#Passion2Profession: 9 Books in 12 Months, the final update

In January I started a major push to pad my backlist: writing 10 books in 12 months. I’ve given periodic updates throughout the year, and with my final release for 2017 happening today, I’m writing my final update.

So, first of all, where did I end up? I wrote and released 9 books between January 2017 and November 2017. What happened to the 10th book? I certainly had plenty of time to write it. I could still hammer it out before December 31st. And surprisingly I’m not burned out in terms of writing, but  I am burned out on writing in certain series and themes, so I elected not to write the tenth book. I’ve moved on to writing some very different things for 2018!

Now we come to the results. My primary purpose with this schedule was to build my backlist. It’s safe to say, “mission accomplished.” The advantage of having a larger backlist is longer term than the revenues you earn on a release or even the revenues you earn as the books sit in your catalogue over the next several months. A larger backlist gives you more opportunities to run sales, create box sets, and use subsidiary rights.

So how successful was my 9 books in 12 months effort in terms of these things? The overall copies sold were mediocre (I’ll get into that more in a bit), but before you put on a sad face, the opportunities for sub rights, new platforms, and sales/box sets has been great. I’ve already managed to get two books into three foreign markets, and yes, they’re actually earning (pro tip: Germany, y’all). I’ve sold the audio rights to twelve books which are being produced as I write this, and I’m launching the entire catalogue onto some new platforms. By having a large backlist to leverage I’ve given myself a leg up with multiple streams of revenue.

Now, let’s talk about the lessons learned. I honestly didn’t struggle with writing 9 books in 10 months. There were of course moments when I would rather have flayed my own skin off then write another word, but that’s just how this job is some days, no matter if you’re writing 9 books in a year or one. Overall, writing the books was actually the easier part. What ultimately tripped me up wasn’t the writing, it was the other stuff. I tend to be very goal-oriented. I see the end game, and head straight toward it. So I made writing these books my goal, and I put my head down and wrote.

But guess what? There’s all that other shit that’s part of the job—new releases, record-keeping, promotions, networking. And the first quarter of the year I managed. I had a strict monthly promo schedule, I participated in group promotions, applied for BookBubs, built my newsletter list. And then I got to May…and June…and July. And I kept writing, but I began to lose track of what the hell was supposed to be going on AFTER the book was written.

The result was that everything BUT the books began to fray around the edges. I know people who can write and release ten or more books a year and make every release and every sale an A+ effort. I’m not one of them.

****Before I go any further I want to make an important note: I didn’t give an A+ effort to the non-writing portions of the job for the second and third quarter of 2017. However, that doesn’t negate the impact of the extremely difficult market in contemporary romance and to a lesser degree some other genres. I make this point because there are a lot of you out there who ARE putting in A+ effort, who are writing many books in a year, who are getting quality editing, quality covers, building your reader groups and your subscriber lists. There are a huge number of you who are writing to market and doing ALL the right things. And you still aren’t able to sell many books.

This market is unlike anything publishing has ever experienced. What we’re seeing isn’t a “normal” low in the market, because since 2011 we’ve had ebooks, Indie publishing, Amazon, Facebook, and KU. Those things didn’t exist before, so therefore the pre-2011 markets aren’t comparable. What we’re experiencing now is a first. The first time we’ve had the flood of indie authors, indie books, and Amazon marketplace manipulation. We’re in an evolving system. Therefore comparing it to anything that came before is useless. We’ve only begun to understand how it got here, and we can only guess where it might end up. So when you’re assessing your own results in 2017, make sure to take that into account. Give it your best effort, make sure you’ve done all the things, but realize that still might not be enough.****

Final thoughts: If I were living January 2017 all over again, I’d make the same choice. Having all my existing series nicely wrapped up, a backlist of 20 books, and the ability to send those out to new markets and platforms is well worth a year of my time. Now I start 2018 with those income producers, and the freedom to write whatever and wherever I want.

You’ll see some very different things from me in 2018, including a brand new pen name, so stay tuned! In the meantime, I hope the last quarter of your 2017 is filled with words–whether you write them or read them. Don’t be afraid to take on the “impossible” tasks and follow that road wherever it may lead.

If you’d like to read my last book of 2017, it’s a holiday novella set in my Powerplay world and you can grab it here:

      

xoxo, Selena.

