Here’s What Happens When You Just Stop Writing. #Passion2Profession

I’m dealing with this…horrible thing that I didn’t ask for. I used to love to write. It brought me incredible joy…I woke up every day, filled with excitement and an urge to rush to my computer so I could continue to tell whatever story I was currently writing. It was never easy, but it was always fun, and somewhere down the line, it stopped being fun…So I’m in free fall, because you’re right. I don’t know who I am, or what I’ll be if I just stop writing.” — Shay, SOME KIND OF HERO by Suzanne Brockman.

By sheer coincidence I was reading my first Suzanne Brockman book when she took the stage at RWA in Denver. There was a certain amount of irony that her speech touched on how a lot of people were feeling, while at the same moment her written words were touching on how I, specifically, was feeling.

So what happens after you realize you’re in free fall because you don’t know who you are or what you’ll do if you just stop writing?

Let me tell you all about it…in short, it’s a roller coaster ride.

In the last few weeks I’ve bounced from relief to disgust to acceptance. I’ve also found myself suddenly sobbing for no obvious reason, eating way more carbs than I should, and being unable to concentrate on anything for more than a few minutes.

But, let me tell you something else: There is hope. And beyond that, there is learning, and pivoting, and there are dreams bigger than being a famous-wealthy-award-winning-bestselling-insert your personal goal here- author.

Here are some of the amazingly positive things that have happened since I wrote this post—>> eight weeks ago:

1. I admitted I was no longer earning a living through my writing, and picked a different means to make money. I’m still training to teach English as a second language, but the decision to pursue that employment has given me the freedom both to engage in interests outside of writing, and to explore options in writing I never would have if I were “trying to earn.” There is a tremendous relief that has come with removing money from the equation in terms of what I write, where I write, and how I publish, in considering partnerships and avenues I’d turned a blind eye to years ago. My entire career developed in the age of Facebook, Amazon, contemporary romance, and Indie. I saturated myself in those worlds, hyper focused on those platforms. But guess what? There are other ways and places, other genres, other options. If I hadn’t “given up” so to speak, I wouldn’t be seeing all the things I am now.

2. I left behind the things I’m not good at and don’t want to do. No more fretting over ads and algorithms, cross promos and giveaways. Will I do those things again someday? Maybe. Will I ever spend a bunch of time trying to “master” them? No. I’ve been focusing on story ideas, refilling my well, the process of creativity. And I’ve been working with other amazing women who are interested in exploring the same things (come join us here—>>

3. I decided I don’t want to be multiple people anymore. There isn’t a “Selena the author” and a “Selena the person.” I’m building an umbrella brand because I’m too complex not to. “Selena” loves language and books and humanity. And those things aren’t contradictory. One of the first things a “real life” acquaintance said when she read one of my books was, “it’s amazing how you wove human rights into a romance novel. I didn’t know that was possible.” Of course it is, and yes, I do it, but I do it in my own way. It’s not a marketing tool or a selling point, it’s just me. I’m going to keep on doing it, but I’m also going to discuss it outside the books. I’ll never make a speech like Suzanne Brockman’s, it’s not my style. But I’ll advocate and educate and use books and language and the skills I’ve gained over a lifetime to make the world a better place.

4. I’m deciding to go deep. When I woke up all those weeks ago and realized I couldn’t keep doing what I had been, I was faced with some choices about how I view myself. The easy thing was to say, “I don’t have what it takes to succeed.” But deep down that didn’t feel right. The harder thing was to say, “I haven’t gone to the right place to succeed.” There are places I haven’t taken my writing and my career because I was scared. Places I’ve told myself are “too good” for me. No more. It’s time to test the waters, take the plunge, and go deep.

A few weeks ago I felt like Suzanne Brockman’s heroine. And some days I do still. But more often I am feeling that this is not an end, but a pivot, a shift into something that while more complicated and intimidating may end up being much more fulfilling. All this is to say: your dreams aren’t an all or nothing proposition. You don’t have to view this career as a zero-sum game. There are as many ways to be a writer as there are books to write. Open your mind, release your creative energy, and build your own road.

#Passion2Profession How to Bar-Con With Purpose

Another RWA national conference is in the bag and it’s time for the “lessons learned” portion. There are lots of notes being traded, stories being told, and ideas being exchanged. Some experiences were good, some unfortunately were bad, but all are useful and help newer writers decide whether they might want to brave the world’s biggest confab of romance writers the next time around.

