Thursday, April 30, 2020

Red or Blue Pill

Recently we blogged about writer finances and I defined the various routes of publication here. But this week we’re talking about how we made the choice between them. 

Note that I said we and not you. Because choosing your publishing path is a bit like Neo having to pick between the red pill or the blue pill and I’m not going to say which color coincides with which. 

Traditional or Self Publishing; red or blue, blue or red… but red and blue makes violet: Hybrid Publishing. 

Before reaching for your water glass to swallow that pill, I suggest making a pro and con list. 

This could’ve been heavily influenced by my recent Gilmore Girls binge and love of all things Rory, but we’ll roll with it because it actually makes sense in this situation. 

For me, Trad Publishing Pros:
a fabulous agent to bounce ideas off
an Editor that comes with the package deal
a Marketing team

Trad Pub Cons:

Self Publishing Pros:
ultimate cosmic powers! 

Self Publishing Cons:
itty bitty living space

See, YMMV. And I guarantee your pro con lists would look very different from mine as well as your definitions. But that’s great because nobody’s publishing path is the same! Even those on the same track, self-pub, indie, trad, or hybrid, no track will match up exactly. 

Even here, where I attempted to show two different book paths, they ended up domino-ing differently. I even enlisted the assistance of my twins to make sure the paths started the same! 

But you can’t control another’s finger nudge any more than you can control world events that slide colored lenses over people’s eyes. And there’s personal stressors for each reader that influence their reading enjoyment and there’s sudden waves of hot tropes or plots that are unpredictable and short lived. Basically, there’s a million things that influence how a book is received in the world and all of them are out of your hands. 

Maybe that’s why the author’s decision of which publishing path to take is such a weighty one? It’s the first important step that we actually control, the one step that every author actually controls. And by making a choice we determine our book’s trajectory, and also our career’s. 

Whew! Scary stuff huh? Well, it is just a tiny, little pill after all, right?

I’ve chosen the traditional publishing route. Red or blue, I’ll never telllll! Originally this track was most appealing because I had a thriving career in the medial field along with being a wife and mother, which left very little time for authoring. Life changed, but my writing trajectory didn’t, even though my pro con list altered slightly. 

I’m still on the trad route because my health is limiting and I know the added stress of being in control of every little piece of bringing a book into the world would be too much. I still value my health over any career. Who knows, someday it could change. I still see the Hybrid author track as the most profitable, you can have the best of both worlds and ensure the most stable income possible (which still isn’t stable, but closer anyway). 

What track have you chosen? Which colored pill is the most appetizing to you?

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Indie versus trad: grudge match

Ladies and gentlemen and everyone under the sun, tonight we have quite a show for you. Indie versus traditional publishing! Fighters take your corners. Whiffle bats out. And ... go!

Except it isn't really that simple, is it?

There are lots of reasons authors choose to self-publish, get an agent and go the traditional route, or build a career that is a hybrid of both of those. Moreover, most authors are only too happy to share how they did it. Here's the kicker: you can listen to every single one of those fervent devotees to their publishing path describe how you ought to do things, and they are always wrong.

Your path is your path. Your path will never be whatever worked for somebody else.

A while back, a speaker came to talk to my local writing group. She was a fierce advocate of self-publishing and had a few negative things to say about traditional publishing. At that time, I had just signed my debut three-book contract with a publisher, and as she spoke, I had this horrible sinking feeling. Had I done the wrong thing? Had I already tanked my career before I even really started it?

Well, honestly... maybe. 

Looking back, I'm not sure I should have gone with that first offer. I'm not entirely sure I should have published that book at all. But of course I didn't know back then what would happen. All I knew was that people had told me how to do this writer thing, and I was following the steps.

Let me be clear: there are no steps. You are on your own. We all are.

For me, the decision of what to send to my agent and what to self-publish is still murky. I haven't figured it out by a long shot, and income probabilities don't make any of this clearer.

Last year, I received royalties for the two books that were published and distributed by a fairly large publisher. They were in book stores, printed in paperback, submitted to the fancy review sites, etc. They sold okay, I guess. The third book in the series, I self-published. It had no fanfare, zero buzz, and uninspiring sales. When I filed my taxes this for the year, I was a little startled to see that I had made more on that self-published book than I had for royalties of the other two books combined.

So I don't even know anymore. The waters of this whole pool of indecision have gotten awfully muddy. Some days I decide I will self-publish the book I'm working on. Some days I think maybe it's good enough to send to my agent. Some days I just hope I finish the thing.

I'm sorry I don't have solid wisdom on this topic, but the takeaway might be this: No one can tell you what to do. The decision is entirely yours. And I believe in you.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Indie & Proud

I'm one of many self-published authors on this blog but one of the few non-hybrid. Not being traditionally published by one of the Big Houses isn't because I've eschewed that part of the industry; it's simply because stars and stories haven't aligned.

I'm unrepentantly Indie. It's been a joy watching this half of the industry scrabble into existence, explode with popularity, then settle into a competitive marketplace. Sure, the royalties from the gold-rush days would be nice to see again, but that era is long gone. Then again, so is the insanity of indie authors having to release two books a month just to have a toe in the game. It was a fascinating moment when readers cried, "Whoa! Too much, too fast!" Authors happily responded, "Whew! Burnout is real!" By then the importance of backlists was established. Readers could binge, authors could breathe. Suddenly there was room for authors who couldn't pump out a dozen+ books a year, but who did publish stories readers were willing to wait to read. Niche markets were finally being served in measurable quantity with rising quality.

