5 Years in Publishing: A Reflection

being-a-good-writerYesterday was my 5 Year Publishing Anniversary (or “Pubiversary” as some of us call it. Authors are allowed to make up words, right?). The day was a busy one for unrelated reasons, so I didn’t get to celebrate as I should have. But five years is a long time, and my celebration will come in the form of reflection.

The last five years might as well have been fifty for how much has changed for me as a direct result of publishing my work.

Let’s back up further, to 2000. I was watching TV with my husband (we weren’t married yet, though; not until the following year). A single line popped into my head: “It was raining the day I buried my wife.” Depressing, right? But if you’re a creative type, like me, depressing ideas often become opportunities. I was struck with the overwhelming certainty I was meant to write this line down, and more, that this line would become the beginning of a novel. Now, I had been writing since I was in the second grade. I’d won awards for my stories, and was known for being the girl who’s “imagination would get her in trouble one day.” (For the record, it got me in trouble more than a few times). But I was notorious for never finishing anything I wrote, except short pieces. No matter how much world building or planning I’d do, I was great at starting, okay at the middle, but a complete failure at tying it together into an ending. Endings were scary. Endings required commitment in a very final way.

Worse, like most writers, I was a perfectionist. Nothing was ever good enough. And I had no one to tell me nothing ever would be. I had to learn that on my own.

I’ve written before about how St. Charles at Dusk, which started with the line above, took me over a decade to write. If you’ve read the book, you’re probably asking:  How?? The answer requires an essay of its own, but the short explanation is perfectionism and crippling self-doubt. Two things authors are intimately familiar with.

Then one day my husband came across some articles on Amanda Hockett and her success in self-publishing and encouraged me to give it a shot. Up to that point, when I thought of self-publishing I envisioned the middle aged man with boxes of his magnum opus sitting in the garage, waiting for him to drive around and peddle them to random strangers. Obviously, things had changed if a young girl could sell over a million books without anyone in the industry guiding her. This was a chance to get my work out there, without the stress of finding an agent or a publisher. A toe in the water. What did I have to lose?

Nothing, as it turned out. Instead, I had everything to gain.

10608594_10204384390957197_7459378025498670569_o (1)Outside of a few Google searches, I knew absolutely nothing about self-publishing. I had no idea where to even start, and, at the time, I didn’t know any other authors (nor did I have a clue where to find them). I met a designer (referred to me by a friend) for coffee and tried to articulate the book and my vision for it, and failed miserably. He ended up designing a stunning cover, but it wasn’t what I was looking for, and I blame myself. Learning to articulate my work clearly and concisely was a skill that would come later. But it was a professional cover, and I published St. Charles at Dusk with it.

Formatting took me weeks to get right. I must have ordered ten proof copies before getting it passably correct. Figuring out where my books should be published (outside of the obvious choice of Amazon) was another mountain. My sanity was tested.

305064_249627531745014_118012210_n.jpgAnd then, on September 26th, 2011, I released St. Charles at Dusk to the wide world. No fanfare beyond a few excited friends and family members (I remember who supported me in those early days, and I love you all so much for it). Holding my own book in my hands for the first time is a feeling I cannot begin to describe, so won’t even try. If I got tagged in a “5 Best Moments of Your Life” post, that would be on there for sure.

Then… nothing. I had no clue how to market my work to anyone beyond my contacts, and my built-in humility made it hard to do even that. In 2011, I made exactly $53.24 (while I couldn’t sell books, I’m an ace at financial tracking). I’m fairly certain I could attach names to every one of those sales, too.

The first half of 2012 was no different. In fact, I made less. $49.50. I marketed the book exactly zero times, and the excitement I had in late 2011 from this accomplishment died from “I’m an author,” to “I published a book once.” I would daydream about the next book, but the ideas never made it to the page. I was The Queen of Concepts.

Then, as always, I participated in National Novel Writing Month. I had a trip to Turkey and Morocco planned for late November, so I knocked out the entire required 50,000 words in twenty days. And I loved the story! It wasn’t exactly a sequel to St. Charles at Dusk (which was meant to be a standalone, but I found I couldn’t bear to leave that world). In fact, it felt like a beginning to something more. The Storm and the Darkness was, in my own way, a love letter to introverts. Ana Deschanel and Jonathan St. Andrews were my best attempt to show the world what it is to feel isolated and awkward, and to search for your place in the world. It was also the true start to what became The House of Crimson & Clover Series.

