books with Athena

books with Athena

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The $79 Kindle and the Most Interesting Publisher in the World

OK, I can finally say it: I have three brand new novels coming out this fall!

Within a couple of weeks, THE GATSBY GAME will debut as an e-book. It’s a stand-alone mystery set in the Mad Men era that proposes a fictional solution to one of Hollywood's most scandalous mysteries. (It's #7 on the top 10 list, if you follow that link.) 

The e-book will be published by a cutting-edge new e-publisher: Mark Williams International Digital Publishing.

Two comic mysteries will follow with MWiDP: GHOSTWRITERS IN THE SKY and SHERWOOD, LTD. They are the first two in a series featuring a perennially penniless socialite and her gay best friend.

Yeah but…sez you—what about Popcorn Press? Haven’t you already signed with them? Aren’t they re-launching your two UK books, FOOD OF LOVE and THE BEST REVENGE? Haven’t they been very, very good to you?

Yup. But because both of these presses belong to a whole new “united we stand” type of small publisher, Popcorn will partner with MWiDP and publish paper versions of the three ebooks. Paper copies will be available at the Popcorn Press site (and amazon.com) about one month after the debut of the ebooks. And yes! Paper copies of FOOD OF LOVE are available for pre-order at the Popcorn Press site right now for only $9.99. 

So who/what is Mark Williams International?

Because MWiDP only officially launched this week, I haven’t been able to talk about it before, but if you follow this blog, you’ve seen Mark Williams’ comments to many of our posts. He’s the “quiet half” of the UK’s phenomenally successful writing duo known as Saffina Desforges. He’s also mentored a number of other UK writers to bestselling superstardom.

After zooming up to the top of the UK’s Kindle lists—and staying there for months—Mark and Saffi have been courted by some of the biggest agencies in New York and Hollywood. But they turned them all down. They realized there’s a lot more money (as well as freedom) in the indie publishing world.

But Mark, who has been a teacher and editor for many years, knew a lot of writers (like me) who don’t have the time or entrepreneurial skills to self-publish. He also ran into many successful US indies who didn’t have a clue how to break into the European markets.

So he came up with the idea for a company which is a mix of small e-publisher, self-publishing facilitator, and marketer. They will provide professional vetting, editing, cover design, coding and uploading--and also use the networking and collective marketing developed by indie Kindle authors. MWiDP will also take on successful indie authors who want to expand their markets on other continents.

It sounded so good, I jumped in, even though it meant turning down three offers from the traditional publishing world: three offers I would have killed for a few months ago.

Here’s what happened to me at the beginning of September—just as I was madly preparing my three presentations for the Central Coast Writers Conference. In the space of less than 48 hours, I had a request for a read from one of my dream agents, an offer of representation from a top agency, and an offer of a read of my full manuscript from an editor at a prestigious mid-sized publisher. I also had requested full manuscripts awaiting reads at two other agencies.

But each offer had strings.
  • #1 was an initial request for a partial—the beginning of a road that usually takes over a year and so far has had about a 95% failure rate for me.
  • #2 was a maybe-offer conditional on a draconian rewrite that involved cutting most of the mystery elements, removing the gay characters and subplots and turning the book into something I wouldn't feel good about promoting.
  • #3 was from a company I’d recently discovered has a seriously author-unfriendly contract.
  • The two fulls had been sitting at the agencies for over 6 months with no word from the agents, in spite of several inquiries, so I had no idea if they were still being considered. (More and more agencies no longer bother to send rejections for requested manuscripts--even fulls.) 
I mentioned my dilemma in an email to Mark--and he let me in on his as-yet-to-be announced publishing company plans.

Twenty-four hours later, I’d joined Mark and Saffi’s new venture. Here’s my page at their new website

What am I—nuts? Isn't this just drinking the Kool-Aid that Janet Reid warned us about?

