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.
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.
I’ve been watching too many cooking shows. To be honest with you, that’s about all I really watch on television anyway. As a family, we decided a year or so ago to give up cable, since we weren’t really watching it enough for the exorbitant amount we were paying per month to be worth it. Let’s face it; when I’m at home and not actively doing something with my family, I’m either writing or reading. When I do stare blindly at the TV, my attention is focused on public broadcasting’s wide array of foodie shows.
So it’s reasonable to use a food analogy for my writing method. By definition, marinate means to soak or to steep. Most often in a sauce, but for my purposes, in my brain.
We’ll start off small. With my blog posts I typically have a few ideas rolling around in my head each week for things I’d like to discuss. Some are serious, some are self-promotional, others are off the wall zany. I’ll try to come up with a witty title and a short, tweetable plug that I’ll send out to announce it’s there. This all happens before I sit down at the computer and actually write the thing. Posts are typically written on Monday or Tuesday nights, then saved and published on Wednesday late nights so they get emailed to my subscribers on Thursday mornings.
Some weeks, I’m a fountain of creative genius that people may or may not be reading. I’ve been known to fire off three or four posts in a single week, though I don’t share them immediately. Most of the time my limit is two per week max- one that I share for Monday Blogs and if there’s a second post, it’s book related or promotional. Since I hate spamming “look at me” posts, I don’t expect the promotional ones to be retweeted by my blogger friends.
But always, always, there is a cooling off period where I let my thoughts marinate. I go back and read it before I send it out into the world. I edit, or add things, or delete things all together.
Why? Because in real life there are so many times where you’re caught up in the moment and the conversation doesn’t go as planned. How many times have you thought of a kickass comeback hours later and wished you could have said it? In my blogging life, I go back in and add it before anyone else reads it. So ultimately, I look super witty the very first time. Nobody sees how many revisions my posts have. That’s my little secret.
I’m the same way with my novels. I’m not an outliner, but I’m not a true pantser either. It’s no secret that I have entire pages of dialogue already written in my head for my WIP. I have scenes scripted screenplay fashion, with a character that I haven’t even physically introduced yet playing a crucial role. No, I don’t write these passages down, nor do I write scenes out of order. And no, I don’t forget what’s going to be said. It’s all there marinating, waiting for the perfect moment to come out.
Case in point: the main character in my WIP has been a scene stealer in the previous three books. Without a doubt, she’s the comic relief and she gets the very best, most memorable lines in every one. Her sense of humor obviously comes from me, but I can’t write those things for her on the fly. Okay, sometimes I do – but it’s very rarely at the precise moment they can be used. Instead, I think them up and commit them to memory, inserting them when the timing is right.
Now, writing an entire book from her point of view is a bit intimidating. So I’ve had to think long and hard about her moments of brilliance in this one, so as not to disappoint her fans. I think I’m doing pretty well at it so far. But I’m still scared that I won’t be able to top my personal favorites of “No wonder you’re depressed. Those clothes are making me sad, too” or “All it took to make things right in the world was a conversation and a good screw”. Did I mention she’s kind of raunchy?
I’ve got some good zingers floating around in my head. They find their way eventually into my Word doc and sometimes morph into greatness during editing. Other times, I don’t have to add anything to them.
Just today, I came up with a line that will be marinating for the next seventy thousand words or so. It’s in one of the final scenes, but this time the credit doesn’t go to my heroine. I’ll leave you with it to ponder:
“You’re so good at making me forget that I don’t even know why I wanted to remember.”
“Anyone can write fiction.”
It’s an argument that I’ve heard personally from someone who commented on one of my very first blog posts. Obviously, this was from the author of a non-fiction book. Contrary to the opening phrase of my post, their email to me was in no way mean spirited. But their words stuck with me enough for me to remember them.
In essence, it seems like that should be true. After all, fiction is by definition making things up. And anyone can do that. Right? Yet the majority of people never get around to writing a book of any sort. If it was so easy, everyone would do it.
And I would feel like a complete idiot when I couldn’t make things flesh out in my alternate reality. Sometimes there’s just not enough suspension of disbelief in the world available to make the pieces fit together.
It’s common knowledge that, in general, non-fiction is easier to sell than fiction. Think about it. For a non-fiction piece, you’ve got a built in audience. For instance, many of us have opened up Amazon and searched for something like “ebook marketing”. Type in some keywords and magically things appear. Look at the most popular, top rated selections and hit your one click button and be done with it.
