Musings Over Coffee: Writing to Your Strengths

Years ago, I did the Personality Type test that said I was ENFP, a Campaigner. I posted the assessment results on my blog and then moved on, mainly because while it was cool to be someone who was “a true free spirit,” or “the life of the party,” I had no idea how it applied to my life as a writer.

“More than just sociable people-pleasers though, ENFPs, like all their Diplomat cousins, are shaped by their Intuitive (N) quality, allowing them to read between the lines with curiosity and energy. They tend to see life as a big, complex puzzle where everything is connected – but unlike Analysts, who tend to see that puzzle as a series of systemic machinations, ENFPs see it through a prism of emotion, compassion and mysticism, and are always looking for a deeper meaning.”

-ENFP Personality, the Campaigner, 16 Personalities

Last month, I took a course by Becca Syme called Write Better Faster. It came highly recommended by authors I admired. It took me a while to get into it because I was still in the midst of tackling more projects than I could handle and feeling overwhelmed by them all. It also explains why I have four giveaways for February to celebrate the release of ONE novella.

It comes with the territory of being overwhelmed and not realizing I’d signed up for or set up so many promotions. All while trying to write three stories at the same time.

Anyway, back to Becca Syme’s course. Well, I finally had time to go through the lessons and one of the first things we had to do was take a personality test, the same test I took two years ago.

Guess what? Same result – ENFP.

But this time, Syme, who is also a life coach, explained the results in relation to being a writer or a creative. Her examples made sense as to why a very detailed story outline that I tell myself will take me two weeks to shape into a novel (as I pretend to be someone’s ghostwriter) often has me looking for more new projects instead… oh look! A squirrel!

It’s a vicious cycle but thanks to Syme’s Write Better Faster course, it’s a cycle I recognize doesn’t work for me and never did. The system that works for me is not an outline or an 8-image collage aesthetic. It’s a book cover, one that has my name on it already and the working title.

From that image, I go to town and write the story loosely following Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey” and my understanding of Michael Hauge’s “identity to essence” which you can find here. When I’m stuck, I talk out loud to myself. Sometimes I talk to my characters (in my head) and ask them where they’re going with the story so far. Sometimes I write out the scene according to their eyes even if that chapter won’t make it into the final book. It’s my process and it turns out, it falls under my strengths as an ENFP.

I have my eighth-grade English teacher to thank for this, by the way. One day, she handed us a shoebox filled with pictures and she told us to select one picture and for the next half-hour, write something based on the photograph. It blew my mind and to this day, it’s one of the only days I remember from that year other than the one where I almost got suspended for writing an NSFW play months later… but that’s a story for another day.

So anyway, for so long I thought it wasn’t just weird. I thought it was wrong because I didn’t know anyone successful who did it. I mean, the successful authors in my peer group had visual schedules and publishing schedules that went all the way to two years with multiple series and books already outlined and written within the two-month window they allotted and then published. I mean, their systems worked. They rocked and they killed it in terms of sales and ranking. Of course, I wanted to do exactly what they were doing (although some now have ghostwriters to keep up with the crazy schedule).

Did it work?

Well, no, not for me.

So now I know better and accept that my process isn’t weird or wrong. It’s simply what works for me and I’m finally okay with that (I may have said I was okay with it before but I never believed it).

At this point, it’s not about writing or editing faster for me. It’s about letting my personality type work for me and not against me. So if I need a book cover to inspire that next story, then that cover will inspire that story. If I need to talk to myself or to my characters instead of writing the details down, then I talk as much as I want. It’s just the way my wiring works and after two years of trial and error, I’m glad I finally realized that the way I used to write was because of my wiring, my personality.

If you would like to find out how to write better faster, check out Syme’s course. I think she’s got a new one coming up this month. If not, sign up for her newsletter so you can stay updated about the next one. That’s how I heard about it. I signed up after one course was closed and then got signed up to the next one and I have no regrets.

Syme also has a new book out called Writer, You Need to Quit (and no, it’s not what you think).

Here’s the description:

The marketplace is crowded. The industry is moving fast. Everyone has opinions about how you should work and how you should run your business. If you’ve found this book, there’s a good chance you’ve heard them all. So, what am I saying that’s any different?

I’m saying, there are some things we all need to quit doing. What are they? Take a look inside and see.

Of course, you could still click away, and go about your business. Up to you, Neo. Red pill or blue pill?

I’ve coached a lot of writers–from the Uber-successful to the brand-new–and this book is a collection of what I’ve learned from watching patterns. There are some things we all need to quit, and I can tell you why.

So that’s pretty much all the musing I’m doing this Sunday. My coffee’s long gone cold and I might need something to eat before the caffeine hits me on an empty stomach.

What about you? What’s your personality type?

Procrastinating On the Beach

Today was procrastinating on the beach day.