I didn’t touch the manuscript again until early 2013. I’d been laid off at work, and I needed something to keep me busy. I started blogging, mostly about travel and Tolkien topics, and met some amazing people, many of whom I’ve continued friendships with into today. I met other writers. I started to get a broader view of the industry beyond the small piece I occupied by myself. Inspired by being around other artists and rediscovering a sense of purpose, I dusted off The Storm and the Darkness and published it in June of 2013, a month after starting my new job.

Before, I’d told myself it was too difficult to balance a full time career in the outside world with a career in the writing world. Now, I was determined to ride this newfound excitement and momentum and prove myself wrong.

Flourish came in August of 2013. The Illusions of Eventide followed in December. Shattered in February of 2014, and then another four titles that same year. In 2013 I made hundreds of dollars. In 2014, thousands. Somewhere between Darkness and Flourish, I started learning Photoshop and began to design my own covers, which was an evolution in itself. Inspired by my good friend Becket, who had learned to design his own as well, I decided I could do anything I put my mind to, and if I practiced enough, I could do it well.

11215768_10207522698732930_466527202291173829_nIn 2014 I was invited to be a featured author at Anne Rice’s Undead Con in New Orleans. I was invited back in 2015. I had a chance to speak with Anne personally and tell her what her work had meant to me, and how she had inspired my work almost more than any other author.

Somewhere between those two events, Christopher Rice (another one of my favorite authors) picked up The Storm and the Darkness and declared it one of his favorite books, much to my incredible shock. He featured it as a Favorite Read on his Dinner Party Show.  I still don’t know how this happened. It still takes my breath away.

I busted my ass and by the start of 2015 I had nine titles.  But what I did not have was a solid marketing strategy.

JPG (3)Around this time, I finally envisioned the design that would define my brand. I spent endless hours redesigning my series, my website, my marketing materials. I began to understand that the reason I struggled to market before was that I was inconsistent in how I saw my work, and that included picking a genre and sticking with it. By focusing my brand into something others could see and recognize as mine, I was able to target the readers who should be reading my work.

In 2015, I published seven more titles. I became an Amazon Bestselling Author for the first time on my own (several times), and hit the USA Today list twice in anthologies. My sales went from four to five figures. I started to get emails daily from readers instead of monthly. I began to see the impact my work could have on others. My income moved from the four digits into the five. I was able to re-invest back in my business and grow it further.

Now, in 2016, five years after I hit publish with shaking hands, I have 22 titles under my name. I’m beginning to branch outside of The House of Crimson & Clover, and I now have a system that works- for writing, getting a book to market, and getting it before readers. And despite all that, I know I still have so much more to learn.

13882180_1170319926342432_3625113080758297289_n.jpg

The accomplishments I’m most proud of in 5 years:

  • Hitting publish for the first time. This required more bravery than anything I’ve ever done.
  • Learning to design my own graphics work and creating a brand design that I’m absolutely in love with, still, almost two years later.
  • Being a featured author at the Anne Rice Undead Con in New Orleans twice.
  • Hitting #18 in the overall Amazon store on my own. Also hitting the Top 100 four times on my own.
  • Hitting #3 in the Barnes & Noble store on my own.
  • Hitting the USA Today Bestseller’s list three times in anthologies.
  • Having Christopher Rice feature my work and continue to call me one of his favorite authors.
  • Charles at Dusk made it to the quarter-finals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest.
  • I both met and exceeded the business goals I set for myself in 2014 and 2015 (and the goals were aggressive). I’m on track for the same in 2016.
  • 22 titles. Twenty-two. How are there even that many words in my head?

If some of this feels less than modest, that’s because there’s something else I’ve learned to do in five years: Not be afraid of success. In any other career, we are encouraged to go after promotions and opportunities, and we are equally encouraged to find pride when we get them. There’s a certain level of shame in admitting when you’ve done well as an author, as if the career choice is not viable in comparison to others. So this is me saying, I am thrilled with where my career as an author has taken me. And I’ve even more excited to see where it goes.

