Book Rec for Self-Publishers

I decided not to take my computer on my trip last week which gave me plenty of time on the way there and back to do some catch-up reading. (I tend to still read physical books more than ebooks so all the ebooks I end up acquiring here or there just sit on my ereader unread for ages.)

One that I think I received free via Wharton was called The Shopping Revolution by Barbara E. Kahn. (That’s an affiliate link, FYI, but you can just search for it as well.)

As someone who uses Amazon to sell my products it was a really interesting read. There’s a lot of discussion in indie world about how Amazon should police its store for copyright violations or people who trade and republish the same material, etc. etc. but what this book makes clear is that Amazon doesn’t give a flying you-know-what about any of that.

Turns out they have a stated approach of not taking any responsibility for knock-off products being sold on their site. (Yet another reason for me as a consumer to not shop there anymore, after having bought brand-name products that didn’t seem to be the same as the ones I had bought in physical stores. Now I know why.)

It also makes it very clear that Amazon believes in differentiating itself on low pricing. So for all us who bemoan Amazon’s many ways of controlling pricing, that’s a deliberate strategy on their part. The fact that they skew payouts to drive ebook prices below $10 for self-publishing is not going to change anytime soon. (Which sucks, quite frankly, and is why I chose not to list the ebook version of Excel Essentials for sale on Amazon.)

Anyway. About a third of the book is devoted to an in depth discussion and analysis of Amazon and I think it’s well worth reading if you’re going to do business with Amazon, which, as a self-publisher, is pretty much impossible to avoid.

Life Changes on a Dime

I’m sitting here watching the “blizzard” outside my window. Welcome to March in Colorado. I suspect I’ll lose at least one tree limb before this all out but I’m not willing to venture out into that mess to knock the snow off the trees just now.

Five days ago I was in New Zealand. It was seventy degrees (Fahrenheit), I was sitting next to a lake eating yummy fish and chips, and recharging after far too long of going going going non-stop.

Quite the contrast.

That difference–and the fact that I was in NZ to visit a very close friend who is two years into dealing with a cancer diagnosis–has me all philosophical today.

In my friend’s case they were dragging for a while before the diagnosis, but there was one day when it all flipped for them. When that “gosh I’m tired” feeling turned into “there is something really serious wrong with me and I need to stop right now and find out exactly what it is.” (Brain tumors will do that to you, you know?)

Just like that they found themselves living an entirely new life.

Of course, illness is a weird thing. Two years ago my friend didn’t think they’d make it six months. And I went to visit now because my friend is probably about to start round three of treatments. I could no longer be sure they’d be here next year when I was planning to go to NZ for Worldcon. So I went now.

And I went expecting, I don’t know, someone who was struggling? Someone who was scared? Someone who was demonstrably ill? (I know this person better than that, but it’s easy to project your own feelings onto someone else’s experience.)

I found someone who was definitely changed from who they’d been seven years ago when I saw them last–they can’t take part of your cerebellum and not have some impact–but I didn’t find someone who you’d think was dying.

I was only there 29 hours (crazy, I know), but I’m glad I went. It was perfect timing in so many ways.

My friend has a new scan on Monday. It may mean new drugs and new treatments. A month from now they may be that struggling and scared person I thought I’d find.

Or not. Life’s funny that way. Maybe I’ll get to visit again next July.

That’s the thing about life. You really, truly don’t know what tomorrow will bring. You can guess, and you’ll probably be right a lot of the time, but one moment can change it all.

One flip of that coin and tomorrow can be better (or worse) (or both at the same time) by magnitudes. That’s what keeps it interesting, right? Always something new around the bend.

Excel Essentials Now Live

For those who are ready to dive into Excel and move from a beginner level to an advanced intermediate level all at once, Excel Essentials is now live.

This title combines Excel for Beginners, Intermediate Excel, 50 Useful Excel Functions, and 50 More Excel Functions. So with this one book you can basically move from not knowing anything about Excel at all to understanding how to input information, format that information, print that information, use conditional formatting, charts, and pivot tables, as well as learn over one hundred Excel functions.

If that’s not what you need, each of the individual titles are also still available and the even more specific Easy Excel Essentials series of titles are available, too.

Excel Essentials is available for $39.95 in paperback or $19.95 in ebook. (Those are the USD prices) For those who want a Kindle-compatible version, you can find it on my Payhip store. The ebook will not be listed on Amazon.

