No Regrets

As of June 1st I will no longer be a full-time writer. For a while I may not be a writer at all. Oh, I’ll still have way too many books published and available for sale and I still have some audiobooks I want to record. But I may completely step back for a while.

And, honestly, I don’t have any regrets about doing so. If you’ve read this blog for any length of time then you know that I wasn’t the most driven of authors. The idea of fame actually makes my skin itch and I was far more motivated to give my dog a quality life and myself time to breathe than I was to “be the winner” or “be the best”. (While other authors were spending sixty hours a week writing and giving themselves carpal tunnel I was…not.)

Now that my dog is gone it’s a good time to make that transition. I need the structure of a full-time job right now and the one I’ve accepted will pay my bills and leave a bit of a cushion. And I like what I’ll be doing. It actually excites me.

It’s also much more certain and stable than self-publishing. I don’t like what I see coming down the pipeline for self-publishing.

I was already well along the interview path when this news hit, but the recent Amazon paperback pricing changes will increase my print costs for a lot of my books by around 30%*. This at the same time that I think they’re playing some games on the AMS side to drive up bid costs. So that means less profit per sale and making it harder to get those sales in the first place.

(*My product mix is not like most self-published authors. I sell far more in print than most and I also publish in the 7.5″ x 9.25″ size for all of my computer or image-heavy books, which is not the case for most. Also on the non-fiction side I have a lot of new buyers I have to attract for my titles so advertising is more important for me than an established fiction author.)

I also think AI is going to mess things up for at least the next few years and will likely hit non-fiction first. It doesn’t matter if it’s good enough to pass, there will be people who see a pretty cover and spend their time/money on an AI-generated title. And there will be lots of them published. Which is going to further sour the reader experience and drive readers back to “trustworthy” sources. I think it’s also likely that AI can copy non-fiction easier than it can copy a novel.

Established names will be fine. If you have an audience already that autobuys your books, you’re solid. But for those who never established themselves I think it’s going to be rough. Same with new authors who don’t have some sort of support from existing authors who will vouch for them. So if you’ve got friends in a genre and they tell their mailing list about you, great. But if you’re just new and eager? Ouch.

I honestly think it will make trade pub more attractive for some newer authors. And if trade pub ever gets their heads out of their asses about ebook pricing and starts putting out ebooks in the $7.99-$9.99 range with price promotions on a periodic basis? Double ouch.

And I know there will be someone out there who says something along the lines of how you only fail at writing if you quit. Which, fair enough. But there are only so many hours in this life that we get to live and putting those hours into publishing into an increasingly ugly market just doesn’t seem like a good use of mine. (Especially when someone then comes along and outright steals or copies what I just did. Why offer myself up as a victim if I don’t have to?)

I have always been a storyteller. Set me in a waiting room without a book to read or on a long road trip and I’ll be spinning some sort of story in my head. And putting those stories on paper is an interesting experience because the story evolves when it’s written down and turned into 90K words of prose versus that sketched out shape of a story that existed in my head.

But the publishing side is something else entirely. I’ve enjoyed learning the process–formatting books, designing covers, etc.–but at this point I’ve done that. And if I’m not trying to make my writing pay my bills, publishing is not necessary.

I do still have some collections to publish at some point for the non-fiction so I’m sure you’ll see me announce a few more titles here at least. I’ll also still have thoughts about writing because I’m not going to stop reading books anytime soon.

And, who knows? I may have become addicted to all of this and not know.

Between my sophomore year and junior year of college I took a year off with the full intent of taking five or so years off to make enough money to pay for the rest of college flat out. (I was a bit naive.) But I really, really missed studying Mayan hieroglyphs and it turned out that the local library didn’t have books on that. So I decided I had to go back to school. (Not that I spent all that much time studying them when I got back, but I did get to take a cool course on language change.)

So you never know.

I do know that removing the profit pressure from my writing is going to be a good thing. It will let me write whatever fiction I feel like writing because whatever I write will be for me first not some nebulous “market”.

And, yes, I’m lucky that I can do this. I know of authors who had to make it with their writing because they were on welfare/public assistance and had no prospects or were stuck in a minimum wage job and didn’t have a pathway to a different job. Or writers who are busy parents and writing is their escape and validation.

But for me, personally, I did have other choices and I’m taking one of them.

