David S. McRobert wrote a book called There Is No Place Called “Away” Why Exporting Garbage Is Not Sustainable or Sensible. If you are taking garbage out to the curb or a dumpster every week, then you are under the illusion, like most Americans, that because they don’t see the garbage any longer, that it is gone.

Every year, the typical American family throws out 2,460 pounds of paper, 540 pounds of metals, 480 pounds of glass and 480 pounds of food scraps. The amount of wood and paper we throw away each year is enough to heat 50 million homes for 20 years. Each gallon of gas used by a car contributes about 19 pounds of carbon-dioxide into the atmosphere. For a single car driving 1,000 miles a month, that adds up to 120 tons of carbon-dioxide a year. Forty percent of food purchased ends up in a landfill.

I am watching The Time Machine where George has reached the time of the Eloi and the Morlocks when they blindly accepted cannibalism because they didn’t know anything else. We don’t have that excuse. We should know that we can do better. We can build a better world.

What Can We Do?

The first step in solving the problem is knowing that there is a problem. Second in realizing that we can do something about it. Eighty-four percent of a typical household’s waste — including food scraps, yard waste, paper, cardboard, cans, and bottles — we can recycle.

We can start by controlling how much we consume. Our society has taught us to blindly consume so that we can keep the monetary system that we gave going. We purchase things on credit so that banks can earn interest off our debt. The more we buy on credit, the more money is siphoned from our pockets.

We can start in our own backyards. We can learn composting and vermiculture to deal with our household and yard wastes. We can stop blindly consuming products. We can plan to eat all of the food we purchase. We can plan our driving so that we are not driving as many miles per month. Many of us can ride mass transit or bicycles or drive motorcycles instead of driving cars.

Wasting Clean Water

According to World Vision, nearly 1,000 children under age 5 die every day from diarrhea caused by contaminated water, poor sanitation, and improper hygiene. Here in the United States, the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under President Trump is proposing to weaken water pollution standards for the power plant industry (known as the Steam Electric Effluent Limitations and Guidelines (ELG) rule). In 2015 EPA issued the first ever national pollution standards to limit the amount of arsenic, lead, mercury, selenium and other harmful chemicals that power plants can dump into our water. These standards had not been updated since 1982 and led to the contamination of 23,000 miles of rivers and streams across the country, including drinking water sources. The 2015 technology-based standards required power plants to achieve zero discharge of fly ash and bottom ash wastewater and set strict limits on discharges of arsenic, mercury, selenium, and nitrogen in scrubber sludge wastewater.

EPA is proposing to weaken pollution limits for two of the largest and most toxic power plant waste streams — sludge from the scrubbers that remove pollutants from smokestack emissions and water used to flush coal ash from boilers (commonly known as bottom ash wastewater). The 2015 rule required a closed-looped/zero discharge system for water used to flush out coal ash in boilers, but now EPA wants to allow plants to discharge up to 10 percent of their bottom ash wastewater. EPA also wants to relax technology requirements for limiting pollutants such as selenium in scrubber sludge wastewater discharges. Its proposal even offers new loopholes for power plants that claim they will retire soon or only operate for a limited number of hours a year — allowing these plants to dump even more toxic pollution into our rivers and lakes. Power plants, mostly coal-fired, are the number one toxic water polluters in the country and they shouldn’t be allowed to continue to contaminate our nation’s water resources. Gutting these standards is a hand-out to the power plant industry at the expense of our health and our environment and our posterities future.

In addition, not only does our garbage go somewhere, but so does our own body wastes. Our body wastes don’t just go “away”, they are washed away with an average of 2 gallons of clean water every time we flush! Because the water is mixed with our body wastes, it becomes what is called black water which gets mixed in our sewer systems with gray water from our bathing, dishwashing, and clothes washing and gets flushed into sewer systems. In metropolitan systems the sewage is separated from the water and the water returned to the system, and the solid wastes are sent out to landfills for disposal. The waste products are placed in pits where they are buried and often their toxicity is leached back into the natural waterways and end up downstream and end up in the ocean. Every day, Americans produce 16 tons of sewage every minute, but no one ever talks about this. We think that as long as the water goes down the toilet or drain, we have nothing to worry about.

Not just our bodily wastes, but animal wastes are also a problem. You may be shocked to learn that one of the most important ways you can reduce your impact on the planet is to eat less meat and dairy and more plant-based food. Raising of livestock contributes 18% of humanity’s total impact on carbon emissions, more than the emissions from cars, trains, and planes combined.

Not to say that animals and animal protein is bad. Animals do play an important role when incorporated into farms. Cow/calf operations, like here in Southern Missouri, recycle nutrients by eating grass (not digestible by humans). Small permaculture type farms raise chickens which keep down insect pests by eating them and can also eat food waste. Pigs can also eat food wastes. These animals turn these into manure that fertilizes the soil which feeds plant crops.

HOWEVER, our current industrial agriculture system, most livestock are subjected to CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations). In the 1970s, agricultural policies led to smaller farms consolidating into big monocultures. Animals were removed from farm and squeezed into CAFOs and instead of using manure for fertilizer we increased our usage of synthetic fertilizers. In addition, this manure is so concentrated and anaerobic that the manure is no longer fit to use on fields.  This system comes with many steep ecological, health, and humanitarian issues. The policy that bigger is better has not only harmed the animals, but the farmers as well.

