It’s Fucking Hard

I have more ideas than I know what to do with. Not just writing, everything. I literally have scrap notes lying around for different social media platform ideas and food business ideas and…everything.

One of those ideas I had recently was doing a podcast called “It’s Fucking Hard” which was basically going to be me talking to a wide variety of people, mostly creatives, but not all, about how hard it is to succeed at things.

Sure, there are a few people out there who have success after success after success and never seem to struggle.

Those tend to be the ones you see in the news and see interviewed everywhere. Because to get to the absolute top of an industry usually takes decades of building upon smaller successes and not failing in any other way that’s highly noticeable.

Especially in the more traditional corporate fields.

Which means that even if that isn’t the full story, when someone is on top there is an incredible incentive to present that sort of “always successful” narrative.

Society rewards success and expects successful people to be successful.

Someone who succeeded after failure is someone who could fail again, right? Oh my gosh, we don’t want that. We only want the people who were lucky enough to get it right the first time and keep getting it right because we pretend that’s about their inherent qualities.

(And don’t get me wrong. Every person I know who is at the top or near the top of their field works hard and is talented and skilled at what they do. And they’ve worked hard at it for years. That is a requirements to reach those levels. But we tend to leave out the fortuitous assignment to the right boss at the right time in someone’s career. Or the friend of a friend who made that key introduction. Or having the funds to push through the rough patch before the success. Or publishing the right kind of story at the right time.)

So I basically wanted to do this podcast with successful people where they opened up about the struggles they faced to get to where they were. Because I thought it was an important message to share with people.

First, that it isn’t always a smooth path to the top. That there are setbacks and struggles and dark moments. That you can go down, too, not just up. But that doesn’t mean you’re down forever.

(At some point early in my life, and I don’t know why I was this foolish and actually maybe it would’ve been true for me if I’d continued on my first corporate career path, I had this notion that you succeed once and that’s it. You’re always successful once you’ve succeeded. You are successful in your career and then you retire and enjoy the fruits of your success. Silly to think of that now as someone pursuing a creative career.)

Second I wanted to share that even at the top people have struggles. I know people successful in their careers who are full of stress and anxiety. Sometimes because they’re trying to stay at the top, but often because there are sacrifices being made in other areas of their life to be that successful.

When I was a consultant I traveled Monday through Friday (and, yes, Friday, because the place I worked for were that kind of people) probably 48 weeks of each year. Maybe more. That takes a toll on your personal relationships. And for many on their mental health.

I did some interviews during my MBA program where I talked to CEOs and other top-level executives and pretty much every person I talked to for that set of interviews had lost relationships or family connections to be where they were.

But I didn’t want it to be a depressing show. I wanted to focus on the fact that you have to decide if you really want it enough to push through the dark moments. To weather the lack of response. To keep going when no one seems to believe in you the way you believe in yourself.

Because if you can do that, you can succeed.

(Maybe. It’s not guaranteed. And it’s never going to be easy. Also, you reach Goal A and you’ll set Goal B and you’ll be right back in it.)

Anyway. I decided not to do that podcast because of the pearl-clutching that happens around the F word and the fact that my advertising options would be limited and I’d probably get taken down if I tried to launch a podcast with that title. But it was fun to think about during some early morning walks with my dog.

I decided to mention it today because I had a friend have one of those dark moments. I hope he works through it. But I figured it was a good time to remind everyone that no matter how successful someone is we all have those down moments and struggles. And when that happens you have to find something inside you that carries you through because the only chance at success is to keep trying.

Ratings and Rankings

I just saw a video clip of Ethan Hawke talking about movies, and the clip ended with a comment that really struck me. In reference to ratings and rankings, etc. he said, “when I was growing up those things didn’t exist and you could just absorb a movie for [what] it meant to you.”

It struck me how true that was and how damaging ratings and rankings and, quite frankly, knowing everyone’s opinion, is.

More than once there has been a book that I enjoyed that I somehow read in a vacuum. I just found the book, and I read the book, and I enjoyed it.

And then…I somehow encountered other people’s opinions about that book.

Sometimes they had read it. Sometimes I suspect they had not.

What was clear was that the book they read was not the book I read. What they saw in those pages was not what I saw in those pages. What the author actually intended, who knows.

But suddenly something I had experienced and enjoyed was tarnished.

And, I’m not even talking “oh that was really -ist” comments either. I’ve had this with movies I went to with friends where they wanted to talk about the movie afterward and it killed the moviegoing experience for me because I’d had two hours of “enjoyment” or “not enjoyment” and they wanted to break it down by cinematography and plot and dialogue and…

Ugh. (Don’t even get me started on The Matrix and what that was like walking out of the theater with one of those people…)

The movie was enjoyable. Leave it alone already.

And, yes, different perspectives on the same work can be instructive. It’s important to know that your viewpoint is not the only viewpoint. And to learn when something really is problematic, why.

But hearing different perspectives on something you simply enjoyed can be frickin’ exhausting. To not be allowed one little thing in this world that you can enjoy without qualification or analysis…


And here’s the thing. Rankings and ratings assume that all people’s opinions are equally valid. That what Person A has to say about this is equal to what Person B has to say.

But in real life we know that’s not true.

