10 Learnings Over 4 Years of Publishing

Become-a-writerI published my first book, St. Charles at Dusk, on September 26th, 2011. Four years have passed, and with them, more learnings than I could ever fully wrap my mind around. In those early days, I was a woman alone on an island, getting all my advice from Google. I didn’t know a single other author who had published their work.

Flash forward four years. I’m no longer a woman alone on an island, but one surrounded by hundreds of authors, thousands of readers, and years of experience (with many years still ahead). I have seventeen original titles out (and numerous boxed sets), and an endless quantity of ideas. I’ve been lauded by esteemed authors, and appeared on the USA Today Bestsellers list, twice. I’m nowhere near an expert, and far from perfect. I’ve had successes and setbacks, like any author, and I move forward knowing I’ll have more of both. I’m excited to have more of both, because the setbacks teach me, and every learning in this world is a gift.

Perhaps a new author will stumble on this post, and find it helpful. Maybe a tenured author will read through and nod their head. In any case, I hope your journey finds you well.

No Two Author Journeys Are Alike

originalNo, really. Every single author has their own experiences, their own luck, their own skills and tools. Even if you took two authors who write identical genres, covers, and used identical marketing strategies, they would not share the same results. It’s fruitless to compare your journey with any other author, or to ask yourself “why am I not seeing the same results?” unless you truly do have something that needs changing (covers that don’t grab attention, editing issues, as examples). You’ll drive yourself crazy making comparisons, which will lead to negative feelings, inevitably resulting in creative blocks. Control what you can control, and understand the rest comes down to timing, luck, and the humors of the universe.

The Best Marketing for Your First Book is More Books

The very first thing I did when I hit publish on Dusk was research how the hell I was going to get the book in front of readers. Naturally, some of my friends and family bought it, probably half from support and half from shock. But I had no clue how to get it in front of a broader audience, and I spent way too much time (creative time) trying to solve this.

images (7)It wasn’t until I joined several author loops that I understood why this was a waste of my time. Let’s say a reader bought Dusk and loved it. They go to find the next book and… nothing. In the time it takes to write another book, that reader will have moved on and forgotten their love of the first one.

On the other hand, if they love that first book and find half a dozen more, you’ve now found yourself a fan willing to wait for future releases. They’re invested, and fans who are invested will keep checking back.

Learn your craft. Write well. And keep doing it!

Marketing is an Art, Not a Science

HELLOAnd, like any art, the interpretation varies by audience. What works for one, may be a turnoff for another. The only consistency I’ve found is that moderation is key. Readers don’t want endless advertisements from you, but if you don’t tell them how and where to find your work, how will they know?

Over half the posts on my social media accounts aren’t about my books, but they are peripherally related: articles/pictures on New Orleans (where my books are set), writing anecdotes. They’re thematically in line with my brand, which inevitably also relates back to my work, even if indirectly.

Finally, loss leaders. Perma-free, or lower price ($.99) for first in series (while a blow to your ego, which you need to learn to check anyway in this business) is a proven tool, and a great way to bring in new readers.

Get to Know Other Authors

socially-awkward-friends-party-friendship-ecards-someecardsAs friends and comrades, not a potential audience. While half of what I learned these four years has been through trial and error, the other half came from the various author loops I’m a part of. While mileage varies by author (see the first point), there’s much to be learned from what others have done. They are also the only ones in the world who will understand what you’re going through when the words won’t flow, or you get a review that hurt (even when you know you should shake it off).

Also, some of my dearest friends in the world are authors. So there’s that.

Writing is a Full Time Job, Even if You Aren’t Writing Full Time

imageIf you think writing a book is the beginning and end of it, you’re in for a rude surprise. The quantity of things you need to keep track of, head up, and be on top of is endless. I keep a checklist for publishing each book, and there’s over forty items on it. That’s only for publishing! Maintaining my social accounts, my website, and other “businessy” things takes up more time than the writing. I love running my own business, but organizational skills aren’t optional.

Your Brand is Everything

I knew this going in, as my other career sits in the corporate world. Everything you do should be purposeful.

8Execution isn’t as easy as knowledge. Everything I say, everything I post, is a reflection of my brand. This isn’t simply posting about relevant things (as I mentioned above, with sharing items related to my books), but understanding the words we use have power, and are remembered. Venting about a lack of sales or other publishing frustrations might garner sympathy but will get you branded as unprofessional. Getting involved in drama is something others will remember. Responding to reviewers (especially negative ones) will only lead to misery.

