Past Breakeven on Old Audio

One of the tricky things with self-publishing is knowing where to put your effort. Should you put your books out in print? How about large print? What about audio? What about video?

And, as is the way with self-pub, you will hear about someone who killed it doing one of those things. Which ups the pressure to also do it. Look at the growth of audio year-to-year, you gotta get in on that.

For me, I also like to learn something new each year. So I did print one year. I went wide one year. I paid for audio one year. I did large print one year. I did video courses one year. I did my own audio last year.

If nothing else, I figure I learned a new skill.

And some of those options paid off. Some…did not.

Back in 2016 I paid a narrator to have my first title put out in audio. And it did well! I think it broke even within a few months. So I put more titles in audio. And then even more. And…they did not all do well.

So here I am, seven years after doing that, and I just noticed that I have made $63 in profit from all of those older audiobooks where I paid other narrators to do the audio.

That includes one series that made $720 (on an expense of $625), another that made $680 (on an expense of $1140), one that made $20, and five that lost amounts varying from $140 to $570.

Ironically, the one that’s lost me the most money is also the one that’s my third-highest earner. It was costly to produce and never sold enough to make that back. Also, I found that my novels sold through ACX earned me the least per unit compared to my short non-fiction.

So, lessons?

If you keep going, ultimately you do hopefully slowly earn more money over time and break even or better than that on those early projects that didn’t pan out initially.

Writing very much follows the 80/20 principle where 80% of your income is going to come from 20% of your books.

Take risks, but never take risks so big you can’t swallow the loss if you get it wrong.

Keep an eye out for changing situations. That worst title is better now because it had a Chirp deal last year.

And remember that just because others are having success at something doesn’t mean that you will, too. Sometimes, absolutely, that does work out. But often they have different books or a different number of books or different resources they can throw at their titles than you do, and so they’re not lying when they say they did well with something, but they also don’t understand how your situation is vastly different from theirs.

But, anyway, yay, $60 in profit. It’s better than zero.

Root Cause Analysis

As I’ve mentioned before, I have a background in securities regulation. Meaning that for a while there I investigated broker dealers for rule compliance and also consulted with various financial institutions about how to fix issues with their regulatory compliance.

One of the core concepts of regulatory compliance is determining the root cause of an issue.

So, fine, whatever, that new account didn’t submit a tax form.

But why was that? Is this a one-off situation? Or is it a pattern of activity? If it’s a pattern, what is the pattern? Are the forms being sent? Why aren’t they coming back if they are? Is better follow-up needed? Or is there something else going on?

In one exam I conducted it turned out that the lack of a tax form for new accounts was a sign of unauthorized trading. The pattern was that it only occurred in one branch office and only among a handful of reps who had all come from the same questionable brokerage firm. The reason those forms weren’t coming back was because those customers never agreed to open that account.

That was a very important thing to understand and address.

But if you stop at, “Well another customer is late submitting their form” *shrug* you miss the opportunity to fix the actual issue.

Right now, in my opinion, the United States has a very large problem with failing to address the root cause of many of our issues.

Which is why, when a school shooting happens, like the one today, someone says, “Oh, better give teachers guns” or “Better give the cops better armor” or “Better do more shooter drills for nine-year-olds”.

Which, I don’t know, maybe feels good to a certain type of person. Look at us, doing things. We’re not just sending thoughts and prayers, we’re fighting back.

But it’s all a giant, ridiculous waste of money and effort that is not going to stop the shootings or save lives. Because not one of those asinine suggestions gets to any of the root causes of this issue.

What makes all this harder is that we’re a country that doesn’t want to discuss the root causes. Things like the ready availability of guns and gun culture. The ease with which someone can obtain a gun. The types of guns available. The mental health issues of some of these shooters. The inequalities that exist in our society that make some people feel desperate. Social media and how it pollutes people’s minds. Social isolation. The lack of communities.

I’m sure there are a hundred other factors if you keep digging. And that if you go to some of the people who deal with this on a regular basis, they could give you the list. They’ll tell you, “Don’t fucking arm teachers, restrict who can own that type of weapon or how about being more proactive intervening with individuals who are unstable.”

