Tag Archives: changes

PANIC! And Ways To Get Around It

Mar 15, 2016
Panic at the Disco

This is the only acceptable kind of panic!
image courtesy of BluEyedA73 via flickr creative commons

I’m going to be brutally honest with you. There is one thing that I can’t stand in life, the universe, and everything. And that thing is panic. Whether it’s people panicking about the fate of our country in this current election year, panicking because there’s a spider in the sink, or panicking because Amazon has changed the way they do this, that, or the other thing, panic for panic’s sake is like nails on a chalkboard to me.

Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be concerned about elections, spiders, or Amazon. All three of those things are decidedly concerning (some more so than others). And I’m not saying that actions shouldn’t be taken to avert disaster. By all means, ACT. But do it with a level head. Go out and vote for the candidate you think will steer your country in the right direction (and not just in presidential elections—state and local elections are actually FAR more important than national ones, but that’s a topic for another day). Get a newspaper and swat that spider—or gently move it to a place where it won’t harm you.

And as for Amazon? Wait, watch, and plan accordingly. But by all means, don’t get your blood pressure up as you scream, tear your hair out, and wail that we’re all doomed. DOOMED!

Okay. To anyone who just asked “What is this Amazon thing we’re panicking about?” Congratulations, you’re a normal person and not a writer. But if you are a writer, chances are you’re tempted to go into high panic mode right now.

Amazon has two things going on that have people ready to shift into panic. First, they’re cracking down on eBooks that either don’t have a Table of Contents or that have one at the back of the book. Many authors do put their TOC at the back of the book, both because one of the formatting programs out there does that automatically and because moving the TOC to the back gives you more content up front for readers who click on the “Look Inside” option on the Amazon homepage while searching for books.

But the reason why The ‘Zon is cracking down is because there are scammers out there who are raking in the dough through the Kindle Unlimited program by throwing up (and I do mean that in both senses of the word) trash books of hack work or plagiarized content—hundreds and hundreds of pages of it per “book”—and including links at the front of the book, sending readers straight to the last page so that they collect literally tens of thousands of dollars in false page reads.

This is bad. Amazon is trying to combat it (in spite of what nay-sayers assume about The ‘Zon not really caring. I think they care, but this is an enormous problem, and I don’t think they have the manpower, or enough magic wands, to tackle it and make it go away INSTANTLY, like we serious authors would like).

Non-panicked solution: Fix the TOC in your books. It took me less than a minute to fix the one they sent me a notice about. You lose space for that “Look Inside,” but you gain…well, not having Amazon send you nastygrams.

The other thing that has people in a panicky tizzy over at Amazon is their efforts to investigate the possibility of selling used eBooks. (Note the key words in that phrase: Their efforts to investigate the possibility—it’s nowhere near being a sure thing, as a certain newsletter would have you believe) That is exactly what it sounds like. A reader buys an eBook. They read it. They resell it on some Amazon-operated market. I used to do that all the time with paperbacks at my local used book store.

Authors are panicked because this would seriously cut into their profits. It totally would. IF readers actually jump on the bandwagon and list their books for resale once they’re purchased. IF Amazon is able to get all of the permissions they need and get past the new copyright laws which are being debated this year. IF it becomes something that makes sense for readers to do. There are a lot of ifs involved in this whole used eBook equation. And as far as I know, Amazon is still just looking into it. I also read somewhere that it would only be books in the KU program. Not sure about that.

So what do we do, panic??? Do we panic now???

NO!

Non-panicked solution: Avoid KU. Distribute your books as wide as possible. Put effort into marketing to iBooks and Kobo. Um, I’d say Nook too, but I think Nook is about to go under. For real this time.

