Make The Voices Stop!

I’m 15,000 words into the first novel of a new series and I’ve hit that point in the writing process where the story is starting to take shape, which also means that point in the process where all of the outside voices start clamoring for attention.

Like the one that says that standard Medieval European fantasy settings are so knee-jerk easy to use and cliched and why would you use that when you have your entire imagination to work with.

Or the one that says you can’t possibly sell that series as a fantasy romance if both of the love interests are going to die in the end, even if the main character does in fact love both of them and struggle around finding happiness with them.

Or the one that says if you’re going to use that legend as the jumping off point for this series then you need to be true to x, y, and z portions of that legend or the readers will hate you forever.

There are other voices, too. Those three are just the loudest today. With each novel I find I have to go through this at some point. I usually take a few days, consider what those voices have to say, and maybe adjust course slightly (like having this series be inspired by that legend but not using those actual names or places). But at the end of the day I have to write the story that works for me. Because if I keep listening to all the voices I’ll never get the words down on the page and certainly never publish them once they’re there.

Poor Promo Choices

When you first start self-publishing, all you want is to see your books sell. At least that was the case for me. I mean, I’d put all this effort into writing something and I’d put it out into the world and now I wanted people to actually buy it and, hopefully, enjoy it or find value in it.

So any promo I could get, I took. (At least, successful ones. I wasn’t trying to throw money down the drain.) Pay $5 for a BKnights free promo and see four hundred people download my book? Yes, please. Get a Bookbub on my fantasy novel. Hells yeah.

But here’s the thing. Not every promo, even a successful one, is a good choice.

I applied for my first Bookbub when my fantasy trilogy was incomplete. I had two books out but not the third when I was accepted for that first one. And I was thrilled to get it. Yay, new fans.

But at the same time, I was kicking myself for my impatience. Because, and I’m pretty sure I’ve said this before, I think I’m a good enough writer that a decent percentage of people will read and enjoy my books and go on to buy the next one if it’s available. But I’m not such an amazing writer that they’ll wait around breathlessly for my next one. I don’t have the issues GRRM or Patrick Rothfuss have. I don’t post or tweet and have someone reply, “Stop posting and write.”

So if I promo a book before a series is complete, chances are there’s a certain percentage of readers who will read the books that are available, like them, but then go on with their lives and never think about me or my books again. Which means that, for me, the longer I can wait to promo, the better. Don’t promo book one when it comes out, promo the series when it’s done.

That’s easier said than done, of course. Because I always want to hope I’m that “oh my god, I love you” author and you can’t tell if you are until you get sales. And money is nice. I tend to run profitable promos, so each promo, even the ill-advised ones, means income.

Another mistake I make with promo (which I made today which is what prompted this post) is that I promote books to an audience I’m not going to be able to satisfy long-term. I have a book in the top 50 in the free store today because of a promo. But it’s a title I have no intention of following up on and all of the other titles under that name aren’t going to appeal to those readers.

If they want more of that they’re not going to get it from me.

So why did I do it? Why waste that time and energy? Why catch and release?

Money. Probably. It’s a KU title so a free run can often pay for itself with page reads. And I think I can use AMS to sustain the momentum the free run will give it. But there’s nowhere for those readers to go. Not with me. They’ll read it and move on and that’ll be it.

And if they do love it? If I do get, “oh my god, write more” emails? That’s gonna be a problem. Because I have no intention of writing more of that right now. Or ever.

Which means that promo, even if profitable, was a mistake. To pursue fans you can’t satisfy. To promo for short-term gain when it does nothing for long-term stability. Wasted effort.

(And, really, writing that title was all part of the same sort of mistake. It felt good to see those sales when I originally released it, but there was no long-term strategy involved. I was just throwing things at the wall to see what would stick.)

Ideally, everything you do as a writer works together. You write titles that feed into one another. Same world, same genre, same whatever it is so that readers who find you want everything you’ve written. (This is much more the case with fiction than non-fiction, by the way. At least the type of non-fiction I write.)

So you write works that lead to one another. And then you promo those titles to build your author brand so that the release-promo-release-promo cycle all moves together and with each promo and each release you see a bigger impact than the one before until it becomes like a rock rolling downhill and all you have to do is release, release, release with just enough promo to let people know something new is out.

That should be the goal. That’s how you do good promo.

(But you know me. I’ll keep up with this poor promo approach, because I’m strange that way. Don’t be me, kids.)

You Don’t See What I See

So I’m a woman. I don’t always point that out but part of why I started this blog was so that when I wanted to talk about issues relevant to that fact, I could. And today is one of those days.

Two things are prompting this post. First is a thread that’s been blowing up on Kboards the last couple days that is probably soon to be locked. It wasn’t the main point of the thread, but it came up during that discussion that there is at least one top-100-ranking male romance author (and possibly far more) using a female pen name, representing themselves to their fans as a woman, and interacting with their fans as a woman. Sometimes it seems as a black woman (although it wasn’t clear to me whether that was also in romance or not).