I’ve loved learning all that I have the last decade. And taking the time to see a broader world than I would have if I’d stayed on my original path. I think writing has made me a better person. Not a great person–I’m still arrogant–but at least I know that now. 🙂

Anyway. I’ve shared my writing journey up to this point so figured I should share this, too. Wish me luck. And best of luck to you on your continuing journey, wherever it takes you.

Expectations vs. Outcomes

I think I mentioned before that last month I took a week and just sort of sat down and tried to figure out who I am and what I want in life.

What am I good at? What drives me and gives me satisfaction? What do I value?

It was a good exercise, because I think in this world that if you don’t really assess who you are and what you want that it’s too easy to be pushed around by the tides of what people tell you you should want. Or what society tells you is valuable.

And so it’s easy to get sucked into living a life that is successful by external standards and makes you absolutely miserable. For some people the fit is perfect and they never understand that conflict, but for others they can only fit into the common mold by hiding or cutting off half of who they are. And even the ones that can fit are sometimes exhausted by what society demands of them. (I see you married career women with multiple kids under five.)

But that’s actually not what prompted me to write this post today. What I was thinking about is how when I looked at my “failures” in life they were often driven by my expectations of what should happen instead of being objective failures.

I am especially bad about this when it comes to relationships. Essentially, if I’m dating someone and they show me that they don’t want to be with just me, I’m done. I walk away. I can be enjoying the time we spend together, I can feel strong emotions for that person, but my expectation is that if they felt the same way towards me they would just want to be with me.

I theoretically understand that the world is not perfect and that you meet someone and they’re probably dating others or have others in their life where things are complicated, but after a month or so my willingness to allow that disappears.

Which has cost me good connections in the past. Maybe if I’d just held back and been patient and let things develop a little further that person would’ve come around and we would’ve built some sort of amazing life together.

(Or not. I mean if you’re not all in at the start when all the giddy emotions are bouncing around, hard to believe you will be later.)

This applies to self-publishing, too. Because if I set aside others’ performance and judgements and the over-hyped expectations I was sold when I started down this path, I have objectively done more with my writing than most writers will ever do.

I’ve written sixteen novels. That right there is, objectively, huge. And doesn’t include the bulk of my writing which has been in non-fiction. I have also likely helped over 20,000 people learn a computer software that can expand their work prospects or help them better manage their lives.

But I continuously crush those accomplishments with my expectations of what I should have been able to do with my writing.

Even knowing that I don’t follow the steps you need to follow to do as well as I would like to at this (publish consistently, use pre-orders so people can just one click on the next one, write in a series in a popular genre, stick to one pen name, etc.), I still put those expectations on my writing.

I’ve spent a decade writing whatever I wanted, however I wanted, and just throwing it out to the universe. I rarely do big releases with lots of promo or advertising. This blog here is about the extent of my social media and networking. I did post on forums back in the day which did help at times and I am still in one private FB group and one private group elsewhere, but really, for the most part, I have just hung out with myself and done whatever I wanted for a decade with the writing. (Which has included advertising, I’m not saying I did nothing to sell my books.)

And I made over $300K in revenue doing that. Doing it all wrong.

I should be proud of that. But because I expected more, I’m not. Because I expected easy sales and six figures and to replace a job that was part of an entire industry that was built to extract wealth, I feel like I failed.

I have times when I’m tempted to just quit and walk away from all of it. To go back to some simple job that pays really well and just spend my weekends reading good books and watching TV shows or movies and eating good meals.

But that’s because my expectations were off. Not because my outcome was bad.

I’ve seen it said in a number of places by the old, grizzled writers who are still at it thirty, forty, fifty years in. There were authors with more talent than them who fell by the wayside. Those old-timers are still there, making a full-time living at it, because they stuck in there through the rejections and setbacks while those other writers walked away.

(And quite possibly those long-timers now have far more writing skill than the bright shiny stars that didn’t stick with it, because they kept plugging away and improving and learning. Also, just sticking in does not in fact guarantee success.)

Also, that is not to say that everyone can just keep going. Our world requires money, right? More and more with every day that passes. (My first apartment in Denver in 1996 cost me $400 a month and was a nice little one-bedroom with a washer and dryer in the unit. Now? Try $2000 or more for that same type of apartment.)

But back to the point. Expectations can ruin good outcomes.

And I honestly don’t know how to reset those expectations. I don’t know how to be objective about these things. I’ve never been particularly interested in okay or average or good enough. Even if it would make me happier to expect less or accept what I have, which I’m not sure it ever would.


