I have a post I kind of worked on, but yesterday was a good writing day for me and I forgot to finish it and post it. I also wasn’t feeling good for a lot of last week. I feel like I have a urinary tract infection but the clinic said while my results were abnormal, they don’t indicate I have a UTI and didn’t prescribe me antibiotics. So, it’s been a long weekend for me health-wise and I have a message in to my doctor asking him what he wants me to do. I’m tired of dealing with my body.
Anyway, I wrote slightly over 6k words yesterday, and I’m up to 38 thousand words in total for the last book in my trilogy. I’m thinking that this book will be in the high 90s too, and I’ve got something in the works to keep my middle from sagging. I have an idea that would make sense, especially if I go back to book 2 and include some more foreshadowing. That’s one of the great things about keeping books until your series is done. If you need to change something, you can! So i’m happy with that, and looking forward to my next writing session.
Today I’m celebrating Easter and won’t be online much at all. Tomorrow I should be able to plan my next few scenes and how I want to get from where I am to the event that will save my middle. I should also be able to write most of Wednesday.
I don’t have much else to report. I read an interesting article on Jane Friedman’s blog about upmarket fiction and what it is by literary agent Carly Watters. It might be useful to those who are querying. Have a look at it here: https://www.janefriedman.com/what-is-upmarket-fiction/
I’m sorry this came out late. I had a weird week, but hopefully after the Easter holiday things will go back to normal. It’s finally warming up here, but we have a ton of snow that needs to melt. I still need to listen to a surprise episode of the Six Figure Author podcast that Lindsay, Jo, and Andrea recorded a few weeks ago. I’ve been so busy hammering out this trilogy for an August release I haven’t made the time, but now that the weather is warmer, I need to get outside and breathe. If you’ve been keeping up with them, you can listen to it here:
Adding discussion questions to the backs of books seems like a very traditionally-published thing to do. When I first started publishing in 2016 I never thought about it, mainly because up until that point, I don’t know if I read books that had discussion questions in the back. If I did, I skipped them entirely because after the last sentence, I set the book aside. It was only after I became an indie author and started devouring every book I read cover to cover (what people sneak into their copyright pages can be really hilarious) did I realize just how much I was missing not reading past The End.
Why would an indie add discussion questions to the backs of their books? I asked that question on Twitter and I received varying responses. One said because she thought her book didn’t warrant them, another said if was an indie book, they would obviously be written by the author which seemed strange. (As opposed to them written by an editor, I guess.) One said he didn’t want to think too much about his own book to come up with the questions.
Those are valid reasons, I suppose, but I think any book has the content required to warrant discussion questions. Every character makes choices, and every one of those choices can be dissected and measured. That’s what I like about adding discussion questions to some of my books. I like puzzling out why a character did what he did and if there was a better way for the outcome he wanted. As an author who is “supposedly” in control, that’s not always the case. I’m not one of those authors who spends years editing her book because she thinks of something better. I write the damned book, and it’s done. What’s there is what will stay there and my stubbornness actually gives me room to explore why I wrote what I did. Characters’ choices aren’t always going to be ours–a nasty character doesn’t make us nasty because we created them.
I like the idea of discussion questions in the back of romance books. Considering what kind of a reputation romance books have, even if a reader glances briefly at the questions, it maybe give them the idea to explore the deeper meaning underneath the kisses. Of course, there may not be any deeper meaning, and that’s okay too. I think every character is flawed and will make poor choices at some point, and reaching to understand the answers to those questions help us grow as readers and our ability to understand other people.
I had a difficult time thinking of questions for the back of Rescue Me. I added them because Sam made a choice or two that may not have sat well with a reader. Lily understood the choices he made, and if there was anything to forgive, she did so with an open heart. Was she right to forgive him? We can’t control how other people behave, we can only control our reactions to what they do.
I admit that discussion questions probably work better with standalone novels, and I’ll add discussion questions to my next standalone coming out in May. That book also deals with some sensitive topics and behavior from both my male and female characters.
Characters are flawed, they’re human, and they’re not always going to do what we expect in the heat of the moment. It’s what they learn from their choices, if anything, that matter in the end.
Is it vain to add questions to the back of self-published novel? Not any more vain than thinking your own work is worthy of being published at all. When indies publish with no greenlight from a gatekeeper, you have to have faith in your work. Why not have faith that a reader will want to explore your book with questions you thought were a good complement?
You never know–maybe your book will fall into the hands of a book club and they’ll appreciate the built-in discussion help.
If you don’t like the idea of coming up with your own discussion questions, perhaps ask a fellow author to give you a few interview questions about your book. You can answer them and then offering extra content won’t feel like such a one-way street. There are always ways to reach your readers, and the more involved they are with you, your characters, and your books, the sooner they will turn into true fans.
Here are a few more resources on adding discussion questions to your own novel:
We tend to confuse marketing and advertising when it comes to our books. Advertising is what you do when you’ve already written it and published it and you’re only looking for readers. That’s running ads, buying a promo, tweeting about it, or posting in FB groups. That’s not really marketing. That’s shoving your book under someone’s nose and hoping they like it enough to buy it.