We’ll discuss more about this subject in next week’s blog.


We don’t need a crystal ball to know that we are not leaving things as good as we found them.

A Legacy of Pollution and Waste

Often when I moved out of a place where I have lived, I tried to make it look better than I originally found it. I would like to do that when I take my final breath, but I am realizing that that might be an arduous task.

When we burn fossil fuels, we release a variety of chemicals into the atmosphere. Since we have to breath air to live, the air that we breathe affects our health. The polluted air we breath puts us at higher risk of respiratory diseases including asthma. Scientific evidence shows that 6-7 hours of exposure to ground ozone, a healthy person’s lung function decreases. Air pollution is mostly carcinogens, therefore, living with pollution increases our risk of cancer. Air pollution also damages the immune, endocrine and reproductive systems. It has also been associated with higher incidents of heart problems.

Toxic chemicals are released into the air and settle on plants and pollutes water sources. Animals eat the contaminated plants and drink the water. The pollution harms our food chain. One of the worst culprits is plastic. Since the 1950s over 800 billion tons of plastic has been created worldwide and only about 9% of it has been recycled. 73% of the beach pollution is plastic and 1.1 million birds and animals are killed annually by plastic. You are eating about 70,000 microplastics every year.

Rainwater and snow can cause water pollution if it is contaminated by chemicals on rooftops and lawns Not only does air pollution affect water, but also sewers empty into rivers, chemicals from farms run down into water, and factories dump hazardous waste into waterways. Dumping trash into waterways has a negative impact on the health of the water and the creatures and plants that rely on it.

The same sources also pollute the land. In addition, in order to artificially increase production, farmers are encouraged to pump chemicals into their fields often at detriment of their bottom line and their own health. These same chemicals erode soils draining it of nutrients. In many cases, modern agriculture has caused the food we eat to have half the nutritional value of the food that our own grandparents ate.

Desertification is a type of land degradation involving loss of biological productivity induced by human activities. Deserts emerge due to the rampant and unchecked depletion of nutrients in soil that are essential for it to remain arable. In just about every case, soil death occurs which traces its cause back to human overexploitation. Desertification is a significant global ecological and environmental problem with far reaching consequences on socio-economic and political conditions and has been the cause of the fall of every major civilization. Today’s forestry and agricultural systems are such that these forms of desertification are accelerated.  

The way we plow the ground destroys microbial soil life and creates a hardpan just a few inches beneath the surface. We pump irrigation water from deep aquafers that cannot be readily recharged and will eventually run dry if we continue at our current rates of removal. In addition, the water we bring up is rich in alkaline mineral salts which get trapped in the hardpan creating a toxic layer that will eventually render the soil unproductive.

Animals are kept in CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) spew toxic wastes This manure became toxic only because humans mismanage it.

There’s Still Time to Save the Planet, Save Your Family, and Even Save Money Doing It

Even if our government is more interested in serving the desires of special interest groups, we can all make a difference on the grassroots level. The first thing we have to do is be willing to educate ourselves and educate our families about the problems we face.

Second, we need to protect our families from the effects of the problems we face. We need decrease (or eliminate!) our use of plastics. We need to recycle everything else. We can filter our drinking water. We can get our food locally or grow it ourselves.

In addition to reducing our use of plastics (which are made from fossil fuels), we can reduce fossil fuel usage by learning to conserve energy. Some ways cost considerable amounts of money, but a lot of them just require a little human ingenuity. Doing things like turning off lights when you leave the room, batching errands you run when using a car or using mass transit, air drying dishes in the dishwasher rather than using the drying cycle, using bulk beans and cooking at home, or buying local fruits and vegetables in season, if done by the major population, will do a lot toward reducing air and water pollution.

Decreasing pollution in the air and water in these ways will save us money, who wouldn’t want that? There’s nothing like a grassroots movement to make a difference, especially in our day of the world wide web, but our biggest tool in our “save our planet, save our legacy” is in education.  There are so many more things that we can do on a larger scale.

Did you know that it takes ten times less energy to raise cows on grass than it does on grain? Did you know that plowing puts more carbon into the atmosphere every spring than any other source and you can see it on NASA satellite imagery? https://climate.nasa.gov/interactives/climate-time-machine

Did you know that there are people who are fighting desertification in some of the driest places on earth (Saudi Arabia, China) and they are actually changing those climates? These and so many more ways can be used to repair the damage that our society has caused our planet. In fact, any one of two or three approaches on a large scale can make enough difference that they can reverse in just ten years all the damage done to the air and water since the beginning of the industrial revolution! Wouldn’t you like to give your posterity a future that includes clean air, clean water, and soil health?

It is possible if we decide to take action now. Research what you can do today! I’ll help in any way I can!

 


Where will the journey of the 2020s take you?

Welcome to 2020, a new year and new decade! Here on this blog I am taking a turn in my life’s journey and devoting How my Spirit Sings down a slightly different path! This new path can be summed up in one word “LEGACY”.

This brings up the question of what does legacy means to me and how will I present that legacy in this blog—How My Spirit Sings?

Back in January 2019, I started immersing myself into prepper, gardening, and permaculture YouTube videos. I realized quite early on that prepping could only take an individual so far. It’s fine for short term, limited area disasters, but if a major event crippled the entire country’s systems, we would need to involve our entire local community if we were going to survive and that community included the natural community. That’s where permaculture came into play.  

