Sunday, January 28, 2024

Beyond Book Sales: Other Ways to Earn Income as an Author

 This week at the SFF Seven, we're asking about book-related income that is specifically not from book sales.

There was an asterisk to that, specifying that the question was in relation to the Authors Guild 2023 Income Survey, which I didn't read. (I have Opinions about that survey, which I won't go into.) But I assume the question comes from the survey dividing author income into book-related and not, and the person asking is wondering what the "not" might be. It's a good question because I'm a firm believer that long-term success in this fickle business relies on diversifying income streams. 

I actually have a line on my income spreadsheets that says "Other Writing Income," as opposed to the "Book Sales" line. What kind of income is that?

  1. My Patreon: This is how I offer mentoring and coaching to other writers. Plus, it's a great little community that's truly supportive and positive in a non-toxic way.
  2. Other kinds of coaching. I also offer various kinds of one-on-one mentoring and coaching.
  3. Workshops, presentations, and master classes. I love giving talks and I especially love it when they pay me!
  4. Articles and similar nonfiction writing. Love getting paid for those, too!
  5. YouTube. I have a podcast, First Cup of Coffee with Jeffe Kennedy, with enough subscribers that I earn income from the views. 

Saturday, January 27, 2024

Finding Your Voice: How Your Writing Can Change


When I sat down to write this post, I realized I had a lot to say. So hold on to your bootstraps! I am blessed to watch young writers develop their craft because I teach a senior creative writing seminar at my university. This experience has led me to think extensively about what young writers need to learn.

Some of the students have been writing for years: they've shared their work since high school, published poems and stories, and won awards. Others are brand new to sharing their writing with others and honing their craft. It's a lively environment, bubbling with talent and new ideas. And I am grateful to be a part of their journey. As we all evolve as writers, I have learned a few things about the process.

Hone Your Craft

If you haven't seen Pablo Picasso's early work, you need to do this right now: You can't skip working on your craft and understanding the fundamentals and technical aspects. 

In my seminar, there are common technical elements the newer writers are still learning: paragraphing, punctuation for quotations, deleting filter words, and moving from telling to showing, for example. Info-dumping, effective first chapters, and deeper pov are elements all of them are still developing. There are any number of craft books to help you work on these skills. Sharing your work with your peers is also a great way to learn from others.

After that essential piece of advice (which includes the important reminder to read, read, read), the biggest piece of wisdom I share with my students is to find your voice.

Easier said than done.

We are all influenced by the many books and stories we're read - and reading a lot is crucial to becoming a great writer. But it's more than imitating or synthesizing the stories we've imbibed. We have to embrace our individual perspective of the world. And we have to let go of the negative voices in our heads and listen to ourselves. 

Embrace your Unique Perspective

Embracing our quirky individuality is a courageous act. Social media and consumer capitalism work on us every day feeding us messages to conform to society's values: watch this tv show, buy this product, do this thing everyone else is doing on TikTok, you are never enough. How do we resist these forces if we can't hide in a hole by ourselves with on wifi?

Turn off your phone and tv. Think about your unique experiences and interests. Consider your learning style and how you interact with the world. Lean into that.

  • Are you a cinematic writer who sees landscapes and colours first?
  • Are you more of a director who can visualize dialogue and character movements?
  • Do you feel everything intensely and write emotion-driven scenes?
  • Do you value the pov of the underdog, or the villain, or the racialized characters?
  • Do you see some injustices in the world that you'd like to change?
  • What are the common themes in your writing?

One of my students was worried that her stories were too violent. But an underlying theme of her writing was telling stories about gender-based oppression from the survivor's point of view (and sometimes the survivors got justice or revenge). We know (cue the MeToo hashtag) that these stories are too often covered up or ignored. By bringing the subject to light, this writer showed us violence for a reason: to affirm the fictional experiences of her heroines. Social media or naysayers might say it's too violent. But tell that to the many, many survivors of gender-based violence and oppression who've been told they're wrong or they need to keep silent. 

This writer's courage to delve into difficult topics helps to challenge social norms and strives to make the world a better place. We need that.

Let Go and Listen

Your inner voice--your connection to the universe--is somewhere inside you. Maybe it's hiding or getting drowned out by all those social media and consumer capitalist messages, things your teachers and family told you, peer criticisms and bullies' words and actions, and all the other stuff that can hold us back and tell us our voice--our craft, our gift, our unique pov, the stuff that makes you an original--isn't good enough. My writer friend calls these the brain gremlins and they can be fierce! They are noisy. They can overpower the little voice inside you and make you doubt it's even there.

So how do we find it and listen to it? We need sensitive artist types to tell their stories and share their values. Empathy and humanity are key beliefs we share and transmit in our work. But we can often feel like they are being targeted and we're living in Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower (oof, I just looked it up and the novel is set in 2024! Please, for the love of the goddess, will someone make it into a tv show! It's the Handmaid's Tale of the moment!)

There are not shortcuts to finding your voice. For me, it's a combination of lots of writing practice, a heap of therapy, and a good helping of my writers' group's support and encouragement. It boils down, in my mind, to believing in yourself and tuning into the experiences, values, and unique perspective you have, then channeling that into your writing. 