But on one side of the aisle we have the “ma freedoms” coalition who object to any hint that anyone would want them to limit themselves in any way to protect those around them.

You can’t take their guns, that’s one step from taking everything away. I once had a friend’s husband inform me that he couldn’t give up his semi-automatic because he needed it for when three men (not one, not two, three) broke down his door to assault him.

(Something that has yet to happen to him and is unlikely to happen. One of his three young children are far more likely to get ahold of that gun and use it.)

On the other side of the aisle we have the “just because” and “not all” coalition who will scream from the rooftops that just because someone has a mental illness doesn’t mean they’re going to be a shooter. Not all people with mental illnesses are murderers. So we can’t discuss that aspect of it, because you’re insulting the people with mental illnesses who aren’t.

And so we just sit here letting children die and grow up in fear because we won’t fucking do anything about the factors in our society that drive this shit.

Instead we throw lots of money at people who then have even less of an incentive to stop the problem before it ever occurs because they’re making bank off of the deaths of children. Panic rooms. Special bullet-proof backpacks. Security assessments. Shooter drills. Behind everyone of those, someone is getting paid.

And we get to pat ourselves on the back for “doing something” while we all know that more children are going to die because we can’t fucking get our shit together and do the hard work of addressing the root causes and fixing them.

(And, yes, there probably has to be a transitional period in there where you are addressing both sides of things. What to do when a shooting happens and also how to keep more shootings from happening. It’s not a switch you can flip. The type of change needed here requires long-term funding and effort and probably won’t show full effects for years. But if we don’t start to address the push side of these issues it’s just going to get worse.)

Quit Falling For It!

Twitter is annoying me today because I’ve seen multiple authors talking about a certain hatchet job article slamming epic fantasy and a very successful fantasy author.

And what annoys me is the number of people who had to go read the stupid, horrible article to see how stupid and horrible it was. Dude! That was the fricking point. You got them clicks. You earned them money.

Same thing when you share some stupid idiot’s YouTube video meant to enrage or say something incredibly, ridiculously stupid. They want the views and the clicks and will do anything to get them.

You think you’re pointing out some bad take but really you’re just being a fucking fool who fell for the grift. STOP!

The Name on the Cover

Publisher’s Lunch has a discussion today about a book that was supposed to publish but had to be delayed due to plagiarism concerns. A further review shows that other books by that same author also had instances of plagiarism as well.

According to the article, these passages were not the responsibility of the main credited author but due to his co-author. Unfortunately for the main author, most of the discussion I’ve seen around this particular issue has used his name.

The reason I mention this here is that if you’re using your real name to publish your books you need to consider the reputational impact of any contract terms, work arrangements, or edits to your work.

I occasionally will get approached by publishers related to my Excel books because they see the books are selling well and want me to write versions for them. (Which also generally would involved unpublishing my existing titles.)

The last time this happened I had to say no because the contract terms would have allowed them to continue to publish new editions of those books using my name as the author even if I didn’t write the new material. I think it may have even been worded that I would have to pay for any new author they hired to make those edits to update the books, too, because I would’ve still been paid for sales of the books.

That was an immediate no for me. Because that book and any examples it used and any language would have been published under my name. And my coming back and saying, “Oh, but I didn’t write that part, some random person who isn’t listed on the cover did” isn’t going to save that reputational hit I could’ve taken if the content were plagiarized or wrong or offensive in some way.

I also had a situation in college where I had a poem published in a literary magazine and the editor wanted the last two lines removed, changing the overall tone of the poem. I went along with it at the time, but have regretted it ever since because that poem came out under my name and was interpreted as my work even though the poem that was published is not the poem I wrote.

(Stay away from random college lit mags, kids. I also basically had that same editor steal something I wrote and publish it as their own because they made a few minor edits to it. College kids are not professional enough for that role. At least that one wasn’t.)

If you’re going to sign contracts related to your work, you need to know what you’re agreeing to. And even if there isn’t a contract involved, you need to keep in mind that at the end of the day if something is published under your name, you will be judged for those words and that story, regardless of whose idea it was behind the scenes.

