So many delicious recipes are included in THE COLOR OF US, so please check out these sites for full details
Julia Child’s Coq Au Vin
This may sound all crazy fancy, but it's actually super easy and delivers deep flavor with minimal work. And it's VERY budget friendly!
Hungarian Mushroom Soup
Even proclaimed mushroom haters might love this one. My fussy college kid asks for it ALL the time! We love having it with freshly baked buttered rolls.
Don't be afraid to add all of the nutmeg. I was at first, but it's actually perfect!
Green Chile and Cheese Casserole
Even if you think you couldn't love green chiles, this dish will change your mind! It's cheesy, gooey, and f'ing delicious.
The rather awkward spatchcock chicken scene in TCOU is, unfortunately, a true story. . . .But the chicken is delicious and worth the humiliation I suffered.
I based the book recipe off of Jamie Oliver's chicken that he made for Harry and Meghan. You can almost always bring a whole chicken to the butcher at your market and have them break it down, or you can follow this recipe as is for THE best whole roast chicken ever!
No need to make the biscuits! Jesus! Who's doin' that? Just buy English muffins. You've got enough to do..
Yes, it's a labor of love to make at home. Hollandaise and it's is not easy. And poaching eggs to perfection may take a few tries, but it is SO worth it to eat Eggs Benny freshly made. I'm not sure that most restaurants get it right.
Sour-Cherry Chocolate Chunk Muffins
Nothin' to hate about these babies, right?
Cocoa Banana Bread
I may love all banana breads, but this one is BEYOND. I do recommend that you slice the banana into rounds and not replicate Callie's. . . . well . . . rather sexy loaf. Lesson learned after I baked this one myself . . .
Green Eggs and Ham
If Dr. Seuss wrote it, we're going to love to eat it.
David Eyere’s Pancake
This has been a favorite of mine since my mom first made it when I was a kid. It's often called a "Dutch pancake," but I always associate it with Mr. David Eyre. It's a puffed pancake masterpiece that looks really impressive and is an ease to whip up.
Brie and Mushroom Breakfast Strata
What's not to love? There's melty BRIE.
Black and Blue Power Smoothie
If we must suck up something healthy, this is the way to go.. Be honest.: all of the green smoothies are vile, right? No one actually likes drinking kale..
Ditto.. Spinach and shit doesn't belong in a beverage. But melons are cool.
Baked Croque-Monsieur Casserole
Fine, I haven't actually made this, but there is no way that this isn't gonna turn out awesome.
(Note; from July 2014 I believe that I originally wrote this in the summer of 2012, but I'm trying to hop back in here and keep the information updated from time to time! Also, I've since self-published Flat-Out Matt and Flat-Out Celeste.)
I am an unapologetic fan of self-publishing. Massive, foam finger-waving fan. But, for the record, I realize that it’s not for everyone. Big publishers have obvious distribution and marketing power that authors don’t have. They edit your books, provide covers, and more. Well, sometimes more.
But there are huge downsides: advances are minimal these days, royalty rates are crummy, and we wait a year or more after a book has been completed to see that book go up for sale.
The money, let’s face it, is often completely crummy. Terrible. Pitifully small amounts dolled out over time and delivered alongside truly incomprehensible royalty statements.
Did I try to sell FLAT-OUT LOVE to a publisher? Yep. For me, there was still something to be said for having a big publishing house stand behind your work, so I thought it was worth seeing what kind of offers I could get. I wanted that New York validation. I wanted to hear, “We want you.”
My agent loved this book and was confident that she could sell it. Editors loved this book, too. But what I heard over and over from publishers were two things: 1. The heroine is eighteen years old and categorically too old for a young adult book, and 2. (I’m not making this up.) There are no vampires. “Realistic fiction” has taken a dive in the market and nobody cares about real people.