If I stick you in a room with twenty people for three months and let those people routinely voice their opinions in front of you, by the end of that three months there are people you will listen to every time they open their mouth and there are people you will ignore or hate every time they open their mouth.

Reviews and rankings don’t take that into account. Amazon will treat a two-star review that says, “the cover was bent” the same as it treats a four-star review of the actual content of the book.

And often people think, “oh, this person has a lot of reviews, they must really be the person to listen to”, but again, we all know that person who has to opine on everything and who you’d like to really shut up already, thank you very much.

But online? That person gets clout because they talk so much, not because they have anything valid to say.

And rankings are usually a reflection of two things.

One, mass popularity, which may not be what an individual consumer wants. Not everyone wants vanilla ice cream. It’s the most popular ice cream flavor-by far-but some of us like other flavors. I personally love peppermint, but it doesn’t even make the top ten. It’s not even in stores year-round.

Or, two, rankings are driven by good advertising. Money makes money even in the arts. And you often get to the point where things are popular because they’re popular.

A good ranking does not equal an enjoyable experience for the consumer. It just means a lot of people are consuming that product.

To live in a world where sales are so driven by rankings and ratings is sort of absurd really. I mean, who cares what anyone else thought if you got value or enjoyment out of that thing you watched or read or did?

I am so glad I grew up and had my formative years pre-internet. (I think it was junior year of college when I first dealt with the internet in any way and it was not a main thing for me even then. I didn’t even have home internet until my 30s.)

It was great, because I didn’t have to worry about others’ perceptions of me or my world or my interests. I could just be me and enjoy what I enjoyed and that was it.

I mean, yeah, there were real-world people with opinions, but not many, honestly. And when they did have opinions I knew them, so I knew who to listen to and who not to listen to. I could look at someone and say, “Do I care what that person thinks?” and know that the answer was “No.”

Which I guess is an argument really for spending less time with strangers’ opinions. In ratings and rankings and tweets and whatever else.

Good for them whatever they thought or felt. But I don’t need to know any of that to forge my own experiences.

Although this does remind me of a tweet I saw the other day about identity formation through exclusion and I think there’s an aspect of that that involves identity formation through inclusion.

Like, as long as you model all of your interests and appearance and everything else on what is the most popular and accepted thing that you’ll be safe somehow?

You don’t need your own opinions as long as you know what everyone else thinks and can adopt that instead?

For that personality I guess ratings and rankings are all there is then.

But, wow, is that person also really easy to manipulate…Which, hm. Yeah. Welcome to 2022.

Writing In a Chaotic World

I don’t know if it was always this way, maybe it was and I was just so focused on my life and my personal goals and struggles that I didn’t look up to see the world around me. Or maybe I didn’t have some readily available source of information to tell me what the flare-ups were as they happened so they had to reach a sort of critical mass before they hit my radar.

But it seems to me that there’s a lot more change and angst and turmoil in the world today than there was twenty years ago. And as writers we can unknowingly step right in the midst of that anger and draw it towards us like a lightning rod.

Let me give you two examples from my own writing.

I recently revised a book (Achieve Writing Success now known as Sell That Book) that I had unpublished a while back because it didn’t really sell and it seemed absurd to have a book about selling books out there that didn’t sell.

But I was having fun designing new covers so I decided I’d give it a quick readthrough, edit whatever was outdated, and put it back out there. The original of this book was maybe five years old, and the content actually was still solid. I didn’t have a lot of edits to make.

What I did have to do, though, was remove one of the examples I’d used. Because I referred to the Harry Potter series. The first book in that series would’ve come out when I was working at a bookstore, same with the first Game of Thrones book.

In my book I mentioned this fact because at the time neither one was a big deal at all. They weren’t even on our radar as something special to recommend. We were recommending Brian Jacques books for kids fantasy.

I mentioned the series in the context of how you have to keep writing, because it’s unlikely one book is going to lead to resounding success. You have to build to success with multiple books.

But I took the mentions of Harry Potter out because of JK Rowling’s reputation now, in the present day, of being actively anti-trans. There is a very vocal contingent of people who do not want her name or her books ever mentioned anywhere ever again and who will react very negatively to anyone who does so.

Would I have been aware of this fact if I were still consulting full-time? No. But I spend enough time on Twitter and follow enough writers there who are connected to that community or part of it to know this fact. And so knowing this, I chose to remove the example from my book.

But had I never unpublished that book and had someone bought it today and read it and had strong feelings about her, I could’ve stepped right in it with that reader and been accused of all sorts of things for mentioning her.

Because there are readers today who believe that a mention of her or her books requires a trigger warning. There are even reviews that will flag any mention of the Harry Potter books.

As a self-publisher if I know about these things, I can change my books to remove a problematic reference. But it’s almost impossible to keep up with the changing tides and dynamics and issues.

And it’s easy to forget a passing mention like that that was made five years ago when things weren’t emotionally fraught with respect to a certain topic. Until I re-read that book I didn’t remember that I’d used that example. I would’ve never known to go looking for it.

