3 Ways to Support Marginalized Authors

Marketing & Promotion

ahmed-zayan-684478-unsplashIt’s been absolutely incredible to see more and more books by marginalized authors being published. But it’s still those creators who are shouldering a huge amount of the promo they need to sell copies and, you know, make money.

I’ve been thinking a lot about money lately and about how marginalized creators are at such a disadvantage from the get-go because generational wealth hasn’t afforded us the privilege of being able to take many financial risks, like quitting our day jobs to write full-time or funnel any of the money from that day-job into marketing our art.

It’s obvious that when it comes to generational wealth, who has it and who doesn’t reinforces so many of the systems of oppression operating in this country. This is evidenced by the recent “Varsity Blues” scandal in which the rich and powerful bribed colleges to let in their mediocre children, spots that could have gone to qualified students from marginalized communities.

Not only are most marginalized creators facing many obstacles to becoming wealthy but we also are not allowed to be mediocre. It’s a lot of pressure, which is why it’s so incredibly important that we support each other in our efforts, not just to make the kind of art we want or to find a way to support ourselves financially with that art, but also towards the goal of building generational wealth that will benefit our families and communities.

Bottom-line: I want every marginalized artist I know to be rich. I want them to create the kind of wealth that allows them to become a force for good in the world.

So I’ve been thinking of ways I can use my resources and platform to better support marginalized authors and I’ve settled on a few things that are within my power to contribute. Maybe some of these will inspire you to increase your support of a marginalized creator you love.

1. Tell people they exist and how much you love them

I created a new newsletter feature called “Latinx Book Love” where I’ll be sharing books by Latinx authors I love. I’ll also be posting about them here on the blog. These aren’t traditional reviews because there is no critiquing going on. Instead, these are reactions where I talk about how the book made me feel, which themes resonated with me most and why.

My newsletter has almost 700 subscribers and this blog has over 1,000. They’re not huge numbers but if even one person chooses to buy a copy of one of these books from reading about it on my blog or in my newsletter then I’d call that a success.

How can you do something similar?

I know this one seems obvious but I also know a lot of readers who don’t write reviews. If you’re at all intimidated by posting your thoughts on an online retailer, find your own online space to share the books you love. AND remember: a review does not have to be time-consuming or 1,000 words long.

Like I said, my posts will be more like reactions to what I loved. A quick reflection on how a book made you feel is plenty to post as a review on Goodreads or Amazon and those reviews have a huge impact on a book’s visibility. As soon as you finish a book by a marginalized author, open up notes on your phone or grab a sticky note and jot down a few thoughts before you forget. Then post them to Goodreads, Amazon, or another online retailer whenever you can. Don’t forget text the reaction to a friend who you think would also love the book or share your reaction on social media.

2. Make your neighborhood libraries more inclusive

I mostly read library books because I happen to have a library right down the hall. Our ESL team has a great relationship with our librarian and at certain times of the year she asks for diverse books recs and/or linguistically accessible books (what we’d call low-level high-interest) that our ESL students might enjoy. I see this as an awesome opportunity to make our library’s selection more inclusive for all. The more diverse books that are in the library, the more likely it is that students will pick them up, fall in love with them, and want to read more by that author.

How can you replicate this at your own library? It’s super easy! I worked in libraries for several years before becoming a teacher so I know for a fact that the librarian at your local branch is a superhero and would definitely love to hear what you’d like to see more of. Especially if you check out books often, staff will really take your recs to heart. Even if you’re new to the library it’s really important that a library’s selection reflects the values of that community. So if you don’t see a book by a certain marginalized author on the shelves, give the title to the librarian who will either request it through an inter-library loan (which gets the books on their radar) or add it to their next order.

3. Make your neighborhood classrooms and communities more inclusive

Personally, it’s better for my budget to use the library at the school where I work to get most of my books. BUT because money is power I also want to make sure the things I’m doing are leading to actual sales for those marginalized authors. One of the ways I do this is by allotting a certain amount of our ESL department money to stocking our classroom libraries with diverse books. I always buy two copies of everything so reading is more social and kids can talk about what they’re reading with a friend who’s also reading the same book. This also helps when I want to do lit circles led by student choice because it ensures every book in my classroom library is an option for discussion.