Sub-solution: Authors, stop giving away Kindles as giveaway prizes! This is not rocket science. The reason Amazon sells so many eBooks is because they deliberately and calculatedly got as many Kindles into the hands of as many readers as possible. Amazon sells Kindles WAY below the cost of production, specifically so that they can control the eBook market because more readers have their devices than have iPads or Kobo readers. We can market to iBooks and Kobo until we’re blue in the face and have spent a zillion dollars, but if readers only own Kindles, we’re SOL.

iPad

image courtesy of Sean MacEntee via flickr creative commons

The inherent problem in this is that Kindles sell for as low as $49, while the cheapest iPad I was able to find was $269. Yikes! Makes it sort of hard to go giving those puppies away, right?

Actually, I don’t have a solution for that. It is what it is. It sucks.

Sub-solution #2: Produce paperbacks of your books that are formatted in such a way that you can sell them for competitive prices. The reason indie authors do so well in digital format is because we can undersell NY Publishers by a lot. Well, NY pubbed paperbacks are costing about $7 or $8 these days. Produce paperbacks that can sell for less and market those to your readers, and you might stand a chance.

In fact, I’d love to see more indie authors invest in paperbacks (and audio, but that’s super expensive) and do a big push to get people to buy paper. But it has to be cost effective for the reader.

At the end of the day, everything Amazon is doing makes life easier and books cheaper for readers. THAT’s why they’re so successful. They will continue to do that until…well, they’ll just continue to do that. We as indie authors have to face that fact, scale back the panic, and start thinking about ways we can keep our heads above water, avoid the thumbscrews Amazon is putting to us, and give our readers the best, cheapest reading experience possible. BUT, Amazon is an inevitability in this publishing game. We HAVE to deal with them, and since we have zero control over what they do—and I mean zero—we need to learn to adapt instead of balk every time they change a policy.

So to summarize: Don’t panic. Separate fact from hearsay. Seek to understand changes when they are made, and adapt your publishing and marketing strategy to best harmonize with those changes. Seek to understand the market you’re writing for, their needs and their habits. And don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

How My Writing Has Changed (And Yours Will Too!)

Feb 19, 2014
Things were different when I was a younger writer

Things were different when I was a younger writer

The one consistency in life is that everything changes. The publishing industry is in the midst of colossal change that, like a beautiful phoenix immolating and rising from its own ashes, I’m obsessed with. But more than just the industry on a global scale changes. I’ve noticed that my own writing process has changed a lot too, and I think it bears commenting on.

Now, this is not exactly new information, and I’m not the first person who has had this transformation in their writing. That’s why I’m posting about it here, as a sort of warning and guidepost for what could or has happened to you, if you’re a writer.

Once upon a time, writing was my hobby. It was something I did for fun, to entertain myself, if you will. Granted, I’ve always written a lot. I still do! But now the motivation behind my writing, the actual process itself, and the approach that I take to it are all vastly different. Once, I would write the same way I watched tv. I’d get bored or inspired, plop down with a spiral-bound notebook, and go to town on whatever story struck my fancy at the time. I never finished anything, but I really enjoyed the process.

Then I started getting serious about writing. I had had a bad break-up in early 2008, and to drag myself back up out of the abyss of depression about it, I began writing The Loyal Heart. I was determined to finish it: to write a book with a beginning, a middle, and an end. I worked so hard on it then because I didn’t have any interest in going out at night or on the weekends, but I needed focus. When I got to the end, I realized I wanted to write a story for Jack too, so I started The Faithful Heart.

Mind you, I knew nothing about writing for publication whatsoever. The first draft of The Loyal Heart was 250,000 words and the first draft of The Faithful Heart was 200,000! I didn’t understand story structure or character development or efficiency of prose on an explicit level at all. (Although I have to give myself props and say that I have always understood them on an implicit level).

That’s when I started going to writer’s conferences, learning craft, listening to established authors, and *gasp* submitting to agents. It should be noted that I never liked the whole agent-trad publishing thing. Then I discovered self-publishing, and the lightbulb went off with 1000 watts above my head. Eureka! I’d found it!

