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09/08/16 Uncategorized

One Year and Nine Books

This is what the last year of my Indie labor has looked like.

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I wanted to write this blog post last year, since my official One Year Indie Anniversary was August 3rd, but I was finishing Covenant, my ninth Indie book and just didn’t have the mental energy to reflect properly on this past year.

As many of you know, I was very transparent in the first few months of my Indie journey, providing you with numbers and sales figures and even earnings. I felt obligated to be forthcoming because so many Indie authors had done it before me, and their stories were a big part of why I ultimately decided to take the plunge. As the months have worn on, I’ve been able to update you less often (I also had a YA book release with HarperCollins in May which took some of my focus and energy), but I wanted to do one last roundup that I hope will give you a sense of how much things have changed for me because I took that chance a year ago, and also a sense of where it will lead me next.

The first thing I’ll touch on is money, because I know that’s a huge question for a lot of people considering an Indie writing career, and especially for those thinking about moving from Trad to Indie, or thinking about going Hybrid. I’m not going to be as specific as I was in the beginning – being that transparent was hard for me even back then. But I will say this; my first series sold to Little Brown in a high six-figure deal, and I have made more this year than I did in the first year of that deal. Context is important. The Little Brown deal was for three books, which means that total amount was paid out over about five years. It was still more money that first year than I had ever made to that date – and I still made more this year on my Indie books alone.

But here’s another important thing; there are no guarantees. I’ve been so, so lucky on so many levels. I have a great cover designer who created striking, iconic covers for my series. I had a little bit of money to hire Authorbuzz, which did an amazing job creating and targeting Facebook ads that were absolutely key to the early success of Ruthless, which then made subsequent books that much more successful. I had some friends on the Indie side who gave me so much advice and support, and who talked me through a lot of ugly self-doubt and technical screw ups. I had a little bit of money left from my last traditional book deal, which helped me survive until my Indie stuff started paying. I also created a twist on the Mob subgenre that resonated, which was probably pure luck.

All of those things came together to give me a great out-of-the-gate boost, and I feel its important to say that it doesn’t always work out that way. I’ve had friends go Indie since then that have done amazingly well, and others that have been frustrated by what they see as an underwhelming showing (thankfully many of my talented friends are still at it, writing new stories and trying new things). The good news is, at least some of this is in your control when you’re Indie (covers, marketing, etc.), something that is usually not the case on the traditional publishing side.

In addition to writing all those books you see above, in the past year I’ve created a social media presence for my alter ego, Michelle St. James, and also a dedicated website. I went to Romantic Times in Las Vegas and learned a ton, plus made new friends. I was asked to participate as a Discovery Author in a new initiative by the publishers of the 1001 Dark Nights series. I’ve read more romance novels than I can count, and have continued reading the literary fiction and thrillers that have always been beloved to me, assuming it all goes to my writing style in the end. I’ve created an adult romance brand that makes sense and feels natural for me, making it easier for me to maintain because it’s an accurate reflection of who I am.

Following are some other things I learned.

You can’t count on any kind of consistency. Fall and Winter (2015-2016) were HUGE for me. I was making stupid amounts of money. But in April things really started to slow down, and they remained slow through summer (most of those months were about 25% slower than during my really solid months in Fall and Winter). I am REALLY glad I set asidemoney when things were good. It helped a lot with quarterly taxes and unexpected expenses during the slow months. It’s September, and I have no way of knowing if I’ll have another good Fall or if it will remain slow. I have no idea if it does remain slow whether that will be a reflection of the books I’ve most recently released, bigger issues related to the economy, or something related to the market itself, either temporary or permanent. So I guess the lesson here is to take nothing for granted. If you have a great month, set a chunk of it aside for a rainy day.

Ads are also ever-changing. One ad might resonate amazingly well, helping you sell hundreds of books a day for months at a time. Another ad that is very similar, that you like just as much, for some reason might not resonate. Audience matters, too. One target audience might see very little click-through. A very similar audience might give you huge results. Sometimes an ad will perform well for months. I had an ad for Ruthless that ran for over three months, and I was selling hundreds of books a day during that time. It was awesome. During that time, I didn’t have to think about the ad at all. But when the ad went stale and I replaced it, the new ad didn’t perform as well, and we could never really put a finger on why. Ads require a lot of trial and error, which is why I’m still using AuthorBuzz to manage mine. Frankly, my time is better spent writing at this point. None of which should discourage you from Facebook/Instagram ads. Without my ads, I’d see very little traffic. But expect that they will require some time, energy, and a good dose of patience on an ongoing basis.

Graphics are important. You will probably use a lot of them. I’m lucky to have  my daughter’s company, Rebekah Zink Media, on retainer. She keeps me in tons of striking teaser and ad graphics, hunts through photo sites for pictures that will meet Facebook’s ad guidelines, and comes up with snappy tag lines for each book. Ideally, you know Photoshop or something like it, or you can work out some kind of arrangement with someone who does. Facebook’s guidelines for ads are all over the place, but in general anything that has naked people or is overly suggestive will be rejected by them – but their definition of these things doesn’t always make sense.

Professional covers are critical. You know how some things just look… amateurish? It’s true of movies and commercials and yes, book covers. I feel bad saying it, because I know it’s so hard to do this on your own, and money is absolutely a consideration. But covers are so, so important. And the #1 important thing, in my opinion, is that they look professional and high end. In fact, I’d go so far as to say you’re  better off purchasing a professional-looking, ready-made cover (there are lots of designers and companies who do this) even if it’s not overly original. Anything that looks cheap is not going to compete in the current Indie marketplace. If you don’t want to do a ready-made cover, you can also try bartering services with someone who has great Photoshop skills.

Editing. Oh, boy do I hate this one. It’s been a challenge for me since day one, mostly because my release schedule was necessarily aggressive. Let’s just say I now understand why traditional publishers have layer upon layer of editing. I’m finally at a place where my release schedule is slightly less difficult, but even with more time and a great editor, occasionally things slip through the cracks, and I never stop hating it when they do. I’m still trying to find a system that works for me (two proofreaders? one copy editor and two proofreaders?), but I’ve reached a point where my one proofreader does a pretty thorough job as long as I can give him enough time.

Which brings me to release schedule. I purposefully released my first three-book series a month apart, and my second three-book series two months apart, plus a stand alone and a novella in between because I was trying to build my catalog quickly. I’m pushing now to release my next three book series six weeks apart in order to meet my marketing goals for the busy Christmas season, but next year I’m planning to move to a three or four month schedule for my new series. Now that I have a solid catalog and my financial situation is stable, having a less aggressive release schedule next year will allow me time to work on my YA project, an adult project that’s complete except for edits, and also to have some adventures, which I’ll finally be able to do now that my youngest will be heading to college. I’m not going to lie; the more books you have, the more books you will sell. This is especially true if you include links to your other books, specifically the next book, in the back matter of your existing books. Statistically, a large percentage of people who read one book and enjoy it will click through to buy another book or preorder the next if a link is provided. That’s the funnel that will pull readers through your catalog and keep them reading. My advice is always to release your first 2-3 books quickly (ideally no more than two months apart). After that you can gauge what kind of breathing room you have or don’t have.

Be willing to rethink everything you thought you knew about book marketing. Seriously. I can’t tell you how many giveaways I’ve done over the course of my publishing career. I was once the Queen of Swag, giving away elaborate packages stuffed full of luxury bath products that tied into my book, gourmet food items, custom made jewelry, signed books, and gift cards. I’m not sure any of it moved the needle, and the vast majority of Indie authors I’ve spoken to agree that giveaways just don’t net much in terms of books sold, and they require a lot of time and money to run and manage. Ditto blog tours, which for me just haven’t netted the kind of results that move the needle. As an example, a blog tour for Ruthless was netting me about 10-15 sales a day. Overnight that number jumped to 157 (this was by 8am the next morning). Why? Because my Facebook ad had been approved and was already generating clicks. Now if you want to do them because they’re fun or you’re happy with modest results or you have the time and money and it’s just another thing to add to all the other stuff you’re doing, go right ahead! But for the time I spent generating content for 45 blogs and the money I spent hiring someone to set it up, I saw a thousand times the sales connected to my FB ad. I tried it all on the Indie side only to work my way back to the fact that it really wasn’t necessary, and the one thing I could do that would definitely sell more books is to write more of them. For a long time I felt… lazy. Like, “Shouldn’t I be doing, I don’t know… MORE?” But one of the things I love most about the Indie romance market is that I don’t feel like I have to jump through hoops to sell books. My readers are SO lovely and SO loyal. They don’t need giveaways or anything else. They are happy to have a new book from me, and to interface with me a bit on Facebook. As long as I have a good ad running, I can focus on writing, and that’s still my favorite part of the process. THAT’S the “more” that I want to be doing, and in many ways, it’s a lot less than the marketing I was required to do on the traditional side.

All that said, a mailing/newsletter list is one of the few things that WORK. They are worth the time and effort, and even some money to run ads if you can find a good ad/audience, because they connect you directly to your readers. No one can stand between you and your mailing list. It is a direct line to the people buying your books. You can run polls through them to gather data on trends and reading habits, and you can even distribute ARCs as a way to build buzz and reviews by providing a link to a a free copy through a service like Instafreebie. I’m still working on making my newsletter regular, and I could KICK myself for all the years when I was traditionally published and didn’t actively work to build my list. Look at it this way, if statistically even 10% of your list buys a book when you send out an announcement and you have 25,000 people signed up, that’s A LOT of books just from your mailing list, and you can even have a Sign Up button link to it from your Facebook Page. It does take some time, but once you set it up and establish a template (I use Mailchimp but there are a lot of other services out there), it’s pretty easy to distribute something short once a week. Improving my mailing list (and my own track record getting it our regularly) is my number one marketing goal over this next year.

There is a learning curve. And a time curve as well. That is to say if you want to do well, you will spend a lot of time the first few months (and maybe the first year). You will spend time reading marketing blogs and Facebook threads about marketing and ad management, You will spend time reading a wide array of romance novels to get a handle on what’s out there. You will spend time looking for pictures for ads (unless you have someone else do this for you). You will spend a lot of time writing. You will spend a lot of time getting a handle on Amazon’s KDP platform, Apple’s iBooks platform, B&N’s Nook, Kobo, etc. You will spend time learning to format (easy with Vellum!) or hiring someone else to do it for you. None of which is said to deter you. More to prepare you. I came back from BEA in 2015 fired up to tackle the Indie side of publishing. I didn’t know if it would work, but I was READY to try, and I leaned in extremely hard a good six months before I started to feel a bit of relief, but during that first six months, I was determined not to feel sorry for myself. This was something I wanted to do, and I knew that to be good at it I would need to do my homework and my due diligence. As with everything in my life, my goal was to make sure that if it didn’t work out, it wasn’t for lack of trying.

😉

Sometimes when I tell people how many books I’ve written in the past year and how many I still have to write this year, I can tell they think I’m crazy. Or miserable. Or both. Neither is true. I’m more relaxed than I’ve been in a long time, owing both to the financial relief of being paid regularly and to the fact that I’ve found a system that allows me to write for an hour or two most days and still write a book a month. It started with the book 5,000 Words Per Hour, which some of you might remember my mentioning in an earlier blog post. The idea behind it is that you set a timer and write like the wind – no going back, no fixing typos, no stopping for the bathroom, water, research, etc. You just write. According to the authors, this method increased speed exponentially while also allowing for a kind of stream of consciousness flow that actually resulted in better work. I tried this for awhile and came to the conclusion that adhering to their parameters exactly didn’t work for me. Not fixing typos made me crazy, and sometimes I needed to stop and ponder for a minute to make sure I was heading in the right direction and avoid wasting time building on something that wasn’t fundamentally sound. But the idea had merit, and now I use a hybrid theirs/mine model: make sure I have a one or two sentence idea of what the next chapter or scene entails, set the timer (there’s a free app that tracks words per hour but any timer will do), write until the time is up. I do stop to fix typos if I notice them, and I do stop to think about something if I’m not sure I’m headed in the right direction. But if I need a location or a name I haven’t thought of yet, or I’ve blanked on the year of a famous event, I write BLANK in caps so I can go back and fill it in later. If I think of something I already know I want to fix, I add it to a running list of things to address in edits. I do this until I reach the midpoint of my book, at which time I go back and carefully read through, fixing and tightening and adjusting to make sure that first half is solid as a rock before I build on it with the second half. Then I continue. This process allows me to write a standard romance-length novel of about 60,000 words in a month. I’m writing about 2,000 words an hour, and that’s what I aim for every day, splitting that hour into two 30-minute sprints or one 40-minute and one 20-minute sprint or whatever. That means I write for about an hour a day and still finish a book a month. Of course, there is more time spent plotting and researching and marketing and such, but my actual writing time is an hour a day, which I think is perfectly reasonable. It keeps me in the writing groove and prevents me from feeling too stressed. Most importantly, it allows me to feel in control of my time and my schedule, and still leaves me time to work on other projects, go to the gym five days a week, meditate, go to movies with my kids, read, etc.

In 2017 I’m planning to put out three new romance novels, get my other books on audio, pass a YA book onto one agent and an adult book onto another, walk the Camino with my kids, and either move to the city (NYC) or travel once my youngest goes to college. I’m beyond thrilled that I get to keep writing stories I love, that I have the privilege of meeting new readers from all over the world, and that I have a solid, independent income that allows me to work anywhere in the world. This past year has been a great adventure. I wish you many of your own. And I hope the universe keeps mine coming.

<3

You can find me as Michelle Zink and/or Michelle St. James on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and you can find all my adult books on Amazon, iBooks, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo.

 

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02/18/16 Indie , Lawless , London Mob , Mob Boss Series , Romance , Ruthless , Savage , Self-Publish , Uncategorized , Writing # , , , , , , ,

Indie Publishing: Truth Versus Myth

It’s hard to believe I’ve been publishing Indie for six months. It doesn’t seem like that long ago when everything was so new and scary. I had no idea how FB ads worked or how to format my own books, pricing strategy was a mystery, and it seemed like I would never have more than a book or two in my catalog.

Fast forward six months and I have a solid grasp on what works and what doesn’t when it comes to ads. I format all my own books. I’ve recently made Ruthless permafree after running a BookBub ad that sent sales of the next two books into the stratosphere. I’ve self-published seven books. Savage, the most recent, was released last week and begins a whole new series.