Random Thoughts and Comments 20230316

I just submitted audio files for four more short stories and a short story collection this week. And it made me happy, because two of the short stories I did this week were ones I tried to do last year and didn’t like how they turned out.

I think both were emotional stories and I overplayed them the first time I tried to record them. I don’t know whether I’ve grown as a narrator enough at this point to do them justice or if it was because some part of my unconscious mind was puzzling through how to present those stories effectively. Whatever the reason, I think I pulled them off this time around.

So, yay, for incremental improvements and finished projects.

I assume by now most have seen the news that a SFF author signed an eight-figure publishing contract for a dozen books on the trade publishing side of the business.

I think it’s important to know that if you do very well for trade publishers you can in fact be paid very well on that side of the business.

But it’s also important to understand that this was a proven author with a successful TV series based on their books, so it’s not a normal author who signs a deal like that. And it took a decade of steady success to get that.

(Just like Scalzi’s deal a while back which I think was 3.something million. These deals are for long-term successful, reliable authors who’ve shown they can produce steadily and have a solid audience base. It’s also I’d say for an author who is comfortable making a long-term commitment to a publisher, which not all are.)

I think it’s also important for authors to understand that this is actually a good thing for other authors who want to publish at that publisher. I’ve mentioned before that everything I’ve seen about publishing is that it’s very much like venture capital, or at least how VC was explained to me in business school.

Essentially, you invest in ten targets that you think will do well. Two knock it out of the park. Two fail miserably. The rest, eh, they’re okay. But the business is built on the profits of the two that knock it out of the park. So if you take that to publishing, a publisher locking down a high-performing author gives them the profits to invest in that next group of ten new authors.

It’s a repetitive process of trying to find the two out of the ten. And they just sort of ditch the other eight.

If you’re going to publish, self or trade, you need to come to terms with the reality that the top authors take in the majority of the money. It’s the 80/20 principle. 80% of the money is earned by 20% of the authors. And the more popular an author, the more stable sales are long-term.

Think of it like a ramp that you’re building to launch off of and the higher you launch the longer you stay up.

Sometime recently I was listening to a new podcast that was pretty good that’s by two newer authors, one who did well and one who did not. Both with the same publisher.

I’m not linking to it here, because…I think the author who didn’t do well is shooting themselves in the foot with that podcast. They are very much putting all of their sour grapes about their experience on display.

And, yeah, it sucks to be one of the eight out of ten who don’t knock it out of the park. Or one of those bottom two. But if you want another at bat…don’t publicly drag your publisher like that. You’d have to be ten times as brilliant as anyone else to get that second chance if you’re known as a person who airs dirty laundry.

(Look at me, using all the cliches today. And I call myself a writer.)

It’s the same in the business world. I have at times very deliberately chosen to burn a bridge because I viewed it as more important that X happen than that I keep that person I burned the bridge with happy.

But that needs to be a deliberate choice. Too often I see people do it in a fit of pique without thinking about the consequences of what they’re doing, which is what I think is happening with that very interesting, very honest podcast. Someone thought they could write a book and be successful and then weren’t and they’re not handling it well.

(It’s possible I’ve been there myself. I’m twelve years in at this point from writing that first novel and I was convinced early on that I was not going to need that 12-15 years to find success. Haha. Oops.)

Whatever side of this business you choose, it’s not an easy path.

(There is one author in a couple of groups I’m in who swears up and down that self-pub is. That all you have to do is get everything right and it’s like printing money. He’s I think the equivalent of the nepo baby who’s like “it’s easy to be an entrepreneur, just borrow a million from your parents to start a business and then…” Mmhm. Okay. But for us mere mortals…)

I don’t know where I saw it, but I actually saw someone with a good analogy about entrepreneurship who was like middle class people get one try to hit the bullseye, rich people get unlimited tries, and the poor people don’t get any tries at all. I don’t think it’s quite that extreme, but there is a valid point to be made there.

I had a friend who won a prestigous creative award after twenty years or so of working at it, but it helped that this friend had a trust fund that paid their expenses while they were working on their creative projects. Top of the line equipment, time, mental space. It all helps.

