Five years ago today, we flew from Boston to San Francisco to become Californians. I don’t regret a minute of it. California is better for my health—mental, physical, and emotional. While there are things about Boston that I miss, I struggled with seasonal depression and panic attacks during the snowy season. Due to a lung condition, I also had bronchitis on a fairly regular basis, at one point for six months straight. By comparison, I’ve only had it twice since moving. I’m much better off here.

The day of the move, we landed at about 9:00 p.m. local time and drove through In-N-Out Burger on our way to the temp house. So tonight we’ll celebrate with In-N-Out (which we don’t eat as often as when it was new and novel) and then have pie for Pi Day! There’s a cookies-and-cream pie in the freezer just waiting . . .

Do you celebrate Pi Day? What kind of pie do you like? (I won’t eat fruit pies, only cream pies because I’m weird like that.) Are you a transplant of any kind? Tell me about it in the comments!

We all talk about what we like to read, but what about what we don’t? Not to be negative, but there are just some kinds of books I don’t enjoy and cannot seem to get through no matter how hard I try or how many people encourage me to read them.

1. Erotica

Yeah, just no. Maybe it’s my prudish, religious upbringing, but I don’t want intense descriptions of sex in my books. This is why I like Regency romances (and why I’ve started writing them, too). I have many friends who write and read erotica, and more power to them. Just not for me.

2. Cyberpunk

Okay, so I took a science fiction and fantasy lit course in grad school, and I discovered I just can’t make myself read cyberpunk or hard sci-fi. We were supposed to read Snow Crash, which so many people say is brilliant, and I don’t know if I ever made it past the first chapter? Like, I’ve totally blocked it from memory, and everything William Gibson too. It’s like my brain repels these books like ducks do water. I dunno.

3. Epic Fantasy

I love fantasy! Except I can’t read the kind where there are a dozen characters and twenty books and I’m expected to keep track of ALL THE THINGS. It’s not that I don’t have brain space—I manage to remember really stupid bits of trivia all the time. But there’s something about . . . I don’t know if it’s the writing style or what, but all these pseudo-medieval worlds with names and kings and fiefs and elves and poor peasant boys being sent on quests . . . I tried to read Robert Jordan, tried to read George R.R. Martin, and just nope. Can watch Game of Thrones, no problem, but I can’t read it.

What about you? Any types of books you wish you could read but for whatever reason can’t? It’s not even a matter of not liking something, it’s like a brain block that refuses to absorb the content. If so, tell me about it in the comments!

My newest novel Brynnde has been getting a lot of page reads on Amazon. I’m so excited to know people are reading it! And this is why it’s exclusive to Amazon—so people can borrow the book and read it. At some point, I may take Brynnde wide, but so far I make so much more from being exclusive with Amazon. Even when people don’t buy my books, I get paid when they borrow and read them.

If you’re reading Brynnde, I hope you’re enjoying it! And I hope you’ll also consider leaving a review on Amazon and/or Goodreads. Even just a star rating helps fellow readers find good books! And helps me find more great readers like you!

InsecureWritersSupportGroup It’s time again for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. Read and support writers by clicking here, and if you’re a writer you can also join!

This month I’m both nervous and excited. Nervcited? A couple of things are happening: 1. I’m putting out a new book in a completely new genre for me. I’ve long loved reading Regency romances but never thought to write one until now. I’d been writing a lot of heavy books and found myself needing a lighter project. I was just playing around, really, but found I loved it! So I’m hoping you will all enjoy Brynnde too, and that I’ll find fellow Regency lovers to read it. 2. I’m doing an audiobook! I attended a talk about audiobooks at last year’s InD’Scribe and it really planted the seed for me to want to have one of my books adapted to that format. I don’t know yet how it will work out, but I’m hopeful. So far I’ve had some great auditions and plan to pick a narrator soon. Stay tuned!

As for being nervcited, well, of course there’s the nagging fear of: What if it all goes to hell? What if it all fails? But I’ll never know until I try, right?

Question of the month: How has being a writer changed your experience as a reader?

I recently noticed this as I was re-reading Dune and then again while reading Anne Perry’s The Face of a Stranger—that my knowledge of “rules” for writing sometimes pulls me out of a book when I notice one of those rules being broken. And the truth is, these writing rules are relatively modern and new, and the books cited above are somewhat older and probably not beholden to those rules. But I still noticed. In the same way that I notice things in movies because I have a film degree and also have worked on film sets. I think any time you have experience in an area, you’re going to notice things, for good or ill. You’ll get the inside jokes but you’ll also notice the errors.