If this all seemed a little too familiar, maybe step back and set aside the expectations and just look at what you’ve accomplished as if you weren’t you. Give yourself a quick moment to celebrate what you have done as opposed to what you haven’t done.

(I know. It’s hard. In my little look at my life that I did the only accomplishment I listed that I was “proud” of was triple-majoring at Stanford even though objectively I have done a lot of other things I should be proud of. But that was the only thing that truly pushed me to my absolute limit–the last two years of getting that degree while also working full-time–so it was the only thing that counted for me and my whacked out brain that expects too much all the time.)

Be kind to yourself. If you can.

Echo Words

One of the benefits of putting my cozies into audio has been hearing my writing. I usually do an editing pass where I have the computer read the entire book out loud to me, but it doesn’t deliver the same experience as trying to narrate the book.

Now, unfortunately, those books are already done, so I just have to live with what I’ve written. (Yes, I could probably technically edit them as I narrate them and publish new versions with tweaks, but that is the road to ruin and many a wasted hour that really, truly doesn’t move the needle.)

Hopefully, though, the experience of narrating those books makes me more aware of subtle issues in my writing.

One thing I’ll probably do less of in the future is include any sort of dialogue tags. I tend to be pretty subtle with them in the first place, I think. I don’t write lines of dialogue that are “he said”, “she exclaimed”, “he muttered”, “she replied”.

I might have one he said and she replied and then let them talk and move and trust the reader to keep up and have the actions indicate who is speaking after enough lines of dialogue that a reader might drift a bit.

But I think going forward I’ll probably do more physical action than dialogue tags. (Although that’s a different rhythm because it takes more words generally to include an action over a dialogue tag, so who knows.)

The other issue, though, that I’ve noticed in my writing is what I’m referring to as echo words. I’m sure there’s an official term for it somewhere, but I don’t know it off the top of my head.

It includes repeated words. I tend to use a word again shortly after I’ve just used it because it’s front of mind. But I also catch those in edits most times.

What I don’t catch all the time are the rhyming words. So I’ll have “lay” end part of a sentence and then “say” end the entire sentence or the paragraph. If they were in different positions in the sentence it wouldn’t be a problem, but when you create an A-B-A rhythm in the endings withing a paragraph it’s noticeable when spoken out loud unless the narrator breaks that somehow.

And I don’t catch as often words that are similar but not identical. I can’t think of a good example right now, but there have been a few times where I’ve read two paragraphs that didn’t repeat a word or have the rhyming issue but where words “echoed” one another, unintentionally.

If I deliberately used that as a literary technique it could maybe be genius. (The number of times in Spanish AP Lit class that we discussed those sorts of techniques in the writers we read…) But it’s not deliberate. So it sets up a dissonance rather than a resonance.

And, again, it’s subtle enough that it took narrating the text to notice it. I didn’t notice it the half dozen times I read the stories in my head or the one time the computer read it out loud. But when narrated for audio? By me? Oh, yeah. It was there.

So. If you have a story that feels off somehow and you can’t figure out why, try narrating it. Read it aloud, not in a monotone, but as a narrator. As the person telling the story. I expect you’ll find little blips like that if you do so.

It’s also good for dialogue if you’re trying to make sure it sounds like what a character would say.

That fast-speaking character probably isn’t giving one-word answers all the time. And the gruff and reserved guy probably isn’t going to talk for half a page. If you put yourself in the shoes of those characters and try to say what they’re saying on the page, you’ll get that in a way that reading in your head doesn’t do.

Past Breakeven on Old Audio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, lessons?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who Are You and What Do You Want?

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then…

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

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

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

Some Writerly Thoughts 20230224

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I think readers need a “why”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Random Thoughts and Comments 20230219

I submitted another of the cozy audiobooks for approval the other day so I’m back to the “what next” stage where I read a few books and fiddle with numbers before launching into the next project. This always generates random thoughts about various things.


First, it occurred to me the other day after I wrote that post about my pre-writing career progression versus writing that maybe that “job” mindset could be useful when applied to writing.

Years ago I remember a woman on Kboards who had done well enough with YA romcoms who decided she was going to move into a completely new genre. And at the time I thought, “why?” because she was doing better than most people there at the time.

But just like sometimes people need to move to new jobs to get better opportunities or pay or challenge, sometimes authors need to think about “quitting” their current writer job and moving to a new one.

I know more than one author who started writing one thing and moved to another over time and did better at the second genre or topic. A friend of mine had been trying to juggle two very different pen names the last couple years but realized that it was time to let go of that older name and just focus on the new one that was doing so much better.