But especially with writing, though, it’s not essential that you have everything to succeed. One of my favorite non-fiction authors is/was Barbara Sher who at one point was living in her car before she published her successful books. And of course she-who-shall-not-be-named was also not in a good place financially when she hit as an author.

I think sometimes living a hard life can actually be a stimulus to writing. I only write poetry when life is really shitty, for example. Which is why I haven’t written it since my early 20’s. It’s the whole splinter idea that was discussed in Wonderbook. That we all write from some sort of pain or wound.


Enough rambling for the day. Yay to new audiobooks. Yay to authors showing you can make money as an author. And don’t forget, especially on the trade pub side of things, that this is still a business and business rules apply. If you’re going to be difficult in some way, you better be brilliant in all the other ways.

Emotions in Writing

I got a little distracted in my life assessment this week and ended up going through my favorite writing books and jotting down from them the parts I’d underlined when I first read them.

One of the common themes I noticed was this idea that you need to make your readers feel something. That events don’t matter so much as the meaning and impact of those events and that it’s the writer’s role to convey that meaning and impact.

Which made me think about one of the books I want to write. Because the book I want to write would be about hope and healing. But I realized while reading all those writing advice books that even the stories that end on an up note–the bad guy gets his and our heroes prevail–have to take the reader down to get to that point.

Most stories take a person and make their life worse and worse and worse and worse until it gets better. I can’t off the top of my head think about a story that takes a person and builds up and up and up from the starting point.

And to be clear, I’m not talking about some story where Hero is perfect and nothing goes wrong and he just does everything easily because, yeah, that’s boring.

But I think there is a way to write a story where the individual overcomes challenge and conflict while only moving to a better place.

Maybe though, this down before up pattern happens because it’s easier to make people feel negative emotions than positive emotions. It’s easier to scare them or make them sad than it is to lift them up. In the same way that it’s easier to destroy a building than build it.

So in storytelling it’s easier to engage a reader by giving them someone to hate or to fear or by hurting a character than it is to share a moment of happiness or joy or hope.

And maybe that’s because those moments of happiness or joy or hope come from overcoming the negative?

But I’m not sure that’s true…

Or maybe it’s because the things that hurt us are more universal than the things that lift us up? And so to lift a reader up with your character you have to spend two hundred pages getting them into that character’s mindset. Only then does that individual joy convey itself?

I don’t know. It’s something I’m trying to work my way through.

(And as I re-read this I realize that maybe erotica actually does that? Starts good and goes up from there? But it uses the almost universal appeal of sex to make it work.)

I don’t know.

I do know that I personally have cried over probably a handful of books but I can’t think of any book that made me feel joy to that same extent.

(Maybe that’s just my personality, though…)

Anyway. Something to consider. And if you’re not trying to make your readers feel as they read your stories, maybe you should be. Good or bad. At least that’s the advice in the writing books I tend to read and like.

Who Are You and What Do You Want?

I have a tendency because I’m a #2 Achiever on CliftonStrengths to just plow ahead constantly doing things and accomplishing things without ever stepping back and sitting with my thoughts and asking if the things I’m doing are what I should be doing.

And, in general, that’s a successful strategy. If you want to reach a destination, it’s a good idea to move in that direction because sitting around on the couch thinking that you’d one day like to go to X place is never going to get you there. Right?

But this week I decided it was time to step back and assess.


Because often in this world we act like we all want the same things and all think the same way and value the same outcomes. And yet, we really don’t.

For example, I know about myself that I will give up a six-figure-a-year job that allows me plenty of time to write if what I’m being asked to do is boring and doesn’t challenge me. Or if it doesn’t further develop my skills.

For most people, that makes me a lunatic. Or at least someone who certainly doesn’t share their values.

And, well, you know, perhaps I am a little off.

So, at least for me, as someone who doesn’t have the same goals as most people I know, it’s an important exercise to sit down and ask who I am and what I want and then brainstorm from there.

Here’s what I’m planning to do this week:

First, I rounded up all the various personality tests I’ve taken over the years. Strengths but also others that I took through work or on my own over time. And I wrote in a journal a summary of the results of each one. One page each.

I asked, what did this test say about me as a person? And then, what are the commonalities across all of these tests? Who am I as evidenced by my responses to a large variety of personality tests over time? Does that fit with who I think I am? (It better, since I was the one providing the answers.)