Marketing encompasses a lot more than that, and it starts with your product, a fact many indie authors don’t like because they prefer writing the book of their heart and hoping someone likes it enough to read it. That’s fine; whatever floats your boat. And honestly, it’s what you should do when you first start out. But writing the book of your heart, or the books of your heart, won’t get you very far unless you can meet in the middle between what you want to write and what readers are looking for. As I’ve said in the past, authors who can meet in the middle find their longevity in this business. Or rather than compromising on every book, write something you love, then something you know will sell, and go back and forth. I was reading Bryan Cohen’s new Amazon Ads book Self-Publishing with Amazon Ads: The Author’s Guide to Lower Costs, Higher Royalties, and Greater Peace of Mind and in it he quoted John Cusack, who said something like, “I do one project for them and one project for me.” I can’t find attribution for that quote, but for the sake of this blog post, let’s go with it. That’s not what this blog post is about, as it is your choice what you want to write, but as Seth Godin said, and I quoted him not long ago, “Find products for your customer instead of trying to find customers for your product.”
(And if you’re interested, a really great talk by Kyla Stone is available here. She talks about writing to market, but she couldn’t get to where she is today if she wasn’t writing what she loved to write.)
I’ve spent six years publishing and learning from my mistakes. Here are some tips I picked up from other authors and what you can implement with your next books.
Make sure your series looks like a series. If you look at any big indie’s backlist all their series look like they belong together. It doesn’t matter if they’re all standalones and readers don’t have to read them in order. If they fit together, create their covers so they look like they do. Not only does a reader glancing at your Amazon page know they belong in a series, they just look nicer when they’re all branded in the same way. That means a matching background, maybe, cover models who have the same vibe. Create a series logo and add that to the cover as another way to identify one series from the next. If you do your own covers but publish as you write, create all your covers at once. That way you’re not stuck with one cover that’s already out in the world you can’t duplicate. That shoves you into a corner you don’t want to be in. Book covers are more important than we want to believe, but trust me. Look at any of your comparison authors’ backlists and see for yourself how they brand their series. Also make sure if you’re going to run ads that they meet Amazon’s policies. I had to tweak my small town contemporary series because Amazon kept blocking my ads. I had to zoom in on their faces and it ruined the entire look. I’m much more careful now.
These are books under this name. It’s easy to see the trilogy belongs together, the three standalones and then the small town series. Amazon didn’t like they were in bed. Too bad. They did.
Write in a series, but also don’t tie things up –until the very last one. Elana Johnson calls these loops. You can end each book with an HEA, but with the overall plot, don’t wrap things up! This encourages the reader to read through your entire series to see how things finally end. With my small town series, everyone is in town for a wedding, and there are wedding activities throughout. The last book ends with the couple’s ceremony. What’s fun, the couple getting married isn’t even one of the couples featured in the books. They are background characters that help with the subplot of each book. That’s it. That might be a flimsy piece of tape holding the books together, but it was a fun way for me to end the series–with the reason why everyone was together in the first place. When Elana talks about loops, she doesn’t mean ending books on a cliffhanger, though it is well within your right and another marketing strategy you can incorporate into your writing. Elana has a wonderful series for indie authors, and you can look at the books here. I’ve read them all, and this isn’t an affiliate link.
Use your back matter. When you write in a series, and the books are available, your Kindle can help you out by prompting you to read the next one. That can be a boost, but also, you want to take matters into your own hands and add the link to the next book in the back matter of the one before it. If you don’t write in a series, add a different book. If a reader loves your book, they’ll want to read more from you, and you might as well make it easy for them. Too many calls to action may confuse a reader, so you don’t want pages and pages of back matter asking a reader to buy a million books, sign up for your newsletter, and follow you on Twitter and Facebook. Choose the one most important to you, add it immediately after the last word of your book while they are still experiencing that reader’s high, and ask them to buy your next book or sign up for your newsletter. I have also heard that graphics work wonders and adding the cover along with the link is a great way to prompt readers to buy.
Introduce your next book with a scene at the end of the previous book. This is one I learned from the writers in my romance group on Facebook. Say your novel is about Travis and Amy, but the next book is going to be about Rafe and Emily. End Travis and Amy’s book with a short chapter/scene in Rafe’s POV to get them excited for the next book. I haven’t started doing this, but the writers in my group give it 10/10 stars, would recommend as a great way to get readers buying the next book. Also, if you’re writing romance, readers gravitate toward those hunky men, so if you can, write from his POV. I’m definitely doing this with the trilogy I’m publishing in January, and with the six books that are with my proofer now, the third book ends with an HEA for that couple, but I added a chapter from the heroine’s POV for the next three books. I suppose I could have done it from his POV, but hers felt more natural, and I hope it will be enough to get the readers invested in her story and how the series plays out. You can do this with any genre you write in–if he’s a detective, maybe he stumbles onto a new case, or maybe something serious happens in his personal life. Whatever the case may be, add something that will entice readers to click on the link you’re putting in the back.
