Friday, April 27, 2012

Never, Ever, Underestimate JOY

GOOD MORNING! It's a lovely day. Look, I'm learning how to digitally paint!
Completely original digital water color/acrylic paint painting
 I made this morning. I am LOVING my Wacom Bamboo
Create Pen and Tablet.

Show of hands, how many think that creativity comes from misery? That whole, we must suffer for our art?

I don't agree. You see, I've had seasons of abject misery in my life. Days where I struggled to find the will to eat. To get up an face the day. There was nothing creative or artsy about it. Now, I don't share that to contradict anyone who feels their outlet from their misery is their art. This is a very personal issue. I'm sharing  this because someone who is like me might find relief that they don't have to be miserable to create.

Joy is infectious. When I am happy, my children are happy. My husband is happy. My days are exciting adventures, not chores to get through.

I've been rather stuck as of late, coming to grips with my roles as a wife, mother, and author. Call it a muse if you want, but I've been stilted in my writing. I lost my desire to write stories.

But I've got it back.


A conversation with my husband where I confessed I had three unfinished outlines, bits of chapters for three stories made the difference. Oh I whined....

"Ugh, too much of me just feels like I wrote Cancelled to just see if I could. I did it. I succeeded. And the book is making money! I'm partly bored with it, and just don't feel like writing ANYTHING."

He took a sip of his coffee.

"You know what your problem is? Time management."

I scowled. Great, he was going to tell me again how I needed to schedule time to write and blah, blah, blah, which by the way, I totally tried.

"You're too caught up in making this a business that it's not your hobby anymore. You set aside time to write, but because you set aside the time, it feels like a chore."

Damn. He got it. Turns out he HAD noticed for a few months now, I wasn't coming to him and laughing about a scene I just wrote. I was only coming to him to tell him how many sales I made, where I was being interviewed, etc.

Today is my last day in Amazon's KDP Select. I feel bad because I am thankful for the opportunity, but now, I really want to make sure my book is back to being available everywhere.

And last night? Last night I read Chapter 2 of STONE and loved it. I wanted to read more! (Unfortunately, it seems like Chapter 1 is being cut, once again. I always start my stories too early it seems, but at least I can  identify it, right?). And the focus is changing. Yes, Melanie Stone is STILL going to kick a total creep out of her life, but the organic story of a mother and daughter trying to repair their relationship is more important to the overall tone of the piece than I was giving it credit for:

Ergo, with much adieu, I finally have my one-sentence synopsis that's getting plastered on my wall over my laptop today:

Never up to Mom's expectations, a clothing designer kicks "Mr. Right" to the curb.

Talk about a loaded sentence! It only took me a page and a half to get it just right. As a reader, I'm thinking, wait, why isn't the main character living up to her mother's expectations, and why is Mr. Right really Mr. Wrong? That's good. That means I have a story question: How can a single-mother clothing designer make amends with her mother and get rid of a guy who won't take "No," for an answer?

Up next? The Paragraph and story arcs for the three main characters. 

A robotics engineer asks his business partner to marry him, but a previous one-night stand is having his baby. CANCELLED is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble 

WIP: STONE. Can Melanie Stone let her mother back into her life and kick out the creep trying to worm his way in? March 2012.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

What Makes Us Different? Indies vs. Traditionally Published

Yesterday, I spent all day with a good friend who was responsible for introducing me to Sophie Kinsella's Shopaholic series. She yanked out her Kindle and firmly asked me "Alright, who can you recommend?" I grinned and knowing her taste in books, suggested both Anne R. Allen and Talli Roland. :)

She wanted to know why my book wasn't mass market paperback yet, and I explained to her the ins and outs of traditionally publishing. She opened her mouth in horror when I said 17.5% on ebooks. And then when we talked about royalty statements, she said "Surely there's laws where they must give you an itemized accounting of each book sold, right?" I laughed. Nope. And she cringed when she heard statements only came every 6 months.

So anyway, on the heels of announcing that agency pricing is possibly/probably going away and what will this mean for indies? I like David Gaughran's assessment that traditional publishers will still set high list prices, so Amazon won't be deep discounting too far.... he has an awesome blog on all cool things publishing called Let's Get Digital. Anyway, one refrain I saw was this: "But our ability to be better priced was what gave us the little edge we had!"

So let's brainstorm other ways to be DIFFERENT:

Unpredictable Story Lines

We know the formulas. We know the rhetoric out there about what agents/publishers supposedly want or are willing to publish. Check out reader forums (don't spam them, just read/listen). What are readers in your genre tired of? Even if it's just a small percentage of them, you can get inspired to take your audiences to new places they haven't been before. We can take the risk on a potentially niche story because....

