We Are Not Alone

austin-chan-275638I’ve been in desperate need of a reminder that I am not the only person on the planet trying to make art their full time gig. I know I’m not alone because I’ve met dozens of artists with secret identities that allow them to function in the “real world”. But sometimes it can feel like everyone else is making progress in leaps and bounds while you’re backsliding into obscurity.

The biggest perpetrator of artist envy? Twitter. People rarely tweet about the bad writing day/week/month/year they’ve had and instead only hop online to share their triumphs. When other people’s successes are all you see it can make your own failures seem even more devastating.

What I’ve realized over the past several months is that only seeing when an artist has reached the finish line helps absolutely no one. Other writers might think that celebratory tweets about landing an agent or a book deal or a million dollar contract might motivate the masses, inspiring others to follow in their footsteps. But the truth is these things are not helpful for an artist in the trenches. These announcements do not inspire me. They make me want to crawl into a hole and eat an entire tub of ice cream.

So if watching others reach the finish line isn’t really all that helpful…what is?

Well, the journey of course. The good, the bad, the ugly; the twists and turns and falling off a cliff that you didn’t realize was just around the bend.

I’ve been chronicling my journey here for almost 5 years now! But recently I’ve been gripped by this new idea for a massive, totally out of my comfort zone project. One that involves a nonfiction book, a podcast, and possibly setting up a Patreon. Oh, and talking to other human beings. Like face to face and not over the internet. A notion both absolutely terrifying and…somewhat exciting? I don’t know what’s gotten into me but I’ve already written the foreword for this thing and I really think it’s the next step of this journey, which I will continue to share the good/bad/ugly of, but possibly in a way I never would have expected.

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How I lost over $150,000

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Maggie Stiefvater recently wrote a post about the implications of piracy on her work. After receiving a mind-bogglingly low royalty statement she had a hunch that piracy was to blame so she and her brother conducted a little experiment to test her theory. They created a dummy file for her novel, The Raven King and uploaded it to pirating sites shortly before the book’s release.

Not long after people were chatting online about how they’d downloaded the file and discovered that it was a fake. And yet, despite the plea Maggie placed in the back of the dummy file for readers to procure her novels in a responsible and ethical way, these people went on to ask each other where to find a copy of the actual story. They persisted in their piracy without regard for how that choice was negatively affecting, not only Maggie’s livelihood, but also her ability to continue writing books in a world her readers had grown to love.

I used to be pretty ambivalent towards the notion of piracy. I couldn’t imagine there being enough people out there willing to steal my books for it to affect my bottom line. I mean, out of the millions of books available on pirating sites, who would seek out mine? And how many would do it often enough for it to infringe on my ability to earn a living?

Turns out, that number is 76,508.

After creating an account on http://www.blasty.com, a platform where content creators can monitor when their content is stolen and/or used for phishing purposes, I was not only able to find the websites that were illegal distributing my books but I was also able to see how many times they had been downloaded, which turns out is 76,508 times.

76,508.

My books range in price from Free to $4.99. Ironically, my free book, The Girl In Between, made less appearances on the pirating sites than the rest of my backlist. So most of those downloads actually equated to lost sales. Lost sales to the tune of $153,016 if you’re being conservative and $381,774 if you’re calculating at the high end of my backlist.

And here I am, begging bloggers to review my new release just so I can afford my new house payment. All because 76,508 people decided that my art–something I spend 8-12 months and countless painstaking hours creating–should be free.

This is not me taking a stance on whether or not art should be free. I believe that people should have access to good quality books regardless of their socioeconomic status or where they live. For many, this can be accomplished by visiting one’s local library. Most of my books are available via Overdrive, which many libraries subscribe too.

However, I know that this isn’t an option for everyone and I want my readers to know that you can ALWAYS send me an email requesting a book if you’re unable to pay. I’ve given away thousands of free copies of my work and I love connecting with readers this way. In fact, I made this offer in my latest newsletter and encouraged readers who couldn’t afford to purchase a copy of my new book to email me so I could send them a copy in the format of their choice.

BUT, these free books I’m giving away to readers aren’t the same as a free book pirated from a website. Why? Because I’m actually getting something in exchange–a connection, feedback, a relationship that may lead to one of those readers encouraging a friend or family member to buy the book or requesting it at their local library. I gain a loyal reader who may actually buy one of my future books when they’re in a better financial position to do so.

The point is, I want readers to have access to my books but I also want to be able to make a living someday doing what I love. That becomes an impossibility when thousands of readers choose to download my books for free rather than pay for them.

 

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Permission

jon-tyson-195064I’m forcing myself out of my comfort zone and trying a few “go-to” marketing methods other indies swear by. It feels strange to be paying for advertising. My brain wants to label the act a failure. It wants to label me one too. And I didn’t realize how much of that “failure” was self-prohecised until I watched Ksenia Anske’s live Facebook video about how to get out of your own way so that you can start making sales and building a loyal readership.

The moment she said that the rejection was all in my head, manifesting simply because that’s what I was afraid of and therefore expected…because for some sad sick reason that’s what I thought I deserved, it all clicked.

Pen & Xander is the best novel I’ve ever written. There is no reason it shouldn’t find an audience. In fact, it already has one…they’re all just eagerly waiting for me to find them and share this story with them. That’s what I have to believe if this book is going to have any semblance of life. I have to believe that this story is exactly what many people are looking for. That I’ve written something worth shouting about.

So I started doing something scary. Something I usually NEVER do.

I actually gave myself permission to send the novel to a few friends. There were no strings attached but I have to stop assuming that the people who care about me the most are the ones I must shield my art from at all costs. Usually, when I publish something new, I tell no one but the internet. Very few family members have read my work and that’s only because they found it on their own. But it wasn’t until today that I realized my secrecy doesn’t come from a place of not wanting to be an icky sales person. It comes from my fear that my stories aren’t good enough.

