The Sunday Experiment

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.

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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.

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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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04/08/13 The Sunday Experiment #

The Sunday Experiment – Figuring It Out

For those of you who are wondering, the Sunday Experiment is still on. I logged out of email late Saturday night after staying up until 2am to finish a project — the only way I could justify giving myself the next day off.

And it was so worth it!

I’m finding that I don’t always want to lounge around on Sunday, and that’s okay. I’m trying to remember that it’s a technology free day to do what I want, whatever that may be. Funny how even time “off” can make us feel like we “should” be doing certain things. But yesterday I was in the mood to get some stuff done on our property, so the kids and I pruned our pear and crab apple trees and marked the place where we’re going to build a patio around our makeshift fire pit. Then I watched Supernatural with Caroline while we had lunch (It’s kind of a tradition), took a good long nap, made homemade pizzas, and watched a documentary with the kids.

It was a great day, and as usual after some time off, I hit the ground running today, ready to work. I’m on deadline for an important project, but having time off next Sunday is a big motivator to get a lot done during the week. I’m working four hours a day on Freedom to keep myself off the internet (and typing this blog post with five minutes to go before my nightly two hour writing block). Fingers crossed that will do the trick!

Hope you are all getting some R&R when you need it, too.

<3

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04/01/13 Life , The Sunday Experiment # ,

The Sunday Experiment – Extended Cut

Whew! It’s been awhile! I haven’t done an official Sunday Experiment the past two weeks, mostly because Rebekah was home from college for Spring Break, and I ended up taking a FEW days off over the past ten days. So really, I guess I did a Sunday Experiment — just on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday.

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Even though it’s put me behind a bit, I’m learning to embrace opportunities to take time off. I really do feel energized after stepping away from work — and technology — which makes it easier to view it as a necessity rather than a luxury. After some time off, even if it’s only a Sunday, I just work better and more efficiently.

As part of my mission to be more mindful, I’m slowly learning not to think about work when I’m not doing it. There are some exceptions; during transitional periods, i.e. driving home last night after dropping Rebekah off at school, I might choose to use that time to ease mentally back into work, pondering a plot point on which I’m stuck or a problem I need to solve in my current WIP. But it’s okay, because I’m CHOOSING to use that time rather than feeling like a slave to my unruly mind.

Most of the time, though, I just accept the times I can’t work. In the past, I would obsess about that time I was losing, the work I NEEDED to do. But being mindful is training me to live in the moment. As a result, I enjoy my time off more and come back from it ready to work.

Now we have about seven weeks until Rebekah is home for the summer. I plan to bust it during that time, finishing my current WIP as well as two big edits. Hopefully by then I’ll be ready to handle the challenge of balancing work with the slower, more relaxed pace of summer and the temptation to spend every second with Rebekah while she’s home.

How are you guys doing? Anyone else still with me in taking regular time off and away from technology?

 

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03/18/13 Life , The Sunday Experiment # ,

The Sunday Experiment – Going with the Flow

Sorry for the radio silence last week, you guys. I spent all week working around my house, doing much needed maintenance and repair. I’m rarely in the mood to deal with that kind of stuff, so I figure I should take advantage of it!

This week’s Sunday Experiment was a little different as I had several of Rebekah’s college friends home for the weekend. I knew in advance that I wouldn’t get any writing done, so I decided it was a good opportunity to practice being mindful and just enjoy the deviation from our usual routine. With that in mind, I happily cleaned, cooked, and generally tried to be hospitable without giving too much thought to the work I could be doing. And while it wasn’t textbook time off, it was lovely to be around other people, visit with a friend who came by to chat Saturday night, drink wine, and make good food.

I didn’t text at all because Rebekah was home, I didn’t write, and I didn’t answer emails or check Facebook more than a couple of times. Sometimes rest doesn’t mean sleep, but time away from the obligations that make us feel stressed or pressured. This past weekend was good practice for the next two weekends, which coincide with Spring Break. I know I’ll want to spend some time with Rebekah while she’s home, so I’ll have to find a way to make that my time off.

And speaking of being mindful, I know I said I was going to focus on something new each month to bring my life back into balance, but the truth is, mindfulness just hasn’t become enough of a habit for me to move on from it yet. My goal is to get to a place where it’s the exception for me not to be mindful. Right now, it’s still the rule, so I’ve continued to work on it this month and will do so in April, too, if I still don’t have a handle on it.

Someone asked me on Facebook if focusing on certain components of balance had the opposite effect of my goal in taking time off. That is, instead of being able to relax and just BE, if having something to focus on — like mindfulness — became just another obligation. The answer (for me, at least), is no.

