Trying my best to write my first piece of fiction.

I realize that I’ve been far too quiet for the last few months. As a self-published author, my first job isn’t to write, but to advertise my books. Writing is actually secondary to marketing, selling, and publicizing my books. When Memoirs of a Future Ghost came out, I did everything I could think of. I contacted the local paper, scheduled a big book premiere/signing in conjunction with a ghost tour, did giveaways, advertised on Facebook, Goodreads, and Amazon. You name it, I did it. And, I don’t think I sold enough books to cover my advertising costs. Granted, it’s not about money, it’s about the art of writing. But, I would be lying if I didn’t put out there that a chunk of cash and/or notoriety would have been nice.

Recollections of a Future Ghost was released on my favorite holiday, Halloween. The year 2020 was supposed to be a fun, different sort of year for me. I had scheduled a couple of book fairs, my second book was in the pipeline, and I had planned trips to several different haunted locations to write about in my third book, Confessions of a Future Ghost. But, a worldwide pandemic changed all of that. Little by little, my world shrank. Book fairs and speaking engagements were cancelled, investigations weren’t even possible, Paranormal Georgia Investigations dissolved, and worse? Three people I loved passed away.

On Halloween, 2020, as I stood in my friend Stefanie’s shop, ready to sign books, my mother-in-law was being airlifted to Grady Memorial Hospital, battling a major stroke. Three days later, she was gone and three weeks after that, we lost my father-in-law to cancer. My grandmother had preceded them both in September. Not only that, but after advertising my book, pushing my book signing, and doing everything I was capable of doing, I had three people show up. The whole day was heartbreaking in more ways than one.

Being a self-published author is a constant uphill battle. Without the backing of an agent and publisher, with said publisher’s marketing department doing all the heavy-lifting when it comes to letting the reading public know that your book is out in the world, it’s nearly impossible to get the word out. Word of mouth and reviews are a self-published author’s bread and butter while social media advertising is practically useless. Sure, creating an ad on Instagram nets you thousands of likes… and no purchases. I think I gave up on social media when I saw a “laughing” reaction to my second book’s ad on Facebook. Like, really? I spent years of my life on this book and you’re… laughing at it? The most frustrating moment was researching the possibility of having brick and mortar Barnes & Noble stores carry my book and finding out that they wanted ME to develop a marketing plan. Um, wow. Really? I’m a writer, not a marketing expert. Just order a couple of copies of my books for each store and stick them in the practically non-existent paranormal section of your stores, homie. Not only that, but I will typically sit down on the couch with a mug of coffee to catch up with the latest reality television or news and see that yet another vapid reality bimbo has been handed a wad of cash by a publishing house to spend hours on the phone with a ghostwriter, get their glamor shots taken for a book cover, and within a few weeks have “their” book make it to the New York Times Bestseller list. Or, see the son of a former president make it to the same bestseller list because a political organization bought enough of his books to fill a warehouse.

*Note to self: Get on a reality show. Join a political party. Get a book deal. Make bank.*

That’s not to say that there aren’t great stories and authors out there. Heck, I’m a member of a book club that sends out incredible books each month. Books that I would have never chosen for myself, but that are exceptional pieces of fiction, science fiction, biography, autobiography, and non-fiction. What I wouldn’t give to get in on the book club scene! But, considering that I’ve been courteous, earnest, grateful, and many other synonyms when it comes to contacting local books stores about carrying my book and receiving mostly silence or short answers in return, I’ve pretty much given up asking anyone to please read. It has come to me giving my books away to anyone who wants them.

And when those three people whom I adored passed away within the span of two short months, I lost all interest in even trying to “sell” myself and my books. January 1, 2021 was my last Instagram and Facebook posts and I quietly decided that I needed to walk away, figure out what I wanted to do with my writing, and how I would go about publishing my third book if I did it at all.

One night in February, I woke straight up out of a dead sleep with this crazy idea for a story. I had toyed with story ideas in the past. I had notes on sticky pads, various notebooks filled with random bits of dialog and ideas, computer documents and while I’ve saved some and tossed others in the trash, this particular idea is the one that has stuck with me and that I’ve worked on over the last two months. I haven’t written a chapter or a lick of dialog, but I’m outlining something that actually makes me smile. I’ve only revealed the story to one friend who got very excited about it and immediately exclaimed, “You should write it as a YA!” That’s Young Adult fiction for those of you wondering. That made me very excited and I ran home and changed the age of my protagonist and a few key details.