And this fear fuels every decision I make about my books. I always claimed that I didn’t need to spend money on marketing; that it was a waste. The truth is I didn’t think my books were worth the investment. I preferred to give away copies to new readers than to ask them to spend their own money not because I was trying to be generous but because I didn’t think my books were worth the money.

It makes absolutely no sense, especially after all the time and creative energy I’ve spent over the past six years. In that time I’ve written eight novels. How do I still not believe in myself? How am I still struggling with the same doubts I had as a teenager? Maybe I’ll always struggle with my fear of failure. But maybe there’s a way to harness that fear and use it as fuel. Maybe it starts with acknowledging that it’s there and then doing the scary thing anyway. It’s how Pen survives. By pretending. So I will pretend. Every time I hit send, every time I share my story with someone new, every time I sit down to write. Until  my convictions are stronger than my fears and I’m no longer running from the success I deserve.

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And now for the hard part…

The hard part where I have to beg for reviews and then wait for them to be posted online, inspiring strangers to take a chance on my book. I’d forgotten this was the hard part mostly because it’s been a few years since I put something out that didn’t immediately sell.

That’s right, my new novel, Pen & Xander, has not been a runaway success. It has not sold thousands of copies in its first week. It hasn’t even sold 10. And it kills me to write that. It’s heartbreaking and terrifying and, frankly, quite embarrassing.

I scheduled a blog tour with over 100 blogs committed to posting about the book. I sent a few email blasts to my newsletter subscribers. I’ve been emailing reviewers directly and tweeting about my new book and blogging about my new book and adding excerpts and purchase links to my backlist…and it’s been *crickets*.

I didn’t think I was still invisible. After half a million people have downloaded at least one of my books I was pretty sure I was at least semi-visible. Maybe only to a small fraction of the internet that actually read all four books in my paranormal series and enjoyed them. But that’s still more than 10, right?

Don’t get me wrong, I am still completely and utterly grateful for the success I’ve had so far. This is not a post about me shaming or blaming anyone. This post is about me being really really confused. And therefore worried that this whole writing thing is not going to be as lucrative in the long-term as I thought it was going to be. That scares me because I love this writing thing. On November 1st I started my next book. Another upper YA contemporary romance and now I’m second-guessing every single word like maybe people don’t want contemporary romance from me. Maybe genre-hopping is a bad idea. Maybe I’m letting people down. Maybe I should have queried this MS instead. Or maybe people just don’t care.

Maybe I should come to terms with that. Because I’ve come face to face with this kind of rejection, this kind of failure before. When my first 3 books didn’t find an audience I didn’t let that stop me. I kept writing and what came next changed my life. And even though it feels like I’m back at square one the truth is I’ve come a long way. And if I’ve still got miles to go…in the dark…all alone…I can keep going. I have to. I will.

 

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Pen & Xander is Out in the World!

I keep a queue folder on my laptop for stories that are in-process or forthcoming. Sometimes all I have is a title, or the main character’s name, or just a few paragraphs of plot or maybe the opening sentence. I couldn’t remember when exactly I came up with the idea for Pen & Xander so out of curiosity I decided to check the file for the date it was created. Turns out I created it way back in October of 2013. That was four years ago right after I published my first contemporary YA romance–Breathing Ghosts.

Four years!!

I can’t believe I’ve been mulling over and fleshing out these characters for so long. But at the time I had no idea The Girl In Between was going to turn into a 4-book series. I definitely didn’t think that my most popular books would be in the paranormal romance genre. And yet, things turned out exactly the way they were supposed to and four years later, Pen & Xander is not my 4th book…but my 8th.

And now it’s FINALLY out in the world ready to connect with readers. And…exactly 12 months after publishing my last book, I’m feeling…optimistic.

And suddenly superstitious like maybe I shouldn’t have just declared that someplace as public as the internet. But I’m going to leave it here, for me, and everyone else to see so that in case something miraculous happens and this book ends up making all of my dreams come true I have proof that I believed in me first. I believe in me and I believe in these characters and the story they have to tell. I believe that it’s my best work and I believe that it deserves an audience. I just hope that once I find them they’ll believe in this story just as much as I do.

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Synopsis:

Pen Prado has a passion for cooking. Specifically, cooking her father’s food in her father’s restaurant. It’s the heart of their immigrant neighborhood, a place where everyone belongs, and second chances are always on the menu. Except for Pen. Despite the fact that there’s something almost magic about her food, her father can’t imagine anything worse than her following in his footsteps. And when Pen confesses to keeping a secret from her family, he fires her, ensuring she never will.

Xander Amaro is undocumented but that doesn’t stop Ignacio Prado from offering him a job at his restaurant. For Xander, it’s a chance to make amends and to sever his toxic relationship with the druglord, El Cantil–a man whose been like a father to him since his own disappeared. Soon after, his mother abandoned him too, leaving behind a void that not even his abuelo can fill. Until he meets Pen.

Both seeking a place where they feel like they truly belong, they end up finding each other, and in the face of tremendous fear and self-doubt, they end up finding themselves.

Add Pen & Xander to your Goodreads TBR list
Get your copy on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, or iTunes

This story is so important to me that I want to make sure that every reader who wants to read Pen & Xander has access to a copy. If you’re unable to buy a copy, please reach out to me (lzkbooks@gmail.com) so I can send you a copy directly. You can leave a review if you like but there are no strings attached to this deal. I just want to say thank you for your continued support, and because I believe so strongly in this story and these characters, I want to get it in the hands of as many people as possible.

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