I never got the chance.

Now it’s about writing novels. I’ve been a professional writer for more than 20 years, mostly publishing in newspapers, magazines and business publications. But I’ve trained to write novels. It’s a bit like my childhood, comparing my writing experience to that of training with goats and steers when I really want to ride bulls. Every lesser step matters though. It’s how you develop skills and practice your craft.

Also, other life experiences matter.

Parenting teaches you a certain kind of dedication that a job does not — you can always change jobs. Every job teaches you something of value, even if it is the recognition of what you don’t want to do. It can teach you the value of teamwork, negotiation, administrative skills. When you feel stumped about how to ride a bull, think back to what it was like to ride a goat or steer. Back up to what you know and look for connections from your experience to take you down an unknown path.

Publishing is the big dream. Think big. Dream big. Publish. However, it’s not quick and easy.

When I first set out, I was so certain I’d ride the biggest, baddest Brahma bull the rodeo had to offer. I would get published. Turns out, that requires getting an agent and the agent brokers the ride. It’s a long process. In the meantime, I kept writing. With my third WIP, I discovered that genre really does matter when it comes to getting published in the bigger arena. This means I won’t get my chance to ride until I finish revisions on my third. And just because a publisher is interested to read doesn’t mean it will get picked up. I have much anticipation on one ride, but it is a strategy and I’m committed to see it through to success or failure.

Then what?

Well, no one can take from me what I’ve already written. If one ride doesn’t work out, there are plenty more rodeos to aim for. I will most likely consider a new strategy or shop it out to other publishers and agents. Then there is self-publishing.

Self-publishing has remained low on my list of rodeos to consider. To me, it’s like aiming for the county rodeo when I really want to ride at the Nationals. However, it can be a legitimate strategy for authors. Some start with the county rodeo with the intention to get picked up for the national ride. Others enjoy the county rodeo and that’s where they want to be. Many are successful there. It doesn’t matter which rodeo you want, as long as it fits the ride you seek.

While some might think self-publishing is an easy ride, they speak from a lack of experience. It requires a writer to provide more, and to understand book publishing regardless of your entry point. It’s one thing to know how to ride bulls, but do you know what each rodeo requires of you? Self-publishing requires specific skills and planning. It’s more than knowing how to upload a digital file. It requires every step that book publishers take. Thus the author becomes a publisher. It also puts your book into the same market. Thus the author becomes a distributor.

The P-word: planning. Not every author likes the p-word. In fact, a successful author I follow had a hard-truth-response to an author who said they’d self-publish and see what happens. C. Hope Clark, author of several mystery series and the weekly Funds for Writers, responded:

“I have no problem with people writing as a hobby. I encourage it, actually. I have no problem with people publishing as a hobby. I encourage that, too. But . . . when they hint that they do not have the time to do it right . . . when part-time is an excuse for not doing it thoroughly, I just want to get to a microphone someplace and rant!

Of course ranting to anyone is not the way to make them understand. I don’t want someone shaking their finger at me, either. So I try to educate.

I explain:

1) A book not prepared with a professional eye, will not sell.
2) A book not edited hard by people other than the writer, will not sell.
3) A book placed on Amazon with no steady promotion, will not sell.
4) A book published without the author marketing herself, will not sell.

One gentleman threw those words at me, “and see what happens,” and I simply replied, “It won’t sell.” He looked like I’d slapped him.” (Read the full post, “I’ll Throw it Out There and See What Happens.”)

Planning is essential. I love the craft of writing, too; I love creation, to create, to dwell in the hum of creativity. But I want to ride bulls to make the purse. In other words, I want to publish what I write to earn a living. I’m not so ignorant of the state of this profession to not see how difficult that is. In fact, it’s why I equate publishing books to making a rodeo ride. But consider this: I have student loan debt for a writing degree; I worked in the trenches at newspapers, magazines and in marketing departments; I workshopped my craft on my dime each year and invested money in craft-related books. This isn’t a hobby for me. And just as I have nothing against those who do write for a hobby — I know and admire many who are on this  path — I want to help myself and others who are serious to make writing a viable career.