(This constant shift in attitudes towards who is safe and who is not is actually one of the reasons I left Twitter with my YA fantasy name. There was a period of about two weeks on Twitter a few years back where the SFF community decided to ostracize a large number of people behaving badly. It seemed to start with someone who had sexually assaulted someone IIRC but then it expanded to include a few guys who from what was said publicly were insensitive assholes who made crude comments. From there it spread to authors who were called out for things I never could really track down. Maybe dating someone and breaking up with them in a less than perfect way? By the time it was all done there were about a dozen people who you were supposed to unfollow unless you wanted to be guilty by association. At that point I was like, “I can’t spend all my time on here monitoring for who I’m not supposed to like, so I’m out. Buh-bye.”)

So that’s the first example. We learn more about people over time and suddenly a passing mention is loaded with meaning. My YA fantasy bio lists the fantasy worlds I loved growing up, but after I wrote that bio I learned that there are readers who’ve thrown out all of the books from one of those worlds due to accusations that were made about the author. SFF is littered with stories of inappropriate behavior by some of its biggest names and a certain contingent expects you to know all of this and react “appropriately”.

The second example is more about how events can catch up and pass us by and put a whole new level of weight on what we’re writing.

I’m currently working on my ninth and final cozy mystery. In the book the main character is seven months pregnant and on bed rest with twins. She was never someone who really wanted to be pregnant in the first place although she does want to have the kids. So she complains a lot about being pregnant. The swollen ankles, the kick to the kidney, the constant need to pee, the being the size of a whale, etc. She also worries a lot about being a shitty mom and how hard it is to be a parent. (Especially to twins!)

Two years ago there would have definitely been readers who weren’t pleased with her being less than positive about being pregnant and being a mom.

Cozy tends towards a conservative audience. Maybe my audience on book nine isn’t that way, but in general cozies are expected to not have things like profanity, using the Lord’s name in vain, on-the-page sex, or graphic violence. And they are often set in small towns which also attracts a more conservative readership.

But it would’ve been mild. I wouldn’t have expected anyone to reach out to me about it or to mention it in a review.

As I write this, however, the news just leaked that Roe is likely to be overturned. (For international readers, the gist of this is that in the United States after this happens individual states will be able to ban abortion, something they haven’t been allowed to do for 50 years. States have been able to restrict abortion to some degree or another, but not outright ban it.)

Other than that being an absolute bullshit decision that will cost lives and signals bad things for the direction this country is headed, for me as a writer it will also impact how this cozy is received by readers.

Because all discussion of pregnancy and being pregnant and any struggles around pregnancy are going to carry an added weight right now.

Even though my character chose to continue her pregnancy and is going to have the twins, there will still be readers who react more negatively to this book when it publishes in a month or two than they would have two years ago.

Their personal beliefs might not have changed in that time, but their sensitivity to the issue will be heightened.

Now, am I going to edit the book to remove those references? No.

My character is very well-established as being unimpressed by weddings, baby showers, motherhood, and any other traditional things that women are supposed to be impressed by. I’m not going to change her character in the 11th hour just because the world has shifted while I was writing her books.

But am I prepared to maybe get some pushback from a reader who will tell me they loved the series until this book? Yep. Absolutely.

That’s the risk of putting something you write out into the world. People are always going to layer their own knowledge and experience on top of whatever you write and come up with their own opinions of you and your material.

The challenge these days is that the world is moving so fast and in so many directions that you can think you know how something you wrote is going to be perceived and then something will change or something you never even knew about will come along and the reaction you get will blindside you.

Is there anything that can be done about that? I don’t think so. I guess maybe if you’re a person who puts what you think others want on the page, stop. Because if the world is going to slam you for what you wrote, at least make it be something you believe in.

Also, accept right now that someone somewhere is going to have an issue with what you write. You cannot put written work out into the public and expect it to be acceptable to everyone. Not gonna happen.

(Which also argues for knowing who you are writing for versus who you aren’t writing for, so you know when you’ve gone off course versus when you’ve just ended up in front of the wrong audience.)

It’s not easy writing in a chaotic world. But only you can write your stories, so keep at it.

You Never Know

One of the authors I “follow” on Twitter (I say follow because I refuse to have an account there so just go to a select handful of author pages and read their latest Tweets) is Seanan McGuire.

Last week she was pushing a self-published title that was in KU called Legends & Lattes that she’d come across and really loved. And thanks to word of mouth and enthusiasm it got pretty high in the Amazon store.

Well, today she shared this link about how Tor UK just acquired the book and will be publishing it in December.

I don’t know if any of that was in the works before last week, but it highlights how finding that one enthusiastic reader can change everything for an author.

Another self-published author I know (Victoria Goddard) saw a significant jump in sales when author Alexandra Rowland started reading her books and tweeting about how much they loved them. Rowland even wrote a post about it for the Tor blog.

You just never know when you’ll connect with that right reader in that right way and things will take off.

Interestingly, yesterday I re-read a book I’d written a few years back that I’d then unpublished because no one really bought it and I figured maybe I’d written it too soon for anyone to take seriously.

I’d decided I’d re-release it because I was having fun doing new covers and that let me do one more for that series.

The book (now titled Sell That Book, formerly called Achieve Writing Success) was for those who’d written a novel or maybe two novels and now wanted to make money from their writing.