Check out my lit circle haul from last year focused on diverse nonfiction texts:

Left to right *marginalized authors only: 1) Diary of a Tokyo Teen by Christine Mari Inzer 2) The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind byWilliam Kamkwamba 3) I Am Malala byMalala Yousafzai 4) Americanized by Sara Saedi 5) In the Country We Love by Diane Guerrero 6) I Will Always Write Back by Martin Ganda &Caitlin Alifirenka
And here’s my BOY haul focused on diverse anthologies & multi-genre texts:

Left to right: 1) Kim’s Convenience by Ins Choi 2) American Like Me *edited by America Ferrera 3) Fresh Ink *edited by Lamar Giles 4) Our Stories, Our Voices 5) We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices *edited by Wade Hudson 6) Flying Lessons & Other Stories *edited by Ellen Oh
And the summer reading books I’ll be giving away to students at EOY:

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TOP-Left to right: 1) Darrius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram 2) American Road Trip by Patrick Flores-Scott 3) Love, Hate, and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed 4) To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han
BOTTOM-Left to right: 5) Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert 6) We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia 7) The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe

As we approach our spring deadline for spending our budget money, I usually use it to purchase even more books. This year I bought the above summer reading books for my 9th & 10th graders and plan to do a gallery walk in May so students can choose one before summer break. I was very careful to find books containing representation that matches the diversity in my classroom and purchased books by and featuring marginalized people across different racial, religious, and cultural backgrounds.

How can you replicate this if you’re not a teacher and don’t have free money specifically allotted to buying diverse/inclusive teaching/reading materials?

You could start a book club with friends or coworkers for the purpose of reading books by marginalized authors. Whether the people in your group choose to buy the book themselves or request it at their local library the author is still making money. And who knows? Maybe someone (or multiple people) in your book club will fall in love with that author’s work and buy their entire backlist. Personally, when I discover a book that ends up blowing me away and becoming an absolute favorite I buy a personal copy to someday shelve in my *dream* home library.

If you have kids, you could also encourage them to start a book club like this with their friends.

If you’ve got the money to spend you can also seek out organizations that provide books to students in low-income schools. Or check out Donor’s Choose and search specifically for literacy projects focused on diverse books. Each year I make a few donations around Christmas time to teachers in my hometown who are building diverse classroom libraries or who need class sets of diverse books. If you can’t afford to fund one of these projects, share it on social media to help get the word out. You could even stop by a school in your neighborhood and ask if they need diverse book donations.

Again, if you don’t personally have the funds for this, organize a book drive and collect donations.

I think the most important thing to consider if you want to support marginalized creators is how can you leverage your own privilege and community to make a difference. We all have different financial situations and different levels of influence. If you can’t afford to spend your own money on these books, that’s okay. Find other ways to shine a light on them by reviewing them, shouting about them online, or recommending them to people and institutions that do have the funds to purchase them.

The methods listed above are just some of the ways I’m using my available time, resources, and platform to bring attention to diverse books. But as my financial situation and zone of influence changes, hopefully this list will change and I’ll be able to do things that make an even greater financial impact on the lives of these authors.

Because the more money these authors make, the more likely it is they’ll be able to build a sustainable career, and the more marginalized creators with successful track records, the more likely it is that publishers will be willing to invest in the work of other marginalized creators. A rising tide lifts all boats so let’s help each other rise and reach our goals while also getting these books into the hands of people who really need them.

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BookBub Results

Marketing & Promotion, Self Publishing

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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:

BookBub 1

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

 

The Tweak That Changed Everything

Marketing & Promotion, Self Publishing

I can’t even remember how I stumbled across Nick Stephenson’s blog or newsletter but I’m so glad I did. The author of a successful thriller series, he’s recently been promoting a series of videos and workshop opportunities for other authors looking to increase their sales. I signed up for his newsletter on a whim, my curiosity piqued by all of the comments and feedback left by authors who’d already been helped by his advice. The first three videos were free so I had nothing to lose and after implementing the advice from just the first two videos alone, I’ve already experienced some amazing results.

