Friday, January 21, 2022

Persistence On My Mind

On my mind today: this gal on the right who turned 19 on Thursday. She is the picture of persistence. She ached to be the queen of the household for so many years of her life. I honestly didn't know if she'd ever get to rule the roost. Erie held the position for most of Cuillean's life. When Erie died, Hatshepsut inherited the crown. Then Hatshepsut ceded her rulership to Cuillean just before dying unexpectedly. Cuillean is the undisputed queen of her domain at long last. Even if she's deaf as a post and drags one fore leg when she walks. Hobbles. Whatever. She keeps on. 

I'm doing my best to learn from her example. 

The other thing occupying my mind is a meme someone posted to a Facebook group. It hits kinda hard and I haven't gotten it out of my head for a few days, so I'm going to install it in yours and you can ponder (or wonder why humans are so intrinsically broken - whatever works) with me.


Thursday, January 20, 2022

On My Mind: A Fork in the Publishing Road

close up image from the board-game Life and a little blue plastic car with pink and red people inside sitting at a crossroads with the word Career and yes or no bubbles

It's 2022, year of the tiger, it's—well. It's that time I've earmarked for stepping back into the publishing game. Which's time to make a spreadsheet! 

When I started writing, my goal was traditional publishing due to time constraints from the day job. Then my chronic disease showed up and I traded in the lab career for my health and continued to pursue traditional publishing due to health constraints. But now that things are settling down, and I’m easing myself back into a writing routine, things are different. 

I read a lot last year and for once I paid attention to who published the books AND how had I found out about the book. 

68% of my reading list was published by the Big 5 (Penguin/Random House, Hachette, Harper Collins, Simon and Schuster, and Macmillan). Mostly via their imprints which produce certain genres, like Orbit who is a Sci-fi Fantasy imprint that’s owned by Hachette. I read 9 books from Orbit. 32% of last years’ reads were from small presses or self-published. 

Spreadsheets are fun! But what I found even more interesting was how I found these books. 

  • Middle Grade Book (I read to my kids at night—audiobook style): 6
  • Found Following the Author: 11
  • Part of a Series: 22
  • Goodreads: 26
  • Library (either on the shelf or from their newsletter): 32
  • Instagram: 35

Along with reading a lot I paid attention to various authors marketing strategies and what readers responded with the most enthusiasm. Because everything boils down to what Charissa posted about: know thy readers. If you can find the readers, your book will be seen. 

Armed with spreadsheet info I now come to a fork in the road…one of life’s decisions. Which way do I go? Traditional publishing or Non-trad? It’s like playing the board-game Life and having to decide to go to college or get a job! To add to the conundrum, I write science fiction and fantasy. Do I go the same route with both works?

Things look different now, both in my capabilities and the publishing landscape. A debut author at one of the Big 5 isn’t as likely to get the marketing dollars, so I need to determine what they do bring to the table and is it worth the gamble that my work would earn enough to be considered a successful ROI in their books. A debut with a smaller press would bring different expectations, both with what they provide and what they consider a success. And again, it all comes down to where are the readers.

It’s time to weigh the pros and cons of trad publishing against non-trad. I need to determine what I want to control, how much I can handle, and what I want someone else to tackle. And it might end up being different paths for sci-fi and fantasy.

Are any of you writers debating which path to take with your work? Are any of you writers out there happy with the road you did travel?

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Learning to Love the Winter Garden


Our topic this week at the SFF Seven is, verbatim, On Your Mind (Winter).

So, I'm posting a photo I took this morning from the winter garden. We've had a mild winter, and the secret garden is walled and makes a protected microclimate, so I actually have a winter garden. 

Some of you may know that I love to garden. I mention it in interviews when I'm asked what I do that isn't reading or writing. Gardening is a big piece. It sounds like a small thing when I say it, but nurturing a garden, planning it, spending time in it, all shape how I live. 

I became interested in the concept of a winter garden back when I lived in Wyoming and winters were so very bleak. The idea is to plan a garden with the entire season in mind. It's easier to envision the spring flowers, the midsummer lushness, adding in the plants that bloom in the autumn, but thinking toward the largely leafless winter is a different kind of vision. What plants bring visual interest in their starker, hibernating states? What offers spots of color in a more monochromatic landscape? 

Part of the trick is loving the winter garden for what it is, not trying to replicate the garden of warmer seasons.

I think this is a metaphor for a great deal in our lives, as gardens tend to be.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

On My Mind: Incorporating Accessibility Challenges into World Building

On my mind this week: the real-world challenges for people with declining physical ability and how to incorporate that into fictional-world and character building to enhance stories while planting seeds in readers' minds that may carry outside the story to make small gains in the real world. Representation matters, right?

