Sunday, May 29, 2011

In re: J.T. O'Connell Maybe the Anti-Goal?

J.T. O'Connell

I am a big goal maker. I like to write them down. I would honestly say I meet about 60% of my goals if I considered all aspects of my life. Cleaning the house. Working out. Reading my Bible. And so on.

What J.T. O'Connell was talking about, making that goal that sounds easy but ends up hard and stops us in our tracks, I think that has a value to it. Ladies and gentlemen, I present the ANTI-GOAL

I realized I make these, subconsciously. Take O'Connell's situation. He made a goal about reading, it was too strenuous, he rejected it to work on writing. Hmmmm. Interesting.

At the beginning of the year I made three categories of goals. Write a novel before the end of the year. Stick to my house cleaning schedule 80% of the weekly scheduled tasks (HA!). Work out 3 times a week for two weeks to work up to 5 times a week alternating cardio and strength training (I currently work in 2-3 cardio workouts, roughly 1 strength training session per week).

Now the year is almost half way over. In rejecting my harder, not so fun goals (cleaning, working out) I have actually accelerated on my writing goal. My book isn't coming out in December, but August. That's a 33% acceleration on one project. Imagine going to your boss with that number? "Uh, yes sir, I will be finished in two-thirds of the time you gave me for the assignment." Now, looking at my house cleaning goal, I'm so fired. Working out? Let's just say my manager would probably be counseling me.

So here's the supposition: Create ANTI-GOALS to accelerate other goals. Make slightly outrageous goals, ones you *really* don't want to do. Make them undesirable in comparison to the goals you really must get done, and ta da, you're coming in 33% before deadline.

Anyone else have thoughts?

"CANCELLED" arriving Late Summer 2011. A robotics engineer asks his business partner to marry him, but a previous one-night stand is having his baby.

Self-Published Author: Deadlines, Making a Living, 10-year plan

Going to be close on deadline, but I can do it! Tuesday at midnight is the deadline for my first manuscript. I'm currently sitting at 48,000 words. I have about 20,000 more to go. Then let it simmer, and work on outlining second book.

Which brings me to one of my favorite activities: GENRE SNOOPING. That's right. What are people in my genre writing? What are they pricing it at? What does it read like? I've mentioned Lucy Kevin before in regards to her ebook pricing strategy, and was surprised to realize why I couldn't find a ton of information about her. She doesn't exist. Okay, she does, but her main writing name is Bella Andre. No, I'm not unmasking a superhero, she plainly lists her pseudonyms on her main site. 

Bella Andre is an indie publishing goddess! She has over 16 titles and even better, she's like me! Let's write those modern, contemporary stories about love in the real world! Melodrama? Yuck. Weak females? Double yuck. Super strong females the male must "tame?" Super double yuck. June looks like it's going to be me devouring her entire Lucy Kevin line. It might be the first series I can put in my section of books I have personally read and like for my readers waiting in between my novels (check out my Catering to the Readers post)

So there is hope for my writing style. +1. I next played with the real numbers posted by one of the wonderful brains behind The Writer's Guide to Epublishing, D.D. Scott, and also by YA author Megg Jensen, writer of Anathema. At $2.99, Megg saw sales in the range of 50-150 books per month. D.D. Scott's $2.99 offerings, with a $.99 intro (Bootscootin' Blahniks) sees monthly sales between 200-290 books per month.

Why would I forecast my own writing? After all I have 0 data for my own books. True, but I can set goals. I know I will sell at $2.99 for a royalty of roughly $2.00, to make the math easy and to account for slight variations in royalty calculations between Amazon, Nook, and Smashwords. I currently have a publication schedule of two novels per calendar year. This year is only one, but it's my first year. I have Book #2 of the Red Ink Collection, PAST DUE, slated for March 2012, and Book #3 SERVED which is a sequel to CANCELLED slated for August 2012. 

If I average 100 books per month, per title (yes, some months might see CANCELLED sell 150, but PAST DUE only 57, and vice-versa. Calculations are based on an average, so I can even have good and bad months and not panic, Hitchhiker's style). In 2012, I will make $5,400 on my three novels. That meets my second goal of writing when I began my fiction career: Make $5,000 in one calendar year from my fiction writing. 

What if I do better than that? What if my numbers are higher, say 150 books per novel per month on average for the year? That's $8,100 in 2012. 

The highest I hoped for was to average 200 books per title per month. Again, we're talking averages, so having a few outlier months that are awesome would be enough to pull the average up. This is like big dreaming. That would be a nice $10,800 for 2012. Or 5,400 books sold in the year.

Now here is where the math gets interesting. Once I have more titles, assuming I can keep the average up (which it looks like is possible given D.D. Scott's numbers on her older titles, remember just average, not every book must sell the average number each month), in 2013 I would have 5 novels (no idea what book 4 and 5 are, but I have ideas that could flesh out, too far in advance to think concretely that far. Maybe PAST DUE gets a sequel, maybe it doesn't.) Average of 100 books per month per title (5) = $10,200 for the year. Average of 150 books per month per title = $15,300. Average of 200 books per month per title = $20,400. 

