7 Things I Learned in 7 Years as an Indie Author

Some of you have asked what it’s like to take the indie author road instead of traditional publishing. So I’ll tell you. It’s a bit like typing in Spanish with one hand and Greek with the other, while you’re blindfolded and going fifty-five on a hoverboard. Except with less nausea and bloodshed. I kid, of course. It’s worse than that. Why do it, then? Because I can. Because I like to be in control of my work. I’ve been self-publishing for seven years now—long enough to learn a few things, and also long enough to realize there’s a lot I still don’t know. Here are a few things I’ve learned in my seven years of independence.

1. It helps to stay current.The publishing market is always changing. Sales outlets change; advertisers change; Amazon algorithms reallychange. What worked like gangbusters for one author one day might be a flat bust for another…or even for the same book two months later. This is why I read a handful of publishing blogs and bother my colleagues with questions about what’s working—and not working—for them. 

2. Reviews are for readers. A hard lesson I learned was that once I publish a book, I have no control over what readers will say about it. Zip. Zero. I still hope for reviews. They make me feel good, especially when readers like my work, but I stopped getting hung up over the “negative” ones. Because, really, reviews are for readers. They tell other readers if a book is worth their precious leisure hours that they could be spending with Netflix or crafting avocado toast. If you hate first person, present tense stories about vampire mermaids with serious alpha billionaire issues (spoiler alert: this is not what I write), you’d want to see that reflected in a review, yes? Saves you oodles of time and frustration.

3. Goodreads is also for readers. Other than doing giveaways (which are now honking expensive so I stopped) I was never really comfortable wearing my author hat there. It felt kind of spammy and stalky to be lurking around. But I do like the site as a reader, with my shelves and to-reads and discussion groups and all that. Once in a while, I’ll mention a new book or a promotion or whatnot, but I try to keep it low-key.

4. Patience. Patience. Patience.I publish a book. I open my handy spreadsheet of bloggers and reviewers and send out queries or review copies. I wait. I wait patiently, I wait professionally. I wait…happily. Not that I’m sucking up or anything, but book bloggers and reviewers are gold. They are wonderful people who love books and want to talk about books, but they are BUSY. They don’t get paid for what they do, so they have jobs and stuff. So once I send, I don’t bother them. Ever. If they choose to review my book, I thank them; I share their blogs and try to get them more traffic.

5. The Oxygen Mask Rule. There’s that announcement in airplanes that if the oxygen mask drops, put yours on before assisting others. Promotion and marketing can take a lot of time and energy. I went out guns blazing when I started, and within a few years I was dragging. I had to make a tough decision: back away from promotion so it wouldn’t kill the joy I get from writing. When I was ready to return, I had a much better perspective on how I was balancing my time.

6. Play well with others. The internet truly is forever. So are a lot of readers’ memories. I cringe when I read public posts from authors bashing other authors, complaining about Draconian editors (not me, of course), or whining about book reviews. It makes them look like jerks. 

7. Do my own thing and be happy. As I said before, writing is one of my great joys and I like to have control over my work. So I want to write and publish in a way that makes me happy. If another author’s version of happy is publishing six romance novels a year or winning the Pulitzer or making a boatload of money, then I wish them well. Life is short and we all deserve a shot at being happy with what we make.

Thank you for being part of my adventure.

Nonessentially Essential

Terry was supposed to have been home by now. Done with all this. That was the deal. Pete had made dinner, fed the kids, took care of the dog, the cats, the dishes, the laundry, the playdates, the bills…keeping himself active now to stem the barrage of disaster scenarios. Accidents and phones dead and emergency rooms and—

Stop.

He took a deep breath. Two. Three. Four. Checked his phone again to make sure he hadn’t missed her. Some accident of interstellar space keeping her voice from its landing pad, some defect in the system. Once he had two voice mails and the little button on his phone never told him.

Nope. Nothing.A low rumble started from far away. He felt it in his fingertips, pressed against the countertop. The rattle in the windows pounding in his heart.

“Dad. Dad!” Mark, all of seven, came barreling in, hair askew, eyes wild. “Dad. It’s one of those big planes. I can tell by the lights! Come see!”

A fifth breath. He’d been hearing more and more of those engines shaking the house. Cargo planes from the air force base, an hour away. Headed god knows where with how much killing power.