But one thing remains the same; there is always plenty to learn.

This will be a year of continued learning for me on the Indie side, and also a year of reaching out and getting to know other Indie authors. My Indie releases are now spread out two months apart instead of one with the goal of more time to work on non-Indie projects in between. In general, everything is smoothing out. I’m more financially secure than I’ve been in a long, long time, and I feel like I have a handle on how to keep all this going. I’m learning to plot more thoroughly on the front end so I can draft faster. Most importantly, I feel FREE. I’m writing what I want, whenever I want. I can put out one book a year or twelve. I’m no longer worried about whether my books will be appealing to bookstores or editors — only whether they will be appealing to readers.

Liberated. That’s my word for 2016.

To be honest, I’m so ridiculously happy with how my Indie career is shaping up that I only have one regret; I wish I’d done it sooner. Preferable three years ago when I first started thinking about it. In the end, I only have myself to blame for waiting so long. Having said that, there were (and still are) some blanket statements that serve to discourage people from going Indie. And hey! Maybe it’s not for you. But if it’s not, I want you to be able to make that decision based on fact, not speculation or fear.

With that in mind, I’ve compiled a list of Indie Facts and Myths from some of the best Indie authors in the romance genre.

51xvhB8kK1L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_MYTH: You won’t make enough money to pay your bills.

FACT: “I was making enough to pay my mortgage by my second month in indie publishing (Oct 13) and that has remained true every month since.” – Jessie Evans, author of Good Girl VS. Bad Boy and formerly traditionally published under another pen name.

Of course, there are never any guarantees. But this was an oft-repeated phrase similar to the ones I heard when I was trying to get traditionally published. You now the ones I’m talking about. Things like, “Only 15% of manuscripts will find an agent,” and “The average first time advance is $10,000 so why bother?” I never let those statements stop me on the trad pub side, and I went on to work with one of the best YA agents in the business, and to sell my first series in the very high six figures.

But for some reason, I let these kinds of comments discourage me on the Indie side. It seems a little crazy now, but it almost felt SAFER to keep doing what I was doing — writing books, hoping they would sell to trad pub, hoping I would get an advance that would make it possible for me to keep my family going for another year.

The thing that made the difference for me was reading the personal accounts of authors who were doing it successfully. That disclosure required a lot of bravery on their part. I don’t know if I would have had the courage to take the leap without their inspiring stories. I remain grateful for their candor, and it’s part of the reason why I was so transparent in the early days when I had no idea if this would be a successful or failed experiment.

So yes, not everyone will make a ton of money publishing Indie. But if you can check off a few key things — great writing, compelling and professional cover, a willingness to market, and the ability to release content fairly quickly in the beginning — it’s more than possible to make a living on the Indie side.

MYTH: You’re going to spend a lot more time marketing Indie than with traditional publishing.

FACT: It depends.

If you are one of the lucky few in traditional publishing whose deal came complete with a giant marketing budget, you might spend more time marketing on the Indie side. If you’re among the other 99.9% of writers who have published traditionally, you’re not going to spend any more time, and you might actually spend less.

I’ve been on both sides of the equation. The Prophecy of the Sisters trilogy had a massive marketing budget. There were two tours and print advertising and pitching at foreign book fairs like Frankfurt, Bologna, and London. Still, I busted my ass marketing. I did giveaway upon giveaway. I tweeted. I posted. I shared. I liked. I went to every event within an hour of my house, and many within three, even when it was a school night and even when I really couldn’t afford the time. I accepted every invitation to books fairs, festivals, and conferences, no matter how small or little known. I personally answered every email, every comment on Facebook, every tweet. I posted constantly to my blog. I did it all, even when my editor at the time said, “You’re not going to be able to keep this up forever.”

I did it despite the large marketing budget because I never wanted to look back and wonder if I didn’t do enough. Whatever happened, I wanted to know I did my best, and I repeated the actions, give or take a few, with every book I sold thereafter until fairly recently when I began to suspect it wasn’t moving the needle.

Did it make a difference? I don’t know. If it did, it probably wasn’t enough of a difference to mean success or failure. But I can definitely look back and say I did everything in my power to make those books a success, from writing my very best to marketing my heart out.

The truth is, I do much LESS marketing now. Or more accurately, more of my marketing is automated on the Indie side. I run Facebook ads constantly, but once I hit on an ad that performs well, I don’t really have to do anything with it. This is in large part thanks to AuthorBuzz, who handles the day to day minutiae of monitoring the ad results, making changes to the audience, etc. It’s also a product of the kind of marketing that works best on the Indie side. It’s no surprise that readers of ebooks are found online. They like to talk about the books they’re reading, get and give author recommendations, and generally commiserate with other readers on the internet. All of which means reaching them there is pretty easy. Other than that, I don’t do much but keep in touch with my readers on my Facebook author page, which I enjoy. I’ll be attending RT in Vegas this year, and hopefully a couple more conferences, but that’s strictly for fun and to connect with other authors. The truth is, I have a lot more time for writing now than I did when I was publishing exclusively traditional.

51hoZLkcv6L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_MYTH: Indie publishing is a last-ditch option for those who couldn’t get a traditional deal.

FACT: “Authors who write for a living, like all business professionals, have choices about how to conduct our business and with whom we’d like to partner. Indie publishing is a choice, just like the choice to seek out a traditional deal. There are pros and cons to both options, but many authors — including those of us who have successfully published traditionally in the past — are choosing to go indie for all or some of our projects. It’s not a choice made out of desperation, but one made from a place of empowerment, good business sense, and the excitement that comes from having the freedom and flexibility to try something new.” – Sylvia Pierce, author of the Bad Boys on Holiday series and an Indie romance author who also publishes traditionally under another pen name.

An extraordinary number of Indie authors actually published traditionally FIRST. Many of us started out the old fashioned way — querying agents (sometimes via mail before email was accepted everywhere), waiting for a response (sometimes for months), going through rounds of edits with our eventual agent that sometimes lasted close to a year, waiting while our books were “subbed” to editors, and if we were lucky, waiting a year or two to see our book on shelves after it was acquired. Some of us had successful careers in trad pub only to be winnowed out as the marketing emphasis became more focused on a few big blockbusters a year. There was a time when it was expected that most authors would take time to build their audience. Publishers invested in them long term, even if their books weren’t big out of the gate. Those days are mostly gone as publishers invest the vast majority of their marketing budgets into a handful of high profile titles that all but guarantee the slow death of even mid-list authors. Some trad authors write in a less high profile genre. Or maybe their work crosses genres and that make it difficult for a publisher to know how to market it. There are lots of reasons for going Indie. However, I know surprisingly few Indie authors who have done it because they tried and failed to get a trad pub deal, and I know quite a few who were offered trad pub deals but chose to go Indie instead.

MYTH: If you have a traditional publishing career, your agent/editors won’t let you self publish other titles.

FACT: “My agent has been nothing but supportive of my diving into self publishing while continuing to pitch other books to traditional publishers, and none of those publishers have raised any concerns either.” -Eva Chase, author of Caught in the Glow, and an indie pen name for a traditionally published author.

My agent always erred on the side of caution when I was thinking about trying my hand at publishing Indie. He wanted to be sure I knew that it wasn’t necessarily easy, and that there were no guarantees. But he never threatened to stop representing me if I did it, and we work together to this day on my traditional stuff.

I was SO nervous to mention that I was considering writing Indie under a pen name to my editor. I thought maybe she would look down on it — or me. But now I feel foolish, because she was wonderful about it. She understood my financial concerns, and she encouraged me to do whatever I needed to ensure my family was okay. Her support was a very big deal to me, because I love working with her. If she had discouraged me, I might have thought twice. Thankfully, she didn’t, and I have high hopes that I’ll get to work with her again on future projects.

1lmjjffMYTH: You need a traditional print deal to sell globally.

FACT: Selling globally is as easy as clicking a button on your computer.

As Natasha Boyd, author of EVERSEA explains, “Platforms like Kobo and Amazon and iBooks reach mobile devices in countries your publisher has never heard of, nor will ever market even a print book to.”

Uploading a book to an online store is like getting a glimpse of the entire reading world. Making your English language book available to virtually any country is as easy as checking a box on the Rights page, and if you’d like to take it one step further, you can even find translators that will translate your book into any number of languages for sale to native speakers in any country. In fact, many Indie authors are finding whole new audiences by investing in translations for Germany, Spain, and many other countries.

A large number of my readers are from the UK and Australia, and those territories have become key in terms of ongoing royalties. Plus, it’s so fun to connect with readers all over the world, and to know that your work is inspiring people in far away places.

MYTH: The Indie market is saturated now. It’s too late to take advantage of it.

FACT: Nobody knows.

Make no mistake about it; there are A LOT of Indie books out there. Like, a lot, a lot. But the truth is, no one knows where the bottom of this market is. I’ve been hearing the “Indie books are on their way out” refrain since 2011, but I’m doing more than fine in this market. There are two things I know for sure, though.

  1. Indie books – and the online reading platform – are here to stay. There is evidence that print books are experiencing a rebound, but this in no way means ebooks are out. Millions and millions of ebooks are sold every year, and many of those ebooks are also represented by print version in bookstores. The digital platform is now a way of life for many readers, so while I do believe readers are becoming more selective, I don’t see a time when we will ever go back to strictly paper content.
  2. You’ll never know unless you try. See, this is kind of like the trad pub thing. We can sit around and try to predict what’s going to happen. You can spend a lot of time talking about it and guessing at your odds of success. But you just won’t know unless you take the plunge, and all that talking and guessing takes away from time you could spend researching and writing and learning. I’m glad I did it when I did, but if it hadn’t worked out, at least I would be able to say it didn’t work firsthand.

None of this is meant to sway you either way. These are personal decisions, weighted with things like family and money and time and career and other commitments. But I’m by nature a positive, action-oriented person, and I know how demoralizing it can be to feel like nothing is changing. Like no matter how hard you write and how hard you try and how much you learn, you just can’t get to a place of even relative comfort and security. I know what it means to feel powerless even in the face of the knowledge that your art belongs to you.

That’s right.

YOUR ART BELONGS TO YOU.

These are the things I know.

I can’t control whether traditional publishing buys any more of my books. I can’t control whether readers will like my books. But I’m a writer. That’s what I do, and I do it whether I get paid or not, whether anyone else is reading what I write or not. I don’t know who I am without it. As writers, we’re finally we’re at a place where we have some options.

And that counts for a lot.

 

 

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10/21/15 Fearless , Indie , Lawless , Lies I Told , Mob Boss Series , Promises I Made , Reading , Ruthless , Self-Publish , Uncategorized , Writing # , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Three Months Indie: An Update

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Well, I did it. Lawless released last night, bringing my first full-length Indie series to a close. It’s hard to believe less than three months ago I hadn’t even released Ruthless. I was nervous and scared, wondering if I was going to look back on my decision to go hybrid as a huge mistake.

Thankfully, that is NOT how I’m feeling.

Like, at all.

😉

I’ve sold over 20,000 books in less than three months. At least one of the Mob Boss books has been on at least one of the Top 100 lists almost the entire time, and I’ve met hundreds of new readers, all of them passionate and enthusiastic about modern romance. I’ve also met countless Indie and hybrid authors who have been incredibly generous with their information and beyond supportive of this newbie. I lost track a long time ago of the dumb questions I’ve asked along the way, but there hasn’t been a single time that someone hasn’t offered me an answer.

To give you an idea of my progress, here’s a 90-day graph showing you my sales from August 1st when Ruthless released to today.

Screen Shot 2015-10-20 at 8.47.53 PM

You have to ignore that REALLY big jump at the end — that was my 2300 preorders for LAWLESS dumping into the system. It makes it look like I wasn’t selling well before, but my sales actually held steady between 200-300 a day from August 10th onward. I had a quite few days where they were over 300 —  one where I inexplicably hit 411 — and fewer where I dipped to 175, usually after the 30-day sales cliff that follows a new release. But it’s been pretty steady, with sales of around 6,000 books my first month and close to 9,000 my second month. October will probably see me around 10,000 when it’s all said and done. You can see little jumps in early August and the beginning of September which coincide with new book releases, proving that new content goes  a long way toward keeping you visible. I’m very happy with these numbers, even if they don’t grow, but I see no reason why they shouldn’t with a consistent new release schedule.

Financially, this is the best decision I could have made. I’m not going to be quite as transparent here as I was in my last update, but I will say that if you know I’ve sold over 20,000 books in less than three months, and you know I’m typically making a 70% royalty on the Indie side, you know why I am pretty ecstatic. I haven’t discounted my books at all up until now, so they’ve all sold at $3.99.

For the first time in a long time, I feel like my feet are under me, and it’s hard to explain the relief I feel knowing I’ll be paid once a month instead of twice a year (or less if I haven’t earned out) on the traditional publishing side.

But the biggest gain of all is in creative choice. If you’ve been following my posts, you know that I’ve spoken before about the necessity of writing what’s selling when you make your living writing. “Write the book you want to read” is great advice — but not always sound if one must bring home a paycheck from said writing. I’ve always loved the books I write. I pour my heart and soul into every one, and I have a powerful, lasting bond with every character and every story.

But there are other stories. A near-future sci-fi thriller. A coming of age YA novel set against the backdrop of travel on the cheap. A contemporary story about sisters that deals with divorce and mental illness. An adult thriller about eco-terroism. These are all stories that I’ve shelved at one time or another because I was told the market wasn’t ripe for selling them, or that my particular brand wouldn’t support a sale in one of these areas. To be clear; I am GRATEFUL for this advice. The people looking out for me know I make my living writing, and they know I support four people with that income. There hasn’t been much margin for error.

But here’s the thing; the kind of can’t-sleep-I’m-so-excited passion I have for certain projects doesn’t come along every day. It was the way I felt about Prophecy of the Sisters when I was writing it, and it’s a voice I’ve tried to listen to ever since. Having to shelve those ideas because financial concerns forced me to play it safe was hard and sad and creatively demoralizing. Because the financial noose has loosened, I’ll be able to take more writing risks on the traditional publishing side — with the bonus of having an Indie readership who may read those books if they don’t sell to traditional publishing.