If you do plan, understand it can take years to come to fruition. I wrote a guest post for Rachel Poli about planning and how it’s part of establishing your writer’s platform. You can consider three different plans, all or one. A vision plan is great for all writers. It helps you understand what you want out of writing, an answer only you can give. Once you clearly see your vision, decide if you need a business or marketing plan. If you are having trouble keeping to your plan, adjust it.

Don’t beat yourself up every time you fall off the bull. You will fall off the bull 8,000 times, but you only need one eight-second ride.

You will fail to meet your plans. You will be rejected by others. You will fail to convey your ideas in words. You will experience disappointment. Don’t linger in disappointment (back in the 1850s, it was a common reason for getting committed to an insane asylum). Connect with other writers who are on similar paths. Study the rodeo rides of successful authors and absorb that the ride can be done. Find your voice and use it. Acknowledge your falls, but get back up and try again. You might even want to quit for a while until the itch to ride brings you back to the arena.

The purpose of this post is to give a backstory to posts to come. I’ve been working to define a writer’s platform as what you build from branding, community, credibility and audience. Currently, I’m stuck on audience building. It’s similar to building community, but often harder to make the connection. Community is getting to know your fellow bull riders. But say you had to fill the grandstands with rodeo attendees. Sure, a few bull riders might attend, but most are going to be in the arena with you. So, how do you find people to come watch the show, buy tickets and see your ride? That’s the same question every author has — how do I get people to find my writing, buy my book and read it?

I’m also exploring the world of publishing, specifically self-publishing. Currently the Congress of Rough Writers are collaborating on our first anthology. Sarah Brentyn is riding as Trail Boss; she’s our editor. Volume 1 will include flash fiction from our first year of writing at Carrot Ranch and will introduce several chapters of new work, including essays from our memoirists and longer stories from our featured fiction writers. Sarah Brentyn is also writing a chapter to make this anthology a teaching tool for book clubs, writers groups and classes. Several writers are assisting on teams to guide the processes involved. We plan to self-publish. As Lead Buckaroo, the planning is my task.

What I’m learning is that the marketing channels for traditionally published and self-published books are the same. The difference is what and how distribution is available. Another difference is that as self-publishing, I’m the publisher.

Subsequent posts will explain:

  1. the marketing channels,
  2. the role of authors,
  3. each publishing requirement,
  4. the process of planning,
  5. ideas on pricing,
  6. target-audiences,
  7. how a writer’s platform applies to the anthology.

An anthology is a way to explore at low risk. Each participant is risking little on this ride. If it’s successful, it benefits many. It it fails, it doesn’t take down any one writer’s hard work, like a full novel. If I fail, I learn from it. We can always try again. My hope is that the anthology becomes a practice arena of sorts. We can experiment with self-publishing, pricing, distribution, platform and even craft and content, which are all lessons we can individually apply to our greater individual rides. As a group, we have greater experience and skills to share, too.

Stay in the saddle! Once a week, I’ll post something new from what we are doing, learning or discussing. Feel free to add to discussion in the comments.

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  1. Rachel

    Wow, great post! Great info and good luck with all of this.

    • Charli Mills

      It’s turning into a share-to-learn sort of prospect. I need to work through the information and hopefully it will be useful. 🙂

  2. denmaniacs4

    An excellent post, Charli. Informative, personal, professional.
    My experience with your 4 key point is a follows:

    1) A book not prepared with a professional eye, will not sell.

    I self-published through a firm, Friesen Press. I directed all the key decision points and I think the end product was pleasing to the eye. Except perhaps the cover was a little dark and my name . so tiny on the cover. Modesty overwhelmed me. Content, well, that’s on me.

    2) A book not edited hard by people other than the writer, will not sell.

    My first and only self published novel, was edited professionally once and subsequently edited relatively hard by my eagle-eyed, and much more literate, partner.