There's nothing quite as heart-wrenching as living with someone whose body is steadily declining--far faster than normal aging--and witnessing society slamming doors in the person's face. As a relatively able-bodied person, there are so many things about accessibility and product design that never cross my mind. Now that my loved one's muscular degeneration disease has passed a certain threshold, their limitations can no longer be masked/hidden. Many small-to-medium modifications/adaptions would allow my loved one to continue to engage with society if adopted. Some would be (sadly) costly, while others are merely a matter of consideration. There are improvements beyond ADA building codes and standards (and yes, my voice joins the chorus already demanding that ADA minimums be required for all new builds including residential, nationwide) just waiting to happen. Here are three minor examples:

  1. Restaurants, Lounges, & Waiting Rooms: Have some chairs with arms. Provide a few pub-height tables with corresponding seats 24-28inches from the floor and arms on the seats. Folks whose knees, hips, or leg muscles have gone to crap need chairs from which they can lever themselves into an upright position. That starts with seats that place their ass above their knees. 
  2. Drinkware & Wherever Drinks are Served: Lightweight cups with large handles. Some folks need the added stability of a handle on their drinkware, aka a mug. Standard mugs have handles for average-sized hands that are often too small for average-sized people, much less larger-than-average folks, while oversized mugs tend to be unbalanced and heavy. "Light and large" applies to disposable cups too.
  3. Slippery Surfaces: If a product is meant to be held or grabbed, stop making its surfaces slippery. From body washes to takeout containers to doorknobs, "sleek" is an exclusionary design choice. A firm grip is relative, and even the firmest hold can result in dropsies.
There are many more examples and many an article/tweet/post about accessibility challenges. A character stubbing a toe on an interior threshold built too high reads like a comedy setup, but if that character has a drop left foot and the extra beat is taken to show the emotional toll of a seemingly minor inconvenience, then...then a seed is planted. That seed might just grow into a vine of consideration that bridges fantasy and reality. 

Monday, January 17, 2022


 As I sit here recovering from a fall down the stairs what is on my mind are two things. first, despite a few bruises, I am damned lucky. It was a serious fall. 

Second, I have too many pending deadlines t write a proper essay today.

Have a great day!

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Know Thy Reader

This week's topic is What's On Our Mind. As I sit here tonight, wondering if we'll be buried beneath snow come morning, I'm thinking about the last couple of weeks and how thankful I am for the readers who have found me over the last several months. The Witch Collector is currently approaching 700 reviews on Goodreads, and reviews sit at 200 on Amazon, with 4.13 and 4.5 ratings respectively. In just over two months. That's nothing wildly spectacular, I know, but for a small-press book from a nobody author, it's pretty damn good. I'm proud of this little-book-that-could, and so thrilled that readers are finding and loving it.

When TWC released on November 2nd, I already had a spreadsheet with goals and dates in place. I listed my current follower counts for each social media platform I use, or hoped to use (like TikTok). I included my Goodreads and Bookbub followers too, and then added Goodreads Reviews, Amazon Reviews, Newsletter Subscribers, Rebel Readers (my FB group), and Goodreads Adds (how many people add TWC to their Want to Read list). I wanted to track this growth because I planned to promote my book, and I wanted to see if my plan actually worked. 

I learned a long time ago that people can't consider purchasing/enjoying a product unless they know it exists, and unfortunately, books don't jump into readers' paths on their own. If a trad deal has been scored and the book is on the shelf at bookstores, AWESOME. If an author has a platform from being published for many years, AWESOME. If they have a platform for some other reason, that's awesome too! But if not--and sometimes even if so!--it takes some work to get a book in readers' hands and in bookish circles on social media.

I gave myself attainable goals back in October, but possibly still tough for a debut author with a small platform. It takes some consideration for a reader to invest in an author with little buzz, someone they know nothing about, and especially when their book is the first in an incomplete trilogy (ME). And yet, the goals I set have been smashed by readers, and I can see the growth of my reach and what things I did/do that equate to good sales. Data is good.

So...what did I do? Someone asked me that today, and I've been asked before. Yes, I did a couple Instagram book tours around release day, and yes I keep two to three very low-cost ads running. I also did a Goodreads Giveaway which was great visibility, and I'm now doing book giveaways on my own, paperback and ebook, because if any of those readers like my book, they might just tell someone else. I also focus on Instagram posts because that's where my readers are, and I automatically share those posts to Facebook. I'm now venturing into TikTok, so we'll see how that goes. I've been consistent with my newsletter as well, which has a solid response rate, and I connected my blog to Goodreads and Amazon.

But the main thing I've done that I feel has been crucial for me is...I know my readers. I communicate with them, and I thank them. I share their posts and comment, because I truly am thankful for them taking the time to create a reel or a TikTok or an Instagram photo or story, or to write a review. Time is invaluable, and not only did they give up some of that time to read my book but to also shout about it to their friends and followers.

I also offer them a place to come chat with me, my Rebel Readers group, and I give them special access to exclusive news and sneak peeks. They're getting a huge sneak peek in February! They also get first dibs at my books, because I offer them the opportunity to be early readers/reviewers. 

My readers have been the most amazing support system I could've asked for, shouting about The Witch Collector all over the place. They are absolute rockstars!