I’ve attended three of the last four RWA conferences (because I refuse to add Disney World to the existing madness of a 2000+ attendee conference), but I’ve done it a little differently each time. And this year I finally felt like I was hitting my stride. Here’s how I did it:

  1. I am known for my inability to sit still and be talked at for long periods. I’m also known (at least to myself) as having a four-hour cap on my ability to people. Most of you reading this understand what I’m saying. It’s a lot of talking, and smiling, and trying not to overanalyze what you just said and how everyone around you reacted to it. Because of all this, I decided not to register for RWA this year (since it was down the road from my house) and “Bar-Con” instead.
  2. However, I didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity to learn some new things, so when the Kiss of Death romantic suspense chapter announced their annual pre-con day-long workshop, I jumped on it. This year the Denver ATF presented for six hours on what they do and how they do it, and it was fantastic! If you’re going to Bar-Con, look for opportunities like the Kiss of Death pre-con workshop. There are almost always a variety of mini-workshops directly before the conference that use a separate registration. They’re a great way to get the “learning” without committing to several days worth of workshops.
  3. I attended an awards reception. Granted, I was up for the award (and won it, thank you very much! 😉 ) but even if you aren’t, go to a reception for a friend who’s a finalist, or for one that your local RWA chapter hosts. It’s a good way to be involved with one of the industry’s other functions–applauding excellence–and whether it’s your’s or someone else’s, it’s important to contribute to it.
  4.  I scheduled one professional meeting and several social meetings. The social meetups were with a variety of people, and while they didn’t always turn out exactly as planned (twice I didn’t actually get a chance to talk to the person I’d come to meet with 😦 ) they were well worth the time and ended up refilling my well in ways nothing else could. I talked to old friends, met new friends, signed things for readers who were local, met up with newer writers who were also readers, handed out audiobooks just for fun, and talked about business, people’s families, future projects, etc. I came away with gratitude for the friends I’ve made in five years, awe at the level of talent of my fellow writers (I had FIVE friends who were RITA finalists, y’all), joy for the successes they’ve experienced both professionally and personally, and amazement that there were enough people who actually specifically wanted to see me that I filled four whole days with meetups.
  5. When you Bar-Con you don’t get to attend the  RITAs. I live streamed instead and really enjoyed it. However, if you’re super into getting dressed up and love to be live at things like that, you’ll need to consider what you’d miss if you go the Bar-Con route.
  6. I am in no way advocating that everyone stop paying registration fees and hang out in the lobby at RWA conferences. The organization needs the registrations, and depending on where you are in your career, there are dozens of useful and unique workshops that you won’t find anywhere other than the national conference. However, I learned something valuable about myself by taking a step back this year and sticking to the Bar-Con. For an introvert (like me), the combination of attending workshops all day and then trying to socialize on top of it is overwhelming. I did more “networking” and positive socializing this year than I ever have at past conferences, I also enjoyed this conference more than any previous RWA. I know that was because without the workshops I had the energy left to people.
  7. I now feel liberated to register for next year’s conference, and skip the majority of workshops. I’ve realized that what we sign up for at RWA is much bigger and more significant than workshops alone. It’s about the experience in its entirety and you aren’t wasting your money if you go and spend the vast majority of your time doing things other than sitting in panel sessions. So if you’re unsure about whether to attend a future RWA, or if you simply can’t afford the travel plus the registration, consider the Bar-Con, but do it with purpose, plan a variety of experiences, make those connections a priority, and release yourself from the idea that RWA is mainly about the workshops. Then commit to registering for the subsequent conferences because it’s how we give back to the organization that brings so much and so many together in such a unique way.

#Passion2Profession: How much is too much?

As much as we’d all like to carry the “New Year New Market” enthusiasm past January 1, the fact is the publishing market was the same on January 2nd as it was on December 31st. And we all know that means it’s anything but inspiring.

Because of that, there is a lot of talk about “how to earn,” and a lot of authors offering courses and coaching and mentoring. While I encourage you to keep learning, expanding your knowledge base and all that, keep in mind that there is no one “system” that will make you successful. While successful authors can tell you what they’ve done, that’s no guarantee it will have the same results for you. There are simply too many variables in this business.

Before you spend that chunk of change on someone’s system, make sure you’re realistic about what you’re getting for it. I’ve signed up for a year-long coaching program in a new genre, and I’m not expecting to become a bestseller or get rich. What I am hoping to do is get help building an audience from someone who’s already tied into that genre. That’s how you need to think. What can I really expect to get out of it and how much is that worth?