Okay, I’m paraphrasing that second one, but that’s the gist of it. Look, I enjoy a good vampire story, too, but that doesn’t mean that… Oh, whatever. Then I had editors from adult divisions saying that, while there was so much to love about the book, and it really “resonated” with them, the heroine is too young for mainstream fiction, and they didn’t know what they could possibly do with my little book. (I had a few ideas about what they could do with the book, but I’ll keep those to myself.)
This all seemed silly to me. Am I the only person to have written a book about a college freshman? It’s such a pivotal time in life. Why is this age so shunned in the publishing industry? Flat-Out Love is a unique story, but very often publishers don’t want unique. They don’t want to take on what they consider to be a “risk.” They want as close to a “guaranteed” bestseller as possible.
So I was annoyed. And really angry. I hate, absolutely HATE having to tout my own book, but the truth was that I knew I had written a very strong book, and I knew that it deserved to be published. The feedback I got from publishers about my book confirmed for me how totally out of touch they were with readers because I knew, absolutely knew, that there would be an audience for my story.
Before I had heard back from more publishers (a girl can only take “I’m head-over-heels for this book but we won’t buy it” so many times), I decided to self-publish. The rejections I’d amassed from pubs were, in almost every way, an enormous relief. I’d felt an obligation, almost, to try for a big New York deal. That was dumb. It was solely an ego thing. I realized that I’d been dreading getting into a relationship with a publisher, and I cared about this book too much to give it away for a next-to-nothing advance and then be forced to wait however long to get it on shelves, where it would then likely be hideously overpriced. I love my agent, and it was a little tough to tell her what I was doing, but I knew that I had to make a business decision. As much as I love her, I couldn’t leave the book with her just because she’s such an awesome person. That would’ve been crazy.
Self-publishing gives you massive control over your own work, which I find incredibly appealing. I get to choose my price and cover, and I can make changes to those and to the text at any point. I’m in charge of everything. I get paid monthly, whereas large publishers pay you (theoretically) every six months, and only after you’ve earned out your advance.
Self-publishing has made me more money than I made writing five books for a large traditional publishing house. A lot more. I obviously can’t guarantee these numbers for every self-published book, but even if you sell a fraction of this, you can still earn good money.
The three most important things to focus on if you go this route are: 1. Get a strong cover. If your book isn’t selling, change it. And then change it again if you want. 2) Price your book smartly. I wouldn’t do anything over $3.99—maybe, maybe $4.99–for an ebook. 3) Pay for a good editor. Or more than one good editor. Don’t put up a totally sloppy book. Even professionally copyedited books have errors, and we’ve all read books published by a huge house that have mistakes. It happens. But you run a much greater risk of racking up errors trying to proofread your own work. I cannot tell you how many times I have read my own book and missed blatant mistakes. You need to get as many people as possible to read your work, including non-professionals (who are great at catching missing words!), because it’s impossible to see typos and such in your own work. I’m sure I still have some, but I certainly hope that my final products are nothing close to frightful messes.
You’ll be doing your own marketing when you self-publish. Frankly, you’d be doing this anyway (unless, that is, you’re already such a huge success that you can just sit back and watch your sales numbers skyrocket). Bloggers are the powerhouse of reviews these days. I thought that writers were a generous bunch, but even that incredible group is getting a run for their money because book bloggers routinely offer to do whatever they can to promote your book. It’s really amazing. As the population as a whole is learning so much about the book industry (note: See six million articles about Amanda Hocking and Barry Eisler), bloggers and readers are becoming much more open to reviewing and buying self-published ebooks. More often than not, if you ask, bloggers will help and readers will buy.
Joe Konrath’s blog is simply fantastic. Spend some time on his site and read as many of his posts as you can, particularly the early ones. He’s a genius. Google is your best buddy, so do your research and figure out how you want to present yourself, who your market is, and what you can do to get book reviews. Think outside the box. There are no rules. You wrote a book about swimming? Go find swim clubs, fitness centers, pool cleaners… anyone! Plug your book (nicely and politely). Book review blogs and such are simply wonderful, but they are not the only way to get your book in people’s hands. Be creative. You were creative enough to write a book, so don’t stop now!
