It Doesn’t Make You Safer

Caution up front because I’m going to talk about guns and murder.

Like most of the world I am devastated today by the knowledge that a classroom of ten-year-old kids was gunned down by a lone gunman yesterday in America.

Sadly, not surprised though.

And, as always in America when something like this happens, there’s a certain portion of the population who says that the answer to this is more guns. You know, the everyone should have a gun so they can protect themselves brigade. Arm teachers. Put police officers in every classroom. Give good guys guns.

Which is fucking bullshit. Making a device that can so readily kill so many people more widely available is the exact opposite of a solution to this issue.

Sadly, I have a perfect example to illustrate why that “I need a gun to protect myself” perspective is so wrong.

Here are three posts that someone made on an internet forum I occasionally frequent within the last month talking about how he had guns to protect his family:

This was a man worried about his family’s safety who’d even waited to have guns in his house until his daughters were old enough they wouldn’t accidentally get ahold of them and shoot themselves. But also a man who sincerely believed that he needed to have guns to protect himself from the bad people who might break into his house.

So, what actually happened? Did someone break into his house? Did he save his family?

No.

He killed his family.

He shot both of his daughters and his wife, then he wrote a suicide note, called the cops, and when they arrived he shot himself.

Just another day in America. The murder-suicide made the local news, but that’s about it.

We can debate mental health and warning signs and all the rest of it all we want. But the fact is if he hadn’t had those guns right there in his house, readily available to use, maybe his daughters and wife would be alive today. Maybe he’d be alive today.

I don’t expect this example or any other to change anyone’s mind. Because in America “we need to protect the babies” and “we need to protect our rights to bear arms” are the trigger words that make people immediately ignore anything and everything else about a situation or a politician.

There is no rational thought when those phrases are invoked. You can’t take away my guns, the men say. You can’t let those unborn babies die, the women say.

And then they blindly lead us straight to hell so focused on that one thing that no one was trying to do that they miss everything else they let happen.

[Comments are turned off. I have no interest in hosting a debate on a subject like this one. Just couldn’t hold what I’d seen in my head and needed a place to put it. I didn’t know the guy well but I would’ve never thought he’d do what he did. And then to have the TX school shooting happen mere hours after I saw this…Sigh.]

What Did You Really Write?

I’m about to go through the final draft of the final cozy (book 9) and decided before I do that I should re-read the entire series. I want to end on the right emotional beats and that requires bringing everything together that’s happened over the last eight books and two short stories.

It’s also a good time to make sure that I don’t have any inconsistencies across the books. I re-read for book six as well, so hopefully that won’t be an issue, but you never know when you’re writing a series over a period of years what slipped in your mind during that time.

So I’m re-reading to ramp up to the final draft.

And I just finished book four of the series. (It made me cry, in a good way, because it’s a turning point in the larger character arc for the main character where she decides to stay in the small town she moved to and to actually open herself up to a relationship with the cute cop she’s flirted with for the last four books.)

So far so good.

But it cemented for me something I kind of already knew. Which is that this isn’t really a cozy mystery series.

It has a lot of the elements of a cozy series. For the first four books it was set in a barkery/cafe, there are cute dog characters and quirky side characters, it’s set in a small town, there isn’t graphic violence on the page or sex scenes or cussing. Oh, and there’s a mystery to solve in each book.

But I don’t think it’s as cute and quirky as cozies should be.

And while I do think of all mystery genres there’s the most room in cozy for non-mystery parts to the story, I think what I actually ended up writing is a small town family drama series with equal amounts mystery and romance and a strong cast of canine sidekicks.

What I will do with this knowledge, I don’t know. Unfortunately I’m pretty sure there isn’t an Amazon category for what I actually wrote.

This is where having a publisher would’ve helped. Because they would’ve forced me to better stay in the lane I’d started in.

Of course, the joy of self-publishing is that I can write the story I want to write how I want to write it, so if my cozy mystery series slowly becomes a small town family drama with far more emphasis on the characters and the character arc of the main sleuth, that’s what I get to write.

(It’s just whether the readers stay with you when you do something like that…)

Knowing this, I do think it’s important to ask whether the current category and branding are the best given what I actually wrote.