All of which brings me to today’s topic: How much is too much? How much are you willing to sacrifice to turn your passion into a profession? Because now more than ever it will be a sacrifice, and over and over again I’ve watched writers push their sacrifice too far. The call to follow your dreams is loud in this business, and there are people telling you they can help you do it (for a nice fee) everywhere you turn. There are a million techniques and strategies and approaches that you “should” be following, and then of course, there’s the actual writing of the books.

It’s overwhelming, and in our desperate rush to somehow make our dreams come true, we can push ourselves too far. So where is that line? Of course is will be different for every writer, but here are some basics you need to keep in mind:

1. If it’s damaging your physical and emotional health. Guess what? No dream is worth that. As much as I want you to succeed as a writer, I want you to be healthy more. If sitting at the laptop sixteen hours a day is giving you high blood pressure and you’ve gained forty pounds, or social media makes you anxious and writers’ forums put you into a depression every time you go online then it’s not worth it. Doesn’t mean you have to quit, just means you need to scale back until you can regain control of your personal well-being.

2. If it’s keeping you from being a good parent, son, daughter, partner, friend, spouse, etc. It’s easy to think you can take care of the people in your life later, but the fact is, no dream is worth destroying your relationships over. We all joke about leaving our spouses and children to live on carry-out while we’re on deadlines, and of course a week here or there isn’t going to kill anyone, but is it a few days? Or is it all night every night, both days on the weekend, all year long without pause? As the mother of four kids who are in their teens and twenties, and the daughter of parents who are nearly eighty, I can tell you no dream, no passion, no career is worth losing that time.

3. If it’s putting you into debt. Especially now, with the abundance of “I can teach you how to make money” opportunities that are saturating the industry, it’s far too easy to spend far too much on a career that will very likely never earn you much (and that’s not me being pessimistic, it’s just the statistics of author earnings). There is something to be said for spending smart money and taking well-calculated risks. It’s worked for more than one aspiring author, but if you’ve put your family into debt, or your business has never turned a profit, you need to stop and think about the choices you’re making. Illnesses happen, kids need things, spouses lose jobs. If you’ve taken away your family’s ability to weather those challenges because of spending on your dream, you’ve probably gone too far.

Finding balance is something every writer struggles with, and that tipping point is different for each of us. We all have different home environments, different finances, different personal proclivities and interests. But over and over again I’ve watched authors damage themselves and those around them with the drive to follow a dream. You won’t make it in this industry if you aren’t driven, but you also won’t make it if you’re sick, in debt, and lonely. Just like we tell parents they need to be healthy and happy to raise healthy happy kids, you need to be at your best if you’re going to make a go of publishing as a career.

#Passion2Profession: Top 5 Edition 2017

Ok, it’s time to take stock, tally it up, figure out what went right and wrong. Welcome to the Passion2Profession Top 5 edition for 2017!

Top 5 resources I loved:

  1. Writing App: Ulysses. If you know me at all, you know I’m a Mac girl all the way, so forgive me for the Mac-centric advice (sorrynotsorry). One thing I’ve learned about the way my brain works in the last few years is this: I don’t do complicated. If it requires a lot of fussy stuff it’ll just confuse me, frustrate me, or bore me (usually all three). I hate Scrivener with the passion of a thousand burning suns, so I always thought MSWord was my only option for a writing app. Then I discovered Ulysses. Yay and hallelujah, baby. It’s not perfect, but it finally enables me to rearrange scenes, view chapters all at once, and switch between documents with ease. It’s much simpler than Scrivener (which is why for people who like lots of complicated bells and whistles it may not work), and for me that’s perfect. Best of all, the fabulous Lauren Layne has recorded an introductory video on how to use it. Find that here:
  2. Graphics app: Canva. I think everyone on the planet knows about Canva by now, but just in case–get it. It’s free, simple, and allows you to create polished graphics with virtually no graphic ability whatsoever (trust me, I have none). My only advice is to make sure to use it to its full capacities–don’t be afraid to switch out fonts, images, colors, etc. because if you don’t, you can end up with graphics that are obvious boilerplate material.
  3. Stock Photos: Again, you ALL know about Depositphoto, right? Every year Appsumo has a wicked deal on Depositphoto and we all buy it and then everyone says their photos are everywhere. But here’s the thing, if you’re going to be legit with your business, you NEED to always use licensed images. Whether it’s a picture of a flower for a graphic in your reader group, or manchest for that takeover you’re doing, don’t pirate images y’all. The fantastic thing about having a deal like Depositphoto is you’ll never run out of licensed images for all those little things.
  4. Social media scheduler: Smarterqueue. I’d never heard of this one until a couple of months ago, but I’m loving it. It allows you to schedule evergreen content–particularly useful for Twitter, which I hate. It also allows you to post to Instagram via your laptop (although I haven’t tried this myself), and lets you categorize your posts so you can track if you’re posting a good mix of things. It’s not cheap, however–$19.99 for four profiles–but honestly, given the poisonous nature of much of social media this day, and my personal struggles with Hootsuite over the last year, I’m happy to pay it.
  5. Wordcount tracking app: Pacemaker. There are a bazillion ways to track and schedule your writing. I love Pacemaker. It’s free for two projects or “plans” at a time, and allows you to set parameters like whether you want to write more on the weekdays than the weekends, and it will recalculate your words if you fall behind or do extra. If you do decide that you need to have more than two plans running at a time, it’s an $8/mo subscription fee.