A year ago, I made it a goal to do yoga nearly every day. I made it part of my daily routine, right up there with taking a shower and brushing my teeth in the morning. In the beginning, it was a hassle. But after awhile, it became so much of a habit that now I don’t even think about it. I know I don’t need thirty minutes to get ready even though that’s how long it takes me to shower and get dressed. I need an hour so I can do yoga before showering. And making yoga part of my daily life has made a HUGE difference in how I feel.

I guess that’s my goal with mindfulness, too. So while right now, I still have to remind myself to be in the moment, to look around, to really listen to the people taking to me, I’m hoping that it eventually becomes a habit like yoga.

How about you? Anybody else still with me on the Sunday Experiment? If so, how is it going?

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02/25/13 Life , The Sunday Experiment # ,

The Sunday Experiment – Uphill Battle

The Sunday Experiment – Uphill Battle

You guys… I’m clinging to my Sunday Experiment by a thread.

After working so hard last week (SO HARD) to meet a deadline, I told myself I’d take the whole weekend off. Problem was, I was running on 2 hours sleep from Thursday night and it totally jacked me up. I was in this weird manic, exhausted state where the words of the project I’d finished kept roiling around my head, even when I tried to sleep.

And it lasted all. weekend. long.

Then on Sunday I had another project I had to finish, plus I had to go to town to run an errand (something I normally would have done in advance to protect my Sunday off, but didn’t get to do because of the deadline).

So basically, I had this weird, exhausted, frustrating, sort-of day off that I didn’t fully enjoy.

Part of the problem, I think, is that I was struggling with mindfulness (my focus for February). I couldn’t seem to compartmentalize the things I’d finished and the things I needed to do from the time I needed to relax.

The other part is that I abandoned a lot of the things I’d been prioritizing to take care of myself. I should know by now that the 30 minutes I gain is totally offset by the diminished productivity I feel when I’m not taking care of me.

But I’m NOT giving up. I still have a lot of balls in the air, but I’m really going to work on getting back on track this week, starting with taking care of myself with yoga and meditation, both of which went out the window during last week’s crunch.

And I WILL get my Sunday off this weekend!

How are you guys doing? Is anyone still with me in trying to take one full day a week away from work and social media?

<3

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02/18/13 Life , The Sunday Experiment # ,

The Sunday Experiment – Sidetracked

Welp, this week’s Sunday Experiment was, if not a failure, an experiment in compromise.

After doing the math on a project due this week and realizing there was no way I could finish it if I didn’t work on Sunday, I had to accept the fact that there was no way I was going to get my day off.

I thought about taking it anyway and just dealing with the consequences, but since said consequences might be a project well past its due date, my conscience wouldn’t let me go that route.

At the same time, I didn’t want to blow it off completely. Since taking one day off a week, I can feel myself getting edgy and stressed as I approach the six day mark. I NEED that time, not only to recharge but also to work my best the rest of the week.

So I decided to compromise. I set my normal Sunday Experiment Away Message on email and didn’t check it (except for one email I owed someone) or Facebook/Twitter all day. Then I tried to focus on February’s goal of mindfulness/compartmentalization by really enjoying my morning coffee and the work breaks I took to have lunch with Rebekah, run to the store, and watch a movie with ice cream later that night. In between, I really focused on work.

And while I missed the total break (and I can already tell I’m going to feel it later in the week), I got some work done and the respite from email and social networking was nice. It also reminded me how much more efficiently I work without the distraction of the internet.

Hello, Mac Freedom!

I guess there are times in life when you really CAN’T take the break you need. But working it in most of the time IS a buffer against those times you can’t, and it’s still possible to compromise – even if it’s with yourself. I’m hoping to finish this project by Thursday and may just reward myself by taking a long weekend (gasp!) before starting my next big one.

What about you? Anybody still doing the Sunday Experiment with me? How’s it going?

<3

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02/06/13 Life , The Sunday Experiment # ,

February Focus – Mindfulness

February Focus – Mindfulness

Those of you following the Sunday Experiment know that I’ve been working at finding more balance in my life. After wading my way through two years of near-constant work, it was past time.

Even though I’m only a month into what’s morphed from a simple New Year’s resolution into a year-long project, I can already see that this experiment will probably save my sanity. The scariest thing of all has been realizing how quickly everything can become out of control — and how easy it is to tell ourselves the crazy, hectic lives we lead are NORMAL.

