A while back, I came across a Facebook post that someone had shared on my newsfeed. What caught my attention at first was not the headline, but rather the thumbnail image that was displayed above it. It was a picture of a freshly vacuumed carpet.
Everyone has little quirks, things that make them happy that other people might find strange. One of mine is that I love those little lines that your vacuum makes on your carpet. No, seriously. It’s like a nirvana moment for me, akin to the people that have the little zen gardens on their desks. They pick up their tiny rakes, and I run to the laundry room and grab my Shark.
I mean, this is how I spend most Friday nights.
And when the cleaning is over, and the vacuum marks are on full display, there’s a sense of peace and calm in the house.
So of course, I ended up clicking on the link and reading the article. It wasn’t really about cleaning, but rather about prioritizing what is worth your time as a parent. How in hindsight, things like having an immaculate house aren’t really as important as you thought when you weigh the amount of time it takes to achieve perfection with the things you miss out on in your children’s lives while obtaining it.
For the most part, I agree. My kids are long past the days of wanting me to play dolls with them. But I remember those nights when it was far easier to admit defeat and corral the mess to a corner of the living room if it meant being able to read a story before they fell asleep. Besides, the toys would invariably be strewn all over the floor again the next day.
Even now, I wouldn’t call my home open house ready on a typical day. Instead of toys in my kids’ rooms, you’re more likely to find dirty socks on the floor, used glasses or bowls, and overflowing trash cans that they can’t manage to take care of themselves.
Admittedly, my house is lived in. Even with those vacuum marks I so dearly covet. But someone could ring my doorbell right now and I’d be able to invite them in without embarrassment. Well, maybe after shutting the doors to my girls’ bedrooms.
Vacuum lines are pretty, and so are moments with your children.
But having a clean house can also be a way of saying “I love you”.
So that’s why after the girls go to school, I open up those bedroom doors and shove dirty jeans into hampers. I rescue spoons and glasses from the depths of hell and march them out to the dishwasher. My daughters might not notice that I do this now, because it’s just a bit of help. But eventually, if I didn’t do it, they would be able to tell.
I should know.
Growing up, way back before there were reality shows that put a name to it, I lived with a hoarder. My childhood home should have been a place of comfort, somewhere that I should have been proud to invite people to. I learned at a young age not to, after being ridiculed at school because a friend ended up commenting to someone else about how many dishes were piled up in my mother’s sink. So I was the one who accepted invitations from others, while never handing them out. I became a master at waiting at my front door for my friends’ parents (and later my friends themselves) to pull up in the driveway, so I could run out and jump into their cars, successfully slamming the door on the secret that I was hiding.
From the outside, my childhood home probably seemed idyllic. A large two story with a welcoming porch. Six bedrooms, two and a half baths. On paper, plenty large and perfect for sleepovers.
In reality, a place that I couldn’t wait to leave. And when I did, a place I hated coming back to.
No one really questioned why I never reciprocated on the invites. I supposed it helped that I only had a few close friends. And those friends were the ones that always had everyone else over anyway. It just always worked out so that the topic never came up.
At home, things continued to get worse instead of better. Though I don’t ever remember it being clean there, it might have been when I was too little to care. Maybe it started out as lived in, then turned the corner to cluttered, before snowballing into downright disgusting. It wasn’t just one closet, or one room, it was the whole damn house.
I learned to deal with it. When I was allowed to bathe (another story completely, as my mother insisted that people didn’t need to wash daily), I took my showers in the one bathroom that was halfway functional, getting clean inside moldy shower walls that were caving into the tub. Like even they were too depressed to be there any more. Sure, I knew my living conditions weren’t normal, but I was too ashamed to tell anyone. Besides, where would I go if I did?
I vowed that when I was old enough and prepared enough to leave that I would. That I was only biding my time in a temporary situation. That once I left, I would never look back. And more importantly, that I would never, ever, live like that again.
Not exactly fond childhood memories. Or goals that you should strive for when you’re that age.
With most everything in life, there’s a happy medium. A balance that exists between normal and neurotic. And that was the takeaway that I got from reading that post.
As a parent, I try my best to temper my past with my family’s collective future.
But I refuse to feel guilty about loving my vacuum lines.