He went outside with his son. A clear, cold night. Stars twinkling. The sort of night Terry had written poems about, before she took on this new assignment… Before she tore a hole in the tapestry of their everyday. Before terrible meals and unmade beds and lonely nights. So many lonely nights. He knew this was the deal. Didn’t mean he liked it. Didn’t mean he hadn’t had the occasional fantasy of driving to Washington and punching a few politicians in the face.

“Dad!” Mark was shouting, pointing up.

Pete had never seen lights move that slowly across the sky. Hovering. Taking one last, long glimpse at what its passengers would be leaving behind.

“I think it’s a Galaxy!” Mark waved. As if the people on board could see him. “Like the one Mom was in! Dad. You think she’ll come back in one, too? Maybe this time we can see it?”

His throat tightened. His hand landed on Mark’s thin, twitchy shoulder. “Yeah. Maybe. We’ll see. Let’s go in now, son. Cold out here.”

He went back to busywork, diverting his attention. Long ago he’d stopped watching the news; he didn’t want to know what had exploded where. “Just keep in touch when you can,” he’d said, mustering all his energy to quash some Y chromosome throwback—or voice of his father—telling Terry that her place was with them. Not in some godforsaken country doing thankless work for ungrateful leaders, where every day could be her last.

“I have to try,” she’d said. A near-death experience shining a new light in her eyes, as bright as the stars she wrote about. “I have skills they need. Getting girls into schools. Teaching them to read, to have a chance to improve their lives. I have to serve.”

“But couldn’t you do that here? Somewhere safe?”

She laughed, a soft laugh, pressing a cool hand to his cheek. A strong hand, one that had held babies through sickness and health, through joy and pain. Yet tender enough to calm his greatest fears.

She couldn’t calm this one. It would have been so easy: don’t go.

He’d reasoned, he’d fumed, he’d tried so many ways to get her to see things from his point of view. But in the end he gave up the fight. Because he eventually realized that when she came home—and he wouldn’t even allow “if” into his head—he wanted her to come home to him. 

Three months, she’d said. That was what she’d signed on for. Six months ago. 

He put the kids to bed, watched something unremarkable on television, put a leash on the dog for one last, quick walk.

Half a block later, under a canopy of stars and silence, his phone rang.

Terry. His blood pressure dropped twenty points just hearing her voice, hearing her tell him about the work she’d done, the lives she’d bettered. He held his tongue each time he thought “what about our lives?” But then he saw a shooting star. Making a wish on it like his mother always told him. Wishing he could make peace with her decision.

“Honey, you still there?”

“Uh. Yeah. Sorry.” The connection was bad. Why did she sound so flat?

“I said, is next Tuesday good? Around six?”

“Good. Good for…?” Damn. So self-involved, so absorbed with how this was making his life a holy mess that he didn’t…

“For meeting me at the base. They’re done with me. I’m coming home. Or would you prefer I call an Uber?”

“Wait. Done with you?”

The pause broke his heart a little. In it, he imagined a frown, a shrug. A brave face. “No money, no nonessential services.”

Those bastards. “They can’t just—”

“Yeah.” The sound this time was a definite sigh. “They can.”

His Y chromosome went into overdrive. “We’ll find you something else. Some other way you can help. There are plenty of girls here, poor neighborhoods, schools that need help…”

Was that a laugh? It was a soft laugh, a little sad, but it made him stop. And smile.

“Whoa, cowboy,” she said. “I want to talk about that, I want to talk about all of it, but let’s wait until I get home, okay?”

“Yeah.” His voice broke. He cleared his throat. “We’ll do that, yeah.”

After they ended the call, he petted his patient dog’s soft ears, and the two of them finished their walk silently, gratefully, under the dome of stars.

New: The Kitchen Brigade

Hi, everyone,

I’m so excited to tell you that The Kitchen Brigade, my latest novel and first dystopian story, is now live on Amazon!

Here’s the gist of it:

In the not-so-distant future, a culinary student—and daughter of the assassinated secretary of state—is forced to work in the kitchen of a Russian general whose army occupies an America torn apart by civil war. To rebel could prove deadly, but how long can she serve the men destroying her country?

If an army marches on its stomach, a cook might find a way to win the war.