So that was step 1. Who am I? At least who do I think I am.

Step 2 will be making a few lists. I do this periodically already. Lists of what do I want. What do I value. What do I have to have in life.

(Last time I made this list books and music were at the top of the list above food and shelter, so sometimes the list is not entirely realistic, but it’s useful nonetheless to ask myself that question.)

Usually, this is a bulleted list for me, but this time I’m going to write out the thoughts about each one. The why of it. And the what do I need to have that? What assumptions are hidden underneath that item.

For example, if I list that I value Peace, which I do, what does that mean to me? It means operating in environments that aren’t high conflict. It means that I avoid high drama friendships and relationships. If you’re always upset and angry about life, we’re probably not going to spend a lot of time together. Same with work environments. A boss who shouts at employees? Nope. Not sticking around for that.

Step 3 is going to be looking back over past accomplishments and failures and jobs I liked or disliked. What do I consider my successes? When do I think I failed? Why? How?

For the failures, could I have done something different to make that a success? And would I have done what was required to do that?

For example, I consider not being able to convert my visa to a residency permit in New Zealand a significant failure in my life.

But when that happened, someone actually offered to fake a job for me so I could get a residency permit to live there. I could have “succeeded” if I’d taken that offer, but I declined, because that was against my ethics. And also who wants to spend their life waiting to get caught for something like that.

Still, at the time I also was completely blind to the hundred other ways I could’ve approached that goal. Just because I failed in that one way of getting there didn’t mean there weren’t other options available to me, like calling up a recruiting company and seeing if I could get a legitimate job offer.

So I’ll do a deep dive there. Learn some lessons perhaps.

Step 4 will be strengths and weaknesses. What am I good at? What am I bad at? Where do I thrive? Where do I fail? What environment do I need for success?

And then, once that’s all done, I’ll turn to the writing side of it. (Non-writers could stop there or take that and apply it to their life in general.)

Step 5 will be what kinds of books do I love? Why? What is it about those stories that draws me in? What doesn’t work for me? Why?

I’ll try to put together a personal id list as Jennifer Lynn Barnes mentioned in an excellent RWA presentation in Denver many years ago.

Step 6 will be looking at the story ideas I have and fleshing those out. Seeing why I want to write them. Seeing what I have. Seeing what I could add to them. Asking myself which of those ideas could be expanded to an interesting world and which are just that story.

And then…

I’ll take all of that, and, knowing me, I’ll probably go write a book on PowerPoint instead of doing anything else with it. Haha.

But that’s the goal for the week. Step back and assess my life. Ask”Am I on track to where I personally would be happy to be?” and “If not, how do I get there? What’s missing? Where’s the road map that does get me there?” If so, “How do I keep on this track?”

One of my personality traits is that there is no “one path” for me. I’m a “I never get stuck” person. So I doubt I’ll personally come out of this exercise with “the answer” or “the goal”, but it will help me prune the branching possibilities down to paths I actually want to take, which is useful thing to do, I think.

Affinity 2.0

First, quick note, IngramSpark is sending me replacements of those books that shipped to the wrong address. The response I received about my shipping choice appears to have been related to my issue with their printing speed. That, of course, makes no sense, but someone else responded on the shipping issue today.

So a full month after “express” printing my copies I may see them sometime this week. So I deleted my last post. I am tired of being annoyed by bad customer service everywhere.

Now on to the topic of this post, Affinity 2.0.

As you may know, I’ve written some books about Affinity Publisher. And, of course, because I have impeccable timing, shortly after I published those books and their related video courses, Affinity came out with a new version of their software, Affinity 2.0.

I went ahead and bought it when they released it because I wanted to support them and value their product, but I was not going to deal with learning a new version of a software in December when I was trying to finalize nine books with hundreds of images.

And good thing. Because it threw me for a bit of a loop when I finally downloaded it today.

They committed what I personally consider the cardinal sin. They moved things around.

I went to recreate my studio presets because they didn’t transfer over and…studios weren’t there anymore. I found them, though, under the Window tab.

