This post could also be titled: Why Amazon Needs Competition from Other Publishing Markets.
Because it does.
Last week, I posted a question to one of my indie publishing support groups, asking for a show of hands for those who used KU or went wide with their distribution. The vast majority of people went with KU. Certain genres do quite well there, and most authors did have their books enrolled in KU. Many said they would release wide the first week before pulling their books from other platforms and going with KDP select from then on. The vast majority of authors said they just didn’t make enough money on the other platforms to justify not doing KU, and they did make money on KU. Not much, admittedly, but since it was the only game in town…
The other day, I was scrolling through my Twitter feed, pleased at how many companies had pulled their support from the NRA, and seeing the calls for boycotts of companies that hadn’t done so. And then I saw that Amazon not only supported the NRA, but they advertised with Brietbart.
Because a) Amazon is big enough not to give a rat’s ass about public opinion, even when the tide is turning on the matter of sensible gun control here in the US and b) virtually every author I know would be crippled by an Amazon ban. Myself included.
Just this morning, I was chatting with my critique group about the state of publishing in general and signs that Barnes and Noble is going under. B&N, who gobbled up Borders, and now is falling victim to Amazon. The chain bookstores crushed all the smaller competition, and are now getting killed themselves. When I first moved here, we had a Waldenbooks, a Books A Million, B&N, and a fantastic used bookstore. They are all gone, with the exception of B&N. And now it looks like B&N will be folding soon.
Hopefully it will get bought out by someone else, but that seems less and less likely in today’s market. I like my local B&N store. I don’t go there as often as I used to because I buy mostly digital books now. My first e-reader was a NOOK, but it was heavy and had a pitiful battery life. But the real reason I bought a Kindle and began getting all my ebooks from Amazon was that B&N’s website sucks. OMG. It is so terrible. I get a coupon or a book link, log in, attempt to buy the book, and the site kicks me out multiple times, requesting I log in again or redirecting me off the page where I am trying to redeem my coupon. My experience was so consistently bad, I actually thought ebooks would never catch on. Hah.
The ease of being able to get a book on my cell phone’s Kindle app converted me. The superior functionality of my Kindle Paperwhite gives me so much more than the NOOK that I don’t miss the fact my book covers aren’t in color. B&N is falling victim of its inability to keep up.
Recently I heard Wal-Mart is getting into the e-book game, and along with Kobo, Apple, and Google, are pursuing the ebook market. What this means for indie authors, I don’t know, but I suspect they will not do any publishing. They are more likely to serve as a distribution center. Are they willing to take a loss on book sales the way Amazon is? Amazon is not a publisher. It sells products, including e-readers. If selling books brings people to the website, they are more likely to buy other things too. At the moment, Amazon is content to lose money on book sales. So maybe that’s what Wal-Mart is ultimately hoping for–books driving people to their site (which I didn’t even know existed until now).
Competing distribution sites is all well and good, but I think we need someone else in the field who will allow self-publishing on the scale Amazon has done. I think we as authors need to think carefully about letting Amazon be our sole distributor as well. Because relying solely on KU feels a little bit like sacrificing a virgin to keep the dragon happy for a year–and what’s going to happen when the town runs out of virgins?
Amazon will call all the shots then. And authors, who have never been a priority for them, will be eaten up along with the town.
Representative Maxine Waters has made the phrase ‘reclaiming my time’ a viral meme for her refusal to allow Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to squander her floor time with a meandering, meaningless response designed to avoid answering her question about Trump’s ties to Russia in the time allowed. For every woman who has been ignored during a meeting, spoken over, had their own work mansplained to them and endlessly interrupted, this cool invocation of House rules was a delight to behold.
But for writers, there are other time-sinks besides someone deliberately wasting your time. Many of these activities are actually good things, activities we’re encouraged to do. Networking, participating in Facebook groups, interacting on social media, marketing, etc–all things we’re told we must do and must do daily. All part of creating and promoting our brand.
I see friends doing cool hashtag things like #FirstLineFriday or #TeaserTuesday and I think, wow, I should be doing that. I participate in weekly Twitter conversations such as #RWChat and #TipsyChat and I’ve met new people and been introduced to some new books as well. I’ve joined some busy, organized Facebook groups that cross-promote each other. I’m writing this post now for #MondayBlogs, something I try to do each week.
But frankly, I’m finding it hard to do anything else but keep up with these activities.
Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy doing most of these things. I get a lot out of participating in the chats or batting ideas around on Facebook. More than just putting myself out there and making my name recognizable–I’m making real connections. Sometimes brainstorming too. There are times putting my thoughts into words crystallize them for me and make my own goals easier for me to understand.
But frequently I find myself spending more and more time in these activities when I could be writing. Sometimes I choose to do the social media thing because it’s easier in a fatigued state to do something like catch up on social media duties than it is to write new material. But I suspect there is a more insidious reason I rotate from Facebook to Twitter to Instagram and back again.
I think it’s an addiction.
Most of us have read articles stating sites such as Facebook and Instagram make us dissatisfied with our lives, or that Twitter is a source of outrage. We know that people tend to post about the biggest events in their lives, making our own lives seem paltry and boring in comparison. And yet we check our timelines obsessively, making our own posts, and hoping we’ll get likes and comments. We live for that hit, whether we realize it or not. In some ways, that worries me the most.
I check my social media first thing in the morning and last thing at night, even if doing so starts or ends my day unhappily. I check my feeds during every free moment–when I used to read a book or listen to the radio. I check it at night while sitting on the couch, catching up with my comments and sharing other people’s book releases. To the exclusion of doing anything else. Of paying attention to what’s on TV, or chatting with the family. From interacting with the pets, and yes, writing. I’ve been known to take social media breaks for my mental health before, but this is different. I think we all need to take a step back from our need to be connected, our need to post Instagram-worthy images, our inability to put our phones down.