But it doesn’t have to be, and I’m determined to take back my life. In January, I concentrated on taking one day a week off. And when I say off, I mean OFF. No work, no email (not even to peek at my Inbox!), no Facebook, no Twitter, no computer. It sounded like a reasonable goal, but if you’ve been following my Sunday Experiment posts, you know it’s been surprisingly difficult to really take a break. Not because of outside forces, but because I have forgotten how to relax.

I am my own worst enemy. Even as I’ve given myself permission to take one day off a week, my brain will not SHUT UP. It is next to impossible to flip through a magazine, read a book, or watch a movie without a constant stream of thought in my head. And I realized that when this little voice is playing, it’s usually not even to expand on what I’m doing at any given moment. It’s to think about things that happened yesterday (or last month), to contemplate what I’ll do the next day when I go back to work, to strategize mentally about my career, sometimes projecting myself a year or more into the future.

I started thinking about it and realized this is a problem of mindfulness. Not surprisingly, mindfulness is a core tent of Buddhism, a philosophy that rings more and more true for me every day. In Buddhism we’re instructed to set aside thoughts of yesterday and worries of tomorrow to be fully present in the moment.

What IS surprising is that this idea mimics another, more businesslike concept; compartmentalization. When I worked in an office, one of my bosses once commented how good I was at compartmentalizing. I had four kids at home (all of them under the age of eight). I worked through an entire pregnancy in a male-dominated field and didn’t tell anyone until I was four months along, even though I suffered from crippling morning sickness and had to drive with my boss to innumerable client meetings pretending to be fine. It didn’t matter if I’d had a fight with my then-husband or if I’d been up late with a sick baby, every morning I got up, went to the gym, and showed up to work with a smile.

And my boss was right; compartmentalization was key. When I was at work, I couldn’t afford to think about what was happening at home, if I was missing something, if the kids were okay. My time at home was precious, making it easier to set aside problems of work for the few hours a day I actually got to enjoy my family.

I like to think that mindfulness is a kinder, gentler form of compartmentalization. It’s something we should learn in the spirit of being more fully present in every moment rather than something we do to “deal with” the extraordinary demands of life gone crazy.

And it’s surprisingly hard.

Even though I’ve actively practiced mindfulness in the past, it is HARD to be in the moment. The mind is unruly child. It wants to watch TV, eat junk, and stay up late when what it really needs is silence, healthy food, and a solid eight hours of sleep.

But this month, I’m really working on it. Because a day off – or a month or a year – isn’t going to do me any good if I can’t turn off the noise and really be in a given moment. So in February, my goal is to be PRESENT. It’s to really feel the steering wheel under my hands when I drive, really notice the beauty of the snow-covered fields around me. It’s to LISTEN to my children when they talk to me instead of thinking about what I have to do when they’re done. It’s to enjoy the feel of the wooden spoon in my hand when I’m stirring this week’s batch of homemade soup, to smell the rosemary and sage, to really take in the feeling of comfort it all brings.

Sounds easy, right? I’m betting it won’t be at first, but like everything with the Sunday Experiment, I think it will pay off in spades.

What about you? Do you find it’s difficult to really be in the moment in this crazy world? Is it something you notice? Ir is it just a way of life at this point?

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02/04/13 Life , The Sunday Experiment , Uncategorized # ,

The Sunday Experiment – Balance

The Sunday Experiment – Balance

A month into the Sunday Experiment and I realize how truly fucked up my head is.

It is HARD for my brain to take a break from writing, thinking about writing, worrying about writing, etc. for even one day. Even without checking email (which I didn’t do for the second Sunday in a row), Facebook, and Twitter, I caught myself obsessing over writing-related things several times throughout the day. I had to forcibly move my mind away from it, which tells you how how of control – and out of balance – my life has become.

Basically, this frog is better at relaxing than I am.

I was halfway through my yoga routine – something I usually LOVE – when I realized that I just wasn’t feeling it. I was trying to hurry and get into the shower so I could have lunch with the kids and watch The French Connection (something Kenneth and I had planned to do). So why was I forcing myself to do yoga ON MY DAY OFF?

I had to consciously give myself permission to skip it, because while I usually see it as a critical part of my everyday routine, taking one day a week off IS OKAY. Right?!

Which is why the Sunday Experiment has made it clear that time off is only a small part of the problem. The real problem is one of balance.

In short; I’m out of whack. And I haven’t even realized it, because somewhere along the line, out of whack became normal. So I’ve decided to turn the Sunday Experiment into a year-long quest for balance, focusing on one component every month. January was about giving myself one day a week completely away from work and technology and the demands thereof.