I feel like I can breathe again. Most importantly, I’m starting to dream again. Of the books I can write (even if no one thinks they will sell) and the things I can do for myself and my family and others with this bit of financial blessing. I think that’s one of the worst parts about being in survival mode; you’re so focused on getting through it that it’s hard to remember to dream. Dreaming feels like a waste of time and energy when you’re struggling to survive, but what a loss it is when we stop. It’s so wonderful to feel hopeful and excited again — about my writing and about life in general and the opportunities I might have now to travel and write ALL kinds of stories.

That I owe to the people at Authorbuzz who spearheaded the marketing campaign that started sending traffic to my book pages right out of the gate, and to my readers, who have been so lovely and wonderful and excited about these books, and whose enthusiasm has carried me forward through a difficult three month writing schedule. I also owe a thank you to my mom and my kids, because they have been right there with me, game for anything, urging me to take the leap after talking about it for years. Having people who have your back, people who believe in you and cheer for you and make you feel like you can do anything… Well, that makes all the difference.

Now that things have stabilized, my focus is expanding. I have books lined up for both Indie publishing and traditional publishing for the foreseeable future, and I’m working on a schedule for 2016 that will allow me to continue releasing my Indie stuff no more than 6-8 weeks apart with time to work on two speculative projects as well. I plan to attend a few conferences and/or workshops next year, and I’m looking forward to meeting more awesome authors.

On the traditional publishing side, PROMISES I MADE (sequel to LIES I TOLD) comes out November 24th, and my first YA love story, A WALK IN THE SUN, will be out next summer. On the Indie side, THE MUSCLE, my new serial featuring Luca, a character from the Mob Boss series, launches November 17th and will b complete by Christmas. I’m excited to share them with you!

And there’s always more to learn! I’ve found the marketing and business side of Indie publishing to be fascinating (color me surprised!), and I can spend hours reading about it or watching videos or talking to other Indie authors about the things they’ve done. I also need to work on maximizing my exposure on Nook, Kobo, and iBooks, because right now, I’m only selling a tiny fraction of my total there. I have a feeling I’m missing some promotional opportunities and methods for connecting with readers on those platforms, and that’s something I want to be better about. I’ll also be creating a dedicated website for Michelle St. James so I can further separate my two writing names and the books that go with each.

Most importantly, there’s craft, something that has always fascinated and challenged me. I want to continue getting better, and I’m excited to keep working toward that goal. Writing MORE has always been my proving ground, and I’m so very excited to know now that I’ll be able to do so for the foreseeable future.

Thanks for joining me on this crazy ride!

And if you’re curious, you can buy Ruthless, the first book in the Mob Boss series below;

Amazon

Nook

Kobo

iBooks

Fearless, the second book, can be found here;

Amazon

Nook

Kobo

iBooks

And LAWLESS, the final book is out now;

Amazon

Nook

Kobo

(iBooks is still in review)

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10/14/15 Contests & Giveaway , Lies I Told , Promises I Made , Reading , Uncategorized # , , , , , , , , , , ,

Promises I Made ARC Giveaway

PromisesIMade HC CI can’t believe we’re only a little over a month away from the release of Promises I Made. It’s so nice to have this duet released nine months apart instead of a year, which is more standard for series. It’s always hard to wait such a long time for a book!

I’m especially excited to share the conclusion to this story. It’s a story that really speaks to a struggle I think many of us share — the struggle to believe that we are really worthy and deserving of love and hope and all the beauty that life has to offer. You can preorder it here (and with any book retailer), and if you haven’t read LIES I TOLD, you can do so here (also available at B&N, Kobo, Ibooks, and local Indie).

In the meantime, I have two very coveted ARCs available for giveaway. There are lots of easy ways to enter, and if you already follow me on Twitter or Instgram, or you are part of my Reader List, you may already have entries in the bank.

😉

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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10/10/15 A Walk in the Sun , Uncategorized # , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

WalkinSun HC

COMING MAY 3rd FROM HARPERTEEN

 

Advance Praise for A WALK IN THE SUN

“… a story about love of all kinds, including love for oneself.” – School Library Journal

“… immediate chemistry…”  – Kirkus

 

Katie Cotugno meets The Bridges of Madison County in a magnetic tale about summer love that stays with you long after the seasons change.

Rose Darrow never wanted to spend her life working on her family’s farm. But when her family is rocked by an unexpected tragedy she has no choice but to put her plans for the future—and dreams of escaping her small town—on hold.

Bodhi Lowell left home as a kid and never looked back. Years of working farm jobs has given him the one thing he wants most: freedom to travel without answering to anyone. He’s already looking past his job at Darrow Farm and plans on leaving in September — until he meets Rose.

Neither Rose nor Bodhi can deny the sparks flying between them, but with the end of summer looming, they must decide if it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. . .

Preorder Now

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

iBooks

Kobo

PREORDER A SIGNED HARDCOVER

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09/11/15 Indie , inspiration , Life , Uncategorized # , , ,

A Head Full of Fear

Head_Fear_QuoteI saw this quote about a week ago and have been thinking about it ever since. I’ve always had a saying that has served me well;

Never make a decision out of fear.

You’d be surprised how many decisions are fear-based when that is your litmus test.

Now because this is the internet and the internet is full of trite sayings that, when dissected under the magnifying glass of critical thinking, aren’t helpful and might actually be harmful, I’m going to give you a disclaimer.

Fear can be good. Fear makes you look both ways before crossing the street. It makes you think carefully before making a career decision that might have lasting implications for you or your family. It keeps you from driving too fast and eating too much junk food.

That’s not the kind of fear I’m talking about.

I’m talking about the kind of fear that paralyzes you. The kind of fear that keeps you from taking a step in any direction because something might go wrong. Like many people, I struggle with that fear on a weekly basis. The burden feels greater because I am responsible for other human beings, and I don’t want to fuck things up for them.

But friends, I am so, so, SO glad I have not let fear rule my life. I didn’t let it rule my life when I got out of two bad marriages. (yeah, my track record there isn’t so great, but you know what? Everyone is happier now, my kids included). I didn’t let it rule my life when I ditched a very high paying but unsatisfying job in my home state of California for a quieter life in rural New York where I didn’t know anyone and didn’t have a job. I didn’t let it decide whether I should write back in 2004, when I got serious and started writing the books that led me to Prophecy of the Sisters and my first deal with Little Brown. I haven’t let it rule my life while I’ve experimented with a bunch of different genres – from YA Gothic fantasy, contemporary fantasy, Steampunk, and contemporary fiction to adult romance and psychological thrillers.

That doesn’t mean I haven’t been scared. It doesn’t mean I haven’t made mistakes either. But I haven’t regretted any of them, because I’ve been in motion. I’ve been MOVING. And even the things that seemed like mistakes at the time, later looked like exactly the thing I needed to lead me to the next good thing that WASN’T a mistake.

Isn’t life funny that way? I’ll bet if you look back on the “bad” things that happened to you, you’ll find that the vast majority were precursors to something good that wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t been confronted with the “bad” one. If you think about taking away that one negative experience, what would you lose that was good?

And I’ll let you in on another secret; almost always, the thinking about doing something scary is worse than the actual doing. That’s because we build up all these scary scenarios in our head, and statistically, they aren’t ALL going to come true. Plus, when you’re moving, you don’t have as much space in your brain for worrying and being scared. You’re too busy taking steps, looking around, making something happen.

For the first time in a long time, I feel in control of my situation. Wanna know my one regret?

Not taking control sooner. Being so scared that I stood still for so long, or if not still, that I didn’t move in the one direction that offered the most promise.

So look your fear in the face, dear friends. What’s the worst that can happen, really? What’s the best? Is your avoidance of the worst worth sacrificing the possibility of the best? Will you be satisfied later, when you’re still in the same place because you were afraid to take a step? Because here is one absolutely universal truth; nothing in your life will change if you keep doing the same things over and over again.

And you know what? Taking a step isn’t very hard. It’s just one step. Take one today and another one tomorrow. You will be two steps closer to the thing you want, and you’ll be so busy moving, you’ll be surprised by how your fear recedes into the background. Free up all that space in your brain and psyche and imagination for something better. Because there is always something better than fear.

<3

 

 

 

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09/02/15 Fearless , Indie , Lawless , Mob Boss Series , Reading , Romance , Ruthless , Self-Publish , Uncategorized , Writing # , , , , , , , ,

A Big First Month for RUTHLESS

front_6ix9i_RGB_300dpiIt’s September 2nd. A month ago today, Ruthless, my first self-pubbed novel wasn’t out yet. I had no idea what was in store, how well (or not) the book would sell, if going hybrid would change the landscape of my career like I hoped by giving me more control over my work and how it’s published and marketed.

Hard to believe that so much can change in a month.

But it did, and I’m happy to report that Ruthless sold over 6,000 copies in August. It’s a number that was far beyond my wildest expectations back when I was hoping royalties from the first month would just cover the money I spent on covers, formatting, marketing, etc.

One of the biggest reasons I decided to give self-publishing a try is because of all the Indie and hybrid authors who went before me. For context, it’s important to note that discretion is highly valued in traditional publishing. One doesn’t talk openly about advances or royalties, about the editors we find difficult, about publishing houses who have reneged on promises (it’s okay to shout from the rooftops about those we love, and we do!).

I get it. Being professional is important in any business, and much of this information is of a highly personal nature. Still, it’s been difficult not having easy, timely access to sales numbers and earn-out rates over the past few years. It’s hard to know if you need to make changes to your marketing plan or do something different without data.

One of the most refreshing things about going Indie with my adult work has been the utter transparency, both among many Indie authors and with regards to real-time data. It’s been a little exhilarating to watch my numbers climb, and those moments were well worth the few times when they dropped and I was left wondering if it was a trend, if it was due to everyone going back to school, if maybe I’d simply reached the end of RUTHLESS’s novelty as a new book. In a way, those moments were good for me, too. They were a reminder that you can watch your numbers all day long, but when push comes to shove, you need to keep your head down and write more books.

Anyway, I’m not sure I would have taken the plunge if not for all the authors who were generous and brave enough to report their experiences before me. Because of this, I feel like I owe a debt to pay it forward for anyone else out there thinking of going this route. This is where it gets a bit squicky for me, because I don’t like talking about my personal income any more than the next person, but it’s impossible to share sales numbers without talking royalties (mostly because anyone can figure it out knowing that the standard royalty on a self-pubbed book at $3.99 is 70%), and it’s impossible to give you an idea how life-altering this experience has been without talking sales numbers.

With that in mind, I’m going to be totally straight with you, with the caveat that I will probably not do this again, at least not to this degree of detail. I’m sure there are lots of ways I can screen shot and post graphs, but it’s the first day of school and I’m running on three hours sleep, so I’m going to keep it simple

August 2015

Total Books Sold (all formats) – 6,218

Print Copies Sold – 13

Digital Copies Sold (iBooks) – 19

Digital Copies Sold (Nook) – 41

Digital Copies Sold (Kindle) – 6,145

Total Royalties – $15,198.69

These numbers are with only one book – RUTHLESS – for sale. I never once discounted it, because I feel strongly that authors (and all artists) should be paid fairly for their work. This means all 6,000+ copies of the book were sold at my current full price of $3.99.

This is what it looked like;

Screen Shot 2015-09-02 at 11.26.51 AMThe vast majority of sales were from Amazon for the Kindle platform. To be honest, I wasn’t very surprised. I had heard that Kindle sales compromised a majority of the digital marketplace — I just hadn’t realized how much. And while I know this isn’t going to be popular with some, I have to say; I can see why.

Buying in the Kindle store and reading on a Kindle device is so easy, and from an Indie author’s perspective, Amazon is by far the simplest to work with in ease of upload, speed of listing, access to foreign markets, and resolution of problems/questions. Like anyone, I feel a little nervous knowing that so much of my income is tied up with one distributor, but if another retailer wants that to change, they need to do better to compete in this space. Because frankly, Amazon is killing it on every level. I don’t always love the decisions they make, but the truth is, I haven’t always loved the decisions made in traditional publishing either.

Another interesting trend; RUTHLESS killed it in the UK Amazon store. Even now, nearly a month after it’s a release, it’s sitting at 503 in all Kindle books and 29 in New Adult Romance. The book also did well in Canada and Australia, with a few copies sold in Europe, and even in India.

If you read my post two weeks into the month, you know that the Facebook ad set up by AuthorBuzz was instrumental in giving the book the push it needed to get more visibility (you can see on the graph the crazy turn things took when the ad kicked in). That continues to be true, and I can’t say enough how much I recommend them for marketing and ad consultation. The ad image was just one part of what gave the books legs. Without the design expertise of the people at AuthorBuzz (they know how to work within Facebook’s parameters for maximum success) and keyword knowledge, the ad may very well have sat in the sidebar with no clicks. As it is, I have received thousands of clicks on the ad, and it’s still going strong. That traffic to the book got me more sales, which pushed Ruthless up on the list of Hot New Releases on Amazon and gave me yet more visibility. For a long time, the book was on pages 2-4 in several categories, and that really helped as well. As more people read it, more people reviewed it, talked about it, added it to their Goodreads shelves. It was a beautiful circle of momentum that began with the ad, and I plan to continue using AuthorBuzz for marketing on an ongoing basis for both my Indie work and my traditionally published work.

There was a bit of a learning curve — and a courage curve — with preorders. I didn’t list FEARLESS (the second book in the Mob Boss series) for preorder because Amazon has some rules about preorders that made it scary for me. Namely, you have to upload the final file ten days before the release or lose your preorder privileges for a year. As someone who’s sometimes tweaking small things right up until the book goes live, I just wasn’t ready to commit to it, especially since I was working to get the books out close together for my readers.

But I decided to do a preorder for LAWLESS, the final book in the series. I want readers to be able to see that the final book will be available the month after Fearless releases, and I wanted to be able to put the link in the back of Fearless to make it easy. This meant I had to upload the Lawless preorder before Fearless is even out in order to have the Buy link for my formatter. I’m sure it’s a little confusing for anyone digging around on Amazon for book two to find only books one and three available, but it will all make sense in a few days when Fearless is up on Monday. Next time, I’ll build in lots of time and list each book for preorder before publishing the first one.

