New Release Misstep

I received an email today from a writer friend who had just published their first novel on Amazon. And the email was basically asking friends and family to buy the novel and leave a review.

Which sounds like a great idea for a new release, right? Get some sales and some reviews.

Except, especially on Amazon, that can be the kiss of death. Because Amazon is all about the algorithms. What is this book you have published and who can I shove it in front of to generate sales?

And the problem with having friends and family be the first people who buy your book is that it’s very confusing to those algos. Because your middle grade fantasy is being bought by someone who reads 90% mystery and also by someone who reads 85% non-fiction and by someone else who reads gritty books across fantasy, sci fi, horror, and mystery. So what reader can Amazon find that fits all those categories?

None.

Now, granted, I myself have made this mistake. Because who wants to publish a book and have no sales? So you tell people about it. And because they like you (hopefully) they buy it even though they may never actually read it and generally don’t read things like it as a general rule.

Which means you end up trying to swim against the current to get to your actual audience. And you don’t have a lot of time to do it in because Amazon is relentless with its 30-day, 60-day, 90-day cliffs. It’s an environment where your book either proves itself or it sinks. Fast.

Better is to not tell friends and family about your new release until your also-boughts have populated. Also-boughts that you have hopefully helped craft via advertising towards your actual target audience, so that when those friends and family come by to show their support Amazon already knows what you’re selling and who it will sell to.

It’s a bit counterintuitive to a lot of businesses. When I was a broker you were encouraged to find friends and family members who’d invest with you first and then move out from there as you did well and got word of mouth. Lots of businesses are built that way. But books don’t work quite the same. Because people will pay a dollar or five for a book but it does you no good if that sale doesn’t help build towards more readers. Better to have people share links on your behalf with people they know who might be your target audience and hope those people buy it.

Anyway. Something to think about for the brand new author with no established audience.

 

 

Too Lazy

I was thinking yesterday about how I’m too lazy to ever actually succeed at the traditional publishing route. Which is ironic given the amount of additional effort that self-publishing requires. But in a sense I’m also lazy there, too.

I’ve determined it’s because I’m missing the “please like me” gene.

Let me explain.

This week I redid over twenty covers for my short stories and loaded them to five different distributor sites. This was for two pen names so once I had the basic template in place it was relatively easy to create each of the covers, but it was still probably a day or two of design work and a full day of updating and uploading the files.

I had recently bought Affinity and wanted to experiment with it and also have bought over the last year a large, large number of fonts through Design Cuts’ bundles as well as a few fonts that were just really nice, fancy ones.

And it was time to level-up those covers.

When I did the speculative fiction covers, I also decided I’d go ahead and publish a couple short stories that have been moldering away on my hard drive and were doing no good there.

This is where it gets back to that laziness. Because one of the stories (The Taste of Memory) was a semi-finalist sometime recently in the Writers of the Future contest. That means it was top 16 in that quarter’s entries. And the critique I got back on it was essentially you could tweak this one thing, but this story should be sellable as is.

So I sent it out to a handful of pro-paying markets, I think maybe five of them. And then I lost interest and just let it sit.

Because I’d done the part that interested me–I’d written my story and explored the nature of memory and the creative process and how much trauma plays into that. That’s what I cared about, personally.

Which meant that all that was left was to put in a bunch of effort trying to find someone who’d like it enough to pay me for it. And that’s…boring to me.

I know other authors who write to be read. They get their satisfaction from others reading and liking what they’ve done. But that’s not me. I’m missing that gene. I’m like, “Oh, you don’t like it or me? Okay. Whatever.”

So after a little bit of effort to see that the story wasn’t going to sell to one of the top markets, I moved on.

Which is not how you succeed in this business, by the way. If you want to break in with short stories you have to write a story and keep that story going from one market to the next to the next to the next until someone buys it. And while you’re waiting you just keep cranking out new stories.

It can take years for one story to sell. (I once had an almost sale with The Bearer and I want to say that Tor.com held onto it for over six months. Six months for that one submission to finally get a no. Have a few of those on the same story and, yeah, years. I got great personal rejections on The Bearer, but after a while I was just bored with sending it out again.)