Here’s what an early reader said about it:

“In The Kitchen Brigade, a powerful dystopian imagining of a post-Trump world in which Russia has overtaken America, author Laurie Boris pulls us into unexpected territory with her rich, detailed narrative of the despair, courage, and persistent creativity found amongst a band of female chefs forced to serve their captors.” — Lorraine Devon Wilke, author of The Alchemy of Noise and Hysterical Love

Here’s the universal Amazon link.

For now, The Kitchen Brigade will only be available as an e-book on Amazon. You can read it free if you have Kindle Unlimited. I’ll have more updates to come about sales, events, recipes, when the paperback will be ready, how to skin and cook a woodchuck (just kidding), and all that jazz. But for now, I’m popping open an adult beverage and celebrating.

Have a great day!

Happy New Year and Some Book News

Hi, everyone,

Based on a meme my neighbor shared a couple of years ago, I started an experiment. Some of you might have seen my “Positive Jar” on social media, and if not, here’s a photo.

It works like this: Starting at the beginning of the year, write down good things that happen in your life, big and small, and put them in the jar. Then on New Year’s Day, read them all. The unveiling is kind of fun—a little bonding exercise with my husband—and a reminder that while doom and gloom does exist, there is also good. Sometimes where you least expect it.

This past year came with a lot of challenges. Car trouble. Household repairs. Loved ones going through tough times. Headlines that made me want to run to my doctor for a prescription for Xanax. But in a lot of those negative events, I found lessons or silver linings. A flashing engine light came on right near a service station that has since become my “go-to” place for car problems. A broken air conditioning unit on the hottest day of the year led to meeting the owner of a small HVAC company…that also repaired our furnace for not very much money. (After another company tried to fix it twice but failed.) You get the picture. Each adversity I overcame made me feel a little stronger.

In my writing life, I also had challenges. For the last couple of years, I’ve been working on a novel that’s different than anything I’ve ever published. I’ve written action/adventure before, but never anything dystopian. Never anything that takes place in the future. I’d fallen in love with the idea, a wonderful bit of therapy for me, but I fretted if it was tenable, or if anyone would want to read it. Finally, “Finished novel!” went into the jar. So did the positive feedback I’d gotten from several early readers and my editor.

Cover of The Kitchen Brigade
Cover photo by Art Husband!

The Kitchen Brigade takes place in an increasingly isolationist United States, embroiled in civil war. Russia, one of America’s few remaining allies, has sent peacekeeping troops—but they’re doing everything except keeping the peace. Attempting to get through this war is a brigade of female chefs forced to cook for a Russian general occupying New York’s Hudson Valley. But the women may be serving up trouble as well as five-star meals. If it’s true that an army travels on its stomach, can a cook find a way to win the war?

I’m excited to tell you I’ll be publishing the novel in January. You can read more about it here.

Happy New Year to all of you and the best of everything in 2019. May your positive jars be full!

Unraveling, with Gratitude

Hi, everyone,

Recently my father shared an analogy about time with respect to your years on this planet. That it’s like a ball of string. It rolls out so slowly—almost too slowly—when you’re very young and the ball is full, but faster and faster as it gets smaller. Although the events of the world this year often made time feel interminable, I looked up from the computer one day and could barely believe 2018 was almost done.

My ball of string is unraveling faster than it used to. But I’m trying to be grateful for every inch. I’m grateful that I have a roof over my head and food on my table and that I get to work with words and stories, a childhood dream that for a while I never thought possible.

I’m grateful for readers and writers and my entire community of book-loving people.

I hope you have a lovely holiday season and good health, happiness, and abundance in the coming year—wherever you are on your own ball of string.

Laurie

PS: I haven’t forgotten the book deals! See this page for more info…

INTERVIEW: DAVID ANTROBUS

A fascinating interview with my friend and editor, David Antrobus.

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Meet the author and much-in-demand editor, David Antrobus!

Tell us about the books you’ve written. What are the titles?

I’ve self-published two works. The first is a short account of a continent-spanning road trip I took to New York City against the backdrop of the 9/11 attacks, a kind of memoir/travelogue mash-up. It has the slightly unwieldy title of Dissolute Kinship: A 9/11 Road Trip. The second book is an irreverent look at the publishing industry and the world of writing in general, largely from an independent perspective, titled Endless Joke.

