Happy Holidays

Hard to believe another year is almost over. I’m just glad I was able to spend a nice holiday with my family which seems to get smaller every year since none of us that are stateside have had kids. The only casualty for the day was my thumb which has an inch-wide blister at the moment. (Note to self: Do not touch a roasting pan that has been in the oven for close to two hours with your bare hand.) At least a combination of running it under cool water, holding the inside of an aloe leaf to it, and then walking around with a wet rag pressed to the blister for the next couple hours seems to have done the trick. It’s amazing how much you use your thumbs.

Anyway.

I figured I’d share this cool picture I took of the pup this morning. I’ve lived in snowy states most of my life and I’m sure I’ve seen single snowflakes before, but for some reason this time I really noticed how cool it is that you can see the pattern in a snowflake without needing a microscope. I was going for the snowflake at the bottom left but captured three of them in this part of the photo:

IMG_4433 (4) - Copy

Added bonus that it was on the pup’s nose.

For those of you who find yourselves with a little extra holiday money, there’s a Boxing Day sale on at Kobo with tons of books 60% off. That link should take you to the page where they’re all listed. Don’t forget to use the promo code when you check out. (My title The How to Meet A Woman Collection is one of the titles. It includes Online Dating for Men: The Basics, Don’t Be a Douchebag, and You Have a Date, Don’t F It Up. At full-price that’s three for the price of two and with this discount it’s even better. So if any men out there have been thinking about finding love in the new year, might be worth checking out. If not there are lots and lots of other titles included in the promo.)

I’m wrapped up on all the writing I’d planned to do for the year, so might take a few days off to just relax before I hit the ground running in January. (Who am I kidding? I’ll probably be back at work on something by tomorrow…Unless someone can recommend some really really good books to me? I’ve had a run lately of okay but not amazing reads and am dying for a book that can really suck me in and make me put everything aside until I finish it.)

A Realization

I’ve been trying to figure out what hit me so hard about Courtney Milan’s post about her sexual harassment experience when she was a clerk. (http://www.courtneymilan.com/metoo/kozinski.html)

It wasn’t that the judge called her honey. Or that he showed her pornographic photos. I think any woman over the age of thirty who has ever worked outside the home isn’t surprised to learn that men at all levels have acted in ways that were inappropriate and uncomfortable. Maybe the names of some of the men have been surprising, but not the actions.

When #metoo was doing the rounds on Facebook I posted about it. If the criteria for saying #metoo was sexual harassment, then there’s no doubt that I qualified. By the time I was twenty I’d lost count of the number of inappropriate sexual comments men I didn’t even know had said to me. At work, on the street. Basically, anytime I was going to be out in public it was a possibility that some man would say something sexually suggestive.

And like most women I learned for my own sanity’s sake to draw distinctions between the awkwardly inappropriate and the truly creepy ones. It’s like the definition of pornography that came out of that Supreme Court case.  I can’t write you a precise definition (sorry guys that feel a need for one), but I can certainly tell you when that line has been crossed.

But I’ve been fortunate in my professional career to not be in a position like Courtney was. I once had a man I worked with who tried giving me unwanted shoulder massages. (I told him if he f’in touched me again, I’d take his hands off. He stopped. Until I was remotely nice to him a couple months later and he tried it again and I had to repeat my threat.)

And I did have a job where I reached the point of feeling physically ill every time I had to go into work because of one of my co-workers who I felt was stalking me. (I told my boss. She asked if it rose to the level of sexual harassment. I said probably not but please don’t schedule me with him anymore. She continued to do so. He was her brother, after all. A few weeks later I got into a screaming argument with her over wearing shorts to work and was fired…)

So reading that post didn’t bring up any of those kind of memories for me. Maybe a little of the “oh yeah, I know how that feels to be almost ill at the thought of interacting with someone and having to anyway…”

No. I realized today that what hit me so hard about her post was something that’s not even part of this #metoo movement.

It’s this idea of loyalty. This notion that if someone gives you a tremendous opportunity that you owe them your loyalty. That you will work as many hours as they need you to work without complaint and with a positive attitude. That you never go around them. That you never publicly disagree with them. (And for some, that you never disagree with them at all. Ever.) That you don’t try to move ahead of them. That you are below them and always will be, but that if you play it right you’ll be given lots of money and the opportunity to move up in their wake.

Forget that you worked your ass off to be there. Forget that you bring skills and intelligence to the table that they need in order to succeed. Forget that there are a very limited number of people who can do what you do. None of that counts.