That's moving from intern to entry level hire.

I continued my two books per year production schedule up to 9 novels, or 2015, which is where I think a little burn out might occur. Then I stepped down to 1 novel per year. I calculated out for the next ten years because that is the length of my husband's naval career at the moment. Here's where I'm looking at this as a career path:

2021, ten years in the game. I'm 39 years old. 15 novels in the game. 
100 books average per month per title = 17,800 books $35,600.
150 books average per month per title = 26,700 books $53,400.
200 books average per month per title = 35,600 books $71,200.

Over my ten year career:
At 100 books avg. I would have sold 114,000 books, made $228,000.
At 150 books avg. I would have sold 170,900 books made $341,800.
At 200 books avg. I would have sold 228,000 books and made $456,000

What's The Point? My writing, while keeping me sane, doesn't come without trade-offs. For every 30 minutes of wordmongering, that's 30 minutes I'm not hanging with my family or doing something else. Some things, my writing is way more productive over, like over me playing video games. Other things, like playing with my daughter or playing a family game I wouldn't necessarily put my writing down as more important in comparison. For the record, doing laundry does not override writing time. :)

I've been writing for 4 years (non-fiction articles). I took off considerable time when I became pregnant and had my daughter. About 14 months of maternity leave :) I made $4,000 my first year writing, $2,000 my second (I became pregnant that year after struggling for over a year with fertility issues), and $1100 my third (didn't start writing again until daughter was 6 months old). Last year I claimed a $500 profit, because as she learned to walk, I got busy. Very busy. Now that she's almost 2, there is more time she is independent. 

I have to look at the monetary value of my writing and decide if it matches up with the qualitative value of my life. Does the money I make for the hours I work add to my family's well-being by giving us money to take vacations, by keeping Mommy from feeling restless/worthless, by growing a retirement fund for me to perhaps lessen the financial burden later? I think it does. 

Why forecast 10 years? In ten years, my daughter will be 12. With 15 novels, I could easily take a long hiatus and still see some money come in. There's no telling what life will be like between now and then, or even after that date. I do know most likely my husband will be leaving the Navy and that will be a big transition. That extra money will probably come in handy in reducing the stress between military and civilian job. 

10 years is also a good length of time to plan a career path. No one goes from grunt to manager level in one year. It's important as indie writers we seriously sit down and look at expectations. We're not all going to be Amanda Hocking, J.A. Konrath, and Dean Wesley Smith. In fact, this year, I'm the equivalent of the girl getting the coffee. I'm writing my first novel, and politely talking to those ahead of me already published. Next year, I'll be the new girl in the cubicle farthest from a window, only part-time until a full-time position opens up. :)

But, we're in a growing industry. Who knows? Maybe I sell an average of 300 novels per title in 2012, breaking my highest expectations. Maybe I go from intern to full-time employee, with benefits. It's entirely possible with the double digit growth in ebooks. Of course, that also means more competition. So maybe I won't break an average of 75 books per month per title and spend more time in the windowless corner, still being asked to make the coffee once in awhile. 

I urge all of you to sit down and crunch some numbers. Have a goal. Have a realistic goal (100 books per month), a fantastic goal (150 books per month), and a super-awesome screaming from the top of the mountain goal (200 books per month). Reassess every year. 

For now, my 10 year plan is going in the front of my writing notebook (a three-ring binder with sheet protectors for my goals, current project, and next project). I will see it everyday. And work towards it every time I jump in my role as a writer and publisher.

"CANCELLED" arriving Late Summer 2011A robotics engineer asks his business partner to marry him, but a previous one-night stand is having his baby.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Self-Published Novel: Writing Accountability = #WORDMONGERING

I've been a dead beat for awhile on my novel. Poor, CANCELLED. But, I've recently found a new accountability program for the dead beat writer: #wordmongering. Yep. Put that hashtag into Twitter and you'll find us. A group of writers who start at the top of the hour, write for 30 minutes, then take a break for 30 minutes.

At first I thought this would be very inefficient. But it's not! My first round of 30 minutes I managed exactly 1,000 words. My second round? 1,172. Two thirds of Chapter 12 done.

So now I'm eating some ice cream and watching a NUMB3RS. Suddenly, my deadline of Tuesday for my first draft isn't so ominous...:)

In other news, information is off to my cover artist. Can't wait to show some results from the wonderful Melissa Oyler!

"CANCELLED" arriving Late Summer 2011A robotics engineer asks his business partner to marry him, but a previous one-night stand is having his baby.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Self-Published Author: Catering to the Readers

Astro Orbiter in Tomorrowland
I just finished a rant about the difference between $.99 price for my book (like so many indie authors do) and a $2.99/$3.99 price. No idea if I will ever let it actually post. In the end, I am going to ask my readers for more than a $.30 royalty on my hard work. This made me think about my brief time as a Merchantainer in Tomorrowland.

Waaaaay back in the summer of 2001, an average family of 4 spent more than $4,000 on a week long vacation. This is why when Little Johnny drops a $3 ice cream cone, cast members immediately get Little Johnny a new ice cream cone. $3 loss for family to return and spend another $4,000, and to tell their friends how awesome their vacation was. More $4,000 vacationers. And no one talks about the overpriced ice cream.