Really, I guess that’s when things started to change for me. I went from treating writing as a hobby to seeing it as a career path. This was a huge change that effected everything about my process, planning, and execution. One single added element to what I had done before changed the whole game. Are you ready for it? For the epic game-changer?

Deadlines.

Yes, enforcing deadlines on myself has changed everything. I don’t know what it is about saying “I am going to do X by this specific date” that takes writing to a whole new level, but it’s there. I’m talking about a couple of different kinds of deadlines too. First, there’s the “I MUST have the first draft of this book finished by mm/dd/yyyy” deadline. That one is, of course, determined by the whole “I have reserved a spot with Miss Freelance Editor who has a packed client roster on mm/dd/yyyy and it HAS to be drafted and polished a few times before I send it to her”. And ultimately, that is decided by the whole “This book’s publication date WILL BE mm/dd/yyyy”. I work very well with time constraints.

Actually, I work very well when I discipline myself. I’m very good at self-discipline, which is one of the number one reasons I am well-suited to be a self-publishing success story. And that’s the biggest change in my writing. It used to be an occasional thing. Now it’s an every day thing, at a specific time, with a specific word count goal. I MUST write the same way I must complete the tasks at my day job to keep from being fired. Also—and don’t tell my boss this—my biggest motivation for staying self-disciplined is because I am this close to being able to quit the day job and make a living from my writing alone.

That’s all well and good, Merry, but how has your actual process of writing changed?

Funny you should ask! I used to be a pantser. Now I’m…. Okay, it wouldn’t be 100% accurate to say I’m a plotter, but I’m at least 50% a plotter now. Why? Because I’ve found that I need to have blueprints and a roadmap of the story I’m writing in order to knock out the word count I set for myself in order to stay on schedule. I used to just sit down and write. Now I won’t begin a novel until I know what the last scene is, what the climactic scene is, and what two or three turning points in the story are before that. I visualize those things. I jot notes about them. I then start writing, but every few days I sit down with a pad of paper and a pen and write notes about where I’ve been in the story and what I need to do to get to my next plot point. I plot as I go. It’s essential in order to stay on track.

Yay for revisions!

Yay for revisions!

My other big process change is that I now like revising more than I like writing the first draft. Oh man! I never thought I’d hear myself say that! But it’s so true. I struggle to smack that draft out onto the page, and then I just love going over and over and over it to make sure it works. And let me tell you, stuff gets CHANGED. In fact, I pretty much rewrote half of In Your Arms after getting 60% of the way through and changing my mind about the plot. Like, the main action and conflict of the plot. It didn’t work before. It works now. Because I worked with it and tweaked it and was very, very honest with myself about it. THAT’S editing! And it’s a wonderful thing!

Here’s the big question though: Is writing still fun for me?

The answer might surprise you.

Kinda.

Writing is no longer a hobby or a leisure activity. It’s a job. It’s a job that I love, mind you, but it’s still a job. When I write now, I see dollar signs. Yes, I confess, I do. I see the ability to support myself, to pay the bills, to live the life I want to live. The personal stakes have risen to towering heights for me. Nowadays, I write because I have to. Granted, I also still want to, but I have to write if I want to reach the heights that I damn well want to reach. You can’t pin those kinds of dreams on hobbies. You have to be dead serious about what you’re doing to bet your life and your future on it.

So now I study craft more than I ever have before. Yes, with nine books published, some awards, a bunch of accolades, and all that, I study craft much more studiously than ever! I take critique more to heart than I ever have. I would very much like to think that I am more critical of my own work—in the good way!—than I ever have been before and that I am able to judge it more objectively than I used to in the past. All of those things are big changes.

Changes happen, but they are good things. Embrace those changes! Accept the fact that if you keep up with this craft, it won’t be your fun thing anymore. Make friends with the fact that you will come to depend on it to put food in your mouth and to pay the power bill. Be honest about the changes you need to make in order to reach higher, to write better, and to promote wider. But most of all, never, ever rest on your laurels or think that you’ve worked hard enough. Keep going! Keep pushing! Keep changing!