But that’s what you’re supposed to do. Keep sending it out until it sells. That’s how the game is played. You keep submitting until someone says yes.

Same with queries, right? You’re supposed to query something like a hundred agents before you give up on that particular novel. And then you write the next novel and do it all again. And again. And again until someone says yes.

(Dating works that way, too, by the way. But this post isn’t about dating.)

It turns out I’m just too lazy to deal with all of that. So I self-publish. Where the work is ten times as hard. And, really, you’re having to pursue the same sort of “do you like it” thing that you do with traditional publishing, but you just do it with advertising instead.

It’s crazy. And honestly it’s a miracle I’ve made any money at this thing given where my particular laziness lies…

So anyway. Look at some of my pretty new short story covers:

In Search of a Hero7 small  The Taste of Memory small  The Bearer5 small

Puppy Love Holiday Surprise small  Puppy Love Volumes 1 to 13 small

(That now won’t sell because I did the fun part already and am now going to move on to something else like writing a new novel instead of doing anything more to promote them. Hahaha. Sigh.)

 

Good Advice from PCW

It’s been a while since I reminded people that they should be following Patricia C. Wrede’s blog because she gives some excellent writing advice every Wednesday. This week’s post is, in my opinion, a must-read for any author who has ever found themselves stuck or dissatisfied with what they were writing:

Making It Harder Than It Needs To Be

Basically the advice is trust your gut and write what you want to write in the way you want to write it.

I spent a year writing short stories early on because some agent told me they could never sell my novel to the Big 5 if I didn’t have short story credits first. I’m not one for reading short stories and am more naturally inclined towards novel-length ideas and character development so it was a complete change for me.

I didn’t do bad at it (I ended up with some nice personal rejections from some big markets) but man I wish I’d just kept writing novels instead.

Every author probably has something like that. Being told you should plot when you’re a pantser. Or pants when you’re a plotter. Or being told what to write, when to write, or how to write it.

The truth is you need to follow your gut and do what moves you forward and makes it enjoyable for you. Life is too short to not live it in the best way for you.

Also, if you’re looking for a good book about being a writer or living a creative life, I just finished and really liked Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. It was excellent in a number of ways, but I think each writer will probably take very different things from it depending on their own experiences. Well worth the $10 Amazon is currently charging for the paperback.

Nine Years

Nine years ago today I decided to try to write my first novel and get it published. My goal at the time was to be traditionally published, so I wrote that novel and queried it and found out I should write short stories so did that for a bit and submitted those and got some “send more”/”almost there” type of rejections before I turned back to novels which is what I really wanted to write. And I attended some conferences here or there.

And then I wrote a non-fiction book that I had no hope of getting published through a publisher because I had no platform and no reason that I had written that book other than having a very strong opinion about the matter. So I self-published it. And I self-published some of those rejected short stories.

My results were…underwhelming.

My covers were horrible, SFF short stories are not where the money is in self-publishing, and then I got derailed by taking a consulting project that kept me from writing for eight months. (But did pay very well and let me qualify for the mortgage on my current house.)

After that project, I gave it another try.

I got sucked into the “just write a bunch of short sexy stories” thing that was going around at the time. Those did sell better. The billionaire story I wrote in one day on a whim sold the best. So I went ahead and threw the romance novel I’d written as therapy up and it sold well (for me at the time), too.

But I didn’t follow-up well on those little nibbles of success. It took me three more years to write a follow-up to the romance novel.

I kept throwing whatever I thought of at the wall. Lots of it failed because I was still writing short stories and non-fiction not many people wanted.

Then I realized I didn’t want to go back to consulting so I finally published one of my fantasy novels with a gorgeous cover and real advertising spend behind it.

The results were…not so good. It was depressing. I’d finally done what everyone said to do and no one wanted my book. (I did launch at full price which didn’t help, but still. I’d bought a pretty cover! I’d paid for ads!)

I kept pushing, though. I kept trying.

I eventually finished the trilogy, but it took me a year to get out each of the other two titles which was not good.