I can’t tell you how much fun this has been, and how, well, RELIEVED I feel. I don’t think I realized how scared I was all the time. Scared that I wouldn’t be able to keep selling books to trad pub, scared that my advances there would dwindle, scared that I had zero control over the fate of my career and my ability to support my family. For now, I still hope to sell my YA stuff to trad pub, but for the first time in a long time, I am resting easy in the knowledge that there are people who want to read my stories — and that I have the ability to get those stories to them for the foreseeable future. I’m excited to write the next series (based on characters introduced in Ruthless), and maybe to play in the serial space, too.

I know not everyone will get these results out of the gate. I’ve been lucky to have a career in traditional publishing that gave me a platform, and some of those readers have followed me to my adult work. But there is a place for good books that might not find a home in the traditional publishing marketplace, and there is some comfort to that. For you, too, I hope.

Thanks to everyone who has supported me and cheered me on. Biggest thanks of all to those of you who bought, read, reviewed, and recommended RUTHLESS. None of the stories would matter if you weren’t there to read them.

<3

Buy RUTHLESS on Amazon

Buy RUTHLESS on Barnes & Noble

Buy RUTHLESS on iBooks

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08/25/15 Book News , Fearless , Indie , Mob Boss Series , Romance , Ruthless , Self-Publish , Uncategorized # , , , , , , , ,

FEARLESS Cover Reveal

Fearless_front_V2You guys! Ruthless has raced to the top of the Amazon rankings in both the UK and the US. I’ve been absolutely stunned by the response, and I can only hope this means you’re ready for the release of FEARLESS on September 7th (less than two weeks away!).

Assuming you are… I thought you’d all like to see the cover. I’m sure you’ll notice that Nico looks a little rougher around the edges. That is intentional (because…. story), and I think you’ll be really excited by the continuation of Nico and Angel’s story in this next book. You can add it to your Goodreads shelf here.

In the meantime, if you haven’t read RUTHLESS, now’s the perfect time to do so. Thanks so much to everyone who has read, reviewed, and recommended to friends.
<3

Buy RUTHLESS on Amazon

Buy RUTHLESS on Barnes & Noble

Buy RUTHLESS on iBooks

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08/16/15 Fearless , Indie , Mob Boss Series , Romance , Ruthless , Self-Publish , Uncategorized , Writing # , , , , , ,

Self-Publishing; Week Two Lessons

You guys… it has been a CUH-razy couple of weeks. After a modest start, things EXPLODED about a week ago. I was selling about 25 books a day (if you remember from my first week blog post, I was happy with those numbers), and then one night, it jumped to 37. By the next day, it was a 158.

Screen Shot 2015-08-17 at 11.33.02 AMThis is what my ranking looks like today.

Monday is the start of my third week, and I’m currently selling about 300 books a day (it’s 11:30am as I write this, and I’ve sold over a hundred books today).

This is way, WAY more than I expected for this first book, written under a pseudonym (albeit an open one), in a genre for which I am not well known. And the really cool thing is that I can share my experience with you, because in this case, there was a definite turning point connected to a very specific marketing tool, namely a very well-designed, very well-targeted Facebook ad.

I’ve heard SO many people say they tried FB ads to no avail, but I can only conclude that my experience was due to A) a gorgeous looking ad (I didn’t design it, so I can say that), B) a pretty kick ass cover and tag line (Not Your Mother’s Mob), and C) knowledgable targeting by the folks at Authorbuzz, who have been managing my ad. I’m not sure I would have had the same results on my own, but frankly, the people at AuthorBuzz know their shit. They took charge of my ad, and within four days I was seeing crazy click though. As of now, I’ve sold over 2,000 books and have only spent about $110 on the ad itself.

So right now, that’s where I’m putting all my marketing money, and I can’t recommend AuthorBuzz enough for this and other marketing services. I know it’s hard to go out of pocket with this stuff, but if you can at all afford it, IT IS SO WORTH IT. There’s a lot of nuance to making the ad (and marketing campaign in general) work, and in my opinion, it’s harder to get the same result without the services of a company that really knows their way around this stuff.

That said, I know money is sometimes an issue, so following are some things you can try on your own;

1. Spend the money to get an excellent design from a designer who knows FB’s parameters. When I say excellent, I mean this ad has to look professional, like something you’d see in a trade journal. It has to have a super compelling tag line. And if you’re writing romance, it should be HOT (not necessarily to be confused with nakedness, because my model is in a tuxedo). Hiring a freelancer to do these ads is cheaper than you might think, usually between $25-$50.

2. Once you have an excellent design, do a ton of research on FB targeting, because it doesn’t matter how great your ad looks if it’s popping up for the wrong people. If you write romance, for example, thinks about your readers; what would they list as things they like to do on Facebook (be specific)? Which authors might they list as favorites? Probably they’re women, so target females to avoid wasting impressions on middle-aged dudes are unlikely to read in your genre. Author buzz did most of this for me, so I can’t speak to the specifics of my ad, but hopefully this will give you a start.

3. Encourage people to leave honest reviews, because again, the more people interact with your Buy page, the more the algorithms are going to work for you. I always forget to do this! People post on my author page that they loved one of my books, and I say, “Thank you so much!” Then later I face palm when I realize what I should have said is, “Thank you so much! Would you be willing to leave a review?” For readers out there; please leave reviews for the books you love. It makes such a difference!

Screen Shot 2015-08-16 at 5.58.14 PMAfter about five days of very heavy traffic to the Buy page on Amazon (reason enough to run your FB long enough to gain some traction), Ruthless landed on the first page of Hot New Releases for Romance > Contemporary, and I saw a big spike in sales right around that time. So it pays in more ways than one to get people engaging with your book’s Buy page. There’s no way to know exactly what caused this amazing string of events, but I’m told by those who know more than me that it’s probably a combination of the FB ad, a compelling cover and tag line, good reviews and word of mouth, the kicking in of Amazon’s algorithms, etc. Basically, the more people engage with your book on Amazon – – by buying it, reviewing it, etc. — the more you’re worked into Amazon’s algorithms, and that increases your exposure exponentially.

Lastly, I know there is a camp in trad pub that thinks Amazon is the anti-christ, but I have to be honest; they have been the easiest and best to work with by far, from ease of upload and revision of files to number of books sold (I’ve sold 17 books on Nook and 15 on iTunes, the rest of that 2,000 came from Amazon). My questions and problems (minimal!), have been addressed promptly and pleasantly, and they have really made the whole process so easy.

So, thanks, Amazon! And thank you to everyone who has read, reviewed, and recommended the book. It is so gratifying to see RUTHLESS reach so many readers, and I’m totally DYING to share FEARLESS with you on September 7th.

<3

Buy RUTHLESS on Amazon

Buy RUTHLESS on Barnes & Noble

Buy RUTHLESS on iBooks

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08/06/15 Book News , Indie , Mob Boss Series , Romance , Ruthless , Uncategorized , Writing # , , , , , , ,

Self Publishing; The First Four Days

Well, I’ve  been self-publishing for four whole days, and while I’m far from an expert, I’ve learned a few things!

 

 

I’ve promised to be as transparent as possible about my experience, so rather then give you one giant post at the end, I’m going to keep you updated any time it seems I have information that might help.

So far I feel pretty good about how well Ruthless is doing. I’m going to wait to give you numbers until everything shakes out at the end of the month, but I’ve been surprised to find that I’m selling a decent number of books every day. I think I’m doing some things that have helped (which I’ll share), but I know I still have a lot to learn. The book is listed at $3.99. It’s held steady at around 20,000 in the Kindle store, and it hovers right around 1100 in Contemporary Fiction > Romance, which is a huge category. This feels good to me given that I’m using a pseudonym and have never written a full length novel in this genre. I’m looking forward to the release of FEARLESS, the sequel to Ruthless, on September 7th. Hopefully having the second book out so soon after the first will bring in new readers (Lawless, the third and final book in this series, will release a month later in October).

For now, here are my lessons learned;

1. Get your cover right. This is a BIG one. Quite possibly THE biggest one after producing a solid story (which is a given here – seriously people, I’m not even going to waste space talking about that). I spoke to several authors before embarking on this journey and they all said the same thing; Cover is King. The problem with a lot of Design-Yourself-Covers is that they just don’t look professional. And professional is really important, especially when it comes to self-publishing which already has an unfairly bad rap for quality. I used an online service called 99Designs on the recommendation of several friends and was over the moon with the results. 99Designs allows designers to bid for your project, which gives you lots of options and allows you to inform the evolution of the design. Prices for book covers start at $300 and go up from there. I connected with a fantastic designer for that price and ended up giving her the work for all three covers (the covers for Fearless and Lawless were quite a bit cheaper). I’m ecstatic to have her on board and will continue to use her for everything, and I’m pretty sure my cover has gone a long way toward making readers feel like they’re getting a quality product.

2. Proofread WAY past the point where you think you need to proofread. I’ve always had respect for my copyeditors in traditional publishing. It’s SO tedious going through a manuscript with a fine tooth comb, and your brain does this thing where it shows you what you expect to see. So “form” looks like “from” even though it’s clearly a typo. You don’t see it — but your readers often do. I went through Ruthless very carefully after uncorrected galleys (which were sent out pre-copyedit because of time constraints) went out to bloggers. I even had someone else proof it. But there were still typos in the uploaded file, and to be honest, a friend and reader has found a few more that my formatter will fix today. It’s embarrassing to admit this! I do freelance editing, and I’m extremely careful about stuff like this, but it just validates what I tell editing clients; you CAN NOT edit your own work and get the same result, and it pays to have more than one person read through your book slowly for typos. Luckily, the digital platform means you can make changes even after you upload — but don’t count on it. Do everything in your power to make sure the book is perfect out of the gate.

3. A great formatter is worth his or her weight in gold. Mine was absolutely awesome and was also very responsive, critical when I was uploading and had a problem that needed resolving asap. Also, she’s been a gem about fixing those typos I mentioned above, which is important because unless you have the formatting software and know how to use it, going in and doing it yourself is more complicated than it sounds (at least for me!).

4. Give yourself plenty of time to upload. I started uploading three days before Ruthless was slated to release. I didn’t tell anyone, because I wanted everything to be in place for release day, and I’m glad I didn’t. I tweaked the description several times, played with the metadata (see below), and resolved problems with an old Nook Press account I had forgotten I had. The Amazon KDP platform was by far the easiest and fastest to use, and their Customer Service team was extremely responsive when I had questions. I also got help from many generous people on the Kindle boards. Nook Press was, frankly, a nightmare. There were all kinds of tricky rules regarding accounts and it took a lot longer  to get help, in part because I think their Customer Service is offshore, and the language barrier became problematic at times (at least two emails were wasted without getting an answer to the question I asked). Once I got everything resolved, the book showed as On Sale a good two days before it actually showed up on B&N online. But one thing I like about the Nook Press system is that you can make changes to the manuscript (like correcting typos) using their system, which means I didn’t have to go back to my formatter to make a small change. iBooks was my least favorite in terms of ease-of-use. First of all, you have to download two different apps to upload the book — iBooks and Producer.  You also need an iTunes connect account, which is different from your regular iTunes account. Then it was around three full days from the time I uploaded the book until it was actually on sale in the iTunes store. As the release date for Ruthless got closer, I was glad I’d given myself extra time to get everything in order.

5. Connect with other writers in your genre. This is true of both self-pubbed and traditionally published writers. Since most of my work has been YA, I didn’t know many writers in the romance genre, but I started reading romance and connecting with the people who write it months before my release. I learned so much about the genre that way, and it’s been gratifying to have their support, even if it’s just in an occasional tweet or share on social media. I’ve been very lucky to have a few friends in the genre who have gone above and beyond by reading and blurbing the book and spreading the word to their readers, and I’m looking forward to the day when I can pay it forward, both to them and to other newbies like me.

One word of advice; don’t be a user. Working relationships, like all relationships, are best founded on authenticity. It’s always a nice bonus when you can help a friend or they can help you, but it’s much more sincere to show a genuine interest in their work and to connect on a personal level where possible. I don’t connect on a personal level with every writer out there, and that’s okay. I focus on building genuine friendships (online and otherwise) and let the rest take care of itself.

6. Get all the help you can afford. I made the decision early on to hire InkslingersPR to do a release day blitz and two-week blog tour for Ruthless. To be honest, this isn’t money I have laying around. It was hard to part with it. But I do think it’s made a difference, and it’s been a relief to focus on writing while the bloggers that are part of the tour take the lead in spreading the word. They’ve done a great job so far, and the peace of mind it’s given me has been more than worth the money I spent. I’m pretty sure a good part of the reason why I’m selling regularly is because of the sustained attention given to the book during the campaign.

7. Try Facebook ads (and others) if you can afford to. I’m still experimenting with this, but so far I’ve been happy with the results. As a disclaimer I have to ad that I have a very knowledgeable friend who has helped me get this done right, but so far my ad on FB (I’m paying  maximum of $100) has garnered about 1500 targeted impressions and 30 clicks to the Buy page (the last time I checked). I’m also going to experiment with a Goodreads ad. It’s a bit more than the FB ad, but I think the reach is a lot wider. I’ll try to keep you posted on my results going forward.

8. Play with your metadata until you get it right. Metadata is the keywords and categories used to drive readers to your book. If you list your book as Action Adventure but it’s really a Romance, the right readers won’t find it. And if you simply use the keyword “romance”, it will get lost amid the millions of other books categorized that way. There is tons of great information online about metadata (I think I’ve read about twenty hours worth), but I’ve found that “keyword stuffing” helps a lot. This means instead of wasting one of my keywords with “romantic mystery”, I use “romantic suspense mystery thriller”. Instead of using “contemporary romance”, I use “contemporary urban modern new york city romance”. Because all of those words are within the commas, they count as one keyword. Try to think about the search strings reader might use to find a book like yours if they don’t know about your book. You can also start typing things into the search bar as if you’re a reader, i.e. “romantic suspense” pulls up previous searches for “romantic suspense kindle books”, “romantic suspense books”, and “romantic suspense boxed set.” If any of these things apply to your book, use them!

Obligatory word of caution; don’t abuse the system by invoking the names of similar authors or using adjectives that won’t always be true (like “new”). You MIGHT get away with it, but you might not, and if you don’t, your book can be delisted. Just be smart and follow the rules, and if you search for your book using adjectives a reader might use but don’t find it, it’s time to tweak your metadata until it comes up higher in the search results.

I think that’s it! But it’s a lot for four days, amIright?