I’ve been taking a lot of online classes and workshops. I’ve been reading books on marketing and promotion. I read a lot of articles on writing, branding, you name it. I’ve joined a LOT of groups. Due to the changing algorithms on Facebook, I’m thinking about starting my own group. But the truth is, I’m feeling the pressure to keep up.
And I’m starting to question my need to do so.
One of the things that has been pounded into me from classes and workshops is that a lot of what I’m doing now would be to greater purpose if I had a bigger backlist. I’ve been going at it with both barrels when I only have one book out. While making connections and interacting with readers is important, I’m rushing the gun. Most of advice boils down to this: your best advertisement, your best marketing ploy, is writing and releasing the next book.
And it is slowly dawning on me that everything I’m reading is aimed at the writer who hopes to Go Big. That, as far as I can tell, means being prolific on a scale I can’t match at this time.
So I’ve decided to reclaim my time.
I’m going to drop my participation in Facebook groups to the three I think the most useful–one genre group and two author support groups. I’m going to scale back on workshops and classes. No more money on ads or promotion for now. I’m also going to put the phone down. Take long walks. Photograph things for the joy of taking the image and not with an eye as to how it will look on Instagram. Appreciate my animals. Interact with friends and family.
And write. As I sit here watching the Olympics, I find myself comparing daily writing to the work these athletes put in toward reaching their goals. I’m never going to be an Olympic caliber author, so I’d better enjoy the process. I also want to be happy with the end product–even if it takes me a year between books. It’s okay to watch the Olympics, or spend time with your family, or do any of the other things you enjoy.
That means while all the things I’m learning are valuable, I don’t need to do everything all at once or right now. We talk about writing being a marathon vs a sprint–but that holds true for the rest of it too–the networking, the marketing, the branding–all of it.
So reclaim your time as an author. Or an artist. A crafter. An actor. A singer. A photographer. Put the phone down. Your validation isn’t online. Remember the things that were important to you before social media consumed your life. Take pleasure in the act of creating. You don’t have to do it all every day. Don’t fall victim to the feeling you’re falling behind. The most important thing you can do is write the next story. The best story you know how to tell.
And if that takes you a month, great. If it takes you one, two, or seven years, that’s okay too.
Back in the fall, I wrote about the indecision I had over getting a short hair cut after years of long hair. 2017 had been a bad year for me: lots of loss, lots of sorrow. By the end of October, however, I could sense an awakening in me. A desire to put all that behind me and pick up the pieces of my life.
Making a decision to drastically cut my hair seemed part and parcel of this need to change. But as you know if you read the post, I had my doubts. Those doubts must have conveyed themselves to my stylist, because though I went in armed with photos of what I wanted, she’d never been through one of my cutting cycles and she was concerned I’d hate it once I cut it all off. I was too, to be honest.
So I let her talk me into cutting it in stages. It had been down to nearly mid-back level. I had her take it to shoulder length before I went on vacation, with the plan to go shorter on my return.
When I went in, I was ready for something dramatic. Something reflective of the changes I was making in my life. I wanted a clean slate.
What I got unfortunately was the exact thing I told my stylist I didn’t want. “Please”, I said. “Whatever you do, don’t give me a chin-length bob.”
But that’s what I got. When I came home, my husband greeted me with a single question: Did I mean to look like Velma from Scooby-doo? VELMA. Okay, I don’t care how much he said he liked the cut later, there is no coming back from VELMA, baby.
Then there was the problem of the cut itself, beyond how I looked. I asked not to get this cut because I know what my hair does. Freed of the weight of length, every time it got the slightest bit damp outside (which is 90% of he time here, what with the general humidity), it began to lift up on all sides until I resembled a dandelion in the puff-ball state. It was too short to put up and long enough that I couldn’t get it out of my face for work. I hated it.
When a friend of mine (a former hairdresser herself) begged me to let her cut my hair, I gave in. It couldn’t be any worse, right? Well, I’m so glad I took her advice. She gave me the pixie cut I wanted and I love it! Not only is it everything I wanted but people keep telling me how much younger I look, and that’s never a bad thing. And it is so much easier to take care of. I’m telling you, I’m never growing out my hair again.
I saw a video on Facebook today of a lovely woman who shaved her hair off because it was something she’d always wanted to do. She’s a seriously pretty woman who never liked her hair, and while I’d never go that extreme, I definitely could understand her love-hate relationship with her hair. When she took that first swipe across her head with the clippers, I gasped along with her at what she had done. You could tell she wasn’t 100% sure about it, and yet she’d just cut a wide swath across the top of her skull! She was committed now.
What I found most interesting was her reaction at the end. Not just that she loved her new look (and she totally rocked it in a way I never could!) but that she was so proud of herself for making a bold move and stepping out of her comfort zone. Kudos to her.
The decision to cut my own hair short led to another: the decision to declutter the house. This has been something I’ve been meaning to do for years but keep putting off for one reason or another. I mean, why do housework when you could be writing, right? The truth of the matter is the house is a bit of a disaster, and it’s hard to get motivated about cleaning it up. But something about cutting my hair short made me look around at the house and think this needs fixing.
And the decision to declutter made me realize something had to be done about the house itself. We’ve been in a holding pattern for years on the place. It needs major repairs, the kind worth more than the house itself. We don’t want to sell–we love the farm. But the house never should have passed inspection and the problems have been gradually making themselves apparent over the years. Seriously, the guy who sold it to us could have been Mr Haney from Green Acres. Somehow we let ourselves get stuck: do we sink major money into the repairs or sell and move? And the end result was we did neither.