Speaking of rising quality, the Indie market provided opportunities for more than authors. The supporting industry of creative professionals from artists to editors to formatters and designers found new demand for their talents. It used to be a struggle to find someone willing to work with a self-published author, now our business is par for the course. Small tech companies have popped up too to serve our unique demands, innovating in ways that are thrilling to provider and user. Oh sure, crackpots and exploiters abound everywhere, but for the most part, Indie authors are gaining the respect of peers and readers.

The downside of self-publishing? There are many institutional biases we still have to overcome. There are public-facing opportunities (books fairs, expos, cons, local news, etc.,) from which we are excluded because organizers don't consider us properly vetted. We are hugely dependent on the benevolence of a singular capricious capitalist company. A single seemingly insignificant design change on any retailers' site can tank our sales. A tech glitch on their end can result in significant losses in sales and challenges to our Intellectual Property (among other legal complications). Retailers who struggle financially find the easiest copout is to delay paying us pay us or to not pay us at all. Worse are those who under-report our sales, a circumstance against which we have no proof or recourse. When distributors have a problem--be it in tangible or digital product--it's the author who gets blamed, though we have no ability to right the wrong. We've yet to consolidate our voices to demand changes that benefit all self-published authors. We ride the shirttails of the publishing industry despite our conflicts of interest. Oh, and of course, the whole damn enterprise is costly. Success is a long-game. Books into which you invested your heart and savings will tank. Envy is real, jealousy pernicious and prevalent. Don't get me started on piracy.

But...for all the negatives, it's worth it. To me, at least. I write stories because I want to share them. I want to help total strangers escape their realities and find a bit of joy.

The biggest advantage of being an Indie author is also its greatest disadvantage: control = responsibility = accountability.  It's our name on the cover. It's our words on the pages. It's our reputation regardless.

I wouldn't have it any other way.

Monday, April 27, 2020

I choose you!

Hi folks.

It's been a while.

Sorry, I was off having cancer and doing everything I could to get that under control, but I'll do my best to post regularly again. No promises, of course, I'm busy playing catch up.

So this week's topic is near and dear to my heart. Traditional or self-publishing.

Listen, twenty years ago I would have sneered at self-publishing. Right or wrong (for the times) I felt the true measure of professionalism was getting published by one of the Big Five. Less than that meant less than professional.

Then the world changed drastically.

Self-publication stopped being an amateur hour. You could do it and actually have a chance of making money, which, two decades back wasn't the case very often. There were always exceptions but they WERE exceptions.

One of the best things bout self-publication these days is called BACKLISTING. I have several books in print now that weren't there for a few years. True story, I did a book called BLOODSTAINED OZ with one of my best friends. It sold through a small press at a price of $40 for a numbered limited edition and $125 for a lettered limited edition. lt also sold out in one weekend. After that, you just weren't going to see it again.  There were no plans for a mass-market version because we were talking about a novella.

fast forward ten years and the book was practically a holy grail affair. The books that had sol at $45 were going for over $1,000 dollars on the secondary market. because we could and because there was obvious demand, my partner on the book and I agreed to put it out as an ebook for $1.99. We sold a few copies and the market dropped. Now you can get a second-hand version for a far more reasonable price. What can we say? Books are meant to be read.

I have several more books that are currently out of print. I intend to put most of them back into print during the next year.

I'm doing them a few at a time because I have to pay someone smarter than me for the layout and someone else with artistic talent for the covers. :)

I still have plenty of traditionally published books in the queue. but my backstock? I can do that myself, if only to ensure people can still find copies if they're so inclined.

Keep smiling folks!

Sunday, April 26, 2020

The Freedom of Being a Hybrid Author

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is "Choosing your freedom - Traditional or Self-Publishing?" We've been asked which freedom we picked: the freedom to write without getting into the business side or the freedom to control it all?

You all know me: I'm the both gal. As with everything, I'm pretty much in the Venn Diagram overlap of both worlds. I'm a hybrid author, with a foot equally in each camp. My income for the past three years has been 60/40% from trad/indie or indie/trad. It goes back and forth depending on the year, but I figure it evens out to 50/50.

I like both routes! Being able to control my covers and pricing is great, but I mostly love the freedom of being able to move my self-publishing deadlines around. I particularly love the monthly income. I also really love being part of a team. The St. Martins team working with my on my Forgotten Empires trilogy - and the release of THE FIERY CROWN in one month! - is beyond awesome. Having a high-quality group of people loving my book, cheering it on and pouring their own energy into making it succeed is really wonderful.

All the freedoms belong to me!

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Voracious Reader Here, A Consumer of Books


Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is reading! Do you set aside time for it each day? How do you decide what to read next?

I’ve always been a voracious reader, ever since I learned to read. I get anxious if I don’t have things to read and almost always have a book with me (although nowadays it will probably be on my kindle rather than a physical book). I’m the kind of reader who likes to devour a book in one sitting and I get very immersed in the world the author created or revealed. It’s hard for anyone to reclaim my attention (although Jake the Cat manages) and if I love the story and it’s part of a series, I’m quite likely to work my way through the author’s entire backlist before I’m done.