I was so tempted to just lay out a blanket and hang out for hours like I used to when I lived one block from the beach. I still live a mile away from the beach but we have a breakwater where I live, unlike Hermosa Beach which doesn’t and so you get this:

Of course, there are pros and cons to living this close to the ocean. Sometimes, the tide gets too close to your front door but that’s when the city berms the sand right in front of your house during certain parts of the year. And other parts, you get the clear view of the waves the hear them from your bedroom window.

That means I haven’t been writing. After spending yesterday celebrating Lil Dude’s birthday, I was too tired to do any writing after he went to bed but I’m hoping to do some catch-up today. Got my cover for the first of ten novellas and I should get started with it. The goal is 17K (actually it’s 15k but I’m giving myself some leeway) and it’s going to be an exercise in getting a full story down in 15k words.

I’m actually looking forward to it. I just have to tell myself not to look at the two other novels that I’m supposed to get written by March!

Bring It On, 2019!

It’s the 7th of January and although I’m running a bit behind on my resolutions, er, goals, it’s okay. It’s still January.

I’ve got a lot planned on my plate for 2019 and whether or not I get to check them off one by one remains to be seen. But what matters is that I have something to check off, first of all.

I have goals.

For most of 2018, I looked at the world with dread. Dread over current events. Dread over political rumblings. Dread over what’s going to happen next. Dread over someone reporting my books for the tiniest typo and I’d lose my Amazon account. Dread, dread, dread.

Basically, FEAR.

Suddenly the glass was half empty every damn day. There was nothing to refill it and why would there be if my social media diet consisted of checking Twitter every day and getting caught up in one political upheaval after another. If it wasn’t one thing, it was another and while I thought I’d emerge unscathed, I was wrong.

That fear spilled into my writing. I didn’t enjoy any of my releases until the last one, Friends with Benefits, when something inside me pleaded pleaded pleaded, please be happy. You made something beautiful.

I recognized that voice.

It was from the child who wrote her stories to save herself from a narcissistic mother. It was the child who did whatever she could to be seen by her equally narcissistic father. And when she wasn’t heard, she just wrote and wrote because she heard herself. She heard her words and they were beautiful. Full of hope. No judgment.

I heard her.

And who knows? Maybe my son heard her, too, because today, from the back seat, he said, “Mom, can you write a little boy in your story? Someone like me with a mom like you.”

So for 2019, I’m putting the blinders on. I’ve got stories to tell and until the day comes when I can’t tell them anymore, I’ll keep telling those stories, chugging along, giving the same stories that save me each and every day.

SO WHAT’S THE PLAN, LIZ?

The plan so far is to write three novels. Daniel Drexel’s story, Gareth’s, and Todd. There’s also a sequel with Sarah and Benny that’s been in the works for some time.

And then there is Love in Taos, ten steamy shorts that will correspond with certain holidays, slice-of-life stories that go between the books. They’ll have a lot of romance and maybe, steamy scenes.

It’s ambitious, yes, but they’re boxes I’ll check off every time I accomplish one of them. Boxes that will keep me busy.

And then there’s this:

Writing this book was one of the hardest things for me as a writer. I wanted to write so much but I never expected the pushback from alpha readers who hated their version of Ashe Hunter torn down word after word. I didn’t expect the vitriol with some of their reactions and so I gave up on the book, set it aside in my hard drive for a year and a half until my son’s school aide chanced upon it on the Kindle I had loaned her. She said she sat on the couch for all weekend until the Kindle ran out of charge, paced until the device had enough charge to show the book and continued reading.

Because of her, Loving Riley finally got dug out of the box I might as well label FEAR and it would become my biggest, most profitable launch ever, even bigger than all the other books that would come after it combined.

And now Ashe Hunter is coming to life on audio. In the book, he’s originally from northern England in a little town called Reeth close to Grassington and the Dales. Wuthering Heights country. I hope listeners won’t mind hearing the Northern accent in his deep voice but he’s the Ashe I’ve been waiting for all this time (with shades of Sean Bean, too) and I can’t wait to share him with you this year.

Happy New Year, everyone. It’ll be amazing.

New Year Resolutions And A Look at 2018

So it’s 2019 and I see my peers declare their resolutions for the coming year on the forums I frequent. I’m tempted to do that but since I never got around to take a look back at the year that was, I figured I might as well do that first.

This gif pretty much sums up 2018 for me:

 

WTF just happened, 2018?

That’s because I failed to hit 80% of my resolutions from last year that I listed here.

But that’s okay. After all, it’s done. The year is over and there’s no point beating myself up over forgetting every single one of those resolutions, to begin with, including the one about being grateful for five things each day. Reading it again now, I thought, wow, I wrote that?

Instead, I’m going to focus on what I accomplished in 2018.

