It’s Been Four Years… And Here’s What I’ve Learned

Yup, this month marks four years of publishing for me. I’ve written for far longer than that but when it came to officially publish my books on a site like Amazon, it’s been four years.

I remember making $5 that first month, roughly two books sold given that royalty was about $2.77 per book. After discovering a typo on the first page the following January (shudder instead of shoulder), I unpublished it only to publish it (after editing again) in March 2015.

findingsamcovers
Finding Sam actually had 4 – 5 covers but this collage template only had room for 3.

Since then, I’ve learned a few things as an author, some painfully:

  1. Have thick skin. While reviews can be lovely, some can be brutally honest. Don’t lash out at the reader. Just go and do something else. Play Candy Crush or something. Write the next book.
  2. Put out the best work possible. That doesn’t mean waiting until it’s absolutely perfect like I did with Loving Riley, released a year and a half after the editor said it was okay to go because I was too scared about revealing a darker side of Ashe Hunter’s character and fearing what readers would think. Refer to #1.
  3. If you’re not happy with your final product, make it better. Change the cover, run it through editing again, rewrite it, even. It’s one of the perks of self-publishing your own books:  you don’t have to wait until the publishing house says when. I go by what bestselling author Russell Blake says about why it’s important to get that book as perfect as can be, even if it means fixing it after you publish:
    russelblakequote
  4. Write in a series. Yup, you heard me. Write. In. A. Series. That could mean holding off releasing the first book until the series is complete, that way, you can release the next book thirty days later or less. Create that momentum with your new readers and give them the next serving as soon as possible but not more than 90 days. Readers have short attention spans and with the barrage of new authors entering your genre (mine is romance), your books can easily get lost in the shuffle.
    And when you think about it, if a new author’s book has you furiously flipping the pages for what’s next, wouldn’t you want to buy whatever books he/she has to offer? What happens when they realize that you’d only written one? There’s a 50/50 chance you’ve lost that reader… unless you’ve got a good CTA at the end of the book.
  5. Have a good CTA – Call to Action. As soon as the story ends, have a note that thanks them for reading your book and say something about the next one coming up. This is where you can either provide a link to the next book or your newsletter.
  6. Make friends with authors of your genre and other genres. Just make friends. Writing is such a lonely venture anyway, so might as well be lonely with other people like you. Meeting other authors will allow you to brainstorm new ideas and share the highs and lows of being an author. Many co-written projects have come from authors just networking online long before they’ve even met each other in person. There are groups on Facebook that’s just for authors – boy, there are LOTS of them! There are also others off Facebook behind a paywall like Dirty Discourse (and don’t let the cover image fool you into thinking they’re all just erotic romance writers either. They’re from many other genres as well).
  7. Make time to market. This doesn’t mean you’re going to be tweeting Buy My Book! ten times a day or telling everyone to buy your book every time they see you on social media. Yes, you need to make time to market but first, you’ll need to learn how to do it effectively. It means investing the time, money and energy to learn how to market. You can lose your shirt paying for expensive courses, but you can also start by reading the following books, some of which are free. Nick Stephenson has a free book called Reader Magnets: Build Your Author Platform and Sell More Books on Kindle and it’s a good start. To learn how to create effective newsletter campaigns, there’s Tammy Lebrecque’s Author Ninja: How to Become An Author Mailing List Expert. While Mark Dawson’s course is the go-to for Facebook ads, he’s got a free book so you can start building your mailing list, Mastering Simple Facebook Ads for Authors: Find Readers and Build Your Mailing List. There is also Michael Cooper’s Help! My Facebook Ads Suck and for AMS ads, there is Brian Meeks’ Mastering Amazon Ads: An Author’s Guide and M.L. Humphrey’s Easy AMS Ads. If you don’t have a Bookbub author profile, now may be the time to set one up and check out their Bookbub Partners Blog where they feature marketing tips.
  8. Try not to be jealous. This is probably one of the toughest things I’ve had to learn. I was so jealous when I first saw how other authors were doing, especially when I started on Facebook three years ago where everyone just seemed more successful than I was and I just hated feeling so unworthy. They had more followers, more fans, more books… just more of everything. One thing about being jealous of another author is that you truly don’t know what that person is going through in their personal lives. At the end of the day, being an author is a business and you’ve got to put your best face forward even though your personal life might be falling apart. I’ve known authors who were going through chemotherapy while still trying to engage with their readers because it took their mind off the stuff their body had to go through. Some were struggling with raising their family while also devoting time to their author careers while others were going through divorces, and some recovering from accidents. You never know. Envy still hits me sometimes but I just move on to something else instead, like writing my stories.
  9. Learn how to plot. Or not. But seriously. And this is from a self-confessed pantser. Remember the advice about writing a series? Sure, you can do it without outlining a thing, but it’s a lot easier when you make one. So try it out. Learn how to outline your stories and plot what comes next. Break it down. Make a timeline. Check out the Mac OS app Plottr which is saving my ass right now because I can finally see the forest for the trees with the many storylines and timelines I’ve got going between all my series that actually intersect with each other. So, yeah, outline. Plot. Just try it. It just might work for you.