So what can I do as an author to keep people talking about my book, but not that it is more expensive than the indie author's next to me?

Here's what I've got so far:

  • Spend extra care and time to make the reading experience easy. No formatting goofs. Absolutely no typos (working on quality assurance methodology). 
  • Create an inviting web home for my readers.

    1. Schedule regular 2-way conversations with my readers, live chat. 
    2. A place to talk and interact with other readers, at their leisure.
    3. Keep them on the pulse of what's going on.
    4. Create contests and activities that single readers out as special. Monthly drawings for early readers of new chapters, Amazon gift certificates?
    5. Offer quality list of related genre books my readers can read in the 5 months between when I publish novels. Not just a hodge-podge list. But books I've read myself and would recommend to my closest friends.
If I go above and beyond in the care of my readers, I give them another reason beyond my writing to be my friend. As a voracious reader myself, when I'm not toiling behind the keys, I know the difference between an author who works for their readers, and those who work for dollars. While I am not in a position to exchange the hours I spend giving more attention to my writing than my children for free, I can accept a modest living that will enable me to offer them more opportunities (not things) as a trade off. Plus, I think it's healthy for them to see Mommy doing more than just being Mommy. 

The very nature of my Red Ink collection is to share the imperfect journeys we make to find love in today's crazy mixed up world. My first story handles the idea of Prince Charming coming with a kid as part of the deal. This happened to me, but I wouldn't trade my Prince Charming, or his heir to the throne, for anything. My second story addresses financial compatibility, and how crushing debt can put the damper on serious passion in a jiffy. No handsome, rich man to swoop in and make those bills go away, either. I was more embarrassed and nervous to share my credit card debt and student loan balance back when my husband was my fiance than I was to get naked in front of him for the first time. And finally, the third book currently planned, a sequel to Cancelled, will focus on how co-parenting can really screw up a relationship quicker than adultery. Really. It's very hard to have a parenting team where both parents are equal players, even within a marriage. 

They aren't preachy books. They're the love stories we gossip about around the weekend breakfast table when it's our friend of a friend or disliked co-worker in a romantic mess. The stories we hear and think "Never in a million years would I ever get myself in that situation."  Love as it is. Messy, wonderful, hot, and in the end, the hope for us all. 

"Cancelled" arriving August 2011. Getting married and having a baby in the same year isn't that unusual. Unless it involves two different women.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Self-Published Novel: I Don't Get the $.99 Pricing

This isn't about greed. This is about belief in my product and questioning the economics of the $.99 price in consideration of building a fiction writing career. 

The $.99 opener. The argument goes like this: price your first novel at $.99 to grow a readership, then price future books higher. Maybe it's my experience as a non-fiction writer, but I can't stomach this. I can see offering a short period of time every month for a $.99 sale on one of my novels, but I can't see this as an effective introductory price. I do not dispute that more readers will probably buy a $.99 book. But what is the economical trade-off of this increase in readers when a writer does not have additional books, just the debut?

I have sold thousands of dollars (not many, but still, it's thousands) worth of non-fiction articles since October of 2007 when I fell into writing. I make either 65%-90% of my price, depending on if I sell it straight to the customer or go through a type of gallery site. After 4 years, I'm bored writing about real estate, finance, taxessssssssssssss....oh I'm sorry. I fell asleep talking about it. :) 

But here's one axiom I learned: there's a buyer for every price. It's just a question of time, assuming the writing is of a good quality. On the gallery type site, that isn't an issue, as all articles are approved by an editor before going up for sale. However, my articles sit indefinitely until they sell. A 1,000 word piece on shopping addiction priced at $150 sat for 6 months before I sold it. In terms of $.99 books, that's 325 books sold in the same 6 months that article sat. (I sold it for full rights, meaning I cannot resell it.) But, it takes a great deal longer for me to write a book than a 1,000 word article. You're comparing hours to months. 

Price and perception of quality. I used to be a casual game addict. I bought games for $4.99 a piece, sometimes spending nearly $100 in a month because I would beat them so quickly. I played them on my computer, so I didn't have to fight my family for the TV like my video games on the Xbox 360 or Wii, even though those are a better deal ($30 or less for used RPG games I easily log over 60 hours on). 

I justified my spending by the number of hours of enjoyment I received for the money. 3 hours of fun for less than $2 an hour? Sign me up! Guess what? At $5 a piece, and every seventh game free (thanks to a stamp card you filled through the month), I didn't buy less than 6 games a month. That's a $30 monthly budget, or about half of a percent of our after tax monthly income. 

I never played all 6 games to completion. One unplayed game was $5 wasted. Who cares? I'm a frugal, but comfortable, stay-at-home-Mom with a husband who makes more than $50,000 but less than $80,000 who has limited avenues of escape. I was well within our monthly "entertainment" budget, and even a waste of $5 was far less than the overages associated with gas to drive to a store or other entertainment venue and extra spending on snacks or impulse items that plays to my gatherer instincts. 