For the past three months I have been working on a 22 Lesson course called “The Advanced Permaculture Student” hosted by Matt Powers. I watched all the videos and am now reading through the book and participating in the meetups whenever possible.

Permaculture involves working with the forces of nature rather than against them and it isn’t just some throwback hippy idea either.  During the past couple of decades, many modern farms have abandoned the green revolution of chemical agriculture and turned to cover crops, compost, and regenerative grazing practices. Some, like Greg Judy of Central Missouri, Gabe Brown of Bismarck, North Dakota, and Joel Salatin of Virginia  have created highly profitable farming systems that in many ways exceed the production of neighboring agribusiness farms, at a lower cost, with greater profitability, and without government subsidies at the same time building their soils often by inches per year!

Others like Curtis Stone have taken permaculture principles and brought them into urban settings to produce salad greens and microgreens in front and back yards to sell locally and make a reasonable living.

If you’re thinking that permaculture has to do with permanent farming practices, you’d only be partially right. It is that and much more. It involves recycling and conservation as well.  It involves creating a healthy emotional, mental, physical, creative, and economical environment for the individual, family, community, nation, and even the entire world! It is about creating a legacy for not just for my future posterity, but potentially for all future generations.

My PDC project will be a design of my own land. My advanced permaculture project will be starting to create my legacy of building a permaculture homestead and The Jerjoboch Permaculture Learning Center on my place in Oregon County, Missouri. I’ll be moving there this spring. (I’ll share more about this in the coming months.) On my place, I’ll demonstrate the rudiments of the practices mentioned, but other concepts as they relate to living in harmony with nature and other people with an eye on the future. I see it as a springboard for helping raise Oregon County from being one of the poorest counties in the state and we’ll do it by building soil.

This little sweet potato plant, like my plan for the future, might not look like much yet, but wait a few months and see what develops!

Over the past year, not only did I absorb copious amounts of information regarding permaculture, but I also started doing what I could on my patio here in Springfield. I grew tomatoes, lettuce, spinach, herbs, and potatoes. Just after Thanksgiving I started a sweet potato plant in an ice cream container that will be part of my bigger garden next year. I have regular potatoes wrapped in paper in the refrigerator and seeds in a container waiting to be planted in the ground. I have twelve flowering trees and a dozen strawberry plants waiting to be planted. I am talking with my son Jeremy and his wife about getting farm animals onto the land and I am thinking about getting an LGD (livestock guardian dog) to raise. Everything waiting for the weather to break in a couple months.

In the future, I plan to get into help others locally design their own permaculture homestead and holding workshops and other events and of course writing about my adventure. This past week, I started a new website: Jerjoboch Learning Center check it out! You can check it out here. In addition, here’s The Jerjoboch Learning Center Facebook page where you can follow my progress as well.

What are you planning to do this year regarding your legacy for 2020 and beyond?


How will you begin 2020?

Planning the First 100 Days of 2020

Can you believe 2019 is over and 2020 is already here? During this past month, I have been planning for the first 100 days of 2020. First, I need to finish out this year.

Reflecting on 2019

I started out the year with several writing goals. One was write an editing book based on this blog that I have been working on this year. This book, though essentially finished still needs a final chapter and an index.

In addition, I was going to finish and publish three other books, but I never did. Those are all still in draft form.

In January I started watching a copious number of YouTube videos about prepping, homesteading, and gardening. I continued watching those videos throughout the year. I started a garden on my front patio by growing potatoes, tomatoes, lima beans, onions, and greens in five gallon buckets.

Jeff (my husband) and I decided that we were going to buy some property out in the country. Originally, we were going to move last summer, but because we didn’t find the place soon enough, he got a new job, and I had a regular substitute position until the end of this current school year, we decided that we would stay here until then. We found and bought the property in August.

Then one day late in October, my husband came home and told me that he “found someone else” and that he was moving out. He was giving me the property and enough money to put a home on it. I had thought that the plan was “our plan”, but apparently it was MY PLAN. Painful as his revelation was, I decided to continue with my plan and that much of that plan will begin to be implemented during this next year.

Advancing in Permaculture

At the time that my husband decided to leave, I was contemplating the idea of taking an advanced permaculture course. I have been thinking a lot lately about how I am going to leave a legacy for my children and their posterity. I joined the course and have already made great strides in completing the course. During the first 100 days of 2020, I will be completing my PDC (permaculture design course) project and begin my advanced permaculture design. I am excited to be sharing more about this in the coming weeks.

Honoring My Wins

During 2019, I think that the biggest win was recently when I connected with my son Jeremy’s family and in deepening my relationship not just with Jeremy but with my other children as well.

Finishing 2019 by Putting My Best Foot Forward

I have several things that I am doing to clear out some of the projects that I have to finish this year so that I can start off 2020 with a clean slate. Of course, there’s Christmas to clear out and a house to clean. In addition, I am canning turkey broth of turkey remains that have been taking up space in my freezer.

I desire more than anything to present myself to 2020 as my best self. I am not denying that I am hurt by my husband’s actions. No matter what he’s doing, I still love him, and I refuse to let any bitterness take hold and desire to make the best of my current lot in life, and pass on a legacy to my children and their posterity.

The property is just two doors down from my son Jeremy’s house and I am excited to share this new adventure with all my readers!

I hope your Christmas was joyful and Your New Year is Blessed! Happy New Year!