Every year at New Year’s I set goals rather than making resolutions. I make sure the goals are concrete and/or quantifiable. That way it’s clear when I have or haven’t met them.

But how to formulate those goals? Any writer or artist must decide for him- or herself what “success” means. It’s a personal thing, which I think we struggle with in a day and age where everything and everyone around us wants to tell us when we’ve succeeded—or failed. (This is the basic theme of my screenplay 20 August, btw.) At the end of the day, though, it doesn’t matter what others think. It only matters that you’re satisfied with how things turn out.

I try to set reasonable, attainable goals. Things that I can take clear steps toward. And I’m specific. Instead of saying, “write a book,” my goal will be “finish This Particular Book.” Instead of “find an agent” it’s “find an agent for This Particular Book.” Being specific helps keep me focused.

A lot of authors will set a goal like: sell a lot of books. Well, but what is “a lot”? Again, I try to be specific. My goal is to sell an average of two books a day. That feels attainable, and once I’ve hit that mark I can set a new goal to reach. Alternatively, I might set a goal of making a certain amount of money each month or annually.

It circles back to the success question. “What will it take for me to consider myself successful?” I ask myself this often because the answer can change over time. There’s always a new goalpost. And that’s fine, that keeps me going. Selling two books a day will make me feel successful. Being nominated for an award or recognized in some way for my work. Having one of my scripts go into production. I count all these as elements of success.

Perhaps SUCCESS is made up of many little successes. Or it is for me anyway. Success is something that is built, not something that happens. It’s the payoff for hard work.

It’s tough to be patient sometimes while building that success. We want it to happen now and wonder when all our work will finally be enough. From the outside looking in, it can often seem like everyone else is so successful and somehow we’ve missed the boat. It’s easy to feel defeated, like all our work is fruitless.

This is why it’s so important to keep our eyes on our own goals and work toward them. “Comparison is the thief of joy.” I don’t know who actually said that, but it’s so true. We must define success for ourselves as a personal thing and then not worry about how well everyone else is doing.

1. Define what success means to you
2. Set concrete, quantifiable goals that will help you be successful by your own definition
3. Repeat

What does success mean to you? What goals have you set and how do you go about meeting them?

InsecureWritersSupportGroup It’s time again for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. Read and support writers by clicking here, and if you’re a writer you can also join!

Last year I had two books and one short story published. This year I plan to publish at least one book, and I hope to finish a couple other manuscripts. I’m feeling hopeful about that.

Last year I attended two conferences. This year I’m not sure if I’ll be able to attend any (unless invited as a guest). I feel a little sad about that.

How are you feeling going into the new year?

Question of the Month: What writing rule do you wish you’d never heard?

All of them?

I think too much advice hobbles the writer, stems the natural flow. Or, rather, I think too many rules at the wrong time do. Rules are important. Rules of grammar, and then also how to handle character and plot and pacing and description. But if a writer goes in worried about all the rules, he or she can become paralyzed, afraid to do anything because it might be “wrong.” And there’s no wrong way to write. At least not at first.

So here is MY rule: Write. Don’t look at advice or how-to or anything else until you’ve written it. THEN go back and figure out what needs to be fixed. I go into more detail about this and the writing/submission process in this guest post. I hope you’ll give it a read.

It’s my solar return today, so I’m out doing fun things like seeing Rogue One and having my annual tarot reading. While I’m out, however, please enjoy this compilation of some of my better posts from this past year, courtesy of DL Hammons’ Déjà Vu Blogfest.

From August 25, a post about the #tenqueries hashtag on Twitter:

An interesting conversation—if Twitter can be said to have conversations—has popped up around the hashtag “tenqueries.” This hashtag is used by agents to go through ten queries in their slush piles and give reasons for requesting material or passing. I used to read #tenqueries regularly, but I stopped when I realized I was getting rather facile information. “This concept has been done to death.” What concept? The one-line reasons for passing on something were not helpful to me without more information. I learn by example. Show me the bad writing so I can see why it’s bad.

Of course they can’t do that. I know they can’t. They can’t share someone’s work and then point out everything wrong with it. That would be like a teacher calling a student up to the front of the classroom and then mocking the way he’s dressed or something. Maybe not mocking. But even if the teacher only pointed out everything wrong with a student’s uniform—why it wasn’t up to the dress code—that student would certainly feel bad. Just as the writer who was made an example of would, even if an example could be made.

It’s a thin line.

In the end, I found #tenqueries to be voyeuristic and not terribly helpful. To sit and wonder if the agent is writing about your manuscript . . . What would be the point? You’ll know if and when you get the rejection (or request), and you’ll still never be sure whether that one tweet was aimed at you. And if you didn’t submit to that agent, what truly useful information are you getting from, “This needs more editing”? WHY does it need more editing? SHOW ME!