Top 5 lessons I learned:

  1. You can never go wrong building your backlist. The saying “backlist is golden” really is true. I’ve utilized audio rights, foreign rights, and new platforms with my backlist this year, and it’s carried me through a truly dismal fourth quarter on Amazon. Part of the key to this is getting past the “my book is my baby” syndrome. When you become a professional writer you eventually realize that books are not all as precious as we’d like to think. We’ll love some more than others, and readers will too, but ultimately, these books are pieces of a greater portfolio that is there for you to leverage. They’re the contents of your store, and you will move them from shelf to shelf, put them on sale, pull them out of circulation, put them back in again, etc. If you form a deep attachment to every individual book, you can’t make the kinds of decisions you must as a business person. Build your backlist, leverage your backlist, treasure your backlist.
  2. If it’s working, keep doing it. I don’t want to think about how many times in my career I’ve done something that worked–a marketing approach, a trope, a series–and then didn’t rinse and repeat. Why? Because in my mind I had a “plan” and it meant doing something else right then, or it sounded more interesting to move on to something else, or someone told me a different approach was all the rage. There are a thousand different reasons our easily distracted writer brains can use to do something else. But if what you’re doing is working, keep doing it until it no longer does. Full stop. The things that work in this business are few and far between. Take full advantage of that, y’all. Milk it for all it’s worth.
  3. BUT, if it’s not working, quit doing it! What’s the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Make 2018 the year you change what isn’t working. There is more than one way to be successful, more than one genre, more than one platform, more than one market, more than one way to advertise, more than one award to win and list to make. If your career isn’t where you want it to be at the end of 2017, if you’re not feeling so passionate about your profession right now, resolve to make a change.
  4. You be you. It’s so tempting to look around, see what’s working for others and copy, copy, copy. However, while they might be successful, are they you? What works for one writer won’t necessarily work for another. Your work is your own, your voice is your own, your strengths and weaknesses are your own. Only you can find your recipe for success.
  5. What goes around comes around. When indie authors and ebooks exploded the publishing industry changed. The traditional gatekeepers were tossed aside, and the gates were opened wide. But in 2017 it became abundantly clear that there were still guards at the gates, simply different ones than before. It is now officially just as hard to be successful in publishing as it’s ever been. So if you’re not passionate about this profession you should probably think about doing something else.

Top 5 challenges still to conquer:

  1. Comparison is the thief of joy, and therefore stop comparing.
  2. Find your audience. If you’ve found them, build them. If you’ve built them, reward them. Then do it again and again.
  3. Decide what success means for you, and only you.
  4. Forge at least one new partnership, because writing is lonely enough, and you need all the friends you can get.
  5. Use social media instead of having it use you. Social media is a tool, try to do better at making it such.

#Passion2Profession: You Do You

My 19 yr old daughter is a rare person, someone who has known who she is from a very young age. Her interests and character were formed virtually in infancy, and while she’s grown and matured just like anyone, the foundation of who she is has never wavered.

She did not get this wonderful self-awareness from me. Nor from her father. Both of us spent all of our twenties and some of our thirties thrashing about trying to figure out what the hell we were supposed to be doing and who the hell we were. Luckily, at some point we got it together. But understanding yourself, knowing what works for you, and what doesn’t, is important in all aspects of life, and specifically, in your writing career. Because being a genre fiction writer especially if you’re Indie, is a world of limitless demands–on your skills and your time and your knowledge. The demands can be relentless, and if you don’t know how to filter through it all, you’ll end up miserable.