As writers we (universal we, not me particularly) have a fan base that would like us to keep doing the exact same thing we’ve been doing. But that’s really no different in a sense from an employer who would really like you to keep working for them. I guess the only difference is the employer accepts that you moved on to something new, whereas the fans send the occasional “when’s the next book coming out” email.

And, of course, with writing someone can circle back to an old series twenty-plus years later. So in writing no door is ever permanently closed. (Not even when an author dies, really, as evidenced by all the names that have been continued by ghost writers or co-writers.)

But it seems to me that maybe writers should be better at letting go of what doesn’t work.

In a sense I’ve done some of that. Three of my pen names are basically dead. The content is still out there but I don’t advertise them at all. Occasionally I might do a new cover, but that’s more the fun of doing covers than anything. I also did do some short audio on two of them last year as a build up to doing the full-length novels.

They bring in a trickle of money, about $500 in profit last year, but at some point I decided that my time was better spent moving forward than trying to bring everything I’d ever written along with me. There are only so many hours in a day and letting go of things is as important as choosing where to go next.

The other thought I had was around burnout. A few years back I became a Gallup-certified Strengths coach because I found Strengths so incredibly valuable in helping me understand myself that I wanted to know ALL THE THINGS about Strengths. (I could’ve saved myself a substantial amount of money if I’d realized the coaching packet could be ordered without taking the very expensive class, but, well, there you have it.)

Anyway. Every year they have some special sessions for the coaches and one of the sessions this year revolved around burnout. I think they’ll be publishing those findings in early March to the public, so definitely keep an eye out for that.

But what was interesting to me listening to that talk was comparing my writing life to my pre-writing life. I am an Achiever with high Responsibility so I don’t actually burn out from having too much to do. I burn out when I can’t get things done because of politics or bureaucracy. Or when someone is indecisive so the goal posts keep shifting.

Set me a target and I will get it done. But don’t tell me the target is A on Monday, B on Wednesday, and C on Friday because I will glare daggers at you for not knowing your shit.

One of the things I thought about, though, listening to that talk was how many writers I do know burned out in the last five years. Because they were full-bore ahead, cranking out a novel a month in a popular genre that maybe wasn’t a natural fit for them.

I can’t count the number of authors I knew five years ago who’d say, “well, I’m writing X because it sells but someday I’d really like to write my true passion, Y”. It was all over the place back then.

I think sometimes it isn’t the career that’s the issue when it comes to burnout, it’s how we approach the career that drives it. Or it’s the specific employer. Or department. Or manager.

There has to be an alignment between the person and the role. I know some writers who absolutely revel in writing spicy stuff so high-heat romance is a perfect niche for them. It would not be for me. And if I tried to force myself into that box to make money I would eventually burn out.

So if someone out there is feeling burnout, figure out what it is about the current set-up you’re in that’s driving that and see if you can fix it. It doesn’t have to mean walking away entirely.

(I have a few friends in non-supportive marriages with young kids and high-powered jobs who really can’t fix things so much as endure until the kids get older. So sometimes there is no short-term fix. But oftentimes there is one if you step back and think about it.)

That was one of the interesting lessons of that burnout talk. For executing-type folks, their default for dealing with stress is to just dive into the work or exercise. And it does help.

I think it was the influencing-types whose default was to spend time with friends and family. And again, it helps.

But for both they would be better off sitting down and thinking about the situation and how to improve it.

(Don’t quote me on that, by the way. I may be slightly off in how I interpreted that presentation. I just remember walking away with the idea that people would be better served taking a bit of time and thinking through how to better address their situation.)

Finally, I continually circle around this notion that the world, at least the one I live in, has the wrong focus and priorities and it makes things worse for so many. But that to reset that would be highly destructive and disruptive for probably fifty or more years.

So what do we do? Go on squeezing more and more people to the breaking point while a very small number live very good lives?

It’s the constant issue. People choose not to experience short-term pain or suffering only to ultimately choose even more pain and suffering long-term as a result. Because ultimately we’re all tied together.

Also, I think very few people actually see what can be versus what is. Strategic is theoretically one of the top five Strengths around the world, but…hm. I don’t know.

Then again, there is a vast difference between saying, “this is the top way in which you can be successful out of 34 choices” and saying “you are the strongest person at this way of seeing or approaching the world.”

Kind of like the difference between “your best feature is your eyes” and “you have the most beautiful eyes of anyone I’ve ever met.” Yeah?