You write a lot of short stories, and they are brilliant. What are some of the messages in these stories that you would want readers to grasp?

Oh, thank you for the kind words. I love writing short fiction. If there’s any kind of message (and I’m not sure there is), it’s that beauty can be found…

View original post 2,985 more words

The Council: Goodbye, Forty-one

This week’s flash fiction was inspired by current events. I just couldn’t help myself.

—————–

The loss of Forty-one had brought the council together again. First, at the cathedral, where they’d exchanged appropriate pleasantries, then later, with most of their spouses otherwise engaged, at Earl’s. It seemed befitting that Forty-three make the toast, and when they were all assembled and served, they raised their glasses toward the empty chair, followed by a few moments of silence.

Forty-four felt the weight of his absence. The loss of what he brought to the table—the wisdom, the connections. He also felt the unspoken tensions of earlier in the day. But broaching the subject so soon after the funeral…

“Every day I pray for his soul,” Thirty-nine said, with a heavy sigh.

“You’re a better man that I am,” Forty-three and a half added, then downed the rest of her scotch and ordered another.

Her husband passed her a sly look. “Now, honey, you may want to slow down on those…”

“Don’t honey me. Are you driving?”

“Well, yeah…”

“Then I’m drinking. Did you see Twitter? He wants to put us in jail and I’m the bitch because I didn’t smile at him. Lock thisup, you orange buffoon.”

“Hill, what’d I tell you about staying off those social media things? They never did no one no good…”

Forty-four cleared his throat. “Come on, folks. Time’s a wasting and we need a new plan of attack.”

“He’s right,” Forty-three said. “Got us a serious problem here and I don’t feel right as it is leaving Laura and the girls too long tonight.”

“Then we’ll make it quick,” Forty-four said. “So here’s where we stand. Winning back the House might give us some checks on this guy, but I won’t trust that until I see it. Contacting Putin again is off the table. He’s achieved his objectives and won’t help us. Unless we can deliver Lindsey Graham in a dog harness, but I doubt he’s gonna fall for that trick twice…”

“I’ll do it.” Everyone turned to the breathy voice with the Georgia accent.

“Jimmy…” Forty-three and a half laid a hand on his forearm.

“No, please. I sat in that cathedral today hearing about doing good for the world. Yes, we certainly had our disagreements when it came to governing, but I believe we’re here to help each other and to do God’s work. I know my time is next and I want to make what little I have left count for something.”

Forty-three sat taller. “Can’t let you do that, Thirty-nine. Wouldn’t be prudent to let that be your legacy.”

Forty-four narrowed his eyes. Was it his imagination, or was the Texan across the table starting to sound like his father?

“I got an idea,” Forty-three said. “Lemme give Dick Cheney a call. See if he’s up for a little quail hunting.”

Ten Fingers, Ten Toes: Flash Fiction

This week’s Flash Fiction Friday, I was inspired to write this bit. I’ve been working with Jeff for a while; maybe he’s auditioning for a role in the next novel. 

————————

Ten fingers, ten toes. It’s all Jeff ever wanted. Early on he and Marta had their separate and shared expectations, but after a sleepless night of labor and encouragement which ended in a whiplash decision to do an emergency C section, their perfect daughter—their daughter!—dozed in recovery, with Marta in another room, all stitched up and doing the same.

He could have stood at that nursery window for the rest of the day, despite his fatigue, despite the ache in his feet and back, watching that pink squirmy bundle, her daddy’s red hair already curling atop her head. Then he felt a hand hover and light on his arm. As if afraid to touch him.

Marta’s mother. “Jeff. Let’s you and me get a coffee, all right?”

Lillian’s too-sweet tone raked his nerve endings, for the bitterness he knew lay beneath. It was clear to him the first day they met that she didn’t like him. Never thought a lowly truck driver was good enough for Marta. But perhaps now with the baby they’d yet to formally name, that could change. She’d finally understand that Jeff was all in, would never do anything to hurt his family. He’d put in for the shorter runs now, so he’d be home more, and if it came to it, he’d look for a new job.

He followed her to the cafeteria and got them settled at a table. Milk and sugar were added, bagels smeared with cream cheese and jelly, neither of them speaking except for the discomfiting combination of Lillian’s false smile and the worry lines between her pale brown eyes. The eyes that followed the movement of his hands as if measuring the calorie count of his breakfast.