Bonus scenes for newsletter subscribers only. I haven’t started this up yet because 1) you have to write the bonus content 2) I don’t know my newsletter aggregator well enough to make something like this happen, and 3) with my newsletter signup link already in the back, I’m giving away a full-length novel. If you don’t have a reader magnet, writing a bonus scene that is only available if readers sign up for your newsletter is a great way to add to your list and hopefully, the more engaged your list is, the more readers you have.
Looking at your entire backlist as a whole–or what you’ll be writing in the future. If you think of marketing as an umbrella for your entire career, then think of advertising on a book by book basis. Marketing involves all your books, who you are as an author, and what your message is. That’s why so many authors want a logo–but attach feelings, emotions, and what you’re giving your reader in your books to that logo so they think of those things when they see it. It’s why soda commercials are always happy. They want you to equate having a good time with drinking their product. What do you want your readers to get out of your books? If you’re a romance author, an HEA, for sure, but what else? Is your brand a damaged hero? Found family? If you write women’s fiction, do you want your readers to expect a woman on a journey, or maybe sisters repairing their relationship? Best friends who have grown apart only to be reunited for some reason? Of course, that sounds like all your books will be about the same thing, but that’s not really the case. What is your theme, what is your message you want your reader to get from your books?
Publish consistently. Training your readers to expect a book at certain time will help you build buzz as your readers will get used to your schedule. Figure out a comfortable schedule and try to maintain it. Once every 3 months seems like a good practice if you can keep up with that as you’ll never fall off Amazon’s 90 cliff. Also, if you’re writing a series, keep in mind readers don’t like to wait and you’ll have your work cut out for you if you can only release one book a year. You might just have to be resigned to the fact you won’t get the number of readers you want until all the books are released.
It’s a bit older now, but Jamie Albright spoke at the 20books convention a few years ago. She shared some good tips if you can only write and release one book a year.
Tweeting incessantly about your books isn’t marketing. Doing research on your next book before you write it, figuring out your comp authors and comp titles, doing cover research, and writing a good blurb is marketing. Running ads and buying promos to that book once you’ve written it is advertising.
It took me a really long time to figure this out–ten failed books because I genre hopped and was only writing what came to me. I didn’t publish on a schedule, didn’t have a plan. I’m still not publishing on a schedule, though I am going to try to aim for one book a quarter after my COVID stockpile is out into the world.
I’m getting a hang of this marketing thing, but it’s nothing you can achieve over night. I spent five years making mistakes. I’ll spend the next five fixing them.
I had an interesting conversation with a friend the other day. Not really a conversation I guess, because it’s long been established that we don’t see eye to eye on writing, publishing, and marketing, and that’s okay. Just looking at her back list and mine makes it clear we have different paths and different goals. She’s 100% indie, does her own thing when it comes to books, genres, writing craft, as well as covers and where she publishes her books. She’s happy, (I’m assuming she is as she has never told me otherwise) and wants to stay on that path.
I learned over the five years I’ve been writing and publishing romance is just because I want to do it the way I want to do it, it may not align with my business goals and what I want for my books. That’s an important distinction. Just because it’s the way I want to do it, it may not be the best way to make the dreams I have to come true. So, I’ve learned to niche down to a sub-genre and study what’s on the covers of the books doing well in that sub-genre. I create my covers not only with what I like (and what my skills will allow), but I also have to take into consideration what is selling, and what will meet Amazon’s guidelines when it comes to ads. Just because you’re indie doesn’t mean your books can’t look and read as professionally as they should, and this made me think: we can publish indie books while borrowing from the best of indie and trad worlds.
What do I mean?
Covers: Think like a trad author. As an indie you can put whatever you want on your cover, but the fact is, after you publish, you aren’t competing with only indie authors. In fact, the line between indie and trad grows blurrier every day. Readers don’t care who publishes your book as long as they get a good read for a fair price. You’re in complete control of your cover, but once you start tweeting your book to generate interest, or you run any kind of ad, you’re going to compete against a lot of other authors. Authors who are traditionally published by the Big Four, authors who are published by a small press, authors who can afford to spend $500 dollars on a cover, authors who know a photo manipulation software backward and forward, and authors who put their cover together in the middle of the night high on caffeine using Microsoft Paint. This is an area where we can learn from traditional publishing. Create your cover to fit in with other books in your genre. People do judge books by their covers and who knows how many readers pass you by if your cover isn’t up to standards. Unfortunately, you may never know.