Would small town/rural be a better category? (maybe) Would romance be a better category? (Probably not, because it’s a very slow burn. If I’d had a couple get together each book, I could’ve done romance. Book 4 standalone is actually a romance structure. But the whole series is not.)

So, yet again, do as I say when writing not what I do.

I’m mentioning it here because I think it can be helpful after you’ve finished a series to give it a little time and then go back and re-read and see what you actually wrote so you can know whether you’ve branded it properly.

Let me give another example.

One of the series ideas I have would be a contemporary fantasy romance trilogy a la Nora Roberts. She’s written about four trilogies like this where six people come together to do something supernatural and over the course of the three books pair off.

One of the characters in the series I want to write would be a shifter character. When I mentioned this series idea to a friend who writes paranormal romance she immediately thought that because of the shifter, contemporary setting, and the romance it would be a paranormal romance series.

And it does have some of those elements.

But it would fail miserably in paranormal romance because it wouldn’t hit the tropes of that subgenre. My shifter is not an alpha, for example.

Where I suspect it belongs is actually romance->fantasy because I think the fantasy elements would be too hand-wavey for fantasy->romance. But I won’t know until I write it and there really isn’t a good box for it to fit in.

Honestly, one of the reasons I haven’t written that series is the lack of a good category for it.

The closer you can hit to the center of an existing, established category the easier it is to sell your books. If you say I have vanilla ice cream for you and then you give someone vanilla ice cream, they are very happy.

It’s trickier when people go looking for vanilla ice cream and what you have to offer is this vanilla ice cream creation that also has pastry dough, hot fudge, and sprinkles.

Could be delicious. They might love it. But it’s not the vanilla ice cream they were looking for.

So, yeah, anyway. Categories matter and sometimes we don’t see what we’ve actually written until we have some time and distance to come back to it and reassess.

(Better to consider these things up front and stick to your target, obviously, but I’d say 1 in 10 authors even know what the target is for a particular genre and only 1 in 100 of those authors can hit that target consistently each and every time they try. I am not one of them.)

Affinity Sale

I’m not sure how much longer it will last for, but Affinity has all of their products on 50% off sale right now. That includes Affinity Publisher, which, you know, I wrote a few books about using for self-publishing.

Which means you could buy Affinity Publisher for $27 right now, get the ebook of one of my books on Affinity for $5, and for under $35 be able to either format a print book, design some ads, or put together a basic cover. For under $50 you could learn to do all three.

So check it out if you’re so inclined.

Framing Matters

Earlier today I received an email from SFWA that stated that they had removed Mercedes Lackey from the Nebula conference because she “used a racial slur” and that they had removed the recording of the panel where that happened to “avoid any additional harm”.

This notification to the entire SFWA membership gave absolutely no context to what happened. It simply labeled a long-time SFF author who was just named a Grand Master a racist. And then it removed all evidence of what was said and in what context so that no independent analysis was possible.

According to the announcement her actions were bad enough that it warranted removing her from the conference where she was being honored for being a Grand Master.

If that’s all I knew about the event, I would think she’d used the n-word or an equivalent term for a different minority group and that she’d done so in a deliberately offensive way, like calling one of her fellow panelists by that term. Or that she’d gone on a Sad Puppyesque rant of epic proportions.

Now, I did not attend the virtual panel, so what I relay next is second-hand from a Twitter thread I saw from a fellow panelist of hers. In that thread they discussed how they debated calling out the term at the time but chose not to because of power dynamics. I also saw someone else mention that they had attended the panel and hadn’t even noticed the use of the term until it was later pointed out on Twitter.

So.

According to the Twitter thread, what happened is that Mercedes Lackey was praising the work of Samuel Delaney in the panel and referred to him as a (and I apologize now for using this word) colored author.

That is what she did.

Now, I’m not arguing that her use of that term was appropriate or that it doesn’t warrant an apology and some education about proper terminology when referring to an author of color.

But I do think that the SFWA announcement deliberately framed things in a way that gave the worst possible spin to what happened and then removed the ability of anyone to see and judge what was said for themselves.

And I do think that whoever made that choice was bringing in past controversies and criticism of Mercedes Lackey when they made that decision and using this situation to finally burn her.

I have no doubt her use of that term caused harm. And I do believe there should have been consequences for doing so.