Then I went to a writing workshop and let it get in my head. Was my writing too emotional? Too angsty? Was it too cliched? Me and my European settings and white people. (Although the first series was actually neither of those things. But when you let the doubt creep in…)

So I turned to non-fiction. And saw some success. Not immediately. Four months after publication a couple of those titles took off. And they’ve sold steadily for three-plus years now.

I added what I could to extend that success. Some of it worked, some of it didn’t.

Rather than go back to fantasy, I branched out into cozy mystery. I still wanted to do well with fiction and I had a contemporary story idea I thought would work. I also promoted the fantasy trilogy that hadn’t done well initially and finally got it profitable. Ironically the year I priced it at $7.99 per title was my best year profit-wise for that title. But that could be in part thanks to a Bookbub feature.

And so now here I am. Thirteen novels later, eleven of those still published. Too many short stories to count. Too many non-fiction titles to count. Nine years in. 2.65 million words written. 2,800 hours spent writing/editing. Over $150K in revenue. Over $70K in profit.

I’m proud of where I am, but I’m still a hot mess.

Do the math on those numbers and you’ll find that I only spend about six hours a week on writing/editing, which is pathetically low for someone who does this full-time. (And probably a good part of the reason I’m not further along with this whole thing. That and splitting my efforts in so many different directions.)

My top-earning pen name has almost 600K words of published material out and it’s 20x as profitable as the next-highest-earning pen name which only has 270K words published. For my top three pen names, profit and word count are in the exact same order. The one with the most published material is the one that’s made the most. The one with the second-most number of words has made the second-most, etc.

Number four breaks that pattern, but it’s also my only written-to-market pen name.

I know what I need to do. I need to focus better and produce more work. More cozies, more fantasy novels. New material that leads back to what I’ve already done. Without a deep enough bench of material it’s hard to advertise effectively.

I’ve never done a 99 cent promo on the boxset of my fantasy trilogy because there’s nowhere for those readers to go after that. Also, I know that the more related titles someone has, the better able they are to make a profit off of ads on a first book. Assuming they write well enough to pull people through the entire series that is.

I looked a few years ago and figured it would take 8-12 novels to really be firmly established in a genre. I have 3 fantasies and 6 cozies. I need at least double what I already have for both.

That’s what Year 10 is going to be about for me. Trying to fill that in. Trying to push myself to write enough that I can add a new fantasy trilogy and at least four more cozies to my catalog.

I have a few non-fiction titles I might add as well. Non-fiction writes easier for me than fiction because it’s just a data dump for the most part and not creation of something brand new. So non-fiction fits well between drafts or fiction projects. But my focus will be on the fiction.

I want to write/edit for 10 hours a week instead of 6. Or even 20 hours a week. Imagine that…

It’s not going to be easy. Internal motivation is not as easy to generate as the responsibility that comes with an external deadline. I can easily work sixty-plus hours for someone else, but not for myself.

I figure I have one more year to make this sustainable. I’m close. But I’m not there yet. Not unless I want to live in a dingy apartment with a bunch of weird roommates and eat canned tuna fish for every meal.

So. One more year. 500K more words. With focus.

Here we go. Wish me luck. Haha.

 

Data Analysis For Self-Publishers Now Live

I published a book yesterday. One I actually didn’t set out to write. What I wanted to do was quickly update the screenshots and text in Excel for Self-Publishers since I’d just gone through 600+ screenshot updates with my other books and I figured why not do it real quick and get it back out there.

Instead I ended up realizing that what I actually wanted out there was something more high-level that just dealt with the concepts of what data to look at as a self-publisher and how I use that data myself. (This is all in the introduction, by the way.)

Publishing this book shows that I don’t listen to my own analysis as often as I should. But this is my way of dealing with writer’s block. I get stuck on one idea so I do something else rather than just sit there and wait for inspiration to strike. Hence, the absurd number of non-fiction titles I have out at this point.

Anyway. The book is in KU and only $2.99 ebook instead of the normal $4.99 I’d charge. And the paperback whenever Amazon actually decides to show it as genuinely available will be $7.99.

So if this is something you need, enjoy. I will say that I published it yesterday and was already having mental debates with myself today about one of the things I said in there, so it’s not gospel truth, just one way of approaching things.