Blurbs: Think like an indie. Up until recently, and I mean, like the past couple of years (which is recent when you’re talking about publishing) blurbs (plot teasers on the product page, not one-sentence praise from your peers) were written in third person present tense. It was just the way things were done, and there are still indie authors who write their blurbs this way, despite that their book is written in first person/present/past. It took me a long time to wrap my mind around a romance that was written in first person, and it took me actually writing a romance in first person dual POV for me to fall in love with it (no pun intended). While this was going on, the savvy authors started writing their blurbs in first person, using the voice of their characters. If you look back, the authors who started that and bucked the system were GENIUS. Blurbs have always been, and always will be, a marketing tool. Because it’s a trad thing to write your blurb in 3rd person present, there have been some people who are reluctant to move away from that (and I blogged about that too.) Personally, I think blurbs written in first person makes sense (and only applies to authors who write in first) and you can have a lot of fun writing your blurb that way. This is time for a good reminder that you should always research what other authors are doing in your genre and what reader expectations are. Writing your blurb in third could lose you readers, or make readers unhappy when they read a 3rd person blurb and expected a book written in 3rd person as well. There are some readers who detest first person books and go out of their way to avoid them. If you like to troll Twitter (and I mean scroll, not be a jerk) you can read some more thoughts on 3rd person vs. 1st person blurbs using these Twitter search results: https://twitter.com/search?q=1st%20person%20blurbs&src=typed_query
Release schedules: Think like an indie. Being an indie when it comes to how often you can publish and when can help you build an audience quickly. Trad authors are stuck to once a year, maybe twice if they’re with a small press with a flexible schedule. It seems Amazon imprints like Thomas and Mercer or Montlake allow their authors to publish a little faster, but all in all, authors who can release a book quarterly (3-4 a year) have a better chance at building an audience so why not use that to your advantage? It hurts to save up books, but if you’re a slow writer, why not? Write, edit, and package three, then write more as you release. this can start a publishing schedule that you can maintain and after a while, your growing audience will know when to look for a new release. In the time a trad author publishes three, an indie could publish nine to twelve, and that just means more money in your pocket.
Series: Think like an indie and trad author. Indies are getting better at this, but I’ve seen some books in a series that don’t look like they’re a series because their covers don’t look the same and don’t have a similar vibe. Trad has always been great with series branding, using the same fonts, backgrounds, and characters. For instance, the first book in the Flowers in the Attic series was published way back in 1979.
Series branding is important, but these days in the era of fickle attention spans, a trad house may pull the plug before a series is complete because it’s not selling. Sometimes an author gets a chance to wrap up, but sometimes not. Readers get angry, but like my friend Dea pointed out on Twitter the other day, it’s not up to an author if they have a book deal whether or not to continue a series:
This is where being an indie can make all the difference. IF YOU’RE AN INDIE AND YOU’RE WRITING A SERIES, FINISH IT, OR AT LEAST WRAP IT UP! Readers don’t like being left hanging, and when you’re publishing your own books, there’s no reason not to finish. The release consistency subject above also comes into play here. If you’re going to make use of a cliffhanger, you better have the next book ready to go (hopefully on very short preorder), or you’ll get bad reviews like this one:
Use your freedom to your advantage and keep your readers informed. I was tweeting with this author, trying to figure out the best way to let her readers know so this didn’t happen again. Is posting a publishing schedule in the first book’s blurb the way to go? Perhaps this would be a good reason to use A+ content? I’m publishing a six-book series next year, and yes, I do use cliffhangers. But unlike the author above, they are all written and I will be releasing all six in one year. When I read the Crossfire series by Sylvia Day, she did give the characters a happily for now ending just for the fact she’s a trad author, knew her readers would have to wait a year between books, and wanted to give her readers a bit of closure until the next book came out. When you’re indie and you need time, maybe that is the better way to go. Personally, I’m not sure what the answer is, but I will never not have all my books written in a series before I publish. Just for the fact avoiding small plot-holes and consistency issues will always be reason enough for me to wait to publish while I write.
The overall look of your book: think like a trad author.
A lot of authors don’t know this, but there is a set of guidelines you can (should) follow when you publish. The Independent Book Publisher’s Association lists them on their website and covers everything from what you should have in your copyright page to reminding you that your interior should be full-justified. It’s amazing that you can be a life-long reader, but when it comes to assembling your own book, how a book should look flies right out of your head. I’ve seen books that are left-justified only, no page numbers, spaces between paragraphs (this is okay for non-fiction, but I’m referring to fiction books), double spaced, no front matter except a title page, nothing in the back, not even an About the Author page. There’s no reason you can’t put out a professional product. To find the list of guidelines, look here: https://www.ibpa online.org/page/standardschecklist
While I understand the disgust thinking about traditional publishing can evoke in an indie, there are lessons trad can teach us. Your book should look professionally put together, even if you’ve done it all yourself. When you’re asking a reader to pay for your product, it’s up to you to make sure they are paying for quality. It doesn’t matter how you reach that standard, it’s only important that you do. If that means hiring out every step of the way, then that’s what it means. Some may only need an editor, some can edit their own work and do just fine. Some indies are a one-stop shop and do every single thing for themselves, or use $50 dollar premades to cover their books that go on to make thousands of dollars. As indies, we have so much flexibility, but don’t use that as an excuse to do what you want. Once you put your book out into the world, you want readers and you want readers who will recommend your book to others. You want people to take photos of your books in their gardens, next to their cats, at the beach, and they won’t do that if your book has a crappy cover on it.
You CAN have your cake and eat it too. Just maybe scrape a little frosting off it first.
I’ve seen the topic of productivity a lot lately, maybe because we’re still in what’s considered the beginning of the new year and we’re all scrambling to keep up with New Year’s resolutions and tackle the goals we’ve set for ourselves. I haven’t specifically written about productivity, though I did write a blog post about writer’s block, which is akin to the weird uncle of the family when we talk about writing productivity.