Maybe. And I absolutely do not recommend this for everybody. Especially for newbies. I think most first-time authors should try the traditional route first. Even if it's only to build up some soul-calluses. Publishing a just-finished first novel usually ends in disappointment and often discourages good writers from staying in the game.

But for me, it’s already looking like a smart move. One of the major factors that swayed me was that Mark could get my ebooks out quickly. He'd already read two of the three manuscripts and knew they were almost ready to go.

He also told me this will be the “Christmas of the Kindle.” He predicted Kindles would get very cheap for the holidays—under $99—and said they'll be THE gift. He expects this holiday season to be the hottest e-book buying moment in history.

And guess what happened on Wednesday this week? Amazon announced its lowest price Kindle will now sell for…$79. And the new Kindle Fire--an ereader/tablet that competes with the iPad, will cost only $199 (a loss to Amazon they expect will pay off in other sales.)

So I think Mark has a pretty clear crystal ball.

He pointed out that in the three or more years it would take to grind even one of my books through the traditional publishing machine, the whole publishing world will have changed. There may not be any more big brick and mortar bookstores. That window in Barnes and Noble where I’ve fantasized seeing my work will probably display only Nooks and Snookibooks. E-books will reign.

So I realized that for me--after fifteen years of bloodying my knuckles on New York doors--it made sense to get all my books out right now. (This isn't all the books I've written, BTW--I've got some practice ones in the files that will never see Kindle-light.)

Mark certainly doesn’t recommend that everybody take out their rejected manuscripts and throw them on Amazon (or submit them to MWiDP.) But I had three finished, multi-critiqued, edited new mysteries. (And yes, Mark did ask for more edits and I’m in the process of killing some darlings, but his suggestions improved the books instead of gutting them.) 

Do I recommend this for everybody? Again I repeat: no. Going the indie or semi-indie route is likely to lead to disappointment if you don't have a body of work and you’ve only been at this game a little while. Writing narrative is a craft that takes years to perfect. You don't open a restaurant after your first cooking lesson.

The reason this move is best for me is: not only will MWiDP make my ebooks available immediately, but my chances of acceptance by the Big Six are abysmal. I only recently figured out why I've been getting so many "I absolutely loved this, but..." rejections.

1) I’ve been previously published, without stupendous sales numbers.
2) My work doesn’t fit into a neat genre category.
3)  I write funny. Humor is subjective and can’t please all of the people all of the time.
4) Funny books by women are often lumped together as chick lit—the most hated genre in New York.

If you’re just starting your writing journey, please don't let me keep you from pursuing your personal publishing dreams. By the time you have two or three books ready to go, the industry will have settled a bit from the e-revolution and you’ll have many more options than we have now. The Big Six may not be as big and Amazon and maybe Apple might be the most desirable publishers. There will also be lots of collectives and small e-publishers like MWiDP to choose from.

If you’re in the process of looking for an agent, please keep at it. Agents will have very different job descriptions in a few years, but having a savvy agent in your corner will always help your career. I’d love to have one myself.

But right now, with all these books ready to go, it makes sense for me to join Mark's new venture and be ready for “the Christmas of the Kindle.”

So who is this Mark Williams dude?

He’s not a guy to toot his own horn. He doesn’t even post a picture of himself on his blog. What I’ve been able glean from his emails and posts is:

  • He’s a very good writer and editor.
  • And a phenomenally smart guy.
  • He’s based in London.
  • He spends a lot of time traveling the world, teaching third-world children and building schools.
  • He first became interested in electronic publishing because of the opportunity it provides to get books to children in remote parts of the world.  
  • He’s traveled and taught in lots of dangerous places, like Soviet Russia and Saddam’s Iraq. He has braved revolutions and lost dear friends in horrific civil wars.
  • Right now, he’s helping get solar power to a primitive village in West Africa so they can use computers and electronic readers—an effort partly funded by money from his book sales. (He asks that when you get your new Kindles, you consider donating the used ones to his project.)
  • He is apparently living in a mud hut. I don’t know if that’s a metaphorical hut, but it doesn’t sound like the Hilton.
  • I’ve got to admit I’ve done a little searching the old Interwebz for a picture—but a name like Mark Williams is as generic as, well, Anne Allen, so I haven’t got a clue how to find him. Unless maybe he’s that "most interesting guy" from the beer commercials:
So here I go on another publishing adventure….whee!