What’s ironic, funny, interesting is that there is a chapter in there that touches in a way on this very thing.

The chapter before that talks about how if trade publishing is your dream then self-publishing should not be the “well, I guess I failed at trade pub, let me self-pub” alternative. Because self-pub requires mastering five times as many skills as trade pub.

But the chapter this made me think about is the chapter after that which basically talks about “why let someone else keep you from your dream?” If trade pub is saying no to what you want to write, why not take a chance on yourself and self-publish it?

I am a firm advocate for making your own path if others aren’t going to make it for you. So if you have this thing you’re passionate about creating, then create it. Get it out there into the world.

Maybe (and probably likely) nothing comes of it. Hundreds or thousands of new books are published daily that don’t sell.

But at least you’ll have tried. You’ll have created something that no one but you could put out into the world.

And, you never know. Maybe that thing you created succeeds…

(Don’t do it with the expectation that will happen, because, yeah, no, sorry, not likely. But don’t let someone else’s no stop you from what you feel in your gut either.)

Anyway. Nice to see those little moments of good fortune in the world. And if you love a book, let others know. You never know what magic you might create for that author.

Random Comments and Thoughts 20220307

First, kudos to Brandon Sanderson for knocking that Kickstarter out of the park. It’s at $25 million raised as of this morning and has plenty of time left to go. As I said in one of my FB groups, Brandon Sanderson sure knows how to self-publish, which is what doing a Kickstarter is, right?

But as I also told another friend who didn’t know who he was because she’s more involved in the romance genre than SFF, this is the culmination of a very successful twenty-year prolific trade-publishing career. The man has delivered on what he delivers consistently for decades and has already run one successful Kickstarter for a fancy hard cover edition in the past. So he’s shown he can deliver both a good story and the product he’s offering.

I do think this highlights something very crucial, though, which is that published authors are not some monolith. What a Brandon Sanderson can do is not what I can do and not what most authors can do. So it’s important to look at what he did there and not think, “Oh, wow, let me go raise my $25 million” or “Gosh, my Kickstarter only raised $1,000, I must suck,” because he’s operating at a level that maybe a hundred authors are at. Maybe.

The other thing I think is important to understand is that Kickstarter has morphed from what some people think it’s supposed to be. I had a friend do a Kickstarter a number of years ago for a project (that they didn’t deliver on) that was meant to fund the development stage of the product. That’s what I think some people still think Kickstarter is.

But I’ve seen it used recently more as a pre-order platform for authors where they want to do a print run of a book and this lets them get an approximate number of books to print. Which is why the “he already reached his goal, why is he still going” takes on Twitter made no sense. Because he wasn’t saying, “give me a million dollars and I’ll write this book.” He was saying, “I’ve written this book, how many of you want this special edition of it?”

Which is also why the hot takes about this upending publishing were a bit suspect, too. Like publishers are really going to require their authors to crowd fund their own advance? No. Worry about something that may happen. Like the publishers Kickstarting your book themselves to see what kind of print run they should expect. That’s more of a possibility, although still unlikely.

What I would expect are tighter contract terms for trade pub. The fact that he could do this in an established universe where he has a trade pub contract in place means there were probably some things about his contracts that are not going to be options in the contracts for newer authors.

You can bet after this that some publishers will try to lock down all “special editions” rights they can if they haven’t already.

(Although, if they’re smart, maybe not. I’m pretty sure I saw somewhere that Sanderson plans to go through trade pub for the regular hard cover and paperback versions of these books. In which case letting him Kickstart the premium version of the book very likely means a lot of sales for those versions of these books for his trade publisher, especially the overseas versions which it seems are going to be expensive enough to ship that some overseas readers were unhappy they wouldn’t be able to get a physical book.)

Anyway. An interesting development to watch. Not something most of us could actually do ourselves, but something that means we can do other, smaller things along similar lines. And a reminder that it’s better to strive for the next rung on the ladder and not be defeated by what someone a hundred rungs ahead of you is doing.

Also, this was not meant to be entirely about that Kickstarter, so just another thought. This morning I removed my easy access to one of the few FB groups I was still stopping by regularly because there’s been someone frequently posting in that group with complaints about anything and everything.

My experience from my days in a work environment is that toxicity can be contagious and spiral until you devolve into a group that just complains and is unhappy all the time. I’ve had good work groups turn sour like that and it sucks every time it happens, so I bailed.

I’d just say if you find yourself going to some place to “vent” because it’s a “safe place to share these things” maybe stop and step back and think about what you’re putting out into the world.

Instead of spreading that negativity to others, try to find something productive to do with that feeling instead.

This is why I left Twitter years ago, because I realized I was just taking negative things people were putting out into the world and passing them on. It didn’t matter if it was true or if I agreed, it wasn’t solving the underlying issue. It was just making everyone more unhappy by reminding them that the world was shit.

Also, that “safe place to vent”? Not really safe. Just because you know a dozen good friends in the group does not mean there aren’t hundreds watching what you say and do that you forgot were there because they stay silent.

Anyway. Those are my thoughts for the day. As soon as I figure out if Teachable will actually pay out my prior sales I’ll have the new Affinity video classes up there. They’re done, just waiting to hit the publish button at this point.