The market for self-published books is growing, and more and more readers are finding that self-published books are not junk books that were haphazardly uploaded because they weren’t good enough to be traditionally published. Talented, skilled authors are choosing this route and intentionally bypassing the exhausting, often miserable, experience of working for a publisher.
Do I have plans to seek out a New York publisher again? Yes, maybe. Of course, after everything I’ve posted online about them, I can’t imagine that they’d want me anyway. That’s okay, though. I like working for myself. I have no deadlines, no one to answer to, no nodding and smiling at tragic covers, no wincing when my ebook is priced at $9.99…. None of that.
I am free, I am empowered.
There are some truly wonderful, talented, supportive people who work in traditional publishing. Some authors have great experiences with houses. and some have made very good money. What I unfortunately hear most often are the ways in which authors are struggling with their publishers, and I have friends who have nearly stopped writing because of what they’ve suffered at the hands of publishers. This is not an exaggeration; it is a painful reality for many authors. Money can only buy so much happiness, and relinquishing control and caving to the demands of others can be very challenging for former indie authors. .
When you sell your book to a publisher, that book is gone. These days, you are unlikely to ever get the rights back, and you will have no control over what they do with it. You may be okay with that, and you may prefer to have someone else in charge of your book. Now that I know what self-publishing can do for me, it's tough to give up control of my work. Watching others make decisions that I don't agree with and know will hurt my work and my sales does not rock my world in any kind of a good way. But give me enough money, entice me with your skill and your smarts, and then we can talk... .
Now, if you are selling incredibly well (stupendously well!) and a legacy publisher offers you millions of dollars, you may be smart to take the money and run. If you are having trouble getting sales for your self-published book, you may do better with an agent and a big publisher. Literary fiction, for example, can be a difficult market to write for (it happens to be one of my favorite genres, but it’s a tough sell), and these books can do better agented.
After Flat-Out Love, I wrote Left Drowning, and had I been contracted for a few books through a legacy publisher, it's very likely that I could not have written that story. That book has stronger language and sexual content that puts it into a different category from Flat-Out Love. I know my readers, I know my audience, I know my market. I know what’s selling. I had a story that I wanted to tell, and I do not want to be controlled by the constraints of a traditional publisher who in all likelihood would never allow me to stray this far from Flat-Out Love.. To Amazon Publishing's credit, they had no concerns about my switching things up when they bought FOL and LD.
Do I hate publishing houses? No. Not all of them. Amazon Publishing is a different story in many ways. They are not anything like The Big Six publishers and they operate under an entirely different model. Will I self-publish again? Yup.. And I did. In May of 2014, I self-published Flat-Out Celeste and have plans to publishing my next standalone the same way.. Will I sign more books to Amazon Publishing? To another publisher? Possibly. I have no idea what my future holds, but unless The Big Six publishers make some major changes, or they hurl enough money at me that I can walk away from my books and let them do what they will. BUT, let me also be clear again, that I desperately want to love them. It would be great to have a true support system because indie publishing is a rough road. It's been really exciting to see publishers such as Atria really get on board with working productively with authors and to see them understand smart pricing and marketing. They're learning from authors, and that's a beautiful thing.
There are no guarantees that you’ll do well self-publishing, but there are also no guarantees that you’ll take off via a legacy publisher. The point is that you have options. You do not have to go through an agent and the looooong process of submitting to a legacy publisher. And you do not have to sign your book away. Self-publishing is a very viable option. Be professional, market yourself well. Work your tail off, just as you would with any job that means something to you.
