Tag Archive | publishing

Goals and Schedules

TrailofHope_3DLet me tell you about my writing/publishing schedule for the next six months. I have plans. Ambitious plans. I have the second book in my Hot on the Trail series, Trail of Hope, coming out this month on the 24th. The third book, Trail of Longing, is coming out January 5th, the fourth, Trail of Dreams on February 16th. After that, I plan to start interspersing another, contemporary romance project, bringing the first book in that series out around March 23rd or 30th, then the fifth book in the Hot on the Trail series, Trail of Destiny, at the end of April, and the second book in the contemporary series at the end of May.

I hear you. You’re saying, “Are you crazy woman?” And yes, well, the answer to that is probably “Yepper!” The more important thing to look at, however, is the way I’ve set goals and given myself a schedule.

I do my best work and produce the most when I’ve squeezed myself into a time frame for production. Back in the days before I got serious about my writing and before I learned about self-publishing (and knew that was the path for me), I would just write whenever I felt like it. If inspiration struck, I would knuckle down and play with stories for however long it took to entertain myself. The problem is, I never finished anything. I’d get bored with the story at hand, especially when I got stuck, and then I’d go play the Sims or something.

The key that enabled me to switch gears from being a hobbiest to a dedicated, professional writer was getting organized. Learning in depth about the craft, particularly story structure, was the first step to knowing exactly what I wanted to put on paper. But it wasn’t until I set myself time limits for production, also known as a schedule, that I was able to really get going in the direction I wanted to go.

Nothing pushes you to finish a book like a deadline. That’s one of the reasons I love NaNoWriMo so much. NaNo forces you to work with constraints. You’d think that, as an artist, freedom would be the key to success, but actually, it’s scheduling. When you have a date by which you absolutely have to get the first draft finished—or more importantly, a date by which you absolutely have to get that polished draft to an editor who you are paying to make it even better—you get to work.

salvador-dali-melting-clocksWorking with an editor for the first time opened my eyes and changed so many things about my writing. When you’re dealing with a firm deadline set by someone else, it forces you to be highly productive. But what about when you’re trying to self-motivate to get the job done? That’s when keeping a calendar by your writing space comes in very handy. Plan out your time. Think about when you need to get things to that editor, but also when you need to hand the book off to beta-readers. Think about how much time you will need for revisions once you get your baby back from the editor. Plan for having a couple of weeks for reviewers to look at the ARC. And if you’re going to put your book up for pre-order, well, Amazon requires you to have the final version locked ten days before release. You need to plan for that too.

If this all sounds daunting and terrifying, it doesn’t have to be. All of these milestones along the way to clicking “publish” are markers that can help you plan how you should time your writing process. They can give you a sense of just how long you’ll need to complete a project. Once you know that, you can work backwards to write a schedule that will keep you honest, so to speak, as you write. It’s like NaNo on a giant scale. Once you get organized for one project, you can start layering others on top of that. We all know (or think we know) how Amazon’s discovery algorithms work, and since that means you need to have a new release every 90 days, you can now plan for that.

Secretly, my goal for 2015 is to publish a book a month… or at least every 6 weeks. I think I can do that because of this amazing new outlining technique of Patti Larsen’s I’ve adopted. Barring that the only way I’ll be able to keep on that kind of straight and narrow is by scheduling everything. The good news is, I’m already ahead of schedule.

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What Just Happened?

© savoia | istockphoto.com

© savoia | istockphoto.com

Okay, not gonna lie. Something weird happened with book sales this past summer. I had, without a doubt, the worst three months of my entire book-selling life this summer. And I know, I know, I haven’t had any substantial new releases since April, which could have something to do with it. The thing is, it’s not just me. I’ve heard just about ALL of my writer friends say that their sales dropped severely over this past summer. Like, to panic-inducing levels for some people.

And just recently I started hearing all about what’s going on with Ellora’s Cave being in big trouble. For those who just went “Huh?”, Ellora’s Cave is one of the publishing industry pioneers in erotic romance. They are in serious crisis mode right now, though, with executives resigning and problems brewing all around. Part of this was inexplicably low Amazon sales this summer. Now, part of that is due to the change in how Amazon is listing erotica and how they’ve changed the “parental controls”, for lack of a better word, that makes erotica searchable. (This is a huge sore spot for a lot of people, btw, and I don’t feel qualified to get into a discussion about the ethical implications, but that’s worth considering too) The bottom line is that books sales have taken a hit.