This male author said that they had gone so far as to have conversations with their readers on Facebook about their book boyfriends, etc. So it wasn’t simply a matter of using a female pen name and a stock photo or photo of the author’s wife. This also involves back and forth conversations with fans creating a space where they can talk to their favorite author about the interests they share. All the while knowing that on their side it’s complete bullshit.

The second thing that prompted this post is a thread over on Twitter where a woman was talking about being approached while walking her dog by a man who was at first friendly but then started asking uncomfortable questions about where she lived and if she lived alone and actually followed her and hugged her against her will.

Part of that thread was full of the well-meaning but completely lacking in understanding men who had to provide their perspectives on what she should’ve done. You know. The usual. Maybe the guy was just socially clueless. Or she should report him to the police. Or carry mace or a taser or…

Or why can’t you just be nice to guys instead of assuming they’re all creepers. If you just smiled at men and said hi this wouldn’t happen

Enough.

(Oh, and this post is prompted by a third thing. On Seth Godin’s blog the other day he included a comment that “…you have a theory that smiling at a stranger increases the chances that you’ll have a good interaction” and I laughed out loud when I read that because that was so clearly written by a man.)

So here is my PSA to men. And I’m not saying that any of the men who read this blog even need it, but this is my little place on the internet to share my experiences, so this is where it’s going:

You don’t see what I see.

You do not experience the world the way I experience it.

A man like Seth Godin can smile at a stranger and have them smile back and it’s a good interaction. I smile at a strange man, he follows me for four blocks trying to chat me up because he thinks that smile must mean I want to have sex with him. Right now. In that alley.

And before anyone jumps in with not every man or that’s doesn’t happen often, let me tell you…If it was just once that I had made eye contact with a man I didn’t know or smiled at a man I didn’t know and had an awkward experience, I would still make eye contact with men I don’t know or smile at them. I don’t.

I reached a point between working in big cities (Washington, DC and New York) and traveling in countries where men are very forward (France, Greece, etc.) that I found my best strategy was to (1) not react to any sound in my immediate vicinity because it was more often than not a man trying to get my attention, (2) not look directly at anyone because if I made eye contact with a man about nine times out of ten that would result in him seeing it as an opening and trying to chat me up, (3) not smile in public because see #2 (also see number 1 for how the “you should smile more” thing misses with me–I just don’t hear it).

Because of how I now am (no reaction to sounds, no eye contact, no smile), I sometimes get called a standoffish bitch. Or cold. Or frigid. (Thanks for that one, Jimmy.)

Men don’t understand. They don’t experience what I experience. They don’t get in taxi cabs and have the driver ask them if they’re single and then have to suffer through a twenty minute conversation about how they should find a man or (when they lie and say they’re in a relationship) questions about where their man is because clearly he shouldn’t let his woman out in public alone.

Men don’t get followed down the street by a guy who’s “just being persistent.” They don’t get stuck on a register at work with a guy who won’t leave and have to be polite to him because he’s a customer. They don’t walk out to their car after a late shift and see that same guy lingering around outside waiting for a chance to ask them out.

Men don’t get it because they don’t experience the world the way women do. So when these situations come up, they don’t put themselves in a woman’s shoes and try to see the world from her perspective. They look at it from theirs. They don’t see how a woman couldn’t look up from her book while riding the bus for fear of being stuck in an unwanted conversation with a guy who might follow her to her car. They think instead of that attractive girl who was sitting across from them on the bus last week who would’ve been perfect for them if only she’d looked up. (Not realizing they stared at her for five minutes straight like a true creeper.)

Men don’t get it. They’ve never tried to politely tell a man they aren’t interested and have the man go from “Hey, sexy, what’s up?” to “Fuck you, bitch. You’re not that hot anyway” in less than a minute.

So all that helpful advice about how being nice works? Bullshit.

Of course, I haven’t talked yet about the other advice women get. The advice that says call the cops. Or take the guy’s photo. Or carry mace. Or a taser. Or…

Look.

The girl who started that Twitter thread said what I was thinking: If I called the cops on every guy who was a creeper towards me I’d never leave the courtroom.

And if I took photos of every guy who was a creeper, my phone would be full of dudes. (Not to mention that would escalate the situation.)

Now, I’m fortunate. I’m not petite. So I don’t get physically grabbed by men. They hover, they follow, they lean in, they linger, but they don’t grab. They just annoy. And cuss when I ignore them. So I don’t have it as bad as some women.

As for carrying a weapon…This shit goes down fast. With a true predator–a man who is going to try to harm you rather than cajole you–I’m not convinced that I could adequately use a weapon against him in the timeframe I’d need to use it.

It’s like using bear spray. By the time the bear is standing there in front of you, do you really think you can dig it out of your pack, get the safety off, and spray it before the bear attacks?