But we’ve finally decided to bite the bullet, take out a home equity loan, and tackle the worst of the problems. It will make our lives a living hell for several months during the renovations (and I suspect play havoc with my ability to meet certain writing deadlines) but when it’s done we’ll have a house we can either love OR sell if we so choose. And hey, decluttering is exactly what we need to do before the reno!
I guess the lesson here is that making one big decision makes others seem less scary. Once you make one scary decision, it gets easier to make others. Like the woman who shaved her head, I’m stepping out of my comfort zone. For a long time now, my comfort zone has been one of hunkering down and waiting out the never-ending storm.
Now I’m stepping out in the rain and dancing in the puddles.
For some time now, I’ve been torn about whether or not to leave book reviews.
If you’re familiar with the show The Good Place, you know the character Chidi, an ethics scholar who ties himself up in knots every time he has to make a decision about anything, including where to have dinner. I’m not that bad, but when it comes to this particular dilemma, I go back and forth on it.
It’s only since the explosion of social media, and the encouragement of such sites as Amazon and Goodreads that the average person has been able to leave reviews–it’s a relatively recent phenomenon. Prior to that, the only way to get reviews was from major literary magazines, and that sort of thing didn’t happen unless you were already a Big Name. Amazon has been one of the great equalizers when it comes to leaving reviews, and their algorithms have shifted the balance of power to the ‘little guy’ reviewer in mass numbers.
Before that, the only time I ‘left a review’ was when I enthusiastically pushed a favorite book onto friends. The only time I knew a favorite author had published a new story was by haunting the bookstores and libraries.
I’m glad I have ways of following favorite artists now, and can keep up with new releases as they occur. But I stumble over the review process.
There are a lot of reasons for this. I’m not in the habit of leaving reviews in general. I intensely dislike the way I now get hounded with automatic emails to leave a review every time I purchase a product or use a service. Come on, I don’t need to leave a review every time I go to the dentist, peeps! Leaving thoughtful, well-written reviews is time-consuming–something that I have in short supply. Then too, if I can’t leave a glowing review, I don’t want to leave anything at all. Partly because I was raised that way, and partly for fear of backlash. I’ve seen fans go after an author who left a less-than-stellar review for another writer’s work.
But then there’s the Big Brother aspect of leaving reviews as well. I know several people who’ve had their reviewing rights revoked at Amazon because of perceived improprieties. They are mostly bloggers and people on ARC lists, so they are getting a complimentary copy of the book in question. Amazon gets snitty about non-verified purchase reviews. Okay, I get that. But sometimes it is mandatory you state how you received the copy and sometimes the review gets pulled if you state you received a free copy. Even if you received that free copy as part of an Amazon-sponsored giveaway! The rules keep changing.
Amazon also doesn’t like authors leaving reviews for other authors, despite the fact almost every author I know is a reader too. They cite conflict of interest, and pull the review. The flip side of this is if you follow an author’s social media, Amazon might deem you a ‘friend’ of the author, and your review is also treated as suspect and pulled. It’s almost like Amazon doesn’t understand how social media works outside its own algorithms.
Then there are the authors themselves. I’ve heard Big Name Authors state they never leave reviews, and other BNA point out the importance of reviews and ask fans leave one if they enjoyed a story. And face it, we all want reviews. It’s not just about Amazon’s algorithms, either. Getting that little bit of positive feedback is like crack to a writer. We naturally want more. But it can also encourage a writer who feels their current WIP is hopeless, or bring someone back to work on a project they thought no one was interested in. Feedback like this is vital.
Which brings me back to the eternal dilemma. I recently picked the brains of fellow authors as to what they do, and I found many people feel as conflicted about this as I do. Some have stopped leaving reviews, or only leave reviews if they can rate a story with five stars. (I really, really wish the ‘star’ system would go away and people would just leave written feedback. I know Amazon uses it to rank stories, but when people 1-star a story because they misread the blurb or the book was damaged in transit, it makes me want to pull out my hair. Ditto when people low-rate a story they’ve never even read because they don’t like the subject matter…)
Because of the restrictions Amazon places on reviews, many of the authors I spoke with who do leave reviews, do so under their real name on a separate account not connected with their pen names. I’m not sure that is distant enough to satisfy Amazon, but it does solve the ‘verified purchase’ issue for the most part.
Some authors said they didn’t leave reviews at the main sites but instead wrote them on their websites and boosted them on their social media. I like this idea but I’m not sure how much that helps the author in terms of visibility on Amazon.
Then again, perhaps it’s time we stopped letting the ‘Zon dictate everything.
Long before it ever became a thing, I was in the habit of declaring “This would be my year of living ____________.”
One year it was fearlessly. Another was without doubt. Once it was passionately. As with most things, I would start out with good intentions that will fizzle along the way.
I tend to do a bit better if I can put my intentions into a form I can keep in front of me as a frequent reminder.
I also firmly believe in the power of talismans. Even more so if you create them for yourself.
Even as a child, I had a vivid imagination. My parents, imminently practical people, would come into the bedroom once to show me there were no monsters hiding there, but after that, it was up to me to deal with my fears. I used to lie awake quaking with terror over the hump of clothes piled in a chair (which I was sure was a gargoyle, just waiting for the lights to go out) or the shadow in the corner that was probably a burglar.