I guess by now it’s a running joke that the hardest thing a writer can do is sit down and write. Butt in chair. Carving out that time. But I have never, in these six years I’ve been a part of the industry, understood this. I get writing is hard, and I’ve come to learn this about myself while writing and/or editing–If I hit a rough patch in dialogue, or say I’m echoing a word in a sentence and I want to rewrite the sentence to take out one of the words and I’m at a loss as to how to do it, instead of pushing through, I’ll flip over to Twitter. That’s avoidance. For now, I let myself do it because so far it hasn’t hampered my output. Normally, after I scroll for a second and see the same old drivel, I’ll flip back to my manuscript and keep going, but it can interrupt my flow.
I’ve seen a lot of tweets about productivity or lack thereof, and, unfortunately, if you’re writing to publish, and more importantly, if you’re writing to publish to build an author career, you kinda need it.
One of the hardest lessons you’ll ever learn in this industry is you don’t have nothing if you don’t have a book, and over time, you need several if you want to find any traction. If you’re writing a series, you have way more marketing power behind you if your series is done. You can’t accomplish that if you’re not writing.
What are some causes of lack of productivity? Here’s a short, though not comprehensive list, of what I’ve seen out in the writing community:
You’d rather do something else. This actually tells me a lot about how you feel about writing and publishing, and if you truly would rather watch TV, read a book, go for a drive, or make dinner, then honestly think about stepping back. Of course, it would help to know the reasons why you’d rather do something else. Maybe you’re not seeing the results you want, or you’ve lost interest. You started writing as a hobby and you’d rather pick up a different hobby like crocheting or knitting, or get back into exercise. If you’d choose to go to the dentist over sitting down and writing the next chapter, give yourself permission to stop writing. No one is forcing you, and if you hate what you’re writing, chances are, your readers will be able to feel that when they read your book. Move on. It’s okay.
You don’t like what you’re writing. Starting a new project is okay as long as you can finish something. If you lose interest in your WIP at the halfway point every time, something else is going on with more than just productivity. Maybe it’s a craft issue because you get bogged down in the saggy middle. Maybe finding an alpha reader who will read as you write, or a critique partner can help you stay motivated and give you tips and ideas on how to finish. The problem with learning craft is that you have to write to learn it. This is the same for characters, too. If you hate your characters, you have to figure out why. Is she a whiny snot? Doesn’t act her age? Is he an alphahole without any redeeming qualities? Are they not doing anything interesting? Find some feedback from somewhere, or refresh your creative well and read for a while. Start a new project, sure, but if you’re going to add to the 20+ WIPs you already have on your computer, you need to do some digging and figure out what the problem is and how you can fix it.
Youhave no idea what to do with it once you’re done. I’m reading Zoe York’s Romance Your Goals, and in it, of course she talks a lot about setting goals–setting realistic goals, and goals you have to work to reach. I have a lot of thoughts about goals, productivity, and strategies and tactics that will help you achieve those goals. If you have 10 finished books on your computer, they won’t do anything if you don’t know what you need to do with them. More than covering them with a good cover, writing a good blurb, and putting it up on Amazon. I mean, do you have a newsletter? Do you know an ads platform well enough you won’t lose money? Do you have a launch plan for what you’re going to do when your book is done? If you don’t, that could be causing you some productivity issues. If you have no idea what you’re going to do with it once your book is finished, there’s no real reason to finish it then, is there? That way of thinking was pretty much me for the past two years, but instead of lack of productivity, I think I had too much. That is a problem in itself because now I have lots of books and still no real actionable plan to maximize those books and pay myself for all the time it took me to write them.
Maybe you have an idea, but it’s too overwhelming to think about. We talk a lot about a five year plan, and sometimes it’s difficult to figure out what we’re eating for dinner in five hours, never mind where we want our careers to be in five years. If that look into the future terrifies you, ask yourself why. Writing and publishing is a long game, but if that look into the future bogs you down, shorten the timeframe. Maybe look to the next two years, plan out the books you want to write, be it three a year, two a year, whatever you can handle, and let yourself get excited about what’s coming in the immediate future.
You’re burnt out. I think I’ve mentioned this a lot on here, when I heard Jo Lallo say on the Six Figure Authors podcast that there is no faster way to get burnt out than when you work hard for little to no pay off. I’ve you’ve been working for a months, maybe years, and your career is in the same place as it was before, that can affect your productivity. You might wonder why you’re still trying to make a go of it, and you’re thinking about giving up. This conversation goes back to goals–what you want out of your writing and more importantly, how you’re going to get it.
You don’t have any writing friends to cheer you on or commiserate your failures. You’ve probably heard me mention this a time or two. A lot of my friends I made when I first joined the writing community are gone. They dropped off because they don’t write anymore, or we don’t talk for some reason or other. I was friends with a woman for a long time until I realized our friendship was all about her, and her writing, and her roadblocks, and whenever I would say something positive about me, or my books, she blatantly ignored it. I faded off from that friendship and a couple others. While I don’t recommend staying in a friendship (or any type of relationship!) that takes more than it gives, replace those friends with other people or you’ll look up from your laptop one day and see that you are alone. It’s tough to write and be proud of your successes if there is no one to share them with. Take that opportunity to reach out to other authors in your genre and make connections and friends there. Those relationships will be more meaningful because they’ll understand the ups and downs of writing and publishing in that genre. There are so many sprinting groups and people who are willing to be accountability partners. You’ll be surprised at how much better you feel if you have people to reach out to when you want to share your goals and small successes.