So how do you feel about all this, scriveners? Are you ready to take the self-pub or indie-collective plunge? Holding out for the traditional publishing dream? Willing to go indie, but want an agent to guide you? Or are you a successful US indie who’d like help getting into the European and Asian markets?
*********
I'm starting little blog tour in my own slow way this week. I reveal a few personal secrets in a guest post at Karen Jones Gowan's blog, Coming Down the Mountain due to post next Friday, Oct. 7th, and I spilled more beans at Prue Batten’s ‘Mesmered” blog: (with a great comment from Mark Williams hisownself.) Plus I've got some very nice cyber ink from Danielle Smith over at Chick Lit Reviews. Anybody who'd like an interview or blog visit, do let me know (and anybody willing to do a review, I'll be forever in your debt.)

46 comments:

  1. That's quite a leap of faith!
    I do have room on my calendar for a guest post this month - email me and we'll make it happen.
    The Fire will have to be amazing beyond words to compete with the iPad, although it stands a better chance than all of the other failed tablets.

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  2. Mark is indeed an awesome guy - and you forgot to mention how funny and sweet he is. He's been really good about my co-writer and I being slow with our chapters for our joing publishing venture with him and Saffi, and it really takes a load off your mind. He's an awesome dude, and that new pubbing company of his just shows it even more!

    Speaking of your Gatsby Game ... is this in any way related to The Great Gatsby? I looked at the link, but I'm still curious - even if only because I'm being made to read TGG for my AS English course and I want to try and justify your book as background reading ;)

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  3. Oh, Baby! That is great! You have persevered and sucked it up in such a laser-focused, creative way. Woody Allen once supposedly said that 90% of life is showing up. He's right...but he forgot to leave out determination! Without the Big D which you have in spades, writers might as well just fuggedaboutit.

    And, as for cat burglars, see my comment on Prue's blog.

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  4. Dearest Miss Allen,
    Huzzah! I say Huzzah! I love the new cover & look forward to holding a copy in my hand, whether paper or Kindlified. Here's to Anne's Excellent Publishing Adventure!

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  5. Alex--Thanks a bunch! I've just emailed you.

    Spook--Yes, my novel is related to The Great Gatsby. It's about a compulsive social climber who's obsessed with F. Scott Fitzgerald. He calls his social climbing "the Gatsby Game" because Jay Gatsby (ne Gatz) was the ultimate social climber. (Also, did you know a new film version of the Great Gatsby is coming out next year with Leonardo DiCaprio?)

    Ruth--I love that Woody Allen quote. Yeah, I've been determined. Or some people might say demented. But I couldn't let go of the dream.

    C.S. I think it will be. Excellent, I mean. And it won't be boring.

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  6. Thanks for posting this Anne. I love following your progress through the publishing world and this latest venture looks extremely exciting.

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  7. Congratulations on the upcoming release of "The Gatsby Game!" I love the cover and the story sounds amazing. I've e-pubbed a book recently, myself--figure why not do both traditional and self-pub?

    You know you're always welcome to guest post at my blog. Just let me know!

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  8. This sounds like an exciting adventure, Anne! Congrats and I look forward to seeing where this path takes you. Also...I look forward to your books!

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  9. Wow Anne. Exciting times! It's frankly astonishing how your fortunes seem to have picked up in the last few months. After all the years of work, you certainly deserve every success. Well done, and I'm full of respect for you for jumping in with Mark Williams -- he sounds like a guy not content to sit on his hands regarding anything!