I know a lot of authors who are blaming Kindle Unlimited. That could be one answer. Amazon inaugurated its Kindle Unlimited program at the end of July. The program is basically Netflix for books. You buy a subscription, and then you can download an unlimited amount of books. For authors, only books that are part of the KDP Select program are eligible for this service. Some of my author friends who ARE in Select have been saying that they’ve seen their sales and borrows go way, way up in the last month. Some author friends who are NOT in Select say they have seen a big drop-off in sales. But I also have a lot of author friends who have not seen a significant change one way or another in the sales of their Select and Non-Select books.

So is Kindle Unlimited to blame for the pathetic sales across the board this summer? One theory on that front is that KU may be seeing an upswing in activity because the first month has been offered for free on a trial basis. This is just what I’ve heard, btw. I haven’t looked into it or signed up for anything myself. The theory is that we’re seeing the novelty surge at the beginning and that that will drop off soon. I also heard somewhere that sign-ups for KU weren’t what Amazon had hoped they would be. I know a lot of people who think that KU isn’t a factor in the weirdness of this summer too.

The other thing to note, for me, at least, is that my sales started tanking a month BEFORE Kindle Unlimited started. So for me, it wasn’t a matter of KU killing my sales.

Okay, so what could it be, then, if not KU?

Maybe it’s the ongoing battle royale between Amazon and Hachette and all of the authors getting involved? I don’t really think that’s it at all. Frankly, I think that most readers have no clue what’s going on there and don’t really care.

Maybe it was the weather? You have to admit, this was one freakin’ awesome summer, as far as weather goes. A good portion of the country experienced balmy, pleasant weather. Great for going outside to play. I mean, you can stay outside without being fried and you don’t have to hide out indoors in the AC reading to stay cool. But to me that doesn’t make sense on one level, because I always read MORE books in the summer, not less. So back in July, when I first began to have trouble, I did an informal poll of a lot of friends who read, asking them if they read in the summer. The long and short of that was that, yes, people do read a lot in the summer, but a lot of the people I talked to were reading all the books they bought before and hadn’t gotten around to reading yet.

I'm not a fan of blaming Amazon for everything...which seems to be really popular these days.

I’m not a fan of blaming Amazon for everything…which seems to be really popular these days.

Hmm. Could that be it? Was everyone reading their back-stock? Clearing out all those Kindle books they had purchased through the spring but hadn’t had time to read yet?

I really want to know, but I also recognize that I’m missing a few key pieces of information. In fact, I think all of us who are scrambling to try to figure out what happened this summer and who may be jumping to conclusions about Kindle Unlimited and other causes are missing vital information to determine what’s what.

First of all, the majority of the information I’ve gathered comes from indie authors who publish primarily in digital form. But here’s what I would like to know: Were sales slow for eBooks only or were print book sales down too? Is it only indie authors who took a hit or were trad pubbed authors struggling as well? Was it just the Romance genre that ran into trouble or were other genres having problems too? For the people that actually did do well, what did they do differently that the rest of us didn’t? And most importantly, have sales bounced back now that we’re in the months of pumpkin spice everything?

My sales HAVE rebounded, I’m happy to say. I have high hopes for them increasing even more with the release of the first book of my new series next month too. I’ve heard other authors say that their sales are beginning to inch back up to normal too. But what about you? Authors, how was your summer and how is your fall beginning? Readers, how many books did you buy this summer and have you signed up for Kindle Unlimited? I’d love to know!

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About-Face

The following story is a cautionary tale. It’s a cringe-worthy true story that is basically me offering advice about writing couched in telling tales on myself. There are a few morals to this story. One is “Do your research before you start writing.” The other is “Follow your writer’s heart.” Here it is.

11-26-13 © vsurkov | istockphoto.com

11-26-13 © vsurkov | istockphoto.com

So. Historical Romance and Science Fiction, right? Those are the things I write. I love all of it. I particularly love the stories that have been rolling around in my mind for years now. This summer I finally published the first two books in my Grace’s Moon sci-fi series. Yay! I’ve had those stories in me for years. I actually have a major portion of the entire history of that world in my head. Fun stuff.