I have no idea when this story will be finished. I should have already completed the outline and sent the first few chapters to my editor, but moving to a new house and becoming a puppy mom tends to upend one’s life. Regardless, my office is completely set up and I’m back outlining as I type this. I’m excited about writing again. Someday, I’ll return to the subject of true ghosts stories and my personal experiences with said ghosts. But for now, that part of my life is on hold. In the meantime, I intend to write about monsters, both real and imagined. And hope that somewhere out there is an audience who will love it.

Our new puppy. Who is only a monster at mealtime.

Editor Extraordinaire, Wayne South Smith

My editor, Wayne, and fellow author, Sheryl, at my inaugural book signing!
My editor, Wayne, and my neighbor and colleague, Sheryl Parbhoo, at my inaugural book signing!

I started writing Memoirs of a Future Ghost in November, 2016. Just four short months later, I had written 25,000 words and declared it done. It was basically 25 blog posts of 1,000-words each with no continuity or cohesion. Not knowing any better, I figured it was finished and ready for an audience. As a former technical writer, I knew I needed an editor and, also as a former technical writer, I felt an editor would simply check my grammar and spelling and be done with it. As a stay-at-home mom, I didn’t know any editors. But I did know a fellow author.

Sheryl Parbhoo, author of The Unexpected Daughter, is also my neighbor, and our youngest sons are best friends. It was over many mugs of coffee, driveway talks, and emails that I finally accepted that I needed her help and advice. And her first piece of advice was, “Here is my editor’s email and phone number. Call him. He is A-MAZING.”

With great trepidation, I did so, and it was the best decision because from that first phone call, I knew we would make a great team! What I didn’t know was how much my book would change, but also how much I would change as a writer. As Wayne stated when I asked him what were his first impressions of my book,

I enjoyed getting to know you through your memoir writing. I found you to be smart and wacky, and I related. You really impressed me by being able to face your fears and not only go to haunted places, but invite the ghosts to express themselves! So, your courage on both accounts wowed me. And your story was good, but the collection of blog posts wasn’t detailed enough. Since you write so well, I dove in and do what I do, guiding and asking for more.

And dive in, he did! Wayne wasn’t just my editor, he was also my coach and my cheerleader. Working in the field since 2003, Wayne brought a wealth of experience to my small tome and made it so much more than I thought it could ever be. When I asked him how he got started editing, he replied,

After a few years working on my high school newspaper, I joined the yearbook staff as a copy editor. It was a good fit since I was a Virgo striving for perfection. By mid-year, my fantastic English teacher, Mr. Driskill, told me I would be the editor the next year. I remember freaking out, saying, “I don’t know how to do that,” and he replied, “Sure you do! You’ll be great!” And that was that. The books won top state awards those two years, and I changed my college major from chemistry–An orthodontist? Really?!–to journalism.

No wonder we got along so well! Scientists who became writers! When I sent the first draft of Memoirs to Wayne, what I received back wasn’t marked through with red, critical notes lining the margins. What I found was enthusiastic notes like the following, “This works, but consider expanding it a little.  You seek the ghosts out.  Invite them into conversation and to appear…” and “See! This story can hold its own in a chapter! And then inspire others, creating momentum! Good job!” Of course, there were misspellings and grammatical mistakes, but for the most part, Wayne wanted to make sure I could create a story and focus on my book.  When I asked Wayne how he approaches editing books, he said,

I get a sense from the author of what they are going for, and I don’t let them tell me much as I want to experience their words. Then, I use my intuition and both sides of my brain to analyze and create as I move through the project. Reflecting with good communication, I nurture both book and writer when ready and as needed. And I stay present through all of it, doing my best not to have expectations other than for the writing to be crisp and vibrant, as well as the writer completing a book they are proud to put their name on and share with their audience. I’m very grateful for my clients and my work.

And here’s the thing, in addition to being my editor, coach, and cheerleader, he also gave me invaluable guidance regarding my book cover and internal design, connecting me with those who could help me make those visions come true! Of course, after reading my book about ghosts and paranormal investigations, I just had to ask Wayne where he would most like to haunt when he’s a future ghost like me!

Geez, just one place?! If that’s the case, somewhere fabulous where I’d have a welcoming audience, like the Fox Theater! But tell me: will the law of physics or whatever limit me, or can I easily move around? And, oh! Can I time travel?! Still, as fun as it seems, this sounds sorta lonely! Will you haunt with me?

Of course, Wayne! I see a future afterlife where we both haunt the tropics and grand theaters together, stopping every now and then to peek over the shoulders of budding authors, reading their words, and editing their manuscripts while they sleep, adding our own ghostly spice to their books!

If you, too, are in need of a guide on your writing/publishing journey, I highly recommend Wayne South Smith, editor, coach, and all-around great guy. I mean, he loves Depeche Mode. What else can you ask for?

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