Also, I made the self-publishing/writing books I’d unpublished from the wide channels available on Payhip for anyone who comes looking for them because I ended up mentioning two of them in the book. You can go to https://payhip.com/mlhumphrey and then click on “Titles Removed from Wide Distribution” to find them.

Data Analysis for SP 20200522

A Few Random Thoughts

We’ll start with writing.

I’m taking a course on FB ads right now (by Skye Warren) that looks pretty good so far. It was hard to decide to spend that kind of money ($600 or so) but I figured I’m about at the point where I need to expand beyond using mostly AMS ads and I’ve been impressed by what she has to say over the last couple of years. Our mindset aligns on a lot of this.

But making the decision to spend that money is  part of one of the trickiest things you have to deal with in this business, which is knowing who to trust and when a big money spend makes sense.

There are a lot of people out there who charge a lot and don’t deliver. They may rank high but they’re doing so by buying that rank and you really don’t know up front that that’s what’s happening. (I took another class recently that wasn’t as expensive but where I suspect that was the case.)

I see so many people who’ve taken expensive classes later blame themselves for not being able to make it work when sometimes it was the instructor that was the actual problem. Maybe not deliberately, but sometimes they think they have it worked out when they don’t.

(I say this as I’m about to release a new book for self-publishers….Ah, irony. In so many respects.)

So I’m always nervous about a big spend like that, but sometimes you have to spend that big money to get to where you want to go. (This goes for covers and maybe editing, too, not just courses.) It’s a calculated risk.

One thing writing the new book and taking this class have reminded me of, though, is that at the end of the day what we have available to sell is what it is, which is very likely a flawed product in some respect.

(For newer writers it can be flawed in many respects. Maybe the writing isn’t there yet or it’s a genre mash-up that’s hard to advertise effectively or the cover isn’t what it needs to be or the blurb or the editing or…all of it. My first attempt at a romance novel the couple agreed at the end that they were better off as friends. Talk about violating genre expectations.)

So we can learn all these lessons about packaging and marketing and see that others had great results, but at the end of the day the book we wrote just can’t perform the way we need it to. We can bring readers in, but if the book doesn’t satisfy them then all that effort and expense is wasted.

Sometimes you can fix the book, but often you have to just let a project go and move on and do better the next time. Or lower your expectations. Know that this project isn’t going to be a top 100 title or a premium title or one that people shout about to their friends, but it may still be profitable for you…It may still pay those bills and have a loyal following.

Something to think about…


In non-writing news, I picked up my grandma yesterday and took her to see my mom. In these times something so simple is fraught with worry because they’re both at risk if they get this.

I’d been home except to walk the dog for ten days, my mom had been home for three weeks, my stepdad had been home for six days, and my grandma had been home for two months but with people dropping in probably more often than I’d like.

So there was risk. Ideally given what we know about disease spread none of us would’ve gone anywhere for fifteen days before we all got together. But it seemed like a manageable level of risk. And it was good to hug one another and share a meal.

But I do worry that my grandma took this as some weird sign that it’s now safe and okay to have people over or go to people’s houses. And that my mom and stepdad are now getting out more than they were before because somehow our state moving to a “safer at home” mode has changed things. (Nothing has changed, though. I think our governor just decided he couldn’t keep people at home much longer so he’d lighten restrictions rather than face insurrection.)

Hopefully we’ll see a seasonal dropoff with this thing and they will be relatively safe, but I suspect a lot of people will get caught out by this loosening of restrictions thinking that somehow the fundamental facts of the situation have changed. But as long as we have free movement across the country, and across the world to some degree, that’s not the case. It only takes one or two uncontrolled introduction events for things to flare right back up.

I’m lucky to work from home, but I worry about those who can’t. And I worry about some of the ridiculously stupid shit I see people say. (Nextdoor is a vision to behold in my area. Not to mention what I’ve seen elsewhere.) You’d think we could all agree on a set of objective facts, but it turns out that we actually believe different facts and I don’t know how you solve that when people don’t trust the methods used to determine those facts.

Anway. Life is weird right now.