Excel Essentials 20190222.jpg

Let’s Talk Scammers

The term scammer gets thrown around a lot. Especially this week. But the reality is that there is a continuum that exists between flat-out black hat sales tactics and white hat sales tactics. As someone whose background is in regulation I look at things and say, “that’s a violation of a rule”, “that’s a violation of a term of service”, “that’s just tacky and underhanded”, and “eh, okay whatever.”

But most people don’t come from a regulatory background so everything becomes a scam and everyone becomes a scammer. And in the world of publishing it can be hard or actually impossible for readers to know the difference between one or the other.

Nora Roberts on her Blowback thread made a comment along the lines of tell readers what they can look for to find a scammer. The answer is not pretty or simple. Some of the people who’ve engaged in shady tactics are best-selling authors who have engaged fan bases or authors who can flash USA Today best-seller and NYT best-seller credits.

So let’s try to walk through this.

Black hat tactics:

These are the easy ones. These are the people who flat out steal content from other writers. I think it was David Gaughran who mentioned that early on in his career someone took his book, with the same cover and author name, and slapped it up on Amazon and started to sell it.

This is not taking public domain content and reselling it, which it turns out is legal, but just flat out ripping off someone else’s book hook, line, and sinker.

Right behind that is what caused the latest flare up in this discussion. Which is taking parts of people’s books and using them in your own. We’re not talking four or five words here. We’re talking entire paragraphs of text that were pretty much used verbatim. If that work is under copyright, which pretty much anything written in the last couple decades will be, that’s theft.

Another black hat tactic is paying for fake reviews. People want social proof so some authors will go out and buy X five-star reviews. Or X social media followers.

Click farms are another one I’d put under this category. If a book is in KU the author gets paid in part based on page reads. Someone can borrow their book but if it isn’t read, the author doesn’t get paid. And some unscrupulous publishing types will pay someone in a poor area of the world to literally borrow and click through their book so they get paid. There was a point in time where they would put a link at the beginning of the book to the end of the book and all it took to get paid for a full read of that title was someone clicking that link.

(A gray hat version of this was to have the link and tell readers there was some special bonus at the back of the book that they should click to. Since the readers were legit, I’m putting it in the gray hat category. But it was meant to earn that author far more than they should have on a read of that specific book because they often put a ton of filler content between the story the reader bought and the back of the book. By clicking on the link the author was paid for all of it being read even if the reader skipped over the middle junk.)

We’re now sort of moving into dark dark gray territory. In this category, one of the things that’s done is paying readers incentives to buy a book during a set period of time. These are often readers who want the book and they’re offered some sort of bonus or some sort of rebate or some sort of prize entry if they provide proof that they bought the book during certain dates. There are TOS issues around this as well as some prize contest rules that can be violated.

The reason it’s done is what also contributes to making it so sketchy. This is often used to earn letters. So the reason those purchases have to happen during a specific period of time is so that the “book” in question can get enough sales to make the USA Today list. Prior to changes with the NYT list it was also used to game that list. (I put book in quotes there because often it’s a box set not a single novel that’s being pushed up the charts this way, usually one priced at 99 cents.)

Gray Hat Tactics:

These are the ones that violate terms of service, but probably not the law.

Incentivizing readers to leave reviews is a huge one that happens quite a lot. Often this is done innocently, but it’s a violation of the terms of service. “Hey, review my book and I’ll give you the next in the series free.” Or “I’ll enter you into a contest for a gift card.”

Trading reviews would also follow under this category. “You review my book, I’ll review yours.” (Do you honestly expect those reviews to be honest ones when the potential to end up with a negative review on your own book is so high?)

A lot of what she-who-shall-not-be-named-because-she-sues-people used to do was probably in the gray area. In her case it was things like having books that were required to be exclusive to KU also in pre-order box sets that were listed wide at the same time. Or swapping out the content of box sets after the first week of release so that what had been a twenty-novel box set was now a collection of novellas and short stories.

There was also a large amount of gifting books to readers to make the lists. So basically, we’ll spend $X to get Y number of sales so we hit the list even though we hit the list on sales that track back to us not legitimate readers off the street. But hey, now we’re all USA Today Bestselling Authors for life. Yippee.

Bad category placement is another one that goes here. So, for example, some of my competitors in cozy mystery list their books in the non-fiction pet category because they can rank there whereas ranking in cozy mystery requires getting into the sub-5K range, which is not easy.