But as a new member of SFWA I am highly disappointed in the way that this was framed. Because yet again I see the SFF community using a zero-sum, scorched earth approach to problematic behavior where any misstep is treated as equally bad whether there was an active desire to cause harm or not.

I just don’t see how a community doesn’t tear itself apart if that’s the approach. And, personally, it makes it a community I have no desire to participate in which is unfortunate since I just joined SFWA a month or so ago. Ah well.

It’s Fucking Hard

I have more ideas than I know what to do with. Not just writing, everything. I literally have scrap notes lying around for different social media platform ideas and food business ideas and…everything.

One of those ideas I had recently was doing a podcast called “It’s Fucking Hard” which was basically going to be me talking to a wide variety of people, mostly creatives, but not all, about how hard it is to succeed at things.

Sure, there are a few people out there who have success after success after success and never seem to struggle.

Those tend to be the ones you see in the news and see interviewed everywhere. Because to get to the absolute top of an industry usually takes decades of building upon smaller successes and not failing in any other way that’s highly noticeable.

Especially in the more traditional corporate fields.

Which means that even if that isn’t the full story, when someone is on top there is an incredible incentive to present that sort of “always successful” narrative.

Society rewards success and expects successful people to be successful.

Someone who succeeded after failure is someone who could fail again, right? Oh my gosh, we don’t want that. We only want the people who were lucky enough to get it right the first time and keep getting it right because we pretend that’s about their inherent qualities.

(And don’t get me wrong. Every person I know who is at the top or near the top of their field works hard and is talented and skilled at what they do. And they’ve worked hard at it for years. That is a requirements to reach those levels. But we tend to leave out the fortuitous assignment to the right boss at the right time in someone’s career. Or the friend of a friend who made that key introduction. Or having the funds to push through the rough patch before the success. Or publishing the right kind of story at the right time.)

So I basically wanted to do this podcast with successful people where they opened up about the struggles they faced to get to where they were. Because I thought it was an important message to share with people.

First, that it isn’t always a smooth path to the top. That there are setbacks and struggles and dark moments. That you can go down, too, not just up. But that doesn’t mean you’re down forever.

(At some point early in my life, and I don’t know why I was this foolish and actually maybe it would’ve been true for me if I’d continued on my first corporate career path, I had this notion that you succeed once and that’s it. You’re always successful once you’ve succeeded. You are successful in your career and then you retire and enjoy the fruits of your success. Silly to think of that now as someone pursuing a creative career.)

Second I wanted to share that even at the top people have struggles. I know people successful in their careers who are full of stress and anxiety. Sometimes because they’re trying to stay at the top, but often because there are sacrifices being made in other areas of their life to be that successful.

When I was a consultant I traveled Monday through Friday (and, yes, Friday, because the place I worked for were that kind of people) probably 48 weeks of each year. Maybe more. That takes a toll on your personal relationships. And for many on their mental health.

I did some interviews during my MBA program where I talked to CEOs and other top-level executives and pretty much every person I talked to for that set of interviews had lost relationships or family connections to be where they were.

But I didn’t want it to be a depressing show. I wanted to focus on the fact that you have to decide if you really want it enough to push through the dark moments. To weather the lack of response. To keep going when no one seems to believe in you the way you believe in yourself.

Because if you can do that, you can succeed.

(Maybe. It’s not guaranteed. And it’s never going to be easy. Also, you reach Goal A and you’ll set Goal B and you’ll be right back in it.)

Anyway. I decided not to do that podcast because of the pearl-clutching that happens around the F word and the fact that my advertising options would be limited and I’d probably get taken down if I tried to launch a podcast with that title. But it was fun to think about during some early morning walks with my dog.

I decided to mention it today because I had a friend have one of those dark moments. I hope he works through it. But I figured it was a good time to remind everyone that no matter how successful someone is we all have those down moments and struggles. And when that happens you have to find something inside you that carries you through because the only chance at success is to keep trying.

Ratings and Rankings

I just saw a video clip of Ethan Hawke talking about movies, and the clip ended with a comment that really struck me. In reference to ratings and rankings, etc. he said, “when I was growing up those things didn’t exist and you could just absorb a movie for [what] it meant to you.”

It struck me how true that was and how damaging ratings and rankings and, quite frankly, knowing everyone’s opinion, is.