That’s my two cents anyway.

From November 4, a post about what I’d learned working with small publishers:

I’m a hybrid author in that I’ve self-published some stuff and had other works published by small publishers. Two different small publishers, to be exact. And now that I’ve had that little bit of experience, I feel I can share some of it with you.

What To Look For

Readers – You want a small publisher that has a [good!] reputation in its genre(s) and has readers who come back for more. That readership is your best chance of being discovered by new eyes.

Marketing – And I mean more than a Facebook post and a tweet. You can do that yourself. When a small publisher makes it a point to stipulate that you will be doing most of the marketing, ask what they plan to do for you. If they say, “Well, we’ll edit your book and give you a cover,” remember that YOU can get those things elsewhere. What you’re looking for is marketing and distribution. If they aren’t offering some kind of marketing, that’s one strike against them.

Distribution – Are any of their books in bookstores? Libraries? These are the next best places for readers to find you. If the publisher is digital/ebook only, will they still try to hold all your rights (print, audio, film, translation), even if they’re not planning to exercise them? I learned this the hard way, so be sure to ask. And get everything in writing.

Brand – This is similar to readership. Is the publisher a known name? Does it have an established brand? How long has it been around? You may be tempted to give a new, up-and-coming publisher a shot (and be grateful when they offer you a shot, too), but remember that many fledgling publishers fail. Which leads us to . . .

Contracts

I’m no lawyer, but based on my experience be sure that the following things are clear in any contract:

Rights – And which of them the publisher plans to exercise. As mentioned above, if they only plan to do the ebook, they shouldn’t be asking for any other rights.

Quotas – Likewise, if your sales are required to reach a certain mark before your book will go into print or audio, that should be clearly stated in the contract.

Reversion – If you and the publisher want to break up, then what? Your contract should stipulate that process by giving you a way to get your rights back. (Note that having to pay a fee to buy back your rights is generally frowned upon by author advocacy groups.)

Timeframes – The publisher shouldn’t be asking to have the book forever. The contract should expire at some point, and the contract should give information on what to do if you want to extend or renew it.

Right of Refusal – This is tricky. A lot of publishers will have a clause about having “first right of refusal” on either your next book and/or any book related to the one you plan to publish with them. There’s a distinction here, and it’s important. I turned down a contract because the publisher wanted first crack at ANYTHING else I wrote. I knew the book I was working on wouldn’t be right for them, and I didn’t want to send it to them. They were unwilling to negotiate the contract, so I declined it. However, it’s pretty standard for a publisher to ask for first shot at any sequels, prequels, etc. to the book they’re offering for. Just remember this means you can’t play with those characters or that world elsewhere until/unless the publisher gives the nod. Or until you get your rights back.

You see that the key is, really, to be sure you have a way to get your book back if the relationship between you and the publisher fails. This is your intellectual property, and it has value! Be sure you have a way to hold on to it!

Red Flags

Social Media – Does the publisher truly engage with followers on social media, or does it just put out links to its books periodically? How many comments, likes, retweets, shares, etc. are they getting? This helps determine whether they have an engaged readership or not.

Too Many Releases – This is a sign the publisher believes the more they put out there, the more money they’ll make. They aren’t giving each book and author the attention it/they deserve. “Author mill” is a term sometimes used to describe this practice. Instead of laying the groundwork for each release, the publisher just tosses a book out into the wild to fend for itself and expects the author to do the work in finding readers. If that’s the case, you might as well publish the book yourself.

Cross-Promoting Authors – When you see a bunch of authors from one publisher cross promoting each others’ books, it’s usually because the publisher encourages them to do so. Problem is, if all these authors are new and don’t have many readers or followers yet, it’s doing no one any good. The idea of authors helping each other is grand, it’s lovely, but it’s not effective at a peer level. You need established authors to help those struggling to come up in the world, and then when you’re established, you return the favor to another newbie. If the publisher doesn’t have any established authors that can help you, you’ll need to go find one. A mentor. Or else try to make it on your own, which can be done, though it’s tough. Bottom line here, however: A bunch of newbie authors trying to help one another is sweet but somewhat useless and your time is better spent elsewise. If your publisher insists you promote one another, they’re giving you bad advice and/or are too cheap and lazy to do any real marketing.

This list is by no means comprehensive. It’s just a starting point based on my experiences. Have anything to add? Any questions? Feel free to share in the comments!