In just one month I’ve gone from selling a couple of books a day (if I was lucky) to selling 10-40 books a day. And as far as free downloads go, I’ve gone from twenty or so copies a day to 300-800! My books are actually reaching readers and every day my audience is growing exponentially. I know some people might scoff at my results. Maybe it took them one book to achieve what I’m just now experiencing after publishing six novels, but as an indie author and as an artist, I know how detrimental comparison is. All that matters is my journey and I couldn’t be happier with the road I’m on and the results I’ve achieved.

When I first started self-publishing I knew absolutely nothing about the online retailers where my books were being sold. I was familiar with Amazon only because I was a frequent customer there but I’d never taken the time to understand how their search engine worked, especially when it came to keywords. But after watching Stephenson’s videos I’ve come to realize that keywords are KEY to an indie author’s success. Each online retailer is a little different in how they utilize keywords and allow customers to search but since Amazon is where I make 90% of my sales I decided to devote most of my time to making changes there.

Before making big changes to all of my books listed on Amazon I decided to experiment with just my paranormal series. Since it’s genre fiction I figured it would be easier to apply specific categories and keywords, not to mention the fact that those changes could be applied to all three books. It took me a few hours of digging up comparable titles, checking their rankings, and evaluating the competitiveness among each keyword–meaning how many books were categorized by that term (all these steps are explained more in-depth in Stephenson’s training)–but the changes I made were significant.

Prior to watching Stephenson’s videos I was using keywords that were way too specific. I thought narrowing down the keywords would place my book among less competitive search results, meaning it would be closer to the top of the list and much more visible. In fact, this was the very thing making my books invisible. For example, I might have used keywords such as “nightmares” or “dreams”. These mean nothing to Amazon customers. Think about the way you search for things on google or Amazon or any other search engine. Most people would search using broader terms first, especially if they’re just browsing. So instead of using keywords like “nightmares” or “dreams” I replaced them with keywords that were more genre specific like “paranormal romance for teens” or “free paranormal romance.”

Stephenson goes much more in-depth in his training videos and I highly recommend checking them out. I’ll be moving on to video three soon and if his suggested changes continue to provide me with stellar results I’m definitely going to consider paying for his other training as well. I’ve benefited so much from his generosity already so I encourage anyone who’s interested to please check out his videos for yourself or his Leopold Blake thriller series. Indies helping indies is a beautiful thing so if you’ve come across any life changing advice or resources please feel free to share in the comments below!

Book Tour Insights

Marketing & Promotion, Self Publishing

Technically it’s been four months since The Girl In Between book tour came to an end, but let’s just say I delayed this post in order to thoroughly examine the experience and let all of the resulting goodness seep in. And by goodness I mean actual sales and increased visibility. I’d post a snapshot of my sales prior to the tour, but since they were pretty much nonexistent, I won’t. Instead, here’s a snapshot of the first 90 days after the tour, which started on October 31st, the release day for The Girl In Between. Tour Sales Free downloads were steady and it’s been months since I’ve had a day where that number has been zero. As for paid sales, the red line barely moved throughout the three months following the tour, but because of the success I had in the weeks directly after, I definitely agree with the notion that it takes up to six months for something to climb up out of the bowels of Amazon. Here’s a snapshot of my sales and downloads since February: AfterTourSales Much more consistent. My sales didn’t necessarily skyrocket in March, but to go from selling 0 copies a day for the past two years to selling 1-4 copies a day felt like the equivalent of climbing Mt. Everest. It had been an uphill battle every step of the way, but for the first time since starting this journey with The Things They Didn’t Bury back in 2012, I actually achieved some financial success! So what do I attribute to March’s significant turnaround in sales? Besides the countless maddening hours I spent writing over the past five years, the importance of which can’t be overstated, I took some strategic steps before, during and after the book tour towards treating my writing more like a business and less like a hobby.

Step 1: Write A Series

A lot of successful indie authors encourage newbies to publish a series because it allows for the first novel to be perma-free, which has HUGE promotional benefits, and it can build and retain a readership much quicker than standalone novels can. As an artist I thrive on structure, so once I came up with the ideas for my first three novels there was really no veering from them. I’ve never tried to write in the direction of trends, so even though I could certainly understand the benefits of writing a series, I just wasn’t ready to go down that road. Not to mention the fact that I hadn’t yet come up with an idea that could sustain a series. Personally, I never want to get into the habit of trying to write to what’s popular, because no matter what I do, I’ll never be able to please everyone. I needed those first three novels in order to grow as a writer and I’m glad that I devoted that time to writing what I wanted write and to learning the valuable lesson of FINISHING.