More than once there has been a book that I enjoyed that I somehow read in a vacuum. I just found the book, and I read the book, and I enjoyed it.

And then…I somehow encountered other people’s opinions about that book.

Sometimes they had read it. Sometimes I suspect they had not.

What was clear was that the book they read was not the book I read. What they saw in those pages was not what I saw in those pages. What the author actually intended, who knows.

But suddenly something I had experienced and enjoyed was tarnished.

And, I’m not even talking “oh that was really -ist” comments either. I’ve had this with movies I went to with friends where they wanted to talk about the movie afterward and it killed the moviegoing experience for me because I’d had two hours of “enjoyment” or “not enjoyment” and they wanted to break it down by cinematography and plot and dialogue and…

Ugh. (Don’t even get me started on The Matrix and what that was like walking out of the theater with one of those people…)

The movie was enjoyable. Leave it alone already.

And, yes, different perspectives on the same work can be instructive. It’s important to know that your viewpoint is not the only viewpoint. And to learn when something really is problematic, why.

But hearing different perspectives on something you simply enjoyed can be frickin’ exhausting. To not be allowed one little thing in this world that you can enjoy without qualification or analysis…

Ugh.

And here’s the thing. Rankings and ratings assume that all people’s opinions are equally valid. That what Person A has to say about this is equal to what Person B has to say.

But in real life we know that’s not true.

If I stick you in a room with twenty people for three months and let those people routinely voice their opinions in front of you, by the end of that three months there are people you will listen to every time they open their mouth and there are people you will ignore or hate every time they open their mouth.

Reviews and rankings don’t take that into account. Amazon will treat a two-star review that says, “the cover was bent” the same as it treats a four-star review of the actual content of the book.

And often people think, “oh, this person has a lot of reviews, they must really be the person to listen to”, but again, we all know that person who has to opine on everything and who you’d like to really shut up already, thank you very much.

But online? That person gets clout because they talk so much, not because they have anything valid to say.

And rankings are usually a reflection of two things.

One, mass popularity, which may not be what an individual consumer wants. Not everyone wants vanilla ice cream. It’s the most popular ice cream flavor-by far-but some of us like other flavors. I personally love peppermint, but it doesn’t even make the top ten. It’s not even in stores year-round.

Or, two, rankings are driven by good advertising. Money makes money even in the arts. And you often get to the point where things are popular because they’re popular.

A good ranking does not equal an enjoyable experience for the consumer. It just means a lot of people are consuming that product.

To live in a world where sales are so driven by rankings and ratings is sort of absurd really. I mean, who cares what anyone else thought if you got value or enjoyment out of that thing you watched or read or did?

I am so glad I grew up and had my formative years pre-internet. (I think it was junior year of college when I first dealt with the internet in any way and it was not a main thing for me even then. I didn’t even have home internet until my 30s.)

It was great, because I didn’t have to worry about others’ perceptions of me or my world or my interests. I could just be me and enjoy what I enjoyed and that was it.

I mean, yeah, there were real-world people with opinions, but not many, honestly. And when they did have opinions I knew them, so I knew who to listen to and who not to listen to. I could look at someone and say, “Do I care what that person thinks?” and know that the answer was “No.”

Which I guess is an argument really for spending less time with strangers’ opinions. In ratings and rankings and tweets and whatever else.

Good for them whatever they thought or felt. But I don’t need to know any of that to forge my own experiences.

Although this does remind me of a tweet I saw the other day about identity formation through exclusion and I think there’s an aspect of that that involves identity formation through inclusion.

Like, as long as you model all of your interests and appearance and everything else on what is the most popular and accepted thing that you’ll be safe somehow?

You don’t need your own opinions as long as you know what everyone else thinks and can adopt that instead?

For that personality I guess ratings and rankings are all there is then.

But, wow, is that person also really easy to manipulate…Which, hm. Yeah. Welcome to 2022.

Just Throwing This Out There

As someone with a background in regulation and rule enforcement, I think it’s important to remind people that rules and regulations are only effective if the majority of people voluntarily follow them and if someone chooses to enforce them.

Let’s take speeding as an example. Here in the United States there are speed limits on most roads. And I would argue that 95% of people exceed those speed limits. Maybe less than that, but most people are probably at least 5 miles per hour over.