My reader. I know not every reader is in this category, but based on my research into my target audience, these are men and women with a healthy monthly allowance for their own escapes. They don't generally have time to waste on failed avenues of lowering stress. It's not about the money, it's about the time. Most of their time isn't theirs to give. They have careers themselves, children, and other responsibilities. 

I buy ebooks to read on my computer. My limit is again, about $4.99 but that's more of a guideline. I do splurge on bestsellers because it's worth the extra money than driving 30 miles round-trip, kids in tow, to buy a book. It's never the price alone that gets me to buy a book. It's the cover design. The description. Occasionally, the reviews (I don't put too much stock in them, but they can make or break a borderline decision). 

After the cover and title grab my attention, I read the sample. If I get to the end and didn't see many mistakes, and want to read more, if it's $4.99 or less, I buy it. Again, I'm a Mom. Dragging my 2-year-old who won't sit in a stroller and browsing books in a book store is not fun for me. I can browse e-books while Mickey Mouse Clubhouse blares in the background. If I was still working outside of the home, I would buy them on my lunch break and read on my lunch break, etc. 

The consumer in me doesn't identify with this mantra that readers who buy $.99 can't afford anything more and won't buy a book priced higher. Maybe a handful of them won't, but if that was true, why are these readers buying the author's next titles for $2.99 and $3.99? I know when I buy a $.99 book, I don't think "great deal," I think cheap. To me, all ebooks technically are a great deal just in convenience!

The trade-off: readers for dollars. But here's the meat of the issue, and readers might be surprised about this: How much is an author truly giving up to increase the number of purchases by pricing at $.99? 

Let's just look at Amazon. Amazon pays royalties after 60 days of publication from what I can tell. My goal is to sell 100 books in those 60 days. If I price at $.99, I make roughly $.30 per book. There is a small charge I believe for the size of the file. Selling 100 books, I make $30. I make that much selling two short and sweet non-fiction articles that I write in about 2 hours. Even the argument of the infinite shelf life isn't selling me on this idea. I understand YA books using this price because their general audience, teens, have much more limited disposable income than my audience, grown women and men. But other genres, especially those aimed at productive adults?

Any book priced $2.99 to $9.99 is paid a 70%, not 30%, royalty. Same 100 books, higher price, I make $209. In fact, to make more than the $30, I only need to sell 15 books. In two months. 

Sell 100 books. Choose to make $30 or $200. 

How is this even a choice? $.30 is almost such an insult, I don't want a reader who only values my hard work at providing them an escape as worth slightly more than a quarter. A quarter. You can't even buy bubblegum at the machine in the grocery store for a quarter any more. No, a big, sugary ball of bubble gum costs $.50. My book would be worth less a piece of gum. 

To be honest, I was seriously considering making $2.99 or $3.25 as my introductory price, advertising that once the honeymoon period of 60 days was over, the price will go up to $3.99. I make $.70 more per book, and more importantly, since some back listed romance novels are coming out at $3.99, with a professional cover, description, and author photo, it will be more difficult for a reader to distinguish me from a traditionally published contemporary romance writer. That's what it's all about. Look professional, be treated like a professional. Give the reader a great story to lose the stresses of reality. 

But Elizabeth, what about losing readers because of the price point that's $1 more than $2.99?

If I sell 10 books at $2.99, I make $20.90. I only have to sell 7.5 books to make that same $20.90 at $3.99. So, I would have to lose more than 1 reader in every 4 seriously considering purchasing my novel to make less at $3.99 than $2.99. With so many other variables, such as the description, reviews, or sample turning readers off, I don't know that the difference of $1 will cause a mass exodus. 

There are bargain shoppers. People like my Aunt Sandi won't buy anything unless it's on sale. Those people will click the "Add to Wish List" link that Amazon so helpfully provides. When I advertise my book going on sale, they will snatch it up. 

The bottom line is price alone has never made me decide to not buy a book. I read the description and sample, and from that information, decide if I think the book is going to be worth the money. Price is only a tie-breaker vote. 

For me, my job as an author isn't to play games with my pricing, but to write a book and meta data that makes a reader think "This writer is worth the money." Now, if I had a "large inventory", I will happily price older novels at $.99 just to move titles. Then, it would make sense as a gamble on a $.99 price, or throwing that quarter at me, because when the reader buys one or two of my other books at regular price, it was worth the loss of $2.49 in royalties on the first book to possibly get two or three times the $2.09-$2.79 from the future purchases.

Now, I don't want to make it sound like I see readers as dollar signs. I don't. I don't want to insult readers by believing that they really see our hard work as worth slightly more than a quarter per book for a royalty. I know these $.99 book buyers, they are not people who walk around playing Fred Mertz. I've bought books at $.99 cents. I am not a cheapskate, but it was the price the author set. The books that were great, which I had a good idea would be from the description and sample, I would have gladly paid more.  