A Good Twitter Thread

I am that weird person who does not actually have a Twitter account but also reads Twitter daily via a series of bookmarks of people I like to follow on there. And today one of those people who I started following because they’re a nurse but also like to read because they’re a writer, had a good Twitter thread.

I’m going to link to it because it’s one of those emotionally raw threads the author may choose to delete later so I don’t want to create a permanent record of something they may not want to be permanent, but here it is: Cassie Alexander on a new release and writing and life

There are so many good parts to this thread it’s worth reading the whole thing starting around post seven.

I did take a screen cap of this part. (Which if she reaches out and asks me to delete I absolutely will.)

It is hard to be a writer. It takes a relentless sort of optimism to keep going at this thing. Because almost no one makes it right out of the gate. It is decades of effort to get somewhere that’s just the starting line.

And that’s really challenging to talk about. Because you have to be vulnerable and admit to not being as successful as you’d like to be. Or sometimes not being successful at all. And we live in a world that does not reward that vulnerability.

Fake it til you make it. You’re supposed to make things look absolutely effortless and fun and enjoyable as you sail into the sunset. But that’s really not the truth of it.

I enjoy every single day of my life right now. I enjoy the writing and the fiddling with design and the publishing books and even the advertising. But there are days when I have that dark moment of the soul.

Because how can it be that you can make good money just showing up and doing the job as X but you turn around and do something far more challenging that takes real dedication and effort and…don’t make money. Or not near as much money.

And I know that feeling she talks about of hoping but not hoping with that latest release. I mean, I just put out book eight of a cozy mystery series in December. I had to squash every single positive thought I might have about that book. Because it’s book eight.

It’s not going to take off and make my career. It will sell less copies than book seven. Or maybe as many copies. But not more. And being book eight that number of copies is way less than book one sold.

I just had to think of it as another brick in the wall of publication I’m building. It’s slow grinding work to stack that next one on there and not be able to see that everything is (hopefully) working to create something that’s bigger than the sum of its parts.

Part of my issue with the idea of publishing a new fantasy series is that whole, “maybe this will be the one” idea. Because I know it won’t. But I know I need to do it anyway to keep building this writing thing.

It’s hard not to hope and then be disappointed over and over again. But that’s the business.

I tell myself, “You can’t lose until you quit.” And the small wins do keep me going. There’s always some little glimmer of hope. But, man, some days…

The Need For Focus

One of the hardest things I ever did in my life was triple-majoring at Stanford while also working full-time and living half an hour from campus.

(For my non-fiction bio I tend to just list the Econ degree but I also completed all of the requirements for a degree in anthropology and one in psychology and all three are listed on my diploma.)

I had taken a year off from college between my sophomore year and my junior year and when I went back I realized that I needed a “real major” that would let me easily get a job after graduation.

Since Stanford didn’t actually offer accounting or business for undergrads, econ was as close as I could get to practical. (I really should’ve done computer science, but it didn’t occur to me at the time.)

By then I had inadvertently made it halfway to both a psych degree and an anthro degree and I didn’t want to just give that up. So I sat down and figured out that if I took a full course load for the next two years, I could complete all three.

(I will note here that I was partially able to do this because I was a transfer student and they didn’t make me do what I think was called CIV at the time and also this was before they majorly upped the units required to get an Econ degree. That year in fact it went from a 60 unit major to a 90 unit major and I had to declare before the switch to not have everything fall apart. Anyway. Back to the story.)

I decided on this plan before I returned to school. So when I got there I got the first job I could find, put my head down, and pretty much didn’t think for the next two years.

I had a goal: complete my degree in that period of time and with all three majors.

There were some bumps along the way. Like them changing the requirements for Econometrics to have two pre-reqs that I didn’t have yet so I stumbled through that class half-blind and only thanks to the mercy of the professor who let me still take it.

And I did not do my best in every class. I for the first time ever had some C’s show up on my transcript. I think I even had a C- which was a horror to me, but at least it wasn’t a D which wouldn’t have counted towards the degree.

And I definitely didn’t see the larger picture, so made mistakes that way. I had an opportunity to do field research the summer after junior year but there was no flexibility in my plan to do that so I missed out on what could’ve been an incredible experience and could’ve put me on a very different path. And I didn’t realize the prep work required to get an investment banking or consulting job so missed out on those opportunities because when it came time to interview no one cared about my triple major.

But because I had set this huge goal and then drove for that goal at the expense of everything else (including, some days, my sanity), I hit it.

Which means I know that when I set a big goal, put on blinders, and drive for that goal I can get there.

The problem is, life rarely gives us the time and space to do something like that.

I was in school during a period of time where I could forget about the larger world for two years. My father had already passed away and no one else in my family was in immediate crisis. I had a six-inch black and white television in my apartment. I didn’t have a computer. This was pre smartphones.

All I had was work and studying. I had almost no idea what was going on in the larger world.

I was also off-campus so not caught up in the ongoing dramas of those around me. (Unlike say, my freshman year, which was awful in that sense.)

And the world itself was stable. I just looked on Google and it seems the biggest events happening around then were the impeachment of Bill Clinton, which was more salacious than world-shattering, and the death of Princess Diana, which was tragic but not of impact to me personally.

