Tag Archives: self-publishing

Top 5 Habits of the Most Successful Writers I Know

Nov 30, 2015
My Facebook Page Today

My Facebook Page

After four years of working really hard at this writing thing, I think I’m finally at the point where I can say I’m doing a few things right. More than that, I have made a bunch of friends who are wildly successful. They’re definitely doing things right. It’s been a pleasure to watch them, to adapt my own practices to become more successful, and to really get a clue about best practices in self-publishing. So I thought it would be nice to share some of the things I see people doing that really, really work. They might not be things that you’ve considered before. Here goes…

They Put the “Social” in Social Media – Possibly the biggest mistake I see newbie…um, and seasoned…writers make is viewing social media strictly as an advertising tool. This means that on release days, they will post-bomb every Facebook page they’re a member of and Tweet every ten minutes about buying their book. Not just on release days either. All the time.

The truly successful authors I know use social media as a way to virtually hang out with fans. Not just their fans either, but fans of the genre in which they write. They interact on a meaningful level with fans, get to know them, post silly, fun things, post serious, personal things, and generally treat their readers like buddies. They even get together for special dinners with fans in local areas and beyond. Talk about a way to build loyalty!

They Work Together – The whole thing about socializing goes way beyond fans. The most successful authors I know hang out with each other—online and in the real world. I can’t tell you how many epic projects have been hatched over late-night (or early-morning in my case) Facebook chats, or across the dinner table in an Irish pub in Manhattan at a conference (for example). We are all creative, but when you mass that creativity together to bounce ideas off each other or come up with group projects, amazing things happen.

Remember, books are not a zero-sum deal. Readers are not limited to buying one book or one author. As such, we are not in competition with each other. It goes far beyond never saying anything bad about another author or their work. When we actively help each other, we help ourselves. As they say, a rising tide lifts all boats.

Me near the middle with the amazing and talented InD'Tale crew!

Me near the middle with the amazing and talented InD’Tale crew!

They Travel (and Give Stuff Away Where They Go) – Conferences are an amazing thing. Whether it’s a professional conference—Like RWA Nationals or RT Booklovers Conference in the Romance world—or a smaller reader event, the most successful authors I know will make a point to get out there. There are so many choices for readers these days. Actually seeing an author in person and having them go out of their way to talk to them is a fantastic way to go from digital name to real, live person.

To that I would add that you can’t just sit in your signing spot watching the world go by at events like these. It’s all-important to smile and greet everyone who walks by your spot. Everyone. Even people who look like they’re ready to snap someone’s neck. Actually, those are the people I’ve had the best surprise responses from. It’s also important to give things away—pens, postcards, bookmarks, and, yes, BOOKS. Being stingy with your paperbacks is not going to help you. Give those suckers to everyone! Even if they don’t read it, they’ll give it away, and that book will be out there in the world, waiting for a reader.

Also, as I mentioned in number 2, conferences are where that bonding with your fellow authors happen and where projects are magicked into existence. Yes, conferences can be expensive. But they are worth every penny. EVERY PENNY!

They Plan Ahead – Don’t worry, I’m not necessarily talking about plotting. Although I have noticed that a lot of the most successful writers I know do actually plot at least a little bit. No, what I’m talking about here is making a business plan, of sorts. 2016 is fast approaching. Many of my author friends already have a schedule of what books they will be writing under what names and in which series when. I know I’m planned out about 15 books ahead, and I already have my next three books outlined. Super hard work? Not as much as you might think. It’s work that has me organized to a T so that I won’t have to dilly-dally about what I’ll be writing.

It goes beyond planning the books you’re going to write, though. I’m talking about financial planning too (the credit cards WILL be paid off in 2016!), and lining up conferences and stuff. All of that helps keep your eye on the prize, and lets you see where you’ll need to allocate your funds and your time going forward.

They Move On – One thing I have never seen any of the top, top most successful authors I know do is get their panties in a twist—over a bad review, over a missed deadline, over a harsh critique, or over a promo that didn’t work. I rarely even see the really successful authors bellyaching over Amazon and it’s Amazon-y ways (although short, sighing gripe sessions do tend to happen when the ’Zon makes a change that adversely affects us all). Why? To quote that awesome meme, ain’t nobody got time for that!