I’m happy to answer SPECIFIC questions that you may have for me, but I cannot tell you exactly how to market your book, how to get reviews, how to get sales, or how to upload to Amazon/Smashwords/PubIt. I just don’t have the time. I don’t know exactly how Flat-Out Love took off and did so well, but I do know that there is no magic formula. I carved a path for myself, and you’ll need to carve yours.. And have fun with it!
(Originally published on Indie Reader and The Huffington Post on 6/7/2012. I'm leaving the piece intact as I first wrote it, and it's pretty amazing how much of this remains true today!)
I am an author.
I still can’t get used to that title, but I suppose after having written seven books–five of them traditionally published–that’s what you’d call me. The funny thing is that I feel more like a real author now that I self-publish than when I had the (supposed) support of a publisher behind me.
How did I end up on my own? It began when I couldn’t get my first YA book, "Relatively Famous", published, despite getting stellar feedback from editors and nearly selling the film rights to a teen pop star. I was at a loss for what to do. I couldn’t keep writing books without selling them. What if the next thing I wrote flopped? I took a risk, in many ways, and wrote "Flat-Out Love". It was the first book that completely came from my heart, and it was a book that ignored all the industry rules. I knew in the back of my head that I could self-publish it, but at the time it seemed like that would have been an admission of defeat.
I spent months thinking that I needed a big publisher in order to be a writer, to legitimately carry that “author” title. To validate me, and to validate "Flat-Out Love". I needed a publisher to print my books and stick a silly publishing house emblem on the side of a hard copy. They were the only way to give my books mass distribution, and having them back me would mean that readers would know my book was good.
I also, apparently, thought that I needed to be taken advantage of, paid inexcusably poorly, and chained to idiotic pricing and covers that I had no control over.
I was, it seems, deluded.
It turns out that I was entirely wrong. I was missing what I really wanted. One of the major reasons that I write is to connect with readers, not publishers. The truth is that I couldn’t care less whether New York editors and publishers like me, I don’t want to write for them. I want to write for you. The other undeniable truth is that readers couldn't care less that my books aren’t put out by a big publisher. They read for the content, not the publishing house emblem.
I have a lovely, smart, powerhouse agent, who tried to sell my next book, "Flat-Out Love," to every major publishing house. She adored the story and thought it would sell. Fourteen editors turned it down, although each one said how strong the book was. But, editors seemingly didn’t give a crap about whether or not they liked the book. What they did pay attention to were their totally misguided ideas about what would and wouldn’t sell.
I heard two things over and over again about my book. The first was that my story starred an eighteen-year-old college freshman, and that age was “categorically” too old for YA books and too young for adult books. It seems that one is not allowed to write about characters between the ages of eighteen and…what? Twenty-five? Because… because… Well, I’m not sure. The second thing I heard was that because my simultaneously-too-young-and-too-old heroine was not involved with anything slightly paranormal, the book wouldn’t sell.
Did I cry over some of these rejections? Absolutely. Did I feel inadequate, untalented, hurt? Yes. Did I doubt my ability to craft a story that readers could fall in love with? You bet.
And then one day I got yet another rejection letter, and instead of blaming myself and my clear lack of creativity, I got angry. Really, really furious. It clicked for me that I was not the idiot here. Publishing houses were. The silly reasons that they gave me for why my book was useless made me see very clearly how completely out of touch these houses were with readers. I knew, I just knew, that I’d written a book with humor, heart, and meaning. I’d written something that had potential to connect with an audience. As much as I despise having to run around announcing how brilliant I supposedly am and whatnot, I also deeply believed in "Flat-Out Love." I knew that editors were wrong.
And I finally understood that I wanted nothing to do with these people.
I snatched the book back from my agent and self-published it. With great relief, I should note. I could finally admit to myself that the only thing I had really wanted was to be told, “You’re good enough.” You know who gives me that? My readers. My generous, loving, wild readers.
