Diversity in Tunerville and I Promise to Finish the Series, Y’all

Yep, I wrote a sequel. Yep, that’s the one I finished in December 2018. Yep, there will be one more.

Last year, I got into a discussion with some people who were reluctant to buy into book series because they’d previously been burned when a writer bailed and didn’t finish. I understand how frustrating it is to get invested in something that disappears (Firefly, anyone?), but traditional publishers will ditch a series if the first book doesn’t sell.

Since this is my enterprise, I’m free to plunge ahead regardless. I don’t know if anyone beyond my blog or my friends will read my current work. Even if that list is small, everyone on it deserves the best and most complete story I can give them.

With that in mind, I formally declare my intention to FINISH THE DAMN SERIES.

yelling cat sitting on a tiny polka dot sofa

Whether you want it or not!

Image by Deutsch / pixabay.com

Now that Tunerville is out and you may have read it already, I want to talk a little bit about the characters in the context of diversity. If you have not read the book yet and would rather not know anything, you might want to bail on this post now.

If you haven’t read it yet, you can get Tunerville (and my story collection, The Shiny Folk) here. I’m not sure that Amazon is shipping physical books currently; due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they’re focusing on supplies. Paperbacks might have to wait. If you don’t have a Kindle, you can get a free app here. It works on everything.

Consensus seems to be, rightfully, that lived experiences are best and most authentically portrayed by those who have lived them. The controversy around Jeanine Cummins’ recent novel American Dirt is a case in point. The linked article contains a quote from actress Eva Longoria, who points out:

“There’s a bidding war over this book, which means all the publishers wanted this book. And they wanted some sort of way in to a different community. The problem with that is that the publishing industry is 80% white, from agents to editors and publicists.”

I don’t think it’s impossible for a white, cisgender, straight author to write about a culture or identity to which they don’t belong. However, because the majority of white, cisgender, straight authors are divorced from anything other than our own experience (and this is by design in a white supremacist society), if we choose to, it falls on us to approach it carefully.

The LGBTQ characters and those of color in Tunerville function in the book’s close orbits admittedly without much friction. The Crew is inclusive; they coalesce around their shared interest in ghost hunting. Gabriel, who is black, is the one who started the Ghost Crew. His wife Ann-Marie is a law student. Josh’s new boyfriend Trevor is welcomed, his extreme disengagement the only eyebrow-raiser.

While Chris’s impulse to help ghosts is laudable, it takes him a while to grasp the real meaning of the saying “the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.” The media attention around Chris drives Josh to remove himself from the Ghost Crew for his and Trevor’s safety. In a stinging diatribe, he serves Chris a blunt reminder of the latter’s selfishness — and his privilege:

“[…] just because you don’t hassle people for being who they are doesn’t mean everybody is so enlightened. You don’t have a clue. You can walk down the street holding somebody’s hand and nobody throws a beer bottle at you.”

An invisible hand clamped over Chris’s mouth. Neither Josh nor his last boyfriend, the other victim of that attack, had wanted to report it, lest they invite more harassment or scrutiny.

“Nobody objects to where you live,” Josh continued. “Nobody leaves nasty notes on your car. Nobody tells you, ‘You better keep away from my kids if you move in here.’” He choked on the last word. “You got what you wanted. I’m trying to have what I want. And I will not lose this relationship because of you.”

Chris faces a public shaming directly after this conversation. It’s a hard lesson for him. The tuner is a great leveler — a reminder that everybody dies. But the questions it raises bring out the tendency of people to judge and categorize. The ghosts of all demographics find themselves reduced to a novelty, their humanity the subject of endless debate.

The viewpoint in Tunerville remains grounded in that of the white, straight characters — Chris, Hannah, and Hector, with a brief sojourn into Dean’s head. Of these, only Dean could be considered marginalized; as an incorporated ghost, he’s well aware of the prejudice the newly resurrected face. He’s not only out of place but out of time.

I think she can understand that.

I wanted to make a point there about Chris’s self-indulgence beyond the longing that drove him to invent the tuner in the first place. He’s a creature of privilege whose ability to indulge his own desires without question has never been challenged. When it is, he bristles, but since he’s good at heart, I let him embrace the opportunity to widen his view, which is what we all should be doing.

ESPECIALLY RIGHT NOW. Viruses have no nationality, y’all.

As a cishet white woman (who isn’t a ghost — yet), discrimination is not likely to affect me. Nobody is profiling me or trying to deport me. My only experience of marginalization is being female in a male-centric world and dyscalculic in a math-centered one. I don’t face death and abuse every time I walk out the door.

I couldn’t leave out people who aren’t like me entirely, because they exist, in my world and in Chris’s. When I wrote this book, I knew less than I do now, and I know less today than I will tomorrow. Every day is a chance to learn.

For now, staying in my lane felt like the safe choice and the most respectful one. I’d rather hear those stories from the people who lived them.

Book 2 will feature more Hannah. And lest you think I fridged Josh, he will return. I have plans for him.

At some point, I’ll have a job again and when I do, perhaps I’ll have enough money to do a Goodreads giveaway. They charge for that and it’s not cheap.

In the meantime, listen to the Toilet Paper Knight — stay home and stay safe!!

He’s not the hero we deserve, but he’s the one we need right now.

What I’ve Learned (So Far) from Self-Publishing My Book

If you follow this blog, you probably know by now that I said “F*ck it,” and put Tunerville up on Amazon (see Buy Me! page). Someone posted a review already, and it was a good one. Thanks, mysterious internet reader!