And then, not all of my studios were listed. That’s because they decided to use secondary dropdowns for some of the studios I use such as Fields, Index, Table of Contents, Character, Paragraph, Text Styles, and the Glyph Browser studios.

And then, horror of horrors, they also moved the Resource Manager which is what I prefer to use when swapping out images.

It is also now under the Window tab.

And there’s some weird error message now in Preflight for my print interiors that says I’m using a color profile that’s unsuitable for PDF/X even though it’s the same one as before that had no error message like that.

I think it might be because I’m doing a greyscale profile. From what I can tell (?) the books generated as a PDF just fine. I tried to find an explanation of what the issue is and couldn’t. So fingers crossed it’s okay.

On a positive note, though, I absolutely frickin’ love the new Style Picker Tool. My text styles transferred over like ten versions of each one and none of them were the one I wanted in one section of my document, but I was able to just select text already formatted the way I wanted it and then just click and drag across the text I needed formatted that same way and it worked like a charm.

So, yay for that. That was one of the other reasons I chose to upgrade because I love that function in Word and was hoping for something similar here and they delivered.

Also, be warned that they’ve decided to go the Vellum, TechSmith, etc. route and make files moved to the new version of Affinity incompatible with the old version of Affinity. So looks like I will be running both versions for the foreseeable future. Joy.

Other than those issues, I don’t think I ran into anything else that didn’t work the same. I used it to format a new paperback that’s fiction, so mostly text, and to create a new print cover, but I was copying over from an existing cover so it wasn’t completely from scratch.

Which means I kicked the tires a bit, but haven’t fully taken it through all of the possible ways I would use it quite yet.

So a bit of adjustment, but I’d say the books I wrote are still 90%-95% useful. It’s just that the stuff that comes right at the start has changed and they update their icons to look different. Sigh.

Emotion and Mystery

As a follow-on to this post, I set aside that book that was dragging for me and am now 320 pages into a different book that did work for me. And I realized that what this book I’m reading now had in the first chapter that the other book didn’t have was emotion. Specifically, love and concern towards the main character.

This book I’m reading now opens with two characters interacting and one, in their thoughts, is worried about the other. You also can clearly see that the character whose viewpoint it is cares deeply about this other character.

The book itself is about that other character, and we as readers are immediately told this person is someone to care about by being put in the viewpoint of someone who cares for them. Someone who sees their vulnerability and strength and loyalty. We want good things for this character as a result.

And then there’s a mystery, which is why we keep reading. (This is a fantasy novel.) There’s something this character can’t share right now. We know they’re hurting. We know this other character wants to help them. But we don’t know why they’re hurting or if they’ll find a resolution.

And that’s why we keep flipping pages. Or at least why I do.

In writing often the question is, “why should I care?”

Think of all the boring conversations you’ve ever had in your life where someone was telling you about something that mattered to them but not to you. Your reader is that person sitting at the table with you listening to you tell this story.

If there’s no emotion or adventure or mystery to draw them in…their eyes are going to slowly glaze over. It doesn’t matter how passionate you are about the subject, what matters is if you can find a way to draw your audience in, too.

Anyway. I am now a day late in getting my next audio release finalized as a result of this book, but I don’t regret a thing.

(And this is yet another reminder that the really good authors are not at all interchangeable. There may be millions of books published each year, but the number that are operating at that top level of story telling are few and far between.)

Some Writerly Thoughts 20230224

This one’s going to wander a bit, so I don’t have a good title for it.

First, last week I read one novel and three novellas by two different authors. All were very easy to read. I’d start one and by midday be at 80 pages without even realizing it.

This week I started a new novel by an author I’ve read for decades, but it’s like pulling teeth to get through it. There was two pages of description of some sort of device that I didn’t care about. At all. I skimmed, which is not normal for me.

So I’ve been thinking a bit about what makes a book an “easy” read versus a hard read. And this is not the difference between a Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky, which are to me very engaging authors who are not fast reads, and someone like a Sophie Kinsella, whose shopaholic books I also found engaging to read but were fast and easy. I think the difference between those two types of books is more about the number of layers to the story.

This is more about different genre books aimed at a similar audience. Why are some easy, fast reads and some a slog?