I could afford to focus because I knew the world was going to continue on in mostly the same shape and form for that two years.

The reason I’m talking about this now is because there is a part of me that wants to do something like that again. Set an incredibly hard goal for myself, put on my blinders, and just go.

No questions, no second-guessing, no changing course. Just…go until it’s done.

I don’t even know what the goal would be. Maybe write a nine-book epic fantasy series in a year? Just dive in so deep the real world has no meaning and my goal becomes everything.

The problem is, I don’t think I feel secure enough in our world these days to do that. The current world is not stable enough to ignore for a year or two.

On the political side things have eased back a lot in the last year or so. I, like others, no longer feel a constant need for vigilance. I can go a week without knowing or caring what the President is doing right now. Whereas for the four years prior to that there was a lot of, “what now? oh dear god.”

But we’re still teetering on the edge there. I mean, if the U.S. defaults on its debt? Holy shit, the world will change in a moment.

And then of course there’s COVID. I got my family through the first year safe, but it is not over and I’m not sure I can get them through the next year safe.

And I’m pretty sure some friends of mine will not make it through the next year safe because they seem to think that these things only go in one direction and so things can’t get a little better and then get a lot worse. Since things got a little better at one point, they are full-on living like it’s over. I cringe every time one of my friends posts about taking her young child traveling all over the country like it’s nothing.

(And maybe they’ll be perfectly safe. That is absolutely possible. I told a friend recently that we’re all playing a game of Russian roulette where we don’t know the number of bullets or the number of chambers. But every exposure is a pull on that trigger. Maybe no bullet this time. But next time? Who knows.)

And then of course there’s just this shitty world sometimes, you know. This week there was a school shooting. In a county where one of my friends lives. Where that friend has a fifteen-year-old and a thirteen-year-old. So when that shooting happened, I had to wonder if it involved my friend’s kids. Only when the news published the ages and genders of the kids could I relax that worry.

Of course, the question becomes, how much of that do I need to monitor or own?

If my friend from college twenty years ago has a kid that ends up hospitalized for COVID, is that mine to carry because I see it on Facebook?

Right now I would say, yes, because that’s my friend and as a friend you care about the struggles of your friends.

But how much of that is from social media making our social circles wider than they really ought to be? And bringing in more stress and anxiety as a result? If I didn’t have Facebook would I still be in touch enough with that friend to share in their struggles?

And how much of the wider world do I really need to monitor? If I have no control over what’s happening, then should I be letting all of that into my space to derail my goals?

I could’ve spent the last few days mired in Twitter outrage about SCOTUS. Legitimately so. But what does that actually accomplish? My reading Twitter threads, if they’re not there to inform me on something I didn’t know or to help me gauge risk or to give me an action I can take, what does that actually accomplish? It just ratchets up the anxiety without changing anything.

So why do it? Why do any of it? Wouldn’t it be better to put on those blinders and focus on a goal? But can I? Or do we live in a world right now that is unstable enough that it can all be taken away tomorrow and do I need to monitor for that?

I don’t know. I don’t have the answers on this one.

I can’t tell how much is “danger” that requires my attention and how much is just a false sense of immediacy that I could safely ignore that would then let me focus and accomplish something big and great that I will not accomplish otherwise.

I’m hoping to work it out for myself before January. (Haha. Right.) That will let me know whether next year’s goals should be “write a couple novels while the world burns” or “write two million words of publishable words while the world burns.”

Even More Random Thoughts

First off, it’s Thanskgiving here in the United States. Canada had theirs last month I think it was and I’m not really sure about the rest of the world. But I think it’s good to have a day where you stop and take stock of the things that are going well and that you acknowledge what you do have as opposed to what you want.

Far too often we get fixated on what we don’t have. Or what we’d like to have. Or what we’re striving for.

And Goals are good, don’t get me wrong. I am all for forward progress.

But it’s easy to miss what’s there already. The family, the friends, the pets, the home, the hobbies, the job that isn’t your forever job but that you actually like, the peace, the money in your bank account. Any of which could be gone tomorrow.

So take a moment, even if you’re not American, and count up your blessings.

I’ve also been thinking a lot lately about a few concepts.

One is the idea of incremental improvement versus exponential improvement. The last few years I’ve seen a steady 15% increase in profit each year. But a few years back I had a 700% increase in profit year-over-year and going even further back I had a 2200% increase in profit one year.

Why the difference? Why did I see such a big jump in certain years, but not in others.

Simple. In those big years I made a drastic shift. Both involved writing something completely new.

Ironically, the 2200% increase was one I didn’t stick with. It wasn’t for me long-term so I didn’t build on it.

But I kept writing and trying new things and then had the 700% increase year.

(Quick comment here: Not everything new that you try will do that. You have to not only try something new, but have it “hit” to some degree compared to where you were.)

Now here’s the trick, though.

I think one the hardest business choices to make is to be at a point where you’re making that steady 15% more profit per year on something that’s “good” but you’re not where you want to be.

Taking that leap into the new and unknown to see if you can find the 700% market instead is not an easy decision to make. Because you often have to sacrifice the “good” path to get to the “great” path.