I finally conquered my fears when I decided I had the power to seal the monsters in my closet. Each night when I was sent to bed, I would round up the imaginary horrors, chase them into my closet, and cast a spell to contain them there. Problem solved. I was able to go to sleep without fear. The funny thing is, to this day, I’m unable to get a good night’s sleep unless my closet door is closed. If it is open even a crack, I have nightmares.
It illustrates the power we have within ourselves to overcome certain kinds of fears and doubts if we put our minds to it. Not everything. But many things. Especially the kinds of restrictions we’ve put on ourselves in the first place that keep us from being all that we can be.
As an adult, I find I still reach for objects I can imbue with strength when I need something to carry with me as a reminder. I love polished stones with words carved into them. As a child, I used to assign words to stones and carry them in my pocket as I needed them. One day I might carry courage. Another, hope. Today I carry joy.
These days, it’s much easier to find stones with words carved into them, but I still have the stones from my youth. I can grant them any word I wish. I love putting my hand in my pocket and coming across the smooth stone, rubbing it as a reminder of the word I wanted to keep near my heart that day. I’m not particularly religious or spiritual. I just find comfort in these small acts.
As an adult, I’ve frequently found strength in fandom, in a favorite character’s courage or behavior. I’ve taken to having iconic quotes made into bracelets or necklaces to remind myself the kind of person I want to be. I seem to need a lot of reminders! I think this is because my negative self-speak is so strong and has been honed over a lifetime of insecurities. So yes, I need to create my own talismans. Not as wards against evil, though sometimes they feel that way, but to offset the self-hate that’s been in place for so long.
For a while I had a ring that said Never Surrender. I bought a bunch of them and wore one until I found someone who needed it more than I did and then I gave it to them. I’ve given them all away.
So imagine my delight when I found out that declaring your intent for a year is a thing now. I noticed people on my timeline talking about what their word for the year might be. And then too, I’ve been seeing people get encouraging phrases stamped on aluminum bands like the one I’ve shown above. I love what I’m seeing. The Etsy store The Broken Circle has all kinds of great phrases on metal bracelets–like “Doubt Not” and “Slayer of Words”. And I recently discovered a website called MyIntent.org that will make a custom bracelet or necklace with the word of your choosing. How cool is that??
So what are you waiting for? You can assign a word of power to ANYTHING. Or you can search for the right phrase that will lift you up every time you see it and create your own talisman–or have someone make one for you. I ordered a bracelet from the My Intent project that said “Persistence.” That’s my word for the year. It’s to remind me of my favorite Calvin Coolidge quotation.
I’m bad about making Great Plans to change my life and not following through. Plans to clean up my diet, plans to exercise more. Promises to spend more time doing the things I love. Good intentions to write more, worry less, stop just treading water and strike out for the far shore.
I could run a nutrition workshop with all the books I’ve purchased. I have gym equipment gathering dust in the garage and more exercise DVDs than I can count. I’ve started (paid) diet programs only to drop out and I frequently sign up for workshops on body positivity and the like without ever completing the courses.
I suspect one of the reasons follow-through is poor is that I’m already stretched pretty thin. Which is why my house is the last priority on a very long list. I’m starting to re-think this, however.
For Christmas, my husband got the oldest Girl-Child a copy of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. I picked it up the other day and read it cover to cover. At first I scoffed at the idea of tidying by category instead of one room at a time. That’s not how it was done! And besides, it would take forever to sort things in this manner. But as I read on, it began to make more sense to me. De-cluttering one room at a time means you usually just shove things into another room, another set of drawers, out of sight to be dealt with later. And by sorting things from least to most sentimental, by the time you reached the objects you were the most torn about throwing out, you are already in a mindset of keeping only the things that are the most valuable to you. The things that bring you joy.
I’ve always been a bit of a pack rat but my longstanding pattern had been to do a ruthless purge every four to five years. I meant to do it the last time we moved, only I ran out of time and ended up carting things with me I probably would have thrown out, given the chance. Somehow 12 years have gone by since my last purge, and man, am I overdue.
Things have been complicated by inheriting a bunch of my mother’s stuff when she died earlier this year. The spare room became the catch-all for most of her things, while the garage was stuffed to the rafters with her furniture. I was executor of her estate, so there was always something more important to do than sort through her stuff. Besides, what was I to do with the photos and memorabilia no one else in the family wanted but I felt would be wrong simply to toss out?
I think the hoarding mindset begins innocently enough. It frequently starts from a place of deprivation. Money is tight, so we don’t toss out clothing, even when it no longer fits, is outdated, or is completely worn out. We throw that electronic device that no longer works (or has been replaced) in a drawer along with the old dog leashes and owner’s manuals to half-a-dozen appliances. We hang on to them because we might need them some day, and we don’t want to have to replace something we already own. We keep pieces of furniture simply because we’ve always had them, and besides, it’s too much trouble to haul it away. We collect coffee mugs because we like them, but we never get rid of the chipped ones or the ones we never use. We run out of storage space in our drawers and closets, so we buy storage containers and stuff them under our beds and in the attic because we just might need that hideously ugly sweater some day.
I have shoes I can no longer wear because the heels are too high for me but I don’t get rid of them because they are pretty. I have outfits I will never fit into again and yet I cling to them in the hopes someday I will. Anything not fit to wear in public becomes ‘barn clothes’.
I have more barn clothing than anything else.
The thing is, we’re not in the tight financial situation we were in when we last moved. We’re not millionaires, but things are okay. But the mindset of deprivation and want is still there.
It’s also hard to come home after a long hard day at work and tackle the mess the house has become. Correspondence is stacked on the table by the door, along with coats, boots, scarves, gloves, and hats. Books I want to read are piled on various surfaces. The cabinets are full-to-bursting for the apocalypse I’m sure is coming any day now. The fridge and walls are covered with photos, stickers, post-it notes, and inspirational sayings.