“She’s beautiful, isn’t she?” Jeff said quickly.

His hope for a diversion only lasted a few seconds. “Yes…indeed she is.” Her gaze settled somewhere behind Jeff’s right shoulder, then dropped to her coffee. “Maybe… Maybe this would be a good opportunity for you to look toward the future.”

Yeah, here we go. “I can provide for us just fine. And if we need more, I can look for other ways—”

“I didn’t mean…” Her voice came out breathy, flustered. A flush rose to her painted cheeks. “I meant…your health. Maybe it’s time to think about one of those programs…they worked so well for Oprah…”

He bit into the bagel so he wouldn’t blast her with the first words that came into his mind. 

“I’m just thinking about that little girl,” Lillian said. “How heart-wrenching it would be for her. To go through the milestones of her life without her father…”

“I’m fine,” he growled.

Her head jerked back, as if she thought he’d strike her. Jeff took a couple of deep breaths so he could keep a civil tongue. “I’ve got it covered, Lillian. You don’t need to worry about me.”

“I’m only thinking about her. Whatever you decide to name her.” She took a ladylike bite, set down her bagel. Then sat a little straighter and said, “Have you ever thought about going back to college, Jeff? Finishing your degree? It would give you more options, and maybe make it a little easier for you to—you know—look after your health. So you won’t have to settle for whatever’s in those truck stops.”

One, two, three…He forced a smile. “You know, Lillian, it’s been a long night. Maybe you’d like to go back to the hotel and get some rest. I’ll call you when Marta’s awake.”

Her lips pursed. Message received. “You do that.” She returned his smile, even tighter. On her way out she snatched up her bagel and coffee, dumped them in the trash, then wiped her hands as if she’d been touching filth.

Jeff sat a while and finished his breakfast, chewing on her words. But then the memory of his daughter, seeing her for the first time, chased everything else away, and he headed back to the maternity ward to check on his girls. Marta and… Caroline. He was starting to love the sound of the name Marta had added to their list. That Lillian had turned her nose up at it was just a bonus.

Voting Buddies

Jennie Walters always dresses her best when it’s time to vote. She’s doing her civic responsibility, an effort of extreme importance. She’s never missed an election, and she’s never even tried to shirk her way out of jury duty, like some she knows, like even her own husband, God rest his soul. “This is a representative democracy,” she tells anyone who will listen, “and I aim to represent my own part in it whenever I’m given the chance.”

But she had some trouble convincing her grandchildren. They’d just sit and roll their eyes when Jennie went on about voting. “People around the world have fought and died for this right,” she’d say, standing between them and the television. “Don’t you ever go taking that for granted.”

Her grandson, Spencer, could never be reasoned with—he had far too much of his mother in him—but her granddaughter, Deidre, shortly after her eighteenth birthday, was so proud to show Jennie her sticker proclaiming that she’d voted. They’d been voting buddies ever since. They made it special. They’d go to the firehouse together, stand in line, check in with the volunteers—half of whom Jennie had known since childhood—and then celebrate afterward. She’d make a fancy dinner until she could no longer manage so well in the kitchen. Deidre took over the honors at that point, first in Jennie’s house and then, when she moved out and got married, in her own. They didn’t get to vote together anymore, as Deidre lived in a different district, but there was always a celebration afterward. Year after year after year, even when Deidre had children of her own and moved to a bigger house in the next county. And even then, they’d all get together, and Jennie would tell stories about the first time she voted, and who got elected, and how even one person’s vote could make all the difference.

But then Deidre moved up north for a new job, a wonderful opportunity. That took some adjustment, and Jennie was happy for her granddaughter, but she felt terribly sad on Election Days. Even though they chatted on the computer thingie, it wasn’t even close to all of them being together.

This November she felt even worse. A fall had left her laid up temporarily, and Jennie didn’t even know if she could get out of the house to go vote.

“Get an absentee ballot, Grandmama,” Deidre said over the phone. “It’s easy. Lots of people do it.”

“That ‘lots of people’ is not going to be me! I am going to that firehouse if I have to call a fireman and have him carry me there.”

There was a long silence on the line. “Grandmama. You don’t have anyone there taking care of you? What happened to that nurse’s aide?”