Most of all, though, I want to say thank you. To my readers who keep reading. To my author friends who keep me going. To my family and friends who believe in me. Writing is a very solitary profession, but having a support system makes it just a little bit less lonely.

Onward to the next 5 years.

Advertisements

Thrills & Chills: Sarah’s 13 Favorite Scary Books

It’s my favorite time of year: Fall. Samhain. SCARY MOVIES AND BOOKS. In honor of all things creepy, I’m counting down my thirteen favorite horror stories, listed by category. Feel free to add your own in the comments!

  1. 5ffa0ebdaa4023657ca311fb7e014164Favorite Classic Horror: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
    Forget everything you know about the spinoffs and mishmashes of Frankenstein. Shelley’s original is absolutely horrifying. Frankenstein’s monster becomes the embodiment of fear, revenge, intent to take everything from his creator.

    Runner Up: The Great God Pan by Arthur Machen

  2. fear-street-rl-stine-movieFavorite Scary Books Growing Up: Christopher Pike and RL Stine’s Fear Street
    By the time I was in middle school I’d graduated to Stephen King, but before that, I DEVOURED all the Fear Street books, and anything by Christopher Pike (who, by comparison, was just a little bit dicier, and I  was all about dicey). I was a few years too old for the Goosebumps books, but my sister read them.

    Runner Up: Some of those Choose Your Own Adventures got pretty real, y’all.

  3. il_570xN.582911280_rzp3Favorite Horror Fantasy Story: Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King
    The story goes, King wrote this for his young daughter who thought his other books were too scary for her. The result is something that is half-fantasy and half-absolutely terrifying. It may have been written for his daughter, but the undercurrent of evil running through this story has stayed with me all these years, and remains one of my favorite books of his.

    Runner Up: The Silmarillion. Arguably not horror, but some of those stories really mess with your head.

  4. images (9)Favorite Horror Story of 2010s: N0S4A2 by Joe Hill
    So, I find it really interesting (and maybe unfair) that Stephen King’s son has a talent for spinning a scary yarn as well. Even more surprising is that he is FAN-EFFING-TASTIC at it. He writes unlikeable characters and makes them sympathetic and relatable, and heroes you’ll be thinking about for months. But he also craps all over them. My kind of author. In fact, the hardest part of this post was trying to decide which of his books to pick for this category.

    Runner Up: The Vines by Christopher Rice

  5. hqdefaultFavorite Ghost Story: The Mezzotint in Ghost Stories of an Antiquary by MR James
    The Mezzotint is one of a handful of short stories in Ghost Stories of an Antiquary by MR James. Touted as the non-fiction of an antiquary, all the stories within the collection are unique, but none so much as The Mezzotint, which involves a picture that, shall we say, changes each time you look at it. Not in good ways, either.

    Runner Up: Beloved by Toni Morrison. This one deserves its own category, honestly.

  6. suzanne-narrativeFavorite Stories About Witches: Mayfair Trilogy by Anne Rice
    This series changed my life, both as a writer, and as a reader. Anne’s mythologies around her witches are rich and carefully woven, bringing forth a contemporary family of witches you secretly wish you were related to. But with a tantalizing past, and a family ghost that is not the protector he claims, it’s not all fun and spells.

    Runner Up: Deborah Harkness’ All Souls Trilogy

  7. Screen+shot+2012-02-04+at+12.38.53+PMFavorite YA Horror: The Mrs. Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children Trilogy by Ransom Riggs
    If you’re not familiar with these, Riggs came across a collection of ridiculously creepy old photos, and spun a story around them about “peculiar” (read: supernatural) children under the protection of time loops and powerful female avian shifters. The stories and approach are unique, riveting, and just so different from anything else out there. And despite being for children, there’s no shortage of scary.

    Runner Up: Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale

  8. 174840f1e6994b5c20e69e2506066ff6Favorite Supernatural: The Heavens Rise by Christopher Rice
    Rice has a gift of language (another family with talent running rampant), and storytelling. Together, this makes for compelling work in any genre he operates in, but his first supernatural book, The Heavens Rise, was a damned masterpiece. Equal parts terrifying, gothic, lyrical, and devastating, this book has stayed with me since I read it.