Earlier this year there was a Wharton talk I listened to. Can’t remember if I mentioned it already. But it included the guy who started SkinnyPop. And one of the things he mentioned is that he didn’t start with SkinnyPop.

He started with a gourmet popcorn idea that was profitable but not at the level he wanted. So he and his business partner took the risk of working on a new line of healthy popcorn. When that new product started to show promise they sold off the old business even though it was doing fine.

That old business is still viable, but it wasn’t a $320 million business, which is what the founders were able to sell SkinnyPop for.

So when do you set aside the viable business for the shot at the superstar business? Do you make the leap? Maybe that leap is jumping right off a cliff? Maybe a little patience would’ve transformed the original idea into something that was enough.

Because note that the guy isn’t running that business anymore. If what he really wanted was a storefront where he interacted with happy customers every day, that man actually didn’t succeed.

Which is sort of a secondary thought to the whole incremental vs. exponential growth question.

And leads me into my final area of thought these days.

Because at the same time I’ve been thinking about revenue and profitability and all of that jazz, my mind has also been on a completely track. (My mind often operates on about four levels at once but usually one whole level is music, because I’m weird. Anyway.)

A while back I read The Hero Within by Carol S. Pearson and it felt like that next step past CliftonStrengths for me. (That’s an affiliate link to Amazon by the way, but you can find it on all major retailers.)

For those of you familiar with Strengths, I know I will always be a Strategic-Achiever-Learner-Relator.

Put me in any context and that is who I am at my core. I am that person who will quickly learn what it takes to survive and then set about doing so while only bringing a limited number of people into my inner circle.

I don’t have to win, I’m not high Competition, but I do have to survive. (It’s part of the reason I have to be careful what environments I put myself in.)

I accept that wisdom I gained from Strengths. But it seemed to me there should be more to the story.

Because who I was at twenty-five and what I valued is not who I am at forty-five and what I value.

I have even found myself at times feeling very uncomfortable in conversations with friends who are currently where I have been.

For example, I met a friend for a meal a while back who was in a power struggle at work. And I knew that five years ago I would’ve reacted the exact same way they were to their current situation. But by the time we met the idea of spending that much mental energy on a work conflict repelled me. Like, what a waste of the limited time we have on this earth to be fighting over widgets.

But applying what I’d read from the Pearson book I could see that my friend was in a Warrior phase of their life. A phase they needed to go through. This was someone who needed to learn to stand up for themselves. So they were right where they needed to be.

I just wasn’t there any longer.

The Pearson book gave me an insight into the different psychological stages that we might all go through.

Now, keep in mind this worked for me. And I am not going to get into some lengthy debate with anyone about Jung and how accurate his work is or whether it can be scientifically proven, because at the end of the day something like this boils down to “Does it help you move forward in your life? Does it give you insights that let you better communicate or thrive?”

For me it does. For others it may not.

The book also gave me insight into why certain genres might appeal to certain readers. Many readers like stories around the Innocent archetype. They want to read about being rescued and taken away.

So that book was helpful to me both in terms of which stories I should be trying to write and in terms of understanding the personal conflicts in my own life. I’ve recently been reading Awakening the Heroes Within and it reinforced for me the concepts from the first book.

(Now I will say that at online they seem to have changed their test and I don’t resonate with the results of the new one and probably wouldn’t recommend it. But the books have an assessment in them that still works for me.)

Where to from here with all those thoughts percolating?

One idea is to make sure that the next fantasy I write incorporates characters that include each archetype. (In this recent book she makes repeated references to the Arthurian legend as an example of a story that incorporates many of the archetypes.)

Another is to lean into where I am on my own personal journey right now and choose the story idea I have that is most in line with the archetypes currently active in my own life.

If I look at the incremental versus exponential idea, then another option is to write something completely new. (I have a domestic thriller idea that’s been percolating for example.)

But I think I’m also coming to a really hard realization. One I may not be able to achieve fully.

And that’s that so much of what I valued in my early career has no meaning to me now. And if it has no meaning to me then I need to fully let it go, which is scary because it would mean fully letting go of fallback financial security.

Right now I’m pretty sure I could go back to consulting or corporate work and even if I took a position a few steps back from where I left I think I could excel at it again. I think I know at least three people who would help me get back in the door.

But knowing that is keeping me from fully stepping onto the path to wherever I go next. I am coming to the realization that moving forward from here requires me to fully let that possibility go.

Which is scary. Because that path represents wealth and financial security. And it also contains people who will not understand where I go next and who I may not understand anymore either.

Now, I should be clear here that this isn’t about “choosing to be a writer”. Because I know many authors who do exceedingly well financially with their writing.

And they have a level of reputation and clout that fits in very well with the path I want to step away from.

This is more me talking about writing something that’s so different and challenging and may not even work that it’s very likely ten other people will get it. And finding joy in that because it lets me explore the themes that matter to me. It’s about finally acknowledging to myself that other than books and a secure home and vehicle that possessions really do nothing at all for me. And about accepting that that may put me in a place that others can’t follow because they don’t get it.

I don’t know. I don’t know if I can make that leap. Or if I need to take that step to then come back into a more material life under the Ruler archetype with the knowledge that success for me won’t be about the money or being put on a pedestal, but on the ability to spread my truth far enough for it to have an impact.