Lastly, and this is a tough one when you’re friends with so many authors and want to help them: be mindful of who and what you promote. Your readers will look to the content you share as endorsements from you. This isn’t to say that you can’t help your friends. I co-created a blogger page to help share for others, because there simply isn’t enough time in the day to read everyone’s work. My author page remains reserved for content I’ve read and can stamp with a personal endorsement.

Creative Control is a Curse as Much as a Blessing

download (5)I’ve self-published 100% of my titles, and I have NO regrets in doing so. I’m not looking for a book deal, for many reasons, but not the least of which is that I love having full creative control over my work.

A few years ago, I learned Photoshop so I could design my own covers, largely because I wasn’t able to articulate to others what was in my head. The result? Six or seven different iterations of covers before I landed on the design I have now (which I adore). While I’m in love with the end result, getting there involved a lot of hair loss. When you know you can change things, that thought never leaves the back of your mind. In other words, a “to do” list that never shrinks.

This applies to other aspects of the business as well, the biggest one being content. Now, finding errors and uploading corrections on the fly is a fantastic benefit. But as you grow in your writing, inevitably it will improve. Yay, right? Yes. Except, when you re-read your earlier work and want to re-write the hell out of it, so it matches your current skill-set.

I’ll admit to having done this with Dusk, for many reasons. Never again. At some point, you have to accept your writing will improve, and most readers will enjoy watching that evolution. Your work represents different eras in your writing life, and you should be proud of them all.

Understand ROI

In addition to everything else we manage, the lure of “shiny objects” in the form of outside marketing tools bubbles to the surface. Anything from blog tours, author events, giveaways, and advertising. As with everything else, mileage varies. What works for one, may not for another, and *who* you employ to help with these things matters a great deal. Look for endorsements from other authors.

63911544Finally, there are items with very little ROI you may decide still matter. Author signings, for example. Few authors end up with a profit in the end (between the cost of books, swag, and table costs, it’s an expensive endeavor), but find it worth it to network with readers and authors. But that’s a decision you need to make with your broader business goals in mind. Personally, I do 2-3 a year, and I’m very targeted on which ones. As my books are set in New Orleans, I do an annual event there. I live in Portland, so I’ll do them here, because I don’t have to factor in travel costs.

Write First For Yourself

beauty-beginsThis is a polarizing stance, honestly. Writing is a business, and chasing trends will often result in more money and recognition. If you’re a writer who is versatile enough to do this, then I won’t discourage you, especially if your goal is to write full time.

Personally, when I write for anything other than where my creative genius drives me, it turns out to be uninspired drivel. Readers pick up on that. They want to hear your voice loud and clear, and it will only come across as such if you’re inspired. Besides, constantly worrying about every word will only stifle creativity. Let the words flow, and be unapologetic.

So, follow the inspiration… wherever it takes you.

Know When You Need to Slow Down

tumblr_mll11mAkDD1s9gzhqo1_500There’s this fear in the author world that if we don’t publish monthly, readers will forget who we are. There may be truth in this, but that’s why the best marketing for book one is more books.

With almost two dozen titles behind me (most of which were done over the latter two years, as I had a break between Dusk and the others), I look back and I’m glad I busted my ass, forgoing sleep for my muse, working two jobs. Why? Because now I’ve bought myself some time to slow down. My series grows more and more complex, the deeper in the story goes, and I can’t churn out a book in two months anymore. I need time to sink into the world I’ve created.

I waited almost my entire life for Stephen King to finish the Dark Tower Series. If you’ve given readers a reason to come back, they won’t forget you.

Authors, feel free to chime in with your learnings as well!

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5 Tips for Writing Multiple POVs

h1DE1B460I’m a shameless fan of writing in multiple POVs. My series has a large, diverse cast of characters and I’m all about giving each of them a voice, where possible. I also believe that telling the story through the eyes of varied characters gives a well-rounded perspective on the tale that you would not get otherwise.

Of course, this is not always a popular narrative choice. Some readers are very vocal about their dislike of this style. Does that deter me? Not even a little. But it does evoke a stubborn desire to want to do it right.