    3) A book placed on Amazon with no steady promotion, will not sell.

    I have not embraced the necessary level of promotion needed in the business of selling ones book. A character flaw to be sure.

    4) A book published without the author marketing herself, will not sell.

    Again, as an older, somewhat reclusive writer, I am not that hungry.

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks for sharing your experience in kind! Not everyone wants to sell, and I understand that. I agree with the idea of creating for the experience of creating. There’s also a business end of writing and it’s certainly not for everyone, but I hope to help others understand it if that’s their plan. Writing these posts helps me digest the information I’m trying to understand, too! I’ve heard good things about Friesen Press.

      • denmaniacs4

        My friend, JP McLean, http://www.jpmclean.net/ introduced me to Friesen Press. It was an excellent experience and I was guided along well by patient and responsive staff.

      • Charli Mills

        Thanks for letting me know!

  3. TanGental

    A bit like denmaniac above I’ve embraced the first two issues and rather feebly skated past the second two. For a host or reasons, though laziness isn’t one of them. Mostly it’s time allocation. I have books written that need improving and publishing and more to write. Like everyone it’s priorities. Mine are to get them out there and finished. Then maybe I’ll wonder st giving them more air to breathe. Best of luck with your progress.

    • Charli Mills

      When it is a choice, there’s nothing wrong with that. Some writers just want to get the story out of the head and on the page. Done! But many, like me, want to create more than a story and have some semblance of a career. So we look at the business end of writing differently. As I hope I have stressed before, neither way is right or wrong. Those who want the business but don’t put in the time, are not going to get results. But many simply don’t understand the business and that’s where I hope I can share what I’m learning. I also want the Rough Writers to know that I’m taking the anthology seriously because many have entrusted stories my care and keeping at the ranch. I want something you can all be proud of having participated. I figured blogging about what it takes to publish is better than burying you all with boring emails, anyways! 🙂 Take what works for you, discard the rest.

      • TanGental

        Absolutely I understand your direction, Charli. And how we all go in different directions. Looking forward to the anthology v much.

  4. Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

    A great post Charli and I look forward to following the process closely as it progresses. My research shows exactly what you have stated in the post. The only point that I may add is that if you go with a mainstream publisher you still have to be on hand to market yourself. The publisher (in Australia at least) only gives you a three month window for you book to sell. In that time they will get it to bookshops, do some marketing and press releases but you still have to go around and sell the book at signings in bookshops, writer’s festivals, libraries and as many other venues as you can go to. If in three months the book is not having an impact in the market place it is basically dumped. If it is selling well the publisher will continue to push it. One thing that you should say when trying to get a mainstream publisher is that you are an accomplished public speaker (if you are or are not fearful of doing it) and that you are available for any marketing they wish you to undertake.
    Doing the anthology is a great way for learning. Hopefully marketing will be undertaken worldwide by all the rough riders. Certainly I am hoping a few copies will be sold in Australia.

    • Charli Mills

      Distributors really do own the channels outside direct sales and often direct sales are impossible unless you distribute your own books. It’s not an author-friendly structure! Good point about mentioning other skills that might impact marketing. That’s where a writer’s platform matters too — in order to demonstrate one’s reach to potential readers. I’ll be writing more on this topic in smaller chunks. And the anthology allows for some trial and error without much harm. It’s why I sit on an unpublished manuscript. It’s too big to risk to self-publishing before I have more experience and understanding.

      • Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

        No it certainly isn’t an author friendly pursuit. The anthology is certainly a great way to dip a toe in the water and all knowledge good and bad is worth knowing for the next time anyone tries.

  5. Sacha Black

    Cool, nice to see what stage everything is at, and as always I love the way you weave a story ????????