Tell a Story, Any Story

One of my favorite teachers in school was our POD teacher—Mr. Schwab. I did because he used to tell us stories about his military experience during WWII. He had been a prisoner of war in Italy and had escaped and spent a night in a haystack on an Italian farm as he made his way back to Allied lines. 

We have several ways that we can hook a reader into our stories. You could write a quote from someone you know or from a famous person. You could write a joke or a riddle or pose a question. You could set a scene. You could use an interesting fact or definition. My favorite way is to tell a story.

Stories in one form or another make what’s being written or what’s being said more interesting. All civilizations since the beginning of time have loved hearing stories. Aesop’s Fables wouldn’t have been as interesting if they had been written like the Ten Commandments.

The story of the tortoise and the hare wouldn’t have been as interesting if he had simply said: “Listen kids, you need to take your time and do your best to take one step at a time if you want to complete your tasks in a timely fashion.”

The same goes for writing nonfiction. People love stories. They want to hear your story and they want to hear your struggle. They don’t want to think that you were able to do everything perfectly the first time. They want to know that you are human, not super-human.

They want to hear stories from your experience that demonstrate what you are telling them.

When you tell a story, they remember what you said better than if you just give them the information.

Where to Find Great Story Ideas

One place you can find great story ideas could be from your own experience. Take some time to think about events that have occurred during your life. Is there a story that you can make relate to this part of your book?

Think about great stories that you have heard others tell. When I was a kid, I used to listen to what everyone was saying. One of my aunts used to say that I was the one to watch because I was always quiet and always listening.

Think about story lines that you have heard on television, seen in a movie, read in a book, or read in social media. Is there a way you can create a fictionalized story that you can make relate to your book?

Think about story lines that you have incorporated into fiction. There are also the story lines that you have already incorporated into your fiction. No one says that your stories have to be true stories. They just have to be interesting stories.  

When you determine that you have a noteworthy story, but don’t have a place to put it in your writing, write these story ideas down in a document or notebook. Keep track of as many stories as you can think of. When you hear new stories, write them down in this same notebook. If it’s interesting to you, write down as many words as you can so that you will remember what the story was about.

Find a way to organize the stories so that you can retrieve a specific story at will. Perhaps you can organize them in order as it relates to the subject matter, but whatever way you use, make sure that it works for you. There’s nothing worse than knowing that you have the answer, but don’t know where to find it.

Start your notebook of stories today. Incorporate what you can into your nonfiction as well as your fiction.


When I started writing this blog at the beginning of the year, I also started writing my nonfiction book Beyond the First Draft—Editing Your Novel. I first decided that I was going to write a book and the blog about editing a novel. I knew that the book would include everything from the time I finished the first draft on to the finished product. I started the process with an outline.

I refined the topic down from editing any type of book down to refining a novel. I decided that with the material that I would use, I could edit any type of novel, not just historical fiction like I write.

Every nonfiction book benefits from the creation of an outline. By outlining your ideas before you start the writing process, a nonfiction book can have its facts laid out in a logical way before the narrative ever begins. The outline will make the work go faster because you won’t meander from one topic to another. Later, as you’re writing,  If you have an idea for a certain part of your book, but you’re not to that part of the book yet, you can plug in that information exactly where it will go in the book thereby avoiding wasting time in a part of the book your mind has not processed yet.

Determine Your Book’s Specific Theme

In order for a nonfiction book outline to make sense, you must determine one central theme for the entire book. This theme must be developed into a refined thesis that can be stated in one sentence.  Instead of looking at general topics (building a house), look for specific topics that can be covered (Plumbing for the average Joe).  By having a specific thesis, you’ll be able to gather the necessary facts to make the key points you’ll want to make in your book.

Setup a Logical Content Progression

Some writers prefer to staple their pants to a chair and just write whatever comes to mind. I believe that those writers are heading for burnout and writer’s block. Not every writer can do that and I personally think doing so makes the work far more difficult than it needs to be, so a nonfiction outline should also involve a content plan. This will let you know where you intend to take your book before you begin the narrative. I think it helps to create a Table of Contents which will contain the various structures you wish to include in your book.

Imagine that you are looking at the finished book and you are looking at the table of contents. Think about what you will put in each chapter and in what order. Arrange it in the most logical order, if you realize something needs to be earlier or later in the book, rearrange the table of contents to reflect that change.

Using the Table of Contents as your basic outline, determine some of the information you will want to write about. Once you’ve done that, you’ll be much more prepared to begin writing.

Under each chapter heading, include topics that fit within that heading. Again rearrange subjects as necessary.

Jot Down Any Research

Once you have your Table of Contents in place, you’re ready to determine what kind of research you’ll need for your nonfiction book. You can write down this research next to each outline item. You may even wish to note where you want to do this specific research:  online, at the library, or wherever.

If you need to do personal interviews for certain topics, write down some experts on this subject as well. You also may want to color code your research types onto your calendar using different colors for each type of research so that you can visually reference it quickly.  

Create Writing Plan into Your Schedule

At this point, you’ll have a general sense of what needs to be done to complete your nonfiction book, so you can now plug this plan into your schedule. How many words per day are you going to need to write to reach your goals? How much time will you need to gather information for your book?

If you need to interview others, block out specific time during the week so you don’t have to rearrange your schedule. If you have no interviews during that time, use that as extra research or writing time.