There was a break in my reading habits when I had my two children. As the mother of little ones I would only get quick chunks of time to read and so I turned to magazines, where I could read an entire article over lunch and then move on to the next maternal activity without feeling cheated or left wondering what was going to happen next. I didn’t read very many if any books for a few years there. Well, not adult books anyway. One of our favorite shared activities was curling up together and reading age appropriate books!

Children do grow up, however, and I got back to reading novels eventually.

One of the reasons I’ve always written – since I was 7 – is that I could never find enough books of the kind I wanted to read, and so I wrote my own. As Jeffe said earlier this week in her post, reading a really good book and writing my own book seem to take up the same creative space in my mind.  Both activities satisfy the same need. Sometimes after reading a book that really grabs me, I’ll be full of the energy and desire to write my own, maybe exploring similar broad themes, or taking off on a tangent or wanting to ‘play’ in a new genre. More often though, reading a good book leaves me content and without the urge to write, at least for a while.

Which isn’t a good thing for a fulltime author.

I can’t be all dreamy eyed re-reading Nalini Singh or Anne McCaffrey, or even Jeffe’s books for too long because I have the rent to pay and cat food to buy.

The other consideration for me is what type of book I’m writing at the moment. I’m published in science fiction romance, ancient Egyptian paranormal romance and fantasy. If I’m deep in writing about 1550 BCE Egypt, for example, I can indulge myself and read an Anna Hackett Galactic Gladiators novel, or one of Tiffany Roberts’s inventive Infinite City series or Pauline B. Jones’s Project Enterprise novels. They satisfy a different part of my creative nature than writing the Egyptian is doing, even though it’s all romance and adventure.

I can’t read SFR while I’m writing SFR. I just cannot. Not even excellent ones like Cynthia Sax’s  Cyborg Space Exploration series. So I one click the new books and let them sit in the virtual TBR until I have the finished draft of my work in progress complete and then I go on a binge of catching up. While writing SFR  I can read ‘hard science fiction’, post-apocalyptic novels set on planet Earth (I don’t write those), Regency romance, nonfiction, paranormal romance, military adventure….

I don’t write in the fantasy romance series that often, so I have no idea what books I can and can’t read if I’m working on my Magic of Claddare novels.

I will, on occasion, if a new book is one I’ve been anticipating keenly, break all my rules, throw caution to the winds, the WIP be darned, and spend the day reading as soon as the book hits my kindle. Patricia Briggs’s Smoke Bitten was the most recent title like that for me.  Any Nalini Singh new release has the same effect on me. Of course then I often go back and re-read the other books in the series, which encroaches on my writing time but hey, a person has to break their own rules sometimes!

When do I read? Given that I tend toward compulsive in my reading habits and want to read an entire book start to finish once I begin, I don’t let myself read novels during the day. I dip in and out of magazines or nonfiction research tomes (usually about ancient Egypt) at my meals and snacks.

When the day is over and my energy and creative energies wane because I’m a morning person and go downhill all day from a peak at about 5am, I sit in bed and read. I read very fast, always have, and can finish a book in a few hours. If it’s a long book but really engrossing, I’ll stay up as late as it takes to reach that satisfying Happy Ever After ending, now that I don’t have a day job that involves commuting and interacting with other people face to face. I can sleep in!

When I finish writing a book, there’s a time period from two days to a week where I’ve exhausted my Muse and I do a lot of reading, all day and all evening long. Then when I know I’m ready to dive into my next project, I revert to the ‘reading only at night’ routine.

What do I read? EVERYTHING! Well, not actually – I rarely read murder mysteries any more although for a long time I was a huge fan of the genre. I never read true crime – too grim and sad for me. I’m not much into ‘dark’ romance, reverse harem, Omegaverse, thrillers, Scottish Highlanders…but even having said that, there’s always an exception if the book sounds good and is really well written.

I pulled out my kindle and here’s a partial list of my most recent reads. I don’t mention any that I DNF’ed or deleted from my kindle after I read them, because there were some but they shall remain nameless:

Cat Pictures Please and Little Free Library, both by Naomi Kritzer
Bone Dry, Buried Bones and Good Bones, The Dance and Dei Ex Machina all by Kim Fielding
The Lasaran by Dianne Duvall
North Bound and Warlord Reunited by Cynthia Sax
Storm’s End by Justin Bell and Mike Kraus
Solitude by Dean M. Cole
Cold Storage by David Koepp (I so wanted more books by him but this is apparently his first)
Culture Shock by M. C. Herron
The Summer I Dared by Barbara Delinsky (a re-read of one of my favorites)
It’s Not All Downhill from Here by Terry McMillan
In Five Years by Rebecca Serle
Problem Child by Victoria Helen Stone
Paladin by Anna Hackett
Smoke Bitten by Patricia Briggs
Rock Hard  (a re-read of a favorite) and Love Hard by Nalini Singh
Ull by M. K. Eidem
Break the Fall by Jennifer Iacopelli
The Matrimonial Advertisement by Mimi Matthews
Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank (I've re-read that one SO many times)
Mercy by Tara Ellis and Mike Kraus
Lethal Game by Christine Feehan
Dauntless by Lisa Henry
The Women in Black by Madeleine St. John (I’d seen the movie, set in Australia, post-WWII)
Sweep With Me by Ilona Andrews
Shards of Hope and Shield of Winter by Nalini Singh (more beloved re-reads)
Malice by Pintip Dunn
Thanatos by Kris Michaels (I love this romantic suspense series)
Fais Do Do Die by Pauline B Jones
On A Sea of Glass by Tad Fitch, J. Kent Layton, Bill Wormstedt
The Ship of Dreams by Gareth Russell
Fate of the Tala by Jeffe Kennedy
The first ten books of the McClane Apocalypse series by Kate Morris
A few of my own backlist, checking on plot points or for other reasons, including Star Cruise: Marooned and Aydarr
…and more!