By pricing my work at an affordable price for the months of work and investment, here is what I can offer my readers:

  • I can invest in newer technologies as they come along for "enhanced" ebooks. 
  • I can continue my education in the writing craft, producing a better book with each release.
  • I can use my success to pay-it-forward to other writers, bringing more and more quality and affordable books to the market. 
  • I can afford to donate books and time to those who truly cannot pay even a penny.
  • I can justify my work to my husband and the IRS as a legitimate business, letting me stay in business and keep writing.
Word-of-mouth campaigns. On a final note, there is the question about word-of-mouth. Are readers who read $.99 books more likely to tell people about the book than readers of $2.99 books? I don't believe so for a few reasons. First, I suspect a significant percentage of $.99 books go unread, like one of my six games went unplayed. There is no sacrifice for the reader in neglecting the title. It isn't going anywhere. Like the unread pile of print books every reader has that he or she bought on clearance, the chances a reader will get to it is slim. Second, I think word-of-mouth comes down to writing quality. Is it fresh? Is it spunky? Was it fun to read? Who says "Read this $.99 book, it isn't terrible?" 

But time will tell. I publish Cancelled in August, the first book in my planned Red Ink collection. I will see my first royalty check in October. I will publish my sales figures like the many awesome writers who have come before me, just as I gladly shared my pricing strategies and sales with new freelance non-fiction writers over the years (my sales figures were public already). And when that first royalty check is more than $30, I will be very thankful I held onto my bravery in this new world of fiction.

"Cancelled" arriving Late Summer 2011A robotics engineer asks his business partner to marry him, but a previous one-night stand is having his baby.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Interactive Ebook Wish List Addendum

A Newbie's Guide to Publishing: Tech Talk and the Active Ebook

The illustrious J.A. Konrath just gave his wish list for an enhanced eBook. I think it sounded pretty cool, but here are perhaps some other feminine touches, or perhaps features for other genres.

I want access to the places that inspired the novel. Perhaps eat at THAT restaurant the characters ate at. Maybe even a vehicle to meet up with other readers at the places in the book. Think of what Twilight has done for Forks, WA. It's literary Yelp.

One of my favorite things to do when I read a book is to look up concepts that are unfamiliar to me. Especially in regency romances that I read. A user generated "bonus" material could be an awesome addition. In addition to the fan fic, some people just like to research the crap out of behind-the-scenes stuff. Make it easy for readers to submit their own commentaries or explanations of the prose much like the fandom worlds of Harry Potter and Jane Austen already do. In the enhanced version, a reader can click or select a hyperlink that goes to hidden additional information somewhere in the file that they can close. An interactive literary commentary that grows.

Starring me. I play RPG games. One of the funnest things to do is change the name of the characters. With a push of a button, I can change the name of any character I want. Maybe the male lead is named Ken and my ex-boyfriend who stole $500 from me was named Ken. Presto, changeo, he's now named Johnathan, a guy at my work who is hot as can be and doesn't know I exist. :)

Behind-the-scenes footage: I would love to see the apartment pictures and other materials that inspired the novel.

Tweets, messages, emails, either from the characters today, or maybe behind the scene stuff between the characters. Additional content that makes me smile and reminds me of that great book I read, and might even re-read tonight after dinner and the kids are in bed. This could even be timed so that the message is really embedded in the novel's original file, but time released. So everyone who buys the novel, 6 months after purchase, an update on the main character pops up. "Real-time epilogue."

Fashion advice/what a character would wear. For specific types of characters that a reader "wants to be" it would be great. Might not work with the thriller genre.

Real-time chat or maybe temporary message area where I can send out messages to people reading the book right now. Not so crazy about the scheduled reading thing. I have kids. Scheduled chats aren't easy for everyone. But say I was reading at 5:17 PM EST and could write "OMG, just laughed my butt off at chapter 4" and a little message pops up and says "Wait until Chapter 6. I was rolling." No names etc. just temporary messaging back and forth. I don't want to "meet people" as I'm reading, but happy to go to the forum after I read if I want to make new friends.

Links to all of the cool web pages for the book's universe (especially established series etc.) so I don't have to search my book marks and remember where I archived that cool fan site under again?

Recipes the characters cook. Especially if it's like a fantasy book and a made up meal, or even a contemporary book where they go out for ethnic food. I read about curry all the time in British literature, no clue how to make it. I know there are recipes online, but once I'm done with a book, I forget and don't think to research later. If the author has a favorite recipe in the book or favorite band, I want to know. Some authors have even written suggested playlists for chapters, and with things like Grooveshark and other streaming services, it would be easy for a reader to "listen along."

I want to be able to pick my own selection of "x" number of words to send to my girlfriend. Why? Because she will find that part hilarious and it's what will make her buy the book.

"CANCELLED" arriving Late Summer 2011. A robotics engineer asks his business partner to marry him, but a previous one-night stand is having his baby.

I Want to Self-Publish Because of the Cerulean Sweater

I have not read The Devil Wear Prada but I've read Everyone Worth Knowing by Laura Wesiburger. I tried recently to get through Last Night at Chateau Marmont, but it wasn't a good time for me reading-wise, I was more focused on writing energies. Okay, I have no idea if this scene is in the book, but I loved it in the movie version with Meryl Streep. The famous cerulean sweater.