“Pfft. She doesn’t even believe in voting, can you just imagine?”

“You get that ballot,” Deidre said.

Jennie promised she would, but it was all so confusing. First she had to get to the right website, then find a form to even apply for a ballot, then wait to get the ballot, then mail that in…how could she trust all those people? What if her vote didn’t get counted because she was not there to see it? She wasn’t too proud to admit that she cried a little while sitting at that computer in her wheelchair. But it didn’t sit easily on her that this would be the first election year in which she wouldn’t vote.

In fact on the big day, she didn’t bother getting out of bed until close to noon. She didn’t even look at the television while she got herself together. Just played some old music and wheeled herself to and fro doing this and that. When the computer thingie rang, she knew it would be Deidre, and she doubted she’d have the strength to talk to her without crying.

But she didn’t want to worry her, so she answered, to find two beautiful great-grandbaby faces grinning at her and waving. “Hi, Grandnonna!” they both yelled, giggling like they had a secret.

And then the doorbell rang. In walked Deidre, beautiful in her best dress, and behind her… Spencer. All decked out in a suit and a tie.

“Put your hat on, Grandmama,” Deidre said. “I know you didn’t get that absentee ballot. So we’ve come to help you vote.”

The Council, Reflective: Flash Fiction

Earl’s eyes were warm and kindly as he poured Forty-four another beer, then busied himself behind the bar, leaving him his privacy. Or as much privacy as he could have with two Secret Service agents guarding the door. He was grateful for their service, thankful for all the people who’d helped him through the years. Toward the end of his second term, Forty-four had grown wistful about returning to civilian life. He and Michelle had made plans. But given the circumstances of the world and the existence of the secret Council, he’d resigned himself to the reality that his life might never again be truly his own.

Michelle was okay with that as well—to a point. From the tension he plainly saw on her face, they’d reached that point. When he’d told her about the package that had been intercepted, she nodded, said she needed to call the girls, and spent the rest of the afternoon in her garden. He knew better than to bother her there.

Was it too soon for the Council to meet again? Forty-one said that it “wouldn’t be prudent” to risk a meeting so close to the election, then added, “Remember that Jim Comey fellow and all the trouble he caused.”

But Forty-four felt a need for their collective wisdom to help unburden his soul. As Thirty-nine once told him, when at a loss for direction a few months after leaving office he’d come down to Georgia to help nail up some drywall, many hands lighten a load. At least the dastardly mailings gave him an excuse to call Forty-two and Forty-three-and-a-half, ask how they were doing. The connection and Bill’s sense of humor did help somewhat. “Keep in touch, Barry,” Madam Secretary said as they wound up their call. “Just don’t expect any emails.”

He slipped his phone back into his pocket and tried to focus on the basketball game on the TV. It wasn’t working. He tapped a long finger on the bar. “Hey, Earl?”

He turned, his face brightening. “Something I can get for you, Mr. President?”

“No, I’m good here. I just want to know…how’s it going for you, for you and your family?”

Earl shrugged, his hands busy polishing glassware. “Can’t complain much. Wish certain things didn’t cost as much as they did. Wish I had a little more to leave the grandchildren.” He lowered his voice. “Wish that fool who took on after you would go back under that rock he crawled out from”—at this Forty-four nearly spit his beer across the counter—“but time will out, don’t it always?”

“Amen,” Forty-four said, lifting his glass.

“I like what you said, on the TV.” Earl nodded toward the set above the bar. “About getting the kids out to vote, not standing for hate and such. Ah, makes me wish we could change that law about you only getting two terms.”

It wasn’t the first time he’d heard that. Of course he’d heard plenty about how his two terms were two too many.

“You coulda done so much more good,” the barkeep added, tightening one wizened hand into a fist.

If you only knew, Forty-four thought. “Thank you, my friend. It’s always good to hear.”

When he left, he pressed two twenties onto the bar and wouldn’t take no for an answer. After the agents saw him home, he was in some ways pleased that Michelle had already gone to bed. He had some phone calls to make. Yes, he could get behind a microphone and hopefully inspire a few people, but it would be nothing compared to the clarion call they could all make together.


Thank you for reading. If you want to catch up on this sporadic, whenever-I’m-inspired series, you can read the first one here, the second one here, and the third one here.