Ridiculous titles with everything under the sun in the actual title is at the fringe of gray hat. It’s against Amazon’s TOS. You know “Take By The Alpha (A Bear Shifter Menage Reverse Harem Fantasy)”.

There’s also been some allegations of intentionally formatting books to get more page reads. Early on when KU first started paying by the page it was publicly discussed how to format books to get the highest KENP for a book. Later that went underground, but there are suspicions that some of the people banned last year were forcing the formatting of their books to be double and triple spaced in order to get paid more.

There’s also the to-me-reprehensible part where authors pretend to be someone they’re not and engage in conversations with readers on that basis. Someone who is currently being dragged on another issue admitted last year to lying to readers about hobbies and interests. This was a man who found it okay to talk to female readers about book boyfriends and what he’d done that day (as a female pen name) even though it was all a lie and fabrication. We’re not talking lies of omission here, we’re talking out and out lies to people about who the author is. (And now someone will come along and point out that JK Rowling’s Galbraith biography claimed she was a man with a background in law enforcement and I’ll go on the record as saying I found that pretty darned shady to be honest.)

Tactics That Are Problematic But Not Illegal or Against TOS:

Now we get into the fun part where most of the drama happens. I have some questions about how copyright works with reused material and there’s been a lot a lot of debate around bundled books, but for now let’s assume what I’m going to talk about next is not actually a violation of the letter of the law or the letter of a terms of service.

Bundling books. This one was really a big deal last year. You had some where it was just horribly blatant. Book 1 was books A, B, and C. Book 2 was books C, B, and A. Book 3 was books B, C, and A. It was the same damned material just in a different order. And if you combined it with the link to the back it meant an author was paid for full reads of three books when the reader probably only wanted to read one.

Other authors argued that it had created an expectation within their genres for bundled books. So they started doing it, too. You’d have Book 1 with books A, Z, and E. Book 2 with books B, Y, and F. Etc. The argument was made that sometimes trade publishers include a bonus short story or something like that, but this really was a ploy to get KU page reads.

At the time the TOS on Amazon were not very clear so it was a big debate about spirit vs. letter of the requirement. But, honestly, I was never convinced that selling books A, B, and C in every possible combination to the same readers was ever about the reader.

Serials. In some romance genres serials are expected or even liked. This is taking a story and telling it in parts. So you don’t release Novel A, you release installment 1, 2, 3, etc.  It lets an author have rapid releases which lets them stay on the Amazon charts without the author having to write a novel a month. Where this one can shade towards questionable is when someone just splits a novel into five sections and releases each section without any concern or care about how complete the story in each section is. This one was a real issue during the first iteration of KU when it didn’t matter what length a published item was, authors were paid the same amount.

Ghostwriting. This has been a heavy subject of conversation this week and I already devoted a post to it. It comes in a lot of iterations, but the one that probably frustrates a lot of authors is the model that means such rapid releases by an author that there’s no breathing room at the top of the charts for anyone else. Interestingly, authors don’t tend to object as much to an author who can release rapidly if the author wrote that material, but when it’s ghost-written it can be really upsetting to the competition.

When done poorly this also creates a bad reader experience where there’s huge variation in quality between books.

Repackaging Existing Content: I’ve tried to relaunch a failed title or two. I’ve switched up titles and pen names to do so but always disclosed the original as well. On the far extreme of this one are the folks who take someone else’s story, swap out a few names, and republish the content as if it were new. Or the ones who gender flip erotica to make a M/M story F/F or a M/F story M/M with the assumption that they’re targeting a different group of readers so no one will ever notice.

Extreme ad spends. There’s a schism in self-publishing and maybe publishing in general between people who see this as a business like any other and those who see it as an artistic endeavor that they hope to make money at. And one of the places where this really comes up is in advertising. Because if you see this as a business like any other then you’re selling widgets. So when you find a widget that people will want you push the bejeezus out of it with ads. There are people spending tens of thousands a month on advertising to get their books up the charts. Some of those people are making money on those ads. Some are not. They’re aiming for KU bonuses.

Those who don’t have ad budgets to get their books up the charts tend to really resent this one because they can’t compete. (It’s the “pay-to-play” complaints that cropped up last year with respect to AMS ads.)