    timeline
    This is an example of a timeline from their website. If you write a series of books with plots that intersect or even happen parallel to each other, this is a visual learner’s dream!
  10. Take a break. Sometimes you just need a break for self-care. Do it. Don’t worry about the word count. Take care of you first and then come back when you’re ready. I’ve taken breaks. Heck, I’ve taken long breaks, like years and when I returned, I did so with a vengeance. Unfortunately, it’s a lot harder to take long breaks when you want to keep up the momentum of your books though but you got to do what you got to do. Unless you gotta James Patterson the hell out your business (a line I just stole from Michael Anderle), you got to take care of the main employee first – YOU. Hang out with friends, take a walk or a hike, see a movie with your kid, knit a scarf, read a book. Just take a break.
  11. Know that being an author is a business. The act of writing your book is an art. Selling it is not. It’s a business. Specifically, a retail business. That means knowing which hat you’re wearing when you write, market, promote. I still remember the days when I’d say, “But writing is my passion! I have to write! And I want to write whatever I want to write!” These days, I still write what makes me happy – love stories, sexy stories, steamy and sometimes suspenseful stories — but there’s also that part of me that makes sure that there are hungry readers waiting for that next story. One way I learned how to figure that out is Chris Fox’s Write to Market: Deliver a Book that Sells. And no, don’t froth at the mouth. It’s not THAT writing to market. It’s still about writing what you love, just fine-tuning it to where there are voracious readers.
  12. Write that next book. Being an author is tough. You wake up, check your sales and wonder why you’re still doing this when you’re not making enough to live on, but at the same time, you know you don’t want to do anything else. Find your reason for writing and if it’s to be happy, go for it. If it’s to make enough money to send your kid to school, go for it. If it’s to heal the inner scars you carry, fucking go for it. Life is too short not to do it if this is what you really want to do. Find your joy and do it.

Anyway, I better end at twelve or I’ll end up writing a novel. There are many more things I’ve learned, of course, but this is a good start. I also have a book to write (see #12).

What about you? If you’re an author, what have you learned? Care to share?

It’s A Tough Business

Writing is a tough business.
It’s tough getting the “right” idea on paper
and pushing through all the words until the very last one.
Tougher when you realize that you can’t just write one book.
You need to write the next one (preferably a series), and just get it done.
It’s tough to listen to well-meaning critics go on and on
about how traditionally-published books are a hundred times better than yours,
tougher still when you believe all the hype
and so you find yourself knocking on closed doors.
It’s tough to hear people say anyone can write a book–even their cat.
It’s tough knowing it’s not enough to pour your heart and soul onto that page,
You also need to wear that business hat.
It’s tough seeing yourself fumble through all the marketing
only to see your beloved book buried beneath all the rest;
visibility is the writer’s worst enemy, it’s true, but keep on hustling
for this gig is not a test.
It’s tough when you don’t have the supportive network of family
and friends to help you through the tough times;
not that you’ll want them to buy your book for their buying habits
will only mess up your also-boughts, and that would be a crime.
It’s tough when you find out that no one’s bought your book;
tougher still when you realize that no one’s heard of it. They haven’t even looked.
And when you think you’re doing everything right,
it’s tough to hear about the ones who game the system and win.
It’s a tough business over all, just don’t do as they do,
don’t let your morals wear thin.
Because it’s a tough business any way you look at it,
made even tougher when you’ve got things to prove to yourself.
It’s tough when you hear the doubters say you’ll never make it,
made even tougher when they’re all inside your head.

EDITED TO ADD: I wrote this as a response to an author saying she was quitting the business after the latest KDP ranking manipulation scam (click-farms) that hit again during the weekend. So a lot was lost in the absence of context. 

