organization · Writing

What I’d Do Differently as a New Author

Hindsight is always 20/20 as they say, and there are plenty of mistakes I made early in my career that I would not suggest new authors repeat. We also must consider that I published my first book back in 2014 when there really wasn’t a whole lot about indie publishing online and nothing as organized as we have now. Since 2014, I’ve published 7 books, 2 boxed sets, and 2 short stories, and have learned quite a bit about what not to do. My hope is that some brand new authors or authors early in their indie author careers will learn from my mistakes.

For simplicity’s sake, I have decided to number these:

  1. Start a newsletter before I published– A lot of authors resist having a newsletter because it’s more work or they don’t know what to say, but just keeping a very basic release update newsletter will help you down the line. Building a newsletter can be a slow-go, so having people involved from the beginning and funneling them to your newsletter in case your social media goes bust is a fantastic idea. I know this from personal experience after having my FB and IG hacked, locked, and eventually deleted. Any social media account can disappear at any moment, but a newsletter list can be downloaded regularly just in case.
  2. Know what constitutes a good audiobook narrator before producing one– This goes for any part of the publishing process you don’t understand. Ask others who do like that thing and see if they think it sounds good. I don’t think my first audiobook narrator was necessarily the best because I didn’t listen to audiobooks and didn’t understand what people like in an audiobook narrator. My narrator was more suited to nonfiction than fiction. I’ve since learned.
  3. Ask people involved in a program, promo, etc. about their honest experiences- sometimes a program sounds fantastic on paper when in reality it has a a lot of problems or limitations. For instance, Kindle Unlimited sounds like a great idea (exclusivity as a trade off for voracious readers). If you’re in the right genre, it can be great, but if you aren’t in a genre where people read voraciously, you may not gain the same traction and your exclusivity may not be the pay off you think it is. There’s also the trade-off of losing traction or not gaining it as fast when you go wide because you don’t have the same preorders and release push that you would if you published your books there for the first time.
  4. Invest in good covers that fit the genre from the start– I was lucky enough that my partner is an artist, and he was able to make me a halfway decent cover for my first few books. While this was great for my budget, they were not the best in terms of marketing since they didn’t fit the genre at all. If I was doing it over again, I would definitely invest in a professional cover that fit the genre conventions (aka look at Amazon best seller listings and comp titles ahead of time instead of making something I liked).
  5. Not publish a large series as a first project/publication– When I first wrote The Earl of Brass, I had no idea how long the series would be, especially since I started branching off into other couples. I don’t think I ever anticipated it being 6+ books long. The problem is that people need to read book 1 to read the rest of the series, and by the time you hit book 6, you’re writing is A LOT better and readers are still judging your series based on book 1’s writing. I definitely wouldn’t suggest going beyond a trilogy for your first/early major project because you will improve a lot and the difference will be stark from the beginning to the end of the series.
  6. If you were in an MFA program, you may need to do some re/de-programming– I graduated from an MFA program where some professors were very supportive of me writing genre fiction because, to them, good writing was good writing, but there were others who were vocal about how they thought it was garbage and that literary fiction was the pinnacle of art. Despite writing and publishing genre fiction out of spite during my time in grad school, I definitely picked up some bad habits and self-loathing. If look back at old blog posts from 2015/2016, I definitely got hung up on “upmarket” fiction and speculative fiction, which are nice ways that lit fic authors/publishers relabel what should be genre fiction. I came out of grad school ready to start fights over genre fiction’s merits only to find most people were totally cool with it and loved it. The difference was stark, so I wasted a lot of time trying to make my writing (as a product) sound good to lit fic people when they were not my audience at all. I think no matter the program, there will always be bad habits or bad thoughts you will need to un-learn as you grow.
  7. Learn that other writers are your coworkers, not your competitors– What I mean by that is, don’t treat other writers like people you have to one-up or beat. It just sets you up to feel like shit and to potentially treat others like shit. Early in my career, I felt jealousy keenly when other writers who started around the same time I did got traditional publishing deals or appears at cons or had opportunities I couldn’t get. When I started to have some success and felt people do the same to me (being bitter and suddenly treating me differently) as I did to others who got ahead of me, it was a wake up call to knock off the behavior. It was ugly and unnecessary, and I shouldn’t have had to feel it turned back on me to stop. It’s perfectly normal to feel pangs of jealousy, but you have to remind yourself that they may be ahead in their career overall, they may have different connections, or what they have looks good but wouldn’t be good for you. You have to feel that jealousy but still be happy for them. Trust me, you don’t want to be that person who alienates their writing friends when they get a whiff of success.
  8. Have a plan before publishing– This one seems like it should be obvious, but oh, dear reader, it is not. As someone who struggles to plan things because I have zero chill, I have launched books early or with little preamble because I was so excited for other people to read it. That was not a solid business plan. If you’re just publishing as a hobby, that’s fine, but if you’re trying to grow your readership and make some money off of it, publishing on a schedule or launching a series x amount of months apart is a much smarter idea than releasing a book because you cannot contain yourself. A lot of indie authors now have made videos and resources about creating a pre-launch plan and how to best utilize the push from pre-orders and pre-marketing. I wish there was more of that when I was a baby indie back in 2014. It would have been a major help to me.

There are plenty of other f-ups I have made along the way, but these are the ones that I think have had the biggest impact, whether I realized it or not at the time. I hope these help you if you’re a newbie or just starting on your indie publishing journey.