Continue reading

6 Tips for Staying Organized While Writing a Series

com.DreamFactory.ebook_.ASongofIceandFire_1Writing a series is not as simple as just writing several books in a row. Nor is it as easy as taking one long story and breaking it into several parts. There are a lot of nuances to writing a series that many writers just do not think about until they’re smack in the middle of it, and by that time its either too late OR you’ve just created a mountain of work for yourself that you might have avoided.

 Maybe, just maybe, I can help you avoid some of that work. Continue reading

A to Z Blogging Challenge: 26 Post Recap

A2Z-2013-BADGE-001Small_zps669396f9Wow, what a month! 26 posts in 30 days. Sorry, make that 30 posts because each week I also posted a quick recap. Phew!

I honestly had no idea what I was getting myself into. It challenged me to go beyond just those things I knew I wanted to post and to think more creatively about what I wanted to share. As a result, I wrote a series of writing advice articles, expose pieces on my book series, and a number of other things I ordinarily would not have thought of. Oh, and I met some really awesome bloggers along the way. Pretty cool.

That said, I’m not convinced I would do it again. It limited me on what I could post about, and I ended up with a ton of posts I had to push until May (I know I could do several posts per day, but that’s overkill), and it was incredibly time consuming. BUT…I definitely recommend everyone try the challenge at least once. It will challenge the way you organize your thoughts, in a good way!

W is for Writer

206158_361060320659355_1737173104_nI am a writer. I’ve also been a great many other thing throughout my life, but I’ve never not been a writer.

I started writing when I was seven, and the contents of my imagination both shocked and inspired my parents. Growing up, I was the kid with the imagination. The creative one. The one who excelled in English and Journalism (and even won awards for it), and who read anything she could get her hands on. I was the kid who enjoyed getting reading assignments over the summer. I was the one who wrote short stories that nearly got me expelled.

I wrote my first novel in junior high. It was terrible, but I kept writing. I published my first novel, St. Charles at Dusk, in 2011. Shortly after, the story turned into a series, and I’ve now written five books in The House of Crimson and Clover series. It won’t stop there, either. I love knowing that I have so many more stories to look forward to.

I created this blog to promote my work, but the content has expanded beyond that original intention. I’ve also met many other great writers and, through those friendships, have learned that the best way to be a member of the writing community is to share your experiences with others, in hopes that they might learn you the way you learn from them. The writing community is an ecosystem of writers sharing with other writers, and I’m proud to be a member of it.

I’ve created a Writing Tips page (a replica of this post) that will contain all articles I’ve written related to writing tips, tricks, and experiences that I think are helpful to others. By coming directly to this page, you won’t have to search through the page to find what you need. It’s easily accessible from the top and left navigation menus on the homepage.

In addition to writing articles, I also have established a Guest Author Program, where other writers can be featured and promote their work. Check this page out for details.

Finally, I have a page specific to my NaNoWriMo adventures.

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Happy Writing!

Writing Articles

Character Biographies (To Bio or Not to Bio?)

Fictional Genealogies

Fooling the Overachiever Into Submission Using the Scientific Method

Incomplete (You’ve Won NaNoWriMo: Now What?)

Location and Setting

Mitosis (How to Outline When You Suck at Outlining)

Write Badly and Often

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L is for Location

005_021Choosing a location for our writing can be one of the most challenging, and personal, decisions of the novel-writing experience. Often times the setting invokes a certain tone (would you rather write a romance in Paris, or Detroit?), or has cultural relevance (writing a story about a child who experiences racial bullying would be easier in Mississippi than, say, Washington state). I can’t tell you how to choose a location, because that is a very personal choice…but I can give you some tips for giving that location the justice it deserves. Continue reading

Mitosis (Or, How to Outline When You Suck at Outlining)

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I have always had a love-hate relationship with outlining. On one hand, my writing is more focused and precise when I use one. Editing is certainly easier. On the other hand, it can be disruptive to my creative process. When I start writing something, I often only have a vague idea and a character or three to start. I rarely ever know all the meat and bones of the story going into it. The process of writing for me is also a process of exploration, and I love letting the story unfold naturally. Its how my brain works. I know its how the brains of many “pantser” writers work as well.

So, for me at least, the hardest part of outlining is going from a vague idea with a few general plot points, to a detailed chapter-by-chapter sequence of specific events. For me, it feels very “cart before the horse,” and it squelches that lovely story unfolding process thingy (technical term right there) that I described. But I knew my writing would benefit from outlines, and so, stubborn as I am, I was determined to find an approach to outlining that worked for someone with a brain like mine. Continue reading