I think about decluttering from time to time. I’m a fan of the website unf*ckyourhabitat and sometimes I take before and after pictures of a room and spend 20 minutes sorting and putting things away. But the basic clutter is still there. And I suspect Marie Kondo is right–I’m just moving stuff from one place to another instead of ruthlessly unloading the crap weighing me down.
I feel like Sarah in that scene from Labyrinth, in which she wakes with amnesia on a junk pile, and the old woman starts binding Sarah’s belongings to her back…
“It’s all junk.” Yes, indeed. I’d hazard a guess that 75% of what’s in my house right now is all junk.
And then today, I had one of those weird connections between different subjects that made me go ‘huh.’ See, I’ve been half-assed doing one of those body positivity things online, and of course, one of the things that keeps coming up is how we’ve been taught to hate our bodies, even though they are marvelous, wonderful things, without which we’d be dead. And I get that, the idea we should be kind to ourselves, that we should appreciate the bodies that shelter us, that we should not bombard our bodies with hate. It’s the worst thing we can do to ourselves. Sure, there may be room for eating better and exercising so we can keep doing the things we love to do–but self-loathing doesn’t do anyone any good, and it might even potentially harm us.
Then it dawned on me. From nearly the moment I moved in, I’ve hated this house. Hated that it was poorly insulated and a probable fire hazard. Hated that it was a money pit that hardly seemed worth cleaning, let alone repairing. And yet it shelters us and provides us with a place of our own, a place where we can have big dogs and too many cats. A place where we can find rest at the end of the day. So maybe this house could use a little ‘body positivity’ style love.
And that means, among other things, cleaning out the clutter that has taken over our lives here.
I’m going to give the Tidying Up method a go. I have a feeling the end result will be far greater than just a clean house.
I don’t know about you guys, but I was glad to see the backside of 2017. In some ways, it was one of the most difficult years of my life. There was a lot of personal loss, and I finished out the year sick with a respiratory bug that has knocked me flat.
It made me snort out loud. Yeah, that’s how I feel, 2017. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.
Yesterday was the first day I woke up without a fever and feeling remotely human in almost a week. Thank goodness I was off for the holidays! I began reflecting, as one does, over the past year. What I’d learned. What I would have done differently. How I intended to move forward into 2018.
I wasn’t yet coherent enough to put together a blog post. I just hammered out some thoughts on Twitter. Later, I thought it would be nice to turn them into a blog post, but I believe storify isn’t an option for Twitter threads any longer, so I decided to screencap them here instead.
I hope you find it useful. Here’s to a better 2018 for us all.
Christmas Day is now only a week away. I have all my shopping done–most of it was competed weeks ago. We don’t go crazy at Christmas in our house anymore. We tend to get 1-2 gifts for each family member, gifts that don’t break the bank. We’ve scaled back on the food and festivities too. In part because our families are smaller now but also because no one seems to have the time, energy, or money to go whole hog for the holidays.
Back when I was single, I had to work hard to get into the Christmas spirit. Why decorate when there was only you to enjoy it? (Especially when you were the only one there to put them up and take them down). I baked cookies just to give them away. I watched hours of Christmas movies and specials because they helped me enjoy my most favorite of seasons, as well as feel a little less sorry for myself when work inevitably decided since I was single and without kids, I needed the least time off. For at least a decade, I worked every major holiday so others could have time off.
Now that I have my own family and get a little more time off, somehow it is harder than ever to find that Christmas joy. Especially since I’ve declared a moratorium on baking because I’m trying to lose some damn weight. Especially because this year has been personally tough on so many levels, I don’t even know where to begin. If I put everything that has happened to me and my family this year in a single story, readers would howl about how unrealistic it was. There is no reason to travel anymore. The kids have their own plans. It’s just us.
Last night, my husband asked me what I wanted for Christmas. I didn’t remind him pointedly that Christmas is now only seven days away and anything he ordered was unlikely to arrive on time. Instead, I sort of panicked and said the first thing that came to mind.
Because I’ve been trying to get in better shape, I started wearing my Fitbit again, but it’s an older model, it only counts steps. What I’d really like is one that also functions as a watch. I’ve worn a watch most of my life. Yes I know they are considered passe, but I love watches, especially pretty ones. Also, fewer places have clocks on the walls anymore. I hate pulling out my phone to see what time it is, and new office policy is we must leave our phones in our cubicles during the workday–an effort to curb relentless internet surfing by some staff members, I’m sure. But that means when I wear my Fitbit, I never know what time it is anymore.
So, placed on the spot (because OMG, what can he get with only a week to go??), I said I’d like a Fitbit with a watch function. It’s true, I would like one. But I’ve been eyeing them for a while now and it’s hard to justify the price.
I woke up this morning wondering why I said what I did. Yes, I want to lose weight and get in better shape. Yes, I need to fix or replace my current watch and I can’t wear both a watch and a Fitbit, so my request makes some sense. But honestly, I’d rather have a watch of my choosing than a digital readout on an expensive piece of tech I don’t really need.
But that isn’t why I tossed and turned all night, unable to sleep for very long.
You want to know what my favorite Christmas song is? It’s Grown Up Christmas List by Amy Grant. It’s a beautiful song originally done by Natalie Cole, but the Amy Grant version is the one I heard first, so naturally, it’s the one that feels familiar and right to me.
When she gets to this part, and the melody soars, tears come to my eyes every time.