The medieval Christian mystics had a practice of self-annihilation, where they tried to rid themselves of all the external noise and devote themselves solely to the will of God. I see writing as a secular or agnostic form of this practice: you need to have faith in yourself and in the creative process, and to do this, you need to let go of all the noise and doubts and gremlins that try and separate you from this faith. Write from your heart, from your soul, and you will never go wrong.

Some of you might be wondering where the writing to market argument fits into this philosophy. I think you still can write to market while being true to yourself. But that is another story from the riverbank...

Friday, January 26, 2024


None of us lives in stasis. We change moment to moment, day to day. Writing does, too. Sometimes for the better. Sometimes not. When my first novel was published, I imagined I'd found the magic and that I'd just freeze in place and keep doing what had worked that first time. As if it were possible. Which, of course, it wasn't. Even if I hadn't changed from one book to the next, the story I was telling did change and demanded something different of me. I struggled with that. Still do some days. 

The first book was action-packed. It had a lot of white space. Description and narrative were spare. Subsequent books have swung too far the other direction for my taste. So I'm working on that. While at the same time working on showing and inviting the reader into the emotional hits and . . . 

Yes, my writing has changed. I'd like to think that what I write and how I write it is an ongoing journey of transformation. I don't know if or when my writing will emerge from its cocoon or what the wing pattern will look like. But in the meantime, I'm going to keep working on change and on painting those wings.

Thursday, January 25, 2024

Writing is Like Riding a Bike

purple, orange, and pink roses and flowers in plastic tubs

The first time you rode a bike you would’ve been a bit wobbly, unsure, and tentative. Or maybe you cruised for a brief second and then crashed. But if you stuck with it and after hours and hours of riding, you could go with the wind in your face and your hands out at your sides. 

Writing is like riding a bike. 

Do one thing over and over, and you’re going to become more efficient at it. You’ll innately find ways that make it easier for you. In short, the more you write, the better you’ll get. 

It may not feel like your writing is changing in the beginning, but give it a few years, look back, and be amazed at how far you’ve come. Sorry this is short this week, but my time is consumed with prepping for a non-profit gala I volunteer with. Like writing, I discovered after a few years of putting together flower center pieces, I’m faster at flower arranging! 

Happy Writing!

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

The Evolving Writer: A Foundation in Romance

 This Week's Topic: Has My Writing Changed? How?

I'd like to think my writing has improved, though I suppose that's a bit subjective. I do know that after two decades of crafting stories, I'm more aware of my weaknesses, my stylistic habits (which are not to be confused with my voice), and my creative goals. That's a long-winded way of saying I know me better. Useful, no? 

Has my writing changed in ways perceptible to others? Well, I started off writing romances. PNR-Shifter and High Fantasy (what is now known as Romantasy) to be specific. Romance is where I learned to place importance on developing characters and relationships against a fantastical backdrop. Telling a story in dual POVs that express unique perspectives of shared situations pushed me to think through goals and consequences and how they must vary by character. This unquestionably helped me improve as an author.

I moved away from Romance because I wanted to tell broader stories around a central character where the development of a core intimate relationship wasn't the main plot. That's not a diss on romance; I still love the genre and am a big fan of the authors who write it well. I've blogged before about how my storytelling didn't deliver on romance reader expectations and how important it is for an author to meet those expectations. With my foundations firmed thanks to Romancelandia, I'm much more confident when writing Fantasy. 

So, yes, my writing has changed since I started my journey. I thought I was a Romance writer, but I discovered that I'm really more of a High and Contemporary Fantasy sort of storyteller. 

Sunday, January 21, 2024

Leveling Up Your Craft as a Writer

This week at the SFF Seven, we're asking each other if our writing changed - and, if so, how?

It might seem disingenuous to say this, but yes my writing has changed: I've gotten better. 

I mean, one would hope so! 

And I realize that "better" is a nebulous descriptor, so I'll attempt to define it. One thing about writing skill that it seems I end up telling newbies over and over is that I absolutely have gotten faster at every stage of the process. It's like when you learn to drive a car. (And I learned on a stick shift, so there was an extra layer of learning curve there.) At first you consciously think about a hundred different aspects of the task: the brake, the accelerator, (maybe the balance between the clutch, the brake, and the accelerator, which was a real treat), steering, watching the front, the side, the rear view, reading street signs and traffic signals, and thinking several cars ahead, and remembering where you're going... It's a LOT to think about and overwhelming at first. But later, after you've been driving for years, you don't think about all of that anymore, right? Mostly I think about where I'm going and how to best get there - and sometimes I zone out and forget even that, defaulting to familiar routes - but otherwise the rest is subconscious.

Writing is the same way! (I include revising in this.) After time and practice, you don't have to think about the zillion details of craft, liberating your mind to focus on storytelling. 

I think this is something that more experienced writers forget - how much we've internalized the mechanics of the process, allowing us to allocate more resources to our creative selves. This freedom allows us to try new things, write more difficult and complex stories, to test our writing chops. Maybe it's like, to extend the analogy, learning to drive a race car or fly a plane. Going for the fancier skills is predated by learning the basics.