It’s not like a woman can walk home with mace in her hand and wave it at every man who gets within five feet. (Even if some days it feels like that’s the only safe option.)

Plus, most women learn that the average guy can be ignored or awkwardly avoided until he gives up. Pulling a taser or mace is likely to escalate a situation that could’ve been kept to awkward and uncomfortable.

So when this shit happens and a woman shares her experience, if you’re a guy maybe stop yourself before you reply.

You don’t need to tell a woman how to navigate this world. We get trained in it every fucking day. If a woman is in her thirties and not horribly scarred by terrible events, chances are she’s figured out how to handle all but the psycho predators. You don’t see it, because you don’t have to do it, but every woman around you has ways of handling her interactions with men (including you) to keep herself as safe as she can. She doesn’t need your suggestions.

If you do need to respond, a “That sucks. I’m sorry that happened to you,” will work just fine.

And as for that male author who is pretending to be a woman with his fans? I don’t care if a male author uses a female pen name. Or a fake bio. Or a fake photo. (I don’t like it, because I don’t think it’s honest, but I get that it happens.)

But when you engage in conversation with women, pretending to be a woman, talking to them about their lives? In order to make a little extra money off of them? (Because, really, if you write the right book you don’t need social media to sell it.) That’s just fucking predatory.

That’s using someone’s openness and desire to connect with others against them. It makes the world a worse place. And it’s an all too familiar violation for women who have had men lie about who they are to get close.

Remember, you don’t see the world women see. You don’t understand how doing that is right up there with the worst kind of crap that men pull. Don’t do it. Find a better way.

Wide Vs. KU

One of the most difficult decisions a self-published author has to make is whether to be wide (list on all of the vendors they can) or whether to throw in with Amazon only so they can be in Kindle Unlimited.

And as we move forward with this whole self-publishing thing it seems to me that the voices on both sides of the argument get more and more vocal. The Smashwords year-end round up was basically a “don’t blame me when you can’t support yourself with your writing five years from now because you gave Amazon all the power and helped force their competitors out of business” post.

And there may be some merit to what he’s saying. If too many authors are in KU thereby depriving other platforms of content and helping to drive down the price a reader is willing to pay for an individual title, that will have long-term consequences that aren’t pretty.

At the same time I know of authors who are making $200K up to a million a year because they’re in KU. How do you tell someone to walk away from a million dollars to support the long-term viability of the ebook market?

I in principle support being wide, but I just moved all of my romance titles into KU.

(1) I can’t get a Bookbub promo for those titles (some are too short, others just aren’t competitive enough in a highly competitive genre).

(2) Most other promo sites have minimal reach outside of Amazon. (Even when I run promos on wide titles I get 90% Amazon sales.)

(3) The promo sites with a wider reach are overpriced for what they deliver so running those promos is a losing proposition.

(4) I’m not a big enough name to get merchandising opportunities at places like Nook or Apple.

That means that those romance titles sold a few copies based on free downloads that led to a sale of a collection (1:100 for me) or as part of a Kobo promo. But other than that, they were dead in the water.

I can put those same titles into KU, run AMS ads against them, and see sales most days along with page reads.

So for me for those titles the decision became stay wide and earn basically nothing on them versus go into KU and earn something. And, yes, that something may one day become nothing as Amazon gains power and sucks us all dry (which I don’t doubt will happen), but when the alternative is nothing, what do you do?

Now, on the flip side of that, I do have my fantasy series wide at the moment. It’s taken a hit by being wide. Instead of ranking in the 30K range on Amazon and selling steadily most days at $6.99, it’s now selling every few days at $4.99. But that title does get Bookbubs. And each one I get seems to help a little bit more with organic sales on other platforms. So I’m letting it stay wide until the next series is released. Short-term, I’m taking a hit with lower sales. Long-term, I have the potential for steadier sales at higher sales.

I also have all of my non-fiction wide and pretty much always have. (I did run most of them through KU in 2016 when you had to be in KU to start a Sponsored Product ad.)

One reason is you just don’t earn a lot for page reads on non-fiction even if someone reads the whole book, at least not compared to paid sales. And if people are interested in the subject, about half will probably just buy the book if it’s not in KU. Plus, having been in the StoryBundle with two of my Excel, I’m committed to keeping all of the M.L. Humphrey titles wide in case anyone reads those books and wants to read more of those titles. I don’t want to force them to go to Amazon for that.

So that’s where I’ve fallen out on things as of January 2018: romance in KU, fantasy that isn’t written to market wide, non-fiction wide.

Will that change? Probably.

The woman who runs the Write Better Faster class asked all of us what our touchstone word for this year is. At the time I didn’t have one. I just had a lot of “so many directions to go in, which do I choose” anxiety that I didn’t give an answer. But I’ve decided my word for this year is: ADAPT.

Honestly, I think that’s the word that every self-publisher (or writer) should embrace every day of every year that they’re trying to make money from their writing.