So here’s my lifelong wish
My grown up Christmas list
Not for myself but for a world in need
No more lives torn apart
That wars would never start
And time would heal all hearts
And everyone would have a friend
And right would always win
And love would never end, no
This is my grown up Christmas list
The truth of the matter is I don’t want a Fibit with a watch function.
I have a more grown up Christmas List:
I want to stop losing loved ones for a while. Seriously. Between pets and relatives, I’m facing seven deaths in the family this year. Some were expected. All were devastating. But coming one upon the other as they have, I’m starting to go numb at the wrong times and inappropriately emotional at others.
I want to stop waking up in fear of checking the news. Threats of war, riots, out of control fires, destructive hurricanes, climate change, the threat of the next pandemic, rise of Nazism, the loss of net neutrality, a government determined to cut Medicare, social security, and strip health care from millions while filling the coffers of the rich. My mental health suggests just stop checking the news, but then I am part of the problem, the part that does nothing while our government slides into a totalitarian regime.
I want our government to stop sliding into a totalitarian regime. I want to believe that our checks and balances work, that not all our leaders are complicit in the current mess that passes for government at this time. I want to believe if our president decides to start a nuclear war because he’s cornered like a trapped rat, that someone will prevent him from doing so.
I want our regulations for clean air and water to stay in place. I don’t want companies to have more autonomy and greater rights than individual humans. I want to protect our public lands from destructive strip mining and sacred lands from pipelines. I want to not live in dread of a summer that starts sooner each year and lasts longer each time, reaching new heights on temperature charts. I want an open internet, where traffic to all sites is weighted evenly, and internet providers aren’t allowed to block sites or slow down sites owned by competitors. Where marginalized voices can have their say. Where artists and creators can all be visible, regardless if they are famous or working out of their garage.
I want all of us to be able to go to work, to school, to church, the movies, a concert, or any place where people might gather without fear of being mowed down by a single angry man armed with assault weapons that no citizen needs. That’s not crazy or unreasonable. I’m not saying eliminate all guns. I’m saying eliminate those weapons that belong in the hands of trained military personnel in a war zone. When the Bill of Rights was written, a trained military man could load and fire a musket thee, maybe four times within a minute. It had a range of 50 meters. It was not an accurate weapon–you pointed it at the general direction of the enemy and kept shooting until you got close enough to stab him with a bayonet. Also, when the 2nd amendment was written, there was no standing army and no grocery stores.
When Stephen Paddock opened fire on the concert crowd in Las Vegas from the 32nd floor of his hotel, he fired more than 1,100 rounds in ten minutes, killing 58 people and injuring 546 over a distance of 550 meters. Repeat after me: these weapons are not the same. No private citizen should own one of these weapons. No one.
I want our news to stop treating politics like a sports game. Stop giving airtime to the white supremacists because it makes people click on your links. Stop biasing the news based on ratings and financial gain. Oh sure, I realize FOX News isn’t actually a news organization–it’s an entertainment site (check the fine print, you’ll see I’m right), and with the Sinclair corporation buying up TV stations and dictating what reporters have to say on air, this is a faint hope indeed. But hey, it’s my Christmas list. I can put anything on it I want.
Along those lines, I want to lose 20, maybe 25 (Okay, let’s be honest, 30–but that’s never going to happen) pounds this year. I want to get fit again. I want to be passionate about life again. I want to write my stories and love my family and find my bliss once more. Of all the things on my Christmas list, these are the only ones under my control. The only things I can get for myself.
And maybe, given the other stresses in my life, I need to look at overall balance. Maybe I need to spend less time online fretting about things I can’t control and more time writing. Less time marketing and more time writing. Less time writing and more time with the dogs and the family.
Christmas is a week away. There are rumors we’ll be in the midst of a Constitutional crisis by then. People talk of taking to the streets and others boast of how well-armed they are. If I’m having a little trouble getting into the Christmas spirit, forgive me. It kind of feels like our world is going into free-fall. I think our leaders have forgotten the meaning of Christmas. I think a good portion of the far-right would be astonished to discover they have eschewed the basics of Christianity itself and have become the Pharisees.
Maybe a Christmas movie and an afternoon baking cookies isn’t such a bad thing. I can always go for a run afterward.
I suspect I’m getting a Fitbit for Christmas. That’s okay. I know my husband is trying to help me cope with everything we’re going through right now, and like me grabbing onto something I can change, he’s grabbing onto a gift choice to help support that change. It won’t be a surprise. It might not be the most original or romantic gift. It doesn’t have to be those things because it is given with love.
First, let me start off by saying I didn’t officially sign up for NaNoWriMo. I wrote about my reasons for taking the best of NaNo without committing to the event in an earlier post. Suffice to say, after a terrible year for me personally, I didn’t need the additional stress.
But even with the extremely modest goal of 200 words per day, I failed. How lame is that, right? 200 words EVERY DAY and I failed to meet this low bar.
In my defense, it wasn’t entirely my fault. As most of you know, I have a young puppy. He’s about 8 months old now, and full of beans. One ear up, one ear slightly floppy. Legs that go in all directions and a tail that spins like a helicopter when he runs. He’s a big goofball with little sense of personal awareness.
Last week, he was under my workstation when he got caught in the power cable to my laptop. His movement jerked the laptop sideways into my glass of wine. As the wine tipped over, I snagged it with catlike reflexes–we’re talking WINE here–but some of it slopped over the brim into my keyboard, shorting it out.