My pumped up backlist this year has enabled me to take some time during this last quarter to really think about my next steps, and part of that process has been remembering who I am. Being in the daily grind of Indie writing and publishing, it’s all too easy to move from one “marketing/promo/productivity/craft” trend to the next. You know exactly what I’m talking about, don’t you? The latest ad hack, the latest productivity app, the newest social media craze. Every single week there is something new you can chase and do and analyze and regret. Some of these things will work. Most for only a short time. But how many of them really suit YOU?

Because that’s what’s so easy to forget. The pace of this business can make it very hard to take a breath and think about whether doing FB live videos or co-promo or rom com really suits you. So my advice to you today is this: Instead of jumping right into next year’s plans this December, spend some time remembering who you are.

Here’s some of what I’ve had to remind myself:

  1. I’m an introvert. I’m going to be very blunt now, and if you’re a reader seeing this, please know it’s not personal, and I am very grateful for you, but here’s the deal: I hate signings. Yes, I know, those fun, frothy things that everyone posts pictures about and gushes over. It’s like having my fingernails pulled out one by one. I despise them. I’m a writer, not an entertainer, and while I can small talk with the best of them, I don’t like being the focus of attention, and the idea that I’m trying to sell you something (me as well as my books), just turns the whole experience into a sort of personal hell. Does this mean I won’t ever do another signing? No, but it does mean they’ll be carefully chosen and no more than a couple of times a year. You can find next year’s list here:
  2. I suck at networking. Part of that whole introvert thing (and I’ll be honest, it’s beyond introvert, I have social anxiety) is that I’ll never be good at networking. I’m a good friend–loyal, trustworthy, and honest–but when it comes to buddying up to the “right” people, or participating in certain projects and events solely because of who will be there, I suck. All I know how to be is me. And me picks friends by whether I feel comfortable with them, not their sales numbers. Networking in this business can bring you a lot of success. For real. If you’re good at it I applaud you and advise you to use that shit to your advantage. But for me, there’s no point in even pretending I can do it.
  3. I’m not data driven. I was an English major, yo. I don’t do numbers. Consequently, any new fad or marketing technique that requires analyzing data is a big NO for me. It’s dumb of me to even attempt it, and thus, if I absolutely have to glean that kind of information or track it or analyze it, I need to accept that I’ll have to hire someone to do it for me. I also have to remember this so I don’t waste money on courses or apps that rely on me doing numbers.
  4. I love change. Mr. L and I are sort of change junkies. We change houses every five years, and when we were first married he changed jobs (via promotions) every year and a half or two for several years. I’m not scared of change, and while when it comes to my kids growing up I can be as maudlin about the changes as anyone, change in my life has almost always heralded improvement. One of the reasons I love being an Indie author is that it’s full of that change. But remembering who I am becomes essential so that I don’t chase after every change that hits my inbox. Change is good, but change that’s tailored to who I am is even better.
  5. I need goals and objectives, and most of all…HOPE. Mr L’s family came from Scandinavian working class roots. Those people can grind through life like no one’s business. They’re hardy and determined, and completely unlike me. I can work damn hard, but I have to know that at the end of it there is HOPE. Hope that it will be a success, hope that it will accomplish what I wanted it to, hope that it will lead me to something new and challenging, and fun. This year Contemporary Romance ceased to be that for me (and a lot of other people). The overcrowding of that market, the lock put on it by the top 100 or so Indie superstars, the chaos of a million and one rabid authors clamoring for attention left me hopeless. And that’s not a place I could continue to live. I’ve made some big changes, and I’m starting some big new projects, and I have hope again. Lots of it.

Here’s my challenge to you for the New Year: make a list about YOU like the one above. Admit to some of the basics of who you are, your strengths and weaknesses, your tendencies and habits. We always look at New Year’s plans and resolutions as a time to try to mold ourselves into who we think we SHOULD be. What if instead we used it to acknowledge who we ARE? What if this year you based your Indie business plans around whether things fit with you instead of how you can fit with what seems to be the newest fad? What if you said, “This is me, it’s not good or bad, it’s just who I am. I’m going to plan my business according to what I’m good at, what I enjoy, what I feel right doing.” And going forward, before you hop on any new Indie trend or practice, stop and say to yourself: Does this fit ME? If it does, then fantastic. If it doesn’t, find something else that does. There is no one right way to succeed in this business. You do you.