I have a HUGE To Be Read list on the kindle, including lots of new SFR I can’t wait to dive into when I finish the current WIP. There’s no science, logic or criteria for what order I follow when reading the waiting books. I kind of riffle through the list and grab what seizes my fancy at the moment and off I go. So it might be a title newly arrived on the kindle or one that’s been waiting a month or two. I check my Amazon Devices & Content list from time to time to ferret out books I’ve held unread for so long I forgot them (horrors!) and bring them up to read and enjoy.

Happy reading to you!

Friday, April 24, 2020

I May Have a Reading Problem

Enemy Storm is available for preorder from Amazon. We should see more preorder links come available shortly. We all know the 'zon likes to beat everyone else to the punch. This is book three of the Chronicles of the Empire SFR series. Unlike Enemy Within (book one) and Enemy Games (book two) this one hasn't been published before now. Official release date is June 10. 

I love to read. Always have. I hope I always will. I love it enough that when I was in sixth or seventh grade, I made a pact with my best friend. We signed up for a speed reading course. We then spent several days in a cramped, dark room with a bunch of airmen learning to not subvocalize while we read. However, I have a pretty serious problem with reading, too. Once I start a book that's good, I don't stop. You know all those memes that go around about what kind of person you are based on how you mark you place in a book? I laugh. Cause I rarely need to mark my place in a book. I read. And read. And read. To the detriment of sleep. And chores. I will grudgingly get up to feed the cats and scoop their boxes. But other than that, the rest of the world can just take care of itself for the few hours it's going to take me to get through whatever I'm reading. 

So I try to save reading for rewards. I finish writing a novel, I get to binge read a book or three. I'm like most other people are with Netflix series. Don't get me wrong. A book has to hit my reader buttons in order to merit that kind of attention. A book either makes me turn pages like a freak, or I DNF. There is some gray area in there, but it's not much. Life is too short to finish meh books. The biggest fun I get to have is beta reading other writer's books. Second to that, is finding an author whose writing lights me up. I really don't care what the genre is. Right now, I'm still reading my way through all of the new-to-me, under-represented authors who were promoted in the midst of the last RWA crisis. Some have been really good, and some have not been my cup. But that's the way with everything, I feel. At least I'm still reading. When I'm not on deadline.

What book have you read that surprised you into liking it? (My example - I thought I would hate To Kill a Mockingbird because we *had* to read it for school. Ended up loving it. What's yours?)

Thursday, April 23, 2020


TBR (noun): to be read. 

The entity that is the TBR comes in various forms. There’s the TBR list; which some keep in spreadsheets, some use Goodreads, and others *gasp* keep a list in their mind. There’s also the TBR pile. Piles really, because honestly, where there’s one there’s certainly more. You can also toss in the TBR stack, TBR shelf, and TBR cart.

Currently, I have 1,278 books on my Goodreads TBR list, 57 in my physical TBR stacks around the house, 6 waiting in my Kindle’s TBR queue, and 1 in my TBR-carry-along, aka my purse.

Clearly, I have a book hoarding problem. But that’s not the topic of the week, this week it’s all about reading. 

Reading’s an escape, a hobby, a pastime, a chore. It’s a hundred other things that can change by the moment and is also a necessity if you’re an author. Yet, I see many writers posting comments that they don’t read

A writer who doesn’t read is like a movie producer who doesn’t watch TV or motion pictures, like a chef who never eats out. A writer who doesn’t read is like a marketer who never studies another’s successful launch, like a product engineer who never uses or tests another company’s items. A writer who doesn’t read will never be as great as they could be.

“If you don’t have time to read, 
you don’t have the time or the tools to write. 
Simple as that.” 

~Stephen King, On Writing

I’m addicted to reading, always have been. And when there's been too much time since cracking open a book I start to crave the escape. Yes, as a writer there are times you have to buckle down, editing cave anyone, and reading takes a backseat.  

Editing Cave (noun): a place where time and space are suspended. 
When one enters, they are unable to leave until such a time when they can produce a finished product. Warning; food and beverages that pass into the editing cave never return.

But after a time of famine you have to refill the well, as we’ve blogged about before, which you can read here, and binge on reading. Reading will stimulate the imagination. Reading will draw you down new paths you didn’t know you needed in your own writing. Reading will give you the mental break you crave after a trip to the editing cave.

I have a book hoarding problem, but I don’t merely collect them. I read them. One or five at a time, I read them, and sometimes re-read and re-read them. 

A romance gives melts my heart and makes me more cuddly. A fantasy leads me to the woods and lets me dream. A sci-fi takes my imagination places I’d never believed I’d find. A thriller makes my heart pound. A mystery makes my mind question and seek answers. And all of these allow me to see people through their eyes, to feel the agony of their lives, to understand what drives them and is important to them. 

Tell me, what have you been reading? Have you recently read something that gave you an ah-ha moment? Or maybe a book that took you away from your daily stress? 