It’s hard to believe that it’s coming up on the one year anniversary of the release of Silenced. I joked that after writing The Intoxicated Books, I didn’t plan on writing another series for quite some time, claiming a serious series hangover.
In all honesty, it was more of an author hangover.
I’ve never been a mainstream author, shirking most of the popular conventions of the self-publishing industry and more or less doing whatever the hell I want. I’m good with the fact that I’ll never win any popularity contests, and I’ve embraced that. You may have noticed that by taking a quick peek at my cover art, which lacks the usual hallmarks of almost kissing lovers or bare chested specimens of hotness. Or you flipped to the first page and realized that each book in the series began with a poem – never again on that one, because my poetry days are over.
With that in mind, I didn’t pay for advertising for the release of my fifth book. I quietly distributed it to some trusted friends and blogger types, and sat back and sort of disappeared. My work was done, and I had lots of other things to attend to.
The past year of my life has been largely spent living in a sort of dream world. Sure, there were some difficulties along the way, but by and large everything has changed for the better. Since I’ve been away, I’ve relocated to beautiful North Carolina, where we had the windows open in January. My husband and I built the house I had admired online from six hundred miles away, and now I get to live in it. And I also scored on the working from home front simply by becoming a trailing spouse. Life is good.
I’ve largely been an observer in the writing community for the past twelve months, and what I’ve seen doesn’t exactly fill my heart with joy. There’s a lot of negativity and anger on both sides of the equation. Readers are complaining about pricing, cliffhangers, series being too long or too short, you name it. Authors are upset about exposure, sales, reviews, whatever. The foul smell that has risen from the depths of social media in general has permeated what used to be my happy place, and I don’t like it.
While both sides have some valid points, every time I open up Facebook or Twitter, it seems like all the content I see is depressing instead of uplifting. True, life isn’t ever going to be perfect, but it seems like by and large we are forgetting what brought us to this party to begin with. Books. Characters. Stories that keep you reading way past your bedtime. Plots that stick with you long after the last page has been read.
Readers love to consume them. Authors love to create them. Right?
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I am extremely blessed that I don’t have to do this for a living. I have a fabulous job that pays the bills. Writing is fun for me. While I take it way too seriously to consider it my hobby, it’s not responsible for paying my mortgage, or my electric bill, or for my groceries. If I don’t feel like writing for a weekend, or a month, or a year, I just don’t.
Case in point: Chasing Echo was started over a year ago, so a preview could be included at the end of Silenced. I’d originally planned to release it in December of last year, but that didn’t happen. I’ve tinkered with it off and on over the past few months, but it’s really only about halfway done. So I pushed the release date back to September 2017, because I can. No big deal. No pressure.
I realize that I’m lucky to be able to do that. I know there’s plenty of other authors out there who have a strict release schedule, and a decision like that just wouldn’t fly. I’ve seen apologies posted on Facebook for books being delayed a couple of weeks – like writers are afraid that they’ll lose their fan bases if they don’t deliver on what was probably an unrealistic goal in the first place.
Nobody said a damn word when I changed the release date for Chasing Echo, even though it was already up for preorder at most retailers. Of course, since I didn’t publicize that purchase links were live, no one probably knew. I didn’t receive any hate mail, or lose any followers, or have anyone give me any grief.
I can’t imagine what it would have been like for me if my income depended on my writing. If by not making my original release date, I wouldn’t have been able to pay for Christmas presents, or put gas in my car, or so many other things. I’m so glad I never have to find that out.
Realistically, even though by some people’s accounts, I’m successful at this writing gig, I know for me it’s never going to be something that I can do full time. I’ve grown accustomed to a certain lifestyle that is in part supported by my 9-6. I would have to consistently sell tens of thousands of books annually in order to replace that income, and that’s never, ever, going to happen. I don’t see myself selling tens of thousands of books total before I die, and I’m only thirty-eight. I hope I have a lot of time left to keep writing and keep selling.
So my take away from all this as I re-enter the fold is to keep doing this thing that I love. To keep creating on whatever timeline feels right, and not worry about what impact it has on the bottom line. For me, there is no bottom line, and there won’t ever be.
I began writing when I was young, much like the cliched story that most of us author types tell. It took me until 2012 to have the guts to actually do it for others to potentially read. But ultimately, I do this for myself. Somehow, I’m fortunate enough to have amassed a readership, however small, because of it.