Complete Your Outline

The writing process is much smoother when the nonfiction book outline and schedule include plans to research. Instead of hunting down the various documents, media, and recordings that you need for your book, you’ll have it all together in one specific place. Arrange your research materials into folders that are in the same order as the headlines in your table of contents.

This helps to improve your writing speed. The average writer types about 750 words per hour. With materials gathered, if you know how to touch type, you should able to reach 1,500-2,000 words per hour. If you’re forced to hunt down materials as you write, then you might be lucky to type 500 words per hour.

Staying Committed to the Process

Once you know how much you can write every day, you’ll have a ballpark idea about how long it will take you to write it.  Schedule your day in such a way so that you can write your word count habitually. Make writing a habit. Sit down and write your book instead of watching television or chatting with your friends on Facebook.

If you write 1,500-2,000 words per day, using nonfiction book outline as your guide, you could have the first draft of your narrative completed in just 30 days. That’s why knowing how to write a nonfiction book outline is such a valuable skill.

Write Using the Outline

Creating an outline, but not using it is definitely a waste of time, but using it will save tons of it.

Use headings and subheadings for each chapter when formatting. Assign names to each chapter and be clear in the names of each subheading. Be sure to save the document.

Within each chapter and subheading, include several sentences to summarize that chapter or subheading. Include the main points of the chapter and each subheading. Be as detailed as possible in as few sentences as possible. Don’t worry that it changes as you create your outlines. You’ll find it easier to edit this outline now rather than having to edit out huge sections of material later if you realize that what you’re planning to write doesn’t fit.

Now that you know that you’ve got your summaries organized within each chapter, write a heading for introduction at the beginning of each chapter and then write main point 1, 2 and so on. If your nonfiction book is a how-to book, consider adding a call-to-action at the end of each chapter.

Use research material focused on the topic being written about as guidance through the outlining process. Let your outline act as a guide throughout the entire project to keep you from going down research rabbit holes.

If you think of a story that relates to your book, plug in a few words to remind you the story’s content. These often makes a good introduction to chapters and keeps the reader interested and more importantly reading.


At the beginning of this year, I started writing these blog posts about book editing. My plan was and still is to take much of the content of this blog and turn it into a book called: Beyond the First Draft, The Editing Process.

Much of the information that I have written during the past year is going to be in this new book. I have added other information as well.

So far, this experiment seems to be doing well. I have been able to write almost an entire year about the editing process. With the information in the blog, I have been able to get the basics of the book written.

Writing a nonfiction book where your blog focuses on doing something or solving a problem (like this one) it works well.

A nonfiction book isn’t the end of the road, but it is just another way to expand your audience for your services.  

When Turning a Blog into a Book Isn’t a Good Idea

Books and Blog posts are different. Blog posts should be optimized for online reading with                keywords/SEO, current events/discussions, and whatever is popular with online bloggers in your genre. In addition, you need visual, interactive content and links to make the blog come alive.

You’re not likely to get a book deal just because you have written a series of blog posts about the idea. Don’t think that you can use a book to simply repeat that has already been written online. Amazon, for one won’t accept material that can be readily found online even when that material was something that you wrote yourself.  When writing a book based on material that you wrote on online, always remember that you will need to develop it further and then do a complete edit of your material.

Planning a blog that you will later make into a book requires that you plan the blog with the book in mind and with an idea of how you are going to expand the blog material when you create the book. That is what I did in order to write this new book of mine: Beyond the First Draft, The Editing Process

As a novelist or memoirist, the blog-to-book phenomenon is difficult to score. However, Information-driven categories like the blog series that I have just finished is easier to accomplish.


Many authors are now hybrids, using both traditional and indie forms of publishing for different projects. Whether you go with traditional publishing or indie publishing or a combination of the two, you have more options than ever when it comes to publishing your novel.

Traditional Publishing

Traditional publishing is the established system of getting a book deal. This system requires that the writer submit their manuscripts through their agent to publishers and receive numerous rejections and then if they are lucky, are eventually accepted and a contract is signed. The book will then go through more edits and is eventually be published.

Why Traditionally Publish?

Almost every author I ever met (including me!)  suffer from self-doubt and wonder if their work is any good. By making it through the process of getting an agent and then a publisher, the approval of these gatekeepers validates your work as good enough for publication. Even if the book doesn’t sell well, somebody thought it had value. If your definition of success requires a traditional deal, Indie publishing is not for you!

Print distribution in bookstores is easier. Traditional publishing excels at this and  their model is primarily designed to facilitate print distribution to bookstores and even libraries. Salespeople go around the stores and make it very easy for book buyers to choose books and the publisher minus any returns. Books are usually in the store for a month and only remain if they are perennial sellers. (Few books reach this perennial status.)

Authors expect traditional publishing to include editors, cover designers, formatters and marketing to help provide as part of the contract. Marketing effort is usually related to how much is invested in the project, and marketing for publishing companies is usually to booksellers rather than to individual consumers. You should receive a sales team to take books to bookstores. If you’re one of those authors who say you “only want to write,” and let the publisher handle the rest, traditional publishing would be your best option.

If you are asked for money, then it is NOT a traditional publishing deal. It’s likely to be a vanity publisher and you should be very careful. With traditional publishing, you have no upfront financial costs, and you’ll usually get some kind of advance against royalties. The typical advance for a first novel is $5000. The typical advance for later novels, after a typical number of 5-7 years and 5-7 books is $12,500. Having an agent at any point increases your advance. If you get an advance of $5,000, you then have to earn more than $5,000 out of your royalty rate on book sales before you get any more money.