#Passion2Profession: Reaching 100%

My husband often calls me the 90% girl. I work fast, I’m efficient, but when I get things to the 90% mark, I call it good. It’s not that I don’t finish things–I do–it’s just that if it’s 90% of the way to perfect, I stop. “Close enough” I say, nothing’s ever perfect, right?

Wrong.

Being 90% girl means I often don’t take things as far as I should. Most writers have no problems being perfectionists about their words, but how many of us are 90%-ing the other things? I absolutely do.  I have a newsletter, I put links to subscribe to it in my backmatter and on my social media and my website. I send out newsletters when I have a new release or a sale. I have a drip campaign going with free books for new subscribers. It’s a lot. It’s 90% and that’s good.

But that last ten percent—in ads, in newsletters, in so many things in this business—is the ten percent that distinguishes a really successful author from a kind of successful one. Those details we don’t want to worry about are the final push that help us rise above, and they’re often the hardest part of the job.

If you want to do more than just get by in Indie publishing, you cannot stop at 90%. We all have to prioritize in this business, but once you’ve selected those two or five or ten things you’re going to focus on, you have to do them to 100% or you’re not doing everything you can to succeed. This business is hard, and while you may find temporary things—a BookBub, a particular ad, KU—that seem to be the key to success, if you stick around long enough you’ll discover those things won’t pull you through the long haul.

The only thing that will sustain you over the long term in Indie writing is to work your ass off, constantly looking to hit the 100% mark in everything you decide to take on.

Newsletters? I learned this weekend how important it is not only to have a subscriber list and publicize it, but to segment your list by readers’ interests and needs; to optimize and test your newsletters to maximize your open rates; to automate your system so readers are hearing from you in a timely and interactive fashion; and to compose your news so readers know you’re interested and care about giving them something of value.

Ads? I learned It’s not enough to simply run them, you need to tailor them depending on your market. Are you using KU? Successful strategies are different than for wide distribution. FB, AMS, and BB are useful for different circumstances and purposes. And for every ad your graphics need to be 100%, your hooks need to be 100%, your audiences need to be precise. You can’t 90% this shit or you’re throwing away your money and your opportunities.

So where does that leave us? We can’t do it all, because this job is actually the job of five people, and even if we could be perfect, we’re just too damn tired to be.

The answer is: you have to prioritize. You have to determine those essential items for your business, and then you have to do them to 100%. Writing isn’t for the faint of heart, and most writers I know are damn hard workers, but especially when you’re Indie you have to work even harder. You have to go beyond the 90% point, not only with your words, but with the other essentials in your business as well. You have to be willing to try things out, do things you don’t enjoy, spend money on items that aren’t a “sure thing.” And only once you’ve gone all the way to 100% will you find your best, most successful self.

#Passion2Profession: Fear…So Much Fear.

If I were to pick a word for this week, it would be “Fear.” There is fear in the world-at-large with bad men and big weapons everywhere from country music concerts to Asian dictatorships, there is fear in the world of publishing with sales seeming to dip and dip and dip, until we have to ask the question: if we write it and no one reads it is it still a book? And there is fear in me because I’m about to travel to a writers’ conference, and I don’t like airplanes, being by myself, or lots of new people, so it’s pretty much guaranteed I’ll be a knot of anxiety for four days straight.

Fear is part of the human condition, and it is an inescapable part of being an author as well. Authors have a somewhat twisted relationship with our fear, it can drive us to expand our vision, push our boundaries, and reach new heights. It can also sap our initiative, stifle our creativity, and drag us to the depths of despair.

Publishing is a business rife with uncertainty. We spend much of our professional time waiting for other people to judge us—agents, editors, readers—all day long we produce, page after page, book after book, and then we wait for someone else to tell us it passes muster.

The fear this engenders can be all encompassing. I heard someone mention recently that procrastination is all about fear. The reason you can’t finish that book? Fear. The reason you keep putting off that submission? Fear. Writers are filled with fear. The fear of rejection, the fear of failure, the fear we will never be able to do this the way we want.

But if you’re a new writer, here’s something to hold onto: If you do this long enough, you will have virtually all of your fears come true. That may not sound comforting, but trust me, it is.

See, once those fears have come to life, wrapped themselves around your tender heart, and squeezed the motherfucking life out of you, they lose their power.