So my promise to you is that I’ll keep doing it my way. The positive way. The way that my stories and my characters deserve. And I can assure you, what you’ll get will be something worth waiting for.
Yes, I know I haven’t posted here in over three months. Yes, I know that I just now went into my settings and changed the book links for Silenced to state that it was live and not on preorder, took down the giveaway that ended in February, and removed the progress bar for the book that’s been released for nearly two months. Seriously, I bet people figured out that it was done already.
No, Chasing Echo hasn’t sat completely untouched, even though that progress bar is clocking in at a big fat goose egg. I just can’t be bothered to change it right now.
If you haven’t noticed, I’ve sort of had an “I don’t give a fuck” approach to writing lately. And it seems to work for me. Because not giving a fuck, and barely making a peep about my new release has rewarded me with quite a few sales. In fact, having a silent (pun intended) launch has yielded the most results ever. I’m not even trying, and people are buying. I attribute this to the fact that I’ve finally used the loss leader approach for the first book, and the few people that have actually downloaded and read it keep coming back for more.
But this post isn’t about sales, or really writing for that matter. Because it’s pretty obvious that this isn’t my focus right now.
I’ve touched on what’s going on in my personal life briefly if you stalk me on Facebook or Twitter. Don’t worry, it’s all good. For nearly the past year, my husband has been interviewing for various manager positions within his company. All of which would require an out of state move, because that is what the end goal was. We didn’t care where, we just wanted out of Indiana.
Before people get all riled up, there’s nothing wrong with Indiana. It’s just that I have lived here all my life, and even though my man has lived overseas, it was before he was old enough to really remember it. So for all intents and purposes, he’s been here his whole life too. And we wanted to experience somewhere different; not just on vacation.
That place turned out to be North Carolina. Sure, there were a few close calls – times when we thought we’d be packing up and heading to Wisconsin or Oklahoma. We actually figured we didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell at NC. But that wonderful phone call came, and everything became real. Right now.
Within weeks, we were flying out to choose a place to live (we decided to build), and shortly after that, my husband had to be out there for good. Which leaves me back in Indiana to wrap up things like selling the house and getting the kids through the end of the school year. It’s like being a single parent, only I have a husband available via Skype.
This past weekend, I took the girls out for their first visit to their new home. Technically, their new hometown, since the house itself has just started to be framed. So we visited our slab, okay? That’s how memories are made. Really, the majority of the time in NC was spent just being a complete family unit again.
So I survived twenty hours in the car in the span of three days, and a trek through the mountains all while being the sole driver. And the girls and I didn’t kill ourselves, or each other. No one yelled or screamed, but there were a few tears. Trust me, it was hard to leave that home and come back to the old one.
This trip was planned at the very beginning of my girls’ spring break, so I wouldn’t have to pull them out of school for the drive down. So I was gone Friday and Saturday, returning on Sunday. After unloading the car and taking our stuff inside, I went down to the mailbox and emptied out the two days’ worth of junk mail that had accumulated, thinking very little of it.
Monday after work, I did my usual run down to the mailbox, noting nothing inside. That’s not all that peculiar. Every once in a while, we go without getting anything.
Tuesday? Nothing in the mailbox again.
Wednesday, I walked down to the mailbox in the pouring rain, only to open it up to pull out an ugly green slip of flimsy cardboard. Emblazoned on this paper was the word “VACANT”. Upon further inspection, I learned that my idiotic mail carrier had deemed my house as vacant.
Because, as you may expect, I have a “for sale” sign hammered down into my lawn. Because I was gone for TWO WHOLE DAYS without asking his permission.
Never mind that the lawn care guy had clearly just been by. Never mind that my trash and recycling bins had been rolled down to the curb, just like at all of my neighbors’ houses.
I apparently didn’t live there anymore, so the post office was refusing to deliver my mail to my home.
So I followed the instructions on the form, declaring that I did in fact still live there, scrawling even my minor children’s names down on the off chance they may receive some mail at some point. I added a couple choice comments, too. Then I marched back out to the mailbox, raising the flag as told, and slammed the damn thing shut.