In February, I’ll focus on Mindfulness, because I’ve realized what a huge problem it is for my noisy mind. I’ll post more about that later this week. In the meantime, I’d love to hear about the things that make balance difficult for you to obtain. Is it juggling work with family? Over-scheduled kids? Getting enough sleep? Eating right when you’re busy?

Share your challenges in the Comments section and I’ll choose ten issues that speak to me, too – one for each month March through December.

We’re going to make balance our bitch. In a Zen sort of way, of course.

<3

 

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01/28/13 Life , The Sunday Experiment , Uncategorized , Writing # ,

The Sunday Experiment – Week Two

The Sunday Experiment – Week Two

This week’s Sunday Experiment was… interesting. I was expecting a day reveling in my free time, enjoying every last second cut off from email, social networking and writing.

And I DID have a lovely day. I even took pictures to prove it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But there was a side effect. I sometimes felt edgy, nervous and distracted by my inability to check email. I don’t think I noticed it as much last week, because I was busy a good part of the day helping Rebekah move back into her dorm (and I hadn’t initiated the email embargo). This week, I’d arranged to be home, and there were definitely times when I was jonesing to check email, Facebook, or to write.

A hazard of loving what you do!

Still, I forced myself to stay off my computer (didn’t open it once!), taking the fact that it was difficult for me to do so as proof that I really NEED to learn to do it.

I feel that way in meditation a lot, too, especially when I go to meditation practice and we have longer, 20-30 minute sits. It’s like I’m trying to claw my way out of my own mind. At times like that, I tell myself, “You can’t run from yourself,” and force myself to be still. It’s not always easy – or to be honest, even pleasant – but I think we SHOULD be able to be still in our own minds. The fact that it is difficult makes me realize how desperately I need to cultivate that ability, because if we can’t retreat into our own minds now and then, how screwed are we?

And just taking this one day a week has made me realize how terribly out of balance I’ve been. That has to change if I want to be healthy in mind, body, and spirit – and I DO.

This week’s lessons learned;

1) Not logging into email helped a lot, even though there were times I was dying to check it. I set an away message late Sunday night letting people know I’d get back to them Monday, and that prevented me from worrying that everyone would think I was a flake for not replying right away. Also, because a lot of people knew I was doing the Sunday Experiment, I was pleasantly surprised by how many people went out of their way to honor it, telling me in advance that they would send me interview questions on Monday (thank you, Nazarea!) and that they would talk to me about specific things then. So I think telling people Sunday is your “day off” helps them recognize the boundary, too.

2) I’ve been working a lot – but not working smart because I’ve been more burned out than I realized. After last week’s Sunday off, I felt really ready to tackle that week’s tasks, and I hit the ground running on Monday. Knowing I had a day off coming, I planned to tackle certain things during the week so I’d be somewhat clear on Sunday (because let’s face it, we’re never *really* in the clear). One of the things I did to work smarter was to start using Freedom again when I wrote during the week. And let me tell you, I am always SHOCKED by what a difference it makes. My head just feels clearer, my mind more focused knowing I can’t log into the internet. I ended up getting way more done last week than usual. That made me feel proud and relieved and more like I DESERVED a day off.

3) Even fun things can be not fun when you have too much on your plate. If you remember, last week, I vowed to plan a couple of nice things for myself to do on Sunday. I ended up with the following list; have a leisurely morning, watch The New World with the kids while we ate lunch, make homemade pizza, take a couch nap, and play Scrabble with Caroline. I managed to do it all — and I enjoyed it! — but there were times when I felt rushed to cram it all in. When Caroline asked if we could make Scrabble a Sunday tradition, I forced myself to tell her we would have to see. Scary how easy it is to slip into overscheduling even a day off! Next week, I’ll think of one or two things I want to do and play the rest by ear.

But it was SO NICE to have all that time away from writing and from the computer, even if I sometimes did feel like an addict looking for a fix. I spent the morning drinking coffee and reading magazines, made homemade apple pancakes with Greek yogurt (will post the recipe for you guys this week), did yoga, watched The New World in the middle of the afternoon (an afternoon movie felt like the epitome of luxury), took a nap, made pizza, watched a documentary with the kids, and played Scrabble with Caroline. Then I meditated and read before bed.

One upside to jonesing for work is that I woke up today READY to get shit done. I’ve already knocked a bunch of stuff off my to-do list. That forced down time made me appreciate the time I have to work.

Plus, I want to get as much done as possible before next week’s Sunday Experiment.

What about you? Did you take the day off? If so, what how did you spend your day? if not, what are the challenges facing you in finding downtime?

<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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