Low-pricing. There is a lot a lot of advice out there to price books at 99 cents or free. And it’s a tactic that has made many an indie career. Permafree first in series has been a game changer for a number of authors. A few large Bookbub ads have done the same thing for others. I can’t count the number of authors who said they had their first five-figure month because of a 99 cent or free promotion.

But the flip side of that is the devaluing of books. When so much of the book market is available for such a low price, it can make it hard to sell at the top of the market. I personally hate the “I’m an unknown and no one will buy my book at any price other than 99 cents” comments. Bullshit. I’m an unknown. And yet I’ve sold ebooks of my novels for as much as $7.99. Not thousands of copies at that price, but hundreds at prices indies supposedly can’t sell at.

KU. Clearly this is a legit service. Many authors have made livings having all of their books in KU. But the way that Amazon tilts things in favor of those in KU should be federally investigated IMO. A borrow should not be equal to a buy. Also, the way that it trains readers to just borrow crap and then throw it back after a few pages is highly damaging to the book ecosystem. The KU bonus system also encourages a lot of the behaviors discussed above. It’s a system that can be gamed and is gamed. (It’s also a nice discovery mechanism if you’re a new author worried people won’t pay for your books and a place where many voracious readers have converged so it’s hard to avoid these days. Even authors who advocated strongly for never ever going into KU a couple years ago have now. Either completely or with secret pen names.)

So What To Do

There’s probably more black and gray hat tactics I missed. There’s always more. We’re operating in a sort of Wild West new frontier situation where there are always new tactics and strategies emerging. And it can be scary and frustrating and as an author you can think you have to do certain things to compete.

For authors: As a friend of mine likes to say, question the premise. Don’t get sucked into the belief that X reviews sell books. If those reviews are organic that means there’s 100 times that number in sales behind each review. That’s what sells books. Just getting X reviews from some shifty Fiverr gig is not going to have the same effect. Ask yourself, would I be comfortable telling my grandma or my priest that this is what I did to achieve that? Would I be comfortable if my fans knew the truth? If they knew exactly how I got to where I am? If they knew who I am?

If not, don’t do it.

For readers: If you’re reading a book and it’s offering you a bunch of links and special shit, ask why. If you’re thinking of buying a book and you look at that book’s categories and they make no sense, ask why a legitimate publisher would put that book in that category. If you are thinking of buying a book and the also-boughts for that book have nothing to do with that book’s category, ask why. (I had a competitor in Excel whose also boughts were for InstaPot and Keto diet books. There is not that strong an overlap between those categories, which means that author had done something shady somewhere to get those also-boughts.) If someone claims to be a USA Today or NYT best-seller, check it out. Did they get that on their own merits? Or did they get that as part of a twenty-book box set with other authors you’ve never heard of for a book priced at 99 cents. Do you really think that puts them on a part with the Stephen Kings and Nora Roberts of the world? If the blurb isn’t even in good English, assume the rest of the book won’t be either. (Lots of cheap ghostwriters are not native English speakers.)

My Practical Wish List

There are many things I would love to see, but life doesn’t work the way I want it to. So on a practical, this could maybe even happen basis, this is what I would love to see happen on Amazon where most of this occurs:

-I’d love to see KU all-star bonuses go away because those have been alleged too many times to be the incentive behind a lot of this crap

-I’d love to see Amazon quit treating a borrow and a sale equally in its rankings.

-I’d also love to see audio, print, ebook, and KU ranking lists that are completely separate and have the KU list be based on page reads not borrows. (Although page reads can still be gamed.)

-I’d love to see 99 cent box sets no longer count towards any of the lists (USA Today) and I’d love to see only authors who made a list on a standalone full-price title actually use that designation, because really?

-I’d love to see books that are fiction only listed in fiction categories and only in relevant ones. Limit a book to two categories. Clear some space at the top for more variety.

-I’d love to see Amazon actually take all the gaming of their own rules seriously. It does not require a lot of manpower. But it does require willpower. Something they clearly don’t have.

Anyway. Figured I’d take a stab at laying some of this out. It is most definitely not a perfect system we’re working in.

One Final Note

What happens often in these situations is someone will look at what I laid out above and say something like, “Oh, well that person only has five-star reviews so they must be a scammer.” Or “Oh, that person says they’re a USA Today Bestselling Author and they did it on a box set so they must be a scammer”.

But it’s never that simple. That cozy I published last year? Over six hundred copies sold and so far all it has are five-star reviews on Amazon. Thankfully at least one person on Goodreads didn’t like it, but how absurd is that that an author has to hope that someone dislikes their book so they can look legitimate to people who see scammers everywhere?