Once your work has been rejected, your dream agent has shut you down, the publisher has tossed your book in the garbage, your new release has crashed and burned, your ad has cost you hundreds of dollars and not sold a penny—once you’ve gone from earning six figures to earning four, once you’ve hit a list then waited for years to ever hit another, once you’ve had your idea stolen by a critique partner you trusted, and every book you’ve written has been pirated—in short, once you’ve failed as everyone does at some point in this business—that’s when you truly become free.

I’ve been doing this for five years now, and I’ve faced just about every fear I’ve had with regards to being a professional author. I’ve failed with agents, with editors, with readers, with covers, with whole series, and individual books. I’ve failed with networking, and with social media, and at conferences, and in private groups. And several times I’ve failed at the one thing that scares me the most—I’ve had my income decline precipitously.

My biggest fear in publishing has always been that I wouldn’t earn enough to make it worthwhile. But after an exceptionally bad month this year, I faced that greatest fear, and it lost its hold on me. Because I realized that no matter how much or how little I earn, I’ll still do this. Once I got to that place, the fear was gone, and I was free.

So if you’re new to publishing, and you’re struggling with the many fears that plague all writers, stop and ask yourself this: If this fear comes true, then what? If that book bombs—then what? If that agent rejects me—then what? If no one buys it—then what? And if your answer to any of those is: I’ll move on to the next book and try again, then you’ve just taken one giant step toward turning your passion into your profession. Because a doctor doesn’t quit medicine every time she loses a patient, and a carpenter doesn’t stop building things just because he hung one door wrong. Lawyers don’t stop practicing when they lose a case, and engineers can’t leave their jobs when the engine fails.

All professionals fail. All professions have failure. Writing may feel more personal, but in the end, it’s a job and we all fail at jobs sometimes. So this week I’m coaching you to face the fear, face the possibility that you’ll do this and fail—over and over again—then let the fear go, and let yourself be free.

I’ll be over here rocking in the corner while I wait for my flight to take off, but I’m cheering you on, every step of the way.

#Passion2Profession: Be Kind to Your Writers

A few days ago Abbi Glines announced she was going to publish a three book series exclusively on iBooks. This apparently did not go over well with her readers. And I get that. I understand it can be frustrating to think there might be something out there you really want and aren’t “allowed” to have. I understand superfans often invest significant time and emotional energy into reading our books, reviewing our books, recommending our books, and it’s natural they feel they should have a special relationship with their authors. One of trust and mutual admiration. One where said author doesn’t go giving cherished gifts to other friends instead of the superfans.

But here’s where more knowledge might help. Here’s where readers, no matter how devoted they may be, can’t really understand what’s gone into making a decision like the one Abbi made. Because it’s probably pretty difficult for readers to understand just how rough this business can be. A big part of any writer’s job is to put on a public face that says, “Hey, look at me! My books are selling like hot cakes, I love what I do, I’m famous, I’m successful!” And when we don’t do that we run the risk of readers thinking we’re failures OR we look like ingrates. As writers, we spend a great deal of time only showing readers the best things about ourselves, our lives, and our jobs.

And while all those good things we talk about are true—the signings are a blast, we love that new cover, the next book is so fun to write, we won that award—here’s what’s also true:
We spend huge amounts of time doing work that people tell us isn’t good enough–agents, editors, beta readers, friends, family, reviewers. We cajole, beg, entice, and come pretty damned close to bribing people to take a look at our work, only to have them take the ARCs, gift cards, swag, and Kindles, but refuse to buy any books. We work for years trying to build an audience, produce work that fits our brand and is written to the market, but still engages our passions, only to have a brand new author put out a debut book and blow us out of the water by hitting a best seller list because she cozied up to the “right” people. We exist in a world and an industry that is cutthroat, and don’t believe anyone who tells you otherwise. And, we exist in a world where most of us will never be able to support our families with our writing.

