Category Archives: Indie

My Writing Process

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Yesterday’s post got me thinking about the value of indie authors being transparent about the diversity of their experiences and how seeing that every writer life is different can help us alleviate so much stress, envy, and anxiety from the creative process.

I don’t post about my personal experience as a writer because I think it should be the blueprint for all other indies. I try to be transparent about the ups and downs of my own writer life in order to show that I’m still just trying to figure things out and that I can still be “trying to figure things out” while also making good money from writing, which is proof that there is no perfect formula for self-publishing success.

This is good news. This means that despite what advice is floating around online, despite what other indies are doing (including me) there is no right way to do this writing thing. There is only your way, and as long as your way honors your beliefs and values and safeguards your health and well being, then your way is the best way. Keep doing it.

I think after reading about my own writing process, you’ll also begin to see that sometimes the best way actually means no way and that’s still okay too.

My writing process looks different during the school year than it does in the summer and for the purpose of full transparency, last year while I was teaching there were many months when it was pretty much nonexistent (hence why I’m still working on a novel that was supposed to come out in April).

Summer 2017:

7:00 AM–> Wake up *hey, I’m sleeping in a little*
*check KDP & Draft2Digital to calculate revenue for the past 24 hours and make sure nothing catastrophic has happened that will drastically change my projections for that month
*I’ve also been checking Tapas, which so far has not turned out to be as lucrative as I thought it would be *make a note to revisit Wattpad presence*
*Check email
*I should also be honest and say that I’m also simultaneously scrolling through Twitter while doing most of these other things

8:30 AM–> Writing time OR working out (it depends what time my Pure Barre class is that day *yes, I’ve joined the cult*)
*Right now, writing for me is writing this blog post but sometimes it means re-reading what I wrote the day before, making a few notes, and then getting back to work

12:00 PM –> Lunch, which is usually guacamole
*I’m lucky if I can hold my creative focus for this long. Sometimes I’ll write straight through, which usually leaves me with a HUGE writer hangover the next day, which I must recover from with the help of even more guacamole and a bunch of mindless shit on Bravo. But usually the three and a half hours between the beginning of my writing time and lunch are a combination of writing sprints and more Twitter checking

1:00 PM –> Writing Time Part II
*I try to grind out as many words as I can before my boyfriend gets home so I’m not glued to the computer screen while he’s trying to tell me about his day (sometimes this works but sometimes I’m nearing the end of a project–like now–and it’s more difficult to wrap things up, especially if I’ve finally found a bit of momentum)
*If my brain starts getting tired I’ll switch to blogging or reading (either my library books or blog posts/articles online). I’ve also started listening to podcasts a lot more lately

3:00 PM –> Try to relax *emphasis on TRY*

*Evenings* –> These are constantly changing…
*If my boyfriend wants to spend a couple of hours working on music before dinner I’ll try to get some more writing done
*If he’s doing live sound that night I’ll definitely make myself get some more writing done (I’ve felt guilty this summer taking writing breaks while he’s at work all day)
*If he’s exhausted from work I let myself be too and we watch TV until it’s time to go to bed, which for me is embarrassingly early *usually, 9 PM*

The next day…
*Sometimes I can get up and do it all again
*Sometimes I can’t
*When I was really in the meat of my novel this summer I found myself only able to write new material every other day and the days in between my brain only had enough energy for revisions. Sometimes I needed a break from both but anxiety over my looming deadline would force me to at least have the laptop open and my MS pulled up while I picked at it like a zombie

School Year 16/17:

August-October–> I was waking up every morning at 5:30 AM to spend a few hours working on The Daughter of the Night. It was miserable and I probably won’t ever do it again

November-December–> I hardly wrote at all and took a much needed break after all those early mornings and then people didn’t even like it and it really sucked and made me sad…

January-March–> Tried to write on Saturdays and Sundays. Sometimes that meant writing on Saturdays and revising on Sundays. Sometimes that meant writing on one of those days and sleeping on the other

April-May–> Pushed back my deadline to June; continued my weekend routine

June–> Pushed back my deadline to July; continued my weekend routine until school let out. Gave myself a week to recharge and then began my summer routine

July–> Even with my new summer routine of writing almost every day I still had to push my deadline back ONCE AGAIN to August

13 days in…and I’m praying I won’t have to push it back to September.