And from November 15, a post about how and why it’s so difficult to reach readers and sell books:

The biggest complaint I hear these days from fellow authors (and I’ve been known to make this complaint as well) is that it’s harder than ever to find readers and sell books. I combine these two seemingly separate moans into one because in order to sell books an author must first find readers. One follows the other and so it’s all really one big problem.

For a while there ads were a big deal. Discounting your book and then running ads on Facebook and via the sites that send out daily deal newsletters would get you a fair number of sales and maybe, on the flip side, some reviews. But as soon as every author cottoned on to that route, readers became numb to all that. They were inundated and learned to block out yet another avenue of marketing.

Look at it from a reader’s perspective. (And hey, as writers many of us are also readers, so this shouldn’t be difficult.) There are a lot of books out there. So many that’s it’s nigh impossible to figure out what you’re going to read. In order to narrow down your choices, you need guidance. Where do you go for that?

  • You ask for recommendations from friends and family.
  • You read reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, whichever book blogs you frequent.
  • You look at Amazon’s “if you like this, then read that” thingy.
  • You go to a bookstore or library and browse for something that looks interesting.

The above is why it’s so important for writers to build a readership AND also have distribution in bookstores and libraries. You need people talking about your book, and you need your book to be under readers’ noses so that they can stumble upon it in places where they’re looking for something to read.

But what if you’re brand spanking new at this and don’t have readers and maybe only have e-books and don’t know how to get in stores ohmygodwe’reallgonnadie. Take a deep breath. Stay with me now. And think about this like a reader.

You see a book online. It doesn’t have many (or any) reviews. You’re not sure you would like it. I mean, it kinda sounds like something you’d enjoy, but you’ve never heard of this author, so . . . You just don’t know. What would it take to “sell” you on the book?

What if it was only 99 cents? Better yet, what if it was free? Hey, nothing to lose there! You could give a free book a try, right?

I know. I know that giving away books means not making any money. BUT. I also know that you’re not going to convince a reader in a world of cheap and free books to shell out $4.99 for someone they’ve never heard of. Maybe they like the sample chapter, but still, they’re going to hesitate.

There are a lot of books out there. Yours are just a few in an ever-growing pile, and if they’re ever going to get selected, you’ve got to make it easy and relatively low-risk to get the reader to pick your books up. That means (1) putting your book under readers’ noses, and (2) pricing it in a way that makes the reader feel they won’t be out anything if they don’t love it.

Think about authors whose books you willingly pay full retail price for. Authors whose books you pre-order and can’t wait to read. Do you even have any? (I only have two or three myself.) You want to become one of those, but to get there, you first have to snag those readers. Give them a book or two at a relatively low price, or even make one permanently free, and once they’re in love with your style, your characters, your writing—then they’ll hopefully happily be willing to pay more for subsequent books.

But you gotta get them first.

And in my experience, this is how.

Or, at least, this is what works at the moment. But the industry is changing so quickly, who knows what will work next month, next week, or tomorrow?

Authors, tell me what works for you. Readers, tell me how you find new books and authors. I want to hear from you!

______________

Honestly, though, I think one of my best posts of the year took place on another blog. Read that post on writing advice here. I also thought this q&a was pretty good.

Hope you enjoyed these, or at least found them informative. And be sure to visit the other blogfest participants!

InsecureWritersSupportGroup It’s time again for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. Read and support writers by clicking here, and if you’re a writer you can also join!

Lately I’m having that bit of insecurity many of us have in life whether we’re writers or not: the fear of not being good enough. Sometimes it seems, no matter what I do or how hard I try, it just isn’t enough. That leads to wondering why I’m wasting all this time and energy on writing. It can be a terrible, depressing spiral.

When you’ve given something your all—and I’m talking about not just doing something but having done your very best, put blood and sweat and tears into it—the last thing you want to hear is that you still fell short of the mark. But the truth is, sometimes your best at that time won’t be quite enough. Sometimes a story (or other project) exceeds your abilities. That doesn’t mean you won’t ever be able to get it right. It just means you need to hone your craft a bit more first.

Think of it as reaching for something that’s just beyond your fingertips. Sometimes you just barely swipe it, but then it falls and crashes. What you need is a stepping stool. In this example, that stool is the hours you put into writing and getting better. You can reach farther and farther the more you write because writing = adding steps to your stool.

Not good enough is a fact of life. But it doesn’t ever mean you can’t get better. You just have to be willing to put in the work. And when you’ve put in a ton of work and it’s still not good enough? That’s hard. But know that the work you’ve put in is adding to your stepping stool—even if it’s not high enough yet, it will be eventually.