I still remember when I was a kid my dad telling me to never go more than 10 over the speed limit. And he was right. Because the only speeding tickets I’ve ever received were when I was going more than ten over.

That’s because the number of police officers available to enforce the speed limit is minuscule when compared to the number of instances of speeding, so they focus their efforts on the worst offenders.

When ten cars drive by at 5 over the speed limit a single police officer can’t pull them all over. But he can pull over the guy weaving in and out of traffic doing thirty over.

As a result most people will be motivated to keep their behavior relatively in check because they will see someone getting a ticket or hear about it and not want that to happen to them.

The visible enforcement against a small minority ensures group compliance.

But if a rule is deemed to not be important? It doesn’t even get enforced at all.

Pre-legalization of pot in Colorado I want to say that on 4/20 there were thousands who’d turn out for smoking events.

Maybe some of them got citations or arrested, but my non-interested observer memory is that mostly we’d just hear about how a bunch of people showed up to smoke pot in the open one day a year and left behind a bunch of garbage that had to be picked up.

Police could have arrested all those people, but there wasn’t a will to do so. Even when pot was illegal there wasn’t social support to strictly enforce those rules on that day.

I mention this because there are a lot of scary changes coming to the United States over the next few years. And from all the coverage I’ve seen, most people in the United States do not want those changes. This is not coming from the majority.

So don’t enforce them. Don’t comply with them. We’ve had laws on the books of every state in this country that haven’t been enforced in decades and haven’t been complied with in decades.

And, yes, if people choose to not comply there will be arrests and charges filed. They want that example. They want to cow everyone else into submission with a few visible victims.

To that I say, clog up the fucking courts. Clog up the already overcrowded prisons. Give them so many people to charge with “crimes” that they can’t possible do so.

Are they really going to arrest every woman in their state who uses an IUD and charge her with murder?

No. They can’t. Their success depends on submission from the medical establishment and from a majority of people too scared to say no to their absurd attempts to impose their narrow and limited worldview on everyone else.

If everyone stands against them they will not have enough manpower, court availability, or jail cells to hold them.

Laws and regulations are a social construct. They’re something that we collectively agree to in order to find a way to live with one another.

Noise ordinances are annoying until you have a newborn and a neighbor who blasts music in the middle of the night and then you understand where those come from, right? But if your neighbor just has one blowout party a year you probably cuss them in your head and let it go.

We collectively compromise so we can find a middle ground that is no one’s ideal, but that lets us each live a decent life.

But when that fails…

When whole groups of people can no longer live a valid life because of the laws and regulations passed by a minority?

Then it’s time to stop complying. Collectively and in large enough numbers that they can’t possibly single one person out to make an example of them.

Numbers and Analysis

If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time then you know that I like me some analysis.

Earlier this week I had a great writing day where I wrote 5K words on my latest cozy. Which meant of course that I spent the next day building a new report in my Access database instead of writing more.

(I am not a daily writer. My backbrain usually needs more time to refill with the next scene before I can continue. The only exception for me is non-fiction where it’s all there already and the puzzle is just figuring out the best order to present it in.)

So anyway. The report I put together was sales by title by platform. Even though I am 99% wide with my books, meaning they sell on a variety of platforms, Amazon still dominates my overall numbers. It’s the biggest platform and I use AMS ads a lot which only lead to sales on Amazon.

Which means that when I look at things in the aggregate my best titles are the ones that sell best on Amazon. But when I split things out by store it gets much more interesting.

My YA fantasy series moves up the rankings. It’s #1 or #2 on most other platforms. Whereas on Amazon the first title in that series is #6. (This is just revenue we’re talking about here. Due to cover costs that series is not as profitable as some lower-ranked series.)

I also see variety across platforms because of the platforms themselves.

For example, Hoopla won’t carry two of my best-selling titles, so my top library titles are skewed because of that.

Same with the fact that other platforms don’t sell print or I don’t sell print directly with them, which means my titles that sell best in print aren’t my top sellers on ebook-only platforms.

I can also see the impact of advertising.

For example, I have been burned by both Kobo and Nook when I tried to use links to those stores in my Facebook ads. As in, get your account shut down burned.