Anyway. I’m off to probably not be productive. Then again, it’s Sunday here so that’s probably an okay thing all in all. Although it pains my Achiever soul nonetheless. Haha.

New Releases and Random Thoughts

First up. The Word 365 titles are out. Main titles are Word 365 for Beginners and Intermediate Word 365. Available in ebook on all major retailers as well as libraries and in print on Amazon right now but making their way to all the other places, too. (IngramSpark doesn’t approve print books on the weekend so hopefully I can review and finalize today.)

The spin-off titles for that series are also making their way to all the sites. Those would be Text Formatting, Page Formatting, Lists, Tables, Styles & Breaks, and Track Changes. Reminder that it’s a better deal to buy the main books than each of those individual titles since those individual titles are just extracts from the larger books. But if you just have that one area you want to learn about, then they’re a good choice.

Now for the writerly thoughts…

I tried to publish direct with Apple again with the main Word books but then just gave it up when I published the spin-offs. Too much effort and headache for too little extra reward. The spin-off titles were live within 12 hours, the main ones took three days. So going direct actually took longer. And because of the mess that is their pricing page those books are available in fewer countries, too.

Every single release makes me think about the issues of Amazon versus wide. Because if you’re wide the level of effort involved in any release is at least double and usually much more than that. I publish to Amazon in ebook and paperback, Ingramspark in paperback (and sometimes hard cover), D2D in ebook, Kobo in ebook, Nook in ebook, and Google in ebook.

That’s six times the effort. But not six times the results. Despite being wide I still am probably 75-85% Amazon revenue.

So why be wide? (Aside from not wanting to help them create a monopoly that will then be turned against authors to suck every penny from them. If you haven’t read that Doctorow article about the enshittification of TikTok, do so.)

One of the main reasons is because Amazon is very trigger-happy sometimes. I’m seeing mentions this week that a number of authors have had their accounts suspended because they’re in KU, so required to be exclusive, but their books have been pirated and posted elsewhere.

Instead of noting that pirate sites are largely out of an author’s control (because they don’t really care all that much about takedown notices, seeing as they’re thieves to begin with) Amazon just went after those authors.

It’s scary to put your entire livelihood in the hands of a company that runs largely on bots and cheap foreign labor. (No offense meant to that overseas labor. They try but employees can only do what they can do. And when you’re a cheap, replaceable cog in a voracious machine designed to chew everyone up and spit them out when they’ve lost value, well…you aren’t exactly empowered to be a problem solver.)

I should thank the person who reviewed my print books, though, because they caught a typo for me on one of my covers. (Reminder that being self-employed means the incompetent employee that made that stupid mistake is always you.)

So exclusivity just makes me twitchy.

I wish readers would turn to libraries or Kobo Plus or Scribd instead, but they don’t. They just see convenience instead of the long-term harm.

And KU is a big market to not have access to. At this point the fact that it can only be accessed by authors who are exclusive to Amazon is wrong. The biggest player in the industry wants to increase their dominance even more and they’re allowed to do so with impunity.

So authors take the hits on both sides of it. If you’re exclusive you know that you can lose your entire livelihood at any time Amazon makes a decision against you. If you’re not exclusive you suffer from lack of visibility on the biggest sales platform because of how Amazon treats KU titles in its rankings and you give up access to a pretty decent chunk of the ebook market at the same time.

It would be nice if the regulatory authorities would step in on any of this, but I have no hope for that at this point. They should. But they won’t.

The other writing-related thought I had yesterday was about Jim Croce. I don’t know if anyone is familiar with his music, but he’s one of my all-time favorites. I’m a very lyric-driven listener and he has some of the best lyrics out there, IMO.

The song I was listening to yesterday is called Age. I’d link to it on YouTube but I don’t see an official channel for him and I try not to link to channels that look like they’re set up to make money off of someone else’s content.

But look up the lyrics at least, they’re very good.

Why I’m writing about him here, though, is because I looked him up on Wikipedia. I knew he’d died young but couldn’t remember how young or what killed him. (Plane crash at the age of 30).

What caught my attention though was the mention at the very end of the career section that he’d written a letter to his wife that she received after his death where he’d decided to quit music and stick to writing short stories and movie scripts.

Here was a man who I would argue is one of the best singer-songwriters of the past century and he had not, while he was alive, found financial success or acclaim.

He’d already written and recorded some of the most timeless classics in music. And yet…He was going to quit.