Keywords for fiction are a little bit tougher to drill down. Type in some of them that I use to differentiate (hah!) my books from the others out there: “contemporary romance”, “women’s fiction”, “chick lit” and you get pages and pages of results. It boggles the mind and you’d never find little old me there anyway. Until the day I can classify my series as “Snarky Love Triangle with Anal-Retentive Heroine, Douchebag Insurance Salesman, Hot Ex-Felon and Friends” I really have no shot at being the first hit in a search. And even those keywords don’t entirely sum it up. But they’re better.
So it boils down to the fact that I write what I do because I can’t imagine writing anything else. Money and fame would be wonderful side effects, but highly unlikely. I’m doing this because I enjoy it and I have fun while doing it. I already know that my brain is wired differently than most people’s. I can plot out scenes in my novels like they’re a screenplay. Snippets of plot will come to me while I’m on hold or in the bathroom. Really. I’ll go to bed thinking of storylines and dream about character development.
I’ll get glimpses of ideas and store them in my mind for later. Sometimes much later. I’ve got outlines and working titles for my next four books. This doesn’t include my current work in process, which is already named as you can tell from my progress bar. No, I’m not kidding. I’m beginning to think about cover art for them, too.
Does everyone do that? Probably not. So could everyone write fiction? Probably not the way that I do.
I admire the people who can write non-fiction. My experience with it is limited to papers in college and training manuals at work. I can write a mean email, let me tell you. But it’s not the subject matter that I’m passionate about and it shows through in my writing. My non-fiction work is just too technical and proper and lacks my true voice. Mind you, I don’t include blog posts in this. Or my imagined memoir that may never see the light of day (okay, so the tally is really five books with working titles and content).
It would be great to be able to supplement my fiction projects with income from non-fiction books as well. Several authors do this quite successfully. But me, I’ve got nothing. I’m not an expert on self-publishing, social media or underwater basket weaving. Sure, I spent fourteen years in the banking industry and three so far in insurance, but there are far more qualified people to speak about those subjects than me.
I’ve had life experiences I could share, but I’ve cannibalized those and let my beloved cast of characters speak for me. To take pages from my life that I’ve now fictionalized and retell them as fact would feel like cheating. It would also be repeating myself. I prefer to let my heroines bleed for me; some of their pain is real. Some of it is entirely made up. Better to keep just how much falls into each category a mystery.
So while I totally agree that not everyone can or should write non-fiction, I think that it’s also true in the context of fiction. Fiction writers may be more prolific, but it doesn’t mean that anyone can do it. And it’s great to have people that can fill both roles. Because not everyone would do it, even if they could.
I’ll admit it. At this time last year I had never heard of NaNoWriMo. I stumbled upon it being mentioned quite a bit when I revisited my Twitter account as an author and turned to my trusty research tool of Google to explain. Though the concept intrigued me, I thought it was impossible to write a 50,000 word novel in the span of one month.
This year, I actually thought about doing it.
The timing was right. Or at least as good as it will ever be. After all, I’ve just released a new book and the third is not very far along in its progression. I have a couple of ideas for things I want to write about after the series is over; I could easily pick one of those concepts and go to town. Even Smashwords is joining in on the fun this year by allowing authors to publish their works in progress so readers can follow along.
But in the end, I decided against it. Why? Because I don’t fit the stereotypical NaNoWriMo author that I’ve read about in countless articles. Time and again, the serious participant is portrayed as someone who basically takes the entire month of November off from life and forces themselves to write. The kind of person who can spend all day in their pajamas. Whose only outings are to the coffee shop – and only if they’re armed with their laptop and a plot outline.
If you haven’t noticed, that’s not me.
I don’t force myself to write. Maybe that puts me on a lower rung than those “serious” author types, but I’ve never believed in making writing feel like work. Truth be told, I have a full time job already – one that I’ve been known to spend upwords of 50 hours at per week. If writing were to somehow feel like an extension of that, with deadlines and word counts and hand-wringing, I’d end up resenting it.
Instead, writing is a labor of love for me. Yes, I spend countless hours doing it per week; on the surface, it truly is another full time job. But it doesn’t feel like one. The whole process for me is enjoyable – from the plotting to the formatting to the marketing to the website reporting. Sure, I have goals for writing, deadlines that I want to meet, but the only one that I’m in competition with is myself. That’s the cool thing about being self-pubbed; I control it all and don’t have to listen to anyone else.
I admire those who can put everything aside for the month of November and just write. I don’t judge those who get on Twitter and announce they are doing a 1k in 1 hour at the top of the hour. Different things work for different people. Those tactics would make me freeze up; not inspire me.
My writing is best when it comes organically. If I don’t feel the creative juices flowing, I will put it away until I do. I’m not the type who will sit at the computer and fight with ever word. If I’m not inspired, I’m just not. I don’t find it productive to write solely for the sake of writing, only to delete all of it later and start over again. Hence the title of this post, which is stolen from a comment one of my characters makes in my latest release. Since I wrote that line, I suppose it’s not really stealing, right?