    • Charli Mills

      Such a learning curve. I feel like yin to your yang! You write about the details of craft and I focus on the details of business. 🙂 Thank you! <3

  6. Annecdotist

    Great post, Charli, and I look forward to the others in the series. There’s lots for all of us to learn about getting books to readers. With your experience, you’re ideally placed to establish your own Rodeo. But for others, don’t forget that there’s a third publishing option between the big traditionals that require an agent to access and self-publishing where you do it all yourself, which is to go with a small independent press. Many of these are run by people who are passionate about good writing and are often ideologically sound – mine functions as a social enterprise giving back to the community – and are great to work with. Here’s my latest guest post on the theme:

    • Charli Mills

      The third publishing option (and somewhat 4th if you separate hybrids) is just as significant, and I completely left out that I spent much of last year pursuing that for the anthology before deciding to go to self-publishing in November. I know exactly what you mean about the level of passion, having befriended several local publishers of small presses. I’ll be writing about one of them in this series. I just didn’t have a way to include it here. Thank you for sharing your latest guest post.

  7. Elliott

    Charli, perhaps you will publish a book about the process of publishing! Just a thought as I was reading this… Great info, encouragement, and insight into one of the awful reasons toward many that we writers craft worlds to break down that monster, boring business. Is it irony that we sometimes bite that hand that could help us achieve our dreams – that we create visions and tales slaying thee giant metaphor every now and then that riles our magic?. I believe you can’t put a price on knowledge. Thank you for sharing so freely. With that I can only remit the same motivation…… Good Luck!! And don’t give up!!

    • Charli Mills

      Funny, but I’ve resisted the idea of publishing any kind of book that sells to writers! 🙂 I see many writers figure out that they can make more money selling writing self-help books than publishing their creative works. Sometimes I feel like a walking contradiction! But truly, I do want to make a living from writing, just a humble roof-over-my-head-beer-in-my-mug kind of living. I love giving back to writers, encouraging the perpetuation of the dream! Thanks. I’m stubborn. I’ll keep at it! 😀

  8. katespencer17

    I love your big dream – and may you find that perfect bull that is ready to have you ride him. You are gifted in that you have the talents and mindsets to be both creative with patience and the fortitude for detail planning and follow-through. Good luck!

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Kate! I will find that perfect bull one day!

  9. lbeth1950

    I am submitting to agents right now. It’s an intimidating process!

    • Charli Mills

      It is intimidating, but I believe we can find the right match or revise what is not working. Let us know how it goes!

  10. Norah

    Great post, Charli. Inspiring, exciting, terrifying. My path is not the same as yours and my hard yards are not the same. I hope I’m not ill-prepared. I never know whether to step up to the mark or bow out, but if I don’t do it soon, the only alternative is never. I’m not prepared to let go. I can think of no suitable publisher for my materials, no other platform. I need to go it alone or not at all.
    I look forward to future posts in the series. I know I will learn a lot. I also look forward to the anthology and the lessons it brings.
    I wish you much success in the path you have chosen. You deserve it.

    • Charli Mills

      The exciting possibility for you, Norah, is that you are filling a gap that is needed or underserved. We prepare best we can and just like having that growth-mindset, we learn from any changes we need to make. Thank you! You deserve success, too! <3

      • Norah

        Thanks, Charli. It will be interesting to see how it goes and whether the gap is real or only in my mind. 🙂

    • Lisa Reiter

      Good luck Norah. The only way to see if you can make it is to have a go. Saddle up your own bucking bronco and see if you can hang on long enough!

      • Norah

        Thank for your encouragement, Lisa. I’m in there for the ride! Wherever it takes me. 🙂

  11. Lisa Reiter

    I love it when you write anything about the writing world Charli. I’m grateful for your candid and human insights into difficulties I might hope to get through one day. It’s all learning. And all sharing adds value even when it’s to yourself for working it out as a story to tell others.
    Saddle up and hang on. It’s a tough ride but more likely to succeed for focusing on the goal at hand. I’ll enjoy discovering what you learn and thank you for your candour ??

    • Charli Mills

      Thank you, Lisa! I often feel in the gutter between the marketing world and the writing one, so if anything bubbles over as valuable, that’s encouraging. And it is the ride that makes it all worth trying.

      • Lisa Reiter

        The ride is life! Xx

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