    Runner Up: The Talisman and Black House by Stephen King and Peter Straub

  9. MrStraker-SalemsLot-QuoteFavorite Scary Novel That Kept Me Up for Days: Salem’s Lot by Stephen King
    This is not even in my top 10 of my favorite King novels, but it shows the power of the storytelling and imagery here that I did not sleep for days. No exaggeration. These are not sparkly vampires. They are not moody, or interesting. They’re unrepentant killers, they’ve done this before, and escape is looking like less of an option. Oy.

    Runner Up: It by Stephen King. In fact, this one might even be tied, because, clowns.

  10. 6a010534a3c8d0970c0105359b8bf3970c-800wiFavorite Scary Story Involving A Building: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
    I think the most interesting thing about Jackson’s story is that it isn’t overtly scary. Everything that happens is subtle.. from the nuances of the house, to the slow decline of the inhabitants. The ending feels tragic, and inevitable. Her beautiful use of storytelling and language brings this one home for me, and you don’t even realize until after you’ve put it down what she’s done.

    Runner Up: The Shining by Stephen King.

  11. 767104Favorite Gothic Romance Horror: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
    Strange category, I know. But there are books you won’t find in any horror category that are terrifying, nonetheless. Rebecca is one of those books. The mood throughout the book never allows you to put your guard down. Every word keeps you dangling. As with Shirley Jackson, du Maurier plays on subtleties to the extent you don’t realize you’ve arrived until you’re there.

    Runner Up: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. (In another category, such as classic romance, this would actually win for me).

  12. lord-of-the-flies-quoteFavorite “This Could Happen, OMG” Horror Story: Lord of the Flies by William Golding
    Dude. We all know this level of raw savagery exists in all of us. Its at the core of our species. And, in the right circumstances, it may be forced to the surface. A whole ‘notha level of horror exists when it plays out among children. Just give him the damn conch already!

    Runner Up: Run by Blake Crouch

  13. petsematary-03First Adult Horror Story I Ever Read: Pet Sematary by Stephen King
    My very first horror books were the Fear Street books, and Christopher Pike. But those were aimed at teenagers. My mother was a huge King fan and had a stack of his paperbacks. She was a fantastic storyteller, my mom, and would often tell me about the books, leaving me more and more curious. But could I handle that level of scary? I picked up Pet Sematary and my entire life changed. I was horrified, and addicted all at once. When I finished all her King books, I moved on to John Saul, Dean Koontz, and Peter Straub. I’ve had a love affair with horror ever since.

Sound off in the comments with your own favorites!

Guest Blog: “Time, Not Words” by Tara Shaner

Today I am hosting a post from Tara Shaner, owner of Shaner Media Creations. She specializes in editing, creative assistance, and voice talent. She also happens to be my editor, my muse, and one of my favorite people.

To say that she is my editor is accurate, but it is also not exactly the right word to describe it. She takes my voice and amplifies it. Hones it. She takes what I was trying to say (but didn’t) and helps me say it. While I don’t normally include advertising on my blog, I cannot recommend what she does highly enough. She is as integral to my writing experience as my own creativity and imagination.

This post is a very eloquent statement on what she does, and why.

Continue reading

Great Expectations: Plot Over Hot

There’s a place for all types of literature in this world. Where there is an audience, there is a writer eager to deliver. However, if someone cracks open one of my books expecting a damsel in distress, a cookie-cutter hero with abs that could slice open drywall, and gratuitous sex, they are going to be disappointed. Continue reading

U is for Using Social Media as an Author

22-Better-Grades-Social-Media-00I’m a moderately technical person. My brain works in a technical way- seeking to understand underlying principles and piece things together in a logical manner- and I’ve never had a problem grasping anything technological. Hell, my husband is a network engineer, and I’ve spent my entire career working with technology companies. But social media leaves me feeling more than a little perplexed from time to time, and, stubborn as I am, I am determined to conquer it. Why? Because as an author, it’s a necessary part of my platform. Ignoring it won’t make it less important, less relevant, less needed.