And to be fair here, I realized when I was thinking this through that my first job out of college was a situation where I gave everything I had but my mentor and my boss and my boss’s boss all acknowledged and rewarded that, and supported me enough to even suggest that it was time to move on to bigger challenges after I grew bored about two years in. That’s how it should be.

But so many of the bosses I worked for after that didn’t see it that way. They weren’t monsters. At the time I liked most of them. But looking back on it now I can see all those moments, all those ways in which they took and took and took and never gave back. The better ones gave raises and promotions, but the minute my path diverged from theirs they either actively sabotaged my taking that path or were so non-supportive that they may as well have sabotaged me.

And it’s so hard to try to explain to others. To try to explain why you’re not happy with an opportunity that others would kill for. Because you know even as you’re desperately unhappy that there are so many who’d say “Oh my God, do you know what I’d give to be earning that?” or “Do you know how many people wish they were you? How many people wanted this opportunity that you’ve been given?”

I think the isolation caused by that “you’re lucky to even be there” comments is what makes it so much harder for those who find themselves in a situation like that.

For me, Courtney’s story wasn’t just of a man who was sexually inappropriate. It was a story of getting an opportunity that thousands wish they could have, but only being able to have that opportunity by working for a man who called his clerks “slaves”. A man who expected them to be at his beck and call. A man who went so far as to tell his subordinates what they were allowed to read.

(I’ll tell you, reading fantasy novels is probably the only reason I lasted as long as I did in my corporate career. And I can think of at least one person I worked for who would’ve probably done the same thing the judge did if they’d ever noticed. There are reasons I use pen names for my writing and one of them is that kind of bullshit attitude that you can’t be a serious professional and enjoy something like fantasy or romance novels. Fuck that.)

That was what hit home for me in her story. I’m not downplaying the sexual aspects of it. Not in the slightest.

But the fact that she felt compelled to consult attorneys in order to share her personal experience? Or that she felt bound by an expectation of loyalty from her abuser (I would argue what she experienced was emotional abuse) and only broke her silence when he broke the loyalty code first? That what made it so hard for her to walk away was the prestige of that opportunity?

That’s what shook me. The realization that I, even though my bosses were never sexually inappropriate, had been there, too. Letting someone else control my life, letting them take whatever they needed without complaint.  And all the while with them expecting me to be grateful that they’d bothered to give me a chance…

10,000 Copies Sold

Sometime this last month I crossed the 10,000 copies sold mark. Half of that came in the last six months.

I should be thrilled. I should be dancing on the tables, overjoyed that maybe I’m finally starting to get some traction on this whole writing thing and to figure out how to sell what I write.

But I’m not.

While there is a part of me that’s excited about where I am, I know this might not continue on an upward trajectory. I have a color-coded list of income by month and I can look at that list and say, “Hey, there’s December 2014 when I published my first romance novel and a successful romance short and thought I was on my way. My first $500+ month.” And then I can look at July 2015 and see that I only made $56 that month. And that that was followed by August 2015 where I had a $600+ month. And then December 2015 which was again under $100.

So I know better by now. Some folks do great right from the start and just keeping going, but I’d say that for most writers it’s more peaks and valleys.  Good months and then not so good months.

What makes me even more uneasy is where those sales have come from this last six months. In July, almost half of my revenue for the month was from a single romance novel. In October, that novel is next to nothing for revenue, but I had a successful fantasy promo and non-fiction picked up the slack.

On one hand, yay, diversification. When one track slips, another can catch the slack. On the other hand, where do you put your efforts when from month-to-month there’s no good way to predict which titles will do best?

I like to tell my friends entering the corporate world to just get that first job, put your head down, and do the best damn job you can. Even if it isn’t the ideal position for you, you need to focus on where you are to get forward momentum and move up. You want to tell a good story when you’re ready for that next job, you need to commit to the job you have now.

That should be true of writing, too. Pick one path, focus on it, and follow it until you succeed. And I think it is for many. But what path do you choose when you could easily choose any of three paths?

(Me being me, I just wrote a new story on path four that I should just drop already. Someone please smack me upside the head.)

The other killer about that number is that it’s not enough. I know how amazed I would’ve been in year one of self-publishing to sell 10,000 copies. That’s thousands of people I don’t know who paid cash money for something I wrote.

Think about that for a minute.

Let that sink in.

Thousands of people have paid money for something I wrote. How many people can say that?

But then realize that selling 10,000 copies isn’t enough to make this sustainable. For one year, let alone four of them.