The really successful authors I know have already moved on to the next book, the next idea, and the next promo opportunity by the time negativity comes their way. It’s far, far easier to shake it off when you already have something else you’re excited about working on. It lessens the impact of all that criticism and sales disappointments. Disappointment is part of this job, but it doesn’t have to be your focal point. There’s always another mountain to climb.

I’m sure I could come up with five more habits that I see my really successful friends engaged in, but I’ll leave you with that for now. Also with this…patience is key. It takes putting all of these things into practice over a long time to reach the point where you can kick back, relax, and know you’re successful. Even then, we tend to redefine success every time we hit a milestone. So keep writing!

Things I Learned at the Ind’Scribe Conference 2015

Sep 25, 2015
Me near the middle with the amazing and talented InD'Tale crew!

Me near the middle with the amazing and talented InD’Tale crew!

I had such a good time at the InD’Scribe conference for indie romance writers in Palm Springs, CA, that I almost don’t know how to put it into words. A good time was had by all, a lot of super talented writers came together to share knowledge and laughter, and even though there were only a few workshops and panels, I learned SO MUCH that will be incredibly useful from them. 

I think the first and most important lesson that I learned is that above all else, story is the most important part of any writing process. Sounds obvious, right? Well, this year’s conference and my experience judging the RONE Awards really drove that home. The actual prose itself could have problems (although another lesson I learned is that we must always, ALWAYS work to improve out craft), but at the end of the day, it’s the story you’re telling that will grab the reader.

We’re all storytellers. That’s why we got into this gig in the first place. Or at least it should be the reason why we got into this gig. We can try to chase trends and follow the market and write from a financial-type motivation all we want, but at the end of the day, it’s our deep, deep desire to tell stories that’s going to push our careers along and take us to the next level.

That being said, one of the key elements of storytelling is to have characters that are likeable. They don’t have to be good, they don’t have to be nice, but they do have to make the reader want to know more about them. Again, pretty obvious, right? But one thing that our first keynote speaker, Anne Perry, said that really stuck with me is that to make a character likable, sometimes you have to know a whole lot of backstory about them. Backstory that may never come out in the book. 

I don’t know about you, but when I have written some of my brightest and best characters, I’ve known far more about them than hits the page. In fact, I’d say that the characters of mine that have resonated the most with myself and with readers have rich inner lives that sort of just came to me whole. But after listening to Anne, I think that I might start investigating those backstories more and writing things down. These characters deserve a chronicle of their lives, even if it’s just in my head. And the net result, as Anne said, is that the characters will appear richer on the page with more of a real sense of why they do the things they do. So backstory. Yay! But don’t dump it all on the page. 

My view from the spot where I sat to work!

My view from the spot where I sat to work!

The other things that Anne Perry mentioned that hit home and that I really want to investigate more is the idea of plotting from the middle of the story, as she said she learned from James Scott Bell. Apparently he wrote a book about it. I NEED to go find this and read it. The concept is that in every book, your main character has a moment—a moment that usually comes right in the middle of the plot—where they stop and take stock of themselves, reflect, and then change direction mentally. Everything they do after that point is different. That’s the center of your plot right there. I want to read this book and explore more about it, because, well, heck. It just sounds awesome and right and true! So I’ll report back once I read that book. 

But for me, perhaps the biggest lesson of the conference is the thing I suffer with the most when it comes to writing and navigating my way through a world of author friends who are, in some cases, more successful than me. I was a finalist for the RONE Award in the American Historical category, but I didn’t win. That’s generally when the demons of self-esteem and comparison come after me. I’m terrible at comparing myself to other authors—heck, I am and always have been terrible at comparing myself to other PEOPLE and coming up feeling less than nothing—but that way lies madness. 

We are all on this journey of life and writing for different reasons. The world is a diverse and vast place. There is definitely enough room for all sorts of different talent, and at times, reaching any given audience takes a little more patience than at other times. One thing Catherine Bybee said in her keynote address (and let me tell you, I actually got to hang out with her a lot and go to dinner with her, and she’s FABULOUS!) is that it takes a huge amount of patience, time, and persistence to make it in this business. Actually, Tina Folsom said the same thing in her keynote. Patience is the key, but so is writing the next and the next and the next book. And so is being really energetic and aggressive about going after what you want from your career. 