Musings Over Coffee: After the Book Launch and Other Thoughts

So I had my book launch for NEED this week and while reality did not meet my unrealistic expectations, the next day was better. Sometimes it’s easier to assume that things happen one way because of something you think you see more of than the things you didn’t see until much later. Sometimes it’s just hard work and hard pimping that gets books flying off the virtual shelves. Sometimes it’s strong social media engagement – and not just presence – that actually get the gears moving.

Need is my steamiest book to date. Because of that, I held off on the promotions. I also didn’t know how to sell something that’s only 17K words although in hindsight, a book is a book is a book. It’s a story. And while it still bears my voice and writing style, it’s got 90% more sex than all my published books combined. Published is the key word here because my unpublished versions are way more steamy until the scenes end up on the chopping block before its way to the editor’s desk.

Speaking of “published,” I received this question twice this week: “Have you ever considered traditional publishing?”

I’d be lying to you if I said no. Twenty years ago, when I was active in writing groups and met the likes of Ray Bradbury, Frank McCourt, Mitch Albom, James Elroy, and Diana Gabaldon, there was no Amazon Kindle. There was no digital publishing. And so the only options then were traditional publishing and self-publishing the old way, where you do a print run of your self-published books and store them in your garage, tote them out for writer’s conventions and monthly meetings. You could also publish your books via a vanity publisher and part with tens of thousands of your hard-earned money with that same garage-full of books and not much cash in return. So back then, yes, traditional publishing was what I wanted for my stories.

But you know why I never did traditional publishing route back then? I had no completed stories. Except for a fan fiction piece that could not be published anywhere but on my Geocities website, I had nothing to send out and query.

Fast forward to 2012 and I started writing again for real after my son was diagnosed with autism. In 2013, I posted my stories on Wattpad at the suggestion of a blogger. In 2014, hearing so much about self-publishing, Smashwords and Amazon Kindle, I published my first book in November, unpublished it a month later because I felt like a fraud (that imposter syndrome) only to publish it again in March 2015 when it was one of the recommended books on a Youtube podcast and no one could find it.

I’d go through that impostor syndrome a few more times in 2014, 2015, and 2016. Heck, even as late as March 2017. I’d sit on many of my now-finished novels for months and even years before I’d gather the courage to finally publish them and not feel like a fraud anymore.

I actually did pitch one of my books during a #pitmad event on Twitter. Did you know you can query your books now in 140 characters, even less than that because you have to include the #pitmad hashtag and the genre? I got a request for the first chapter within ten minutes by a small publisher, and a request for the full manuscript within two days. I sat on the contract, studied it, and crunched the numbers. To be traditionally published, I had to give up all my rights to the book – digital, print, audio and any other derivative in case it gets made into a movie – earn 40% of net royalties after the publisher would receive the 70% royalties from the retailer and I had to do most of my book promotion. They were not footing the bill and there was also no advance. In fact, I was told that pub houses hardly give any advances anymore (unless you’re one of the big five, I guess). Wait, why was I going to hand this publisher 60% of my net royalties and give up all my book rights again? Oh, right. Validation.

No, thank you.

**Please note that this is my case, not a general case so your situation may be different.

These days, when someone tells me that self-published books are drivel and not as good as traditionally published books, I don’t go out of my way to convince them that they’re wrong. They’re not my target audience. They’re not my people. I’ve also determined that when I read blog posts lamenting how bad the self-publishing route is compared to going the traditional route because, by God, they will then be validated as a “real author,” I will now just move on and not try to convince them that self-publishing isn’t as bad as they make it sound – and usually from hearsay. That’s their problem now, not mine. I’ll keep my blinders on and keep going. I’ll keep selling my books and keep that 70% royalty rate. I’ll determine how much marketing muscle I want to put into my books and keep my rights – all of them.

This is actually why I hit the Publish button on my first novel, Finding Sam, on November 17, 2014. I wanted to see if I’d turn into a fraud if I did expect money for a story I’d up until that time offered for free. I didn’t. I was still me, a writer with so many stories up her sleeve who wanted to get paid for them and make a living out of being a storyteller.

I am a storyteller. I am a writer. I’m an author.

A Day in the Life…

I went to bed at two last night hoping the kid would sleep in like he did yesterday. Alas, he woke up minutes after I did and crawled into bed with me saying he wasn’t tired at all, which means only one thing. No writing for me.