He’d already done the work. But it hadn’t found success yet.

Now, would the world have discovered him if he hadn’t died tragically? I don’t know. We have this weird thing with music where someone dies and suddenly their music charts. So maybe if he hadn’t died he would’ve gone home and raised his son and written movie scripts and a few diehard fans would’ve listened to his songs but he wouldn’t have achieved the level of fame he did.

It’s scary, though, to think that someone that good was going to quit.

Of course, just because he had written works of genius that hadn’t found their moment yet doesn’t mean anyone else who’s thinking of quitting is in the same situation. Survivorship bias is real. We look at all the stories of “I persevered” and forget the Of Human Bondage flip-side where someone sacrifices everything for their art and fails miserably.

So I don’t know that his life is a “just keep going” lesson. But it’s something to think about.

Okay. Cozy audiobooks did well enough with libraries that I’m off to record number three. Once I update a million, zillion links for the new releases.

Writing Is Weird

Before I decided to focus exclusively on my writing, I had a number of jobs. Some were just those jobs you get when you’re in school and then I had a series of professional jobs.

I started my career in one location with a company and then transferred to another location and position with that same company. I then left that company for a new role related to the same industry. And then left that company with the idea I’d start my own completely unrelated business. Until I fell in love with New Zealand at which point starting my own business in the same field was the better choice. I did that for a while but then added the writing during my downtime between projects until I finally decided to just do the writing.

Each of those pivots was just a normal part of the process of having a career. You work in a role for a while and then move on (hopefully upward) to a new role.

Never once when I was thinking of changing to a new position did I think that I had failed at the prior position, even when I was thinking of going into a completely different field.

Maybe because I hadn’t. Each time I moved in my professional career it was my choice to do so. I was giving notice to that employer or client that it was time for me to move on to the next opportunity.

For the most part I enjoyed what I did, but I always wanted growth and new challenges. I’m not a person who settles into a good-enough job for forty years. (Bless those who do, they’re smarter than I am in many ways.)

But with writing, every time I think of moving on from it, it feels like doing so would be a failure. I think maybe because writing can be anything you want to make it. There is no outgrowing being a writer. It’s always going to have unexplored directions to take.

And so not finding a direction to take that’s financially rewarding enough to stick with it, feels like failure. At this point in time I have accomplished a tremendous amount with my writing. I have a six-foot bookcase with all of my books on it and have written more books than most people who aspire to be writers will write in a lifetime.

Setting aside money and profitability, all the ebooks, print books, video courses, and audiobooks that I’ve created is something to be proud of.

But because writing (at least when you decide to publish) is also entrepreneurship, there’s always also that profitability side to it.

Is this business a going concern? Does it pay its bills? And if the answer to that is “no” then it feels like failure. Because other people pay their bills with it, why aren’t you?

And to be fair, I have chosen to live somewhere more expensive than necessary in order to be near family. If I had chosen two years ago when I sold my house to move to Omaha, something I considered, I’d easily be earning enough from my writing right now to pay all my bills.

But I didn’t.

Also, I don’t know that I’d be happy with my writing right now even if I’d done that. Because the other big difference between a career and entrepreneurship is that–in general, assuming you don’t have a setback–in a corporate-type career you steadily increase your income over time. You either get raises or promotions or move to newer jobs that pay more.

But with most entrepreneurship, including writing, you have up years and down years. It is not a steady progression.

Jim C. Hines has been sharing his annual writing income for years. And you can see that it’s not some nice, steady thing.

Here’s mine:

For a while there it was a steady upward progression. Which let me pretend that this isn’t a highly uncertain business with unforeseen pitfalls.

And if that plateau that you see there were high enough, I’d say, well, that’s okay. You have good years and bad years. As long as it stays above the support level you need, it’s fine.

I have a writer friend, for example, who had a 25% drop in revenues last year. But I’m pretty sure that friend was dropping from somewhere in the $300K range of revenue, so had plenty of remaining income.

Yeah, it sucks to lose $75K in revenue in a year, but when you still have $225K to live on, you can probably make that work, you know.

But when you are still trying to build to a good support level and you level out…And you look at trends in the market and they aren’t favorable…

If it were a simple job, you’d walk away. Hey, my employer is probably going to start cutting staff soon, good time to jump somewhere new. Yeah, sure, you miss the work or the co-workers. Or you regret that the company didn’t succeed. But you make the smart choice.