As you can see, I sort of need structure but I also need the flexibility to be kind to myself. What isn’t as visible from my descriptions above is how often I’ve actually been letting myself take breaks. Sometimes that means taking a 2-hour lunch in front of the TV before getting back to writing and sometimes that means doing no writing at all. It just depends on what my brain and body are telling me, which I think I’ve gotten much better at interpreting through the course of writing this novel.

What’s wrong with this way of doing things? Well, the novel still isn’t finished yet and it’s the only one I plan on putting out this year, mostly because I can’t produce anything at a faster rate. But because I know that about myself it’s not a huge disappointment. This means that instead of beating myself up every time I need to take a break I can just take a freaking break. After almost 8 novels I’m no longer trying to prove to myself that I can finish. I’m no longer trying to prove anything to anyone at all, except maybe to you. That YOU can come up with a routine that works for YOU and still achieve success. And the best part? It doesn’t have to be grueling. It can be kind. You can be kind to yourself and still reach the finish line, possibly more refreshed and more in love with writing than when you started.

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Long-term

dan-carlson-141263I’ve been pretty committed to my resolution to stay in my lane. When I first started this indie journey I was a sponge, absorbing every blog, tweet, and news article related to self-publishing and not just the useful bits of information but the toxic jealousy inducing stuff too. It wasn’t long before this started to get in the way of my writing.

First it just felt impossible to start and then in the midst of writing it would be harder to keep going. I was doubting myself at every turn and eventually I had to stop. I had to stop watching what other people were doing, I had to stop comparing my sales to theirs, I had to stop thinking that I was supposed to be anyone other than myself.

Today, I only check-in with a few of my favorite indie authors and bloggers like Joanna Penn, J.A. Konrath, Nick Stephenson, and Lindsey Buroker. Not only do they provide excellent resources for other indie authors but they also offer an excellent perspective on indie publishing as a whole, which seems to be formulated around the idea that there is more than enough room for everyone. I share in this belief, which is why I only try to expose myself to likeminded creatives online.

This summer (my first since becoming a teacher), as I’ve been slugging through the emotional fatigue of finishing my 8th novel, I’ve had a lot more “free” time (i.e. brain breaks between writing/revisions) and have found myself dipping my toe back into the online indie world mostly out of curiosity but also out of my desire to stay semi-plugged in to the changes that are happening in self-publishing. What I’ve discovered is that not only are there more ways to reach success as an indie author these days there are also a lot more definitions of what that success actually looks like.

I used to think the only goal for an author was to be able to write full time. Turns out, plenty of people have day jobs they love and enjoy writing on the side for a little extra income. Speaking of income, I used to think that an author had to be making at least as much as that day job in order to make the transition. In actuality, people are leaving their jobs for a lot more and a lot less in order to pursue their dreams. For some writers, a couple thousand dollars a month is plenty. For others they won’t be satisfied until they reach six figures. For some authors freedom means having the time and flexibility to write 10 books a year and for others it means being able to squeeze in writing time between a full-time job and a family without having to worry about their creativity being the sole means of paying the bills.

Everyone’s writer life is different.

We work and reach milestones at a different pace and the milestones we reach are totally unique to our needs and goals. And that’s okay.

Listening to other writer’s stories over the past few months has gotten me thinking about my own goals–not the short-term yearly goals that I discussed in this post (speaking of which, I’ve got 2 down, 1 to go, 2 to be postponed until 2018)–but my vision. What do I want life to look like in the future? How am I building something for the long-term?