IWSG Question of the Month: In terms of your writing career, where do you see yourself five years from now, and what’s your plan to get there?

Ahahahaha! What’s the saying? “Man makes plans and God laughs”?

I think it’s important to have goals, but it’s also important to remain flexible. In five years I expect to have put out at least five more books, and hopefully they will be selling steadily. I plan to continue attending conferences, ideally as a guest author and presenter, but sometimes just as an attendee. I’d also like to be doing more signings and events. I’m currently trying to figure out that side of things by making connections with independent bookstores and event planners. (Anyone want to split a table at BookCon with me?) And I’m planning to explore the possibility of audiobooks, too.

Being a writer these days also means being a small business. You have to invest in yourself and your career, which sometimes means spending money to make money. I struggle with that, and I think a lot of other writers do, too. We don’t have a lot of money, so we have to figure out how best to use our dollars. That’s where the planning comes in. Because you do need to plan. You can’t sit and hope to be stumbled upon by readers. You need to leave a trail of breadcrumbs for them so they can find you—and with all these other writers leaving goodies, too, you’d better have the best bread in order to entice readers to your door. So I plan to get out there where people can see me, hopefully in places where readers can be found. It’s not easy. Not only because I’m shy but because I have to sell myself, and that doesn’t come naturally at all. But I’ve discovered a great community of writers at these events, people willing to help one another. If nothing else, at the end of the day I’ll have that much.

Aim high, but count every little blessing.

So at recent writing conferences this year, I heard this a lot: “You need a publicist!”

Basically, with all the books being published and self-published, it’s becoming almost impossible to rise above the noise. So you hire a publicist to help you get noticed.

Makes sense. The only problem (for me, at least) is… It’s really expensive. And while I believe in investing in my career, and that you have to sometimes put money in to get more out, a [good] publicist is something I can’t afford. (I can’t afford a bad one, either, but for different reasons.)

So here is my chief issue with publicists: if you can afford one, you probably don’t need one, and if you can’t afford one, you probably do need one.

Sigh.

Any of my fellow authors use a publicist? If so, were you satisfied with the experience?

I’ve started to see the lists popping up online. Even though there is still one month left in 2016, people are ready to call their favorites, from books to movies to television shows. So I thought about what I read and watched this year, and here are a few notables:

Books

The Gates of Evangeline by Hester Young. This pseudo-paranormal mystery set in the bayous of Louisiana is both atmospheric and fast-moving. I raced through it and enjoyed it quite a bit.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. Not a 2016 release, but I finally got around to this one and, though long and deep, it’s so well written. Was perfect for the long flights to and from New York.

Dark Dawning by Christine Rains. A novella, first in a series, and it sets up just a very interesting world full of shape-shifters and Inuit mythology.

Lorelei’s Lyric by D.B. Sieders. A twist on mermaids/sirens.

Movies

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. A new window into the world of Harry Potter… pre-Potter.

Sing Street. Just really cute, even if it is mostly a bunch of music videos hung on a very sparse plot frame.

Snowden. An interesting perspective on how and why Edward Snowden did what he did.

The Imposter. A documentary about how a French con artist convinced a family in Texas he was their missing son/brother.

Kubo and the Two Strings. More gorgeous work from Laika.

The Nice Guys. Typical Shane Black, so if you like his stuff…

Zootopia. Above and beyond as far as children’s animated features go.

Love & Friendship. A delightful Jane Austen adaptation.

I know there’s a lot I have yet to see (I do have tickets to Rogue One!), but of the things I watched this past year, the above stand out.

Television

The Crown. I was sucked right into this drama about the start of Elizabeth II’s reign and can’t wait for more.

Westworld. I resisted, and do continue to resist on some levels, but I can’t deny that this is a well-written, well-acted, well-produced program. (I feel similarly about Game of Thrones and The Leftovers. Must be an HBO drama thing.)

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. Everything Doctor Who should be, used to be, and no longer is. In short, a whole lot of absurd fun.

Documentary Now! Fun, though the second season was not as good as the first IMHO.

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. Probably the single thing I most look forward to each week. (And now on break. *sob*)

I also watch Brooklyn Nine-Nine and am just dabbling in Superstore. Started Designated Survivor and AHS: Roanoke and Timeless and need to get back to those… Television is getting harder to keep up with because there is so much and it’s all dumped in one go instead of airing weekly. But hey, even the weekly stuff piles up on my DVR, sort of like all the books I mean to read that pile up on my nightstand or in my Kindle. The above, then, are just shows that definitely had me hooked over the year.

So what about you? Any favorites this past year? Recommendations? Anything to look forward to in 2017? Let me know in the comments!