I wasn’t going to let this defeat me, however. I knocked the dust off the desktop, one I had inherited last year but never set up. I met each setback with grim determination. The monitor was missing the power cable–no problem, I found an old one that still worked. The mouse wouldn’t interface with the system? No problem, I found a wireless one that did. The ethernet cable didn’t work even when directly connected to the PC? Got it covered–we’ll connect to the modem wirelessly. I’m listing these things because normally tech issues like this have me pulling out my hair and cursing a blue streak. But I refused to give in to these issues. I solved them.
And then I discovered the inherited PC didn’t have Word on it. Seriously?? Who doesn’t have Word??
Not wanting to mess up my WIP trying to integrate some alien word processing program with it, I pulled out one of my many lovely notebooks and wrote by hand while the SO worked on my poor laptop. Take that, One Ridiculous Setback After Another!
Only the words ground to a halt. I couldn’t muster even the measly 200 words per day I’d set as my goal.
Why? Because the story was a hot mess, that’s why.
I had 39 K written by the time of the Wine Incident. Very respectable for 3 weeks, NaNo or No NaNo. But to my dismay, those 39 K words only covered the first 24 hours of action… and my story was supposed to take place over a six month time span.
Obviously I had a serious pacing issue. Not to mention a ‘bogged down in minutia’ issue. The story might have had good bones (and I still think it does) but it was seriously flawed. And it took being forced into inactivity for me to admit it.
I could have kept plugging away at it and reached 50 K easily. I would have unofficially ‘won’ at NaNo but I still wouldn’t have a usable story. Worse, I would have continued to build on an unstable foundation. It would be like laying down railroad tracks with an incorrect map. The tracks would have gotten progressively off-course, needing a much larger correction than if I’d just stopped and regained my bearings.
So in short, what I learned from failing (once again) at NaNo:
NaNoWriMo is not for everyone. There is no shame in this. Sure, when everyone else around you is constantly posting and tweeting about their NaNo experience, you might feel left out, but ask yourself if NaNo is really right for you. If not, there is nothing wrong in not participating. Seriously.
There is one very important lesson to be learned from NaNo: park your butt in the chair and write. I can’t emphasize enough how much this matters. All the writing courses in the world, all the marketing advice out there, they all boil down to this: you must commit to writing on a regular basis. You must create and publish no matter what, come rain or shine, in order to build your audience. More than anything else, the next story is your best marketing plan. So shut your browser, stop checking your social media or sales rankings, and sit down at the keyboard.
Writing is a muscle you must exercise in order to make stronger. But just like with your own muscles, you have to mix things up to prevent injury or strain. Yes, you’ll go farther with daily training. Want to get good at something? Practice, practice, practice. But just like with your own body, you have to learn to respect your creativity. You don’t weight lift every day–you alternate weight training with cardio in order to give your muscles a break. You need time to rest and rebuild your creativity too. I recommend do something every day with regards to your writing–but remember that reading and watching movies–exploring how other people tell stories–is part of the process. Sometimes the story you’re working on needs to marinate a while during which you figure out what the next move might be. Don’t rush that process just to bang out words.
Don’t just bang out words. Not unless that’s part of your process. I’m a pantser by nature, but with the current WIP, I can see I’ve gone off the rails. I could just keep pounding away at it, but I think it’s better to take a little time to solve my pacing issue before I go any further. Either I need to shorten the projected timeline, or introduce time jumps that don’t jar the reader after detailing every minute of the current time frame, or both. The trick is not letting too much time pass while you let a story mature. Give yourself a deadline: set the story aside for 48 hours and come back to it. If you can’t solve the problem by then, maybe the thing to do is shelve the project until such time as a solution presents itself to you. Or slog your way through it. Only you can tell which is the best course of action.
I saw a Tweet today from Chuck Wendig, in which someone asked him for ‘advice you wished someone had given you when starting out as a writer’. He said, “That every book takes the time that it takes, and the writer you are when you begin is not the writer you are when you finish.”
Some stories are more complicated than others. Some stories you’re not ready to tell, even though you think you are. Some stories practically write themselves–but that doesn’t mean they are any better or worse than stories that someone slaved over for ten years or more. Give your story the time it needs to grow up. NaNo is a wonderful concept with many good things to offer, but it is not the only path to writing a story. That’s different from author to author and from story to story.
The current WIP is a hot mess. It’s up to me to decide if it is salvageable or not. I think I know how to fix it, so I’m going to give it my best shot. But for me, the worst thing I could have done would have been laying tracks in the wrong direction.
I’ve worked with publishers and I’ve published on my own. One of the biggest differences between the two is how much work the publisher does on your behalf: cover art, editing, sending your book out to review sites and so on. There’s also the advantage of the built-in audience your publisher already has, the value of a larger group newsletter, as well as networking opportunities with other authors in the same publishing house. Sure, when you go indie, you retain more control over every little detail of your work. You get to set your production schedule, retain complete control over cover art, have the last word on editing, and get a bigger share of the royalties. But there’s a reason publishers take the lion’s share of sales earned.
You have to wear a lot of hats to be an indie author.
There are some people who love this. They relish having all the control. But there are others who are overwhelmed with spinning all the plates at once: finding a good cover artist and editor. Scouring the review sites to find ones that will accept your story. Lining up beta readers and ARC readers. Designing eye-catching graphics and running Facebook groups. Scheduling posts across the board to all your social media sites. Holding giveaways and writing guest blog posts. All the while working on the next release because we all know the next story is your best advertisement.
Where does anyone find the time to do all of this? Especially if you haven’t a freaking clue how to set up a newsletter or your attempts at website design or graphics look as though a second grader created them.
The good news is you don’t have to wear all the hats. (Do you like my image above? It was from a Peggy Carter cosplay photo session I did last month 🙂 ) You are allowed to delegate.
The bad news is you might have to pay for that delegation.