So I don’t link to those stores in my ads anymore. But I do sometimes link to Google and Apple. As a result of that, the titles I advertise on FB do better on Google and Apple than they do on Kobo and Nook.

Also, I can see a skew from Bookbubs. That’s why the YA fantasy series has done well off-Amazon, because of Bookbubs. It’s my series that’s had the most Bookbubs.

And first in series free off Amazon has worked to bump one series for me without any additional effort putting it in my top ten on three platforms.

I can also see some word of mouth impact. I really don’t advertise Regulatory Compliance Fundamentals anywhere except for a very low-key AMS ad and yet it’s in my top ten on Google. (Granted, my numbers there are relatively low, so the bar is lower.)

Those patterns are an interesting reminder that the sales data we see today is a result of the choices we’ve made up to this point, which I think can be the hardest thing to understand and adjust for in this business.

That idea that if you use past data to drive all of your future decisions you can be missing out on something crucial that would have a significant impact on your performance.

For example. My Excel books have done really well for me the last five years, but they were not the first Excel books I wrote. I actually wrote one book before that as a companion title to my Budgeting for Beginners book.

It was one of those “being thorough” titles that I sometimes do.

Basically, my goal was to write the budgeting book but I also wanted to give people the foundation they needed if they didn’t know how to use a calculator (that’s the math primer) or Excel (that’s the Excel primer) to do the basic math needed for budgeting.

Because I don’t like it when the information I’m giving someone isn’t accessible to them because they’re missing a foundation to work from.

(That’s how Excel for Beginners and Intermediate Excel came about as well. I wanted to write a book on how to use Excel for self-publishing, but I didn’t want to leave behind people who didn’t know Excel.)

Anyway.

I noticed after publication of the budgeting titles that the Excel guide often sold on its own. People didn’t buy the budgeting book, but they did buy the Excel guide that went with it. That gave me an inkling that maybe people were open to buying guides to Excel from me.

If I had looked at my numbers and only made a decision based on what had already sold I would have never written another book about Excel. Even with those occasional sales of the primer, the numbers weren’t there to justify that decision.

Luckily for me I was so annoyed by self-publisher’s inability to use a basic pivot table that I went ahead and wrote four books on Excel anyway.

And it paid off.

Doesn’t always happen, though. Sometimes things look like they have possibility and they flop.

I personally try for 80% steady state (what you know works), and 20% risk (something new or an extension of something that hasn’t lived up to its potential).

Which brings me to audio numbers.

I tried audio back when ACX was basically the only option for self-publishers, but after the initial high payouts had gone away. It looks like my first payments were March 2016 so about six years ago.

That first title earned out almost immediately.

It was a short non-fiction title with an audience that probably skewed towards listening on a car ride or at the gym. Six years later it’s returned 5x what it cost me to create. So that was a good choice.

And because it was a shorter title and non-fiction the money risked was low.

But because of that success I figured, okay, let me do this thing, and I put most of the non-fiction I could out in audio as well as one romance novel and one romance short story collection.

And…

Six years later I am still down $295 on an initial spend of $4,732.

I have two series that have paid off, one that is $3 from paying off, and five that have not. I have to look at it by series because collections sell well in audio but all those cost me is $25 to have my narrator record the opening and closing credits for me.

The fact that I’m still unprofitable with my audio has made me hesitant to do more.

Now, granted, there are a lot of reasons I have not done as well with audio as maybe I could.

I really haven’t advertised my audio at all. That’s huge. If I didn’t advertise my books I’d have almost no sales so extrapolate that to audio and it’s a small miracle I’m that close to breakeven.

I am also wide through Authors Republic which means I missed out on Chirp deals. My books are listed there, but I can’t apply for Chip deals because those require going through Findaway.

One Chirp deal would probably make any of those titles that haven’t broken even breakeven.

I also changed the name on two of my titles, but have not done so on the audio versions so they’re currently stuck with old, bad titles.

Also, the titles I put out in audio are ones I wrote six years ago. They may not be my strongest work.

And the narrators I went with were unknowns who didn’t bring their own audience, which can be a big deal in audiobookland.

There was also the whole ACX allowing returns and taking the money back without showing it which means I could have actually had more sales on those titles than I knew and it was just ACX fuckery that kept me from receiving payment. Theoretically that wouldn’t happen today.