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  10. This is an amazing post, Anne. GREAT information. Congrats on all new books! I'm looking forward to reading them!!

    And I have met Mark. In fact, he invited me to guest post. It's been several weeks, so I think I'd better get on this now! So I'm glad you posted this to spur me on.

    Have a great Sunday!!!
    Ann Best, Author of In the Mirror, A Memoir of Shattered Secrets

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  11. You are the truly the one and only one ... Great "bleeping" news, Anne :)

    I just ordered Food of Love and I'll read it with my monthly book club selection (and enjoy it ten times more) ... I've love to schedule you back at Ramblings. You are always a welcomed guest.

    I'll read it and we'll set up a schedule. In the mean time, I'm reading a great book ... do you know the name? Hee ... Food of Love is music to my ears. You go girl !! Oh yes, this is Florence/Ramblings as an Anon ... bless google and their dear tight a@#s ...

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  12. What an amazing amount of great info in this post! Thanks for being honest about the pros/cons of this type of leap (especially for those of us still trying to negotiate the publishing world for the first time). Best of luck with this venture and looking forward to The Gatsby Game.

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  13. Congratulations, Anne! It's great that so many cool things are happening to you after such a long dry spell.

    And The Gatsby Game sounds really, really interesting. I love a Hollywood sex scandal.

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  14. I love the idea that you've been fruitlessly hunting for a pic. I'm out there on a few travel sites, but as you say, it's such a generic name. Which is why my co-author and I opted to write as Saffina Desforges, and with that decision she became the public face of the team.

    In the New Year I'll be launching a blog about my life and projects here in West Africa, and I'll put in a personal appearance then, along with the mud hut!

    For any US sellers doing well over there but not in the UK, check out the post on my main site - http://markwilliamsinternational.com/2011/09/27/trans-atlantic-weather-forecast-two%e2%80%99s-company-three%e2%80%99s-a-cloud-from-wg2e/
    - which gives more information.

    For anyone just setting out - heed Anne's advice. The future is digital, but jumping in before you're ready will do you no favors.

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  15. Thanks so much, Mark. I already left my anon. comment. I am a long time friend of Anne's who has been shut out by google. Florence.

    I have a question for either of you. I also agree that newbie writers should be cautious. If the sky falls and I do land an agent/publisher ... what is your advice concerning e-rights? Since the major complaint from those such as Bob Mayer is that the Big 6 and many of the other not so big print publishers are not offering competitive percentages regarding e-rights. What should a person do now that we are going in with a different "eye" and lots more inside info than anyone had even three years ago?

    Thanks :)

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  16. Wow, Anne! So incredibly cool. You hinted about big things at the CCWC, but it’s exciting to get the real scoop.

    Your Gatsby Game book out on MWiDP is very intriguing, too, as is that character Mark Williams. He sounds like someone worth keeping an eye on.

    ~Dawn

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  17. Michael--Exciting, yes. Also scary and--at the moment--exhausting, but I think I made the right decision.

    Elizabeth--Thanks to you too. I'll be honored to guest post on your blog! (one of Writers Digest's top 101 sites!)

    Valerie--I'm going to be interested in seeing where this leads, too.

    Neil--Mark is a man of action. I sure hope I can keep up.

    Ann--I look forward to your guest post on MWI!

    Florence--I love my visits guest posting for you and yes! I'd love to do it again. We'll firm up dates soon. I'm so disappointed you still can't comment with your WordPress sign in. That's dirty pool, Google.

    Linda--Publishing is definitely not one-size-fits-all. Every writer will have a different path, and I don't want to be one of those bloggers who say, "my way is the only way."

    Cynthia--I hope you like the Gatsby Game. It's a novel where the villain is the focal character, and we see that he's not being evil--just childish.

    Mark--I'm glad you weren't offended that I compared you to the Dos Equis man--but it was too funny to pass up.