And I know some of those USA Today bestsellers who got there off of box sets. They weren’t scammers. Misguided about what matters perhaps, but not scammers.

That’s been one of my big frustrations this week is watching all of the alarmist comments around this. Is it possible that scammers have managed to get a Bookbub promotion? Yeah, absolutely. Does that make Bookbub a scam? No. Are there some scammers who don’t set up social media accounts? Sure, maybe. (Although I gotta tell ya most of the scammers who are really good at this are slick operators who will tick all the boxes, including the social media boxes.)

All I can say is don’t use absolute rules. Watch. Listen. Ask if what you’re seeing makes sense. Don’t trust that because a book is high-ranked that it’s good. Don’t trust that because it’s packaged well that it’s good. Have standards. For yourself if you’re a writer and for the authors you read if you’re a reader.

 

Is Ghostwriting Cheating?

In case you’ve had your head buried under a rock for the last few days there’s been a big scandal occurring in the romance genre where an author appears to have taken large chunks of other author’s books, handed those chunks off to ghostwriters, and said, “hey, turn this into a book for me” and then published the results. The results were still blatantly easy to tie back to the original sources with whole paragraphs untouched. A clear case of plagiarism and that author will pay because they were stupid enough to plagiarize a former Supreme Court clerk with a specialty in intellectual property as well as Nora Roberts.

Google and you will find the info including some great posts from Nora Roberts about how unacceptable that crap is.

But it’s raised some interesting debate around the use of ghostwriters and writing teams and what is and isn’t okay. For those who aren’t in the know, these are the various iterations I’ve seen:

1. Author never actually existed. Company created that author name and then hired individual writers to write the books in accordance with a series bible. This is The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew model.

2. Author did exist, but then died and the publisher continued publishing those books using ghostwriters. This is the V.C. Andrews model.

3. Author did exist, but then died and the publisher/family continued the series with another writer finishing it. This is the Robert Jordan/Brandon Sanderson model. It could also be the Tom Clancy model.

3. Author never really existed. A team of authors decided to work together to write books together under one name. (Often happens in a hot genre like reverse harem.)

4. One author created a story universe and then allowed other authors to write in their world with attribution to those authors. (James Hunter did that with his Viridian Gate series this year. Mercedes Lackey does this with Valdemar and the short story collections she publishes in that world on occasion.)

5. One author created a story universe and wasn’t going to go back to it anytime soon so they hired a ghostwriter to write in their world but published under their own name.

6. An author had more ideas than they knew what to do with, so they brought on a co-writer, gave them a detailed outline, extensively edited the output, and then put the book out under both names. (This is the James Patterson model.)

7. A marketer saw a title or group of titles doing well, read the title(s), pulled out the essence, and then hired a ghostwriter to create a book similar to the existing title. (Happens often in non-fiction but in fiction as well.)

So when is it cheating and when is it just business? What about fairness? And when does it serve the reader versus leaving them feeling betrayed?

As a reader, I had no issue with the Nancy Drew books. I didn’t realize those books were written by different writers. I found them all equally enjoyable. Someone had taken responsibility at a high level to create a consistent, uniform product and they did it well.

Also, as a reader, I was glad to see them finish the Robert Jordan series, because I’d hung in there with it for years and not finishing it would have been worse. However, I didn’t actually read the last book in the series because I found the new author on that series personally disappointing and those books were just too long for me to want to give that author my time. But I had the information I needed to make that choice, so it was okay with me.

Also as a reader, I find the letting others play in a story world mostly disappointing. I’m reading one of those Valdemar short story collections right now. My mom bought it, I wouldn’t have. And about half of the stories just didn’t work for me. But again, they have the individual author names on them, so I at least know what I’m getting and that is not a story by the original author.

I think for me as a reader where I would feel cheated and disappointed is if a series started with a specific writer and they then hired a ghostwriter to continue that series for them without telling me. Or if a group of writers wrote under one name and made no effort to smooth out the differences across books.

As Nora Roberts pointed out in one of her blog posts and as Donald J. Maass has pointed out in 21st Century Fiction, each author brings to their novels who they are.

For example, the cozies I’m writing right now are 95% voice. I could not authentically hire someone else to write those books for me, they are too uniquely me to do that. And if I did that to readers, they would notice.