At first this vision was contaminated by all of the things I’d been reading and listening to from other indies. I have to be making six figures, become a public speaker, teach self-publishing workshops, create a podcast, become Instagram famous, become friends with all of the big name indies on Twitter, buy a huge mansion, and eventually become a multi-millionaire.

And how was I going to get there? Don’t worry, other authors online had plenty of advice for that too. From what I gathered…

I need to write 5-15 books a year, I need to pump up my mailing list to 10K, I need to blog 2-3 times a week, I need to find an agent and become a hybrid author, I need to wake up every morning at 5AM to write before work and then I need to forgo personal time and stay up writing until 1AM, I need to buy FB ads and Amazon ads and BookBub ads, and I need…I need…I need…

What I needed to do was stop focusing on what others are doing and stay in my lane. Not only because most of those things are not humanly possible for me (who writes 15 quality books a year?) but also because they have absolutely nothing to do with my vision.

Which is, very simply, to make enough money not to worry about having a bad writing day.

Over the past four years I’ve learned so much about the importance of my mental health and now all of my writing goals–short-term and long-term–revolve around taking care of me first. So even though I still get a twinge of envy when I see other authors who aren’t so crippled by their own anxiety that they can quit their day jobs after making only twenty thousand…thirty thousand a year from writing, I know that my path requires patience for a reason. That reason being my mind and my body’s inability to deal with the pressure of putting all of my eggs in one basket. So even though some people might think I’m crazy for pursuing a totally different career and sticking with it despite the fact that I’m on track to make almost fifty thousand dollars this year…I just don’t think I’m in a place yet where I can take the plunge.

And, like I said before, that’s okay. Because I’m not thinking about the fifteen books I could write next year if I’d just quit my day job. I’m thinking about the books I’ll be writing over the next fifteen years that will be so much stronger thanks to the fact that I’m not constantly worried about whether or not they’ll make me money.

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BookBub Results

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In my previous post I mentioned how my sales have suffered since the election–a common theme among indie authors–and how I decided to pay for marketing for the first time in my 5-year career.

BookBub is apparently a big deal. Since I was never interested in spending money on advertising I never really paid much attention but I did know that BookBub had built up a pretty good reputation for producing stellar results and that it’s almost impossible to be chosen for a coveted spot in one of their newsletters. Some indie authors have to submit their novels over a dozen times before they get picked. What seems to be key is a good cover, a steep discount, and hundreds of five-star reviews. Luckily, the first book in my paranormal series, The Girl In Between, possessed all three and I was selected my very first time applying.

My BookBub ad cost $115 and I selected to run it in the Teen/YA category. It was scheduled to go live on my birthday, June 21st.

It has since been 24 hours since the book first showed up on their website and here are my results:

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Before the ad ran I was giving away between 200-300 copies of my perma-free novel a day. Not too bad but nowhere close to the thousands a day that were being downloaded before January. The day the ad ran my perma-free novel was downloaded 18,149 times. Again, not bad, but not as many as I was expecting. I’d previously read several blog posts and case studies from authors who’d gotten at least 30,000 downloads in a single 24-hour period. But those books were also all in different categories so it’s possible that my results would be different if I’d chosen to run it in the paranormal category instead (I specifically chose Teen/YA because it was relatively cheap compared to the other categories).

BookBub likes to tout something called the “halo effect” as one of the benefits of their advertising. This means that, ideally, I’d experience additional sales and downloads for my entire backlist, which would peter out slowly, giving me more exposure on Amazon for a longer period of time. Interestingly, my paid sales did go up yesterday in addition to the free downloads (85 compared to 33 on the previous day–>still low compared to the 100+ I was selling per day before everything went wrong) but even though I still seem to be getting slightly above-average sales today, it’s not anything mind-blowing (it’s almost noon and I’ve sold 21 books). However, who knows how long people wait before they actually read the freebies they download. You also have to stop and consider that some might not read them at all. Or that they may not like the first book in the series and will choose not to continue. Or that they have to wait for payday before they can buy book number 2. With all of these things in mind, I think it’s best to not jump to any conclusions, and instead, just be patient.