 

 

Please check back over the next month for more updates. In the meantime, you can buy Ruthless on Amazon, B&N, and iTunes, and you can add it to your Goodreads shelf here.

 

 

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06/06/15 Book News , Life , Reading , Uncategorized , Writing # , , , , , , , , , ,

Newsletter – Incoming!

After much deliberation I have decided to join the ranks of newsletter-bearing authors. One of the hardest things about authoring in the modern age is knowing how much to share, how often to share it, and whether people are REALLY interested in hearing it. Here, I’m my own worst enemy, because my assumption is always that people are busy and overloaded with information, and it takes something pretty special to compel them to read something else on their computer.

Do I have stuff to share that’s something special? I’ll let you decide. But I do have stuff to share — about reading, writing, and life.

And sometimes I even have NEWS.

😉

So after taking an informal Facebook poll and confirming that a good number of my readers would like a semi-personal, once-monthly, quick and easy to read account of what’s going on — with my writing and everything else — I decided to give it a whirl. My plan is to include a couple of real life things (recipes, things I’m loving that month, etc.) with a personal snippet and a book recommendation or writing tip. I’m planning to keep it one page, and only put it out once a month.

But the big thing is that I’m going to make as many announcements as possible to newsletter subscribers first. And that includes my next book announcement.

If you’d like to stay in the loop, you can sign up for the newsletter here in under ten seconds. And if you decide to opt out at any time, all you’ll have to do is hit the “unsubscribe” link at the bottom of each newsletter.

<3

0 likes 61 responses
05/07/15 Contests & Giveaway , Lies I Told , Uncategorized # , , , , ,

Winners All Around!

Well, it’s been exactly a month since LIES I TOLD released and I finally get to announce winners in the release day giveaway, plus one lucky Street Team winner. But first, a huge thank you to everyone who helped me spread the word. My street team especially really went to the mat for me, distributing swag all over their hometowns in places where teens were most likely to see it. I have no idea if this kind of guerrilla effort makes a difference in actual sales, but it sure made me feel amazing to have so much support at what can be a stressful (though exciting!) time.

Promises I Made, the final installment in the LIES duology, will be out in November. Then I have a VERY special surprise for my adult readers later in the year, plus a new YA romance out next summer (details soon). So please stay tuned for more bookish awesomeness, and of course, future giveaways. In the meantime, please continue to spread the word about LIES I TOLD to all your friends, and if you’ve read it and enjoyed it, please leave a review on Amazon/B&N/Goodreads. It really does make a difference!

And now for the big moment…

Out of the 83 Street Team participants, the winner was lucky number 22. And that was TINA JOHNSTON! Tina has won a $100 Visa gift card, a complete set of my signed books, and a few other fun things that I’ll throw in as a surprise.

Congratulations, Tina!

We also have three winners in the release day giveaway.

The first prize winner is Layne Alexandria! Layne wins a $250 Visa gift card or gift card to the bookstore of her choice, Victoria’s Secret bath gel and body lotion, tropical inspired nail polish and candy, grapefruit lip balm, a bookmark, peacock pocket mirror, and an entire library of my signed, currently published books (Prophecy of the Sisters trilogy, A Temptation of Angels, This Wicked Game, and LIES I TOLD).

Second prize goes to Karrie Millheim, who wins a $100 Visa gift card or gift card to the bookstore of her choice, Victoria’s Secret bath gel and body lotion, tropical inspired nail polish and candy, grapefruit lip balm, a bookmark, peacock pocket mirror, and an entire library of my signed, currently published books (Prophecy of the Sisters trilogy, A Temptation of Angels, This Wicked Game, and LIES I TOLD).

And big congrats to our third prize winner, Tracee Baxter. Tracee wins a tropical inspired nail polish and candy, grapefruit lip balm, a bookmark, peacock pocket mirror, an entire library of my signed, currently published books (Prophecy of the Sisters trilogy, A Temptation of Angels, This Wicked Game, and LIES I TOLD) PLUS a signed ARC of PROMISES I MADE, sequel to LIES and the final book in Grace Fontaine’s story (out in November of this year).

Congratulations, all! I’ll be sending an email to make sure you know you won, and also to find out if you’d like Visa gift cards or book store gift cards.

Enjoy it all in good health!

<3

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05/01/15 Uncategorized # , , ,

Reader Questions

This post goes straight to CrazyBookFan from Goodreads who asked the following questions during the Young Writers Series;

What is the key to success to become a writer?

All you have to do to be a writer is to write. But if we’re talking about publication, I don’t think there is any one key. First and foremost, you must be the best writer you can be. That means writing with courage, digging deep to get to the heart of things even when it’s scary or it hurts. It means being willing to take constructive criticism in an effort to grow in your command of craft. It means being willing to write and write and write. Because that really is the only way to get better, and while writing an excellent book is no guarantee of publication, it certainly improves your chances.

How do writers publish their books and how does a book become successful?

For more on this topic, please see How Do I Sell My Book. As for success, that is a complicated combination of luck, timing, craft, and exposure/marketing. But again, you can always improve your odds by writing a great book — and then writing another one.

I think I see a theme developing…

<3

 

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04/29/15 Uncategorized # , , ,

Young Writers Series Week Eight; Rowing Your Own Boat (What To Do If the People Around You Don’t Take You Seriously)

I can hardly believe that we’re at the end of our eight week series. So much has happened! Two months ago, Lies I Told was on deck, and we were still battling sub-zero temperatures here in New York. Now Lies I Told is out to glowing reviews and Spring seems to have sprung at last.

And hopefully, you guys have eight more weeks ofinsight into writing and publishing.

😉

Last week we talked about how to juggle your social life, school, and other activities with writing. You can find links to previous weeks in that post.

The subject of this week’s post — Rowing Your Own Boat — could easily be written for writers of any age. That’s because writers of all ages sometimes have trouble getting support from the people closest to them — especially before they’re published. I think it’s because A) it’s such a solitary pursuit (how can they be sure we’re really writing as opposed to, say, painting our toenails? Or writing love letters to Channing Tatum?), and B) it’s has the kind of stars-in-your-eyes connotation of wanting to be a movie star or a ballerina. Is it possible? Yes. But the truth is, most of us won’t be a movie star or a ballerina.

So when we tell people we’re writers or say we’re “working on my next book”, it can seem a little… quaint, especially to those not initiated in the passion-filled, emotionally draining practice of bringing to life a whole new world, complete with people and everything.

If you’re a young person, this is probably exacerbated by the fact that you’re, well… YOUNG. I mean, you probably did want to be a ballerina or a princess or a firefighter or an astronaut not that long ago, right? And none of THOSE things worked out (this isn’t me talking – it’s your naysayer, whomever he or she may be). Why should this be any different?

I have four kids ages 15 to 22. They’ve had lots of interests and passions over the years, and many of them have gone by the wayside. As a parent, it’s sometimes hard to know what’s going to stick, and I’ve had to remind myself more than once that whether it “sticks” or not, it’s still my job to BELIEVE. As a freelance editor, I’ve also been in the position of reading work that runs the gamut from the barely readable to the extremely promising. In all of those cases, it’s been my job to be encouraging of someone’s dream while being tactfully truthful about how much work they may still have to do, even while acknowledging that some of those writers aren’t going to make it.

And I’ve had my share of naysayers, too. When I left my job as a Director of Marketing for a technology consulting firm to move to a tiny, rural town, hoping to find a better, simpler, more fulfilling life, one of my bosses at the time asked, “What will you do?” I said, “I don’t know. Maybe I’ll write a book.” He laughed and said, “About what?” The disbelief was loud and clear in his voice (I should have said, “Oh, I don’t know, maybe about that time I helped grow a company from $200k to $15 million in four years… 😉 ).  For years while I worked to get published after our move, I would sheepishly tell people who asked that I was a writer, and that I was working on my first, second, third, fourth, or fifth book. But before I was published, people’s eyes kind of glazed over with suspicion.”Hmm-mmm, SURE you are,” they seemed to be thinking. My husband (who is my ex-husband now) listened with barely passing interest when I spoke about my work and never read a single thing I wrote, even when I asked if he’d be willing to do so.

But doubters have always made me work harder. My competitive spirit is motivated by people who think I can’t do something, and to tell the truth, my “I’ll show them” mentality was at least partially responsible for my stubborn determination to keep going. At the same time, I understand how demoralizing it can be to row your boat alone, especially when you’re surrounded by people who only feed your self-doubt.

I wish I could give you a magic potion to make them believe, but we can’t make people believe in us or make them approve of how we spend our time or make them excited about our dreams. Basically, we have NO CONTROL over them.

What you DO have control over is YOU. You can choose to let these people slow you down, doubt yourself, even derail your dream completely. Or you can choose to WORK. Because that’s what it’s going to take. And if somewhere along the way you find that it’s not worth it or that you aren’t having fun anymore, by all means feel free to reconsider. I used to belong to an online writer’s group, and one time someone posted the question, “How do I know when it’s time to give up?” In response someone else wrote, “Go ahead and quit – if you can.” That really stuck with me. We’re not ALL meant to be writers, even if we love reading, even if we enjoy writing the occasional story or poem. I couldn’t have quit writing if I tried. It was literally saving my life in the depths of depression, and it was the thing I most enjoyed doing in my “down” time. I figured if I was going to write no matter what, I might as well keep trying to get my work out there. If writing is a compulsion for you, if it’s something you MUST do, if it’s something you would do for free your whole life through because you love it THAT MUCH, then what else are you going to do with your time that is as meaningful? And if it’s a compulsion, if you MUST do it, does it really matter what anyone else thinks?

All of which is not to say that it’s not disappointing when you don’t get support from friends and family. You’re allowed to be disappointed. It’s how you deal with that disappointment that will define you as a writer. Will you give up? Or will you work to be better? Will you keep trying? Will you keep your head down and keep doing what you must?

While I can’t solve this problem for you, I can give you some tips for dealing with it;

1. Write down the reason you love writing and place it somewhere you’ll see it whenever you have doubts. Whether your note to self reads “I write because I must” or “I write to tell the stories in my head” or “I write because I want to see my name on a book store shelf”, your note will likely remind you how SEPARATE your reasons for writing are from the people around you. When you write because you must, does it change anything that your best friend doesn’t believe you can do it (although I’d counter this might not be the best best friend you can find)? When you write because you have to tell the stories in your head, does it matter that your parents think writing won’t lead to a stable career? When you write because you want to see your name on a book store shelf, does it matter that your sister thinks writing is a waste of time? Your note will remind you that it’s not about them anyway.

2. Read as much as you can. Watch movies. Play great video games. Do anything that inspires you with great story.

3. Seek out support where you can find it. There are lots of wonderful online writing groups, and simply connecting with other writers has a way of keeping up your morale and reminding you that you belong to a timeless, far-flung tribe of storytellers. If you’ve found the right group of people, they will lift you up and give you feedback and cheer you on. If they don’t do these things, find another group. And remember not to give out sensitive personal information online.

4. Start a review blog. Reviewing books online is a great way to stay active in the conversation about books, reading, and writing, and it will also connect you to a larger group of people who are interested in the very same things. If you’re following my other advice, you’re reading regularly anyway. The time you spend writing out a quick review for the books you read may be worth the camaraderie you find in the book blog community.

5. Keep your head down and focus on craft. From the cliques that naturally form in any group (online or otherwise) to buzz about current trends in the marketplace, it’s easy to get distracted by internet noise. But just remember; none of this counts as actual writing, and none of it will make you BETTER. And that’s our goal, right? Because that’s the best shot you have at being published. So when you’re tempted to get involved in drama in your writers group or tempted to be downtrodden by someone’s dire predictions about the publishing marketplace or tempted to change what you’re writing to follow an up and coming trend, remember to keep your eye on the ball. Craft is the ball. Focus on getting BETTER, and everything else will follow.

That concludes our eight week Young Writer’s Series. I’ve had so much fun sharing this information with you, and I hope it’s been helpful. I’ll post a list of all eight topics with links so you can go back and read if you’re just joining us.

Writing has been the one constant in my life. It has seen me through depression and divorce and new beginnings and self doubt. Whatever happens in the “real” world, it is a comfort to know there are infinite worlds into which I can escape. When people talk about retirement, I can only blink. Retirement? From WRITING? What else would I do? What else would I WANT to do? No, I’ll be writing until the day I die. If you feel this way too, you’re probably a writer, and that is something you can carry with you wherever you go, whatever the circumstances of your life.

And the best part of all is that your journey is just beginning.

Make the most of it.

<3

 

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04/22/15 Uncategorized

Young Writers Series Week Seven; Keeping the Balls in the Air (How to Juggle School, Social Life, and Writing)

Wow! We’re almost done with the eight week Young Writers series. That went fast! So far we’ve covered everything from how to get your book published to the value added by agents and editors to self-editing. This week we’re going to focus on the big balancing act that is juggling anything creative with so-called real life. Although I don’t really like that concept, because I don’t know about you, but my writing is as much a part of my real life as anything else.

😉

As a teenager or college student, I know your life is jam packed with school, social outings, after-school activities like sports and clubs, homework, and family. Three of my four kids all have a creative passion (writing, fine art, and filmmaking), and I’ve seen how they struggle to find time for their art while also being a young person in today’s constantly connected world. And while I’d like to give you a magic bullet to solve the problem, I’m afraid it’s not that easy.

The first thing I’ll say is that it’s okay to narrow your field of interest a little. In fact, it’s natural. Kids usually have no idea what their passion is, which is one reason many parents sign up their kids for so many things. We want you to try everything! Because how will you know you love soccer or piano or science if you don’t do those things?

But as you get older and start to get a better feel for who you really are, it’s natural to find yourself gravitating toward some activities while also realizing you don’t enjoy others as much as you used to. Kenneth used to be super into sports. He was an amazing baseball and soccer player (I’ve since realized he’s one of those lucky people who is good at everything he tries), and he played for the town, for his school, and sometimes at the club level. Then when he got older, he tried hip-hop and found he really loved it. That led him to music, which led him to guitar, which led him back to piano (he’d tried it when he was a kid and didn’t like it). When he started composing music and felt that he’d found his true love, he quit sports altogether, because he realized he was spending all his time there wishing he was home playing music. That wasn’t his last stop though. He went on to find a passion for writing (there’s a strong writing gene on our family) and has since completed his first book and is currently working on a screenplay. Music has become something he does just for fun.