If I’d started those books with one ghost writer and kept them going under that name? Fine. Readers would get what they expected. But to change up halfway through and not let them know? No. That’s bad form.

I also believe that in this day and age of social media pretending to a persona to support a book is wrong. So if you hire a ghostwriter to write a series under pen name A? Fine. But if you then have a FB page for that pen name where the “author” talks about their personal life? Or asks readers to interact with them? No. That’s bad form. (This has been especially gross to see in steamy romance where the packager is a man pretending to be a female author.)

Now, that’s how I feel as a reader: I want a certain experience from the authors I read and I expect the authors I read to provide that consistently and to not lie to me.

As a writer, I draw the line a little differently.

I have a certain disdain for people who wait for someone else to find success and then piggyback on that success. I’ve seen this personally in non-fiction and it sucked. (Especially when it was paired with shady marketing tactics.)

Part of the challenge of writing a non-fiction title is in organizing the information you provide. How do I share this with you so that you learn it and aren’t overwhelmed? How do I structure this to make it easy for you? What do I include? What can I leave out?

Doing that well actually takes a lot of thought and skill.

But once that’s done and the book is out there, any old bum off the street can take what the author has done, jot down an outline and key points on a piece of paper, and hand it off to a ghostwriter to replicate. And then if they have better marketing chops or deeper pockets, they can take the market away from the person who did the original hard work of figuring out how to present that topic effectively.

It’s not technically cheating. And as I’ve said before, there are many people I know who’d say that’s just good business to wait for something to hit and then create a knock off and out-market the original.

It’s certainly not a strategy that’s limited to books.

It’s not limited to non-fiction either. Think how many books have hit–Twilight, Harry Potter, 50 Shades, Lord of the Rings–and then there were eight million look-alikes published. Some were from the heart. “OMG, I loved that book so much I want to write my own version”. But some were just cynical as fuck. “So women want to get spanked do they? I can write about that. Or pay someone to.”

I also hold in disdain those people who see a successful non-fiction book and then write a summary version of it. There was that Stanford brain surgeon who wrote a memoir when he was dying of cancer, and some little shit came along and published a “summary” of what had to be a hundred and fifty page book. Really? I mean, really?

(And then, of course, Amazon recommended the summary book to me in an email because I’d bought the original book. Ugh. Amazon, I swear.)

That kind of thing is bottom-feeding IMO. It’s publishing of books by people who could not publish without someone to copy off of publishing first.

But it’s not cheating.

And those people are never going to care what others think of them as long as they’re making money off of it.

It’s up to readers to hold publishers to some sort of standard. If readers accept derivative knock-offs with inconsistent style and voice (for fiction) or worthless content (for non-fiction) this will keep happening because there’s good money to be made faking people into buying an inferior product.

All I can say  to readers is think before you buy. Don’t give people the ranking boost of buying or borrowing their books before you determine that what you’re getting is worth something. The Look Inside is your friend.

Anyway. My two cents. I’m sure I offended someone with that, but oh well. Just one person’s opinion.

 

 

 

Where Is Your Mind?

Skye Warren has a great series of emails she sends out about writing. The most recent one was about how she doesn’t believe in outsourcing Facebook ads to someone else because it just isn’t effective since the advertiser would only have control over one aspect of marketing your book whereas you have control over everything from cover to blurb to pricing and you know the product much better. (I happen to agree with respect to AMS ads.)

But what caught my attention in that email was this:

…consulting can be a distraction. In my last set of emails I talked about shower time and how I guard it—if you’re creating ads for five clients, including studying their books and the market, including communicating with them, it’s going to use your brain’s quiet cycles. They’re going to get your epiphanies. It’s an opportunity cost beyond even a high hourly rate.

She has a good point.

I too tend to use my shower time to think about things. When I get stuck with writing, I will often go take a shower. (Assuming I haven’t taken one already that day, because taking five showers a day seems weird although there are days I want to do that for the ability to step away from what I’m writing.) Hiking time also works this way for me.

What I find, though, is that even when I want to be thinking about what I’m writing, if I’ve let something else get into my mind, that’s what I end up thinking about in the shower.

So, for example, I did a group coaching session on Strengths a couple weeks ago. And that day when I stepped away from my writing and took a shower that’s where my mind was. I was replaying that coaching session trying to figure out how it had gone and what I could have done better.