In the movie scene, Meryl Streep's character as the editor-in-chief of New York's hottest fashion magazine, nay, bible, informs Anne Hathaway's character that she didn't choose that sweater, but a fashion line two seasons ago featured cerulean as a color. Then the next season other designers featured cerulean in their collections and that made it's way down the fashion lines to the bargain-bin sweater she was now wearing. 

Here's why I'm self-publishing: I want to be the person putting out the new cerulean line two seasons before everyone else wears it. Come again? Elizabeth, you're writing a book not designing clothes. I know that. My point is that I know my story isn't typical. I don't want to be typical. Craft wise, yes we should all be well-read in our genre and know the rules. Then break them. If you are writing a book just like another story already published, you're not going to make it out of the bargain bin. 

I know there will be readers who are annoyed my ending isn't perfect and I follow the hero's trip down Cupid's Path, and not his fiancĂ©e or the mother of his baby. And I do get flashes of scenes from the women's point-of-views. Such as Alexis calling her sorority sister from undergrad and talking about wedding dresses. You want to know what Johnathan's concerns about the wedding dress is? Is it in budget? Yes? Okay, then I can't wait to see you in it on our wedding day. That's it. He doesn't care about the fabrics used, the length, the line of the skirt. But if this was a traditional chick-lit, I would absolutely throw in a gushy, trying on the wedding dress scene. Shoot, chick-lit Hall-of-Famer Becky Bloomwood (Kinsella's Shopaholic) has TWO wedding dresses, and the drama of choosing between the two lasted nearly the entire novel! 

But so much about the publishing world is about what other books is your book like? As if your book must be similar in details, with just minor permutations or the silly, ignorant reader won't know what to do. In my opinion, there is wearable couture, and then there is the ready-to-wear lines. Wearable couture? Dan Brown's conspiracy thriller making secret societies cool and stuffy academia suddenly equips the hero physically and mentally for a life-or-death chase across countries, with no military involved. A spy type thriller with no military? And you're replacing the Establishment with the Vatican? Stephenie Meyer's vegetarian vampires. Vegetarian vampires? Whoever heard of a friendly vampire? Even Rice's Louis killed. 

With indie publishing, there aren't editors deciding which plot lines and story constructs are hot at the moment. I'm not arguing we don't need editors, we most certainly do. In fact, I am not proud of the way book releases are handled by many self-published novelists, with first drafts going to print. Editors welcome there! What the book world doesn't need is the bandwagon approach to publishing. Don't chase a reader trend, make one. Write to make people pause and decide if they like it. Be prepared to hear more from the people who don't like it than from the people who do. 

Forgive my constant pep-talk posts. They help me get excited all over again about my book as I'm currently stuck in the middle doldrums. Here's an excerpt from what I wrote yesterday in the dentist's waiting room and finished this morning, there's 1,000 words total to this scene:

     “Didn't you wear that same tie yesterday?” Eric gestured to the slate blue accessory with a satin geometric design around Johnathan's neck. Johnathan grabbed the tale and looked at it. 
     “A gray one like it.” Of course it was the same tie. He forgot to pack a different tie in his overnight bag. Yesterday's became today's recycling after he and Alex woke up at her place that morning. The last two weeks were a blur of dinning out, sleeping over, and alternating who packed an overnight bag.
    “No, I don't believe so. I believe that is exactly the same tie you wore yesterday.” Eric thumbed screens on his smart phone and showed the impromptu pictures from yesterday with the Claw, the mechanical hand at the end of the Hedis armature. It wasn't operational yet. He zipped through the scenes of showing what most men would do with a sudden third hand. Finally, he found Johnathan's poses. There was the CEO, struggling against the inactive Claw around his neck, and a slate blue tie with a satin geometric design dangling underneath.
    Johnathan hung his head. The cement floor of the work cave was a piece of abstract art. Various oil and lubrication stains made a random pattern of darkened splotches. Rainbow bits of electrical wire hid here and there, temporary visitors until their heavily modified Roomba was released. Neon drops of epoxy and other unidentifiable materials held permanent positions. At least until a good floor scraping.
     “And I also believe...” Eric held his pointer finger in the air, as if testing the wind, then brought it down and pointed it back to his best friend.  “You are in love with Alex.”
     No shock. No shame. Johnathan faced his oldest friend with a sheepish smile and eyes full of defiance. “She loves me back. I was going to tell you, but she had all of these rules at the beginning and I just was a miracle I didn't screw things up.”
     Eric played with an actuator on the work bench in front of them. He flicked the toggle switch back and forth. Click. Click. Click. Johnathan waited.
    “I'm not stupid. You two sucked at hiding.”

"Cancelled" arriving Late Summer 2011A robotics engineer asks his business partner to marry him, but a previous one-night stand is having his baby.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Self-Published Novel: Investigate Your Genre

Courtesy of Dmitry Maslov from
Okay, okay enough fightin' words. Recently I was part of a good-natured debate about the pricing of ebooks, especially indie books. It pays to research your genre before deciding on a firm pricing structure...