First, I published three books under Liz: Breaking the Rules, The Replacement Fiance, and Friends with Benefits.

And that’s pretty much it.

After finding myself having a great year in 2017, I spent most of 2018 mired in self-doubt. It didn’t help that 2018 would prove to be a tough year for my author business when sales dipped below 50% starting May and I’d spend the next few months thinking maybe if I put more money in ads, it would help. Unfortunately, what used to work for me before didn’t work for me anymore, and the only thing that helped me get my sales back up again was publishing new books in the last quarter.

Still, the whole thing left me in a depression for most of the year. I was never happy because I wasn’t hitting the same numbers my author friends were hitting, whether it was the number of Facebook or Instagram followers, mailing list followers or earnings.

Fortunately, one of the good things that happened in 2018 was discovering Seth Godin’s This is Marketing: You Can’t Be Seen Until You Learn to See. While I’d been taught in the past year to put out minimum viable products (i.e. books that may not exactly be perfect out of the gate but are good enough) and iterate (fix them) as you go, Godin basically says do work you’re proud of. Care enough to give your readers the best product you can possibly make and earn their trust that way.

Instead of publishing minimum viable books once a month so readers don’t forget you or the Amazon algorithm starts working in your favor, produce your best work for that minimum viable audience, i.e. the minimum number of people who will buy what you make and tell their friends about it, the same people who’ll miss you if you don’t show up for some time. These are the people who found your work, loved it and want to see more of it. People who trust that you’ll give them only your best work.

Discovering This is Marketing quieted the monkey mind that kept telling me I should have been making the same five figures a month my peers were making or publishing the 12 books (one book a month) they were pushing out. Instead, it made me look at the three books I’d published under Liz and go, you know, these are three books I am very proud of… and I want to produce more work like that in 2019.

If you’re a knitter, you’re probably familiar with the scarf. It’s called the Hitchhiker scarf by Martina Behm and I need to make myself another one soon because I miss creating things I can actually use. Turns out, a book doesn’t keep you warm but a scarf sure does.

I also want to read more books in 2019. I’ve started with Poldark (Book 1 with Ross) by Winston Graham and the audiobook is amazing. No, I haven’t seen the TV series and have no plans to until after I finish listening to this book. The writing is just impeccable. Another book I just started reading is True Places by Sonja Yoerg and her writing is just luminous. Sometimes I find myself rereading passages because every line is so rich with meaning.

I’ve also started using bullet journals this month. That means writing down stuff and checking them off as I go. The digital versions just don’t do it for me. Writing something by hand just works on my brain differently and more effectively than typing it on my phone or tablet and checking it off.

I do have a full publishing calendar for 2019, including a plan to publish ten steamy shorts under certain holidays. Valentine’s is the first one up which means I have to come up with a story very soon.

This also means I need to limit my time on social media. Easier said than done but I have to do it if I want to write those 10 novellas this year AND three novels for my three series. Hopefully, that’s where keeping a bullet journal will come in handy. I’ve had to write up a Things to Do Daily just to keep track. Once each one is checked off, then it’s time to write.

Come to think of it, thanks to my bullet journal, I just paid two tickets today, one was a street sweeping ticket ($60 ouch!) when the Lil Dude was home sick and it completely slipped my mind to move my car into the driveway and the second is a Metro ticket ($25) for driving in the HOV lane without a permit. I blame that on Siri directing me to the HOV lane on our way to the California Science Museum and by the time I realized what was happening, it was too late.

Sheesh. I really miss old-fashioned Thomas Guides…

Not the prettiest but if it gets the job done, then it’s fine with me!

“Make It Better.”

Seriously, if you’re going to read one marketing book this year or next year, it’s gotta be Seth Godin’s This Is Marketing. It’s amazing is all I can say and as an author or businessperson who needs to market your service or product, it’s probably the only one you’ll ever need.

A very condensed version of what his book is about can be found in this video although it’s just the wrapping, really.

This is actually the first time I’ve ever read any of Godin’s stuff although I’ve seen his name a lot. Where? I don’t know. Maybe a Ted talk somewhere but last week, I finally decided that it was time I check out his books and I’m so glad I started with his latest release This Is Marketing.

According to Godin, we need to find our smallest viable audience, that small group of people who are happy to hear from us and will readily open our email when it arrives, buy our latest product, and tell their friends about us. But to find our smallest viable audience (or market), we need to be “caring enough to have the grit to say we’re gonna make good stuff, not lousy stuff.” (from the video above)

That line really resonated with me because for the past year, I’ve been wondering if I should start writing about alien abduction romance or reverse harem stories just to keep up with everyone else. But then, that’s the key thing: “everyone else.” Why am I so busy focusing on what everyone else is writing (ie. write to market) when I have my own style of writing, my own set of stories that’s uniquely my own… my own brand?