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Time to read but no brain for it

I used to think, if only I had more time to read, I'd cut a canyon through my to-be-read pile. (The metaphor works because it is and has long been a vast mountain of a thing.) Every time a book that checks all my boxes comes out I'm all, YAY and one-click it and get really excited... and then it goes on top of the mountain, often never to be seen again.

Part of the problem, or so I thought, was lack of time. But right now, stuck in my house all day, every day, and no things to drive my kids to or appointments for dogs or husband or moms or self or grocery shopping or errands of any kind, I kind of do have time.

I just don't have the brain for it.

Like, I keep pulling books off the top of the mountain and cracking them open with glee, and they keep being well-written and engaging, but I just. Can't. Focus. I can't care. I surreptitiously side-peek at a news story or a think piece about the new normal or the endless Twitter feed of people freaking out.

I check my email.

I do the taxes.

But this week, I had a mini-breakthrough. My kids have a reading assignment for remote-learning school, and they have to sit down and read books for the project. Like, literally, butts in chairs, eyes on pages. So, in order to encourage this behavior, I told them I'd read with them. I started to reach for the peak of my mountain to pull down a much-longed-for piece of gooey fiction, but then I paused. Thought about it. And then grabbed a nonfiction book instead. To my surprise, it held my attention for hours. I zoomed through it, and for a little while, it was like old times, books and me, OTP.

So I'm thinking that's my strategy going forward. I'm on the lookout for nonfiction that can keep my attention off the news. Recs in comments, please!

Oh, and as a footnote, the topic of the book that brought me back to reading? The plague of 1347-1351. Because of course.

We get through this however we can, people.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

The Reward Is Other People's Stories

Reading. As a writer, you should be doing a lot of that. Dirty secret? Once I started writing as a career, how much I read along with my storytelling expectations changed drastically. Once upon a time, my weekends were 3-book weekends, gleefully losing all concept of self and time in someone else's world. I didn't care about the style so much as I cared about the story.

These days, my reward for finishing a book I'm writing is a 3-book/300k binge of stuff not written by me and not in the genre of whatever I just finished writing. Like any bibliophile, I have stacks of TBRs. I employ a 3 chapter enjoyment test; if I'm not looking forward to chapter 4, I stop reading the book. It's taken me a long time to permit myself to DNF a book. I used to feel like I owed it to the characters to finish their story. Now I look at all the books I have yet to read, and figure I owe it to those characters to at least give them the chance to ensnare me.

Sometimes, when the words I need to write are being elusive, I turn to the graphic novels, comics, or illustrated stories to unstick my imagination and remind myself of the wonder waiting to be shared. Bite-sized tales give me a swift kick in the ass and scream "you can do it!" Novels pat the fluffy pillows and hand me a bourbon, whispering, "Congrats. You did it. Enjoy the escape. You've earned this."

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Making Time to Read

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is reading! Do you set aside time for it each day? How do you decide what to read next?

Like most (all?) writers, I have always been a reader. My mom tells stories of me learning to read from Sesame Street when I was four, and how she stopped reading aloud to me before bed - a nightly ritual - because I started reading over her shoulder and correcting her mistakes.

So, yeah, I was one of THOSE kids. The ones whose parents yelled at them to get their nose out of the book and look around. The ones who carried their current book to class and snuck reading from it while the teacher was talking. The ones who read widely and deeply.

This continued into my adult life. My husband remarked once that he'd never known someone who read EVERY DAY. No matter how busy things got, I always got in some reading.

The only time this changed was when I began writing fiction.

For some reason, writing books took up the same space in my brain that reading books had occupied. At first I was kind of thrilled, because writing a book gave me the same joy and sense of enchantment that reading one had given me - and it lasted so much longer! And it was MINE! But then I began to see how dramatically my reading had dropped off - and I knew I had to fix that.

So, yes, I set aside time to read every day. At first it wasn't easy to rebuild the habit. I had to make myself observe that one hour of reading. It also took time to resume the habit of picking up my current read during spare moments. But now I read for usually a couple of hours every day.

As for how I decide what to read next? Any of you who've followed me for any length of time should know the answer to this! I have a spreadsheet, OF COURSE.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Author Finances - From Gold Rush to Tidal Wave to Steady State


Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is writer finances and such issues as how do you budget for uneven income? What’s your biggest expense?

First, a little history. I sold my first book to Carina Press in late summer 2011 and Priestess of the Nile was published in January 2012. It obviously wasn’t the first book I ever wrote, but it sure was the first one I ever sold. I also self-published my first science fiction romance Wreck of the Nebula Dream in March 2012. At that stage of my career as an author, I was thrilled to have actually been published, to have readers and reviews, and to be able to say “I did it!” Lifelong dream of becoming published – realized.  I was immersed in my day job as NASA/JPL on the business side of the house and I knew next to nothing about the publishing or the self-publishing world. I was happy just being published.

My career path lay at NASA/JPL and I had no expectations as far as the books.

In 2013 Carina Press published the second and final book of mine that I would be doing for them and we amicably parted ways. I self-published a second scifi romance and started to believe hey, maybe I could chuck the day job (no offense to NASA/JPL) and be a fulltime writer. Day dreaming commenced...