When I made the decision to turn The Girl In Between into a series I felt one hundred percent certain that I could see it through. What I didn’t know was whether or not it would be any good or make any sense or keep people’s interest or just be a big waste of time. Because I’d never written a series before, I decided to write the first draft of each novel back to back, and because of the way I’d scheduled the edits, I was able to publish them fairly close together. The Girl In Between was released on October 31st and The Boy In Her Dreams was published a month later at the end of September. Because I knew The Girl In Between would be perma-free I wanted all of the early purchasers to be able to get their hands on the sequel immediately if they were interested. Since I didn’t have a huge readership anxiously anticipating the release of either novel, this strategy didn’t necessarily have the kind of effect I thought it would. I didn’t take into consideration how long it would actually take for the first novel to gain steam. But I do still think that it’s a good strategy for anyone who already has some sort of an established readership because it helps create momentum.

Step 2: Plan a Blog Tour

I’ve planned blog tours before for my standalone novels but they never gained the kind of traction I’d hoped for. Having a series to promote this time around really allowed me to be extremely generous with giveaways and experiment with different price points. After spending countless hours trolling the internet for every young adult book blog I could find (the master list I’ve shared here) I started sending out emails–hundreds of them. It’s an excruciatingly slow and time consuming process but introducing yourself to internet strangers and asking them for help really is the only way to get it.

How to Plan a Blog Tour in 5 Easy Steps:

1. Prepare a Media Packet in email or word doc form containing the following promotional necessities: Book Cover, Blurb, Purchase Links, Social Media Links, Excerpt or Teasers, Coupon Codes for Giveaways, Author Bio, Author Photo, Newsletter Sign-up Info, etc.

2. Scour the internet for every book review blog you can find (Or just click here : ) I’ve done all the work for you)

3. Carefully read through their review policy and make sure your book is something they’ll enjoy before submitting a request. Also take into consideration their most popular or most requested (via their review policy) posts. Lots of bloggers prefer to post some kind of actual content along with their giveaways or book spotlights so be prepared to participate in an interview (some bloggers appreciate when you have pre-made questions and answers readily available) or guest post.

4. Construct a brief personalized email for each blog admin you’ll be submitting to -Use the blogger’s name in the salutation -Attach or include all your media information -Refer to their review policy in your pitch so they know you actually took the time to read it -Offer something FREE and of VALUE to their readers in exchange for being spotlighted on their blog -Thank them for everything they do for authors!

5. Wait. This is definitely the worst part. Now that I have three blog tours under my belt I can say with depressing certainty that only about 10% of the emails I send out actually get a reply and only about half of those bloggers actually follow through with a post. These numbers aren’t meant to discourage anyone but everyone who takes on the responsibility of planning their own blog tour should go into it with realistic expectations.

A blog tour can certainly increase your sales and visibility but it won’t necessarily make you an overnight sensation. What it will do is provide you with new opportunities to introduce yourself to readers who just might fall in love with your stories. And then tell their friends. Who will tell their friends. And that’s how careers are made.

Of course, I could have paid for the services of a tour host and saved myself the time and heartache of being rejected over and over and over and–you get it–but I believe there’s a lot of value in interacting with people personally. Many of the bloggers I reached out to had participated in tours in the past and over the years I’ve developed relationships with some of them that really mean a lot to me. When you’re an indie author, you don’t cultivate a massive amount of readers overnight, but it happens one at a time through emails and blog comments and social media interactions. That’s what makes them so long-lasting. That’s what makes them special. And the first step to cultivating relationships that last? Generosity. It’s also the first step to planning an amazing book tour.

Step 3: Be Generous

People love free stuff. They love contests and giveaways and the excitement and exclusivity that goes along with winning a prize. When I was approaching bloggers with my very first book I hadn’t yet learned the value of free and was afraid of giving away too many copies of my novels. Now I know that there is no such thing as giving away too much stuff.