Yes, I’ve had my moments where I’ve been in the zone and the words have seemed to come faster than I could type them. I’ve had my share of 10,000 word count weekends – typically after I’ve gotten past the halfway point of my work in progress. (Ironically enough, that’s after I’ve already gotten 50,000 words under my belt.) To counter that, I’ve had just as many nights where I realize I’ve only written a couple hundred words in the span of an hour.
If I had to share those successes and failures with others in a public forum, I doubt it would do anything but scare me away.
My creativity ebbs and flows; it doesn’t matter what month the calendar says that it is.
Besides, there’s always next year.
Technically, I’ve already started writing Book Three in my series. I wanted to include a sneak preview at the end of Book Two, just as I’d done with the first. So that’s the nature of the beast – I had to jump right in and work on the new one before I’d truly finished with the upcoming release. Granted, I’d completed the first draft of Number Two and gone through editing so that I had a “finished” version to upload for preorder purposes. But knowing my anal-retentive self, I wasn’t done.
So I wrote Chapter One quickly; something that was easy to do since I’d envisioned it in my head for quite some time. Then I copied and pasted the file into my manuscript, hit upload, and put it aside. That was weeks ago. I’ve gone back to it only once, adding in the Prologue. Otherwise, it’s been hands off and poor Blake is still sitting on her shower floor, sobbing. The water heater in her house must be absolutely amazing.
A case of writer’s block? No, not really. It’s famously hard for me to start a new novel, to get the feel for where I am and how things will turn out. I could have the whole thing plotted out, with scenes prewritten in my head and the ending already established and still not really feel like I’ve hit my stride until midway through. It’s happened twice before – the first thirty thousand words or so come slowly, then I find I can’t type fast enough when I get to the middle. At the end, I slow down again, though it’s more out of a reluctance to let things go, to have it be over and done with.
No, this time I got to the point where I ended one story arc and I’m picking up another. As you may be aware, Books One and Two focus on one main character and I’m switching things up with Book Three. This means an entirely different narrator – a new focus, a new set of problems, a new voice. And I need to do her story justice.
To accomplish this, I realized that a break was likely in order. For over a year, I’ve been thinking like Lauren and writing as her as well. She’s comfortable for me; I know if I’m not careful that I’ll fall back into her voice and that’s not what I want. Even though she’s definitely a big part of the remainder of the series, she will no longer be telling the story. I want that to be apparent; I want readers to instantly be able to tell that we’re seeing things from another perspective.
Another reason for the sabbatical is that Book Two hasn’t even been released yet. With the preorder angle this time, it’s been finished for a while and I’ve promised myself to stop touching it and making changes. It’s done. It’s been uploaded to every retailer except Amazon (and their version is ready to go on my computer). It’s a different feeling this time – the excitement of going live instantly isn’t there. It’s more like a constant anticipation in the bottom of my stomach. Something that I know will be there until release day at the end of this month.
I can’t let Book Two go just yet. I have to promote it; I have to tweet about it and write about it here. I have to remain in that frame of mind just a little bit longer. I know that if I make the leap to Number Three that I will never go back to Two. It’s what happened with Number One. Sure, I did a bonus scene or two afterwards, but once I was knee deep into Two, it’s what I talked about. It’s difficult that way, being nine months or so ahead of your audience.
So what have I been doing with my time? I’ve been writing a backlist of blog posts, working on finding ways to promote my new release and stalking my website, the search engines and Smashwords for an idea of how the preorder option is working. Everything that I’ve seen is very encouraging, and every single one of my books in the future will be released this way as well. I haven’t really seen any drawbacks to having a preorder, besides of course the instant gratification of having your book available for sale and seeing those immediate results. Until release day, there’s no way to tell how many people have taken advantage of the preorder links.
I’ve also picked two bonus scenes for Book Two that will be coming later on. Since they deal with things that aren’t discussed in the preview portion of the book, I’m not ready to release them yet since there would be huge spoilers involved. In fact, one of the scenes doesn’t take place until much later in the plotline, so it will probably be quite a while before that one sees the light of day.
And of course, I’m mapping out Book Three. I have some great material planned and a huge backstory that hasn’t ever been touched on before. Sure, I’ve given hints because I always knew it was there, but there’s some things that people probably won’t see coming. Because I’m constantly thinking ahead, I’ve also come up with a couple of scenes that won’t show up until Book Four.
So don’t fret that my progress meter hasn’t been touched in ages; that’s how I roll. I promise, the end result will be worth it. When I get around to writing it.