2014 – self-published two more scifi romances, was much more involved in the online author world, had been to conferences (what a rush on so many levels), won several awards for my books, was contributing to the USA Today Happy Ever After blog and a few other places…the world was my oyster, I was sure. The day job, in an office dealing with contracts, audits and process improvement and the like was less and less what I wanted to do or where I wanted to be. I decided to go for the new dream. Serious planning ensued...

2015 – I left the day job to become a fulltime author. I had a best-selling scifi romance that went to number one in its category on Amazon.  I chaired a panel at a big conference…I thought I had it made and wow I was sure my decision was the right one.

Umm, guess what I was totally and blissfully unaware of? The whole ebook self-publishing situation was a gold rush and not only had I come into it at the tail end, the entire industry was about to be rocked by the tidal wave that was Amazon Kindle Unlimited (KU).

Kristine Kathryn Rusch has written several excellent blog posts about the gold rush situation and the effects of KU, if you’d like to read them. Here’s the 2015 post and then a follow up in 2017 after a major outlet for indie ebooks (All Romance eBooks) had just gone out of business. According to KKR, the gold rush actually began tapering off in 2012 and pretty much crashed in 2015, when available content caught up to the demand and then KU hit. Note the amazing alignment to the fledgling career of yours truly.

One of her key points is that an indie author must stay flexible because the situation is always going to change. You have to adapt. You also have to write good books that the readers want to read.

So, to back up a bit and track to the original SFF7 topic for the week, in the beginning my day job salary supported the books. Even when I went fulltime as an author, I was still using my savings to support the writing. A big no-no by the way but I was na├»ve. I thought that was temporary and I could absorb the costs for a while and surely my royalties would skyrocket and cover everything. I might not ever become a J. K. Rowling with theme parks and movies but I’d be doing okay. Right?

I also blithely expected the arc of my writer career to be like the arc of a more classic career (the one I had at NASA/JPL), where each thing leads to a bigger thing, more responsibility, a better office and title and oh, more money. Well, the author world really doesn’t work that way for most of us, as it turns out.

I see you shaking your head and telling me I ought to have done a whole lot of intense and focused research before I jumped. Well okay, but it was a gold rush even if I didn’t know it and the mentality of the moment grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. I have a tendency to succumb to magical thinking at the drop of a hat. It was the chance to live that glorious fulltime author dream life, people!  No more commuting on the freeways, no more staff meetings, no more scrutinizing of fine print in the tech specs for spacecraft… And I did do a certain amount of financial planning but I didn’t know what I didn’t know and I probably didn’t want to hear it anyway by then.

I had a LOT of fun though. I truly have no regrets about the choice I made to go fulltime as an author.

Things began to look brighter for my author career right on schedule in 2015 with that big hit, Star Cruise: Marooned, which is the book I mentioned above. My sales continued to be strong while a lot of other people’s sank. I think I got about three extra months of great royalties before the inevitable happened and the tidal wave hit me too. (Yes, we used to get 90 days of sales ‘lift’ from a new release – wow, those were the days. Now it’s a week, maybe.)

Soooo….I began cutting back. And back. I stopped doing audio books. Too expensive and they didn’t earn out the costs for me. I quit going to conferences. I stopped doing the big pretty promo in magazines and on prestige romance sites. I cut back on some of the things I’d been spending time on that were so much fun but took away from the writing time (like being a TV blogger for USAT/HEA, recapping episodes for several scifi shows, interviewing the actors, etc.). “Does this pay the rent?” became my mantra. I made other adjustments in my personal life, including downsizing my living space. Out of necessity I also got more efficient at writing the books and had seven new releases in 2017, one of which was Aydarr, the first book in my very successful Badari Warriors scifi romance series. (Thank you, readers!).

The end of the gold rush really forced me to become much more serious that the writing was the thing. Plant myself in my chair and get the words onto the paper.

I have about forty books published at the moment, released 11 in 2019 alone. I was on track to do about the same this year until we all got hit with the pandemic. It’s proving to be hard for me to focus on writing in this stressful time, although I am managing about 1K a day on the new book. Thank goodness for the extensive backlist.

Amazon accounts for about 85% of my sales, although I remained ‘wide’, keeping my books at all the major ebook sellers, versus going into KU. I personally don’t like having all my eggs in one basket. Your mileage may vary. Amazon pays royalties every month, which does amazing things for me paying my bills, and the amount is from the sales 60 days ago. I check my dashboard every single day and monitor my royalties closely, so I can budget ahead and know pretty much what I’ll have to work with in two months’ time. It's a rolling balancing act.

Household expenses and bills come first, then the cost of the books. I set aside a fixed amount every month in the budget to cover certain book-related expenses. When I was writing on the 9 to 11 new books a year schedule, I knew what the monthly book-related income and expenses were going to be pretty reliably. Right now sales are down and since I’m not turning out books as rapidly (which could be a self-perpetuating loop because readers want new books but pandemic happening and my Muse is struggling…) it’s balanced out, although I am continuing to commission book covers. I know what my next few books will be and it helps incentivize me to write if I already have a gorgeous cover from Fiona Jayde to stare at.

My biggest expense is editing, followed by covers, with the formatting third. I’m not techy and can’t do my own formatting. I use the wonderful Formatting Fairies who work for Marie Force and they’re very calming to my anxiety and so helpful in general! Worth every penny.

(My high powered CPA is a once a year expense and I’m thrilled to pay that fee because I can sleep at night thanks to her, with no nightmares about the IRS.)