For the next two days my quiet moments were taken up with thinking about Strengths and coaching. Now, in that case, I was paid for that coaching so one could argue that it had earned a share of my mental space.

But my mind isn’t always focused on paying work. For example, I will sometimes play word games on my computer at night while I watch television. And when I do I find my mind using that period of time right before falling asleep to create word combinations instead of think about what I’m writing. (For example, what words can you make out of CONCATENATE? CAT, COT, TEA, TEN, EAT, ATE, CON, …)

So I find I have to try to protect those down times if I want to make forward progress with the writing. I can play chess on my computer instead. Or sliding tiles. That gives me back that time right before falling asleep because it doesn’t trigger my mind to loop through scenarios or “solve” the problem.

And it’s why, even though it wasn’t the smartest financial decision, I was willing to step away from consulting entirely to work on my writing. Even when I was on a consulting project part-time, it still took those thinking times away from the writing. Because I’m high Responsibility, I always want to do the best job I can for others. So any project I work on that’s for someone else, will always take priority over my own projects.

So if you’re stuck with your writing, I’d stop and ask, “Where is your mind?” When you have free moments, is it on the writing? Or is it on something else? And if it’s on something else can you address that other issue or somehow change things to get that mental space back for your writing?

It won’t always be possible. The first time I stepped back from consulting to write full-time I didn’t write for a month because the day after I returned to Colorado my grandma fell and broke her hip and shoulder and all that mental free time I would’ve spent on writing was taken up with family.

But if it is possible–if you can stop playing that video game and replace it with something that doesn’t continue on in your mind after you stop playing–then make that change. Those fifteen or twenty minutes a day are precious.

 

 

Good Writing Isn’t Enough

There’s a discussion on one of the writing forums right now about how many books are actually published on Amazon right now and how many authors those represent. And in that discussion someone mentioned that they knew an author who had published two brilliant novels and that those two novels hadn’t sold a single copy.

(My first reaction was, “You their friend who thought their book was brilliant didn’t even buy a copy? Or recommend it to anyone who bought a copy? Why not?” But I digress.)

That comment started me thinking, though, that oftentimes with a writing career, whether it’s on the trade publishing or self-publishing side, it’s very often not just about the writing. Yes, the writing needs to be there. You need to be able to write at a sufficient level to sell your book(s).

But oftentimes the difference between success and failure is in all the other choices you make. I had a friend who a few years back had two publisher offers for their debut novel. They were trying to decide which publisher to go with, but at that time there was really no visible difference between the two. The advances were the same, the royalty payouts were the same, and both were small presses.

Turns out one of the two didn’t do such a great job of paying their authors and that issue blew up right around when my friend’s book was being published. So choosing Publisher A meant a smooth first publication experience whereas choosing Publisher B meant having that book published while authors were vocally advocating for readers to boycott the publisher.

Some trade published authors were caught up in a Barnes & Noble dispute a few years back that meant their books never landed on the shelves of any B&N throughout the country. Others were caught up in the Amazon dispute that happened a few years back where entire publisher catalogs weren’t listed on Amazon.

Pick the wrong publisher, agent, or editor and your book publishing experience will be completely different from someone else’s. Happen to have your book published in the midst of drama and same thing.

On the self-publishing side it’s picking KU or not KU. It’s putting a book in audio or not putting it in audio. It’s publishing in print or not. It’s using that new distributor or not. It’s trying that new ad platform or not. It’s publishing one book now versus three at once two years from now. It’s pricing high versus pricing low. It’s trying permafree or not. It’s having a mailing list or not.

Any one of those choices can sink an author or make their career. And it’s not always clear which choice is the right one to make at any given point in time. You can take the exact same book, make very different choices, and have completely different outcomes.

Considering that author mentioned above who wrote two great books and sold no copies, think what advertising could have done for those books. (Assuming they had adequate covers.) Or think what asking friends and family to give it that initial boost could have done. (Yes, yes, I know that can screw up also-boughts so is not ideal, but if the alternative is no sales at all? Better to get a few sales IMO.) Maybe that was an author who should’ve continued to slog it out in the trade-publishing trenches.

It’s hard to say, but you have to think that there was another outcome for that author had they just tried something different.

We all makes our choices. Some of them the wrong ones. Some of them fatal ones–for that book or that pen name. (And some of them the exact right ones.)

A good enough book is just the beginning. (Which considering how hard that can be to master is a bit disconcerting, but there you have it.)