I’d started working on my upcoming novel yesterday, starting over with a new draft because the first version that’s currently at 13K words, just didn’t “hit it,” at least for me. It has one good chapter and it’s not even heroine’s. It’s the hero’s best friend. Apparently, he stole the best lines in the novel so far and he’ll probably get his own story one day. But for now, it’s Jordan and Addison. They need to get it on but I have to start over and set aside all but the best friend’s chapter. It all had to do with the conflict: I had NONE. The hero and heroine get along from the moment they meet. There is no push and pull, nothing to say, Houston, we have a problem. I was still hung up on the picture of the guy and the baby and nothing – nothing – was making me give them any difficulties. Outside forces? Yes, but internal conflict? It just wasn’t there, or if it was, it was coming out preachy.

But my eureka moment of how to fix my story’s problem came to me while I was giving my client a massage yesterday. I usually get my best ideas while I’m giving them – go figure. It’s probably why I haven’t completely retired from it. I not only enjoy the clients I’ve chosen to keep seeing, I also come up with the best scenes and the best character arcs. Maybe it’s that flow of energy. Or maybe it’s because when I’m giving a massage, I’m not thinking about book sales or advertising (I know, I know, I should take a vacation or have a drink or something, but that’s for another time). I learned to actually take myself and my ego out of the session and just let things happen. My clients feel better when they’re done and I feel the same way, too, both from giving and from the influx of whatever ideas come to me.

So last night would have been the time to write it all down but I only got as far as 400 words or so before I had to go to bed. And this morning when the kiddo announced he wasn’t tired at 7:30 in the morning and proceeded to convert the entire house into his playroom, writing is not going to happen. I did, however, get to schedule some promotions for my books. It’s the one thing Facebook advertising had freed me from doing – organizing and scheduling my book promotions on a calendar. In the absence of FB ads which had put everything on auto-pilot for me, it’s back to the old day planner and writing everything down on two calendars AND a notification on my calendar.

I also got to tidy up the drawers and now have three bags of clothes to drop off at the thrift store. That will be for tomorrow. Then it will be off to the Museum of Natural History on Thursday and maybe somewhere cool for Friday where forecasted temps are up at 118 degrees in some areas.

I’m still hoping to get some writing in tonight though. I have a preorder to fulfill in September and I don’t want to be late anymore. I don’t write as a hobby. It’s a career for me. It’s my nine to five, only it’s more than nine to five. When writing is your bread and butter,  you work your ass off while you’re also having fun – even if I don’t look like I’m having fun or I bitch about not having fun. I am.

Although a fully paid trip with expenses to London would probably be more fun…

Simon Mason

What Is So Bad About Romance Novels?

I guess when I screenshot this last night, everyone at the offices of Bon Appetit were still tucked in bed, unaware that they’d managed to offend a pretty big (and vocal) group of people.

Needless to say, they received quite a number of responses to their tweet and Facebook post, and by morning, the tweet was gone and they issued an apology at the end their article. It’s so small I almost missed it.

Still, it made me wonder. Really? Are romance novels really that bad? Is this why I used to lower my voice when someone would ask me, “So what do you write?” and I’d answer (in that lowered voice), “Romance.”

But three years since hitting that Publish button, I’ve changed. I’ve seen some amazing things, like how my stories have changed people’s lives and made it easier for them to go through tough times. I’ve seen more than a million words written on my Ulysses app to the point that the middle row of my Macbook keyboard is useless. I’ve seen myself go from overwhelm mode while learning all about marketing as an author to being able to manage it and see a profit each month from practicing the things I’ve learned. I’ve gone from, OMG I got a 2-star review and they called my hero effeminate–are they blind?! to eh, everyone’s entitled to their own opinion and that’s theirs.

I also started to believe in myself.

I trusted without any doubt that what I do is an honorable thing and not something to be ashamed of. It’s a life that I wouldn’t trade for anything else. It’s knowing that if I were to do this all over again, I’d write my heart out and not worry too much about family or friends watching and judging. They’re going to judge anyway and all I can do is adjust the way I deal with whatever judgment they come up with… and that in the grand scheme of things, what they think about my books doesn’t matter.

Still, seeing that tweet last night made me realize that while not much may change when it comes to the way people see romance authors (and by extension, their readers), what matters is how you see yourself.