I often ask myself why I stick with the self-publishing. There are so many ways I could make money that would be far, far easier in terms of hours spent and money earned. And I think part of the answer is that it’s so damned hard for me. I have some weird, twisted need to fight for what I get or I don’t consider it worth keeping. If I’m not challenged, it doesn’t work for me.

(Also there’s theI get to work alone and from home aspect of it…)

Anyway, yay for me. Pauses to celebrate this milestone. Now time to get back to it.

20K here we come. And sometime this decade, please.

On Collaboration

I’ll admit it, I don’t always play well with others. But when I was working in a corporate environment, I pretty much had to. A lot of the work I did involved coordinating my efforts with others and then writing up reports on what we’d found. Sometimes those reports were a hundred pages long and involved five or six people reading through and making sure that the terminology was correct and that we all agreed on the presentation of the facts.

So when I started writing I was glad to play in my own little sandbox. But there have been times I’ve been tempted to collaborate with a fellow writer. I have one writer friend who has brilliant off-the-wall ideas that I could never match. But I do better than they do with continuity and character development. So at one point I thought it might be good for us to combine those two strengths to write something together.

(We never did, but it was something I thought about.)

One of my hesitations though–other than the fact that I tend to prefer my own solutions to problems–was the legal aspect of it. You can’t just say, “Hey, let’s write a novel together.” You have to think about who owns the copyright, how much you’ll each earn from it, what happens if one of you doesn’t want to continue, etc.

There was just too much that could go wrong and that I couldn’t foresee for me to be comfortable entering into a collaboration like that.

And how do you work together? Who writes the first draft? Who makes edits?

There were just too many moving parts to it for me to be comfortable doing it.

But it turns out that one of the books in the NaNo Bundle (and only in the Nano Bundle at this point) is Writing as a Team Sport by Kevin J. Anderson.

(You might’ve heard of him. He’s the guy who’s co-written all those Dune books.  And many more besides. Been on the bestseller lists multiple times. Sold millions of copies of his books. Just an average Joe, really.)

In that book, not only does he talk about different possible approaches to collaborating and outline some of the pros and cons of doing so, he also includes at the end a sample legal agreement that you can use.

That agreement alone is worth the price of the bundle. For example, it would’ve never occurred to me to include an indemnification clause in a collaboration contract even though it makes total sense to do so now that I think about it. Or to mention plagiarism, for that matter.

The book didn’t convince me to rush out and start collaborating with other authors, but I do feel much more confident in my ability to do so successfully and in a way that protects both me and any potential co-author.

So if you’ve collaborated in the past or you’re thinking about it now, buy the bundle, read the book. It’s a tremendous resource that you should definitely check out and that will probably save you a lot of heartache or drama down the road.

(And, not covered by this book, but shared by another author recently: Be careful if you decide to collaborate with someone you’re dating but not in a long-term relationship with. Keven and his wife and DWS and KKR have both successfully collaborated and stayed married for decades, but imagine collaborating on a book with someone you then break up with.)

Serendipity (Or How I Ended Up In That StoryBundle)

There are some things in life that you can’t plan for and my inclusion in this particular StoryBundle is one of them.

What StoryBundle you might ask?  Well this one, of course.

NaNoWriMo Writing Tools Bundle ad

(Sorry, shameless plug. It’s gonna happen a few times over the next two months, but we’ll try to keep it to a minimum.)

A little background. I’ve wanted to be in a StoryBundle for a while now. I emailed them about Rider’s Revenge when I published it and never heard a thing. I have a friend who actually curates bundles for them, but had yet to convince her to build one I could be a part of, so would jealously look askance at people who had the chance to be in one but turned it down.

It’s been on my radar for a couple years now. But I hadn’t done much more than hope and bug my friend about it on occasion.

Then this year I went to a great conference in Colorado Springs, the Superstars Writing Seminars. As part of the conference they also ask you to join their groups on Facebook. One for the whole group and one for that year’s conference.

Now, let me tell you, I’m not a big joiner. I’m a happily content loner. So it felt a little awkward to me to have to join those groups. But I did it. And I occasionally participated as questions were asked that I knew something about.

And then in August the chance came that I didn’t even know was possible. Kevin J. Anderson said he was putting together a StoryBundle of epic fantasy books and needed a couple more to round out the bundle. He needed them soon. Was anyone interested?

Yes! Me! Me! Right here. Me.

Except…

The Rider’s books were in KU at the time. And not due to roll out until early September which was past his deadline.

I’ll tell ya, I was sorely tempted to see if Amazon would notice. But I like to stay on the right side of the rules, so no bundle for me.

I was very sad.