Literary prizes and critical acclaim are more likely through traditional publishing, and many literary prizes aren’t even open to indie authors

You’re more likely to become a brand-name author if you go with traditional publishing.

The Downside of Traditional Publishing

Writing and editing will be the same regardless of how you want to publish. After that, you will need about a year or two to find your agent. After that, it might take you another year or two to get a publishing deal. Once you have a publishing deal it might take another two years or more to get your book launched. (If you self-publish, once your book is edited, your book will be up on Amazon within a few hours and you can get your first check 60 days later.)

Once you sign a contract with your publisher, you’ll loss of creative control. I have heard horror stories about authors whose books have titles, covers and marketing angles that aren’t to their liking. You may disagree with an editor, and not be able to do anything about those changes that you dislike.

You’ll find that you have low royalty rates. Royalty rates are a percentage of the sale of the book. They’re likely to be net, so all the discounts, returns, marketing costs and overheads are taken off the total before your percentage can calculated. Royalty rates for traditional publishing will usually range between 7% and 25%, with the latter on the unusually generous end. The rates will also differ per format (e-book, hardcover, paperback, audio). Royalty reports may come every six months for a specific period of sales and many authors say those reports are difficult to understand. What you get in your bank account may not agree with those reports, so you won’t know until you see the money in your account what you’re actually getting.  

More often than not, authors have to do their own marketing and agents will often seek out authors who have a ‘platform’ or at least an email list of readers. If you do want a traditional publishing deal, make sure you ask them what is included for marketing and that your book is not just a part of their bookstore catalog.

Potentially prohibitive contract clauses are also a problem. You might find an agent who is willing to represent you, but their contract might insist that they get a percentage of everything you write even if they didn’t negotiate the contract (including self-published work). If you come across that keep looking until you find an agency who really will help you build your brand and not just skim off the top of your earnings.

Don’t agree to ever allow the publisher to take World English rights in all formats.  Your agent’s job is to keep as many rights as possible when you’re doing a deal so you can exploit them in other ways. For example, you could just sell the US and Canada rights and then self-publish in the rest of the world. Be careful with formats as well, especially audio books. Many publishers take audio rights as part of a contract and then they don’t actually end up recording it. You don’t want that to happen. Either keep audio rights or specify a length of time the publisher can keep rights before they revert back to you.

Look at the term of the contract and the rights reversion clause. It used to be that there was an out of print clause. However, because of print on demand and e-books, a book never goes out of print. You have to consider when you want to get your rights back.

Once you sign a contract for your book, the book may legally belong to the publisher for the life of copyright which is the life of the author plus 70 years after you die. You should also look at the do not compete clause, because this may stop you publishing during the term of the contract under the same name, in the same world, or with the same characters.

You have to really consider whether the money for the contract is worth it. This is where many authors think, “Perhaps this will be the only contract I’ll ever be offered and might just lose out.” These authors will sign deals because they’re grateful to be offered anything. They don’t value their own work. They don’t realize that publishers are there to make a profit. They are not doing you a favor by publishing your book. They are businesses and they want to make money. What they are offering you is simply that an offer. You have to determine for yourself what you’re worth. Don’t under-value yourself. If they don’t offer you a better contract, take your manuscript to someone who will or go out on your own.  Your publishing choice is more a question of the outcome that you want to achieve and your definition of success. Don’t let the publisher think they have the upper hand. You have more control over the situation than you realize.

The difference Between a Self-publisher and an Indie Author

Some people like to differentiate between a self-publisher and an Indie Author. They believe that self-publishing implies that you do everything yourself and you do it as a hobby. On the other hand, they believe that being an indie author or Independent author is a person who has decided that he or she was in charge of the process and that the indie author is a freelance professional who creates a quality product for their business.

I personally don’t create a distinction between self-publishing and being an indie author. I see myself as a publisher who determines how my book is published. I determine who edits, who designs the cover, I determine my bio and my book description, I even determine how my book will be formatted. However, that doesn’t mean that I do all of the work myself.

I didn’t become an Indie author or self-publisher as a last resort because I couldn’t find a publisher either. I chose to be an Indie author because I like the control that I have over my own creative process and the end product.

Pros and Cons of Being an Indie Author

As I mentioned before, I personally am an Indie author because I have complete creative control over content and design of my book. Many authors who were in traditional publishing and are now in self-publishing talk about how painful it was to have a cover or title they hated, or to have editorial choices imposed on them whether they liked them or not. As an indie, you can work with freelancers of your choice and you can choose the ultimate look and feel of your product. If you don’t like a freelancer’s work, you can choose to go with someone else. If you title a book or get a cover design that you decide you don’t like, you can retitle or redesign the cover. Just upload another file. The start-up mentality that mistakes are how we learn. Failure is just a step along the way makes this easier for us indies. Print on demand and e-books make it so we don’t even have to have a warehouse of books lying around.

Being an Indie Author gives us a sense of power that traditionally published authors don’t have.  Many traditionally published authors feel insecure and downtrodden by the publishing process. They feel they can’t make a decision alone or take action to improve their situation. It doesn’t matter that they are the creative individuals who created the stories in the first place.