Publishers pay terribly and infrequently. They are shockingly dumb when it comes to pricing, and if I see one more friend’s NY-pubbed ebook priced at $12.99, I’m going to scream. They do minimal marketing and leave the vast majority of work up to the author. Unless, of course, you are already a big name author. Then they fly you around the country for signings and treat you like the precious moneymaking gem that you are. The rest of us get next to nothing in terms of promotion. If your book takes off, they get the credit. If it tanks, you get the blame.
No, thank you. I’m all set with that.
You know who I do like, though? Amazon. Well, all online ebook sites that let me self-publish, but Amazon is the true powerhouse right now. Say what you want about this company, but it’s because of them that I can continue writing. It’s unclear to me how a big publisher thinks that I could live on their typical payouts, and why they think I should drop to my knees in gratitude for their deigning to even publish my book in the first place when I’ll do all the work myself. I’m not going to be grateful for that nonsense, but I am going to be grateful as hell to Amazon.
Bestselling trad-to-indie-author Barry Eisler, famous for turning down a six figure deal from St. Martins Press to go out on his own, took a lot of heat for having compared an author’s relationship with a big publisher to Stockholm syndrome. The truth is that it’s not a bad comparison at all. Snarky, funny, and exaggerated, perhaps, but there is more than one grain of truth there, and I just know that authors across the country were nodding so violently that we had collective whiplash.
When writing for a publisher, you learn to be overly thankful for every pathetic little grain of positivity that comes your way. A disgustingly awful cover? Smile broadly and say how gorgeous it is. Contracts arrive months after arranged? Whip out your pen and sign with no complaints. You’re eating Ramen noodles while they are taking all of December and January off and while they essentially shutdown during the summer to vacation on the Cape? Slurp your soup and be happy.
Because of Amazon and other sites, I’m making enough money that I can continue writing. I’m averaging sales of 3,500 books a month, not including the month that Amazon featured "Flat-Out Love" in a list of books for $3.99 and under. That month I sold 45,000 Kindle copies, and sold over 10,000 the next month. Those numbers are insane to me. Absolutely insane. The fact that I continue to sell well a year after the book’s release is humbling. Yes, I wrote a book that has earned me excellent reviews, so I take credit for that, and I worked myself to death finding bloggers to review my book (God bless my loyal bloggers who took a chance on me!), but I have to credit Amazon with giving me such a strong platform with such overwhelming visibility. I can be a writer. I am a writer.
And it’s not just me. Self-published authors, many of whom are writing about college-age characters, are finding viable careers. Abbi Glines, Tammara Webber, Jamie McGuire, Tina Reber, AK Alexander, Angie Stanton, Stephanie Campbell, Colleen Hoover, Liz Reinhardt, and plenty more. I’m seeing more and more traditionally published authors walking away from the headaches and turning to self-publishing. It can be tricky to leave because very often an author needs the advance money in order to survive, and then gets stuck contracted for books that quite likely won’t earn out that advance or won’t ever provide much in terms of royalty checks. When authors break the cycle, get the hell out, and flourish on their own, it’s a wonderful thing.
Indie writers owe Amazon big time for what they’ve given us. Are they perfect? No. Do they make mistakes? Yep. And they’ll continue to make mistakes. But I promise you that traditional publishers never call up their authors and ask what they can do better. I nearly wet my author pants when I got a call from someone in the Kindle publishing department who wanted to know what publishing and promotional features I’d like to see. He wanted to know all about my experience with them, what I liked, what I didn’t like, and on and on. I was floored. Amazon messed up their sales reporting page not that long ago, and you know what they did? They sent a goddamn email out to their authors explaining what had happened! And then they fixed it! Do you think a big publisher would do that? No, they certainly would not.
But you know what these silly NY publishers are doing? Running around trying to buy now-successful self-published books. I know more than one author who is making $50-150,000 a month (yes, a month) who are getting the most stupidly low offers from big publishers to take over that author’s book. Why would my friends take a $250,000 advance (if even offered that much), take a puny royalty rate, see their sales hurt by higher pricing, and completely give that book up for life? They can and will earn more themselves and continue to reap the benefits of a 70% royalty while maintaining all the rights to their work. If publishers want to play the game, they have to pay according to what authors can make without them. Offer something that we can’t do on our own. Help us, believe in us, support us, and play damn fair for once.
