Tag Archives: writer

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.

Excuses, Excuses

Feb 17, 2016
New Year's resolution? Nailed it!

New Year’s resolution? Nailed it!

Ah yes! You know how New Year’s resolutions go. I had a great one too. Well, one of my New Year’s resolutions was to learn how to make donuts from scratch. BAM! There they are. I need a bigger donut cutter, but they were really tasty. Now to perfect the recipe and tweak it. Chocolate donuts anyone? 

But my other New Year’s resolution…. Well, this isn’t a Western Wednesday post, and there wasn’t one last week or the week before. So, yeah. That one kind of fell apart a little. But I have a really good excuse of why I wasn’t able to post about Western history for the past few Wednesdays. It’s because my dad, Richard E. Farmer, passed away on January 29th. He hadn’t been in great health for the past few years, so it wasn’t unexpected. What was unexpected was the sudden family trip to Huntsville, Alabama, where he lived. I pretty much lost a week of work.

 So why mention all of this? Well, if you’re bound and determined to make a career out of writing, there will come a point when the unexpected rears its head. As much as you plan and make a schedule for yourself, set goals and work diligently to accomplish them, there will be times when something entirely unexpected comes out of nowhere and blasts your plans to bits. For me, it was losing my dad. For my good friend Kirsten Osbourne, it was a thyroid cancer diagnosis which will mean surgery tomorrow. Don’t worry! Thyroid cancer is 95% curable, and her doctors are on top of it, but it’s going to push back a little something-something that the two of us have been working on for you. *wiggles eyebrows* 

The point is, you can’t plan for everything. You can’t plan for Amazon to change the way they tally page reads in their Kindle Unlimited program. (They just changed things, and the payout to authors for the month of January went way, way down… But many authors are theorizing it may go back up next month… Except, it might not) As organized as you make yourself, you can’t plan for another eBook platform going under…or another one rising up. You have no power whatsoever over traditional publishing houses merging or dissolving, and you definitely can’t control the amount of time it takes for them to make decisions about books. 

Bottom line is that no matter how much you plan and structure your writing career, things will come along that blow your plan out of the water. And yep, the same exact thing is true of life. My dad’s wife didn’t plan to lose her husband right after moving into a (giant) new house, while still renovating the old one and getting ready to sell it, and while also searching for an assisted living facility for her mother. Seriously. We may have had our differences in the past, but, whoa. But she’s soldiering on, and I’ve got to give her snaps for that. Makes me losing a week of work look like a day at the park. 

Two authors in the making...

Two authors in the making…

And that’s also the point. We run into hard times. Life takes unexpected turns. It ruins our plans and sends us back to the drawing board. But every time that happens, if we’re truly serious about the path we’re on, we have to take a deep breath, survey the situation, and figure out how to get back on track. Sometimes that’s as simple as making a list and checking it twice. Sometimes it involves a lot more shuffling, especially if other people are involved in your projects.  

The definition of a professional is someone who continues to do the work even when the going gets tough. Hobbies can be set aside, but when this is your job, you’ll find a way to do it. My solution to February’s setbacks has been to forgive myself for not keeping New Year’s resolutions, to write my fingers off when and where I am able, and to readjust my schedule to fit in with all of the crazy going on around me. And also not to make promises that I can’t keep. Like release dates. Sorry! I wish I could tell you when my next book will be out, but at this point I’m just not sure. But I’ll definitely let you know. (And, psst! You can sign up for my newsletter to find out—plug, plug, plug) 

And so, to close, I just want to say that even though we have had our differences over the years, my dad has always been a pivotal part of my writing. Like I said in the eulogy I delivered at his funeral, Dad was a storyteller. He used to tell me bedtime stories about the amazing characters and stories he was working on. (Dude, his character Sebastian Angel is epic, and I fully intend to use him in a sci-fi series I have in mind for the distant future) He was there when I was taking writing classes in college. We attended our first writer’s conference together. He even won a prize. But way back then, I vowed that I would beat him to publication. Which I did. Dad finished one book and worked on a few others, but the only thing he published was a sweet short story. I plan to fix that if I’m able to get the manuscript for the book he finished.

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!

Being in the Now of Publishing

Nov 06, 2015
image courtesy of goXunuReviews via flickr commons

image courtesy of goXunuReviews via flickr commons

Earlier this week, I had a near confrontation with another author (and it was totally my fault, I own up to that 100%, this fellow author is a great person) about Amazon’s subscription program, Kindle Unlimited, or KU. Yes, this is what authors talk about and get all worked up about behind the scenes. The reason it was a near confrontation was because this fellow author made a statement to the effect of “I just don’t understand what the benefit of KU to authors is. I don’t get it, so I won’t be part of it.” And why did that make me see red? Other than the fact that I was sleep-deprived and PMSy?