This month I’ve been writing the third book in the series. It involves the children of the main characters from the first two books, particularly Grace’s son, Grayson (see what I did there?). A major focal point of the third book—in fact, the central object and plot device that provides the core of the action, the climax of the book, and all of the intent from the beginning of the story through to the last word—is the discovery and rescue of a massive spaceship that has sunk to the bottom of a lake.

Okay, so giant spaceship (capable of transporting a thousand people), a great big lake, and people trapped but still alive in the ship eighteen years after it sank. Very cool, right?

Aaaaand this is why you should do your research before you start writing a book. When I got to about 65,000 words of what was shaping up to be a 75,000 first draft, while Grayson and his buddies were devising and carrying out all sorts of plans to dive to the ship and discover the keys to a lot of plot threads and motivators, it dawned on me that I should probably Google the question “How deep can you dive without any equipment?”

The answer? Your average human who has not trained as a diver can only go down about 15 feet before the pressure becomes painful. (Although the record for free diving is about 600 feet, which is kind of ridiculous if you think about it) Translation? There is no way my characters could dive deep enough to reach, let alone rescue, a submerged spaceship. And there is no way I could place the ship in a shallow location without bringing up questions of why its inhabitants haven’t tried to get out on their own.

So basically, I have to not only rewrite almost the entire book, I have to reconceptualize just about everything about the external plot in order to make it work. I’m working on it. I’ve got a few vague ideas, but this opened a giant can of worms for me.

Research is one of the most fun parts of writing, but as I’ve just learned, the time to research technical questions that you know you’re going to run into is before you start. Now, I knew that you can’t dive particularly deep without equipment. The thing is, I didn’t realize it was THAT hard to dive. But when you’re researching, sometimes it’s hard to grasp what you don’t know that you don’t know. I’m beginning to think I (you?) need to create a spreadsheet or a list of possible technical questions that I have before I start the drafting process.

And now we come to the second moral of the story.

Now, I hate it when things that people have told me for years turn out to be true. I want to be iconoclastic and buck the system so badly. Maybe it’s hubris, but there’s that part of me that wants to be the exception to the rule. In this case, it’s all about the challenges and pitfalls of writing outside of your genre.

10-25-11 © John_Brueske | istockphoto.com

10-25-11 © John_Brueske | istockphoto.com

So as I finished publishing Saving Grace and Fallen from Grace and geared up to write book three, something unexpected and wonderful happened to me. I met a bunch of really great fellow western historical romance writers. Not just met them, I was accepted into the fold of both writers and superfans of the subgenre. I’m actually going to be part of a box set called Wild Western Women this fall! (You heard it first here!) I am totally in the western historical romance zone right now. And I had a miraculous brain-flash for a series set along the Oregon Trail in the midst of all this. We’re talking a half dozen specific romance stories and subsequent characters showing up in my head at the same time singing halleluiah.

At the same time that my sci-fi story was experiencing utter breakdown.

My heart said, “Hey, let’s set the sci-fi aside for a few months and work on this really cool western historical idea!” My head replied, “Dude, that sounds a little too much like quitting for my comfort.” But then my heart said, “You’re supposed to write what you love, though, right?” And my stubborn head said, “I love Grace’s Moon too.” And my heart countered with, “Yes, but your fans are primarily in historical romance, you are hot in historical romance right now, and odds are that you’ll sell more historical romance than you will sci-fi.”

I asked some friends, writers and non-writers. The response was pretty much unanimous. Set the sci-fi aside and work on the western historical romance. Listen to your heart.”

So what have I learned from this nails-on-the-chalkboard painful reversal of the momentum I’ve been trying to build all summer? What advice can I share coming out of the situation? Write the books you want to write, but put things into perspective as you write. If your goal is to publish the books you’ve always wanted to publish without any care for reception or income, then work on whatever feels right. If you want to write for both yourself and the readers you already have and/or if you’re hoping to generate income from your writing, consider directing your efforts to the tastes of the fans you’ve developed.

And above all else, strike while the iron is hot. If someone hands you a hot iron, you’d be a fool not to strike it.