Kill 'Em on Overhead

Be smart about how much money you invest in your book. There is NOTHING wrong with planning to sell X number of copies and planning the book's production around that number. I knew I needed to earn out on CANCELLED within 12 months. Luckily, I earned out in 6 months. I have a tentative three year plan before I see profit on my fiction writing, but between now and then, I must stay solvent. That means I need the money invested in one book returned in time to invest it in the next book. When you're small like we are, you can do those kinds of plans very easily.

Deliver  a Superior Ebook Product

Ebooks are still an afterthought to many publishers. Take some time to learn the craft of formatting. Know that readers don't like tons and tons of padding at the end of the ebook because it distorts the progress bar. Know that Kindle now defaults to Chapter 1 on ebooks, so front matter stuff is moot, you need to put a link at the end of the book to take the reader there.

Focus on the Most Important Part... The Story

Work your chapters so they compel the reader to press next page. Work with your beta readers, ask them to do some active reading, noting places they got bored, places they sighed and kept reading because they're your friend. Try out 3-4 different beginnings. Play with the structure of the story. I'm looking forward to trying out writing a novel in episodes, rather than chapters. I can experiment like that because there's no one to tell me not to!

We don't have to just beat traditional publishers on price points to stay in the game. We can deliver a superior reading experience. We can write ahead and then publish so we can publish more quickly than a traditional publisher. Our sky is the limit, so be brave and be bold. There's a bunch of readers out there needing a break from their everyday lives!

A robotics engineer asks his business partner to marry him, but a previous one-night stand is having his baby. CANCELLED is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble 

WIP: STONE. Can Melanie Stone let her mother back into her life and kick out the creep trying to worm his way in?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Indie Author Publication Schedule Discussion


If this is a "marathon," how on earth do I run it? I didn't TRAIN for this!!!!

I struggle with the "race" aspect of this new world of writing. Towards the end of March, a slew of distressing family news, mostly concerning the health of my parents, bombarded me along with other personal issues. Add to that the stress I was putting on myself to write STONE and run the ebook cruise and it was a perfect storm of yuck. I had to choose what was going to give. My sleep and eating or let some of my writing goals go...for now.

I chose writing. I took a break. For almost one full week, I didn't touch my computer. At first, it drove me nuts. But after 48 hours, I started to realize there is an entire world NOT ONLINE! :) And guess what? I'm a part of that world, too. (I will be taking a vacation from the virtual once per quarter, from now on).

I turned 30 years old on March 25th, and I feel fantastic. I am no longer going to stress myself out about writing. There's no need. I am a successful writer. I should have realized that before, as I sold non-fiction for years...but switching to fiction my confidence was rocked. And not in a good way.

Why do we listen to people who are jealous of us more than the people who cheer us on? In my case, there really IS no excuse, as far more people cheer me on than act as detractors. For my birthday, my husband bought me a new laptop. In his way, and he's not a man of many words, he was validating what I'm doing. He brags about me to other people, that his wife is a published novelist and that her book is doing well.

I've Earned Out

CANCELLED is 100% profit from here on out. Thanks to the electrifying jump start of the KDP free promotion (which worked for me, but not everyone) I've sold a total of 417 ebook copies in the US on Kindle and Nook since September 2011 when the book came out. In six months, I've earned back what I put in. So why on earth am I still worrying about if the book is good enough, am I selling enough, and why am I not a break out star?

Because I'm human. LOL. We ALL are. But when I read back through my original posts, all I wanted was to write books that people enjoyed, that weren't cookie-cutter, and that earned out in a reasonable time. I wanted, and still desire, to build a library of books by Elizabeth Ann West.

And I have tons of time to do this.

What Do I WANT?

I want less stress regarding my writing. I enjoy writing fiction, but I don't breathe to write fiction. I don't love writing, but I do love to sell. I don't love word quotas, but I do love interacting with readers. So what stresses ME out?

A Lack of Focus: I really don't do well trying to write more than one project at a time. I've tried this method out for the last 6 months and the result is 4 Chapters of STONE written, 2 Chapters of PAST DUE, 2 Chapters of SERVED, 3 pages of two different short stories. In other words, a m e s s!

Solution: Slow and steady wins my race, I will do one project at a time until its done, THEN move on. Period. That means Stone is backseat until short story for Pubwrite Anthology and the short story for the Indie Chicks Anthology are DONE because they're due first.

A Lack of Desire: I've planned to write for X number of hours, X number of words. Again, no dice. I am a free spirit by nature, and I am motivated most by accomplishing big bursts in short time frames. I thrive on feeling awesome for production (quality to me comes in the editing process, totally different mindset). I am giddy at crunching out 1,000 words in 45 minutes. YEAH! It's the on-deadline, non-fiction writer in me that rears her little ego when I try to write fiction.

Solution: I'm going to go back to milestones. Can I get to HERE (word count) before this DAY? Then I'm free to write when I can, what I can.