I’m doing very little paid promo right now. I did just put my Badari box set on sale and paid for some promo this month in connection with that, plus generous author friends helped spread the word. The SFR community is a really good place to be, pretty supportive of each other.

I have a newsletter and a blog. I’m active on social media and in various author and reader groups for my genre. I write about scifi romance for several national outlets (USAT/HEA sadly is no more.) I don’t get paid for those posts, which I know many people say is a no-go but I feel the exposure to potential readers in the SFR genre is definitely worth the time I put in. You never know what other opportunity may arise because of a post going viral. And a big part of my efforts is always spreading the word about the entire SFR genre. I believe the more readers we have for our SFR novels, the better it will be for all of us who write them. Romance readers are wonderfully voracious!

I have a strategic plan, which I’ve been working to since 2015. I update it once a year and then review it every quarter and make changes as needed. It’s an important tool for me to stay flexible and to watch out for changes that I need to make in my thinking and my author activities to respond to the industry itself. It's the opposite of magical thinking but reassuring in its own way and  makes me feel more in control. I feel like I'm in a steady state right now as far as income and outgo but I need to get back to regular new releases pretty quickly and I'm counting on the readers to want more books in my various series.

The writing is the writing, thank goodness. Once I sit down and focus, the words flow and the stories tell themselves to me. If I can just keep myself from spending too much time staring in bug eyed disbelief at the news or going down social media rabbit holes – or binge watching TV shows and movies – I’ll be okay.

Always assuming the readers continue to enjoy the stories I offer!

Amazon     Apple Books     Kobo     Nook

Friday, April 17, 2020

Harsh Financial Realities

Author finances are, for me, a long series of wrenching trade offs. My balance sheet bleeds. I've been operating at a loss for enough years that I can no longer file with the IRS as an author. I've been relegated to hobbyist. Also, I've picked up a day job to help get the family through some of the current nonsense because there can never be enough employed people in a household during an economic downturn. At least I'm technical writing, I guess.

This all amounts to me having to make decisions about how and where I publish material based on cost. For the moment, that means that self publishing is out of my reach for the foreseeable future. Professional editors are worth their weight in gold. I prefer not to publish without an editor looking over my stories and calling me out on my bad habits. It's just I don't currently have the gold for that or for good cover art. That can all change at a moment's notice. But the more likely scenario is that I can change that with hard work and book releases. So I'll favor small presses (thank the heavens for The Wild Rose Press) and querying agents about getting back into traditional markets, maybe. Whether I like it or not, this is the way it is for now.

So what convinces me to part with my pinched pennies? Marketing. Low investment ads that allow me to play a long game to build an audience slowly as I finish up the SFR series this year. I committed the cash to join an authors' coop so I could learn from people who are out there in the trenches really doing a good job with marketing. They're being super generous with their knowledge. Learning new skills is always worth the money. Up to the point that you can't pay the mortgage, obviously, but so far that's not at risk. Knock wood.

I don't mean for any of this to come off as a complaint or a plea for any kind of sympathy. I want to be transparent. There are reasons people stop publishing. I won't because I can't. And I have just enough ego mingled with spite to keep throwing my pages out into the aether.

At least with most of the world on lock down, it's not like I'm missing conferences this year?

Y'all stay safe out there.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Writer Finances and the Myth that all Authors are Millionaires

When you’re start out in this crazy business you decide which publishing track is for you. 

There is:

Traditional - publishing with an established publisher (think Orbit, Tor, or Angry Robot)
Self-Publishing - publishing on your own without an established publisher
Hybrid-author - publishing both with an established publisher and independently

Sounds great! Right? Except you may, or at the very least nearly everyone you tell about your decision to be an author will, assume that means $$$.

So, how do you budget when you don’t have a clue about what you're facing? 


I wrote my first novel in 2013, the one that earned me my Golden Heart in 2018. See that 5 year spread? There was a lot of internet searching and learning happening in that time because I knew I needed to decide what to do with the thing. 

Self-publishing in 2013-2014 had a bit of a stigma for being sub-par, but I checked it out anyway. I’m a laboratorian at heart, I can’t make big decisions without a detailed pro/con list. For information, I attended a couple small writer conferences and attended sessions targeted at traditional and self publishing. There’s so much to that that I could fill your screens for days, or you could check the archives of my fellow SFF Seven’s posts, there be goldmines there. And recently the Fantasy Inn did a great survey on self and traditional publishing, check it out here.

Jim C. Hines did a nice survey in 2010 about first novel deals and earnings. But in all the Publisher Weekly announcements there was cryptic wording on the deal amounts. Thankfully, the Nelson Literary Agency puts out an excellent newsletter and blog, a great follow if you’re in the trenches. Kristin Nelson shared deal-reporting lingo translation. 

Finally! A way to decipher those press releases and find out how much traditional authors make! 

*cue laughing*

Back in 2014-2015 I was enjoying a very successful career in the medical field and determined that the time needed to be successful at self-publishing wasn’t something I had. That left the traditional path, hybrid author really wasn’t a thing back then, and I needed even more info to formulate my ten year plan. 

You read that right, TEN YEAR PLAN. If you don’t have one, you should make one. Being an author is a long road, no matter which path you take. And planning is part of figuring out that elusive author finances.

My ten year plan was to have one book published within five years and subsequently two books per year after that which would allow me to retire from the corporate world and become a full-time author by year ten with ten books on my backlist. 