Writing, though…Even though the very large majority of writers never make much money from it, there’s still this relentless message that you need to stick with it. Even when you can’t think of new ideas, like another writer friend of mine. It’s like it becomes an identity that you can only claim if you’re actively pursuing it.

Skydiving is that way, too. Get past a fun tandem or two and you’re not just someone who occasionally likes to jump out of planes, you’re a skydiver. And if you stop jumping, you sacrifice that identity. And that community.

I don’t know. It’s weird. And something I probably should stop thinking so much about because I’d be better off writing. Or, in the case of what I need to do today, creating six paperbacks that will release sometime in the next week to accompany the two I hit publish on yesterday. But more on that in a day or two when all the sites shake out.

Until then. Enjoy your weekend.

Random Thoughts and Comments 20230119

I’m amazed that there are people out there who have no internal dialogue. Their minds are just blank when they’re sitting there not interacting and I find that both disturbing and fascinating, because my mind is never turned off.

So, without further ado. Some random thoughts and comments.

I am increasingly disappointed by the poor decision-making at Amazon with respect to books.

The other day I went to Amazon and there were no also-boughts listed on my book pages. None.

It’s quite possible it’s been this way for a while. I certainly know they were pushed down to the bottom of the page at one point in time.

One of the reasons this is bad is because it hides the scammers. It used to be that I could look at an Excel book and see its also-boughts and if all the also-boughts on a computer book were cooking books about Keto diets, I could pretty much guarantee you that the book was in KU, listed in obscure categories, and probably getting all its money from page reads out of a click farm somewhere.

Another reason is because also-boughts let readers see what others books I had that might interest them. The also boughts on my Excel books often had my Word, PowerPoint, and Access books, too.

I think this does really fall apart for the big-name or prolific authors like Nora Roberts or Stephen King because all of their also-boughts for ten pages are them. But that could’ve been controlled for by showing one page of same-author also-boughts and then showing other authors after that first page of results.

Finally, in the past also-boughts let me see for my fiction books what other authors people who bought my books were buying. That let me know if I had a branding or marketing issue (if my also-boughts didn’t line up with my type of book). But it also let me know who to advertise to with my AMS ads. If Author X’s readers like my books, then I should use Author X as a keyword.

Now it feels like both readers and authors are flying blind there. All they get is ads that may or may not have anything to do with that book.

Amazon seem to be falling apart in other ways as well.

I think I mentioned it before but I’m pretty sure they changed the way that they determine a broad category match on AMS ads, because this last six months for me running broad category match keywords has been a game of whack-a-mole where I luck into someone clicking on my completely inappropriate ad which then lets me know that AMS is showing my book about Microsoft Excel to people searching for makeup and blade saws.

I think before there was some effort to restrict matches to the same general type of product (although maybe not, back in the day I advertised my budgeting book towards people buying high-end TVs) but it feels like the wheels are completely off these days.

Maybe that’s just me.

I’d rather see it where people could direct ads like that using ASINs but where broad category matches were directed to at least products in the same general lane. So my Excel book keywords would direct to other computer books and computer software, not frickin’ makeup.

And don’t even get me started on trying to advertise Access books that suddenly are being put in front of people who want disability access aids. I’m not trying to be that asshole, but Amazon is making it look like I am. It’s a waste of my money and shoppers’ time and energy.

With these types of missteps I think it would be wise for anyone who relies primarily on Amazon to start making a Plan B.

Because they may be the ones who choke off the effectiveness of KDP with their poor decision-making, but when it gets to the point that they decide it’s not a “core business” that’s “worth keeping” we’ll all pay that cost in brutal ways.

If you haven’t been paying attention, they seem to be in a cutting mode right now. Peripheral stuff at the moment like Amazon Smile (which, dude, if you really cared about giving to charity would’ve just been a default thing instead of forcing people to remember to go to a different website each time they ordered) and whatever the subscription program they ran for magazines was and I think I’ve seen at least one or two other programs cut recently.

They are headed in the direction of efficiencies and profit maximization, which means get ready to get screwed as things become less workable for anyone except top execs and shareholders.

(There are days when I think about what I learned at Wharton and how it drives towards a long-term outcome that is net negative for all but a handful of people and just shake my head that I spent time absorbing that crap, but that’s the world we exist in right now. Do you hate the coach when they tell you what it takes to win? Or do you hate the game? And if you do hate the game, do you still play? What other choice is there?)

I’m also keeping a wary eye on all the AI developments because they mean that online identity is going to become even more nebulous than ever.

And there will be significant impacts on writers, audio narrators, and artists.