The more I thought about it, the more pissed off I became. As there was no contact phone number on the form, I searched Google for who I could call to bitch out. The 800 number for the USPS is useless, unless you want to track a package or buy stamps, especially at 7 at night. And the phone number I found for the Indianapolis office that services address in my zip code? Just rang and rang, with not even a voice mail picking up.
I was seeing red, imagining the envelopes that my mailman was keeping from me piling up. What gave him the right to determine that my home was vacant? That’s right. He had none. Maybe if my mailbox hadn’t been emptied for weeks, and it was overflowing, okay. BUT TWO FUCKING DAYS?
Nobody holds their mail for a two day vacation. The post office would probably laugh their asses off at me if I tried that. I’ve been gone that long before with absolutely no mail delivery problems. But stick a damn “for sale” sign in your yard, and suddenly you’ve abandoned your property, gone without a fucking trace.
So I put pen to paper and gave Mr. Neighborhood Watch a piece of my mind. I restrained myself, not dropping any F-bombs, but the snark came out full force. I pointed out that I had lived in my home for 13 years, and that I continued to live there despite the fact my house was on the market. Because normal people do that, you know. I told him I wasn’t aware I needed to inform him when I decided to take off for the weekend. I let him know that I had moved before, and realized that when my address changed I needed to tell him. And that I would gladly do so when that time came, because I wasn’t stupid. I played the “I came home from a 10 hour workday to deal with this shit” card and advised him that since he had created this mess, he needed to handle it YESTERDAY.
Then back out into the rain to pop that bad boy in the mailbox too.
I slept a little easier last night, even though my author’s brain conjured up images of the cops being called to find me squatting in my own house. You know, the place where all my stuff is because I STILL LIVE HERE.
In the morning, I woke up just as pissed off about it.
Part of me expected me to chicken out and grab that letter from my mailbox before I went to work this morning, before anyone else saw it. But no dice. It remained in the mailbox, the red flag proudly declaring that my mailman had mail.
Tonight, when I came home from work, the mailbox was empty. We’ll see what tomorrow brings.
I’ll probably end up with a flaming bag of poo on my doorstep, and will never see mail in my mailbox again for the 7-8 weeks I have left here in Indiana.
I’ll probably have to physically go to the post office and complain at them to get what’s rightfully mine, to take it back to the vacant house in which I still live.
But my kids will always remember the time that their mother roasted the mailman.
Sometimes when I sift through social media and the blogging world, I feel as though I am the only author who doesn’t want to make this my full time career. Does that make me any less serious about the craft? Does that make my novels any less enjoyable than someone who does only this? I don’t think so.
In many instances, full time authors are praised for “doing what they love”. I agree that’s a wonderful thing to be able to do. Some days, what I would love to do has very little to do with writing or even my actual 9-6. Some days, I would love to curl up in bed and sleep all day while getting paid. Wouldn’t you?
Most of the time, however, I’m very much content to work an actual job Monday through Friday and then write on the weekends. I don’t subscribe to the starving artist theory that one has to suffer for their talent. Me, I can do both!
I’ve grown accustomed to my lifestyle working outside the home. I like driving my brand new car, living in a nice home in a good school district, not penny pinching at the grocery store and being able to splurge on little extras without giving it a second thought. Realistically, if I were to write full time, I’d have to give all of that up.
Never mind the fact that I work for a company where I feel that I’m valued. They want me to accept more responsibilities and are ready to help me grow. They’ve shown this time and again, and I don’t doubt that this will continue. They are also incredibly supportive of my writing career, from the very top executive all the way down.
I understand that some self-publishers have done so out of necessity. Either due to a disability, a job loss, or because they want to spend time at home with their young children, it’s their choice. And it’s a difficult path to walk down. Trust me, I’ve experienced job loss in my family before and it is tough. Even if my own experiences would have occurred after the self-publishing revolution, I wouldn’t have immediately thought of writing as the answer to all of my prayers. Yes, it works for some. You’ll hear their stories and become inspired. But what you won’t hear are the stories of the thousands just like them who didn’t get discovered.
Here’s a reality check for you. Granted, my numbers are a little skewed because I don’t self-promote like I should. I don’t need to, because I do this for the love of writing. But I do sell on a consistent basis. Even without talking myself up, readers still find me (maybe because of the permafree series starter) and keep buying. I have preorders on record for a book coming out in 5 months that I’ve barely even mentioned.