After signing a contract, traditionally published authors have no control over anything about their books from the creative process to how the book is marketed. Indies, on the other hand, have a locus of control making them happier and empowered. The Indie Author can learn new skills, work with other professionals, make mistakes and learn from those mistakes. You don’t have to ask for permission, you’re the one in charge.

As an Indie author you are able to get your book to market much more quickly.  Once the writing time and editing are finished, you are ready to publish your novel to Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, Draft2Digital, Smashwords and any other stores. Your e-book is usually for sale within 4-72 hours. You’re paid 60 days after the end of the month of sale. If you’re doing print on demand, you can get that up within 24 hours if you approve the formatting online. Next you get a copy of it and look it over to be sure that the book is as perfect as you think it is and then you can order books to sell or give away to reviewers

Indie authors get higher royalties. If you price your book between $2.99 and $9.99 (on Amazon), you can get a 70% royalty. Traditional royalty rates usually fit in the 7-25% bracket, averaging 10%. It’s clear that you need to sell far fewer books in order to make the same amount of money with self-publishing. However, don’t think that you’ll get rich overnight.  You can’t guarantee that you’re going to make as many sales as you would’ve done with a traditional publisher, or indeed, any sales. That is more to do with genre, investment in marketing and sometimes pure luck. An author doesn’t build a business on luck. You have to learn about marketing. However, you have to learn that anyway no matter if you do it independently or if you’re working with a traditional publisher.

You can sell in any format, in any global market because you own the rights. You could even sell movie rights. Many traditionally published authors have sold World English rights for all formats and yet have barely sold outside the usual country markets because their books aren’t even available in most places in the world. Many have also sold audiobook rights. but the books have not been produced. If you’re in this situation, revisit your contract. What do you have the rights for? You can self-publish in countries where you haven’t sold the rights.

Indie authors can reach significant audiences with their niche books that traditional companies will never take. Publishing houses expect a certain number of sales so if you’re writing a niche book on a particular style of business, for example, then you might find the market is too small for a major publisher. However, the market size may well be enough for you to satisfy your own definition of success with smaller sales and lower income. You can also price as you like because your book will appeal to a very particular reader who might pay higher prices for this rare information.

You can use indie publishing to get you into publishing in general. If you self-publish and do well, agents and publishers will come to you. You don’t have to beg and plead for attention. The power balance is reversed, and as an empowered indie you’ll get much better deals than a first-time author with no book sales history.

Those the Positives, but What are the Negatives?

One problem is that you need to do it all yourself or find suitable professionals to help. As with any new skill, it’s a steep learning curve. You still obviously have to do the writing and marketing, but you also have to do the publishing. You have to find an editor (or two would be better! One for content and the other for proofreading) and a cover designer. Then you need to work with them, determine the title, get your work formatted into e-book, print and any other format you want. It does pay to find suitable professionals to help. If being in control is your definition of success and you need to run all aspects of the business isn’t something that you want to do, then going the indie route might not be your best route. You have to love all aspects of the writing business. You have to love everything from idea generation to creating words on the page, to the technical side of things and everything in between.

You’ll get no prestige, kudos or validation by the industry. Though the stigma lessens every day, success is still connected with traditional publishing. If it hurts your feelings to be considered inferior, then maybe you should not consider going indie.  

For professional results, you’ll need to pay for supporting services upfront. If you’re any kind of writer, you’ll need to spend some money on professional money anyway before submitting to an agent and spend money on writing books and courses.  So even if you intend to go with a traditional company, you will need a budget upfront.

It’s difficult for a self-published book to get print distribution in bookstores. It’s certainly not impossible and if you care about print distribution then take a look at Ingram Spark. However, you’re much more likely to get bookstore distribution with a traditional publisher, as that’s essentially their business model, has been, and probably will be for a long time. They are the experts for printing and distributing physical products. My personal choice is to use Print on Demand through Lulu.com so my print books are available on most online bookstores.

Most literary prizes don’t accept indie books and most literary critics for mainstream media won’t review them. If your definition of success is literary acclaim, the traditional route is your best option.


Now that your story is ready to put out there, if you are still planning to get your book into a traditional publishing company, the only way you are going to get your book in front of one is through your query letter.

What is the Difference Between a Query Letter and a Book Proposal?

A query letter is a request for a publisher to read your proposal for reading your fiction book and a book proposal is a proposal for reading your nonfiction book. A query letter is usually written after a fiction book is written and a book proposal is often written before the book is written.

The Novel Query

According to the NY Book Editors Website, This one page document of about three hundred words is most important, and in some ways even more important to than the actual book This letter is sent to literary agents (and some publishers directly) to woo them into checking out your book.

Don’t put your query on pastel paper with stamped roses, it won’t get you further than the trash can. Instead, follow this tried and trusted formula.

Format with your address at the top of the page, right justified. Next, type the agent’s address, this time left justified.

Use a personalized greeting where you acknowledge the agent by name.

Keep the body of your query letter from three to five paragraphs.

In paragraph one, you hook the literary agent. Share any connection you have with the agent. Did you meet this person at a conference or know someone in common? At least be able to mention that you’re a fan of specific authors that this person represents. The job of this first paragraph is to get the agent reading.

After you hook the agent, share the title and genre of your book and your book’s word count.

Now that you’ve hooked the agent, summarize your story in paragraph two. Discuss your main characters, what happens, and what choice they must make now. But don’t give away the entire plot. Leave the agent wanting more by structuring this paragraph in a cliffhanger.