    So you're going to start another blog, huh? I keep telling people not to scatter themselves across the Interwebz with multiple blogs, but you probably do need to separate your own travel writing from the Saffina Desforges/MWiDP brand.

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  18. Congtatulations, Anne! Your journey is encouraging as well as amazing with savvy tips for all of us writers, pubbed or unpubbed.
    Patti

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  19. Florence--Any good agent will try to do right by your e-rights, although it's tough these days. This is why so many agents are turning into publishers--they hang onto their clients' e-rights and publish the e-books themselves, because Big 6 won't budge on the tiny royalties. If you publish without an agent, make sure you work with a good small press that either lets you self publish your own ebooks (Mainly Murder does this--very nice) or has good e-royalties--at least 25%. (Popcorn gives 50%.) But I don't see any point in signing with a publisher who charges $12 for an ebook, gives you 7% of the net, and makes you do all the promotion yourself.

    Patricia--thanks!

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  20. What an amazing month for you, and what a fascinating journey. Getting to work on some great questions for you this week & so looking forward to having you as a guest on the blog!

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  21. Anne, a great post. You never disappoint.

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  22. Wow, great news Anne. I'm excited for you. :) I think you're better off with the choices you've made than languishing around waiting for the big six to throw you a bone, for sure. The publishing industry is changing and there's no reason for an experienced writer like you not to take advantage of it, especially with your backlist.

    As I've mentioned about a thousand times before (lol) I have work with everything from a traditional press to e-publishers to self-published stuff. There's no question that the majority of my sales come from the US market, but the European market is definately there and important too. (One of my publishers is a British company, actually.) I've never done a lot of sales in the UK in the past, but recently one of my books went free for Kindle in the UK and so I'm definately (finally! lol) getting more attention there for it and my other work. It's one of the top 3 free books in the UK and the top contemp. romance, so I can't really think of anything better I could do to boost my visibility there, especially for my self-published work. :)

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  23. Fantastic amount of info for this as yet unpublished writer. Many thanks. Your hard work putting together this post is appreciated. Now, where do I begin with the agent/editor/publisher search ?

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  24. Congratulations, Anne! I love watching your publications journey--so exciting.

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  25. books--looking forward to the interview!

    Judith--Glad you're not bored yet :-)

    Ranae--It's pioneers like you who are helping stick-in-the-muds like me to break free from the old mind-set.

    Donna--I still think the best start is an agent search. First go to AgentQuery.com and search their database for agents who rep your genre. Then join QueryTracker.com for further information and support. Eventually, you may decide to go indie, but I really believe you should try for an agent first. You don't know if you're going to be the next phenomenon until you try.

    Elle--thanks so much. You're a role model too.

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  26. Watching this journey unfold via the blog this past year has been wonderful and a good illustration that "luck" = preparation (years in the making)+ opportunity. Whoopeee. Will be fun seeing where this saga goes from here. Exciting times.

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  27. All I can say is YAY!!!! I'm so happy and excited for you! I'm more than willing to guest you on my blog (that should go without saying) whether it be in interview or book review, whatever you want, I'm yours.

    Congratulations! This is just the BESTEST news I've heard in a long time.

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  28. I'm always up for reviewing a fellow writers work! This is so exciting for you. Yea! Congratulations on all the upcoming ventures.

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  29. Thanks for pointing out the pros and cons to each pathway you could take in your career. As a newer-to-the-scene writer, I am gleaning much from your advice.

    Though I am leaning towards traditional publishing myself, your situation seems to match Mark's business model at this point. Good luck!

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  30. As always Anne, you offer top-notch information, but mostly, I am SO excited about your news! Thanks so much for sharing your journey! :)

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  31. Anne, you simply amaze me! I'm so thrilled for you and I hope your energy (and level headedness) is infectious to not only your fellow SLO authors, but to writers in the blogosphere worldwide! Congratulations on diving into this new digital publishing world.
    -Laurie McLean, Agent, Larsen Pomada Literary Agents (and soon to be publisher...maybe you can interview me in December!)