The thing is, I think a lot of us who grow up reading the works that inspire us (which should be all of us, really) have this idea that we can leap directly to doing THAT. Everybody loves the concept of the wunderkind, the prodigy, the creative who makes a list like "30 under 30," as if that's meaningful in any way. Spoiler: it's not meaningful; it's just unusual, which is why we're fascinated.

So, do what I advise the writers in my mentoring Discord: take your time, learn the basics. It *will* get easier. And THEN you can deliberately choose to make it harder!


Friday, January 19, 2024

Bringing the Fun - Hobbies

Everyone on earth should have something they do just because they like doing it. Y'know. Within the bounds of legality and not harming others. I suspect most writers started out writing simply because they liked doing it. We write for ourselves first, then one day, it crosses our minds to write for an audience and on that day, something fundamentally shifts. No matter how much we talk about writing books or stories of our hearts, once we've committed to the thought of showing our work to someone else, we're no longer strictly writing to please ourselves. Even if we want to. Every whisper or overheard conversation about The Market is looking over our shoulders. It isn't to say that writing can't still be fun - it can. Fun, edifying, and engaging. But. There's also a weight that's been added to it, a pressure to perform, to be good enough. That weight, pressure, and subtle (or not) fear take a little extra helping of cognitive and emotional energy to sustain.

That's why is so vital to have other outlets that don't carry that charge of weight or pressure or fear. We still need to pursue some creative thing that isn't for anyone else. We need the freedom to be bad at something - not because it's fun to be bad at something but because there's space and joy and light around doing something that no one else cares about, where we aren't being badgered to turn fun into a side hustle of some kind. There's grace in getting to just enjoy something without succumbing to the drive of constant improvement. Hey. This is for fun. If I learn something and enjoy what I'm doing? Great. If I just have fun with what I'm doing and never learn another thing? That's great, too. Though, to be fair, it's legit to *try* turning a hobby into a side hustle and then noping out. Been there. Did that with cooking. Catered two big events, got rave reviews, took a look around and went 'oh, hell no' and went straight back to being a cooking hobbyist because yeesh. 

These days, I make random things from cardboard. Cat forts. A spirit house in very early stages. There's a massive stack of huge cardboard boxes on the back lanai waiting for me to build a kitty castle. When my box knife comes out of hiding, that project will get underway. At this point, I may have to go buy a box knife cause it's been a minute since I've seen the last one. 

I still cook. I like finding new recipes and trying dishes I haven't had before. It's taken a turn since I went whole food plant based vegan a few years ago. I had to learn a whole new set of cooking skills that upended a bunch of the conventional wisdom I'd been taught about cooking. It's a good time getting to try a new technique and new flavors. Sometimes I win. Sometimes I have to throw stuff away - not often, mind, but it does happen when I totally misjudge a recipe.

There's also gardening. I do enjoy getting out into the yard to work in the soil and create an oasis for my pollinators. It's a hobby both Mom and I enjoy, so it's a communal activity and the bonus is getting to work in cooperation with someone I value. And hey. Flowers. What's not to like?

Thursday, January 18, 2024

A Hobby That Counts As Writing Therapy

a green garden on both sides of the path that Alexia, in a long floral print sundress, is standing on. Behind her is a greenhouse with four long windows.

Writing can be all consuming. It can dominate your every thought, keep you up at night, and make you worry about the smallest details. Which means we all need an outlet, a hobby, a secret skills, something to take the pressure off of writing. 

I’d say my hobby is gardening. You’re all familiar with the rabbit holes that is research. Well, the same goes for me when I start researching plants and planting techniques. Hours disappear! Hours that my mind isn’t stuck on my current WIP. So that’s a win.

Getting my hands in the dirt is also relaxing. It sounds strange because a lot of gardening time is weed pulling. But research says getting dirty means we expose ourselves to Mycobacterium vaccae, a natural soil bacteria, which increases our happy juice! Happy juice is serotonin. If your serotonin is low, in comes depression. Another win for gardening! 

I’ve already given you a win-win reason to garden. But I’ve got one more. The absolute best part of gardening is seeing your plant grow and produce because it will fill you with a strong sense of accomplishment that’s wrapped in sunshine. A patch of feathery, canary zinnias is impossible not to smile at. Vegetable vines and bushes bursting with produce beg you to pick and sample, right where you stand. And you know you can’t stop yourself from giving those red tomatoes a little squeeze. 

Gardening is mentally rewarding. Seeing flowers bloom, ones that you grew from seed or planted as fragile seedlings, does something inside of you. Harvesting vegetables that went from itty bitty seed, or seedling, to near unruly plants brings so much satisfaction. 

No matter how frustrating the writing is, or how many roadblocks you hit, or how many fails you have, gardening will lift you out of your wallow and remind you that you succeeded, that you’re capable of something nigh magical.

Seriously, have you ever seen a carrot seed or lettuce seed? Tiny is too big of a word. The fact that you can stick a carrot seed into the ground and end up with a bushy plant with thick, colorful roots is undeniably magical. 

So, are you going to give gardening a try? If you haven’t yet, I highly suggest it as writing therapy.