And the way I see myself is this: I’m an author and a self-published romance author at that. And no way am I hiding my pulpy romance novels with someone else’s book covers, thank you very much.

 

Musings Over Sunday Coffee: “the failed novelist”

Years of work and emotional investment wasted, I finally gave up, to save my sanity. But I’m scarred.

…I still read, but stick to the classics. I have next to no interest in contemporary fiction and avoid literary debuts by British female writers, which all seem so safe and samey. I’ve a higher tolerance for American writing, which seems willing to take more risks and subvert gender expectations. I don’t go to writers’ groups any more, either: the whole scene is a complete turn-off for me now.

Four years on, I still can’t look at the new fiction tables in Waterstones; they make me feel like an infertile woman at a baby shower. I feel pity and scorn for people with dreams.

You’re writing a novel yourself? Good for you. Now please shut up about it.

A year-and-a-half ago, this could have been me, jaded and completely disillusioned over what it (really) takes to be an author. Sure, I’m a writer and I’ve been writing since eighth grade and telling stories since fourth grade. Stories fed my soul, even the Bible stories between the pages of my mother’s prized collection of hardcover Bible storybooks that she never cracked open outside of Easter weekend when nothing was literally on TV except for a 70’s era Jesus movie. Even stores were closed during Easter weekend and so we stayed home and read.

But I digress…

It takes more than just writing well, winning school awards, and getting a literary agent to become an author. If you fail the first time, you get up and try again. If you fail the second time, you get up again and… guess what? You try again. At least, that’s what I did after my third novel came and quickly went. I told myself, surely I’m not that terrible a writer. I know I can tell a story but if success is equated with books sold, well, I was doing a terrible job at it.

Three years after I sheepishly published my first book, I finally practiced the things I preached. I learned – and am still learning – everything I could about the marketing/promotion side of writing. Since I don’t have the luxury of having a literary agent or a publishing house to back me up (I’ve only queried once on Twitter, and then turned down the request for a full manuscript after I learned there wouldn’t be any advance nor did they help with marketing), I have to do everything myself, including writing and promoting my books.

It’s not easy, and sometimes you do have to talk about your books. One of my best friends didn’t even know I was a published author because I used a derivative of my nickname and back then, my married name, to publish my books. I was also suffering from imposter syndrome then, but that’s a whole ‘other story for another day.

But you gotta do what you gotta do. And you know what? For some people – like me – marketing and promotion aren’t bad at all. I actually enjoy corresponding with my readers on Facebook and via email. I enjoy writing blog posts like this, not because I heard that they’re a great way to promote yourself (which is highly unlikely if I only have 70 or so followers), but because I like to connect with people, whether they’re fellow writers and poets, other bloggers, or readers.

So if you’ve always wanted to be a writer, keep going. Don’t quit. Sure, you’ll have those down times – and I’ve had many – but when you’re surrounded by writers who know the life of an author and readers who just want to see you succeed, you know you’ve got this.

Just don’t quit.

Making Lemonade

While yesterday wasn’t exactly a great day, I have to say that it could have been worse.

But it wasn’t.

First, I had a book promotion that I’d heard some not-so-satisfactory results about after I’d scheduled my slot, but I made back my investment by day’s end.  I also set one of my Kindle Select books FREE for the next few days and so if you’ve never read A Collateral Attraction and would like to give my writing a try, go give it a read!

collateral_free

Second, the shipment of books I’d ordered finally arrived and I discovered that while the library versions came out just fine (it’s what I’ve been giving away as gifts), somehow I’d uploaded a new version of the cover at the last minute, approved the proof without realizing that I had unchecked the Photoshop layer for the spine text. And so the books came out with NO text on the spines at all.

Maybe it’s because I came across a post on Kboards from an author who, after stumbling upon a book without any text on the spine, said that she’d never read anything by that author because it was just a sign of incompetence. It probably unconsciously scared the living daylights out of me because when I realized my mistake, I was beside myself for hours. Was I that incompetent? Am I really that clueless?  You know, that moment when all your author failures come tumbling down especially when combined with a bad Goodreads review (but I got over that so I’m fine now).

But the thought of tossing a box of books made me sick. I couldn’t do that. Not when I finally got it right (inside, at least) and the matte cover was just absolutely perfect.  Besides, it’s MY books we’re talking about here.

Thankfully I recovered, and here’s a look at how that recovery process is going.

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I even managed to doodle a bit.

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