But Kevin had mentioned that there would be other bundles in the future, so I hoped that maybe someday I’d be in one. I figured maybe next year sometime.

In the meantime, I’d done something slightly crazy, which was spend most of my summer writing non-fiction. I couldn’t figure out a direction to take my fiction writing. (Another romance novel, a standalone fantasy novel, a MG fantasy series, a YA fantasy series, an adult fantasy series…The possibilities were endless and no one story was calling to be written.) Rather than sit there and stare at my computer day after day, I had turned to non-fiction writing.

I wrote a book on CreateSpace first. I was supposed to write one on ACX next, but decided I’d knock out an Excel guide to writers real quick.

As I started to write, I realized that what I used Excel for when I was on the trade publishing path was very different from what I use it for on the self-publishing path. And that the two really don’t overlap much.

I also realized that some of my audience might not be all that familiar with Excel. Or might be familiar with the basics of Excel but not the more advanced parts of Excel like pivot tables and conditional formatting.

Suddenly that one 20K-word book that was going to take me maybe two weeks to write became four books that took me quite a bit longer to write.

The whole time I was finalizing them I was kicking myself for being a fool to write them in the first place. Sure, it was fun to do. I’m a bit of a math and spreadsheet nerd and I like to solve puzzles, which is a lot of what writing them entailed.

But I didn’t expect that they’d sell, especially the writing ones. I mean, honestly, how many people have enough of an interest in Microsoft Excel to buy a book that combines Excel and writing?

(More should–if you’re going to self-publish you should at least know pivot tables–but let’s be honest here. It was a niche, niche project I was working on.)

So there I am. Almost done with the books, telling myself this is why I am a crap self-publisher who will never make six-figures in a year. Reminding myself that if the million words I’ve self-published had all been self-published under the same name and on the same general topic or in the same general genre that I might be doing really well at this right now.  And pointing out to myself that all that analysis I do is worth nothing because I don’t put it to practical use and…

Well, you get the point. I was not happy with myself from a business perspective. (From a writing/workday perspective, I actually had a lot of fun with it, which is why I keep doing projects like this, because if I can’t enjoy the day-to-day then I should go back to consulting full-time.)

Anyway. Not happy.

And then Kevin posted to the group again. He said he was doing a NaNoWriMo bundle and needed a couple more books. (I won’t lie, it’s possible I lunged at my computer in excitement.) I offered up Writing for Beginners. It’s a nice solid book for the writer who doesn’t know anything about anything and needs somewhere to begin their writing journey.

But I also mentioned these Excel guides I’d been working on. Kevin didn’t want Writing for Beginners, but he was intrigued by the Excel guides. He asked for more info. I sent him a list of what each one covered. He said he wanted them. Have them ready the next week.

And then silence.

(I probably shouldn’t be admitting my insecurity here since a lot of people who will read this blog in the next two months may do so as part of checking out the bundle and that doesn’t make me sound very authoritative, but if you’ve read any of my non-fiction writing books you’ll know this is just what I do.)

One week stretched to two. I was trying to be patient and confident. But in the back of my mind was this little voice wondering if he’d reconsidered. Maybe he’d found better books. Maybe he’d found bigger name authors to include. Maybe…

And then I got the email with the contract.

And I signed it.

And I sent in the files.

And then silence.

And again I worried. Maybe the files I’d sent weren’t up to snuff. Maybe they’d reconsidered and were doing some last-minute rearranging to replace me.  Maybe…

Maybe I’m a paranoid freak who has too much time on my hands. It’s just that I’d wanted this sooo much and I couldn’t believe it was actually happening until it happened.

As I said yesterday, I have faith in the books I wrote. In the day job I’ve been paid very good money for what I can do in Excel and for my analysis skills in general. But at the same time, I’m a random person on the internet to most anyone who comes across those books. Across any of my books. There’s a certain level of faith involved in buying non-fiction from a stranger.

Which is why I love being part of this bundle. Because people can buy it for the names they recognize and basically get to check out my Excel guides for free at the same time.

So, for my writing friends.  How do you make something like this happen for yourself? I mean, obviously, as the post says, this was serendipity. It was a bunch of random choices that came together in a great way.

But here’s what I think are the takeaways:

One, make connections. If I hadn’t attended Superstars this year, I wouldn’t have been in that group to learn about the opportunity.

Two, put yourself out there. Kevin posted that he needed more titles for the bundle, but I had to respond and offer up my books. He might’ve turned me down. He did on the one book. But if I hadn’t posted to that thread, I would’ve been eliminating myself.  You can’t do that. (In anything in life. )

Three, have a finished product. It sucks to hear about the perfect opportunity but not be able to take advantage of it because that product you’re working on isn’t done yet.