So there are reasons to think past performance is not a good indicator of potential future performance with audio. And that putting some of my fiction out in audio could be a good decision, especially the cozies.

At the same time, audio is expensive. Even for my cozies which are only probably five hours of completed audio each, that could be $2,000 per title to produce if I try for a high-end narrator or choose a hands-off option where someone else supervises the production process.

With cozy #9 on the way that’s $20,000 or so to do the whole series. (Then again, compared to current stock market returns…at least I’d be paying for something tangible instead of losing value.)

So I don’t know. It’s an interesting thing to contemplate. If I could pull it off I honestly think I’d rather pay for a mass market print run of the cozies but I just don’t even know where to get started with that and Amazon would want $3.50 for each sale to sell through them. And if I ever were to warehouse books I’d technically have to change from cash accounting to accrual accounting, which ugh. No thank you.

Anyway. What I really need to do? Write some more words. But I have to say, the analysis and looking at these things from different angles is a big part of the fun for me. Now I just need to let my mind stew on all of it at which point you’ll see me publish something completely new and unrelated to anything I’ve done before. Haha. Why not?

Creatives: Watch This

I’d never actually watched Dan Howell before. I am not a YouTube watcher. He’s very engaging. The video is over an hour long, but he keeps you on the hook for pretty much the entire time.

But the reason to watch it is that at a meta level it’s very much a lot of what has happened for self-publishers over the last ten years as well. The hustle, the legitimacy issues, the algorithms, the Amazon loyalty, the write for fun versus write what sells struggle, the burnout.

It’s all there. It’s not a mirror of every creator’s journey, but at the same time it’s a good insight into the overall shifts and adjustments and debates I’ve seen in self-pub world.

And, like I said, engaging. I thought I’d watch the first 20 minutes but I just kept on watching to the end.

Writing In a Chaotic World

I don’t know if it was always this way, maybe it was and I was just so focused on my life and my personal goals and struggles that I didn’t look up to see the world around me. Or maybe I didn’t have some readily available source of information to tell me what the flare-ups were as they happened so they had to reach a sort of critical mass before they hit my radar.

But it seems to me that there’s a lot more change and angst and turmoil in the world today than there was twenty years ago. And as writers we can unknowingly step right in the midst of that anger and draw it towards us like a lightning rod.

Let me give you two examples from my own writing.

I recently revised a book (Achieve Writing Success now known as Sell That Book) that I had unpublished a while back because it didn’t really sell and it seemed absurd to have a book about selling books out there that didn’t sell.

But I was having fun designing new covers so I decided I’d give it a quick readthrough, edit whatever was outdated, and put it back out there. The original of this book was maybe five years old, and the content actually was still solid. I didn’t have a lot of edits to make.

What I did have to do, though, was remove one of the examples I’d used. Because I referred to the Harry Potter series. The first book in that series would’ve come out when I was working at a bookstore, same with the first Game of Thrones book.

In my book I mentioned this fact because at the time neither one was a big deal at all. They weren’t even on our radar as something special to recommend. We were recommending Brian Jacques books for kids fantasy.

I mentioned the series in the context of how you have to keep writing, because it’s unlikely one book is going to lead to resounding success. You have to build to success with multiple books.

But I took the mentions of Harry Potter out because of JK Rowling’s reputation now, in the present day, of being actively anti-trans. There is a very vocal contingent of people who do not want her name or her books ever mentioned anywhere ever again and who will react very negatively to anyone who does so.

Would I have been aware of this fact if I were still consulting full-time? No. But I spend enough time on Twitter and follow enough writers there who are connected to that community or part of it to know this fact. And so knowing this, I chose to remove the example from my book.

But had I never unpublished that book and had someone bought it today and read it and had strong feelings about her, I could’ve stepped right in it with that reader and been accused of all sorts of things for mentioning her.

Because there are readers today who believe that a mention of her or her books requires a trigger warning. There are even reviews that will flag any mention of the Harry Potter books.

As a self-publisher if I know about these things, I can change my books to remove a problematic reference. But it’s almost impossible to keep up with the changing tides and dynamics and issues.