For anyone looking for a good overview of the current understanding of SARS-CoV-2, Johns Hopkins has a Coursera course on contact tracing. The first week takes about an hour and is all about what’s known about the illness. (https://www.coursera.org/learn/covid-19-contact-tracing?edocomorp=covid-19-contact-tracing) You can take it for free and get a certificate, too. I thought it was worth the time.

And now back to editing…

50,000 Paid Sales

I realized just now that sometime in April I passed the 50,000 paid sales mark. It’s a lot less than a lot of people have hit, but it’s a helluva lot better than the 53 books I sold my first year of publishing.

So what changed? How did I go from just over 50 books sold in an entire year back when things were supposedly easier to almost 20,000 last year? And not at 99 cent price points either. Last year I averaged about $3 in revenue per unit sold.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again and again and again: What you’re publishing matters. All titles are not created the same. The market size isn’t the same, the price points aren’t the same, and your personal ability to deliver to that market is not going to be the same.

My first year of publishing I put out a handful of short stories and a couple non-fiction titles in an area where I had no established expertise.

With rare exceptions, short stories just do not sell as well or for as much as novels. If I were still only publishing short stories I do not think I’d have increased my sales all that much. It let me practice publishing, but if you’re writing short stories, and especially in SFF, you are much better off submitting to the SFF magazines and getting published that way.

I honestly am not even sure short stories as a lead magnet are all that worth it. I remember a few years back an author who got the rights back to a series and republished it and did really well doing so. I read their first book and enjoyed it, but when I then went and picked up their lead magnet I did not. If I had been a reader who found the lead magnet first I would’ve never read that series.

Personally I believe that short stories and novels are two different forms that require different skills and I’d argue that readers prefer one over the other most times and that most writers tend to do well at one given length but not at any length.

(I do think that can vary across genres. My mysteries naturally come in at 45K words, my fantasies come in around 90K, and my romances around 75K.)

What else changed?

I also learned more about marketing and covers.

My first covers were horrible. One might argue that my current covers aren’t amazing works of art, but I do think they get the job done. Those first covers…did not.

But I kept trying until I got something that did work. I didn’t just quit right away. Or leave it as is.

It’s also scary to look back and realize that I didn’t spend any money on advertising until fifteen months after I’d published my first title. Maybe that was a good thing because, like I mentioned, the covers weren’t where they needed to be. So I may have been throwing money away if I’d tried to advertise early on.

Then again, back then there was a lot less expectation of quality covers.

When I did finally start to spend on advertising, I would argue I didn’t initially spend my money on “good” advertising. Some options, like AMS, simply didn’t exist back then. But I was also cheap. So the list-based advertisers I used were not the best. When you are only willing to pay $5-$20 for a promo you’re going to get what you pay for and it’s not going to be a whole lot of anything.

These days I primarily spend on AMS because I can advertise full-price books that way. But if I can get a Bookbub feature or a Kobo promotion I’m all for that, too. With a Bookbub feature I’ll add in Facebook and Bookbub click ads. I’ll also run the occasional other promo with a well-regarded advertiser like Freebooksy/Bargainbooksy.

There are still many flaws in how I approach all of this. And I pay for those flaws. I am not doing as well as I could be. I know enough now to know what I do wrong (for the most part, there’s probably more I don’t know I do wrong yet) but I’ve had to accept that I am not going to be that perfect book-producing machine.

The way to maximize your performance is to test things out until you find what you’re good at or good enough at and then to keep producing in that one area.

And ideally to find something you’re good at that can support that continuous production. That’s why genre fiction is such a good choice. Fantasy, mystery, romance. Any of those will work if you’re giving the readers what they want. Do so consistently and frequently enough and back it up with promotion and good packaging and you’re on your way.

I do think it’s the rare author that can actually do all of that, though. They’re out there, don’t get me wrong. There are hundreds of authors making six figures each year who manage to do that. Who produce a product people want, do so on a good consistent schedule, get it in front of that audience so they know it exists, and package it in a way that appeals to that audience.

But there are probably tens of thousands of authors who don’t do that and never will. And I probably fall on the upper end of that group of tens of thousands.