So that's what's on my mind tonight. From now on, when writers ask me what the trick to getting reader interest is, I'll tell them the truth:

I don't really know any tricks, but I do know my readers.

And I love them <3

Friday, January 14, 2022

Top 5 Suggestions for Working with Contractors

Full disclosure, I am a contractor/consultant as a technical writer. My suggestions here are partly predicated on that fact. It's a mash up of how I wish clients came to us for work and how I prefer to find and hire my own contractors as an author.

1. Know what you want, when you want it, and why you want it.
    I'm not trying to be glib. Knowing what you want determines who you hire. Knowing when you need it helps any potential contractors understand your time lines and the workload lift. Knowing WHY you want what you want goes to your brand. You and your contractor should know how the work you're contracting fits into your overall marketing/brand strategy. Value highly any contractor who can ask pointed questions about strategy and how what you're doing fits.

2. Have a minimum bar and do your research.
    I have a minimum bar - I strongly prefer to work with contractors that come recommended by people I know. This isn't to say newbies don't stand a chance. It does mean that I will be more cautious working with someone who has no track record in publishing. But if they come in and do a great job with low drama, I will sing their praises in ALL the author spaces. This is what I mean by research. Look for people who do what you need, but vet them by asking other authors about the potential contractor. And when you find someone good, talk them up to your fellow authors. You'll find that even though your favorite contractor may get too busy or too pricey for you, they'll likely make recommendations from among their friends to help you get what you need, when you need it, at the price you can afford.

3. Consider a contract.
    If you're looking to hire someone long term, consider writing up a contract. Preferably one that spells out your expectations of the contractor, what the contractor can expect from you, and what kinds of processes you'd like to put in place for managing disagreements, performance issues, or other drama that could arise. You aren't looking to spend thousands on a lawyer here. This is a basic tool created by collaboration and agreed upon mutually, then signed by both parties. Are there legal websites that will let you download a basic employment contract? Yes. It's a fine starting point. But unless it violates your minimum bar, you're not looking for a document that could be taken into court - you're creating a starting point for negotiation and conversation during a time when everyone might be stressed and not on their best behavior.

4. Good. Fast. Cheap. You can only pick two.
    Do yourself and your contractors a favor. Ask about price up front. Yes you can negotiate to a point. But perhaps go to Tik Tok and find one of the maker channels playing "It costs that much cause it takes me fucking hours." Good help is worth every penny. Pinching pennies is likely to make more work than it saves you. Pay your contractors their worth or scale back your ambitions. There's no shame in having a budget.

5. Have a plan.
    Have a plan for how this contract is going to go. Have a back up plan in case your contractor gets hit by a meteor. Have a plan for what happens if you get hit by a meteor. No one wants to live in worst-case-scenario-land, but you do have to plan for it. When things go well, you can breathe a sigh of relief and file your emergency plans away for another day. If things go to hell in a hand basket, however, you'll have road map to help you navigate while you're in the middle of freaking out.

Last but not least:

6. Don't forget the taxes.
    Depending on what you're doing/having done, you may be liable for supplying a 1099 to your contractor(s). Make sure you cover that base with a tax professional. No one but no one wants the IRS mad at them. Just saying.

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Contractor Best Practices


Audiobook cover of The Mars Strain with Recorded Books red bands at top and bottom, image of the Red Planet in the background surrounded by virus-like organisms and the title in red.

Contractor Best Practices—working with a 3rd party in support of your book. 

I’m an unpublished writer, I have nothing out in print, yet. But if you’re in the midst of the publishing process, or about to begin, check out James’ post about collaboration (a great mindset to have going into the process), and Charissa’s post about communication (she’s got great insight having been on both sides of the table), and see KAK’s post with a helpful list of questions. And if you’re gearing up to start, Jeffe shared her favorite contractors

My production experience with The Mars Strain began with a free lance editor I hired. Recorded Books, who produced TMS, did not include any editing in their offer and I knew I wanted to turn out as polished a piece as possible and so I hired Anita Mumm with Mumm’s the Word Editing

Anita, with her years of editing experience, was a perfect fit for newbie me. She starts out each project with a questionnaire so she knows exactly what my expectations and desires are. She provided a timeline, for both of our parts, and concludes with a phone call to ensure there aren’t any lingering questions. I can’t recommend her services enough! 

Note that any errors in The Mars Strain are all mine as I had the last look before turn in date. Which leads me to the second half of audiobook production—I’m certain others’ experiences vary widely, but this is mine.

Recorded Books did a fabulous job, but all I can take credit for are the words. Communications went through the audio rights agent at the literary agency I was signed with. She passed along the turn in date for my final draft and when it was done, she shared the cover art which was more of a courtesy and not looking for input. And then Recorded released The Mars Strain in April! 

Communication: I did request that RB list the audiobook early for pre-orders and their reply was that it would release on release day. Then the lovely Charissa found it online for pre-order and gave me the heads up, which was wonderful—only I’d already shifted from pre-order marketing plans to release day plans. So it’s true, communication is key! 

Wherever you are in your writing journey, I hope you keep moving forward!