Some of his friends at the time would say things like, “Why do you quit everything?” It made Kenneth feel a little insecure, because he’d never thought of it that way. But then we talked and I explained that he quit more things than most of his peers because he TRIED more things than most of his peers, and it just isn’t practical to believe you’ll move into adulthood doing a hundred different things at any given time. The reason you try new things is to have the experience and see if you like them. You are under no obligation to continue if you hate it, especially if there’s something about which you’re more passionate.

Now don’t get your parents mad at me! I’m not saying you should go out and quite everything. I’m just saying if you find there are things you’re doing out of habit instead of because you really enjoy them, it might be time to reconsider (and this is good advice for adults too). Think about the energy you’re spending on things that you don’t enjoy very much, and consider how much progress you might make on something you DO enjoy if you took the time and applied it there. This might require a sit down with your parents, but its been my experience that above all else, most parents want their kids to be happy. If you explain your reasons for wanting to cut back on some of your extracurriculars to devote more time to writing (or anything else), I have a feeling they’ll  understand.

But before you go quite everything; consider this; writing time is more than just writing.

It’s true. Let me explain.

For a long time, I logged my writing hours like I would log hours on any job, pushing myself to write 6-8 hours a day. The truth is, I felt (and still feel) incredibly lucky to be writing for a living, and I never wanted to take that for granted. I was always trying to “prove” I deserved it by writing as much as possible. But after awhile, I realized my writing was becoming less inspired, and a big part of the reason was that I was WRITING more at the expense of LIVING more. And living leads to the experiences and inspiration that make for good writing. I realized when I was out and about, seeing movies with my kids or hiking or reading a newspaper article or even driving somewhere, I was processing all of those experiences and stories and sensations, storing them away for later use. Even when I wasn’t aware I was doing it, snippets of those moments would come back to me when I was sitting at the computer – how the sunset swept the sky orange and pink, the way someone tilted their head when they talked, making it seem like they were always a little confused, the weight of the air on a particularly hot and humid day. And I was getting ideas too! From newspaper articles and books and movies and overheard conversations. In fact, if I logged all of THOSE hours, the ones I came to think of as time spent filling the creative well, I was putting in a good six hours a day at minimum, and usually a lot more. Then I might only write for two hours, but it was an inspired two hours.

😉

All of which leads me to advice that is no less true for its ambiguity. The truth is, we all have to find a way to balance the logistics of daily living with our creative drive. It doesn’t get easier as you get older, it just changes. The one thing that has made all the difference for me is to have a schedule.

My schedule has changed over the years. In the early days, I wrote from 9pm to 1am and sometimes later. This is because I had little kids who needed my attention, and it was the only time I was guaranteed time to write. It meant I was exhausted when I woke up at 6am to get the kids to school, but I learned to go back to bed for a couple extra hours of sleep while they were at school, then stay up late writing again (I work better in the afternoons and evenings, which is why I didn’t just write during the day while the kids were in school). When the kids got older, I blocked off 7pm-9pm during the week, because they were usually doing homework and taking showers anyway, and afternoons were spent running from one after school activity to another. Nowadays, I have two writing blocks; 3pm-5pm (my kids can mostly drive themselves around now) and 7pm-9pm. If something comes up during one of these blocks, I know I have at least two hours left to write on any given day. Everyone who knows me knows that this is sacred time. I don’t answer my phone and don’t schedule appointments during those times if I can avoid it. If you have friends who work at a movie theater or a restaurant, odds are they can’t take calls or check their phone while they’re on the clock. Consider your writing time work time and follow the same rules.

But you may not be able to commit to two hours of writing every day. And that’s okay! Let’s look at how long it would take to write a book if you blocked off different amounts of time (assuming about 750 words an hour and a 70,000 word book);

2 hours per week; About 10 months

2 hours per day, twice a week (say Saturday and Sunday); About 5 months

1 hour per day x 5 days a week; 4-5 months

8 hours per week (say four, two-hour blocks); About 3 months

12 hours per week (say, over Summer); About 2 months

Are you seeing a pattern here? It’s not about HOW MUCH TIME you spend writing. It’s about CONSISTENCY. Even if you only write two hours per week, you WILL STILL HAVE A FINISHED BOOK IN TEN MONTHS. That’s about the length of one school year. Alternatively, if you spend your school year focusing on school and school-related activities and only write in the summer, you can have a book done in eight weeks.

Now you might be thinking, “There’s a big difference between eight weeks and ten months!”

There is. About eight months difference. But the end result is the same; you have a finished book. And that’s assuming you’re writing a novel. If you’re working on poetry or short stories instead, you would have A LOT of finished work during that time. And whatever you do, it will result in more finished work than if you do nothing.

Lastly, take advantage of small amounts of time. For years I wouldn’t bother writing unless I had a good hour or two. When I finally started taking every spare 30-minute block I could find, I was shocked by how much more quickly my word count piled up. Using our formula above, a half hour a day five days a week still puts you at under ten months to finish a whole book. Most of us can find a 30-minute block of time each day — even if it’s that half hour after practice or the half hour between getting home from school and eating dinner or the half hour we spend mindlessly reading Buzzfeed articles. And if you need a little help staying focused, I highly recommend a program called Freedom, which allows you to block social media sites and/or your WIFI connection for set periods of time. You’ll get more done in 30 minutes of focused writing time than in an hour of back and forth between your manuscript and Twitter. I use Freedom almost religiously when I’m drafting, and it’s startling how much more focused I feel, even for thirty minutes, when I KNOW I can’t access the internet.

Let’s recap tips for balancing writing and real life!

Be willing to narrow your field of interest to make more time for writing.

Talk to your parents if you feel you’re over scheduled and need more downtime.

Be willing to sacrifice some of your “empty” downtime, like TV, surfing the internet, social networking, etc.

Be honest about your time wasters and use a program like Freedom if necessary to disconnect from the internet.

Make a schedule that will guarantee you a certain amount of writing time each week.

Attach your writing time to activities that rarely change, say, right before or after dinner.

Take advantage of small blocks of time to chip away at your word count or revisions.

Remember that living and thinking and learning and experiencing all count as filling the creative well. When you absolutely can’t write because of your schedule, don’t feel guilty! Enjoy the moment you are in and trust that it’s all contributing to your bank of experiences – which will only make your writing better your whole life through.

I hope this helps!

It’s hard to believe, but next week is our last week on the Young Writers series. We’ll be talking about Rowing Your Own Boat (What To Do If the People Around You Don’t Take You Seriously). Of course, you can always leave questions in the Comments section and I’ll do my best to answer them.

In the meantime, I hope you’ve all had a chance to pick up LIES I TOLD. I have been totally blown away by the response to this book (see my post about Kirkus’s tweet!), and I’m very excited to share it with you.

<3

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04/15/15 Uncategorized , Young Writers Series # , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Young Writers Series Week Six; Agents and Editors (What They Do and Why We Need Them)

Welcome back to the Young Writers series! I seem to be running at least a day late every week, but this week I have a great excuse; LIES I TOLD released last Tuesday!!! I’ve been super busy with interviews and blog tours and promotion. Things are starting to calm down a bit, which is a good thing. I love talking to readers, but my favorite part is still the writing. I’m happy to be back in my office working this week.

Last week on the Young Writers Series we talked about how to sell your book. I took you through the process step by step, from getting an agent to revising to “subbing” to editors. This week we’re getting into the nitty-gritty of agents and editors, namely what they do and why we need them.

Let’s talk about agents first.

If you read last week’s post, How Do I Sell My Book, you know that you really must have an agent if you want to sell to any of the big traditional publishing houses. They just don’t accept unagented manuscripts anymore. And even if your favorite aunt is the CEO at HarperCollins, you’ll STILL want an agent. Here’s why.

There are good agents and there are GREAT agents. A great agent (which I so happen to have, luck me!) will work through edits with you before submission. Not every agent wants to do this, and that’s okay. But very, very few never-before-published authors are going to hit it out of the park on their first try. Even after you’ve edited your book multiple times and hired an outside editor, odds are good that your book will still need some work if you want to put your best foot forward. I saw this firsthand when I tried to sell what was my second finished book. I had a different agent back then, and we did very, very little work on the book before sending it out to editors. Nine months later, it hadn’t sold and I made the decision to find an agent who was more hands-on with editorial feedback. Fast forward to Prophecy of the Sisters and the TEN MONTHS I spent in revisions with my current agent and you get a three-day pre-empt from Little Brown and a deal that was much bigger than anything I had expected. That just wouldn’t have happened if I’d gone out with my first version of the manuscript. It can be maddening to work through revisions on the front end, but it’s almost always worth it.

Once you begin to sub, a great agent will have street cred that will get your manuscript read faster, and they will also be able to negotiate terms that are favorable to you when it comes to royalty rates, bonuses, geographic rights (some books sell World rights, but if you sell World English instead, your agent may be able to sell your book’s subsidiary rights to a foreign market, and that money goes straight to you instead of toward your publisher’s advance). They will have a good handle on the personalities of various editors and what it might be like to work with them, and they will know which publishers are more likely to follow through on marketing promises (something that matters in a big way). They will continue to be a liaison between you and your editor if anything tricky arises, i.e. deadline related issues, marketing problems and questions, payment concerns, etc.

And none of this ends with your agent. Assuming your agent works for an established agency, you will have lots of legal counsel backing you up. In addition, publishers value their relationships with great agencies, and they will work hard to insure that both you AND your agency are happy with the way you’re treated.

Once your book is sold and settled in its new home, a great agent will guide your career and advise you about long-term strategy. The publishing industry is rapidly changing, and timing plays an important role in how well a book is received. I’ve often had two or more ideas in the queue at a time, and it’s been invaluable for me to pitch them all to my agent and get his feedback on which one has the best chance of selling in the current market.  Great agents also have film and TV connections that can be beneficial to you. In addition to writing books that have sold into traditional publishing, I’ve also written for ABC and have worked-for-hire on books with two other publishers. I’ve collaborated with a well-known adult writer on a YA project, something that was made possible because my agent heard the author was looking for a partner, and I’ve written for an app company. Even if you’re not interested in any of these avenues right now, the publishing process can be fickle and SLOW. You won’t always get paid on time, and sometimes you won’t sell a book, even after you’ve been published. Having an agent with widespread connections can gain you off-the-beaten track opportunities that will help pay your bills during the lean times.

In short, the 15% I pay my agent is MORE THAN WORTH IT. I have never begrudged him a cent, because he works incredibly hard for me. He brings game changing expertise and experience to the table, and I have made back that 15% a hundred time over because of his role in my career.

Once your book is sold, the majority of your communication about the project will be directly with your editor. He or she will send you revisions, introduce you to marketing and publicity at the publishing house, and be your main contact for everything related to the book they’ve acquired.

A great editor is one who both understands your vision for the project (hopefully this is a given if they’ve bought your book) and one who will push you to make it the best it can be within that framework. An editor isn’t going to give you all the answers. They’re going to tell you the problems and trust YOU to come up with the answers. This doesn’t mean you can’t run things by them, but you shouldn’t expect them to tell you how to do your job.

Their job is finding potential problems. Yours is to fix them.

A great editor makes all the difference in the finished product of your book, and a great finished product is the best insurance policy you can get in terms of your long term career. A great editor will bring out your manuscript’s potential by guiding you through more revisions with a flexible hand. This matter because once your book has sold, you can expect at least one more round of fairly significant revisions, and maybe more.

Beyond the actual editing, a great editor is someone who LOVES YOUR WORK. He or she believes in you as a writer and wants to see you succeed. They can be your fiercest advocate at the publishing house, fighting for marketing dollars, turning down covers that are less than stellar, and campaigning to buy more of your work. If they really want to keep working with you, they will often engage in a dialog about what they might like to see from you next, giving you a better chance of selling another book to that publishing house.

So as you can see, agents and editors provide a unique set of skills that will help you with both your writing and your long-term career. In my mind, the value they add isn’t even in question, at least not with traditional publishing.

But it’s a two way street. Here are some things you can do to be a good client (to your agent) and employee (to your editor);

1. Keep your communication concise and professional unless and until you know each other well enough to discuss personal matters.

2. Let feedback on your manuscript settle before responding. It’s easy to sound snippy in an email when you’re feeling defensive about your work. And snippy isn’t professional.

3. Be willing to hear your agent and editor out in matters where you might disagree. Remember that they have their area of expertise, and you have yours.

4. Be on time. Try not to take license with the fact that you’re in a creative field. Few employees can get away with being consistently late and plan to keep their job for any length of time. Treat your professional commitments like the promises they are (barring some kind of catastrophe, which does happen now and again) and you will gain the good will of your agent and editor, as well as a reputation for being easy to work with.

5. Never, ever badmouth your agent or editor. If you’re not happy and a friend asks for feedback, you can be honest privately about your experience, but it’s just not professional to badmouth a colleague in ANY business.

6. Know when it’s time to be a team player. Like all businesses, publishing requires that everyone work together. There will be times that you won’t like how things are going. You may be angry about the amount of marketing given to your book (especially if you were promised more), about your cover design, about the amount of conferences (or lack thereof) in which you’re asked to participate. There’s a time to push back on issues like these and others like them and a time to be a team player. Once your editor makes it clear THIS is your cover, for example, there is often NOTHING you can do to change it. You can ask, but if they say something like, “We feel strongly this is the right cover, so we’re going to go out with it and see how it goes,” that means the decision has been made, and the best thing you can do for your career AND your book is plug that book (and its cover) for all you’re worth, be gracious about it, and hope for the best. Being openly angry won’t help you once the decision is made (or before, for that matter, when a calm discussion is in order).

Join me next week for Keeping the Balls in the Air (How to Juggle School, Social Life, and Writing).

And I hope you’ll all pick up a copy of LIES I TOLD! I’ve spent the last couple of years really focusing on craft, and I’ve gotten so many emails and comments and reviews saying this is my best book yet. I’m excited to share it with you guys!

<3

 

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04/07/15 Contests & Giveaway , Uncategorized # , , , , , , , , , , , ,

It’s LIES I TOLD Release Day!

It’s LIES I TOLD Release Day!

And YOUR chance to win tons of amazing goodies.

😉

This book is so important to me, and while I’m going to do a longer blog post tomorrow about the thematic elements and why I believe Grace is someone everyone can identify with (even if you haven’t been adopted by a “family” of scheming con artists), today I just want to say….

