Category Archives: Life

2018 Goals

2018

2017 Goals

  1. Buy a Home
  2. Finish Pen & Xander
  3. Start THE BOOK (aka Maite & Phoenix, which was temporarily shelved because of *this*)
  4. Hire a website designer
  5. Create paperbacks for my backlist

Goals Accomplished: 2/5

The most life-changing year for me professionally so far has been 2015. That was the year I stopped being invisible and people started buying my books. 2018 is going to be just as life-changing. Why? Because I said so…and because I have been very meticulously putting things in place so that I am more than ready for the opportunities that will inevitably come my way (again, inevitably, because I said so).

This year I am going to find an agent. I am going to get a traditional publishing deal. I am going to step even further outside of my comfort zone. I am going to take the necessary steps to eventually become a full time author. And these are the new items on my to-do list that will help me get there:

1. Finish TWO novels
This goal is a BIG one. It usually takes me about eight months to write one novel from start to finish. This year I’ll be starting and completing two. I’ve already begun writing the first in a new series and hope to finish the first draft of that project by April. Meanwhile, I’ll also be drafting another contemporary novel in the Nacho’s Tacos universe. It will focus on one of the restaurant employees and a new character who shares his love of music. It’ll be paired with a novel soundtrack and *hopefully* be ready for release by August/September.

2. Query a dystopia/fantasy series
This year taught me a very important lesson about creative work–this industry is volatile and nothing is guaranteed. I’ve realized that I shouldn’t put all of my eggs in one basket and that becoming a hybrid author might be able to offer me some more stability. In other words, it’s time to branch out and more importantly, it’s time to reach a wider audience. The novel I’m working on now deserves a wider audience, which means I’m going to query for the first time in seven years. Wish me luck!
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3. Get an agent
I’ve been a lone wolf for a long time but I’m ready to take my career to the next level and reach more readers. Once I finish and polish my WIP I’ll be focusing my search on agents that represent POC authors and that champion diverse books. One of the reasons I was drawn to self-publishing all those years ago was because I wanted to write about characters who looked like me and shared my experiences–something I’d craved but rarely been able to find in books growing up. Now, traditional publishing has become much more inclusive and I finally feel comfortable enough to try to enter that space again. But the only way I’d be willing to give up some of the freedom I’ve enjoyed as an indie author would be to find the perfect partner–someone who believes in my stories and my characters as much as I do. Someone who understands the importance of positive and diverse representations of POC in all types of media. I hope to begin querying this summer and find my perfect match by the end of the year.

4. Hire a website designer
This was on my to-do list last year but then disaster struck and spending $2,000+ on a new website design didn’t seem that essential anymore. I’m hopeful that Pen & Xander will find an audience soon, which will drive sales to the contemporary novel I plan to publish in the fall. Then I might be able to direct some of that extra income to a fancy schmancy website design that better brands me and my books. It’ll also serve as a safety net when Amazon (which currently accounts for 90% of my total sales) inevitably makes another change to its system and/or guidelines that ends up harming authors.

5. Take professional author photos
This was another one of those non-essentials I had to cut from my to-do list last year. However, due to the fact that my only author photo looks almost nothing like me now–I haven’t had blonde hair in years–I think it’s time for an update. Hopefully, it’s something I can swing this fall when I’m updating my website too.

6. Sell a thousand copies of Pen & Xander
The first reviews are coming in and the feedback from readers has been really good so far. But I can’t expect this book to reach thousands of people based on word of mouth alone. That was a giant stroke of luck when it happened for TGIB series but this time I’m writing in a different genre, which means I might just have to find an entirely different audience. It isn’t going to be easy but one thing that will make the success of this book a lot more feasible is setting specific goals. That way as I experiment more with marketing I actually have a means of measuring that success. If you’ve already gotten your copy, thank you for helping me come one step closer to my goal! Need yours? Get it here.

7. Commit to a bi-monthly newsletter
Updating and maintaining my newsletter is just one of those methods I’ll be experimenting with to see if it increases sales. My first newsletter for 2018 will go out at the end of January and then I’ll be sending bi-monthly updates. They’ll include a blog post round-up, updates on my WIP, excerpts, and exclusive giveaways/freebies. Click on one of the free goodies below and get it emailed to you upon signup!

Newsletter-Song BonusNewsletter-Bonus CookbookBackmatter Newsletter Sign-up8. Create audiobooks for my paranormal romance series
This is another one of those goals that requires money. But I think it’s worth the investment and hope to begin the pre-production process this summer.

9. Connect with and learn from other authors
Because I have declared that 2018 will be the year I enter the mysterious world of traditional publishing, I’m already brainstorming ways to commemorate the experience and connect with other writers in the process. One of the key differences between self-publishing and traditional publishing is the level of transparency between and among the people involved in each industry. Indie authors are notoriously generous, community-oriented, and constantly giving away valuable information free of charge. The OGs learned as they went and then created blogs where they shared what they’d learned with the rest of us. Traditional publishing is much more opaque and therefore intimidating. As a hybrid author I want to be as open as I’ve been about my self-publishing journey and share the growing pains along the way.

10. Pay off grad school loans
Last year I bought my first home, which completely drained my savings. Once I finish building up my 3-month emergency fund all extra income will be put towards paying off these loans, which I vowed long ago would not haunt me for the rest of my life!
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11. Invest in my retirement
Once the student loans have been obliterated it’ll be time to look toward the future again and start maxing out my retirement accounts. If you’re following my blog because you’re hoping to make writing your full-time gig someday, please understand that as a traditional or self-published author you are technically self-employed. This means that it’s your responsibility to make sure all your ducks are in a row as far as retirement is concerned. Personally, I love reading and learning about finances. They’re such a huge part of being self-employed and a business owner, which is what you are as an author. I plan to blog on those topics more over the coming year.

And there you have it–my master plan! If you don’t have one yourself, you’re truly missing out on the forward momentum that a clear vision can bring to your life. So figure out what you want, identify actionable steps to make it happen, and then write it down. More specifically, somewhere you can see so that you can pause on those promises at least once a day, reminding yourself what you’re doing and who you’re doing it for.

You. Always, remember you’re doing it for you.

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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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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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