Because I am really tired of one set of authors raging and frothing and gnashing their teeth while they scream at other authors to stop enrolling their books in KU because it’s ruining publishing for everyone.

Because I’m tired of other authors who are in a much more solid position with their careers telling me how I should be running my career.

Because removing the books that I have in the KU program (and it’s not all of them by any stretch) would constitute me taking a 60% pay cut and not being able to support myself with my writing.

It’s really easy to point fingers at someone else and tell them they should take a 60% pay cut when you’re making 6-7 figures a year. It’s far too easy to feel justified about personal career choices that work well for you at the point you are in with your career without stopping to consider that not everyone’s career is in the same place.

So here’s my take on KU as an author. 90% of my income comes from two series, Montana Romance and Hot on the Trail. Both are historical westerns. Montana Romance is much, much steamier, and the books are longer. (Yes, I have a few other books/series that sell well, but these are my series that pay the rent…literally). Montana Romance is in wide distribution (Amazon, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, etc.) and does very well out there. Hot on the Trail is currently exclusive to Amazon, i.e. part of KU. It does very, very well in KU (meaning I get a lot of page reads/borrows every month).

Now, the decision to pull Hot on the Trail from wide distribution to put it into KU was made very thoughtfully. I looked at a lot of sales figures and data over time. I compared. I kept spreadsheets. What all those numbers told me was that Hot on the Trail was not making even close to the kind of money at iBooks and B&N that Montana Romance was making. In spite of intense promotion (including BookBub) directed at those other sites. After nine plus months of being in wide distribution, it was like I couldn’t even give those books away. I agonized over the decision. I crunched numbers, worried, drank a lot of coffee, and fretted. Then I decided to put the books in KU for 90 days to see what happened.

What happened is that my income on those books shot up over 300% in borrows alone. What happened is that I started making more money in KU borrows from Hot on the Trail than I was making in straight sales from all of the rest of my books combined. What happened is that I was able to pay off some lingering debt, put money in my savings account, and breathe easy for the first time since becoming a full-time author.

The folks who like to go around pressuring authors to pull their books from KU and go wide because “it’s a better business decision” and because “Amazon could pull the rug out from under authors at any time and only pay them a fraction of a fraction for exclusive books” are, without realizing it, trying to take that cherished feeling of security away. They’re denigrating the months of research and the agonizing that went into making the decision in the first place.

Dude, this is my career, not yours. You don’t understand my numbers, so stop trying to pressure me and every other author like me to do what you think is best based on how your books sell when my career is an entirely different story with different rules and different moving parts. I’m not going to shoot myself in the foot so that your career can prosper.

Zen book

courtesy of francois schnell via flickr commons

Here’s the thing. Enrollment in KU/exclusivity with Amazon is not a permanent thing. Enrollment periods last for 90 days. You can put books in KU and you can take them out. Nothing is permanent. A lot of doom and gloom predictions are out there about all the ways Amazon plans to cheat indie authors and pull the rug out from under them. It’s like Code Red level panic.

But that hasn’t happened yet.

I’m not saying it won’t happen, but right now, today, in this 90 day enrollment period, this month, this week, things are okay. KU is working for me. It’s paying the rent and getting my books in the hands of more readers than they would be in otherwise. I know this because I did the math, remember? I tracked sales on other outlets, and even a first grader can tell you that the numbers I have now in KU are bigger than the numbers I had in wide distribution earlier.

Right now, things work.

They might not work next year, next 90 day period, next month. Yep. I fully accept and recognize that. But my participation in KU is not permanent. I continue to do the math, I continue to track sales, I continue to market strategically. I am in the now of publishing. I’ll worry about the tomorrow of publishing when it gets here.

It’s basic zen philosophy, really. Live in the moment. Yesterday is gone, you can’t change it. Tomorrow hasn’t gotten here yet, you can’t control it. The very best thing an indie author like me can do is pay attention, keep track of numbers, watch trends, and be prepared to change things when things need changing.

But they don’t for me. Not yet. Right now, what I’m doing works for me. For me. I’m not implying it works for anyone else. I won’t try to direct your career and you shouldn’t try to direct mine. For me right now, where my career is, where my personal life is, where my books are, KU works for the books I’ve enrolled in it.

Tomorrow, everything may change and all the apocalyptic predictions may come true.

I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it, because the bridge I’m on now is nice and sturdy, whether you like it or not.

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!