Other than WordPress, though (which has been amazing), I have not seen any significant success in any of the channels I’ve used so far. Below are my experiences with each. Oh, and yes, this is also a veiled shameless plug for my sites, so feel free to Like/Follow/Share or whatever the relevant actions involved are. I always Like/Follow/Share back 🙂

Social-Media-Icons

Facebook

Link: The House of Crimson and Clover Fan Page

I started my Facebook fan page about two months before the release of St. Charles at Dusk, my first book. I thought releasing it early would help generate some hype, and it did…of course, it was all friends and family. I think I had around 100 “likes” when the book launched. Many of them were initially very excited, and I thought I was going to sell as many books as I had “likes,” but initial sales were very low. I learned quickly that support and excitement does not translate equally to purchasing power. Not a huge deal (no one is under any obligation to buy my book, no matter how well they know me), but it was my first wake-up call as an author.

I ran some contests to generate more page traffic. Did book giveaways, etc.

Some of the folks who were initially my biggest cheerleaders have died off. A few of them are cheering stronger than ever, and I will probably leave everything I own to them in my will.

I try to post a variety of stuff on the site, and only put up “buy my book” type posts when there is a good reason to (price drop, change in format, etc).

I imagine that when The Storm and the Darkness finally comes out, the activity will pick up again. To be fair, it’s been two years since my last book was published and updates about the current book may be less than thrilling at this point.

Also- I am currently running a sweepstakes where I will be giving away up to 40 free copies of my book. Nothing fancy to enter, just have to be a fan and click the Sweepstakes” button on the top menu.

ss-social-media

Twitter

Link: @thewritersarah

Of all the social media platforms, I find this one to be, by far, the most confusing. I’m by no means an idiot. I understand the hashtags (although, we never called them that, way to make shit up Twitter) and the use of “@” to draw attention to someone individually. I get the concept of being interactive and spending time building relationships. I just don’t understand how to USE Twitter in a meaningful way that actually keeps people interested, brings in new readers, and does so in a not-so-obnoxious way.

So far my tweets have either been WordPress reposts, tweets about the Spartacus finale (HOLY MOTHER OF GOD, PLEASE TELL ME I AM NOT THE ONLY ONE WHO WATCHED THIS GLORIOUS GIFT OF A SHOW), and updates on my writing progress. I get some favorites and retweets, but I’m still not sure I am doing it right. It seems like “doing it right” will require a huge time investment that I don’t know if I can make.

socialmedia-addiction

Goodreads

Link: Sarah M. Cradit Author Page

Awhile ago, I created my author page and linked my WordPress to it so anyone who ventured over there would be able to keep up with my updates and would know where to find me. So far, I am not sure how to tell whether this has been successful (my stats don’t show any clicks directly from Goodreads to my blog), but its a pretty nifty feeling either way to have your own author page on the largest social media site for readers.

Once my next book is released, I am going to start utilizing the contest and giveaways features and see how they pan out.

social-media2

Pinterest

Link: House of Crimson and Clover

I don’t have much to say here. My experience with this platform is very new. I’d resisted the wave of women flocking there when it launched, because I could see how addicting it could be. But when it occurred to me that I might be able to leverage it for my writing, the metaphorical light came on, and I created a page.

So far, I don’t know how to tell if its had any traffic, or being used by anyone other than me. But I do rather like being able to and see all my images from the series in one place so I guess even if no one else uses it, at least I have it for me.

images2

OTHERS

While I use LinkedIn, Google +, Instagram, and Flickr, I’ve not determined yet if they can or should be used for this part of my career. I do try to share my links to StumbleUpon, but haven’t received more than one or two hits from that.

The most important thing I’ve learned (and I learned this not just from my own pages but from observing those of others) is that you can’t make every post a pitch or an attempt at a sale. People need to get to know the real you. They want to know about those long nights you stayed up writing, and they want to know what you’re reading, and what you thought of the last episode of Game of Thrones. If they connect with you, they are more likely to want to connect with your books. Anne Rice’s Facebook page is a perfect example, although it may also be a terrible example in that she did not have to build her fanbase using it. Her posts, however, reveal herself as a real person fans can connect with.

Any other experiences, tips, or general social media woes to share?

A2Z-2013-BADGE-001Small_zps669396f9