While I’m certainly not making $150,000 a month, "Flat-Out Love" has done very well for me, and I’m earning enough that I can keep writing. I’m in the middle of another book right now, and I realized that one of the many fabulous things about working for myself is that I have complete freedom to write whatever the hell I want. A publisher certainly could have bought "Flat-Out Love" and signed me for a two or three-book deal. One of the many whopping hitches with that would have been that I’d then have to write another book or two that were in a very similar vein to "Flat-Out Love". But I don’t want to do that. I want to write the book that I am now. The book that has swearing and sex. The book that is darker and edgier. The book that is definitely not for younger readers. A publisher would never have let me do that.
The New York Times recently ran an article about authors who are now writing two books a year instead of one. Why? Because they need the money. Of course they need the money! Their publishers are gouging them out of money that is rightfully theirs. When I read about one highly successful author who is now writing for fourteen hours a day, seven days a week, I thought, “What a lunatic. That’s not a life.” Look, I don’t think any author needs to release two or three books a year to earn a living. If that’s what you are comfortably able to do creatively speaking, go for it.
Being on a publisher’s deadline to deliver a book every four to six months can be pretty rough. Life gets in the way, and emotions and creativity ebb and flow. Yes, writing is work and requires dedication, but it also has the capacity to be amazingly fun. Publishers, if you ask me, take a dump on much of the good stuff. For now, I’m happy to do one really strong, solid novel once every twelve to eighteen months. If I tried to bang out a book every few months, they would be crummy books, and I would be broke.
What’s funny is that despite loathing publishing houses these days, I actually hope that they pull their act together. They have distribution power. They have dedicated, talented people in the industry. They have the capability to do wonderful things. But for now they are so messed up, so outdated in the way they structure their contracts, and so often very out of touch with what readers want. Smart editors are often ruled by archaic designs. Do I have plans to seek out a publisher? Um, no. I can’t imagine one would take me anyhow. And I wouldn’t consider working with a publisher unless (until?) they make drastic changes to their business model.
Indie authors are writing for our readers, not for publishers and what they think will sell. And now we can afford to write! And I can assure you that freedom fuels creativity, risk-taking, and passion. We get to bring you our stories in the way we want to tell them, without the dilution and sculpting from publishing houses. And the fans? Oh, the fans are simply unbelievable. We are so directly connected to them, and the ease of communication and feedback is unparalleled. I’m learning what readers want, and I can incorporate that into my work without worrying that an editor will nix all the good stuff. Their support and enthusiasm breathes life into days when I feel particularly challenged.
And there are some spectacularly moving experiences. I’m in a circle of authors who have been dubbed "The Cancer Warriors" because our books have become saving graces for people going through cancer treatment. Readers are escaping hell on earth through our books. We sell smartly priced books with sharp content, books that never would have reached these readers without the ability to self-publish. We get to do our small part to help them fight. Getting to be part of something like this is at the top of my list for why I write. It makes me want to face New York publishers head on and scream, “You see that? Do you see what we’re doing without you?” Indie writing brought me into readers’ lives in ways that I never could have imagined.
I wouldn’t trade that for all of New York.
Jessica Park is the author of the novel FLAT-OUT LOVE, the YA novel, RELATIVELY FAMOUS, and the Gourmet Girl mystery series. She also has a few eshorts out: WHAT THE KID SAYS (1 & 2) and FACEBOOKING RICK SPRINGFIELD. She lives in Manchester, NH where she spends an obscene amount time thinking about rocker boys and their guitars, complex caffeinated beverages, and tropical vacations. On the rare occasions that she is able to focus on other things, she writes.