Part of it is sentences and paragraphs and chapters. I think authors who started out thirty-some years ago or more tend towards longer paragraphs and chapters and more dense description. (In general, not all, blah, blah).

So that’s part of it. Looking at a dense page with no breaks for pages and pages for me, someone who reads for ten minutes at lunch, at dinner, and at bedtime, is an ugh moment.

But I’d be okay with it if I were sucked into the story. Which is why I then ask myself, what sucks me into a story?

I think readers need a “why”.

(I as a writer am actually particularly bad at this one. At least with my cozies. I just finished narrating book four in the series and the mystery doesn’t show up until chapter seven in the book. Yikes. I still have readers because they like my characters, but not as many I could if I had better focus on my genre.)

The books I read last week that were so engaging set the goal of the story very early. If you ever read JD Robb (the book I read last week was not one of hers, but she’s a good example) you will see that the crime that needs investigated happens in the first chapter. Maybe in the fifty books she’s written there might be one where it’s in the prologue or chapter two instead, but it’s always up front and center.

I read those books to see how Eve and Roarke and Peabody and Mavis are living their lives, but the core of each book is about a police officer solving a crime and so that’s the focus at the start of every book.

In romances you put the meet cute or the relationship up front so readers know that whatever else happens, these two people are going to find a way to be together.

The books I was reading last week were all fantasies where there’s a challenge to be overcome and that challenge presents itself within the first three chapters each time.

This book I’m struggling with now is also a fantasy and there is a goal for the series, but this is book two and the goal of the book wasn’t clearly presented at the start.

From what I can see, the author is sort of treating this book as a continuation of the last book and so didn’t seem to feel the need to bracket the book with a goal.

They also didn’t remind me who the characters are and how they fit together, so I felt lost for the first forty pages. Is this a romance because this one seems to like that one? But wait, isn’t that one married? And if it is a romance, why was this much time spent on this other idea that’s not part of the “world” I’m used to from this author?

I think you can take readers on any journey you want. But I think to do so, the way the story is presented has to say, “this is the type of trip you’re taking” and then stay consistent to that promise.

So, mystery start with the murder or the disappearance. Romance start with that meet cute or introduce the two characters.

Fantasy and sci-fi can be trickier, because sometimes it’s about exploring a world. But I think a lot of the successful fantasy and sci-fi actually contain a different genre as the core. So, yeah, it’s a cool world, but there’s a mystery to be solved or bad guy to be defeated. Or you have the academy structure where the world is learned through the character going to school.

Another thing that I think about, too, is alignment of values. And maybe this is more true for me now than it was when I was younger, but I can be kicked out of a story nowadays when the author has a very different set of values from mine. The book I’m struggling through now started with a first sentence that put me off because it went counter to my current values. I’m sort of done with royalty being considered special so I was already on my back foot when I started.

You know, it’s funny. We can talk about all the things that do or don’t work in novels and then someone will come along and say, “but X book…”, and it’s true.

Books can do things that aren’t what a reader would ideally like and still sell. I have read twenty-two books at this point by an author whose sex scenes annoy the hell out of me at this point. I don’t know if I’m alone in that. Probably.

But it’s possible that someone would point to that series and say, “but X author writes Y type of sex scenes and sells like gangbusters” and be factually correct in that statement. At the same time that the books sell despite that not because of it…

I mean, I mentioned my cozies above. I think what I actually wrote was a small town family saga about finding your tribe that just happened to involve murders and mysteries. And if I had enough readers someone might point to that series and say, but X book is a cozy series and the mysteries don’t start until chapter six or seven but it still sells. And they’d be right, but it would be a bad example of how a cozy should be structured because the books were selling for a different reason.

I know that I could improve the appeal of my books if I could rein myself in enough to put a genre framework around what I write.

I’m not sure I want to do that, though, which is my ongoing challenge and why I end up writing so much non-fiction.

I know by now the basic “how” of things, I just have no strong desire to follow it…

Anyway. Read your genre. Note the patterns. And understand that the exceptions to those patterns may be hobbling themselves not proof that the patterns don’t work.

At the end of the day you can write whatever you want however you want you just have to be prepared for the consequences of that choice.