So am I pleased with where I am?

Yes and no.

I’m glad I’ve improved as much as I have. (I wouldn’t still be doing this if I hadn’t. There’s a difference between having faith in yourself and being blindly foolish about something. I’ve put in enough time and effort to expect improvement year over year.)

And my profit per month is now at a point where I could live on it if I weren’t extravagant in how I chose to live or if I lived somewhere cheap. But I want to be a little extravagant, so I’m not where I personally want to be yet.

(I don’t really want to get back to my consulting-level income, though. I don’t honestly need that kind of income and it creates weird barriers with the people in my life who matter to me. Plus, it’s easy to become a jackass when you’re making a lot of money or maybe that’s just me.)

Also, it frustrates my ego that I’m not doing better on the fiction side. I get good reviews but I haven’t cracked the launch and marketing combination to get the sales I want on that side of things.

I may never crack it, honestly. I have a love/hate relationship with getting attention for my work and I don’t think there’s a way to get to where I want to with sales that doesn’t involve developing a fan base which comes with headaches I really don’t want.

So, anyway. That’s me. Big milestone-yay. Not where I want to be yet-boo. Still going to carry on for the time being because working at home with my dog and not having to deal with office politics is my personal idea of bliss.

 

 

 

 

Random Publishing Thoughts

For any of the writers/publishers who follow this blog I imagine that my focus on other issues recently has been a bit disappointing, so let me see if I can share some writing and publishing thoughts that may be of help to someone else.

I spent the last month(?) updating my print book covers as well as my interior files that had screenshots. It was one of those situations of you don’t know what you don’t know and when you figure out what you didn’t know feeling compelled to fix it. In this case there were at least four different issues I needed to figure out and the cover and interior issues were not the same ones.

Of course, knowing it in the first place would’ve saved a lot of effort, but that’s the journey of self-publishing. You try your best, you learn that your best isn’t the best possible, you level-up, try your best again, learn that it still isn’t the best possible, and so on and so on forever. And most of what you realize wasn’t the best is stuff that the average person on the street won’t even have noticed or if they did notice won’t have been able to actually describe to you.


For me personally there was a month there where I saw a big dip in sales/revenues because of Amazon and how they chose to handle print books. That seems to have resolved itself although IngramSpark is now reporting printing delays of up to two weeks. And turns out with IS if there’s a pending print order for a book of yours you can’t update it, which is annoying since I submitted updated files for each series at the same time but some books are through and approved with new files and others still are not after almost two weeks. But what are you gonna do? Old processes, new situations, they don’t always work well together.


In the world of AMS ads, I’m pretty pleased. I can’t check AMS spend from a year ago but I’d say that I’m probably spending less on ads right now than I was then but getting a better return on them. Also I think cost per click is down for me from a year ago. Keep in mind that’s very much dependent on what you’re advertising so that may not be true in genres like romance. But it seems to me there was a lot of stupid money in the ads last year that has since gone elsewhere. (Probably Bookbub ads or it seems a lot of folks have circled back to FB ads if public comments are any indicator.)

I have two ads that have generated more than $20K each in sales, so I’m still a big proponent of getting a good ad going and then keeping it alive as long as I possibly can.


David Gaughran posted on his blog recently that there’s now a portal for Apple for uploading books via a PC so you no longer need a Mac to go direct. I used the portal today to update three books and it looks like it worked. No idea why Apple didn’t tell anyone about it yet, but that’s how it goes it seems. Nice thing is that it makes it clear you have to provide your cover with each update even if it’s not changing which I didn’t realize the first time I updated an interior file on Apple.

The last page of the update process acts a little weird if you didn’t have an ISBN, but clicking on the help icon for that field seemed to address the issue for me. And there was no clear easy way to update a second book without going through the whole navigation process again but I assume they’ll smooth out the bugs over time. It was nice to not have to go break out the Mac just to upload those files. (I still need it for Vellum, though.)


A friend in another group recently mentioned the power of backlist. They have a pen name they abandoned years ago that still makes a few hundred a month for them. And I think it’s important to remember that a new reader doesn’t really care when a book was written (unless it’s dated somehow). All they care is that it’s a good read. So don’t give up on old titles just because they’re older.

Having said that I’m definitely an unpublisher. Sometimes it’s because information becomes outdated (for non-fiction) and sometimes it’s because those stories aren’t a good fit for who I am as a writer now. And sometimes it’s just because I want to reclaim the mental space I was giving to that title.

But if you still like a story and still think it will appeal to readers then give it another chance. New covers, new blurb, some ads. I definitely have titles that made more money in their third or fourth year of publication than their first. Often publishing more under a name helps tremendously. You have a new title boost and if you’ve learned better packaging and marketing that can flow back to the first title.


What else? I think the current situation is probably stressing different people in different ways and I’ve seen a lot of talk about how it’s harder to be creative right now than before. I suspect Strengths play into this so that’s not true for everyone. And maybe where you fall on DISC as well.

For me I’ve been working more hours than usual but what I’ve been doing is very rote as opposed to creative. I just finished recreating probably 600+ screenshots and putting them into documents. But since I’d already worked out what those should look like it was moderately mindless work. Detail work, but not in the same way as writing something new.

So if you’re stuck right now, finding tasks like that might help. I had other ideas on my to-do list like checking all of my pricing and streamlining it. With currency exchange rates changing over time my Canadian and Australian prices were out of whack. I like to at least be consistent across a series if nothing else. (And pay attention to the suggested prices from Amazon because those are way off in a few of the listed currencies.)

Or you could spend time checking your book categories. Your blurbs. Your links on your website. The paragraph spacing of your book descriptions on each site. (Paperback on Amazon is a notorious issue. HTML tags are a must.) Basically just all that housekeeping that needs to happen. I’ve let my ad spend tracking fall by the wayside and need to enter all of that. Submit for a Bookbub feature deal or a Kobo promo. Run a few list-based promos. Finally figure out how to list direct on some sites rather than through a distributor. Etc. etc.


I don’t think this whole situation is going away anytime soon. Even if you’re in a country that has it relatively under control if you’re a writer/publisher then the U.S. is probably a big part of your sales and we’re going to be dealing with this for I’d say at least the next year. In terms of ebooks and audio things are probably pretty good although I wouldn’t be surprised by slower response times if you have an issue and perhaps more publishign delays. If you sell heavily in print I’d expect further disruptions due to staffing and supply. And if you’re POD perhaps more quality issues. (My last batch of books from IS that I ordered to check the cover changes clearly showed someone wasn’t being as careful about things as normal.)

All we can do is continue on as best as possible and adjust as needed. As always.

How to Write a Novel

Patricia C. Wrede has a good post up on her blog this morning, Getting Started, that I think is well worth reading for anyone who wants to write a novel.

At this point I’ve written thirteen novels. One multiple viewpoint fantasy, a YA fantasy trilogy, three romance novels, and six cozy mysteries.

And I’ve pretty much pantsed every single one. Meaning that I had an idea of what I wanted to write and I started writing. Now maybe some would quibble and say that because I’d jotted down four or five plot points that I was really plotting, but no. I don’t do beats or story arcs or have a list of what should happen in chapter ten.

Which is not to say that I don’t end up with beats and arcs and rising and falling action. I’ve been a voracious reader for over forty years. Story structure is in my blood by this point. Stopping to map that out would ruin it for me.

It’s like trying to think about driving a car. If you don’t make me think about it, I know how to shift and which pedal is the brake. (I drive a stick.) But make me stop and think that through consciously and I’m in trouble. I’ll put my foot on the gas instead of the brake because it’s not something that I do at a conscious level.

Same with typing. I’m a seven-finger typer. I think. I use the three fingers on my left hand and the three fingers and thumb on my right hand. Maybe. I’m trying to type this and figure it out without actually paying enough attention to myself that I stop typing and it’s very hard to do.

But make me stop and try to figure out how I type the way I do, because it involves having different fingers type a specific letter depending on the letter that came before it, and I’d fall apart.

Some part of my brain has a spatial map of the keyboard. (Which is why ergonomic keyboards are a flat out nope for me.) But it’s not a conscious place. It’s not something I can deliberately tap into.

That for me is how a pantser works. It’s not that they aren’t looking at story structure, it’s that they’re not doing it at a conscious level.

So how do you write a novel? In whatever way works for you and lets you eventually get those words down.

For some that will mean staring off into space for a week while they think about the story before they ever write a word.

For others it will involve creating a three-inch binder of all of the information they need to create their story.

Others will want a one-sentence-per-chapter outline.

Still others will want a chapter-level outline that’s as detailed as some others’ first draft.

Do what works for you.

For me, I start with (1) story genre (mystery, romance, fantasy with a certain type of conflict), (2) story length (short story versus novel), (3) basic story issue (this can be a theme or a source of conflict or an event like finding a dead body), (4) basic setting (city vs. country, general type of society and technology) and (4) character (who is the main person in this story).

And then I go. If it’s contemporary and real world that pretty much sets up everything I need because the character and setting will drive the rest of the story for me.

If it’s fantasy then about six chapters in I have to sit down and have a little chat with myself about how this world works. What kind of magic does it have? Who has power? Are there magical beasts? Etc.

But usually I only do that enough to keep going and I often have surprises that pop up later. Because no one knows everything about their own world. They often only learn something new when they get out and explore or face a situation that requires them to learn. So I’m there with my character learning along the way.

My last mystery I didn’t even know who the killer was until the chapter before the reveal. I knew who the main suspects were and why each of them could be the killer. But the story world was completely under my control so I could make the killer any of those suspects I wanted to just by choosing which evidence to make real and which to make the red herring.

For me this is why my second draft is just as important as my first draft. Because once I’ve reached the end of the story and understand all the rules and all the players then I can go back through and smooth out rough spots or add foreshadowing or a little more of a reveal earlier on. Although, surprisingly, it doesn’t require as much as you’d think it would. Mostly just a sentence here or there.

(I am also an under-writer on a first draft so I have to add place and people descriptions and actions during dialogue which does increase wordcount by about 25%. But that’s not the main story that’s being fleshed out, that’s just bringing the reader deeper into the story.)

So anyway. There is no ONE WAY to write a novel.  You do you and don’t let other people tell you you’re wrong if the way you do things works for you.

Writing During Wrenching Times

It’s weird. I’m about to dive into the third and final draft of my sixth cozy mystery. I only finished the first draft on March 2nd and the second draft on the 13th and yet I know going back to it will be odd.

Because it’s a contemporary series and this story ends on the first day of spring, which is basically right now. And I know, for example, that there’s a little back and forth scene in there where my hero and heroine (because there’s a romance subplot) are bantering back and forth about all the places where they could go for a weekend getaway. My heroine suggests Iceland or Argentina or Guatemala. My hero is all for San Diego.

It’s a conversation that I could’ve seen happening when I wrote it a month ago. But now…

Not so much. I’m still going to finish it up as if it wasn’t happening in this world and this spring. But something that should’ve passed by as a nothing scene will have a different resonance for readers now.

My thought had been that I’d turn to a fantasy novel next. I’ve had three of them percolating away in the background of my mind, but in the last couple weeks it’s like those three novels just dried up and disappeared. Maybe because in my fantasy I like to wrestle with big ideas and I’m not sure what ideas I can safely wrestle with right now.

(I had a post I’d written yesterday that I chose not to publish about all the dark things I’ve thought about as part of this whole thing. Those squiggly little thoughts that were well hidden under a rock but are starting to see the light as people reveal themselves through their actions. But who wants to write about that when it’s playing out right here, right now?)

It’s a challenge. To write at all. To figure out what to write. To keep going and keep focused rather than watch the chaos and try to figure out what’s coming next or how bad it’ll get. To not take the anger and anxiety and amplify and spread it further, either in person or through my writing, but to at the same time make sure that people understand what’s coming.

But what’s the other choice? Do you write about happy fluffy bunnies when the world is on fire? People do need them, but wow that’s a tough one to pull off.

And I know the wrenching change isn’t done happening just yet either. So what seems good to write today may not seem so great in six weeks when that first draft is done…But if you want to keep moving forward you have to do it regardless.