In the video, he mentions authors like me in that predicament, too.

“They’re not keeping track of what got them started; they’re using other people’s metrics to do their work. That’s as bad as having a boss. It’s worse.”

“What you need to do is to be clear about who’s it for and what’s it for. And make it better.”

Should be easy, right?

But seriously, if you want to learn about marketing your work (as an author), check out his book. He doesn’t teach ‘tactics.’ He teaches way more than that. It’s going back to the basics of why we do what we do. Why we really do what we do.

 

“… Best Decision I Ever Made” #teasertuesday

Campbell finds me in the living room two hours later, sitting on the lambskin rug on the floor in front of his Christmas tree that’s all lit up. Fully decked out with the decorations we’d purchased at the holiday market, he added white string lights that make the golden ribbons and tinsel glisten like stars.

“What are you doing here?” He settles on the rug behind me and brings the blanket over our shoulders, his body so warm against my back.

“I remembered the tree. I missed it on the way in.”

“Ah, yes. I forgot to set the timer for the lights.”

I turn to look at him, his stubble grazing my shoulder as he leans forward. “I found the switch for it and turned it on. Hope you don’t mind.”

“No, of course not. Thank you.”

“You did a great job with it, Cam. It’s beautiful.”

“Thanks to you,” he says, chuckling. “My mother’s probably still in shock after I sent her pictures of it. She figured hell must have frozen over.”

I giggle. “No, Caitlin just stormed through your apartment and demanded you put a tree up.”

Campbell scoots forward, his legs on either side of me and his arms circling my waist. “Thank you for this. It’s the best decision I ever made.”

“To put up a tree for Christmas?”

“To be with you.”

Friends with Benefits is now live and available on Kindle Unlimited

Hard to believe it’s been a week since I released Friends with Benefits and I’ve yet to celebrate its launch. If I did, I don’t remember because it was pretty hectic since it was also Thanksgiving weekend in my neck of the woods. But it’s live and I’m really very proud of it.

Campbell and Caitlin grew on me while writing Falling for Jordan and they were such strong happy characters that I knew they needed their own book even if they’re basically a tangent away from the series’ main characters of Dax and Harlow. Like the rest of the series, it’s only available on Amazon and included in your Kindle Unlimited subscription. 

Mockups Anyone?

I often get messages asking me about the mockups I use for my book teasers and thought I’d write a post about it as a way to also organize the who’s and the what’s of creating book teasers.

For those who have no idea what I’m talking about, this is a book mockup.

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It’s basically your book cover edited into devices or on the covers of paperbacks or hardcovers. You can create them using a paid service like eCoverAuthority which is an online service you log into and create your book or device mockups or you can create them for free on DIYBookCovers using their free mockup design maker. You can choose single books or a group of devices like the one above.

Covervault is known for its beautiful photoshop template mockups from a single device or book to 25-book box sets. This is one of my favorites and I love the reflection on the glass. In order to create this, you’ll need Photoshop CS6 (at the very least, I think but I could be wrong) and it uses a cool feature where you simply click on the layer, add your book cover to that layer, save it and then close the file. The action basically puts the cover right where you see it. No more fudging with the Distort or Skew tool to fit it in there.

To put the device mockup and the backgrounds together into a teaser, you can use Canva.com or in my case, Stencil.com (I paid for lifetime use during a Black Friday special two years ago and as of last year, switched completely to Stencil from Canva) which both have the default sizes for each social media channel your image will end up in. They also allow you to post the image with the accompanying text to the social media channels like Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest except for Facebook which removed that ability middle of this year.

If you want it all in one stop – the device and the background altogether, then check out The Image Apothecary which I discovered last year. Their templates are DIY and they’re beautiful. They also have a service where they’ll photoshop the covers for you.

I recently discovered a new company called Images for Authors on Facebook and they will add your book image for free. I bought a few mockups from them but photoshopped the covers myself.

And then there are templates you can buy online from sites like MyDesignDeals and DesignBundles where you can create your own mockup. Each item is a separate layer and you just assemble them as you see fit. The only things you need to pay attention to are the shadows. When not done well, it will make your items seem to float as some of the objects in my mockups do. I actually don’t just use Photoshop but also Pixelmator which is a straight-up purchase for Mac and IOS and does almost everything Photoshop can do.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, sometimes I add animation to my mockups like this one:

or this one:

And for these two, I use apps on my iPhone and iPad called Werble (you buy the effects although some are free) and PicsPlayPost (subscription).

So there you have it—my book mockup secrets revealed! Oh, and it’s supposed to be #smallbusinesssaturday today so do buy from small businesses. We don’t have millions of dollars to throw on ad and marketing budgets, but we write some pretty entertaining stuff, don’t you know?

Are you an author? Comment below with any special or promotion that you’d like to share!