A Lack of Incentive: After my incredible KDP run where I made $500 in one month, guess what next month's sales were with 1) an ad on Kindle Book Review and 2) another free day run making it to #333 in overall FREE and 3) a reduced price of $1.99? 19 books. Yep. In March, I sold 19 ebooks. That's about what I sold per month at the economy price points last fall. I made the mistake of feeling motivated in February by my sales. I stalked my sales. I fell OFF the bandwagon.

Solution: Sales don't make me an author. I am planning specific incentives for each project I finish. The Pubwrite short story? One bottle of ice wine for me. :) STONE? I'm buying myself a Kindle Fire. PAST DUE? I'm going golfing. Etc.

A Crossroads: What do I specifically want in the next 12 months and what must I do to get there?

Last year I was frantic to get CANCELLED out the door. Frantic. I was so afraid the self-publishing opportunity was going to POOF! be gone right before I published. LOL. I know, it sounds a little silly, but when you're in the never-been-published shoes that I filled last year, it's a very real fear that your best laid plans will die right before you're finally ready to publish. I am no longer afraid that my fiction writing will lose publishing/distribution opportunities. For me, I'm repeating that. I am NO LONGER afraid that my fiction writing will LOSE publishing/distribution opportunities. There are far too many ways to get a book in the hands of readers (traditional publishing, self-publishing, small imprints, personal website, etc) for them all to close off to me or anyone else.

I have a few choices to make:

Build Up or Publish As Ready?

Other than three anthologies that I owe short stories for, I have NO deadlines. I set an April deadline for STONE, but that isn't going to happen. I am toying with the idea of not publishing a full-length work at all in 2012. GASP! Specifically, I am thinking about rejecting the Publish-As-Ready plan for a Build-Up-Titles plan first. There is a similar plan advocated by the wonderful Jen Talty and Bob Mayer at Write it Forward where they urge new writers to write 3 books before publishing any of them.Why?

Yes, I understand the whole "money left on the table" mantra pushed by some of the big names in digital publishing, BUT I am now appreciating WHY a big-house publisher holds a book back. Things happen. I released CANCELLED by the seat of my pants. Hodge-podge marketing plan, taking advantage of opportunities as they come along etc. I have readers who love my book, want more, and I have nothing to give them. Nothing. Will they remember me 6 months to a year later when I publish again? OR, is it better, since I'm gifted in marketing magic thanks to Disney to keep building one reader at a time when I can guarantee a new title every X months?

What I'm Thinking.....

Get the short stories out. No problem.

Revamp CANCELLED's ebook and print book to reflect the new things I've learned formatting and style wise since it published.

Write the book series I'm currently planning. Let STONE release maybe, maybe in the fall, but have PAST DUE's series and CANCELLED's series 100% done before publishing anything more there. This way I can 100% control the quality of the launches, the quality of the products, and plan accordingly. I've learned it's not that tough to make relationships with readers when you're a genuine person with them. :) But where I'm struggling is that AS I'm marketing, I suck at writing. I do. I think for me I need marketing furloughs so I can write. One way to do that is write, THEN publish, THEN market, then take a break. Who says authors can't go on sabbatical? That means 2012 is a writing year, 2013 is a marketing year, 2014 is a writing year (but I'm still releasing books I already wrote) etc.

Specifically? And this is rough:

Write STONE. (Publish this fall).


-------Potentially START publishing again --------

Write the In Debt Collection:

So that is my mountain to climb. It's an Everest. It's a Kilimanjaro. But it's MINE. And if it takes me until mid-2013 to finish, then so be it. Because really, I'm the Boss Lady. Plus, all of this started because I promised myself to write a novel and publish it to see if I could do it. I know, I know. I will take your volley of wadded up paper. Call me a great pretender. It's how I FEEL. And the only way I can think of to STOP feeling this way is to make an even bigger mountain to conquer. And don't worry, once I conquer THIS contemporary fiction mountain... guess what's the next challenge? Epic fantasy on my own terms. Coming to this mountain climber in 2015 or 2016. LOL.

I am interested in hearing from other authors on this subject, running the race of publishing.

  • How do you find balance between marketing and writing? 
  • Have you considered stocking up titles to publish? 
  • Do you not need a balance? (Not everyone does, I only just accepted that I DO need one). 
  • Have you thought out a big picture? 
  • Have you experienced negative side effects from a similar strategy or from the publish as you go strategy? 

Seriously, we NEED to talk about this! :) Feel free to comment and share links to blog posts YOU'VE written or read on the subject. :)

A robotics engineer asks his business partner to marry him, but a previous one-night stand is having his baby. CANCELLED is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble 

WIP: STONE. Can Melanie Stone let her mother back into her life and kick out the creep trying to worm his way in?