The Girl In Between became perma-free the moment the sequel was published and I also put it up on Wattpad. Since then I’ve gotten over 800 reads and 10,000 downloads. It’s true that some people will download anything that’s free and my book may have gotten lost in their TBR pile never to be seen again, but it’s also true that some of those people actually read the free books they download and then go on to buy the sequel. My point is that you should never underestimate the power of FREE. Writing isn’t about making money, it’s about being read. And if you want people to read your books then you have to make it as easy for them as possible.

Bloggers especially, will be much more open to the idea of hosting you on their site if you’re willing to offer something to their readers in exchange. Some bloggers might ask for an exclusive excerpt or teaser or some might ask that you write a guest post about a topic of their choice. Usually if a blogger asks you for something specific it’s best to deliver what they want but I would suggest offering free e-books for their readers every chance you can. The goal of a blog tour is to create maximum exposure and find readers. This means getting the actual book in front of them by any means necessary. The best way to do that is to give them the book for free! So whether you’re planning a tour for your first novel or the final book in a series don’t be afraid to be generous. Don’t be afraid to give. Do it despite the possibility of receiving nothing in return. Do it because your story deserves to be read.

Step 4: Use Promo Sites

I’ve experimented with different promo sites in the past (all free) and I definitely recommend submitting to as many as possible and timing the promotions at various points throughout the tour. A few at the beginning, middle and end should help increase your downloads and boost your rank. If you have other books for sale you should also see a an uptick in paid sales as well. Taking another look at my free downloads during the TGIB book tour you can see that there were two days when they really skyrocketed. Tour Sales This surge in free downloads corresponds with two promo days. I usually submit my book for promotion through Author Marketing Club, but unfortunately not all of the participating sites let you know if your novel’s been accepted. Because of this I have no idea which sites are responsible for the major increase but I do know the tripling of my downloads was no coincidence. I’m currently experimenting with promo sites again for this series, the results of which I’ll try to share in a later blog post, but what I have concluded is that there’s really no good reason not to submit to these sites. They’re free, some offering guaranteed promotions for as little as $5, which means that you can increase your visibility–sometimes significantly–for just the price of a coffee. Not only that, but making your book visible to multiple audiences via multiple platforms is an important part of building your author brand. If I come across an interesting sounding book on Goodreads I may make mental note of it, but the odds of me remembering by payday to actually go purchase it are slim. Unless I just so happen to stumble across that same book on a review blog I frequent or on a pinterest board I follow or in a weekly email from a discount e-book website I subscribe to. The more opportunities you create for people to stumble across your work, the more likely they’ll be to purchase it.

Step 5: Keep Writing

Leading up to and after a new release it can be incredibly difficult not to spend your entire life tracking sales. In the beginning stages of your planning there will be a lot of things to juggle, and you’ll likely end up devoting more time to promotion than you do to your actual writing. For a short period of time this will be acceptable but eventually you’ll have to refocus your efforts on what’s actually important, which is not cyberstalking potential readers. Eventually you will have to accept the fact that you’ve done all you can and get back to work!

Sure, you could continue to tweak and experiment until your brain turns to mush, but like I said, making money is not the point here. Self-publishing is not a get rich quick scheme. Even if you do experience some miracle results from your first promotional experiment, those sales will eventually trickle downward, regardless of how high they once were. Which is why you should never measure your success in numbers in the first place. Your first priority should always be your work. Sales don’t sustain a career. Readers do. So if you want to turn writing into a career then you have to give your readers what they want–more books.

You can adopt every trick you’ve heard from every self-published author who claims to have figured out the secret to life-long literary success, but I promise you nothing will be as beneficial as having a strong backlist. Nothing you can measure will be as satisfying or sustaining as an email from a reader whose life was changed by your words. We all want to make a name for ourselves but the truth is there are no shortcuts. Not in life. Not in art. So if you want to be a writer, do the work. Don’t shy away from what’s difficult, embrace it. Don’t count, create.

The Disillusionment of Twitter

Marketing & Promotion, Mental Health, Self Publishing

I know that as a writer I’m supposed to be enamored with Twitter but the truth is I can’t spend a significant amount of time there without feeling terrible about myself. My feed is full of other authors, more well-know and more successful authors, and every day someone else is landing an agent or having an amazing sales day or launching a new book or sharing the amazing review they just got. Twitter is becoming less of a means of communication and more of a personal billboard and all it does is force me to indulge in that dreaded soul-sucking past-time called comparison. So I step away and I block it out. And while it’s the only way I can get any writing done I’m also not building any relationships and I’m not interacting with the people who matter most–readers. So how can we find the balance between engaging on social media and maintaining the right head space for writing, all while not becoming overwhelmed in the process? I’m not sure I know the answer to that question but I am learning more ways to cope with the stress that envy and disappointment bring and how to celebrate others’ success without discounting my own.