It’s funny, people used to refer to self-publishing as a “tsunami of crap”. What does that make what we’re going to be seeing from AI-generated projects in the next five years?

As a reader, when that stuff starts to flood the market and I can’t tell the difference between a book worth my $8 and one that isn’t because the packaging will be slick but the content won’t be enjoyable, I’ll probably be even more likely to stick to physical books that come from larger publishers. I won’t be the only one.

Expect those with solid name recognition to weather this well, but new names or unestablished ones to falter.

Then again, I’m also not a whale reader who reads five books a day that the current ghost writing, churn and burn marketers target, so maybe for that reader the new flood won’t be any different to them.

But visibility with that many more titles out there will be almost impossible I think.

Sorry I seem all gloom and doom these days, but I do think there are some seismic shifts coming in the next five years.

Which reminds me there was a good Twitter thread by author Matt Wallace recently. He’s trade-published, but still a good discussion of the ups and downs of this business and need to regroup and readjust multiple times if you choose to keep going. And how really it all comes down to you making that choice.

There were some good spin-off threads based on that one, too. I bookmarked this one by Marshall Ryan Maresca and this one by Ursula Vernon who also writes as T. Kingfisher. Hers was more of a spin-off of her spin-off which discusses what it really means money-wise to sell a million copies.

Speaking of sales numbers, I think I hit 90K paid copies sold as of November and $300K in revenue, which seem like good numbers, right? But they’re really not. Not when rents have more than doubled in my area in ten years and health care cost has tripled.

Yesterday I added the audiobook of Sell That Book to my YouTube page. I wrote that at around 50K sales, but I think the advice in there is still solid. (If I did it right any subscribers to the channel only received one email about it, but the whole book is up there.)

It was actually when I was narrating the audio for this book that I thought about putting up a YouTube channel. Because I had two chapters I wanted to share with anyone who’d listen.

One, was this one on when to quit trying to trade publish and self-publish. (Answer, never if it’s just because you gave up on ever getting trade published.)

The other was the very next chapter which is basically, why wouldn’t you self-publish if that’s the only way to fulfill the dream of getting your book out into the world:

Anyway, those are my publishing-related thoughts for the day.

I’m currently reading a series of books that are really good in the sense that I can devour one of the books in the space of a day or two and want the next one, but at the same time it’s funny to me because there are parts of these books that I absolutely do not like.

They’re a type of fantasy book that is not normally what I seek out, but I like the larger story in these books so I keep reading them.

Thinking as a writer, though, after reading about a dozen of these books there are some little author quirks that have become very obvious.

This author has a go-to phrase they use during sex scenes in every, single, book. Which when you read an author as they release a book once a year isn’t something you notice, but when you read six books by them in a week is.

It’s a reminder that series books have to work standalone because it can be years between when someone reads books in a series, but they also have to work when read in quick sequence. That’s a tricky balance to find. Both in terms of what information is presented and when, and in terms of repetitive phrasing.

Also, I read these books out of order. I read a later series of books first and then circled back to the first series of related books.

I don’t think I would’ve read as many books by this author if I’d started with the first book in the first series and read from there forward.

The reason is because of the characterization. These books include three different groups of characters that are very distinct in their supposed traits. So I would expect a wide variety of relationship types when characters get together.

And yet…all of the sexual relationships between all of the characters, no matter what group they belong to, are identical. Ultra-possessive and involving certain physical acts that I’m pretty sure aren’t the norm for most people…

This was understandable in the first six books or so because of the focus on one of those groups, but then it went right on to include the other two groups, too.

If I were reading in order I would’ve walked away at that point.

As a writer I think that’s a lesson that sometimes what you think people like about your stories is not what they like about them. And, also, to stop sometimes and ask yourself if the world you’ve built would really work that way or not.

In randomly related news, I just finished reading The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker, which I thought was a very good book. (Non-fiction.)

It’s also a reminder that in real life when a man is ultra-possessive and pushes the timeline on a relationship, that’s a very bad sign. (p. 199 in my copy) As is intense possessiveness and jealousy.

I think the fiction books I was talking about above just barely stay on the right side of that line, but I can see how someone could read one of those books and think they want that kind of intense, ride or die, lifelong connection with someone and then find themselves in a controlling, dangerous relationship where they’re at risk of being killed if they leave.

If you’re a single woman learn the real-world red flags for that type of situation. Because if you get into that type of situation, it’s often already too late to get out safely.