So I KNOW I need to stop constantly comparing myself and my career trajectory to other authors around me. I also know that I’m utterly incapable of doing that, because that urge to compare is so deeply ingrained in my personality and has been from such a young age that it’s not going to ever fully go away. But the most mature thing I can do is to see it, accept it, let it be, and move on. There is no power in this business greater than writing the next book. 

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of all the things I’ve learned here during InD’Scribe 2015. I’m sure I’ll come up with a few more excellent ideas for blog posts and whip those off at some point. If you ever get a chance to come to this conference, DO! And it you aren’t already subscribed to InD’Tale Magazine, please zip on over and sign up. It’s free!

E is for Everybody

May 29, 2015
(Writing is) Berry Hard Work, by JD Hancock, courtesy of Flickr

(Writing is) Berry Hard Work, by JD Hancock, courtesy of Flickr

I love self-publishing. Obviously. Sometimes I think we all need to take a moment to step back and truly appreciate what this amazing revolution in the publishing process and therefore the publishing industry has done for writers. I’ve been writing since I was ten, and part of me always knew that I wanted to make a living as a writer (I’m gonna be a writer when I grow up!), but when I stuck a toe into the interesting world of submitting my books traditionally, I did not think the water was fine.

From that very first, half-hearted effort, I did not like the way the submissions process for traditional publishing worked. It just rubbed me the wrong way. The hierarchy involved and the number of hoops a poor writer had to jump through to get a book published left me cold. So when I heard about this new and amazing self-publishing thing back in 2010, I knew it was for me.

And the rest is history, as they say. I’ve worked hard—VERY hard—written a lot of books, reinvested my money in better and better cover designers, editors, and now a publicist. I put a lot of heart into improving my craft and networking with fellow authors. And I definitely put my money back into my career, both in terms of marketing and traveling to book and industry events. I work. And then I work some more. As I recently said to someone who asked me to do something for them which would have taken up lots of time, I have to work in order to keep working.

Yes, E is for Everybody. Everybody can self-publish these days. And that’s wonderful and amazing! Everybody can be the author that they’ve always wanted to be. Everybody has access to the tools and the means of production. Everybody who has ever wanted to reach for that dream of being an author can do it now, whether they want to stick with the tried and true traditional publishing process or whether they, like me, feel so much more comfortable with the DIY approach. It is a blessed and wonderful thing that everybody can do this.

Except that not everybody can do this.

I started publishing almost four years ago. Like I said, I’ve worked very hard at it. I’ve spent a lot of money in the process. ($12,000 reinvested in my writing career last year alone—no joke) I’ve published 21 books, finished the first draft of #22 yesterday, and am working on various stages of outlining #23 through #27. I do this as a full-time job now, and I treat it as such.

Yeah, some of these reader/writer conventions I go to are really hard work!

Yeah, some of these reader/writer conventions I go to are really hard work! I mean, you run into cover models all over the place!

I mention that, because E is also for Entitlement.

I have a good friend who was involved in a bitter argument earlier this week. Fortunately, I’ve avoided being a part of this argument so far. As I understand it, there are self-published writers out there who believe they are entitled to sales, entitled to be a success, because they have written a book and put it out there. Evidently, these misguided souls believe that they are entitled to have readers disregard poor (or non-existent) editing and slap-dash covers. They lament that they can’t afford to market their book, and therefore it is the duty of their friends and family to purchase their book in order to give it a boost in the rankings. Also to give it glowing, 5-star reviews. If I’m relaying the argument my friend found herself in correctly, this segment of authors believes they are entitled to crowd support and a degree of success because they were brave enough to publish.

Well, I agree that these folks deserve a sincere round of applause for writing an entire book and then having the courage and boldness to publish that work for the world to see. Huzzah, guys! That’s a major milestone! But to assume that phase one of hard work should be supported, by right, without putting in phases 2 through 500 of the rest of the hard work of being an author? No, I can’t get behind that.

In life, not just in publishing, nobody is entitled to anything. Entitlement is one of the biggest problems in our culture right now. Sure, Everyone can publish a book, but Everyone is not *entitled* to be a success. Success is and always has been a result of painstakingly hard work (or astounding luck). Jumping the first hurdle of a long, long race is not winning the race. Even our Declaration of Independence says it—that we’re entitled to the *pursuit* of life, liberty, and happiness, not that we’re entitled to get it automatically.