Even so, this year (my best year so far since my first book was published in 2013) I will make less in book sales than I do during a single week at my 9-6. And that’s total royalties, not taking into account the expenses that I shell out for book covers, giveaways and the occasional paid promotion. At this level, I make sure I promote enough to wipe out all of my royalties so I can claim a business loss.
If I truly, honestly, wanted to work full time as a writer, I wouldn’t do it until I was making at least as much as I do outside the home. In other words, I would have to sell more books every single month than I have ever sold combined the entire time I’ve been published. I’m not naive. I know it will be a cold day in hell before that ever happens.
But still I keep writing. Because it is what I love to do. I’m telling the stories that I want to tell, which aren’t in the genres that are getting big sales. And there is a terrific freedom in being true to myself and writing the books I want to. Yes, my books dabble quite heavily in the romantic realm, but they aren’t the flavor of the month variety, capitalizing on the stepbrother/millionaire/rockstar/whatever craze.
It doesn’t make me any less ambitious than the next author out there who pours his or her heart and soul into their work. It just makes me less worried about the end result, because in the scheme of things, reception to my books doesn’t matter. I write for myself, and for the select few who have discovered me and found something they like there. I don’t need to appeal to the masses, and that’s exactly how I like it.
In the end, we all have to decide what our goals are and use those as a means of determining our own success. Am I successful at what I do? The answer is a resounding yes.
In the past two years that I’ve been blogging, I slowly developed a theory that I was hesitant to vocalize. We hear good-intentioned advice from those in the know that all self-published authors should have a blog. And obviously, since you’re reading this on my blog , I halfway agree with that sentiment.
Blogs are great tools for getting your name out there on search engines. Let me tell you, I felt like I had arrived the second I Googled myself and actually came up with something that pointed back to me. Now, there are pages and pages of results, but I’ve also written hundreds of blog posts, been relatively active on various social media outlets, and of course published four books.
Blogging is also a great exercise for making a commitment to writing on a regular basis. Common convention suggests that a successful blogger should be posting new content at least once a week with few exceptions. No one’s going to come after you with a wet noodle if you take a week off for vacation or over the holidays, but you don’t want tumbleweeds to roll across your page either. Sticking to a consistent schedule forces you to devote a certain responsibility to creating posts, even if they aren’t all going viral. At least you’re in the habit of writing and publishing for the entire world to see (if they so choose).
So what then is the epiphany that I’ve been loathe to announce?
Blogging hasn’t helped me sell books.
You see, the target audience for my blog is authors. I talk about publishing, advertising, social media and the like. Things that would bore laypeople to death.
The target audience for my books is not authors, but readers. And the readers are way too busy reading to look me up on the internet and see what I’m ranting about this week. A lady who is quite possibly my biggest fan (and no, we aren’t related) – as in I chat with her online at least once a day – told me this very thing. She has never been to my website. She doesn’t have time.
Maybe this would be different if I was writing non-fiction. If I was the go-to person for insurance questions or home mortgages or something and my blog content was directly related to the books that I wrote. But I’m not and it isn’t.
True, I do post promotional things from time to time here because I can, but my readers don’t see my bonus content, or my top ten lists or my character studies because they aren’t looking for them. And I can’t blame them one bit. I know I don’t stalk my favorite authors online. I read their books and move on, because I’m too busy reading myself.
This further cements my idea to curate all of this promotional content into ebook format and offer it at retailers. Then it would actually be getting to the correct audience.
So does this mean that I’m going to stop blogging? No way. But I won’t fret as much about page views or post shares or retweets because it’s a very small facet of my writing life. If I had to choose where I wanted to be ultra popular – in the blogging community or in the author/reader one – I know hands down what my answer would be.
Fiction authors: do you notice the same thing?
It’s a new year, and with that comes a myriad of goal setting. I’m not too big on the whole resolution making bandwagon, but this year I did decide to set a goal on Goodreads for their annual Reading Challenge.
I wasn’t as involved with Goodreads at the beginning of 2014, pretty much being there in name only. As last year progressed, I forced myself into a new habit of reviewing every fiction book that I read. By the time I phased into that mode, it was really too late to set a reading goal for the year. So I didn’t.