Four, know what’s out there. One of the reasons I jumped all over this the minute it was posted was because I already knew about StoryBundle. And the reason I attended Superstars is because I’d heard about it from more than one source.

I’m lucky. I have no life. So I can write and publish and keep up on blogs and forums, too. I have friends who write and have families and jobs to juggle so don’t have that chance to keep up on the latest developments, which is hard. I think rule one has to be produce new material. But if you aren’t also monitoring the industry and what’s new, you’ll miss opportunities. (Or worse, get scammed.)

Could I have predicted this at all? No.

Do I know that it’ll be fabulous for me? No, it could be a disaster if people hate my work. (Although I’m already chuffed by the whole experience and we’re only one day in.)

Can I plan to make something like this ever happen again? No.  But it does mean I’ll probably make the effort to attend a few conferences next year that I wouldn’t have otherwise. Because you never know what little thing or new connection will be the one that sets a whole cascade of events into motion.

So there you have it. I look forward to all of you attending Superstars next year and Kevin having so many great choices to choose from on the next bundle he curates that I’m not even in the running. (Kidding on that last bit. I plan to be in the running, so bring your A game.)

The NaNoWriMo Writing Tools Bundle Is Here (And I’m In It!)

So this is the bit of news I was alluding to yesterday. My books, Excel for Writers and Excel for Self-Publishers, are both part of the 2017 Nano Storybundle. For $15 you can get both of my books as well as…

  • How to Make a Living With Your Writing by Joanna Penn
  • Hurting Your Characters by Michael J. Carlson
  • Writing as a Team Sport by Kevin J. Anderson
  • The Author’s Guide to Vellum by Chuck Heintzelman
  • Time Management by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
  • The Magic Bakery by Dean Wesley Smith
  • Business for Breakfast Vol 6: The Healthy Professional Writer by Leah Cutter
  • Q&A For Science Fiction Writers by Mike Resnick
  • The Unofficial Scrivener Workbook by Michael J. Carlson
  • Story Structure and Master Chapter Outline Workbook by C. Michael Jefferies
  • Blood From Your Own Pen by Sam Knight

Look at that list. Joanna Penn who has a brilliant podcast. Kevin J. Anderson who co-wrote the Dune series and is the mastermind behind the Superstars Writing Seminars. Kristine Kathryn Rusch whose Thursday business blog posts are a must-read.  And Dean Wesley Smith whose classes on depth and character definitely strengthened my fiction writing.

And those are just the ones that happened to be in my list of web links. I am honored and humbled to be amongst their number. (And proud enough of the Excel guides that I think they hold their own in that list.)

You’d have to pay $10 to get both of my books. For $5 more, look what else you can get. (And, of course, you can always pay more if you think that’s warranted since part of the proceeds are also going to charity.)

So, what are you waiting for? Go buy yourself some brilliant writerly wisdom while it’s cheap.

(I’ll be reading all the books myself and probably mentioning a few here on the blog during the next two months while the books are available. And I’ll also tell you how this all came about in another blog post, since that’s what would matter most to me as a self-publisher.)

What Do You Say?

I went to bed last night worried about the pup and whether I should take her to the vet. I woke up to news of the worst shooting in American history. (Ironically, by one death at the time, but don’t want to miss that headline do we?)

What do you say?  How do you react to the fact that we live in a world where one single individual can kill more than fifty people and injure more than four hundred?  And does so.

A world where members of our own country are neglected and dying because they’re not white enough or not American enough to warrant help or attention.

A world where two bombastic fools keeping push one another closer and closer to war.

A world where standing up for the freedom to protest triggers a level of hate and vitriol that’s so extreme you wonder how different your experience of the world is from your neighbor’s.

I don’t know what to say. To any of it.

I don’t know how you “fix” this. My mind runs like a hamster in one of those stupid little wheels trying to find a solution to a problem I’m not sure anyone can solve.

Earlier this week I had a friend tell me with absolute certainty that they expect they’ll die of the cancer they’re fighting. A year from now or ten, they expect this will be what kills them.

What do you say?

How do you acknowledge their experience of their illness and their choices with respect to that illness while still trying to encourage them to see that the path their life will take is never certain?

What do you say? (The wrong thing, most likely, because there is no right thing to say in a circumstance like that, no magic set of words that will thread that line.)

Yesterday I tweeted a part of a quote from Ilona Andrew’s blog, but I want to share more of that paragraph here: