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.

The Year In Review

We had an incredible cold spell here last week. The coldest it’s been in sixty years. And it took out my internet. I still had a connection, but almost no sites would load for me. (One of those times when I can be grateful my main email account is still Hotmail, I guess, because it did load.)

I finally got working internet back yesterday and was ridiculously happy. I could watch my streaming channels again! I could drown in Twitter threads. I could check my sales…

Okay, that sales part made me kind of sad. Luckily (?) for me, some of the days I was offline were also shit sales days but I didn’t see them until they turned themselves around.

Overall it’s been an ugly year in that respect. I am mildly comforted by the fact that I don’t appear to be alone in that, but it’s still rough. The kind of rough that makes you question your life choices.

As I said on FB the other day, I am like that person who had the stable marriage and went off and had a torrid affair with an artist and now that the affair didn’t work out can’t go back to the stable marriage. (Not that I want to.)

You’re supposed to make the bad life decisions first and then find stability, not have things be just fine and then walk away because you couldn’t face a lifetime of boredom doing things no one should care about as much as they do.

For the record, I don’t actually regret that choice at all. I am a much happier person now and I think a better person than I was before I walked away from the good career. It was a fool’s game I was never going to win. I don’t think anyone wins it actually, because it’s never enough. It’s like seeking approval from people you don’t know instead of finding self-acceptance. That’s a recipe for never being happy.

Anyway.

After a heart-to-heart with my vet this year I made the decision to stay doing what I’m doing for at least the next six months to a year. I want to be here for my dog until the end and, as bad as my life choices have been, they haven’t been so bad that I can’t make that happen for her.

(Of course, having made that choice she’ll now defy all odds and live to be sixteen, but if that’s what happens, I’ll take it.)

It’s a bit scary, that choice. Knowing you’re on a precarious path that’s not going to get better but still staying on it. That adds a whole level of stress that just taking risks doesn’t. Give me a perfectly good plane to jump out of over this insanity any day of the week.

But thanks to a childhood that sort of trained me out of actually experiencing fear or anxiety (because you just drown if you try to feel those things in real-time when someone you love could die at any time due to their illness), I am fortunately still fully functional in my bad-choice-making existence.

So.

Enough self-pity, especially when it’s all my own fault. It’s December 27th here. Close enough to year-end to look back and see if I accomplished anything.

And…surprisingly given the fire and moving again and how the year felt like being stuck in mud…I did!

I published five new non-fiction titles this year in addition to two collections and two re-releases with better titles. I published a cozy mystery as well as a collection of three cozies. I published a holiday romance short story and a collection of four holiday romance short stories. I published seventeen audio titles (8 short stories, one collection, two novels, and six non-fiction titles). And I also published three video titles.

(See the very end for the list.)

All in all, it was actually a very productive year for me. I’d set out to “close loops” and I did that. The cozy was the last in that series. The AML book was one I’d been meaning to write for a couple of years to accompany the Regulatory Compliance title. The Affinity books closed that series out that I’d started in 2021.

I also tried something new with the audiobooks and found I really enjoyed it. Not just the challenge of learning something new, which I always love (go Learner), but the actual acting part of it, too.

Of course, narrating a novel is a whole level of difficulty above writing one. The words not only have to work but so does the acting and the sound quality. If you have a shaky foundation with what you wrote, then putting it in audio just highlights all of those issues.

But for one of the non-fiction titles doing audio brought in more listeners than that book had had readers. (Something that was also true with the very first audiobook I ever released almost seven years ago now. That one I did not narrate, I hired someone.)

As in most years, I didn’t get everything I wanted done this year.

I still want to write another fantasy novel, but it just didn’t happen. The fire derailed me and I retreated to what’s safe for me, non-fiction.

Also, I have been working on some other non-fiction that will publish in January that I’d wanted to publish in November. But that got derailed by the new laptop I bought that turned out to be a time-wasting piece of you-know-what.

Of course, that project opened a new loop as did starting to narrate the cozies in audio. If I carry through with both of those that means seven more cozies in audio, two short stories in audio, and another six titles to write and five collections to publish.

My mind being what it is, I’ll close them next year. And then maybe that fantasy novel? Haha. Sigh.

I’d like to say I think 2023 is going to be a better year than 2022, but…hm. I am one of those people who believes that bad luck comes in threes and I think at least one domino will fall next year causing the beginning of a chain of unfortunate events.

Then again, I’m pretty sure I thought that in 2021 and then it didn’t happen. So I carry on and when things go to shit, I’ll adapt.

Anyway. I hope you each accomplished something you wanted in 2022 and that you have an even better 2023.

Non-Fiction Book Releases

Affinity Publisher for Ad Creatives

Affinity Publisher for Basic Book Covers

Affinity Publisher for Non-Fiction

Affinity Publisher for Ads and Covers (collection)

Affinity Publisher for Book Formatting (collection)

Sell That Book (re-titled re-release)

How To Gather and Use Data for Business Analysis (re-titled release)

Undisclosed Pen Name Title

AML Compliance Fundamentals

Fiction Book Releases

A Puzzling Pooch and Pumpkin Puffs

Maggie May and Miss Fancypants Mysteries Books 7 to 9

Holiday romance short story

Holiday romance short story collection

Non-Fiction Video Releases

Affinity Publisher for Ad Creatives

Affinity Publisher for Basic Book Covers

Affinity Publisher for Non-Fiction

Non-Fiction Audio Releases

Regulatory Compliance Fundamentals

How to Gather and Use Data for Business Analysis

Sell That Book

Secret Pen Name Project

AML Compliance Fundamentals

Data Analysis for Self-Publishers

Fiction Audio Releases

4 Holiday Romance Short Stories & Collection

4 Spec Fic Short Stories

2 Cozy Mysteries

Planning For 2023

It’s about that time. About time to start thinking about what we’ll each try to do in 2023. I always have a list each year of New Year’s resolutions that I try to knock out. And I usually try to make them fairly concrete and achievable. Write X number of words. Write Y book. Publish Z book.

Setting goals like, “earn $50K per year from writing” are not helpful in my opinion. But write X words, publish Y books, put Z dollars per month into advertising, etc. those are the things that can get you to that goal.

Still, though. My goal planning is probably not where it should be.

In a private group I’m in one of the more successful authors posted their plan for 2023. It was incredibly concrete. Publish Book A in January, Book B in February, etc. all the way through the year. Following that plan this author was going to be able to get out 8 novels that support three series and two different pen names on a consistent reliable schedule.

That’s why that author has published over 80 novels at this point and has been a six-figure author for years.

Me? My planning post was like, “well, I should wrap up these three books I’m working on and get those published in January and then…maybe this, maybe that, maybe this other thing?”

Each year I know I’d be better off just setting up a series of projects on a schedule and knocking them off one-by one. But each year I do my vague, I’ll get something done sort of process instead. And I do get stuff done. It’s not like I end the year with nothing written. But it’s not that steady rhythm that’s so helpful to fiction-writing success.

Don’t be me kids. Set goals you can control. Make them specific. Plan them out across the year so you can track progress. And think about delivering a product to your readers on a consistent basis that they can come to rely on.

Okay, then. Off to finish edits on this book that was seriously delayed thanks to a bad computer so I can start 2023 off with a good release or two.

Writers Need Other Stories

I met a friend for lunch the other day who has been working on the same novel for close to twenty years now.

This friend is an excellent writer. When I saw some of the chapters from the book six years ago it was funny and a great opening. But my friend queried the book and was told it had a pacing issue and so has spent the time since then going down rabbit hole after rabbit hole and following critique after critique changing the novel trying to figure out how to fix this issue.

The one thing my friend has not done is…read a book in their genre.

They’ve been so busy with their work and kids and life that they don’t actually read any books anymore, not even in audio, which when trying to fix an issue like pacing is working blind, IMO.

They won’t follow my advice, but what I told them they needed to do was set aside this novel, read ten novels in the genre they’re trying to write back to back, and then pick up their book and read it like it’s the 11th novel they’re reading.

If they do that, they should then be able to see the pacing issues because they’ll have established the pattern for that genre in their mind and it will catch them out when that pattern isn’t followed in their own novel.

(I also told them to stop working on the same damned novel and go write two other novels and come back to this one later, but they won’t listen to me on that one either.)

Now, granted, I’m high Strategic, so I see patterns that maybe others don’t, so this may not work for my friend.

But the idea is that most books in most popular genres (romance, mystery, speculative fiction) have a certain flow and pace to them.

Differences do exist between books in genres, it’s not set in stone, but you can get a very good feel for what to include/not include and when the action should peak or ebb for each genre by reading a number of books in the genre in quick succession.

Even if you don’t have time to read, there are other ways to absorb story. Taylor Swift came out with her latest album today. Each of her songs is a sketch of a much larger story.

She’s a great one for that. Kenny Rogers and Jim Croce are two others that come to mind. They can tell an entire life in one song.

There are important lessons that can be learned from music about what to include to create this sense of a much bigger story.

(Same with poetry. Kahlil Gibran distilled so much about life and relationships into very few words.)

I love music and if I could sing a lick I would’ve probably thrown everything I had at being a singer, but to use music as a tool to improve writing requires not just listening to songs, but then asking yourself, “Why does that lyric move me? How is it appealing to my experience? How is it lifting me up? Or bringing me down? What have they done with the words they use to get that effect? Why do those words trigger a reaction from me?”

Writers can’t use every tool that songs use like background vocals and instruments, but we can learn from the lyrics of songs.

If you had to distill your story down to a song, are the elements there? The emotions, the characters, the setting, the outcome? Are you hitting the core of the story enough times throughout the novel like a song repeats a verse?

Speaking of, I love some of the Masterclass courses and the latest one I really enjoyed was by John Legend on songwriting. It was excellent even for a non-songwriter like myself.

The approach he takes to writing songs isn’t necessarily something that can translate to writing a novel since he starts with the the music behind the words, but perhaps in a sense it can if you focus on the feeling you want to give the reader before you start.

Is this going to be a fun story? A dark story? One that ends in triumph? One that ends in defeat? How high will the characters get? How low will they get? What tone are you going for?

What would be the soundtrack if you had one for this novel? If this novel were an album, what ten emotions/experiences would you want to distill from it? Do you even have something you can distill from the novel or are people just moving around on the page?

Bottom line: writers don’t write in a vacuum. If you’re not bringing in new experiences and material then you may be mining past experiences and material, but at some point you need to feed more in.

And if you’re still learning (which I’d argue we all are always), then you need to occasionally go back to the type of stories you write and read a bunch of them to see how others do it. You’ll see something new each time you circle back because of what you’ve learned in your own writing in the meantime.

Anyway. Just a few random thoughts to share. Off to record some audio if my dog will let me.

Author or Publisher Screw-Ups

A while back there was a discussion on FB about whether or not readers should tell authors when they notice an issue in a book. And what’s interesting is that it really comes down to how that particular author is published.

For example, today someone reached out to me and said, “Hey, the back cover copy of X book looks like it’s actually from Y book.”

Sure enough, it was. I updated two covers at once, moved them over to a new cover software at the same time, copied and pasted the wrong back cover copy for one of them, and didn’t catch it.

Because I do the majority of my own covers I was able to fix the issue immediately. I’ve already uploaded the new cover and hopefully that change will go through in the next 24 hours or so.

I can do that because of the way I’m published.

A few weeks ago I was reading a book by an author who is both traditionally published and self-published and realized that the book I was reading was missing a chapter in the print format.

I was able to buy the ebook and read the missing chapter, but I reached out to let them know about the issue because that particular book was print on demand so could be fixed.

If the book in question had been one of their trade-published books, which generally involve a print run, it’s not certain that the error could have been fixed.

Books published by the larger trade publishers are printed before they’re sold. You generally get what you get. Unless there’s another print run. And then maybe they’ll fix any identified issue. But it would have to be a big enough issue to warrant edits and new type setting and most minor typos would not fall under that heading.

On the self-publishing side it can come down to how much the author does themselves and how much the fix would cost.

I had a typo in a website address in one of my other books, for example. Fixing it in the ebook was free and something I could do myself so I did it. Fixing it in print on Amazon, same thing.

Both fixes were done within 24 hours of my becoming aware of the issue.

Fixing it in print on other stores, however, would’ve cost $25 at the time. And taken the book off sale for an unspecified period of time.

(I once had my best-selling books stay off sale for a full month before I realized that could happen. I’d always figured the printer would fulfill all orders that had already been placed using the current files while allowing me to submit and approve the updated files for new orders, but that’s not what they do. They pull the book while they’re handling old orders and only let you approve the updates after those old orders have all been filled. At which point the book becomes available for sale once more. So if they’re backed up on filling orders, which they were when that happened, the book remains unavailable that whole time.)

Other self-published authors pay someone else to format their books. In that case those authors are faced with getting on the schedule of their formatter and then paying the cost for the edits and then uploading when that’s all done. That could be $100 maybe and a month or three to get the edits back.

We all want perfect books, but if you have a book that’s made you $50 and the typo is minor and will take three months to make…It’s easy to see why that doesn’t make sense to do.

I also know an author who didn’t want to face an old book that had disappointed them so didn’t fix a typo they knew about in that book for five years because they didn’t want to revisit that book. They literally could not bring themselves to open the file and find the typo.

It happens.

So we all try, but sometimes there are going to be mistakes that slip through and that don’t get fixed.

I definitely make mistakes with my books. Not a lot, I hope, but there’s a dropped period here or there for sure. And more significant issues like this cover one sometimes do slip through. It’s a lot to juggle.

For me personally I will say that if you ever see an error in one of my books, please do email me about it. Often I can fix it easily and will do so.

If it gets reported to Amazon, they don’t always tell me. I had two errors I noticed in my books during a reread that I fixed and THEN Amazon told me about them. They registered as fixed issues on the quality dashboard I had never seen before that day.

Most trade published authors I know don’t want to be contacted on the other hand, because there’s nothing they can do and it’s kind of like rubbing salt in the wound.

Also…

There can be style differences that readers point out that aren’t really errors.

I remember someone commenting once that they didn’t like reading X Author because that author’s main character used a sentence construction they thought was grammatically incorrect.

But it’s important to understand that the way people speak is regional and that what someone might consider grammatically incorrect is actually regionally appropriate or character appropriate phrasing.

Especially for books written in first person “grammatical” fixes may not be legitimate.

I know, for example, that I speak with certain sentence constructions that are not considered appropriate according to Word. But that’s how a character like me would structure their sentences, so if I’m writing a character like that the one-size-fits-all grammar rules in Word don’t apply.

Which is all to say that if you reach out to someone and say, “you should’ve phrased this differently” they are within their rights to say, “nope, that’s how I meant it to be, thanks.” They probably won’t say that to you, but they’ll think it.

So anyway. We’re all human. None of us are perfect. Sometimes we can fix what we mess up, sometimes it’s out of our control. And sometimes it’s not really an error, just a difference of opinion.

But glad that friend reached out because it may have been years before I noticed that error otherwise.

Reader Alignment

I’m reading a book right now that I find incredibly frustrating as a reader.

Before I started writing I would’ve just struggled through it (because it’s good enough to finish) and not thought much more about it other than, “Not again,” when it came to reading that author.

But now that I’m writing books myself I stop and ask myself, “Why? What is it about this book that doesn’t work for me as a reader?”

And let me make this point first: There are readers who loved this book. One of the reasons I picked it up is because a few people gushed about how great it was.

So just because a book doesn’t work for me as a reader does not mean that book is not a good book with a large audience or that that author isn’t going to succeed. They absolutely are.

And I think that’s crucial to understand. Something can not work for one person (me) but work for a thousand others, because we all read for different things.

In this case I suspect this book taps into the slow-burn monster-with-a-heart romance audience and they’re willing to put aside other issues to get that.

For me, I don’t care so much about the romance. I want a main character who takes agency and acts when it’s clear they can.

The character in this book has been thrust into a new situation. One where her life is in danger and where others are doing everything they possible can to survive. There are clear indications that if the character asked the right questions she could do something about it.

And yet she does not ask those questions.

Nor does she sit herself down in the massive library and read every single book she can get her hands on in search of answers.

Nor does she take on kitchen duties while everyone else is literally bleeding themselves out to try to keep her and themselves alive.

She just…reads poetry?

My reaction to that is, “Woman, step up already. Pin that person who won’t answer your questions in a corner and grill them until you get some answers.”

And that’s a reader alignment issue.

I personally as a reader want certain choices and decisions to be made by characters when they are in certain situations. Not all readers need that. Not all readers would even see what I see when I read the story.

Other readers might have different frustrations with books they read. They might want a character who pursues relationships and be frustrated if they read a book where the main character turns away from a potential romantic interest.

Or they might want characters who pursue power and not be able to connect with a character who walks away from it or doesn’t care about money or influence.

When you get past the level of competent writing, I think this is where stories either do or don’t find their readers.

There’s a need for overall genre alignment. “Is this a fantasy novel?”, “Is this a romance?”, “Is this a thriller?” etc.

But then it’s down to reader alignment.

“Does this character make sense to me?” “Or do they frustrate me?” (In this book it’s also very clear at one point that a bad person is going to kill two people and yet a different character not only doesn’t see it coming but doesn’t even wonder if that’s what happened after the fact.)

Another one I’ve noticed more with TV than books is that I will stop watching shows that don’t mirror my own personal values enough.

As an example, there was a medical TV show I started watching that was good. I liked the characters for the most part and it had tension and all that fun stuff you want in a medical drama.

But three times in the first season or two there was a scenario where a doctor chose not to respect a patient’s wishes about their own healthcare.

Once, okay, fine, I can see that happening and I’m sure some doctors feel that way. “If we can save them we must whether they want to be saved or not and regardless of their quality of life.”

But three times? Nope. That’s a point of view on medical care that this show wants to present that I’m not here for. Done.

Another one was a TV show where the main character is a narcissistic politician who’s just evil and he keeps getting away with it over and over. His evil acts get him ahead and have no consequences.

I finally after a season or so Googled the series to see if he ever got his comeuppance. At the time it was five seasons in and the answer was, “nope”, just keeps rising through the ranks. Combine that and the image of the FU cuff links at the end of one of the episodes and I was out.

Another one was a police procedural where a young rookie discovers a murder committed by their seasoned mentor who then kills more people to cover up the initial murder. Instead of the show being about how the seasoned mentor is brought to justice it was about how the rookie loses their career trying to take them down.

Again, nope. Not what I want to reward or ingest.

But that’s me.

Each of those series were highly successful. Because it’s a matter of individual taste.

There just wasn’t alignment there. And that’s okay. For me as a reader I have no problem saying, “not an author for me.”

As authors we shouldn’t take that personally when that happens. We cannot please all readers. Some readers want exact opposite things from their stories. The key is finding enough readers who want what you write to be able to keep writing.

Which, you know, easier said than done for some of us based on what we write.

Anyway. My writer thoughts for the day.

200 pages to go in this book so I can find out that the book of poetry from her mother is going to be important and that’s the sole reason a person who thought they were going to die immediately packed an entire bag full of books that they managed to keep with them while they ran for their life through a forest, but somehow didn’t think to pack a single extra dress or pair of shoes just in case they survived.

Best get back to it.

Random Thoughts and Comments 20220819

A few things that have crossed my timeline recently that I figured were worth mentioning.

For anyone looking towards trade pub and bookstore placement, I think this was a really good summary of the current state of affairs with Barnes & Noble.

I hadn’t realized they’d gotten rid of their co-op placement and that’s actually a really nice thing that means I may drop by my local B&N just to see what they have in there. I used to love walking through bookstores to browse the shelves and find something new to me, but recently the books that were getting a lot of attention in my genres were ones I didn’t want to read.

Which also reminds me that one of the drawbacks of becoming a writer is sometimes you get to know other writers and then you can’t remove that impression of them from your judgement of their books.

There was a recent big release by someone who annoyed the hell out of me at a conference by talking through all of the presentations, being generally arrogant, and flipping their hair around way too much and it means I won’t check out their book even though it might’ve been something I would’ve enjoyed.

(On the flip side, you meet a ton of great writers you would’ve never known otherwise and get to check out books that may not have even been on your radar, so it cuts both ways.)

Getting back to that Barnes & Noble thread.

I think something that wasn’t strongly highlighted in that thread and maybe because trade does work differently since books will literally go out of print, is that since B&N focuses so much on backlist sales that means there’s a chance for a book to get shelf space later if it follows the slow build, steady sales over years path.

(And honestly I’d rather not be on their shelves for a year and then be there for ten than be there for a month and never be carried by them again. Of course, trade pub doesn’t actually reward that pattern, but still.)

Anyway. There are a ton of options out there that come along later and maybe aren’t immediately available at release.

Bookbub, for example, rarely if ever (at least last time I checked) takes new releases in its promo emails. They want to see a nice track record of reviews first.

My first BB deal I think the book had been out for two years at that point?

So that midlist title that isn’t stocked at Barnes & Noble, eh, who cares? I mean, yeah, you care because you want to walk into that store and see YOUR book on the shelf.

But if you can create buzz elsewhere those people will order from Amazon or through the Barnes & Noble website or through any of a number of other places.

You do miss a random discoverability sale (which for kids’ books may matter more, since my mom would take us to the bookstore to pick out a book once a week when I was eight), but if people want that book they can still get it.

And if you get those steady sales so that you stay in print and people are continuously asking for your books, eventually maybe you do become one of those backlist titles they stock.

That does come back though to the need for authors to promote themselves somehow. There are so many ways to do that, but most take a lot of time and effort.

I’ve mentioned before that I don’t have a Twitter account but I do go there and read tweets by about a dozen different authors most mornings.

And you know what? The people I read are people who tweet every single day. Multiple times a day.

They aren’t necessarily the people saying the most interesting things, or the people I would like the most if we met IRL, but they’re the people who are there and delivering content when I’m bored and want something new to see.

Tweeting multiple times a day though is a lot of time sunk into one website that you have no control over.

Because the people I follow don’t just schedule tweets and go about their day. These are people seeing things while they’re on there reading other people’s tweets and sharing and reacting.

I wouldn’t be surprised if each of the people I follow is on there at least an hour a day. Probably more.

That may be fine for them because it’s where they hang out with other writer friends so it’s like lunch break. But don’t think that isn’t time spent. And that it isn’t something you have to dedicate yourself to for weeks or months or years to even get to the point of being visible enough that others share you and help you build an audience.

And at the end of the day…I’m not sure how many new readers it brings in.

I have a friend who killed it with social media. And who gets paid a nice little sum for some of the things they do as a result of building that audience.

But…That didn’t guarantee success when their books came out.

I do think it helped them get a few of their trade publishing contracts. It definitely helped with their first. And may be a factor in being kept on with their current publisher because they’re also very good at promoting other authors.

But social media followers don’t necessarily become dedicated readers.

Eventually I buy at least one book from someone I follow on social media. But I’m trying to think of one of those authors who I then became a regular reader-fan of. And I can’t. I bought that one book. Maybe two. And…that was it.

Because social media is different from novels. And just because someone likes a tweet you sent doesn’t mean they’ll like how you told a 90,000-word story.

Ironically for me most of my favorite authors suck at social media. They either have a snarly out-dated Q&A about the books arriving when they’ll arrive or they have a blog that gets updated maybe five times a year with things I don’t care about or…Yeah, they’re not savvy media types.

So building up a social media following that’s not based on people who are fans of your books is likely not going to drive significant sales of those books.

It might raise the tide enough, though, to get to the people who really would be your readers…But those numbers need to be large enough for that to work.

One of the early self-pub success stories was someone who kept leaving out the part of their story where they released three books almost immediately and then had a Bookbub on the first title for free that moved 40,000 copies at a time when people actually read the freebies they downloaded.

I think if any of us had 25,000 people read one of our books and were a competent storyteller we’d find our way to that core audience of 1,000 that you need to build from. Especially if it happened in a very short period of time when Amazon’s algorithms could see and react as those people bought books 2 and 3.

But for most it’s a much slower grind so there is no algo-love.

I still think of the excellent presentation Courtney Milan gave years ago about being that little paper airplane and trying to get the lift to get it up that initial cliff of discoverability.

And sometimes it seems to me that social media followings are a side quest. You climb a mountain and it is an accomplishment, but it’s not necessarily one that will help you climb the cliff of steady book sales.

Anyway. With that bad analogy, I am done for the day. I have some audio to process and then some groceries to pick up so pup and I can go have lunch with family.

The Venture Capital Theory of Publishing

I mentioned the other day that this had come up during the DOJ trial related to the PRH/S&S merger. This idea that a publisher invests in 10 debut authors, maybe two do really well, two or three completely bomb, and the other five or six do alright but not amazing.

This is the approach VCs use to investing as well. (At least that’s what I was told during our MBA program by some VCs that came to talk to us.) They hope for the home run, but they know that only a small percentage of their investments are going to be home runs and that they’ll lose or be disappointed or meh about the others.

Well, it occurred to me this morning that this can also apply to self-publishing, too. And maybe this is more an example of the 80/20 rule in effect. (Where 80% of performance comes from 20% of the pool, in this case, of authors.)

Let me walk you through it.

About five years ago I joined a group of authors that occasionally touch base with one another and share information or commiserate or cheer one another on.

At the time we all wrote in a common genre or at least had written in that genre. And we all had a baseline level of sales. (It was a low baseline IMO but still I barely managed to qualify at the time.)

The idea behind the original group was that we had all done well enough with self-publishing that we took it seriously and had seen some traction with our writing and that we could benefit from sharing our experiences.

The group did not turn out to be what the founder wanted it to be, but a core group of about six of us hung in there. We now write in very different genres, but we’re still there to lend support and commiserate and just touch base.

And…

Our little core group that’s left sort of follows this same VC pattern.

Two of the members are killing it in KU in two completely different genres. One has had a history of success but is at a pivot point. One went through one of those phases where you can’t seem to write anything new but really wants to get back to it and is maybe starting to do so after a couple years of struggle. One got frustrated enough with the whole thing that they’ve focused in on their day job for now with maybe the occasional promo or work on a new book. And then there’s me who is doing okay enough to be full-time for now but not killing it.

I think our group is pretty typical for what you’d see if you took a cohort of say ten serious about it self-publishers and tracked them for five years. Some would start high or go up and stay there. Some would find their way up but not be able to sustain it. Some would putz along in the middle never going up but never dropping to nothing. Some would never quite get off the ground. And some would leave for other opportunities no matter where they were performance-wise.

And what’s really challenging is finding a way to keep going when you’re one of the 8 out of 10 that aren’t at the top.

We have this myth in self-pub that if you just work hard enough or smart enough that you can be that 2 out of 10. Anyone can do it, right? I had someone say that in another group I’m in just the other day. That anyone can be a six-figure author if they just write a well-targeted, well-branded six-book series.

Oh, right. Okay, let me just go knock that out. Be right back in…two years? When the market has shifted again and now it’s ten books I need in a series to be a six-figure author. And maybe my series is no longer well-targeted. Oh, and somewhere in there I need to either figure out what “well-branded” means or somehow find someone who knows that even though it’s hard to judge someone’s credibility when you don’t know something yourself.

Sure. Okay. Let me get right on that.

And, to be clear, that person probably wasn’t wrong. An author who can write a well-branded six-book series in six months and get it out there has a good shot at building an audience.

But most authors can’t do that.

Some absolutely can. One of the two members of my group who is killing it in KU puts out a well-written full-length novel every six weeks or so. It can be done and is done. Just not by most authors.

And not by most new authors. That friend of mine has published something like 80 novels at this point under various pen names.

So, knowing this, what do you do? If you’re one of those authors who isn’t at the top, what does knowing this do you? (Other than make you want to cry.)

It very much depends on you and what matters to you and what you want.

If you must be at the top, you must win, you either floor it and give it everything you’ve got or you go and find something that’s easier to win at. There are absolutely corporate careers where if you put your head down and do the work for a decade you will move up and be making a very good salary.

But what if you don’t have to be the winner, you just want to keep going?

For me, I have to repeatedly accept that I personally don’t want to give what it takes to be at the top (and might not even be able to if I tried) and that while some will see me as a failure because of that, that I’m getting what I need out of this and that’s what counts.

Every single time I look at a friend’s life and think, “Oh no, I would not want that life” I have to remind myself that the only person allowed to judge someone’s life is that person. They are the one who has to get up every morning and live their life and if they’re happy in that choice then it’s no business of mine that I wouldn’t want to live like them.

I also turn that around and I remind myself that I am the one that has to live my life for the next 24 hours, 7 days, 52 weeks, however many years. And it doesn’t matter what others think of the path I’ve taken, it matters how I feel about the path I’ve taken.

It’s not easy to shut out those outside voices and judgements. Society exists to make us conform to a set of standards that benefit the whole over the individual and we are wired to hear those messages.

But it’s essential to do that if you’re going to walk a path that isn’t the norm. Especially if you could walk a path that’s the norm and you’ve just chosen not to.

Anyway. Just some more random writing thoughts. I’m off to record more audio. I think I finally have things dialed in on the non-fiction side at least so will be getting two of those books out in audio soon. They’ll probably sell five copies, but you never know. And I get to learn something new while doing it, which is the part I enjoy the most. So…Onward.

Lawsuits, Oh My

You don’t think about it when you decide to write a novel or produce some other creative work, but legal issues are actually a very important part of being a creative. Because it absolutely matters who owns that creative work when things take off.

And there is no way to put your work out into the world that doesn’t run into legal requirements. Whether that’s trade-publishing contracts, terms of service for listing an ebook on a distributor website like Amazon’s, or just basic copyright and trademark protections which apply to any work you put out there even if it’s something you generated on your home computer and sold on the street corner.

The law is a key part of producing creative work.

Now, you don’t have to be a lawyer to do this stuff, but you should at least understand the basics of what you’re working with. What rights are. How you license them. What trademark is and how that differs from copyright.

And I will tell you right now that relying on a daily observation of how things happen on the internet is a very bad way to do it. Because, oh my gosh, there is so much violation of copyright and trademark that happens every single day on the internet it’s not even funny. Every video shared that uses a popular song without a license to do so. Or uses the key images from some creative property without permission. Or uses the words of one creative work for another without permission.

It’s a mess out there. And it’s such a mess that most of it isn’t stopped in real-time or it’s stopped wholesale regardless of how minor the infraction. A song clip in the background of a video shared to five friends is probably not a big deal, but there are too many people out there who want to take a popular song, put it on top of their own background images, and post it on a site like Youtube so they can get paid advertising fees when people who want to hear that song go looking for it online.

(Which, by the way, is a shitty thing to do because it takes money away from the person who actually created that song. Which means we get less from creatives because they can’t make a living and so go become Uber drivers instead. And that shitty person who took someone else’s work to profit off of it? They can’t replace that because they’re not original creators. They’re just sitting around waiting to exploit the work of others.)

So. Learn copyright. Learn trademark. And respect them. Because if you don’t want people taking your stuff you shouldn’t take theirs.

Okay, so lawsuits. First up is the Bridgerton lawsuit. This is a great, but long, video discussing the whole thing.

Short version. Two women watched the Bridgerton TV show. Were inspired. Wrote songs based on what they saw and heard. Turned it into a musical. Won a Grammy for those songs. Had it performed at the Kennedy Center and came up with a bunch of merchandise to sell. And got sued for copyright and trademark infringement.

I am not a lawyer. I am not deep into this situation. But I will make a few comments.

It is possible to lose a trademark. (Fun fact: You do not have to register a trademark for it to be a trademark of your business. So just because someone is the first to file for a mark does not mean they get it if it was actually in use before that. And you can issue a cease and desist for a mark that isn’t registered, too.)

A trademark is something that distinguishes your product from that of others. It is unique to you. And the way to keep a trademark is to rigorously defend it. If you don’t do that it can become generic (like Kleenex for tissue) and no longer valid. You also have to keep using it.

So I think one misstep here by Netflix was that they probably were not adamant enough early on about the trademark part of this whole mess. Whatever they have trademarked–and I haven’t looked it up–they should have been all over in enforcing.

But that can kill a fandom if every time fans refer to X property improperly you send a nasty note about it. So there’s a balancing act there.

And even though Barlow and Bear appear to have had legal counsel involved, it seems to me the difference between trademark and copyright may be where they went wrong on this.

Because if this was just a trademark issue, then proceeding to use that mark without permission until the brand was so diluted it was no longer just Netflix’s and Julia Quinn’s brand may have gotten them off the hook. If they somehow transformed the Bridgerton brand into some more generic thing, that could, I think (and again, not a lawyer), kill the trademark.

But.

They seem to have missed how copyright works. Because, based on that summary and the lawsuit, they took verbatim wording from the TV show and used it in their songs.

Those words, that way of phrasing things, is copyright protected. I can quote something here and discuss it and that’s considered fair use. But taking those words and using them for commercial benefit, is not.

I think even those little quote books you can buy sometimes have to get permission for all the quotes they use or they need to make sure that the quotes used are so old they’re outside of copyright.

(Which currently is life of the creator + 70 years.)

Now, there is a fair use parody exception to copyright. See here and here for a discussion and the actual rule, but this doesn’t seem to fall under that.

Weird Al Yankovic made a living parodying songs but those songs are real parodies. They take the original lyrics of a song and change them to make a joke out of it.

This musical appears to instead be a derivative work from the little I’ve seen of it.

They probably would have been okay if they’d just done it on TikTok and not made money from it. But they commercialized it which is one of the four key considerations when looking at whether something is considered fair use or not. Also, they may have been okay if Netflix hadn’t also put out a live show that was going to be performed in the same city so a directly competing product.

You could argue that the musical boosted sales of the TV show but that would still be pretty dicey IMO and using the exact words was a really bad idea.

(As a side note I believe the computer books I write fall under fair use because they are educational, they are books or video courses on computer software so can’t be confused with the original product, and, if anything, they expand the market for that product by making it more accessible to users. However, if I had instead tried to consolidate or paraphrase one of the books that had already been written on those subjects, like the Dummies series books, then I would have been infringing that copyright because we’d both be selling books, I’d be taking market share from them with my sales, and if I used their words it would not be in an educational way but instead in an attempt to profit off of their work.)

So. Doesn’t look good for those girls. Especially since the original copyright owner tried to work with them and they said no.

(Before we move on I just want to also note that big companies can mess this up, too. The little IngramSpark pop-up that appears every time you try to publish a book through them gets all of this drastically confused. They ask questions that combine trademark, copyright, and libel/slander rules and then only link to guidance about copyright. They also make it sound like you have to have written permission for things when that’s not actually the legal requirement. Annoys the shit out of me that a company their size can have done something so half-assed. But I digress.)

Anyway.

The other exciting writing-related lawsuit this week has been the DOJ attempt to stop the merger of two of the largest publishers, Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster.

Publishers Weekly has had staff on-site live-tweeting the trial all week. If you want to get caught up on it, here’s a link.

We currently live in a world where we pay the heavy cost of decreased competition in a number of industries.

Now, you can get economies of scale from larger companies. I mean, the folks at Masterclass put out better content for far less cost than most individuals can.

Right now I can pay $15/month and watch courses from top authors, creatives, and business leaders to my heart’s content. Compare that to the $300-$500 one person might charge when putting out their own material that they recorded in their home office.

So there are definite benefits to being larger. But it also constricts your options. When I can get all of that for $15 a month, I’m far less likely to pay $300 for one little course I may not like.

The DOJ has taken an interesting approach on this one and focused on the biggest authors, arguing that taking two of the biggest publishers and combining them into one will decrease the competitiveness of advances in that portion of the market.

Which we all absolutely know will happen, platitudes from senior execs at those companies that they happily allow their divisions to bid against one another aside.

What’s interesting to me is that this lawsuit may finally indicate a shift away from allowing a small number of companies to control various markets.

We have the rules in place, but what rules get enforced is very politically and philosophically driven. Right now, though, I think we’re seeing the harm of intense consolidation (baby formula anyone) and so maybe that particular pendulum is starting to swing back from the extreme we reached.

And, of course, once again I found myself watching reactions on Twitter and feeling differently from what I saw said there.

So a few comments.

One, it’s in the best interest of these senior executives to be vague and stupid about how things work. Because if they got up there and they really drilled in on all the fine points of how books get marketed and published, they’d lose their big merger.

But they can’t just outright perjure themselves either, so you get “well, it’s all random really” and “we’re not trying to be profitable, we’re just rich people trying to influence the moral course of the country”. (Not actual quotes by the way, but paraphrasing some paraphrasing.)

And to some extent what they’re saying is true. Just this week–and don’t ask me where because I can’t remember–I read an article about how there is a part of literary publishing whose interest is in publishing books that influence the cultural moment. These people have wealth already and don’t need more from their publishing efforts. What they want is to guide what people are talking about. In that situation, profitability is not the goal. Influence is the goal.

Also, I do believe that there is no exact formula for publishing a successful book. I think it was Courtney Milan maybe who talked about it being a weighted dice.

There may be no formula for making a bestseller, but there are certain subjects, ways of presenting a book, and ways of marketing a book that make it far more likely that it will sell in big numbers.

A book that everyone sees in every Barnes & Noble when they walk through the front doors of the store and that is advertised in newsletters and banner ads on all the major ebook retailer sites has a helluva lot better shot at selling than one that’s just listed on Amazon’s website as an ebook.

But there’s still no guarantee that people will click or pick it up. And no guarantee that when they do click or pick it up they’ll like what they see enough to buy it.

On this bestseller idea I will actually go further and say that if tomorrow someone said, “You can have a guaranteed bestseller if you write about X very specific idea”, that even if that were true when they said it, it would no longer be true a year later. Because ten people would have written about X and killed the excitement behind that idea that made it a “must have”. It would no longer be unique and interesting.

So you can prime the pump so to speak, but there is no guarantee.

Also, and I’ve talked about this before, I do believe that publishing works much like venture capital. As a publisher you buy ten books that seem to have a solid chance at success. Two knock it out of the park. Three are dismal failures. And the other five are okay, I guess. Solid, but not what you were hoping for.

(The numbers given in one of those comments were actually more dire than that.)

I see that with my own books. A small number generate the majority of the revenue, but going in there was no way for me to know which ones those were going to be. I might’ve suspected a bit because some are passion projects that I know won’t sell, but honestly, my number 5 book for the year in terms of profit? Completely unexpected.

There was also a lot of uproar about this comment:

I don’t know what the book was. But I suspect this was one of those situations where they paid for that book and then something changed.

Maybe it was a political book of some sort and that person fell out of favor between contract signing and book delivery. Maybe it was about a topic where the fundamentals changed by the time it released. Maybe the author somehow lost their credibility or audience. Or the book was worse than expected. Maybe a book just like that published a month or two earlier and killed the buzz potential.

There are any number of reasons a book can look like a good idea when you sign the contract and then not look like a good idea when it’s ready to publish.

And I think what he said about “I don’t think marketing money can create a success” is actually true. This is the part Twitter went nuts about. But folks…

I write some books that people don’t like. Or that only a handful of people will like.

I could win the lottery tomorrow, put the perfect cover on one of those books, get massive distribution for it, put it out in the best possible format that would let it succeed, and market it like there’s no tomorrow, and it would not suddenly become a bestseller.

Every book I release, I try to advertise. But some I stop advertising. Because it’s like slogging through mud. And, yeah, maybe a new cover would help. Or a better blurb. Or a different way to advertise.

But sometimes…What I chose to write about didn’t interest anyone else.

In self-pub, for me, short stories are wasted words unless they’re sexy. No amount of begging and pleading is going to make those short stories of mine interesting to a significantly larger audience.

So, I actually agree with that guy. You try to promote something and see if it has life, but don’t throw good money after bad if there’s nothing there. Instead, look to your titles that show a little spark and nurture that spark into a full-blown fire.

And for the record I am not saying that trade pub does this well. I just finished reading an interesting non-fiction title that discussed some of trade pub’s idiocy over the years, which has included setting a date in advance to stop publishing a book and to destroy all remaining copies of that book without even seeing if the book would sell. And doing that on an active series that still had books coming out.

What idiocy. If I see book four in the bookstore and it looks good to me? I want to buy book 1 and start reading that series through from the start. So doing that and not nurturing that series, loses readers like me and guarantees that the series will slowly sell less and less copies. Bad business.

So, yes, trade pub can do shit-stupid things when it comes to marketing. But that doesn’t change the fact that you can’t buy long-term sales of a book. Short bursts? Sure. Make a list? Yep. But sustained, long-term sales? That comes down to the product and whether it meets reader need or not.

Okay. Off to experiment more with audio which is currently kicking my butt but showing glimmers of hope.

Writing and Flow

(Quick note I discussed briefly before: I’m currently not approving first-time posters to this blog. Sorry if you’re new here and wanted to say something.)

Kristine Kathryn Rusch has been publishing a great series of blog posts recently called How Writers Fail. I almost linked to last week’s post, so check that one out, too, but today I wanted to link to Part 6 of that series, Words.

Go read it. It’s excellent. And written by someone with the experience and sales numbers to be able to stand behind what they’re saying.

I don’t personally talk about this often because even after as many books as I’ve written I feel like some sort of impostor who is just playing at being a novelist.

(I say this as someone who currently has fourteen novel-length works in print under three pen names and has two other novel-length works I chose to unpublish.)

After all this time and all those novels I “only” have 13,814 paid novel sales and 1.8 million page reads on Amazon. (I’m usually wide with my books so there are more sales than that if you bring in the other platforms, but it’s still not a huge number and the bulk of it is Amazon.)

My “low” numbers make me feel like I somehow can’t talk about my process because it’s “bad” and may be the reason I’m not selling more.

(For non-fiction in contrast I have 47,610 paid sales on Amazon so I feel like I have more of a leg to stand on there but my actual process is basically the same.)

In reality those numbers of novels written and of sales are much higher than many people ever reach. So I wanted to share KKR’s post and then throw my own experience out on top of that because at least I have found a way to write books and to sell some of them to people who usually give them decent reviews.

So.

Last month I wrapped up a nine-book cozy mystery series. (Book 1 is here and free.) It’s written in first-person which really helped me get over a particular block I had as a writer.

Which is that critical voice/editor/reviewer voice that sits in the back of many writers’ minds that says, “is that the right word”, “should you say it that way”, “is that the grammatically correct way to say that”, etc.

Writing it in first-person in a contemporary setting I was intimately familiar with and with a protagonist who is very much like me let me look at that critical voice and say, “Yep, that is the right way to say it, because that’s the way I would say it. That’s the way I did say it when I wrote it, thank you very much.”

For example, I learned in school and Word is happy to remind me that you don’t say that something is “more X”, you often say that it is “X-er”. So he’s not more funny, he’s funnier. Here’s a breakdown of that rule. Don’t ask me how correct it is, because I don’t always follow it.

But when I’m talking or writing, I will say that he was more funny than I’d expected. Even if that’s not the way it’s supposed to work.

So there are rules. Many, many, rules. And then there’s “voice” and “character” or whatever you want to call it. There’s the reality of how a person actually communicates.

Having lived and traveled in multiple English-speaking states and countries I can assure you that actual spoken English varies widely. Not just in pronunciation but in sentence structure and word choice. And most of the “rules” that writers are theoretically supposed to follow are based on one very specific way of using English that does not correspond to how most people communicate in English.

Another example of the rules and how they can handicap a story is the insistence on using the appropriate word or phrase. KKR’s post has a good example about a fancy desk, but I also ran into this with the cozies.

I have always referred to the trees in the mountains of Colorado as evergreens. (And aspens, but we’re talking about the year-round green ones here.)

I would have told you until a year ago that was what they were really called. But they’re not. I walked through an arboretum and learned that they are technically a combination of things like spruce trees and pine trees.

But I’m not a tree expert, nor is my main character in that cozy series. So using the precise, technical words, even once I knew what they were, would have been bad characterization.

My character, who had not walked through that arboretum, would still call those trees evergreens.

(I still remember the fantasy novel where someone was on a boat for the first time ever and they used all the technical boat terms to describe things. Threw me right out of the story because that character would not know those terms.)

Those are just two little examples of where the “right” way to do things is actually not right for that particular story and character.

Now, that’s first person and a character who is like me, so it was very easy to dismiss those rules.

But if you write enough books you theoretically have to move away from writing characters just like yourself who live in a world just like yours. So what then?

Well…

Here’s where I came out on it.

My books are going to be flawed. They are going to get some things wrong. They will not appeal to all readers. Some may see me as Eurocentric. Some may see me as ableist or some other -ist. Some readers may have very specific technical knowledge that leads them to hate my book because my character wore a fabric that would not have been worn in that type of society with that level of technological innovation. (That’s one I actually heard a prominent editor scoff about at a conference once.)

Those people are not my readers. I will get criticized by those readers for my flaws, but they are not the people I am writing for. I am writing for the people who are so caught up in the story they just want to come along for the ride. And, yes, that means my readers are the ones that are blind to the history of fabric in the Middle Ages and to the current list of terms deemed inappropriate because they’re ableist and who probably never use whom.

And that’s okay.

Not all stories are for all readers. As a writer my job is to write the stories that only I can write and then as a publisher my job is to find the readers who will like them.

This is why I don’t have first readers. Or editors. I may have shared the first cozy with a few readers before I published it. But the later ones? No one saw those books except for me until they were published.

Because my books are me, flaws and all. I can create that over and over again. Whereas if my book is a collaborative effort formed with the help of first readers, editors, and who knows who else that’s a product that changes as my team changes.

Early on, with the first three novels or so, I did have first readers and I did go to critique groups with pages, because I needed to learn how my words landed with readers. And I did learn from that experience.

But after that? After I knew that most of the critiques I was receiving were “I wouldn’t tell this story” or “I wouldn’t tell this story this way” it was time to stop that.

I figured readers were either along for the ride I was offering them or they weren’t. All using first readers or editors was going to do at that point was bring multiple voices into that story.

There’s also another issue that can happen if the first reader/editor process isn’t done well. And that’s an uneven end product.

I can’t remember if I told this story before, but I’m going to tell it again if I have.

In high school I took a pottery class. One of our assignments was to create a chess set. I was going to have one that was jungle-cat-themed. So the lion was going to be the king and the tiger was going to be the rook, etc.

I made one of the pawns first. It was a dorky little cat-like piece. It had pointed ears and a noticeable face and a tail, but the rest of the piece was just a blob of clay. I could’ve made that little guy another dozen times, no problem.

My teacher came by and as she was trying to instruct me on how to better make an animal shape, she whipped up a gorgeous tiger. It was amazing. Beautiful.

It was also about three times the size of my pawn. And putting those two pieces side-by-side you could tell that they were not done by the same artist.

Size-wise the tiger also didn’t belong in the same chess set. If the tiger was that big, how big would the lion have to be? I would’ve ended up with a chess board that was two feet on a side just to accommodate that tiger.

But the tiger was so gorgeous I didn’t want to get rid of it.

Problem is, chess sets are mirrored sets of pieces. There was no way, even having watched her do it, that I could create a duplicate of that tiger.

So even though the tiger was much, much better than my other pieces, I couldn’t use it.

When I think sometimes of having someone who is really good at writing try to edit something I write, I immediately think of those two chess pieces and how they didn’t go together. How it was better to just use the less-perfect pieces I created rather than to try to merge in that beautiful tiger.

Now, I will say that not all editing experiences are like that and I was actually quite pleased with the edits of my short story I had in a collection last year. I did have to let go of a few personal preferences for how to punctuate my writing, but I figured that was part of sanding the edges off to get a unified product and that at that point my story was part of a bigger piece.

And there was definite benefit to being edited. I had confused mantel and mantle in that story, for example. But a simple light copy edit (assuming you find a good copy editor, which in self-pub spaces can be tricky) can easily handle that sort of thing. And that sort of edit should be for technical mistakes like mantle vs. mantel or eye color mix-ups, not rewrites.

Anyway. To wrap this up.

The way for me to be able to keep writing is to accept that I can only write what I can write and to hope that somewhere out there someone is looking for that type of story and will enjoy it. And to accept that some people won’t enjoy it and to remind myself that they are not my reader. And if at the end of the day no one likes what I wrote, well at least I know it was true to me and I didn’t compromise and bend and twist myself out of shape to then still have people not like it.