And that’s fine. I actually feel like the greater part of the joy of this career is not in the successes I’ve had, but in the journey to reach for them. I love writing. I’d be writing books even if no one else ever read them. It’s just what I was meant to do. And I enjoy the chase of marketing and looking for more and better ways to make sales and gain life-long readers and fans. I don’t feel like I’m entitled to any of it, but I sincerely hope that it will come as the result of constant, consistent hard work.

And that’s how I feel about that.

Writing Tip – Unlocking the Secrets of Discoverability

Mar 06, 2015
© Cameliastan | Dreamstime.com - Choosing A Book Photo

© Cameliastan | Dreamstime.com – Choosing A Book Photo

How on earth do you get readers to discover your books? Isn’t this what we all want to know? It’s the number one topic sure to drive a new author crazy, and it’s also the most important thing we can tackle in our publishing journey.

So you’re just starting out and no one knows your name. What to do? I made the comment to a writer/editor/publicist friend of mine the other day that it’s harder now to get started in self-publishing than it was four years ago. But she disagreed with me. She had a good point. She said that the same thing that sold a book back then is the same thing that sells a book now, and it doesn’t matter if it’s your first book or your fiftieth book. Those things are the cover, the blurb, and the keywords.

Cover and blurb are easy to wrap your mind around. For covers, you want something professional-looking that stands out. You also want it to be representative of the content of the book. That means naked people covers for certain heat-levels of romance are actually appropriate. Gentle covers with more of a landscape or abstract motif are suitable for other levels. If you’re writing a historical novel, appropriate era of dress for the cover models is key (which I learned the hard way with one of my novellas). And while the appropriate cover for any genre may not be our favorite aesthetic, covers are a visual cue to potential readers of what they’re about to experience. I can’t recommend enough that you do the research to figure out what kind of covers the genre you’re writing for favors. Professional cover designers are really good at knowing this, though.

And I’d like to take a moment to give a slow-clap to my cover designer, Erin Dameron-Hill, for knowing her stuff. Because of these two designs she’s done for me, you can tell at a glance exactly what kind of story you’re going to get, what the sub-genre is, and what the mood of the story is, even. Erin is a genius:

two covers compared

As far as the blurb goes, you want something that accurately describes the story stated concisely and with tension. A blurb that excites the reader and leaves them wanting to read the book to find out more is a successful blurb. It’s your elevator pitch on steroids. Write a cool blurb, and readers will be hungry for more.

Honestly, the way I learned to write blurbs was by reading them on the back of novels year after year after year, and also by watching trailers for movies. Remember those days of MoviePhone? “In a world where only the strong survive…” Those little blippets of plot were designed to sell a movie to someone without them even being able to see any visuals. That’s what you want to go for. Tease your reader, use words that are full of emotional impact, that suggest danger or conflict. You have roughly ten seconds to grab someone and make them want to know if your main characters are going to be okay. I can’t tell you how many times various writer groups that I’ve been part of have polled readers, and every time they say that the blurb is what drew them to the book.

So what about these keywords then? This is something I’m still trying to fully figure out. In a nutshell, keywords will bring your book up in a search—an overt search initiated by a reader or a more algorithm-based automatic search on whatever website your book is hosted on. Certain keywords in your blurb, title, and in the spot where it asks for a number of keywords when you upload your manuscript can make your book more discoverable.

In my early days of publishing, I made the mistake of being clever and coming up with my own keywords that I thought best described my unique stories. The problem with that, though, is that my keywords were so unique that they were useless. This is the one area where you want to be as unoriginal as possible. You want to pick keywords that are hot, keywords that a lot of other authors have picked. Things like Medieval, Knights, Highlander, Regency, Western, Billionaire, Love Triangle, etc. Fortunately, Amazon has a lovely page where they list common keywords.

keywordshttps://kdp.amazon.com/help?topicId=A200PDGPEIQX41

You have no idea how much I wish I’d found this page earlier. It’s very cool.