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  32. Churadogs--Exciting is right. Terrifying on some days.

    Anne and Andrea--So grateful for the offer of a review. I'll be in touch about getting you review copies.

    M.E. Traditional publishing will catch up. At the moment some companies are scared, and they're taking out their fears on authors (and their agents) but that has to be ironed out or they'll go out of business.

    Bridget--Thanks so much for all your encouragement.

    Laurie--THANKS! I'm so honored you stopped by. You betcha I'd like an interview about your new publishing venture. You're one of the agents who first saw the e-revolution coming, and you're on the cutting edge of the "new agent job description."

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  33. I love the cover; very classy! And I am so excited about your success. Hard earned, long desired and mostly well deserved! Your talent is taking you on an adventure. Does it get any better than that?

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  34. What fantastic news! Absolutely delighted for you, and looking forward to all those books.

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  35. Congrats, Anne. I wish you great success with the mysterous Mark and his new epublishing company. It sounds like a great way to go. Let us know how it goes, OK?

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  36. Anne, this is SO exciting. It also answers my question I just posed on your interview from last week. (I asked if I can pre-order the paperback of FOOD). I'll do that asap. You are such a pioneer. We're all very lucky to be able to learn from your experiences. How incredible to have so many books available soon.

    I have to get a Kindle already. I shouldn't be so dang behind!

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  37. Christine--It's an adventure, all right. Now if I could just get finished with these revisions, I might be able to stop and enjoy it!

    Kelley--Thanks. I hope people like the books. They're all a little different, but they have a similar humorous voice.

    D.D.--I'll keep you all in the loop. Although I've been reading lots in the blogosphere how nobody wants you to blog about your books. I'll have to find a happy medium.

    Nina--I probably shouldn't admit it, but I don't have a Kindle either. I like me some treeware. I know that has to change, though.

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  38. Anne I'm so behind on reading everybody's news but i just have to say- this is wonderful. So glad your books will be out there.

    I think you hit the nail on head with the whole "nooks and Snookibooks" remark, right there...

    wishing you every single success and joy you've worked so hard for...will be watching with interest and cheering you on from the wings.

    huge hugs
    bru

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  39. Thanks so much Bru--your courage puts the rest of us to shame. Best of luck with your own writing journey.

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  40. Anne congrats on all your hard work and much success. I'll be watching, Mark's new venture...

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  41. Congrats on that, Ann. Sounds like a good plan after all that knocking and waiting you've been doing. I believe that as long as you have a good product then the sky's the limit. I'll check on your stops when I've had some sleep. Congrats again!

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  42. Anne,

    This sounds so exciting. I wish you all the best. Yours is my favorite blog on writing and I always look out for your tweets.

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  43. Lee--Yeah: watching Mark is kind of an adventure in itself.

    J.L.--sleep is good. I gotta get me some, too. This publishing thing can be pretty exhausting, can't it?

    Paul--Thanks so much for saying that. I've been feeling lots of self doubt--things feel kind of scary right now. It helps to have people in my corner.

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  44. Anne - Sorry for my late response. And congratulations! I'm not ready to go the indie route myself yet, but it sounds like the right decision for you. I look forward to reading more about your experiences with self-publishing. The colors on the cover of The Gatsby Game (I love that title), by the way, are the same colors as the box of Petit Ecolier cookies on my desk :)

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  45. The Gatsby Game is a fascinating mystery, romance and a bit of feminist activists.

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  46. kamagra--Thanks for the day brightener! I'm so glad you liked "Gatsby". Yeah, I guess I had to get my feminist message in there. The agent who wanted a rewrite wanted me to cut out the part where Nicky takes over the family company and becomes CEO, but showing she finally got in touch with her own power was really important to me.

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