And it’s easy to forget a passing mention like that that was made five years ago when things weren’t emotionally fraught with respect to a certain topic. Until I re-read that book I didn’t remember that I’d used that example. I would’ve never known to go looking for it.

(This constant shift in attitudes towards who is safe and who is not is actually one of the reasons I left Twitter with my YA fantasy name. There was a period of about two weeks on Twitter a few years back where the SFF community decided to ostracize a large number of people behaving badly. It seemed to start with someone who had sexually assaulted someone IIRC but then it expanded to include a few guys who from what was said publicly were insensitive assholes who made crude comments. From there it spread to authors who were called out for things I never could really track down. Maybe dating someone and breaking up with them in a less than perfect way? By the time it was all done there were about a dozen people who you were supposed to unfollow unless you wanted to be guilty by association. At that point I was like, “I can’t spend all my time on here monitoring for who I’m not supposed to like, so I’m out. Buh-bye.”)

So that’s the first example. We learn more about people over time and suddenly a passing mention is loaded with meaning. My YA fantasy bio lists the fantasy worlds I loved growing up, but after I wrote that bio I learned that there are readers who’ve thrown out all of the books from one of those worlds due to accusations that were made about the author. SFF is littered with stories of inappropriate behavior by some of its biggest names and a certain contingent expects you to know all of this and react “appropriately”.

The second example is more about how events can catch up and pass us by and put a whole new level of weight on what we’re writing.

I’m currently working on my ninth and final cozy mystery. In the book the main character is seven months pregnant and on bed rest with twins. She was never someone who really wanted to be pregnant in the first place although she does want to have the kids. So she complains a lot about being pregnant. The swollen ankles, the kick to the kidney, the constant need to pee, the being the size of a whale, etc. She also worries a lot about being a shitty mom and how hard it is to be a parent. (Especially to twins!)

Two years ago there would have definitely been readers who weren’t pleased with her being less than positive about being pregnant and being a mom.

Cozy tends towards a conservative audience. Maybe my audience on book nine isn’t that way, but in general cozies are expected to not have things like profanity, using the Lord’s name in vain, on-the-page sex, or graphic violence. And they are often set in small towns which also attracts a more conservative readership.

But it would’ve been mild. I wouldn’t have expected anyone to reach out to me about it or to mention it in a review.

As I write this, however, the news just leaked that Roe is likely to be overturned. (For international readers, the gist of this is that in the United States after this happens individual states will be able to ban abortion, something they haven’t been allowed to do for 50 years. States have been able to restrict abortion to some degree or another, but not outright ban it.)

Other than that being an absolute bullshit decision that will cost lives and signals bad things for the direction this country is headed, for me as a writer it will also impact how this cozy is received by readers.

Because all discussion of pregnancy and being pregnant and any struggles around pregnancy are going to carry an added weight right now.

Even though my character chose to continue her pregnancy and is going to have the twins, there will still be readers who react more negatively to this book when it publishes in a month or two than they would have two years ago.

Their personal beliefs might not have changed in that time, but their sensitivity to the issue will be heightened.

Now, am I going to edit the book to remove those references? No.

My character is very well-established as being unimpressed by weddings, baby showers, motherhood, and any other traditional things that women are supposed to be impressed by. I’m not going to change her character in the 11th hour just because the world has shifted while I was writing her books.

But am I prepared to maybe get some pushback from a reader who will tell me they loved the series until this book? Yep. Absolutely.

That’s the risk of putting something you write out into the world. People are always going to layer their own knowledge and experience on top of whatever you write and come up with their own opinions of you and your material.

The challenge these days is that the world is moving so fast and in so many directions that you can think you know how something you wrote is going to be perceived and then something will change or something you never even knew about will come along and the reaction you get will blindside you.

Is there anything that can be done about that? I don’t think so. I guess maybe if you’re a person who puts what you think others want on the page, stop. Because if the world is going to slam you for what you wrote, at least make it be something you believe in.

Also, accept right now that someone somewhere is going to have an issue with what you write. You cannot put written work out into the public and expect it to be acceptable to everyone. Not gonna happen.

(Which also argues for knowing who you are writing for versus who you aren’t writing for, so you know when you’ve gone off course versus when you’ve just ended up in front of the wrong audience.)

It’s not easy writing in a chaotic world. But only you can write your stories, so keep at it.