YAY! Yay for me and yay for all of you who have helped and supported me through the years. I’m lucky to feel like I “know” so many of my readers. When I sign into social media, it’s often like entering a giant coffee klatch where everyone is cheering each other on, celebrating the good times and propping each other up during the bad.

Writing has been a lifesaver for me in more ways than one. Aside from being the only source of income for my family (I’m a single mom), it also serves as a distraction from my often persistent inner demons. No matter how depressed or anxious or sad or sacred I get, writing is always there to get me out of my own head. And sometimes, that’s the only cure for what ails me.

Anyway, this is all just to say… thank you. Thank you for buying my books and spreading the word and sharing my posts online and propping me up when the going gets tough. In the coming days, I’ll be posting specific ways you can help this book succeed, this heartfelt book that has FOUR out of FOUR stellar trade reviews, including a star from Kirkus (hint for now; buy it, review it, tell your friends about it).

Now let’s talk swag.

😉

Those of you who have been with me awhile  know that I am (*cough*) kind of famous for giving good swag. And while change is usually a good thing, I kind of want to keep my swag creed, thank you very much.

With that in mind, I’m offering up THREE awesome prizes;

photo-29First Prize; a $250 Visa gift card or gift card to the bookstore of your choice (gift cards are not pictured since I don’t know which one the winner will want), Victoria’s Secret bath gel and body lotion, tropical inspired nail polish and candy, grapefruit lip balm, a bookmark, peacock pocket mirror, and an entire library of my signed, currently published books (Prophecy of the Sisters trilogy, A Temptation of Angels, This Wicked Game, and LIES I TOLD).

Second Prize; a $100 Visa gift card or gift card to the bookstore of your choice, Victoria’s Secret bath gel and body lotion, tropical inspired nail polish and candy, grapefruit lip balm, a bookmark, peacock pocket mirror, and an entire library of my signed, currently published books (Prophecy of the Sisters trilogy, A Temptation of Angels, This Wicked Game, and LIES I TOLD).

Third Prize; Tropical inspired nail polish and candy, grapefruit lip balm, a bookmark, peacock pocket mirror, an entire library of my signed, currently published books (Prophecy of the Sisters trilogy, A Temptation of Angels, This Wicked Game, and LIES I TOLD) PLUS a signed ARC of PROMISES I MADE, sequel to LIES and the final book in Grace Fontaine’s story (out in November of this year).

photo-30You can enter in so many ways, all of them centered around helping me spread the word about LIES I TOLD. You can do simple things like share the link to this giveaway or a link to the LIES WE TOLD video. You can change your Twitter picture to the cover or write a lie on a tiny piece of paper and hide it somewhere, then post the picture with the hashtag (see photo of mine), each  for FIVE entries. You can do some of the things once a day for the duration of the giveaway (earning up to 30 entries if you do them every day), and others will earn you as many as FIVE entries in one shot. Basically, you can do as much or as little as you want! You MUST use #LiesITold on all Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Tumblr entries for them to count. You also must be following me on those sites if you post there. Contest runs through May 7th at Midnight EST and is open to residents of the US and Canada. The Lies video mentioned as an entry option will be up later today.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck, you guys! I can’t wait to see all your posts (and keep your eyes out for mine, because I plan to leave some lies around, too…)

<3

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04/06/15 Uncategorized , Writing , Young Writers Series # , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Young Writers Series Week Five; How Do I Sell My Book?

Welcome to this week’s installment of the Young Writer’s series. I missed last week completely! I was so slammed with launch stuff for LIES I TOLD (out tomorrow, you guys! Please pick up a copy!), plus a deadline on another book, that I kept meaning to catch up and just never did. So we’ll call this Week Five and get back on track.

🙂

Last week we talked about outside advice; how to make it work for you and how to know if you should take it when offered.

This week we’re talking about the nitty-gritty of selling your book. For most writers, publication is the goal through all the late writing nights, crippling self-doubt, and endless revisions that make up the process of writing. If it’s not, that’s totally okay! There is a lot to be said for doing something just for the joy of it.

But if you want to see your book published, this post is for you.

The sales process in publishing is a lot longer and more involved than most people realize. Some of it is dependent on the type of publishing you choose (see Week Two in this series), but for our purposes here, we’re going to focus on selling your book to large traditional publishers like HarperCollins, RandomHouse, Scholastic, Little Brown, , Simon and Schuster, and Penguin.

First of all, you need a finished manuscript. Yes, finished. Unless you’re writing non-fiction or have published books before in your genre, a partial probably isn’t going to cut it. So before you do anything else, finish your book, revise it, give it to a beta reader or editor, and revise it some more. I know it’s tempting to cut corners on the editing side. You finished a whole book! You want to see it on the shelves of a bookstore! But you won’t usually have a chance to resubmit to an agent or editor once they reject a certain project, so you don’t want to go out with less than your best work. Polish it until you literally can’t go any further with it on your own.

Once you have a complete manuscript, you need to look for an agent. Some people don’t think you need an agent, and while there might be room for discussion in some areas, you DEFINITELY need an agent if you plan to sell to traditional publishing. None of the big publishers accept unaccented manuscripts, and neither do most of the small ones. And that’s just for starters. There are TONS of other reasons, which I’ll save for next week’s topic, Agents and Editors (What They Do and Why We Need Them). For now, let’s operate on the assumption that you trust me on this.

😉

The best way to look for an agent is to find out who represents your favorite books and/or subscribe to the Deal Report at Publisher’s Marketplace (it was $20/month when I sold Prophecy. It might be a bit more now). Through the deal report you can search recent deals in your genre to make sure the agent your interested in has a solid track record of selling books like yours. This is important, because anyone can hang out a shingle and call themselves an agent. You want someone with a proven track record of selling consistently. Have you ever heard the saying, “A bad agent is worse than no agent?” No? Well, you have now, and it’s true. Hold out for someone great. If you query thirty agents with fantastic track records and none of them feel confident that they can sell your book, it might mean the book isn’t ready or the timing isn’t right. Go to work on another project, even if you choose to query less experienced agents. It will keep you sane and will give you something else to sell in the event your first book doesn’t. Plus, I think you’ll be surprised by how much you’ve learned and grown since your last book.

Before querying you’ll need the following (in addition to your finished manuscript);

1. A query letter – this is a one page letter (you can find examples online) explaining why you’re querying this particular agent (they want to know you’ve done your homework and querying them because you genuinely think they’d be a good fit for the project – not just because you’re querying every agent known to man or woman), a brief paragraph or two about your book, and a closing that provides the word count and an offer to send a partial or full. Most agents will request a partial before they request the full manuscript. This could be a ten page partial or a fifty page partial or anything in between. Sometimes they’ll just request a synopsis, which brings me to my next point. But first, here’s my query letter for Prophecy of the Sisters, aka Indigo Sky, and the book that started it all and got me the agent I still have today;

 

June 20, 2007

AGENT NAME
AGENT ADDRESS
CITY, STATE, ZIP CODE

ATTENTION: AGENT NAME

Dear NAME OF AGENT,

I came across your name while researching potential agents for my YA novel. Your interest in fantasy and work with a paranormal edge makes me believe you might be a good fit for my YA Gothic fantasy, INDIGO SKY

It’s 1890 and sixteen-year-old Lia Milthorpe is at war with the person she loves most – her twin sister.

Alice and Lia are orphans reeling from the mysterious death of their father in the forbidden chamber known as the Dark Room. Immediately after his death, Lia begins having dreams in which she travels the skies at will while her body lies sleeping. But the dreams are not nearly as strange as the symbol blooming on her wrist – that of a snake entwined circle known as the Jorgumand.

Lia soon discovers that Sonia, a young psychic, bears nearly the same Mark. When Sonia shares with Lia the biblical tale of the Watchers, they begin a quest to solve a series of riddles found in a primordial book called The Book of Chaos. If Lia cannot solve the puzzle before her sister, she will lose more than her sanity, she will lose her very life – and bring about the apocalypse foretold in mythological legend the world over. Her journey takes her to the shadowy Astral Plane, to the nether reaches of the spirit world, and to the face of evil itself.

INDIGO SKY is complete at 78,000 words. I welcome the opportunity to send it at your request.

Warmest regards,

Michelle Zink

EMAIL ADDRESS

CONTACT PHONE NUMBER

 

Simple, right?

2. A synopsis – I advise having that synopsis prepared, a basic one page synopsis that gives a high level explanation of the events in your book, and a four to five page synopsis that is much more detailed. Don’t be coy here. The agent wants to know what’s really going on in the book and more or less how it ends. I’m giving you guys the goods by also including my one-page Synopsis for Prophecy of the Sisters below;

 

Indigo Sky – Synopsis

Sixteen-year-old Lia Milthorpe’s life is in danger from the person she loves most – her twin sister.

It’s 1890 and Lia and Alice Milthorpe are orphaned twins reeling from the mysterious death of their father and working to cheer their crippled younger brother, Henry. After their father’s sparsely attended funeral, they return two days a week to Wycliffe, a private school for wealthy girls, and attempt to settle into some kind of normalcy.

But Lia’s reality begins to unravel with sensory-rich dreams that occur more and more frequently, bringing with them a winged demon that chases her through the velvet sky of her nightmares. The dreams are followed by the discovery of an unusual mark on the inside of her wrist – that of a serpent devouring its own tail. The strange happenings make Lia long to confide in her sister, but Alice becomes more and more withdrawn, and Lia resolves to find the answers on her own.

But it is only when James discovers an ancient tome entitled “Librum Maleficii et Disordinae”, or “The Book of Chaos”, that Lia begins to understand the timeless battle of which she is a part – the battle between the demonic Lost Souls, fallen angels of the biblical Watchers, and those who try to shield the physical world from their reappearance.

The Prophecy outlined in the Book dictates that the battle continues through a long line of sisters. In each generation one sister is the Guardian, and one the Gate. The Guardian is tasked with shielding the physical world from the reappearance of the Souls. The Gate is the pathway back that will begin the Seven Plagues outlined in the biblical Book of Revelations.

Lia becomes certain she is the Guardian and her sister the Gate. When she discovers that a beautiful young psychic and an outcast from Wycliffe both bear the Mark, the three girls set out to unravel the Prophecy’s riddle and discover how they might guard the world from The Gate. The task is great enough – and is made greater still when Lia discovers the truth hidden in the Prophecy’s riddle.

A truth that will call into question everything she believed she knew about her sister – and herself.

And now there is so much more at stake, for if Lia cannot find before her sister the Keys foretold in the Prophecy, she may lose more than her sanity. She may lose her very life – sacrificing the lives of those she loves most in the process.  Her journey takes her to the shadowy Astral Plane of the Otherworlds, to the nether reaches of the Spirit World, and to the face of evil itself.

 

These are the query and synopsis’s that started my career. I hope they help you, young writers!

Now, once you have agent, that agent should take you through some revisions on your book. Even when we think our books are perfect, they’re rarely ready to sell the first time out the gate, even if you’ve revised with an editor or reader. A good agent has their finger on the marketplace and will know how to tweak your manuscript so it’s in the best position to sell. Once you’re through revisions with your agent, the book goes out “on sub” or on submission. This means your agent is sending it to editors he or she knows that are looking for your type of project. This is excruciatingly painful for the author. You’ve finally done it! You’re book is on sub! It could sell any minute!

Except it probably won’t. Most editors will take at least a month to get back to your agent, and some will take longer. You MIGHT get lucky and be in the very tiny percentage of authors whose books sells at auction (more than one house is bidding on the book at a time) or in a pre-empt (one publisher steps up and offers a lot to keep it from going to auction), but most of the time, the process is much slower and less exciting than that.

Work on something else.

Again, it will keep you sane, and it will give you something else to sell if this book doesn’t. Because yes, that’s right; just because you’re on sub doesn’t mean your book will sell. My second book VERY NEARLY sold, but it just didn’t quite make it. While it was on sub, I wrote the book that would become PROPHECY OF THE SISTERS, and the rest is history.

If your agent receives several rejections, he or she may feel it’s time to throw in the towel and start fresh with a new project. This is super devastating, no way around it. Assuming your agent IS a good one (see above), he or she will probably have submitted to somewhere around ten houses, so if someone hasn’t snapped it up by then, the odds are slim that you’re going to get a sell somewhere else, unless you’re willing to go to much smaller presses (which also have much smaller advances and a lot less to offer in terms of marketing – totally okay if you’re okay with it!). This is when it will be handy to have another project waiting in the wings. Most agents will be happy to look at your next project if your first one didn’t sell, assuming you want to stick it out with them. If you don’t, you start the process over with a different agent.

And that’s the process in a nutshell.

That’s quite a nutshell, eh?

😉

Next Week we’ll be back on track with Week Six; Agents and Editors (What They Do and Why We Need Them).

And please remember that LIES I TOLD releases TOMORROW! Ahhhh! It would mean so much to me if you would consider picking up the book and helping me spread the word online. I’m going to put up a giant giveaway tomorrow with tons of awesome stuff (gift cards! a whole signed MZ library! Victoria’s Secret bath products!), so please come back for a visit.

<3

 

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03/25/15 Uncategorized , Writing , Young Writers Series # , , , , , , , ,

Online Young Writers Series Week Four; A Word About Outside Advice

Whew! It’s been kind of crazy around here the last few days, which is why I’m late getting up this week’s installment in the Young Writers series.

Last week we talked about the different kinds of publishing, and the pros and cons of getting your book to readers via traditional publishing, boutique publishing, and self-publishing. You can reference that post here. And feel free to go back and look at the prior week’s entries as well.

This week we’re going to talk about outside advice, because frankly, it’s kind of a mine field.

If you read my post about self-editing you know that I’m a big believer in having an outside editor. Self-editing is meant to be a preliminary step on your way to the having someone else read and critique your work, not the end of the revision process.

But hiring an editor (or asking a friend, if you must go that route), can be tricky. For both of you.

Many times we ask someone to read our work, not with the desire to truly get better, but with the desire for an ego stroke, for someone to tell us our work is awesome except for that typo on page 23. We SAY we want outside criticism, but do we mean it? It’s a question each writer has to ask and answer themselves. And the truth is, if you don’t mean it, you really have no business asking someone else for feedback. It takes A LOT of time and effort to read for someone, and even more time and effort to give constructive feedback. If you’re looking for an ego stroke, you’re wasting everyone’s time (and your money, if you’re paying someone to edit for you). Your reader/editor will spend hours reading and compiling notes to help you make the book better, and you will spend days or weeks or months waiting for said notes. If you ignore everything they say anyway, what’s the point?