The important thing right now is did I break even?
6/21 8:00AM- 6/22 12:00PM = $240
BookBub Ad = $115

Luckily, yes. But that wasn’t the purpose of this little experiment. The purpose was to see if it’s actually worthwhile to spend money on advertising, especially in this moment in time when our collective consciousness is a little preoccupied. I don’t have enough data to determine whether or not this was a success but I’ll be keeping an eye on this so-called “halo effect” that I’m supposed to be experiencing and will update this post over the next several days.

*update 6/25/17*

I’m on day 5 of post-BookBub sales and even though nothing life changing has happened I’m very pleased with the numbers I’ve achieved so far. As of today, The Girl In Between has been downloaded almost 25,000 times and my backlist has sold 324 copies (these numbers have been updated below). Prior to the ad, a typical 5-day period looked more like this: 200-300 free downloads/day; 30-40 books sold/day. It was keeping me in the $2,000-$3,000 range each month once you factored in page reads as well. But prior to January, I was making anywhere between $4,000 and $7,000 per month, which I would love to get back to. The goal for 2018 is to finally reach $10,000 a month and hover around that number with some consistency. After my little BookBub experiment, I can definitely see how running one on a regular basis might help me achieve this goal.

However, at this point I’ve also realized that one of the drawbacks of BookBub is the very thing that makes it so attractive (and lucrative) for authors in the first place. It has a huge audience and offers an excellent selection to it’s customers. The problem is, BookBub changes that selection EVERY DAY, which means that while your book is shooting up to the top of the Amazon charts, there’s another set of books waiting to be advertised by BookBub and ready to knock you from your spot the very next day. In one sense, this means that everyone gets a fair turn. But it also limits how long your book will be in the spotlight. Even if you get an insane amount of downloads that, in the old days, would have kept you in the top 100 for weeks, that longevity is no longer possible with BookBub ads being so directly connected to Amazon’s indie bestsellers.

What I’m watching for now is what kind of longevity is still possible and how long BookBub’s famous “halo effect” actually lasts.

*update 6/27/17*

Despite the majority of my books being wide I have always made about 99% of my income from Amazon. I know other indie authors whose earnings are much more widely distributed but I’ve never known where to start when it comes to reaching readers on platforms besides Kindle. In fact, I often forget that my books are being sold on other platforms altogether. For example, it didn’t occur to me until today that I should check my draft2digital portal to see how my BookBub ad did on Nook, Kobo, iBooks, and the other platforms where my books are published.

Results:

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Needless to say, I was pretty shocked! And kicking myself for having always overlooked these other platforms in the past. The fact that my books are now being read by people who own devices other than Kindle is huge and opens up so many opportunities in terms of additional revenue.

Numbers from D2D and Amazon updates have been reflected below.

Total *FREE* Downloads since 6/21:     37,385
Total Paid Downloads since 6/21:          653

 

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Taking Control

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Jon Tyson

For the past five years that I’ve ben self-publishing I have paid for zero marketing. I’ve paid for cover art and copy editing and that’s it. Everything amazing that’s happened to me and my books has been because of word of mouth. Sure, in the beginning of my career I spent hours planning a few blog tours for some of my earlier contemporary novels and the first book in my paranormal series. But at most I’d get about twenty reviews and never did those appearances translate into significant sales. For almost two years I’ve mostly just sat back in awe at how far my stories have travelled, watching silently while people talk about and share my books online.

But after two years of having to do absolutely nothing in order to generate sales (except write more books, of course) everything sort of fell off a cliff in January. According to other indies, the immediate drop-off in sales happened sooner–around November–when the world was in a state of panic, unable to concentrate on work, let alone reading for pleasure. There was too much to worry about. There still is. But at least the fear of falling into a “Handmaid’s Tale-like” dystopia has loosened its grip on the majority of us just enough for us to actually function. Not that it can’t happen, but even in the midst of resisting the rule of tyranny we also need to eat, and pay the mortgage, and do all of the other things necessary for survival, which means we need to make money, which means we need to work.