At the core of productivity is passion. You have to have passion for what you do, and joy and the love of writing will keep you coming back to your laptop and your characters. Sometimes other things will get in the way, but ultimately, if writing matters to you, you’ll find a way to keep going.
It was brought to my attention that I insulted a fellow romance author, something I would never, ever do intentionally! I’d like to give TL Swan an apology for mentioning a review for one of her books in my plagiarism post from a few days ago. In the review, a reader speculated that TL Swan used a ghostwriter, and I want to apologize to TL for including that reference in my post. In a private message, she assured me she does not use ghostwriters. While I didn’t accuse her of using one, I should never have included the review in my post, and I apologize to her for that.
I suppose I have been a little free on this blog, maybe a little too transparent with my thoughts. As public figures, we must always watch what we put out into the world. I know a friend of mine was complaining not long ago because he likes to post his political affiliations and opinions. A lot of people don’t agree with him, and on a public forum, it’s easy to feel the mob mentality aimed at you. Cancel culture is real, and we think that expressing our opinion won’t bother anyone–until you tick off too many people and they turn on you at the same time. Cyberbullying is a real thing. Mental health is a real thing. People use the internet, hiding behind an avatar or whatever, to say what they want to say without regard to people’s feelings and the consequences that can be involved.
I’m not a reporter; I’m not seeking the truth. I like to express my opinions on here, on my personal blog, about what’s happening in the indie community. My blog is my outlet when I need a break from writing fiction.
When you see something online that you don’t agree with, you can just keep scrolling. There is no need to comment, no need to call out that person. And if you feel like you just can’t keep your opinion to yourself, you can be respectful about it. You don’t have to be a bully. I’m not online to make enemies. I’m not out to destroy reputations, and believe me, I don’t have the clout to do that anyway. I’m here writing my books hoping to one day make a living, just like everyone else. And I blog about current indie publishing events, like thousands of other indies online.
At any rate, if you see my blog posts decrease, just know that I’m still here, wondering where to go next. My place in the romance community is important to me, my place in the indie community is important to me. I don’t want to lose either of those things, and I’ll adjust my actions accordingly.
I was supposed to post this yesterday, but my muse wouldn’t let me go. After writing 5,000 words, going to the grocery store, making dinner, and helping my daughter with a cooking class project (not to mention working my normal shift), I was wiped. Luckily my thoughts (even though I’m a Sagittarius and we’re famous for contradicting ourselves) haven’t changed from yesterday to today.
I hope you all have a wonderful and productive weekend and thanks for reading!
A couple weeks ago I tried to put up more ads for His Frozen Heart thinking that if I could nudge that first in series along, I could get some more read-through. But it seems like nothing I do for ads for that book will take off. I upped my bids a little, but still nothing. And to make matters worse, whoever looked at one of my ads decided the cover was too racy and emailed me saying the cover goes against Amazon’s creative guidelines and blocked the ad. That’s ridiculous because I’ve been running ads for that book for months, and this is the first time the cover has been rejected. It doesn’t matter–I can’t get any of my ads for that book to “turn on” anyway, and I get very few impressions and zero clicks. I’ve done everything right for that book/series–I used the right keywords when I published, I emailed Amazon and asked to be put in more categories, so my categories are set. I just have no idea what I can do to make any of my ads for that book take off. It’s not the cover–I can’t get Amazon to even show my ad, so it’s not like I’m wasting money on clicks and not getting any sales. I can work with that. I’m at a loss, but I’ll keep experimenting and submitting new ads.
Amazon can’t get too picky with romance covers, or romance authors will stop using Amazon Advertising. The amount of skin on a cover tells readers how much steam to expect in the story, and if we all start clothing our couples to meet Amazon’s guidelines, we’ll start making our readers very unhappy. Amazon better ease up on their restrictions, or more authors will start using FB and BookBub ads.
As far as ads go, I didn’t do too terribly in September, but I did shut my ads off for a couple of weeks, and you can tell when I did it:
I had a pretty significant decrease toward the end of the month, but I came out ahead, which is all that matters to me right now. I’m still waiting to be reimbursed for my August spend–$400.00 roughly, with my August royalties–$500 roughly, so I’m not out that money. Here’s my September ad spend:
At the end of the month I turned on my two auto placement ads for The Years Between Us and All of Nothing and started getting sales again. It’s crazy how you can measure sales with ads. Ads can work, I just wish I could get a couple good ads going for His Frozen Heart. Since my July Freebooksy, my read-through is only so-so. Here are my royalties for September:
Read-through drops off a little more than I’d like, but readers getting through all four is pretty exciting for me considering when I released book one, I didn’t get very good reviews at all.
All I can do is keep plugging away and see what happens.
As far as an update for the series I’m writing now, I’m 86k into the last book. I’ve been working on this series for eight months, and it will be bittersweet to finish them. I will still have plenty of editing to do, but it will be sad to say goodbye to these couples, even if I am excited to write something new. I have an idea for an novella/shorter novel that I want to use as a reader magnet and in the coming months I’m going to learn how to use StoryOrigin for promos and I’m going to figure out how to use my MailerLite account and finally get my newsletter up and going.