It's easy, really. Go to Amazon, search in your genre. For example, my book will be labeled a contemporary romance. The main storyline is about who the main character will or will not end up with, his fiancee or the mother of his baby. It has a happy-for-now ending like most chick-lit/women's fiction titles, but deals with love and romance in an urban and contemporary context.  

My awesome news is that my genre has strong showings by indie authors in the top 10 and top 20 downloads. Also, pricing varies from $0.99 to $9.99 (traditionally published). There are many indie authors in the $3-$5 range. I plan to price my first book at $3.25. I have a couple of reasons for this:

  • It's my birthday (A gimmick I will use and abuse)
  • It will grab attention in a list of prices all ending with $.99 (don't believe me, check yourself, read down the list of prices and see if you aren't paused by $4.67 or some other ending...)
  • It's good price point to offer sales from without dramatically impacting my profit, at first.
  • It's the earliest full price of a movie ticket I can remember buying with my own money.
The biggest things that seem to set the indie/self published titles vs. traditionally published titles are the prices, cover art, and author photograph. Professionalism doesn't seem to be a deciding factor since the traditional romance genre is well-known for quantity over quality (publication wise, most books are NOT error free, as least not the ones I've read), there are even comments on a few traditional offerings complaining about crappy formatting. 

I am not a big fan of the $.99 pricing while a title is in what I call "first-run." First-run meaning it's the newest ebook offering an author has. I'm not terribly crazy about the $.99 pricing forever, either. I am interested by the strategy author Lucy Kevin is employing. She has one book offered for free, "Spark Fly." Then the next two in the series "Falling Fast" and "Seattle Girl" are both priced at $2.99. Her "box set" of all three is priced at $4.99. 

This is very smart to me, and I love the idea of packaging my books together. People can buy books individually, or for less than the price of two, can get all three! I might try to contact her and see how that pricing strategy is going, maybe after I have a few more followers here.

Regardless of what you price your self-published novel at, make sure it is a price that falls well in your genre. I noticed most of the books at the $.99 price point in my genre listing were published over a year ago. 

"Cancelled" arriving Late Summer 2011A robotics engineer asks his business partner to marry him, but a previous one-night stand is having his baby.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Reading About Craft, Trying to Write

I've had a very bad case of the insecurities lately. I keep reading about self-publishing and how it's all crap and slowly that mentality started to freak me out. What if I'm writing crap? what if everyone hates my book? What if no one buys it? 

Then I began reading On Writing by Stephen King. Phew! All of this is totally normal. And I don't suck. I didn't really get these fears with my non-fiction writing because I started that with 0 expectations. I wrote, it sold. Each random transaction was regular confirmation that I AM a writer and one that makes money doing so.

Writing fiction is a completely different beast. I don't get regular confirmation that my writing is good. I think it's good. I enjoy reading it, even over and over again. I have the first 9 chapters written, and most of the end of the story. I just need to fill in the gaps, about 12 more chapters worth. I have 15 days to do it. I made a pot of coffee for tonight, and will try to get as much as I can done.

I can see the finish line. It's taunting me. Today in church, one bible passage stuck out to me from my New Living Translation: Galatians 6:4 Pay careful attention to your own work, for then you will get the satisfaction of a job well-done, and you won't need to compare yourself to anyone else. Even if you aren't of the Christian faith, it's sage advice. I need to worry about my own project and seeing it through to the end. Who cares if my book isn't as good as other chick-lit/romance writers? They aren't me. And maybe my different style and voice in writing will catch an audience who loves a good love story, but nothing too sappy. 

Grooveshark on. Writer open. Time to get busy.

"Disengaged" arriving Late Summer 2011A robotics engineer asks his business partner to marry him, but a previous one-night stand is having his baby.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Day 19 : How to Overcome Distractions from Writing

I believe it's called getting back in the saddle? Because I definitely feel as if I fell off the writing horse! For the last two weeks, I have managed to eek out only half-ish of Chapter 8. First, I was in Virginia the last week of April, and between running around for social obligations, and visiting with family, my novel was on the back burner. I also wasn't getting great sleep since I was sharing a queen sized bed with my toddler who managed to push me to the very edge every night!

This past week, replacing my car took up so much time. Between test driving, then buying a Dodge Journey (only to take it right back the following day due to mechanical issues) I am now the proud and super thankful owner of a fully loaded 2010 Honda Pilot (Touring). People have told me before they love their car. Previously driving a 1999 Honda Accord that had seen many better days, I always rolled my eyes, if only internally, at the idea of becoming enamored with an inanimate object. But I LOVE my Pilot! Though, I can argue my car is not 100% inanimate -- I can give it voice commands and it responds back! 

So back to my novel. I am so behind. And the longer and longer it goes on, the easier and easier it is not to write. This changes today. I will write this morning as much as I can. And this afternoon. This evening, my husband has softball, so writing might prove more difficult. Even right now will be difficult as my 2-year-old is climbing on me, trying to give me kisses. 