But how do you survive in a society on the precipice of total ruin when the product you sell is (for most people) not considered one of those essential elements of survival? Writers know the essential value of stories, but art, as well as the appreciation of art, is so incredibly subjective. This means that when the shit hits the fan no one is going to be concerned with reading more books. They’re just not.

But…we’re not totally there yet and there’s still hope that I can eke out a living a little while longer. But how? How, when people aren’t reading as voraciously as they used to? How, when people only have enough leftover energy to consume the news? How, when that news is so depressing that it makes “frivolous” activities like experiencing or creating art seem even more futile?

I don’t know the answers to these questions. All I can do is write more books–books about human beings who are learning how to cast out their demons and approach others with compassion–and take more control over how exactly my books find readers. Part of this means being willing to finally spend a little money on marketing, which I conceded to when applying for my first BookBub ad. I’m still monitoring the results, which I’ll be sharing on the blog in the coming days. But at the same time, there are still so many factors out of my control. And it’s scary. Not just as an artist but as a teacher and a daughter and a friend and a human being. But maybe I’ve been afraid of what’s next only because I’ve felt helpless to stop it. Maybe it’s time to stop being helpless.

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Seeking CPs!

It took me years to find a core group of critique partners who I felt like I could really trust. It’s the closest experience I’ve ever had to online dating and the thought of having to relive all of those awkward introductions and “first dates” has led to me putting off finding new CPs altogether.

In the past few years most of my CPs have either gotten agents or the all elusive book deal, meaning they don’t have time to read for me anymore. Others have decided to take a break from writing and some even switched careers. And when it comes to the few CPs I can still rely on, I feel so guilty asking them to read something new from me every 6 months, which means that it’s probably time for me to meet some new people.

It feels like I’ve been out of the self-publishing world for a while, even though it was just last October that I published the last book in my paranormal romance series. Still, it’s been a long time since I was in a routine and drafting one manuscript while revising another. I miss that routine and I’m hopeful that the summer break will help me find my way back. And now that I know what to expect once the new school year starts, I can do a better job of avoiding burnout and staying committed to my creative practice.

Obviously, the title of this post says it all. I’m in the market for new critique partners and I’m open to other indies, traditionally published authors, or any advice on where I might find quality CPs.

A little about me, in case you just stumbled upon this blog by accident–>

*At this point in my self-publishing career my books have been downloaded over half a million times and I have a loyal readership that’s almost 4,000 strong.

*I tend to genre hop and write everything from historical fiction, to contemporary young adult, to paranormal romance.

When it comes to a critique partner, I’m not necessarily looking for someone with similar sales numbers. I remember what it was like to only sell a couple copies of my books a month and how hard it was to make connections with other writers who were more successful. Because of that, my main goal is to connect with CPs whose writing skills are equal to or better than my own. In other words, I want to connect with people who I can learn from and who will push me to become a better writer. Not only will I try to offer that as well but I will also be excited to introduce my CPs to my readers and hopefully grow their audience in the process.

There are excerpts of my novels all over this blog and the first book in my paranormal romance series is perma-free for those wanting to check out my writing quality and style. FYI, I’m currently working on a contemporary YA romance that I would love to get feedback on in June. If you think we’d be a good fit, feel free to email me at lzkbooks@gmail.com or on twitter @laekanzeakemp.

Let me know what genres you write in, what you’re currently working on, what you’re looking for in a critique partner, and what you think you can offer as a CP. A short writing sample will also be helpful, whether that’s personal writing on a blog or an excerpt from a novel. If I think we’d be a good match I’ll definitely be in touch! If you don’t hear from me, it will either be due to differences in quality/style or because I’ve already found what I’m looking for.

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