Beyond those basics of cover, blurb, and keywords, some of the biggest tools for discoverability that I know are your writing friends. I can’t tell you how helpful it’s been for me, as a Western Historical writer, to be part of the Pioneer Hearts group of authors and readers. We operate mostly on Facebook, and the amount of support we all lend to each other is legendary. I think there are other author groups for other genres and sub-genres out there. Hearts Through History is invaluable too. The more authors help each other, the better all of our chances are. And I’m not talking about promoting each other all the time. I’m talking about sharing ideas and banding together for group promos and interacting with each other’s fans. Interacting does more than promoting any day.

And, of course, getting your name out there through various book promotion sites is always a good thing. Some sites are more effective than others (BookBub, eReader News Today, The Midlist) and others are lovely, but not as effective (StoryFinds, The Fussy Librarian). They can be expensive, and there are no guarantees that your book will be selected for promo, but I personally think you’ve got to at least try. I am not exaggerating when I say that I owe my visibility now to a BookBub promo in 2012. Seriously. It was a game-change for me.

It is possible to be discovered, even when you’re just starting out. All it takes is a little attention to detail. You can do it.

Goals and Schedules

Nov 14, 2014

TrailofHope_3DLet me tell you about my writing/publishing schedule for the next six months. I have plans. Ambitious plans. I have the second book in my Hot on the Trail series, Trail of Hope, coming out this month on the 24th. The third book, Trail of Longing, is coming out January 5th, the fourth, Trail of Dreams on February 16th. After that, I plan to start interspersing another, contemporary romance project, bringing the first book in that series out around March 23rd or 30th, then the fifth book in the Hot on the Trail series, Trail of Destiny, at the end of April, and the second book in the contemporary series at the end of May.

I hear you. You’re saying, “Are you crazy woman?” And yes, well, the answer to that is probably “Yepper!” The more important thing to look at, however, is the way I’ve set goals and given myself a schedule.

I do my best work and produce the most when I’ve squeezed myself into a time frame for production. Back in the days before I got serious about my writing and before I learned about self-publishing (and knew that was the path for me), I would just write whenever I felt like it. If inspiration struck, I would knuckle down and play with stories for however long it took to entertain myself. The problem is, I never finished anything. I’d get bored with the story at hand, especially when I got stuck, and then I’d go play the Sims or something.

The key that enabled me to switch gears from being a hobbiest to a dedicated, professional writer was getting organized. Learning in depth about the craft, particularly story structure, was the first step to knowing exactly what I wanted to put on paper. But it wasn’t until I set myself time limits for production, also known as a schedule, that I was able to really get going in the direction I wanted to go.

Nothing pushes you to finish a book like a deadline. That’s one of the reasons I love NaNoWriMo so much. NaNo forces you to work with constraints. You’d think that, as an artist, freedom would be the key to success, but actually, it’s scheduling. When you have a date by which you absolutely have to get the first draft finished—or more importantly, a date by which you absolutely have to get that polished draft to an editor who you are paying to make it even better—you get to work.

salvador-dali-melting-clocksWorking with an editor for the first time opened my eyes and changed so many things about my writing. When you’re dealing with a firm deadline set by someone else, it forces you to be highly productive. But what about when you’re trying to self-motivate to get the job done? That’s when keeping a calendar by your writing space comes in very handy. Plan out your time. Think about when you need to get things to that editor, but also when you need to hand the book off to beta-readers. Think about how much time you will need for revisions once you get your baby back from the editor. Plan for having a couple of weeks for reviewers to look at the ARC. And if you’re going to put your book up for pre-order, well, Amazon requires you to have the final version locked ten days before release. You need to plan for that too.

If this all sounds daunting and terrifying, it doesn’t have to be. All of these milestones along the way to clicking “publish” are markers that can help you plan how you should time your writing process. They can give you a sense of just how long you’ll need to complete a project. Once you know that, you can work backwards to write a schedule that will keep you honest, so to speak, as you write. It’s like NaNo on a giant scale. Once you get organized for one project, you can start layering others on top of that. We all know (or think we know) how Amazon’s discovery algorithms work, and since that means you need to have a new release every 90 days, you can now plan for that.

Secretly, my goal for 2015 is to publish a book a month… or at least every 6 weeks. I think I can do that because of this amazing new outlining technique of Patti Larsen’s I’ve adopted. Barring that the only way I’ll be able to keep on that kind of straight and narrow is by scheduling everything. The good news is, I’m already ahead of schedule.

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