Since 2011, publishing has become increasingly difficult in terms of the logistics, the market, the competition, and the earnings. What writers don’t want to tell you is that while they quit their day job back in 2014, they had to go back to it in 2017. And while they won that very prestigious award six months ago, they only sold 150 copies of the award-winning book. They don’t tell you that even though they attended that glamorous signing event in New York City, they live in a two bedroom apartment in Ohio with three kids and a cat, and most days they have to take the bus to their job as a receptionist at a dentist’s office. What no one wants to say is we might spend a thousand dollars and nearly that many hours to get a book ready, and in release month it earns a fourth of that. Then it earns less and less each consecutive month until the only way we can get anyone to look at it at all is to put it on sale for 99cents wherein we earn a third of a penny for every copy sold.

I’m not telling you these things for pity. After all, any of us can choose to do something different at any point. Many of us have. No job is perfect, and we’re hardly putting our lives at risk or trying to broker world peace. But I do hope you can understand that when a writer like Abbi Glines decides to do an exclusive series with iBooks, she’s doing it because it has the potential to help her sell more books to more people. Plain and simple. It also has the potential to make her somewhat less dependent on a corporation (Amazon) that could make a decision, with no warning, that strips her income overnight (ask any veteran author what happened when KU was introduced. Amazon’s done it before, there’s no reason to doubt they’ll do it again). She’s doing it because this business is fucking hard, and like any writer, she is faced with constant stressors and roadblocks, and she’s looking for a way to overcome them.

Her decision is a business decision in a business that is nearly impossible to succeed at right now. And no matter how much she loves her readers and wants to do the best things for them, she can’t devote everything in her world to their preferences. She has to turn a profit, she needs to feed her kids, she can’t do this for free. None of us can. So readers, superfans, those people who we love dearly and can’t do this without, when an author makes a decision that upsets you, that isn’t in your “favor” or seems to be based on business rather than friendship, I beseech you to take a breath, remind yourself that in the end, it’s only a book, and be kind to your authors. Not all of our decisions will be perfect, whether they involve business or stories, but most of us are making them in a genuine effort to earn a wage at something we love to do. We’re all struggling to turn our passion into a profession.

#Passion2Profession: Editing, Writing, and Story

When I started this series I swore to myself I wasn’t going to talk about editing, because seriously how many forums, groups, and loops are you on where people ask for recommendations for editors? It’s the oldest, most repeated question in Indie land. So, I’m going to stick to at least part of my pledge, and I’m not going to talk about editors. Instead, I’m going to use a recent blog by Hugh Howie as a launching pad to a discussion about editing and writing and story.

First of all, here’s the link to Hugh’s post: http://amazonauthorinsights.com/post/161308225145/a-question-about-poorly-edited-books-by-hugh?ref=aai_ts_write

Now, to summarize, Howey says that while writers should strive to do things decently, readers are expecting too much and we should all work harder at reading. He ends with “Plot is king, prose is pawn.”

So here you are, you’re striving to be a professional Indie writer and you hear…well, stuff like that. The simple fact is, you’re Indie, and you can do what you want. You don’t have to worry about the writing if you don’t want to. You can use cheap, second or third rate editing so that you can check that off the list, and comfort yourself with the thought that “I paid for professional editing.”

And the ultimate justification always used for this approach is Fifty Shades of Grey. Seriously, how many times have you heard it? “If writing really mattered Fifty Shades wouldn’t be the phenomenon it is.” And if any of us dare say writing is more important than a mere vehicle to distribute story, then we’re snobs and don’t understand what readers really want.

So what I’ll say is this: If you’re going to be a professional, if you respect the art and business of books, and if you understand that markets and readers and trends change drastically from year to year, then you need to care about writing. That doesn’t mean story doesn’t matter–of course it does, otherwise you’re writing what? Random words? Grocery lists? Novels are stories, stories must engage readers, and one of the best ways to help with that? Decent writing.

Qualified editors can help make sure your writing is solid–no matter what your personal voice and style may be. Not every book needs the same types of edits, not every writer can afford Cadillac edits, but if you’re going to be a professional Indie author, do yourself and the rest of us a favor and give a damn about your writing. Will your book be perfect? Of course not, because no book ever is, but contrary to what Howie suggests, readers shouldn’t have to develop a whole new ability just to read your book. Your book’s not that special. No one’s is. Instead, be a professional, make sure the writing is every bit as good as the story. It’s part of the job, and if you ignore it you not only damage your own brand, you damage the reputation of the profession. If Plot is King, then Writing needs to be Queen. Cleaning the house can be pawn. Indie writers are allowed to have dirty houses. It’s a rule. Ask anyone.