So write on! (But research first) And don’t make the same mistakes I did.

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Quantity of Success

elevator to successThere have been a whole bunch of really great articles about the capacity for success in self-publishing that exists these days, including this cool one from Yahoo! Finance yesterday. I love hearing about other self-publishing authors who are doing ridiculously well. I love seeing my fellow writers achieve amazing things. My friend Sandra Owens’s new book Crazy for Her is on the Amazon Top 10 of all books right now!  It’s a really exciting time to be a part of the publishing world, let me tell you, especially with friends who are bestsellers and shooting stars.

Meanwhile, back on earth, I’m having a completely pitiful summer of sales. Absolutely nothing is working for me. Ah, the joys of how the other half lives! And while, yes, I do get depressed about the volume of suckage at this stage of my publishing life, and yes, I am a teensy bit jealous when I start comparing myself, I also know that this is just the beginning of the beginning for me.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about publishing, one thing that I really wish wasn’t true, but sadly it is, it’s that size matters. And by size I mean quantity. I’ve heard authors like Courtney Milan and Bella Andre and any number of other bestsellers say that it takes a lot of books in publication before the magic starts to happen. There seem to be certain magic numbers for people, 5-6, 9-10. Numbers like that. I think there’s something to that.

So I’ve been thinking a lot about Billy Joel this week. Some of my coworkers went to a Billy Joel concert over the weekend and came back to the office full of rave reviews. A few desks down from me, the conversation started to fly with song titles that sparked bundles of remembered music and lyrics in my mind. That in turn brought my entire childhood pouring to the surface.

Being the research nerd that I am, I immediately had to go online and read Billy Joel’s entire life history. I learned something (obvious) that I didn’t know that kind of changed my world as a published writer. “Piano Man”, Joel’s first super hit, was released in 1973. Guess when he first started recording and making records? 1965. Now, I may not be good at math, but I can subtract to discover that it took 8 years for that first big hit to hit. That was 8 years of playing clubs, finding the right bandmates, trying things that didn’t work, writing songs, and never, ever giving up. And while the first hit came in 1973, the Billy Joel songs that stick in my heart and the ones I consider his best work didn’t come out until the late 80s. That’s at least 10 more years. That’s twenty years of hard work before Billy Joel recorded my favorite of his songs!

tire slashIt wasn’t just him either. I have this little obsession with Davie Bowie these days too. And Bowie worked and recorded and switched up bands and tried new things and failed and failed and FAILED before he finally succeeded. And boy did he succeed! So much so that he’s been in my dreams twice in the last few weeks…once as an oncologist, but that’s a long story.

The point is, there is a universal truth to every creative effort, every effort of any kind. It takes a lot of hard work to be an overnight success. YEARS of hard work. The more I learn about the publishing industry, the more I’m convinced that, really, anyone who wants to succeed at it CAN succeed, as long as they’re willing to put in the work that their individual career path needs for them to succeed.

Part of that is quantity. You have to write a lot of songs before you write “Piano Man”. You have to write a lot of books before you write the bestseller. And yes, even those people who hit the lists with their “first book” have actually written book after book after book that never saw the light of day. I started writing when I was ten. I can’t tell you how many novels I started but never finished before I finally cracked the code and finished one. And the number of novels I finished before I started publishing? Lots.

It’s two things, as far as I can see. First, it’s that old “it takes ten thousand hours of practice at something before you can master it” rule of thumb. I firmly, FIRMLY believe that to be true. Quantity of time is as important as quantity of output. Second, it’s the inescapable truth that right now in the genre fiction publishing world, series are king. Readers want ‘em, writers need to write ‘em. A series is not one book. A series isn’t even two books or three books, honestly. A series is a lot of books about the same characters and their relatives and their friends and their community. Series. Word.

So am I upset that this has been the summer of suck for my book sales? Okay, yeah, a little. Am I giving up and going home? Not on your life! I’m looking for the combination that works. I believe in my books. I know they’re good. I know all of the ones I have yet to write, have yet to even dream up are good. I just don’t know which one is “Piano Man” yet. But when I do know, oh boy, you’ll know it too!

Don’t give up. Ever.

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Is It All A Matter of Luck?