Step One: Know Your Limits.

When I’m in the middle of writing a first draft being raw both emotionally and creatively is a necessity. For two months I’m as open as a sore and sometimes getting the words out is just as painful which means that this is not the time to put myself in any kind of situation that could possibly lead to some kind of mental breakdown. Which means no checking my blog stats or monitoring my sales or constantly refreshing my twitter feed and dwelling on all of the people who have lives way cooler than mine. Comparison is the thief of creativity as well as the thief of joy and when your psyche is as delicate as an egg shell engaging in things that don’t fill you up or make you feel good about yourself just aren’t worth the risk.

Instead, learn to celebrate your own small victories, congratulating and encouraging yourself one word at a time. But not just for the words themselves but for the very act of creating, for being brave enough to make something no one ever has before. Even if you have to sit at your desk with your eyes closed, focusing only on the feeling of the keys beneath your fingers. Focus. Focus on you and no one else. Because there is a time and a use for social media but there is also a time for you. There is a time to step away from it all and in order to become successful finishers we must learn the difference. For our health, for our creativity, and for our sanity.

Step Two: Skip The Tough Love.

This step is all about respect. When it comes to writing I’m incredibly hard on myself, punishing myself with negative thoughts and comparisons and bad habits whenever I don’t reach my word count or didn’t accomplish as much as I’d planned. I used to categorize it as tough love but the truth is it’s just toxic. Because forcing myself to salivate over the success of others doesn’t motivate me. It terrifies me. And not just because it fills me with so much doubt and this crippling longing that I’m afraid will never go away, but because it’s so easy to get lost in it. It’s so easy to get on twitter or facebook or wordpress or kindle boards or amazon and spend an eternity over-analyzing every move and every piece of data and every author and trying to figure out where you’re going wrong.

It’s so easy to make yourself feel like a failure that sooner or later you start to become one. Because sooner or later you start to entertain the idea of giving up and if you keep indulging in these self-destructive comparisons, sooner or later you will. Failures aren’t the people who tried and lost it all. Failures are the people who never tried at all. And if you’re spending too much time on social media, letting yourself spiral into deep disappointment and self-loathing, and your excusing it as some kind of twisted form of motivation you’re not hurting anyone but yourself and you’re only prolonging the success that could be yours if you just had the self-discipline to get off the internet and get back to writing.

Step Three: Stay Away From The Things That Hurt You.

The concept is so simple it’s biological. I know we’ve all heard about or maybe even lived out the scenario of our mother telling us not to touch the stove top because the burner is on. Unfortunately though, throughout the history of mankind, the warning is usually never enough. So we touch it anyway and guess what? We get burned. We blister and it hurts like hell but it’s that pain that we carry with us long after the burn has healed as a reminder to stay away from things that might hurt us. It’s a survival mechanism, really, and we’re fairly good at it when it comes to physical adversaries. But for some reason we’re not so good at it when it comes to emotional ones.

As humans, and especially as creative ones, for some reason we like to dwell on things. We like to drown in our own sorrows and the urge to pick ourselves apart is like this awful twenty-first century tick that sends us out in a frenzy to buy every new product or endorse every new program that might somehow make us better. But if we really cared about bettering ourselves we would treat our time and our thoughts and our bodies like they’re sacred. Because they are. And we need to fill them with things that build us up rather than tear us down and we have to learn the kind of self-discipline and self-respect that allows us to say no. To close that article or that email. To put that magazine away or to stop listening to that judgmental family member who makes us feel worthless. To get out of that toxic relationship with men and with women and with food.

To protect ourselves like we’re worth protecting.

This need to constantly judge and degrade ourselves goes way beyond abusing social media and so do the traumas. But if we can start there, if we can learn to set boundaries with the small things first, then maybe we can use them as leverage when it’s time to build bigger ones.