Here’s my take on where you can and cannot skimp.
Pay for an outstanding cover. No, seriously, you can’t let your BFF with Photoshop make your book cover unless he or she is a graphic artist and is looking to expand their portfolio. For one thing, you can get in a lot of trouble if your cover artist isn’t using royalty-free images (or images they purchased) that have been licensed for cover art. But even more importantly, if your cover art looks like it’s been done by an amateur, if it doesn’t match genre expectations, then readers will give your story a hard pass. People DO judge a book by its cover. And a crappy cover will sink even the most amazing story. You have a nano-second to catch a reader’s eye and make them take a second look with your story. Don’t blow it with a crappy cover.
Pay for quality editing. Yes, good editing is expensive. There’s a reason for that. An editor doesn’t just correct your grammar and punctuation, though that is important. A good editor tells you when you use repetitive phrases or actions. When your story has continuity errors or plot holes you could drive a truck through. When you are writing outside genre expectations. A good editor meets deadlines and does more than give your story a cursory read. It may take time to find an editor that’s a good match for you, but when you find him or her, cling to them for all they are worth because they are worth their weight in gold. Readers will notice crappy editing and comment on it in their reviews.
Formatting: if you can’t figure it out, pay someone to do it. There are lots of people out there who offer formatting for all the major outlets for reasonable fees. Nothing pisses a reader off more than weird formatting on their e-readers. Yes, there’s software out there like Calibre that will put your book in the different formats, but if you want elegant formatting–pretty chapter headers or reliable reading across the different file formats–pay someone. If you have to cut costs (and believe me, I’ve been there) teach yourself how to do it.
Graphics: Social Media Posts and Teasers. This is a tough one for me because there are some great options out there for creating your own, like Canva. However, I simply don’t have the time right now to learn how to make sophisticated graphics. I can make a serviceable image, but an elegant one? Not so much. If I have to chose between spending 3 hours messing around with Canva to produce an image that looks cheesy or write 3 K on the WIP, I’m going to choose the WIP every time. Eventually, my skills will improve. But in the meantime, I’ll pay someone to give me this:It doesn’t have to be expensive. Talk to your friends. You probably have friends who would love to make something like this for you without charging you an arm and a leg. Or again, find that graphic artist looking to expand their portfolio.
Marketing: You have to do it. You can’t simply launch your book like Noah releasing a dove from the deck of the Ark, hoping it will eventually return with evidence of dry land. I wasn’t able to nail down exact numbers but read that in 2014, Amazon reported at least 5 K new releases each day. You might think that’s insane, but what’s really crazy is expecting your book to get singled out among the pack for notice if you make no effort to call it to anyone’s attention. I highly recommend Bad Red Head Media’s 30 Day Book Marketing Challenge. Get it. Read it. Do it. If you want to pay someone to promote your book you can, but this is one area if you’re willing to do the legwork yourself, it will pay off.
Create a Book Bub account for yourself. If someone follows you, boom. They get notified every time you have a new release. Post that link on your website so people can find and follow it. Easy. Free.
If you don’t have a clue what you’re doing, consider hiring someone to teach you the ropes at first. Yeah, you hear me say ‘hire someone’ a lot, and believe me, I know what it’s like not to have the funds to do that. But you only have a couple of options: Teach yourself or pay someone to do it for you or pay someone to teachyou to do it yourself. I’m a big believer in hiring the right help to teach you how to do it for yourself.
Don’t have the discretionary funds to pay for the right help? I get that. Then join groups/lists/sites where you can learn what you need to know for free. Consider offering your services to another newbie needing to learn the ropes. I like the ‘watch one, do one, teach one’ philosophy because I think (aside from being a cool thing to do) sharing what you’ve learned helps you retain those lessons. Face it, if you only ever set up a newsletter once every few years, you’re going to forget how to do it.
Decide what’s really important to you and what works best. Don’t waste your time on things that frustrate or annoy you. If participating in every Facebook group or wasting hours on Tumblr is not your thing, don’t do it. You only have so much time and most of it should be spent working on the next story. Because even though it isn’t sexy or cool to say it, THE NEXT STORY IS YOUR BEST ADVERTISEMENT. Sure, there are lots of people out there willing to take your money to teach you how to make your next book a bestseller but if you aren’t writing and releasing on a regular basis, it’s all for naught. Readers are like stray cats: feed them and they will come. Stop feeding them, and they will drift off in search of food elsewhere.
Check out the time-saving options for scheduling posts across various sites. Crosspost whenever you can. This post will automatically appear on my Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Tumblr pages. When I use Hootsuite to schedule a post, I can set it to post to Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook simultaneously. Simplify your life whenever you can. But pick a schedule and post regularly. Your audience, like stray cats, will expect you at certain times once you establish your schedule. Don’t disappoint them.
One other thing I would add: be authentic. I confess, I struggle sometimes to balance the author side of me with the part that is enraged about world events or just wants to post pictures of my pets. Don’t work so hard at presenting your brand that you show your readers someone who doesn’t actually exist. Yeah, there’s a risk in revealing your real self. You might lose readers. But truthfully, your real self is revealed in every word you write. So what do you really have to lose?
Bottom line: if you have the time, energy, and skills to teach yourself what you need to know to be a successful indie author, go for it. But in those areas where you have doubts, where your skills are subpar, hire the right help until you can master those skills. There are some things I believe should always be left to the experts–cover art and editing being the biggies–but be ruthlessly honest with yourself. If you’ve been skimping on services because you can’t afford them, consider saving up to give your story the best launch possible before releasing it into the world. After all, you want that dove to bring back an olive branch.