One of the things that has bothered me in the past couple of days is authors who don’t want to do the work. I’ve run into two examples where authors don’t want to bother to learn. One was asking book cover techniques to update her books, and when a couple of us replied, all she said was, “I”m going to go the Fiverr route.” This ticked me off for two reasons: One, if you’re going to ask for advice, realize that you are asking someone to give you their time. Maybe it only takes a couple minutes for someone to type out a response, but still, people are taking time out of their day and writing schedules to answer your question, and two, if you don’t want to learn how to do it yourself, then why bother to ask? I get not everyone wants to put time into learning how to do book covers, and I even admit that my sales might be better if I had professional covers on my books. But we all know it’s a chicken and an egg conundrum, just like with most things that are indie. You can’t sell books without a good cover, but you can’t afford a good cover until you’ve sold some books. Unless you have seed money to invest in your business before you start out, most indies can only afford the bare minimum, and some need to choose between editing and covers. So fine, hire someone on Fiverr. I hope you choose someone reputable, because that place is just a haven for scammers, and make sure you ask your artist where they got the stock photos and fonts from. Protect yourself because if they use elements that aren’t theirs to use, it won’t be on them, it will be on you for publishing.
Another example that made me mad was a poster asking about StoryOrigin. I signed up because the creator said at some point he was going to make his site pay to play, so sign up to be grandfathered into the site whenever that happens. I haven’t used the features on there yet because I don’t have a newsletter, which is primarily what the site is good for–joining newsletter promotions and giving away a reader magnet. The site is a bit overwhelming, which is where the poster was stonewalled. But the thing is, StoryOrigin, just like most websites with lots of features, has tutorials. All you need is to sit down and take a bit of time to learn. When I pointed this out, all she said was, “I know, but I think I’ll hire that out.” Meaning, she’d rather hire a virtual assistant than take the time to learn how the website works.
[The Six Figure Authors podcast interviewed Evan Gow, the creator of StoryOrigin, and you can listen to it here if you’re interested.]
Again, this ticked me off because why post about it if you already know the route you’re going to take, and why wouldn’t you want to learn how to work that website? It can only benefit you years down the road, and you’ll get to know the authors in your genre who use the site regularly. It’s a win-win situation for you to do the work yourself.
I understand the frustration at being an indie these days, and I know a couple authors who don’t want to jump through the hoops and have, actually, dropped out of the writing community. I was one of those authors for a long time (though I never dropped out, just stubbornly writing away and not doing anything else), thinking that if I have to more than write and publish books, I didn’t want to bother. But in the end you have to decide if you want to play the game, and how much your sales and potential writing career mean to you.
Saving time is always a bonus, and if you can afford to buy some premades for book covers, or hire someone with a good reputation on Fiverr, then you should do that. I lean that way all the time, even going so far as to look up premades, but I always end up balking. My real life expenses like groceries, car payment, rent, and electricity bill will always have to take precedence over what I want to do with my writing career, such as it is.
That sucks, because I’m not the only one in this situation. Would my books sell better if they were professionally edited, had professional covers, there’s no doubt that they would. But how long would it take to recoup my losses? Especially since you don’t know if what you’re writing is going to sell in the first place. You want to put out a professional product, but if you’re not willing to do the product research to see if your book is going to have readers, everything you do after could be a big waste of time and money. Even my books under the Contemporary Romance umbrella haven’t hit the mark because I haven’t focused on one area. It took me three years to realize that sub-genre-hopping wasn’t going to make me the career Nora Roberts has. Publishing is a different time now. So I’m going to shift my focus and see if I can make headway writing something else, but that I still enjoy.
Anyway, as I edit my series and learn all the things I should have learned three years ago, I’ll take you with me. It’s always fun making mistakes and hopefully if you follow along, you won’t make mine!
I’ll end this blog post with a concept for the covers I’m thinking about for the first three books in my series. It’s a rough draft of the cover for book one. The couple isn’t finalized (hence the watermarks), and I’m going to look at adding a logo for the series and also I need to fit in the series name. I’m trying to go with what’s popular right now (though that could change by the time the books are edited and ready for publication), and the covers I like on the premade sites I can’t afford.
I’ll write other blog posts about my editing, covers, and formatting journey, and feel free to let me know what you think!
Hello everyone! Thank you so much for joining me on this fabulous Monday! Today I interviewed romance author Meka James. She’s been publishing since 2014 and has lots of experience in the industry. Grab a cup of coffee and listen in as she tells us about her experiences with indie publishing and dipping her toes in the water of traditional publishing!
You have furbabies, real babies, and a husband. How do you find time to write books and keep up with a blog, too?
**Well, my real babies are older. My youngest is 10, that means they are way more self-sufficient which leaves me time. Plus they are at the age where mom isn’t as “cool” to hang out with. (sad face LOL). As for the husband, he works during the day which also means I have time on my hands. The furbabies sleep 95% of the day. hahaha
You’re a part of the #turtlewriters on Twitter. What are the benefits to writing and publishing slowly? Are there any negatives?