But this year is different. One of the first things that I did when I logged into Goodreads come January was to set my goal. Which is? A measly 50 books. In comparison with some of my friends on the site, this goal makes me look almost illiterate. I have a friend who – no joke – has set her goal this year for 175 books. Knowing her, I trust that she can do it.
In all honesty, 50 books is a lowball number for me. I was thinking about going with 52, just to make it one book a week. That is very easily doable for me, but I cringed at having a silly random number up there for public view. And I certainly didn’t want to set some pie in the sky number and have others watch my epic fail. So 50 it is. We’ll see how quickly I reach that, and how much further I go past it this calendar year.
As it stands right now (January 4th), I’ve already read 2 books towards this goal and have ceremoniously started the third. What this entails is scrolling through my massive collection of unread books and deciding what is up next, then committing to it. This means that I’m already 4% of the way there.
It’s not uncommon for me to read three books a week when I’m on a roll. Sometimes the book gods smile down on me and grace me with a streak of pageturners and I’m in the zone.
In the same vein, it’s also not unusual for me to fall into a book slump. Since I hate leaving things unfinished, I’ll muddle through to the bitter end of something that’s not a good fit for me. Undoubtedly, these books take me longer to complete and sometimes require a cooling off period before starting something else.
And let’s not forget that I’m still going to be creating some masterpieces of my own. The release date has been set for Book 4, so I’ll be working on perfecting and marketing that, as well as writing the final installment of the series (sniff!). Couple that with life in general: family time, our annual summer vacation, my 9-6, and it’s frankly mind-blowing that I have enough hours in the day to sleep, let alone read for enjoyment.
But somehow I do manage. And while I’m sure my tally come December will surpass the 50 book mark, I’m just as certain that I won’t reach 175.
Have you set a goal on Goodreads for your Reading Challenge? Is it conservative, optimistic, or just plain crazy? I’d love to hear how others decide what number they post for all to see…
I might have been inspired by Korn’s “Prey for Me” when I named this blog post, and that might be the reason that particular song has been stuck in my head for the past couple of days. But I digress.
This week’s blog post is about ebook pricing. Yes, I know that this has been covered before by countless other people, but it’s been front and center in my mind as of late. As most of you know, I’ve recently joined social media network Tsu, which right now is more or less a happening place for book bloggers and authors alike. A side effect of this has been my one-click finger getting a massive workout.
Like most readers, I’ve always been enticed by a sale.
As an author, I’ve always questioned the practice of offering up something that you’ve worked long and hard on for nothing, or for rock bottom prices.
Since I’m not Amazon exclusive, I’ve not been able to take advantage of their free or countdown days. But I have experimented with coupon codes on Smashwords, offering the first book in my series for free. The first time I did this, I received a respectable amount of downloads – and my book got pirated. Each time since, I’ve experienced diminishing results.
As my series has progressed, I’ve debated pricing the first book at perma-free, as has been suggested by multiple sources.
Popular opinion in the self-publishing community indicates that the allure of free has lost a bit of its luster. But it’s still a widely used marketing tactic by many people to get their book on the Kindles of others. Whether or not they’re actually read once they get there is another story.
Myself, I’d rather just charge a respectable price for my books and get fewer downloads if it means that the people that do purchase my novels will actually read them. An impulsive download at free will likely get pushed to the bottom of the stack when a reader has a choice between it and an ebook that they’ve paid money for. I know that’s how it works for me.
That being said, I’m seriously considering putting out a free companion book once my series is completely finished. What’s the difference here? My intention wouldn’t be to attract new readers, but to cater to people who are already fans. What it would include would be every single piece of bonus content that I’ve written for each one of the books: character interviews, top ten lists, alternate scenes. Things which have already been posted here, but which readers may not remember or might not know about. It would be simple to put together; it’s already on my computer and I would just have to curate it. I’ve even got a name for it and a cover concept.
If that idea flies – which I’m almost positive it will – I’ll report back on the success of it. I’m curious to see if a free book at the end would have any effect on sales of those that have come before it. It may piss a lot of people off that will download it just because the price is right.
Then again, I might not be the only one who thinks backwards.