Best laid plans and all…

I still have a ten year plan, though it looks very different from what I started out with. Due to my chronic disease, I chose my health over my job and walked away from my career in 2018. Unfortunately that means my family is now single-income, my husband is absolutely wonderful in case I haven’t mentioned it recently, and my healthcare takes up about 20% of it. 

Remember the planning carefully part I mentioned above? 

Even after all that, I still have a plan. Technically I have a one year, five year, and a ten year plan, and I’m still collecting information because the most important thing I’ve learned concerning author finances is the need to be flexible

Flexibility is key for which ever publishing path you choose. Make goals, set timelines for yourself, and be flexible. Yes, that means flexible with your income as well. 

In the past couple of years there’s been a movement to be more transparent about author income and a number of authors have voluntarily posted about it. There’s been some shared on Twitter, sorry I can’t find the tweets to link to. And Susan Dennard, author of the Witchlanders series, did a post on author income along with her agent (scroll down to the bottom section: For the Daydreamers).

None of this is to bum you out about your future prospects. But if you’re committed to being an author for the long haul, you’ll need a plan for your finances. Otherwise you’ll end up like poor Rob…

But he always looked on the bright side, which sounds like a good idea to me! 

Are you starting out and vacillating on which publishing path you want to take? 

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Budgeting Self-Pub Production Costs

On the self-pub side of the publishing equation, you carry your production costs upfront. That's editing, cover art, formatting, ISBNs, copyright and in some cases, printing/distribution. Add audio production (charged per finished hour) if that's a format you offer. None of it is cheap. Yes, big backlists are critical to achieving a profit in this industry, but that's balanced by the upfront costs of production. Emotional costs are a different topic for a different post. Opportunity costs vary by individual but absolutely must be considered. If you're a speedy writer capable of producing 4+ books/year, the cost of production might be what limits how many books you publish in a year. Expect to lose money during your first few years while you build your backlist and your audience.

For my Urban Fantasy series, my cover art is my highest production cost because I didn't want to use stock photo models. I went all-in for the custom photoshoot. Yes, I could cut my art costs significantly by using premade covers or stock photo models. For me, ensuring my model didn't show up on sixteen other books that weren't mine was important enough to allocate a large portion of my budget for cover art.

I chose my cover artist because he's good, he's timely, and he also offers book production services. My "cover art" costs include images and lettering, plus banner/social media images, formatting for ebook and print, and covers for both formats. Essentially, I send my cover artist my completed manuscript and a summary description for what I want the cover to look like and, after a bit of back and forth, he (and his team) send me finished book files that are ready for uploading to distributors. For me, the savings in opportunity costs offset a significant portion of the cash cost. YMMV.

For my High Fantasy series, editing costs me more than art because the books are twice as long as the UF books, and I opted for an illustrator instead of a photographer for the art. Now, let me disabuse you of any notion that illustrators are by default cheaper than photographers. That's not remotely a true or fixed thing. Art is art, thus subject to a very wide price range. There are artists you may love but can't afford (or your schedules may never align). That's a reality that comes with the business. While it's important to have a book with a good looking cover--yes, people absolutely judge your book by its cover, hence the saying--don't blow your budget on art alone. You can always recover your books if/when your budget allows.

If you're writing a series, the production costs are a fairly fixed per-book charge, which makes them easy to budget. Ideally with a series, if you know how long that series is going to be, you can negotiate bundled pricing with your artist and/or book production team. Some will, some won't, some you'll discover you don't want to work with for the whole series (thus, ensure there's an "out" clause in any contract).

Recurring costs like website (hosting, design/build, custom email, SSL, etc.), newsletters, ads-creative, ads-runs, promotions, promotions art/copy, and subscriptions to design/creative creation sites, stock photo sites, cloud storage, distribution sites, and post boxes can be broken into annual charges, monthly, and per-use. These charges may spike when you drop a new release, but they're charges you incur even if you don't publish a new book. They're charges of running the business.

The hardest recurring cost to budget is advertising using CPC, because sometimes the company will use all your daily maximum allotment and sometimes they use a fraction of it. For the purposes of budgeting, assume they'll max you out every day. You don't want to end up in debt due to the whims of algorithms. How much of your total budget should you allocate to advertising? It varies. Less when you're starting off, more at midlist, less once you have a large and dedicated fan base. Not a particularly helpful answer, I know. The most helpful generalization I can offer is that don't spend too much when you don't have a backlist. You need inventory (aka multiple books) for ads to turn a profit because your ROI (return on investment) comes from subsequent full-price sales of your other (non-advertised) books. There are many online classes in advertising. Look for the ones that deal specifically with books and fiction in particular. Book advertising is a different beast from other products. Non-fic relies heavily on author platforms/reputations, which doesn't commonly apply to fiction (you don't need to be an Influencer to write a killer thriller). The book community is hypersensitive to social-space spamming and unsolicited inbox invasions that many product-sales classes encourage, so don't waste your money on broad-topic sessions.

Now, I could go on and on, but this rough overview probably has caused your eyes to glaze over, so I'll stop. The most important thing about writerly finances whether you're trad-pubbed, hybrid, or self-pubbed is that you have a budget and stick to it. Like any creative industry, feast and famine are real. Don't blow your money during seasons of feast; you're going to need it during seasons of famine.