**Taking your time benefits because it’s less stressful. I’m slow and a pantser so I need to let the story form as I’m writing it. It works for me, but everyone’s process is different. The biggest downside would be just keeping relevant. We all know the struggles to find (and keep) readers so the longer you go between releases, the more chances you have in people losing interest in your writing.
You’re a hybrid author, meaning you are both traditionally published and self-published. How did you decide to go this route? Will you look for a book deal in the future?
**I started out team Indie. When I began writing it was always my first choice. I joined up with a group of ladies on Twitter in maybe 2013/2014 and at the time I was the only one in the group not in the query trenches. So one year I decided to do a what the hell, and see what it was all about. I wrote the story Being Neighborly with the intent to sub it to Carina for their dirty bits line. Anything Once (Limitless Publishing) I wrote with the intent to just randomly sub it places never stressing too much if it didn’t get picked up because as I said, going Indie was always the option for me with any book. I do have ideas of subbing again but only to help with some of the cost associated with self-publishing. Between covers and editing, it gets pricey as you know, so letting a press handle that would be nice.
You genre-hop and write everything from twisted fairytales to erotica. How does this affect your marketing and establishing a brand?
**hahaha I’m supposed to have a brand? LOL no but in all seriousness I write what I feel like. I mean the one thing that stays consistent is that the stories will be character based and steamy. I do feel like I’m coming into my own now and have a direction. I stick with contemporary and play with tropes. I like to think my characters all end up being down to earth with problems and situations readers can relate to. That I *hope* will be my brand.
You’ve played with Amazon ads and have participated in Bryan Cohen’s 5 Day Ad Profit Challenge, something I’ve written about here on the blog. How was your experience? Do you have any quick do’s and don’ts for our readers?
**Well, Bryan’s great. He hands out the information in easy to understand ways. I appreciate that. However, I’m nowhere near fully understanding how it all works and how to make what I sell actually sell! LOL I guess my best advice is to stick with it. Keep trying. It’s a marathon, not a sprint and that goes with learning the marketing aspects as well as the writing.
You attended RWA in 2019 in NYC. Can you give our readers some advice on what to expect at a huge conference like that and how to maximize your time and funds? I hope one day we can attend them in person again!
**Oh boy! First, expect to be overwhelmed. Seriously, if you’re not a crowd/people person you need to be ready for the onslaught. It’s a lot. The old RWA offered up a lot of classes, some that conflicted, so plan (not my strong suit) so you can know what you want to attend. Also, don’t go too starry eyed over all the free books at the signings. Seriously I did that at my first convention in Denver and ended up having to pay a weight overage fee on my bag. LOL Don’t be me. But have fun. Yes you’re there to network, but also just enjoy the time. Don’t let it be stressful and think you have to be doing something every minute. Downtime is important.
You’re involved in an anthology! Congratulations! That’s so cool, and the proceeds go to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund which is doubly cool. Besides giving back, how is being in an anthology beneficial to your writer platform and career?
**This will be my first anthology and I’m hoping that it will get my name out there to more readers. That is always the goal, to find new people that may enjoy my work. By teaming up with 28 (I think) other authors, that’s a lot of potential for new readers to read me and hopefully go buy through my backlist.
Did you borrow a book from your already-published collection, or did you write something new?
**The story in the anthology is new. It’s a short only about 6k in length.
That’s great! I’ll be sure to look for it! You’ve just released two novellas related to the novella published by Carina. How did your launches go? I know every time I publish a book I make a new mistake. When it comes to launches what would you do differently? What worked well?
**Same. Honestly with each release I feel like I’m starting from scratch. The only thing I do consistently is post teasers on social media. I have gotten away from a lot of paid promotions for launches. I mean I’ve had some success with blog tours, and I still like them to help get reviews, but sometimes it can be hit or miss. So far I don’t know that I’ve done anything particularly well during a launch. They’ve all had the same sort of lukewarm reception, but I keep chugging along. At this point, I do what I’m comfortable with which is mostly the teasers. I know a lot of people don’t think social media sells books, but for me it does.
What’s next for you in the next six months? What are you working on now?
**I am currently working on my first *planned* series that I’m hoping to publish next year. They are a small town romance that follows three friends, all now in their forties who are falling in love. Like with my Desert Rose novellas, each will have a trope featured. Book 1: Second Chance Book 2: May/December Book 3: Enemies-to-lovers. I’m also hoping to put out another novella by the end of the year, but that is mostly me being way too confident in my slow writing self. LOL But it goes back to the relevancy thing. My last book was published in May, the idea I won’t have another until 2021 is a little nerve-wracking, but sometimes it is what it is.
I did that, too. I released a standalone novel in May of 2019, then didn’t have anything until January of 2020, and I’ll be doing something similar–I won’t have anything to release until probably next year but like you said, it is what it is.
Thanks for taking the time, Meka! Good luck with your new series!
After I gave Meka her questions, she blogged about her experience with AUDIO! I didn’t want to bother her with more questions, but you can read about her experience on her blog. Click on the picture and pick up some tips to see if audio is right for you!