Which sounds incredibly arrogant and pompous and all of that fun stuff, but that’s part of the whole journey discussed in those books. Setting aside those outer judgements so you can do what you need to do to move forward in your life.

ANYWAY. Count your blessings today. And if you think you have no blessings, remember you are still alive and there’s still another day for things to get better.

(And if it turns out they get worse but you didn’t count the blessings you had, well then clearly you were being an ass who refused to acknowledge what you had and you should try again.)

More Random Writerly Thoughts

This morning I was curious and tried to look up an author’s books. And I’m pretty sure they’re only listed on Smashword and publish print through Lulu. Which, ouch.

I understand that not all authors worry about making money from what they do, but that’s an interesting set of choices to make to be found by readers. I had tried looking them up on Amazon before I clicked their links on their website, because I’m weird that way, but there was nothing for me to find. I’m sure I’m not the only one who does that.

Then again I have another author I know who is very serious about doing well at this and they published non-fiction but only in ebook and only on Amazon. Which means all those Fortune write-ups are mostly wasted. If you’re going to pursue more traditional media coverage, then being available on all major platforms and in all formats is kind of key.

I also know an author who has done incredibly well with a few series for a short period of time on each one through KU who can’t be bothered with print. More understandable there because fiction readers that read self-published books do lean more towards ebook, but that author is still leaving money on the table every time their books are on the top 100 list.

I know we all have different goals in what we’re doing and different bandwidth and energy for doing all the various aspects of this writing gig. Still. I think sometimes it’s “can’t be bothered” but sometimes it’s “I was given really bad advice.”

Like the author I met with a while back who was going to use IngramSpark for ebook distribution. (Plenty of discussion on why that’s a bad idea in the Wide for the Win Facebook group.)

So, yeah, interesting choices. Of course, I’m sure someone looks at mine and thinks the same. I am not immune to bad choices.

Also a few AMS comments for the day.

Years ago I opened I think it was an Advantage account in the UK. I’d actually transitioned from using it for the most part in the last year or so because the account I can access through my KDP account is just fine. Which is good.

Because when I was looking at ad spend this month I noticed that for that account they tacked on 20% tax. Must’ve been because I never fully completed setting the account up back then, which was the trick to get access to AMS in the UK without having to pay the fee for that type of account.

I am not seeing that same 20% charge on my KDP UK AMS account.

I have to say that tax must really disadvantage authors who are getting charged that amount. 20% is a lot. I still make $2 when I spend $1 on AMS so I could keep going, but if someone were operating closer to the edge, that would push them right over into unprofitability. And if all they’re doing is paying attention to their dashboard numbers they won’t even see that.

For the record, I track AMS ad spend in a spreadsheet and not only do I add in any extra fees or taxes like that I also add in 3% for a credit card fee for all of my foreign AMS ad spend because that’s what my credit card charges for foreign transactions. If you’re not factoring in those extra costs, you could be losing money and not realizing it.

Also, I just have to roll my eyes at the scammers in one of my niches. I at some point mentioned that X keyword was one of my best keywords and now I get to watch that particular keyword be hit by fake clicks on a regular basis. It looks awful day of but then Amazon seems to back it out a few days later.

Some days I turn of that keyword and its iterations and let them have their way and some days I’m luck “fuck it” and just let it ride because I know in a few days it’ll sort itself out. But it would be nice if we operated in an environment where that kind of crap didn’t happen and it was just about the books and the readers.

But it’s a lesson, too, that you can’t expect the same strategy to work long-term. New players, new opportunities, new developments. It’s 3-D chess played against ten thousand opponents.

Which reminds me of the guy who posted in one of my FB groups some thing about how writers don’t have gold medals to compete for and so it’s all just one big love fest. And I was like, uh, Hugos? Nebulas? Booker Prize? Pulitzer? And what about Amazon rankings? Last I checked, only a hundred spots available on each list.

I mean, don’t get me wrong. The writers who form good peer groups absolutely help each other succeed. I can point to numerous examples of that happening. A good group forms and they all find long-term success. And the social support is pivotal for some to keep them going.

(Although I think sometimes that social support is a bit like what I saw with skydiving where you end up with a peer group because you all do Y together and then it’s really hard to walk away from Y even though you should because it also means losing your entire support network, too.)

So, yes, there’s absolutely value in having friends and not trying to compete with your fellow authors or be jealous of their success.

But, at the same time…Don’t be fooled into thinking there is no competition or that visibility isn’t impacted by who else is out there. When you search for X type of book, only one book can be listed first. And people only have so much downtime to spend on reading. If they’re getting their needs met elsewhere (which may not be happening, given my recent run of bleh books I’ve read), they aren’t going to find you.

I personally have no interest in “Being #1”. I could go my whole life without winning a literary award and be perfectly content. And I’m happy to let someone else get the suicide and death threats for not writing their series fast enough or in the right way.

I just want to hang out with my dog, keep a roof over our heads, and do something that engages my mind without destroying my spirit. But I also know that to hit that #2 part of my goal I have to contend with the fact that this is in fact a competitive industry and there are “winners” and “losers” no matter what someone’s goal is.

Anyway. Back to it.