Hugh Howey WoolHugh Howey is one awesome guy. He’s written some fabulous books, compiled some awesome statistics, and has a great blog. He even scored one of the industry’s top agents as a self-published author and has had the film rights for his books optioned. He also happens to be super hot and ridiculously charming, imho. I got to hear him speak at RWA nationals last week. Hugh Howey is blessed, you might say. You might also say that he’s lucky.

I hear a lot of talk about luck and “magic” in the book world. There’s a sense that you have to write a great book and then be extremely lucky in order to make it into the stratosphere of publishing stardom. I also hear a lot of people say that luck isn’t an even thing, that some guys, like Hugh Howey, are just born under the right sign, positioned in the right place, and that they will always have a better chance of succeeding than your average schlub.

So, are some people just naturally luckier than others? Are some writers destined to “make it” where others aren’t because of some intangible, God-given magic that you or I just don’t have?

Heck no! I don’t think so. It’s really easy to dig yourself into a hole of despair by assuming that some people, other writers who have hit the big time, have something extra that you don’t have. It’s also a convenient excuse for not shooting for the moon. Because sometimes it looks like those awesome writers have been given something we haven’t. Then out pop the comparisons, and we start to feel really bad about ourselves.

One of the first workshops I attended at RWA nationals in San Antonio last week was a session on how to be a slow writer and still make a living off of your writing. Now, I happen to be a fast writer, but the workshop was being given by Courtney Milan. If ever there was an author I was going to compare myself to and flop into a pool of meh on the floor, feeling utterly unworthy, it’s Courtney Milan. She is amazing. She’s also insanely intelligent and can comprehend things that I, someone with to bachelor’s degrees and a master, can only blink at while drooling like an idiot. I want to be Courtney Milan when I grow up.

Right off the bat in her workshop, Courtney made a key statement. I wish that every writer who hopes and dreams and struggles could have been there to hear that statement. She said that any good writer who wants to make a living off of their writing CAN make a living off of their writing. The only difference is that for some it might take a little longer. That’s it. What it all boils down to is time, not luck.

the governess affairBut she did qualify her statement with something that I think is crucial for all writers to sit up and pay attention to. She began by saying she was presupposing that everyone hearing her words was a genuinely good writer. She also said that statistically, at least one person in that room of a couple hundred people was writing and publishing crap without knowing it. This sounds harsh, but I think it’s the key to everything and the secret force behind luck.

The question I ask myself all the time—ALL THE TIME—is whether what I’m writing is actually good. I constantly wonder if my craft is up to par. Maybe I’m the opposite of these mythical self-published writers who are spitting out garbage and publishing it before it’s ready, but I always think that I could do better. But rather than mope around wringing my hands about it, I study the craft of writing.

How does an established writer study the craft of writing? By reading for craft along with reading for story when I gobble up a book. By gobbling as many books as possible. By attending workshops and reading craft books. By hiring the best editors I can afford and seeking out the best beta-readers I can and listening hard to what they have to say…without being offended if they didn’t like what I wrote. By listening to the critiques that other people have gotten for their manuscripts, even if I’ve never read those manuscripts. By reading through submission requirements for various publishing companies, even though I have no intention of publishing traditionally.

Actually, that last one was an eye-opener, so I want to say more about it. I have a very dear writer friend who writes for Entangled Publishing. I was asking her how she liked them, which led to a discussion of their requirements in terms of tropes and pacing. So I went to the Entangled website and read the submission requirements for every one of their lines, studying what they were looking for, what tropes worked for them, and what they wanted to see in their stories. It has given me some real insight into what resonates with readers and how I might use those guidelines for my own stuff.

The point is, we make our own luck. I don’t think Hugh Howey or Courtney Milan were born more blessed than anyone else, but I do think they are both sharp enough to realize what the real work is and how it needs to be done. Luck is manufactured through hard, diligent work. And like Courtney said, anyone who is determined to make a living from their writing can make a living, given enough time and, I would add, given that they put in the work to ensure they’re publishing the best stories possible.

Don’t give up because you think you aren’t special! You ARE special because you’ve set out to reach a goal in the first place. You and I, we’ll be patient and tackle this thing together. Luck or no luck, we’re in it to win it!

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