I’ve learned a few things and probably have a lot more to learn. This is by no means an exhaustive list.

How to do various things in GIMP

GIMP is the freeware version of Adobe Photoshop. It probably has a different interface — I don’t know, since I can’t afford to even kiss the hem of Adobe’s garments. But the concepts of image manipulation are the same.

Someday I hope to approach the magnificence that is this guy.

I found a wonderful image free for commercial use that really seemed to capture the book. I googled a zillion ways to make the lettering look good, and armed with a picture and some knowledge, I designed both an ebook and paperback cover.

The latter was a complete nightmare.

First, I had to figure out how to wrap the picture around the spine. When I thought I had it down, I made my cover, but I used the wrong template for the number of pages. The Amazon publishing platform rejected it twice before I figured that out. Yes, I had to start all over again. More than once.

But it turned out pretty good!

This is a proof copy. The inside still needed a bit of work.
The back.

And the spine. Ignore my hipster headphones in the background.

I was pretty impressed with the quality of the paper, too. It’s print-on-demand, so if you order a copy, they crank one out and send it to you. This means I do not have to ship them out of my mum’s garage.

When you do this, you have to do EVERYTHING by yourself

Although I ran the cover design by someone, I made it all alone. Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing walks you through almost everything, but it can’t answer all questions. They have customer service. I called them once and they called me back. But my phone died temporarily, and I missed the call. Fortunately, I figured out the issue by myself.

Making the inside look good also took work. You can find folks on Fiverr and other e-lance platforms who will help you, but I didn’t have any money for that. I used their guidelines and a template and lots of advice from Derek Murphy at Creativeindie. Thanks, Derek!

Despite it being mostly free, to do it right still cost me money

Sure, I could have just published an ebook for nothing on Amazon and raked in my tiny royalties. But I wanted to do a paperback, since the more formats you have, the more readers you can reach. To do that, I had to get an ISBN, or International Standard Book Number.

If you don’t know what that is, it’s the identifier distributors, booksellers, libraries, etc. use to identify and find your book. Kindle Direct Publishing doesn’t require one for ebooks, but you need one for a physical book, even print-on-demand. While Amazon will give you one for free, it’s limited. You can only use that ISBN on their platform.

Bowker has a monopoly on ISBNs and is the only place you can get them in the U.S. No, it’s not super cheap. If you buy one, it’s $125. If you buy ten, it’s $295. The more you buy, the cheaper the unit price for each number. As you can imagine, publishers get them in bulk.

I bought ten so I could use one for the ebook and one for the paperback. This means the numbers belong to me, not Amazon, forever. And I have eight more for future editions or anything else I want to crank out. They never expire, but I cannot reuse any of them.

Of course, this cost money that I couldn’t really spare. Here’s hoping I can make it back in sales.

Speaking of sales…

I don’t know jack about marketing

I made a dumb AF book trailer (seriously, it’s hilariously stupid) and a friend who has a Roku channel that plays old horror B-movies and other assorted weird stuff offered to play it. He said they have 20,000 viewers. Hey, one of them might buy it. You never know.

Here’s the trailer. Someday I’m going to look back on this and cringe. Probably tomorrow.

Besides trailers, you have to talk up your book on social media. You have to make an author page at Goodreads (I did). You have to solicit reviews, because if you don’t have any, Amazon will think you suck and yank you. That’s the part that freaks me out a little, approaching people I don’t know and asking them to read my crap.

Someone posted a 4-star review at Amazon and I was elated (thank you!). Before that, the poor thing was alone, naked, and afraid.

Kind of ironic for a book about ghosts.

If you don’t have a website or a blog or any kind of following, it’s going to be a lot harder to sell books. I advise writers, even traditionally published ones, to get on the damn internet and create a social media presence. It’s important not only to post but to engage with followers. Follow people back (check them out first, obviously), like and retweet/share, connect with industry folks.

This isn’t what I wanted, but it’s what I needed

I wrote the sequel to this book a year ago. But since then, I’ve been stuck. Part of that had to do with the endless, agonizing job hunt and the major decision to sell out and move. I didn’t want to do it with Amazon, either, but using my own ISBNs gives me a little more flexibility.

I’ve spent so much time getting this to the book I wanted it to be, but I found myself re-editing after writing the sequel. Now the story is fixed and I can move on and quit mucking with it. Plus, since things are awful right now, it gave me a much-needed boost of self-esteem. I DID something, y’all.

If you’re thinking about publishing a book this way, I would definitely do the following:

1. Read as much as you can about it. I’ll share some links that helped me.

2. Let go of your expectations. You’re very unlikely to get famous this way. If you’re entrepreneurial, you might make a little money.

3. Make sure you have a great product. Don’t just slap your trunk novel up. Choose your best work.

4. Do not let a book out into the wild without getting another person, preferably a professional editor, to look it over. You’re competing with professionally produced books.

5. If you can afford it, hire a cover designer. It was a no-go for me, unfortunately. I just did the best I could.

Would I have preferred traditional publishing? Yes. Am I still going after it? Of course, with something else. But I did it, and you can read it now, and that’s the most important thing.

Links:

How to Get an ISBN: An Author’s Guide For All Things ISBN

Writing Your Book’s Back-Cover Copy

Sarra Cannon’s Self-Pub Guides

What’s Your Book Marketing Plan? 6 Crucial Steps to Include

And if you’re committed to looking for a small press rather than going it alone, Writer Beware has your back.

Victoria Strauss — Precautions for Small Press Authors