In the next paragraph, add your bio, but make sure it’s relevant to writing. Impress your agent with writing awards and credibility or related writing experience. Limit your bio to no more than two sentences.

Use short paragraphs and short sentences, when possible. Imagine this: your letter is one of hundreds that your potential agent must read through this week. (It probably is). Make it as easy as possible for them to skim through your letter.

Write in a tone similar to your novel’s narrative. Your query letter should evoke the same tone as your novel. If your book is funny, make your query letter funny. Is it ornate? Use elegant but not remember not to be wordy.

Always Follow Submission Guidelines

Before sending any letter, be sure to follow any submission guidelines. Not every agent wants the same information, so don’t think one form of query fits all. Some may only accept email submissions while others accept both.

Address each agent specifically. Never use “to whom it may concern” if you want anyone to actually request your novel.

If possible, let the agent know why you are pitching your book to him/her. Again, if you love a specific author that this agent represents in a related genre yours, let the agent know that you would love to have the same agent as THAT author.  

Give Credit Where Credit is Due 

Mention that your book has been edited by a professional editor. Agents love a polished manuscript. They notice writers who’ve taken the extra step of getting their manuscript edited by a professional. By doing this, you as the writer appear more professional and serious. This will add more weight to your query letter.

Remember that querying agents is a hit or miss proposition even when you have done your homework on the agent. To find the right agent at the right time, you often need to send out numerous query letters. If you follow these recommendations, you still may not be picked up by a specific agent. There are many reasons why an agent doesn’t pick you up and it probably doesn’t have anything to do with you personally so don’t take it personally. Just keep sending out either written or emailed queries and soon someone will ask to see your novel.


One of the biggest roadblocks new writers face, especially if they are writing about something personal and important to them, is the fear of writing their own book biography or bio. Putting yourself on paper, and exposing your story to the world, can certainly be intimidating because it takes a lot of courage to bring your experiences and narrative to a broad audience.

Don’t worry. Every writer goes through this, and you can too! Just keep the following in mind when these apprehensions arise, so you can continue to move forward, and add your own unique voice to the literary world.

It’s Your Story

When your story is in print, it will linger well after you have sent your final draft to your partner publisher. Your story is something you can share with friends, family members, loved ones, and the world as a whole), and is a piece of you that will truly last a lifetime. So lay your fears to rest, and leave your mark on this world, by getting your words in print so they can resonate for years to come!

It’s Therapeutic

Many people don’t know this, but just before I determined that I was going to focus on writing my novels, I was going through severe depression. Over the course of a year I lost my job. My Husband lost his job. We lost our car, and we lost our home. I went to two psychologists who suggested that I journal my anxieties.

For me, writing isn’t just a relaxing activity. It was a healing exercise that brought me peace. Writing helped me work through my own issues and allowed me to explore the ideas that I had for writing my novels and nonfiction stories.

By writing down my experiences and thoughts and putting into words any coinciding emotions that popped into my mind, I was able to solidify those thoughts into print both into fiction and into nonfiction.

The Power to Connect with Others

Once I had my first book done, I realized that I had to create a bio for that book. Because I had to deal with depression and anxiety, I was hesitant of putting who I thought that I really was out there to my readers. I had what I realize now is what is called “the imposter syndrome.”

What I hadn’t realized was that countless people have had similar experiences to my own. They don’t see themselves as worthy of calling themselves an author. This is especially true with authors who are writing their first novels. What do you write? How do you write anything that will impress the readers? Who cares if you have three kids, a cat and two dogs? Who cares which part of the country you reside? Who cares that you graduated from a now defunct college?

Who cares? Well, if your potential reader has children, pets, or lives in your part of the country, that reader might just identify with you. If the same person identifies because he or she went to the same college, this person might also identify with you because they see you as human.   

Remember that you have the ability to bring comfort, camaraderie, and joy to a large audience. Your audience identifies with you. If your audience has any inkling of wanting to purchase your book, your bio just might be what convinces they should read this book.

What Should Be Included in Your Bio?

Be prepared to write three different versions of your bio. Write about yourself in the third person. Write a lengthy bio for your website, proposals, interview sheets and media kits. Write a medium length bio for your queries (more about this in next week’s blog post!), guest spots on other websites and shorter marketing material. Finally write a short bio to include in your signature line and limited character social media sites.

The easiest place to begin writing your bio is with a draft of your longest bio. Start with your longest writing accomplishments. Write down everything you can think of that you have ever written especially if this is your first book. Include that poem that you wrote for the third grade and the writing prize you won as a young author in middle school. Include the inspiration of how and why you started writing fiction. If you have written previous books and you are including them in your bio, be sure to put the titles in italics rather than in quotes. If you get any writing awards (or awards related to your subject matter), be sure to include them as well. Put your demographics at the end of your bio after you’ve established yourself as a writer. If you have a degree, be sure to include your level of education. With each subsequent book or editions, be sure to update your bio to include that information.

How Should You Write Your Bio?

Before editing your long bio, be sure to look over the bios of other authors and emulate the ones you like. In addition, in writing your shorter bios, look at those written by others for creative ideas especially in your genre of ways they write their bios.

When you have finished your bio, read it out loud and if possible, have another author in your genre read over your bio to look for ways you can improve your bio.

Now we are ready for the next part step in the marketing process if you’re writing to an agent or publisher. We’ll cover that next week.

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