You might as well just ask your mom to read for you (providing she’s not a mom like me, who will tell you if it needs a lot of work, whether you like it or not).

Something I hear fairly often from people who hire me to edit for them is, “I like the book fine the way it is. Just give me feedback on the little stuff. I don’t want to change anything big.”

Here’s me when people say that; ………….

Don’t you truly want your book to be the best it can be? If so, you have to be willing to look at the whole picture, because as an experience for the reader, a book is the sum of it’s parts. True story. Do you think the reader is more concerned with a typo than with pacing so slow they can’t finish the book? Or with cliched character development? Or plot holes so big you can drive a semi through them?

I don’t know about you, but when I read a book, those are the things that make or break it. They are the things that make a reader think, “This is so boring” or “Oh, my god… I can’t finish this,” even if they don’t know why.

If you love your book the way it is and aren’t willing to consider feedback about the big and small issues, my advice is to skip the time and money of hiring an editor (and save said editor a lot of frustration) and just run with the book as is.

But I don’t advise it.

On the other side is your editor/reader/friend. I love editor/reader/friends. I’ve been fortunate to have some truly gifted ones, and it’s not an overstatement to say that they have shaped and improved my writing in HUGE ways, and often very, very quickly. In my opinion, nothing makes you better like a tough-love editor who really knows what they’re doing.

And therein lies the rub.

Not everyone who will read for you knows what they’re doing. Some will be willing to read because you’re a friend or relative. Some are readers themselves. But none of those things necessarily qualify someone to shape your project.

It is very, very important that you hire someone (or ask someone) to read/edit for you who has a solid knowledge of craft.

Let me just take a moment to let that sink in.

………….

Ready? Now listen, I understand that not everyone can hire an editor, especially if you’re in high school or college and money is tight, you may HAVE to rely on a friend or peer. But choose your readers carefully anyway. Make sure the friends or peers you ask to read for you have discerning taste in literature, or at the very least, have YOUR taste in literature. If you’ve written a book you would compare to Twilight, don’t ask your best friend to read for you when her favorite book is The Sun Also Rises. And if you’ve written another The Sun Also Rises, you probably shouldn’t ask the friend whose all-time favorite book is Twilight.

Once you’ve chosen someone to read for you, be honest about the type of feedback you’re willing to consider. Honestly, I don’t like editing for writers who aren’t interested in ALL feedback, because my mind automatically processes all the things that need work, and it’s almost impossible to turn parts of that off while leaving other parts on. This is why I prefer working on developmental edits to copyedits — people who hire me for copyedits sometimes get more than they bargained for.

😉

But if you genuinely DON’T WANT developmental feedback, be honest about that up front so your reader doesn’t spend a lot of time putting together notes that you intend to discard anyway.

After your reader is finished and gives you his/her notes, take some time to process everything before you start defending your work. This will be harder than you imagine it to be. Your instinct will likely be to explain all the reasons you did what you did, even though it didn’t work for the reader/editor, or to go into long-winded descriptions of what you were trying to do.

Operative word here? Trying.

If your reader/editor says it doesn’t work for them, it doesn’t work for them, and it may very well not work for others. If you want to have a discussion about what you were trying to do in the context of how you missed the mark and what you can do to ACTUALLY make your point, that’s okay. Sometimes it’s very helpful to brainstorm possible fixes with someone who has read your work.

But here is where you need to check yourself before you wreck yourself; Do you REALLY want to have the discussion to come up with ways to fix the problem? Or is that just a way to justify a discussion in which you defend the work as it is?

It’s an important distinction.

I’ve sold ten book and six novellas now, and I STILL have to fight a knee-jerk reaction against editorial notes. I read through my Ed Letter and think, “That’s not true. I say X right here” and “It’s OBVIOUS she’s scared because of X reason.” It’s a perfectly natural reaction to criticism against something to which you’ve given your heart and soul.

But I’ve learned to let the feedback simmer for a bit. There have been very, very few times in the span of my professional writing career when I’ve started out thinking the editor was wrong and still believed they were wrong three days later. Usually the cycle post-editorial letter goes like this;

Annoyance > Disbelief > Anger > Reflection > Inspiration

I start out annoyed that my editor thinks my project has big problems, move onto denial that they are right, slide into anger that they would dare think all this stuff is wrong, ease into reflection about the truth of their feedback, and then become inspired as ideas begin coming to make the book better.

I’ve learned to save a detailed response to editorial notes for after I’ve hit the Reflection phase. Instead, my initial email response is something like; Thanks so much for your feedback! I’ll give all this some thought and get back to you with any questions.

😉

And the truth is, edits are still terrifying after all these years. I liken it to pulling apart a giant puzzle and hoping you can make all the pieces fit back together again in a way that makes sense. There’s always a little part of me that wonders if I can really do it. But being scared isn’t a valid reason for NOT doing something that will make your book — and your writing — better. In fact (life lesson alert!), I’d say that’s true of everything in life.

What if you’re not sure about the suggested changes? What if they just don’t FEEL right in your writerly bones?

Well, ultimately the decision to change something or not to change it lies with you. Just make sure your desire to leave things as they are is TRULY rooted in the belief that the story is best served that way rather than ego or unwillingness to do the work. Questioning your editor’s credentials now is a little too convenient. You hired them/asked them to read for you because you thought they were the best person for the job (and if you didn’t, you SHOULD, see notes above). What has changed? Are they not the best person for the job because they had criticism for your work?

Hire the best person for the job, then really listen to what they have to say. That’s kind of the point, right? Because you want to be BETTER. In fact you want to get better with every book. I’m still learning, and it’s my favorite part of the process. You don’t WANT to be writing the same kind of book ten years from now that you’re writing now. You want them to get better and better and better.

Right?

The only way to make that happen is to read and write, listen and learn, and most of all, be willing to set your ego aside.

A quick checklist about the editing process;

 

1. Self-edit as much as possible before handing your project to someone else.

2. Choose someone who is somehow qualified to give you the best possible advice, then commit to listening to said advice.

3. Be clear about what you’re hoping to accomplish with your revision.

4. Take some time to process your editor/reader’s notes with an open mind before jumping to defend the way you’ve already done things.

5. Enter with an open mind into any project discussion with your editor/reader.

6. Be willing to do the hard work to make your book the best it can be.

 

Next week we’ll be covering How Do I Sell My Book? (A Step-by-Step Walk Through the Process). Hope to “see” you there!

<3

 

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03/20/15 Life , Uncategorized # , , , , , , ,

Andrew Zink is My Son

Andrew_WhiteHouseAnd today, I couldn’t be more proud.

Many of you have probably heard of the uproar in our town. It’s been covered by NBC News, the Washington Post, and the LA Times, among others. You can look it up online (or on my Facebook feed) if you want to see the news stories, watch the interviews, or listen to Andrew on the radio. Frankly I’m too tired too post links. But the short version of the story is this;

As part of National Foreign Language Week, Pine Bush High School decided they would enlist bi-lingual students to recite the pledge – a different language for every day of the week. This activity was approved by administration. Monday and Tuesday were supposed to be Spanish and Japanese, but the kids who volunteered for those recitations got nervous and decided not to take their turn. On the third day, a very brave young woman named Dana and a teacher met my son, Andrew Zink, in the office as he was preparing to do morning announcements. Andrew is Student Senate President and Senior Class President, and daily announcements are one of his responsibilities. The teacher and student asked Andrew if they could recite the pledge in Arabic instead of English for that day as part of Foreign Language Week. Andrew agreed without hesitation. Dana began reciting the pledge, and immediately students in class began booing and catcalling. At first, Andrew didn’t think it was a huge deal. He assumed some people would be angry – he knows the dynamic of our small rural town – but he didn’t think the backlash would be so great.

Following the Pledge, Dana was harassed at school, called a terrorist and told to “go back to the Middle East.” Andrew wasn’t vilified until he contacted a newspaper. This was seen as traitorous by many in the district, set in a town with deeply racist roots (it’s changing, but not quickly enough) and a history of silence about those issues (in 2012, the NY Times published an article describing systematic abuse of Jewish students and the administrator’s lack of action when confronted with that abuse, a situation that led to a lawsuit against the district and a subsequent public uproar). The anger immediately turned to Andrew for “creating an issue by telling the media” and “talking to the media to get attention.”

I guess if a tree falls and no one is there to hear it, it really DOESN’T make a sound. That was sarcasm.

Now to understand Andrew’s motives, you have to understand Andrew. This is a kid with a deep, deep passion for politics and for his country. He knows more about political history and modern politics than 99% of American adults. He has volunteered on local political campaigns and used to ask me to take him to the town’s Democratic Party (a very small minority, I might add) meetings before he could even drive. He wants to change the country, change the world. The highlight of turning eighteen for him – he could FINALLY vote. And he can’t WAIT. He has plans for a political website geared toward educating young people and making politics understandable and accessible to them. He CARES.

Because of the history in our town, and specifically the town’s tendency to shield problems from attention so that everything looks pretty from the outside, Andrew truly believed that this issue would not prompt change unless a spotlight was shone on it. Even at eighteen, he understood that to be overcome, ignorance and prejudice must first be brought into the light, and he knew from the Jewish discrimination suit that the tendency would be for everyone to pretend it hadn’t happened, to avoid talking about it and just move on.

To some degree, I understand this tendency. Unfortunately, the goals of the school district and people like Andrew, like US, are in some ways opposed. The district not only wants to keep things calm, they NEED to. Jobs depend on it, insurance depends on it. And that’s just for starters. But for students like Andrew, the goal isn’t calm. The goal is growth.

This is a complicated issue.

I don’t want to vilify the district here. I think they are in a very tough position, and I do believe the principal at Pine Bush High School cares, and that he wants to see this growth in the town. . He was damned if he did (“Why did you let a student read the Pledge in Arabic?!”) and damned if he didn’t (“Why WOUDLN’T you let a student read the Pledge in Arabic? What about diversity?!”). I understand why the principal apologized immediately following the Pledge, but I wish he hadn’t. In my view, when you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t, you choose to be damned on the side of right. You COMMIT and let the chips fall where they may. My grandmother would have said, “Make yourself happy. At least then you know one person is.” I will translate that here into, “Do what’s right. Whatever happens, at least you know you did what’s right.” This is how I’ve taught my children. When you’re in doubt, distill everything to one question if at all possible; What is RIGHT?

Then you do THAT. Because it’s right.

In a district that has severe prejudice (and not just against Jewish people or Muslims, but against African Americans and other ethnicities as well), the right thing here is to say, “Look, we know this is going to painful for some of you, but we’re going to support diversity in every way we can. You may not like some of it, but it’s the way it has to be for our district to move into the 21st century, and for our students to be prepared for the global society they will be entering.”

And then you stick with it.

I understand how difficult this is, especially when so much of this deeply rooted prejudice comes from parents who themselves haven’t moved into the 21st century. It’s been interesting to read the tweets coming from former Pine Bush students in support of Andrew. Most of these kids have gone onto college and now have a broader view of the world. I’m not sure some of them would have stood up for Andrew in this situation back when they lived here. But the real world isn’t like this, and they know that now. We do our kids a disservice to let them think that it is.

The saddest part to me has been the hatred and vitriol directed at Andrew and at our family, many of it from adults across the country. Things like this;

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And this;

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That is difficult to see, and difficult for Andrew to see, but whatever he may say when he’s trying to act like it’s no big deal, the hardest part for him has been going to school and seeing former friends turn their backs on him. And while many of his peers support him, others have bombarded him with tweets like these that are well into cyber-bullying territory even after he tweeted that night, “To everyone who disagrees with my decisions, I respect your right to do so and hope we can have a productive conversation. Goodnight PB.”

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Although, for a little levity, I did appreciate this;

 

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Andrew is President of Debate Club. It’s not a bad strategy.

😉

Andrew’s younger sister has not been immune and has been subjected to shouts of, “Fuck Andrew Zink!” when she walks by people in the hall (sorry for the language, it’s ugly, but so is this). I guess it’s okay to shout things like that – as long as we don’t do it in Arabic.

Is this what we do? Turn our backs on people who have a different viewpoint than us? Turn our backs on people who bring light to a situation that needs to be addressed? Is this what we teach our children? I know they’re kids, but many of them are kids we’ve nurtured since childhood, kids who have been welcomed into our home and family. I’m not going to lie; it’s really, really hard to see them publicly bash Andrew for doing what he thought was RIGHT. Because while Andrew has been the subject of these vicious attacks, many of them from ADULTS from all over the country, he has not once attacked someone personally. Instead, he’s made a point of saying that he respects everyone’s opinions and hopes a productive dialog can be had on the issue.

I can only hope the parents in our community use this as a means to discuss the merit of respectful disagreement as opposed to personal, hate-filled rhetoric. Can we keep talking about this? Can we talk to our kids reasonably, without coloring their minds with our own opinions, about why they feel the way they do? About whether those feelings are a result of reason or emotion? About what to with the negative feelings when they have them?

I hope so. I KNOW there are others here who feel the way we do, but I have to admit it sometimes feels like we’re rowing the boat alone.

On the other side, many, many people have been lovely and supportive.

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How did this happen? The truth is, I think Andrew and this issue have become a symbol for a deep-seated prejudice in our country. It’s hit a nerve, and when you hit a nerve, it hurts for a reason.

Many who have questioned Andrew’s motives in going to the media have asked why he did it. The answer, straight from his mouth, is simple; “I’m really just hoping to start a discussion about what being an American is, and what defines being an American.”

That discussion is being had now. I’m receiving emails and tweets from people who are discussing this issue at work and at home, from teachers talking about it in class. This is how change happens, not by hiding the truth in the shadows, but by shining a spotlight on it. That isn’t always comfortable to people (it has not been comfortable for us), but only then can we begin to affect change.

In the end, I can only find comfort in the words of my amazing son.

“It’s not our language that makes us American, it’s our beliefs.”

Amen, son. Amen.

<3

 

 

 

 

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Michelle Zink is the award-winning author of over seven novels. She lives in New York with too many teenagers and too many cats.
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