"Disengaged" arriving Late Summer 2011A robotics engineer asks his business partner to marry him, but a previous one-night stand is having his baby.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Day 18 I Have to Say It: Marketing Begins With YOU

When I first considered making the jump from non-fiction to fiction, I read many books about publishing novels. Before joining this crazy whirly-gig of fun, I wanted to know the inside scoop on the industry. The dark skeletons kept in the closet. Here is a piece of advice I read from a book written in the early 90s about publishing that stuck with me:

Be prepared for a face-to-face before a publisher will sign off on a book. They are looking to see how marketable you are.

Harsh, right? But true. Marketing begins with us. My genre, women's fiction/chick-lit/romance is written by some very beautiful women. And some not. Some who have a head shot that looks like they just rolled out of bed in the morning and grabbed the nearest T-shirt. Their hair is a rat's nest. Makeup? Ha. 

A recent discussion on G. P. Ching's blog about my pricing ideas prompted me to start checking my genre. Turns out, I can price a little higher because the indie women's fiction author population is about 12 (okay, I'm exaggerating, but seriously, put women's fiction in the Kindle Store search). I will be competing with $7.99 and up traditionally published books. This is very different from the thriller, YA, fantasy genres that are up to their necks in indie authors. I was scoping out my competition when I realized besides price, the author photo was another dead give away that someone was an indie/self-published author instead of a publisher backed author. The traditionally published authors have gorgeous, professional photographs in their author bios. The indie authors? Mostly casual photos that look like they were taken in the backyard at a random time. 

Now, back to to the regularly scheduled programming. I spotted G.P. on Twitter after following another author, Megg Jensen. I will be absolutely honest and this isn't meant in a sexual/lesbian kind of way. I clicked to learn more about her because her photo was attractive. I liked her hair style and the jewelry and attire made me wonder what kind of books she writes. She isn't in my genre, but I kinda guessed that based on the cross around her neck. This doesn't mean everyone needs to look runway ready with a teeny-tiny waist and perfectly veneered teeth. I will never fit that description! But, even authors who aren't a perfect size 2, and more like a 22 can have very attractive photographs. Styled hair, a touch of makeup and a fashionable top is all that is needed. Oh, and smile. Like your best friend is sitting across from you, drinking a cup of coffee and complimented your new shoes.

Here's the point: If you are going to put a picture of yourself up as an author, make sure it is an attractive one. Actually, go further. Pose for a portrait. You probably know a friend who is great at taking pictures, or hit a Sears/JC Penny/Walmart. Take lots of outfits, make lots of poses and buy the CD for $99. You spend tons of time on your book's cover, consider yourself just as important.

I am not immune to my own advice. I hate my black-and-white photo that I'm currently using as my official public photo. Guess what? That's 4 weeks after I gave birth to my soon-to-be 2-year-old. Yeah. I'm still puffy, and there's a very good reason that photo is a head shot. But not many people would guess that from the photo. And, I am working on remedying this situation. That picture will NOT be the photo on the back of my novel or anywhere my face is associated with my book. No way. I'm working on losing a few pounds over the next few weeks and my photo session is planned with the brilliant Kristen Channel.  It will be lovely. Most importantly, my picture is going to make people want to get to know me and read my books.

I may be a stay-at-home Mom writing my first novel, but I'm certainly not going to look like it.

"Disengaged" arriving Fall 2011. Johnathan Michaels, a robotics engineer, jeopardizes his engagement with his business partner when a previous one-night stand surfaces, carrying his child.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Day 17: Book Cover Artist, Title Change, and Vacation

I am on vacation for the week in Virginia, visiting my family with my 2-year-old daughter. It's been a nice respite from home.

BIG NEWS: I have a cover artist! Suddenly, my release date just got a great deal closer! My cover artist is the wonderfully talented Melissa Oyler. We have some very exciting ideas cooking up between us, so stay tuned!

The title changed because Melissa kept calling my book "Cancelled." Man, that was a lot cooler than "Imperfect Timing." After a brainstorm session and an impromptu poll, "Disengaged" won as the new title. It might seem odd, but picture it with a cancelled wedding invitation on the cover and you'll get the joke.

I am home in South Carolina now. Writing has not been going to plan as I thought it would in Virginia and today. I spent most of today unpacking and getting the house/family ready for Monday. But! I planned out my weekly schedule for the next three weeks as follows:

  1. 1 hour of house work every morning. (Get it out of the way)
  2. MWF 30 min of cardio at home, extra 1.5 hours to write.
  3. Tues Thursday 2 hours at YMCA (weights, travel time)
  4. Lunch/Eat/Put my little monster down for a nap
  5. 12-2 More writing
  6. Outside play with kids (oldest starts standardized testing next week, we're pretty much done with 5th grade)
  7. Dinner prep, clean kitchen

So I have 12 hours of scheduled writing. I am not scheduling writing hours in the evening/weekends so I can use that time to make up writing time I miss (I have to go grocery shopping and errand running sometime). 

Goals for the week: Get 12 hours of writing in. Get cover information to Melissa so she can start her magic. 

"Disengaged" arriving Fall 2011. Johnathan Michaels, a robotics engineer, jeopardizes his engagement with his business partner when a previous one-night stand surfaces, carrying his child.