If you’re already an indie author, what are some things you would tell new indies to do differently? Drop your suggestions in the comments.

organization · Personal Life

How I’m Getting My Sh*t Together

If you saw my post on “Life’s a Mess but There’s Hope,” you know that I have been having a rather rough time. Earlier in the year, due to life/emotional stress (or from a potential asymptomatic covid leftover), I was struggling with brain fog, checking OCD, and general anxiety. This combined with work stuff and writing malaise had wreaked havoc on my self-esteem and self-worth, so while I was mainlining YouTube videos, as one does when they feel shitty, I came across Sarra Cannon’s videos about her quarterly planning.

I already am a big proponent of using planners and have used a bullet journal every year since 2016, but when my downhill mental spiral started in earnest in 2020, I stopped setting concrete goals and my organization devolved from there to the bare minimum. So when I saw Sarra’s planning videos, I was excited, especially since she is a writer and entrepreneur, and it turns out her HB90 system is centered around exactly that. Before I go on, I’d like to say that I am in no way affiliated with Sarra’s classes. I just took the HB90 course and felt that I benefited from it.

What is the HB90 system?

The HB90 system was created by author Sarra Cannon (YouTube channel is Heart Breathings) as a way to help others stay organized and move toward the ideal life they want. Instead of focusing on a year at a time, she breaks things down by quarter. Some of you might shrug and say it sounds like every other planner, but there were certain aspects that greatly appealed to me.

The first one was that this system focused on quarterly goals instead of yearly goals. A problem I often faced was getting off track due to life and my yearly goals would rapidly spiral into why bother land. I wouldn’t be able to right that ship and would give up. By having quarterly goals, they are smaller chunks, and after each quarter/90 days, you do a review and figure out what worked, what didn’t work, and what you need to do. That way, if you know you were doing something self-sabotaging, you can sort of check yourself and figure out how to move forward. Also, you can decide if you want to continue a half-finished/unfinished goal or shelve it next quarter.

The other thing that appealed to me was the visualization/ideal life aspect. At the beginning of the course (and each quarter), you fill out questions regarding what you truly want your life to look like. The idea is that if you have a specific direction/vision, you know that your goals should aim you toward that vision and you can eliminate or minimize things that won’t move you toward that life. It wasn’t done in a “you should be rich in the future with a mansion and a convertible” or girlboss kind of way. She’s simply asking you to find an ideal in order to make sure your choices make sense. Something I struggle with is “spaghetti flinging,” so if I don’t know what I need to do, I will do all the things instead. This means, I do a lot of random stuff that doesn’t amount to much. This is meant to eliminate that because I can say, “Yes, this idea is great, but this isn’t what I’m focusing on right now.”

I don’t want to go over every aspect of this course (this is what taking the course is for), but something I appreciated was that Sarra Cannon is mindful of reality and different realities. She asks you to be realistic but also kind to yourself. Don’t set yourself up for failure by being like “New Year New Me!” while still having old you’s habits and abilities. You have to work on that gradually, and I was so relieved to hear her talk about if you have chronic health problems and budgeting your time based on how often you know those things take you out of commission. This really isn’t a hustle culture kind of thing, so that work til you drop and hustle harder wasn’t there. It was about knowing what you are currently capable of and potentially working toward different habits in the future or scheduling yourself better right now. As someone who has inflammation problems, migraines, and anxiety, I can’t live up to the ableist standard of hustle culture, so this took some of that pressure off me while I was working on my goals/schedule.

My Ideal Life

When I was asked to imagine my ideal life, I struggled a bit. Academia has been going through a weird time of upheaval, especially in the humanities where I work, and that has made my own life more complicated. What I decided to do for my ideal life was to create a vision board on Pinterest, and I quickly realized it would make no sense to anyone but me. What I want is a life lived creatively. I want a rich, fulfilling life that is focused on things that make me feel good: my partner, my dogs, going to museums, doing creative writing, doing more art. There’s certainly room in there for a full-time academic position if one should ever come available, but I don’t feel like I can bank on that due to the current climate at US universities. I would like to model my life a little on Vincent Price’s. He was an actor, obviously, but he also loved art and cooking, and I want a life that is filled with creativity in various forms (he also wrote a book about his dog, The Book of Joe). I already crochet, but I’d like to do more traditional art, maybe even pottery, and I’d eventually like to live off my writing (especially if teaching full-time is ever off the table). This means my overall goals should be pointing me toward being able to rely on my writing more and giving myself the space to treat my writing seriously.

My Goals for 2022 Quarter 1

Goals in the HB90 system are a little different from what we normally think of as goals. The HB90 system asks you to pick things for goals that are slightly out of your control. That way you can see whether the tasks you put under them worked or not. So I’m not posting ALL of my projects under these goals, but the idea is that you have an overarching goal, then projects under it (larger scale stuff that you would normally consider goals) and those projects get broken into tasks that can be accomplished between a few hours or a week’s time. So here are my goals for Q1:

  1. To work on publishing new books while reworking my back list to increase my monthly income to $X/$Y/$Z a month (numbers have been hidden because I felt awkward talking about how much I make off my books).
  2. To create an energized community surrounding my works and increase my social media followers by 10%/15%/20% (Focus on newsletter, blog, Instagram, Twitter).
  3. Continue to work on my teaching materials and to maintain my mental health by maintaining a decent work-life balance.

To accomplish these goals, I will be writing more (please see my 2022 Projects post for specifics), reading some books on marketing, taking another course to keep my author knowledge up to date, hopefully sending out more newsletters, fixing the back matter in my books, and working on some departmental stuff for one of the universities I work at.

The Kanban Board

The top level of my Kanban board for quarter 1, aka the to-do section. The other sections aren’t shown since they’re empty.

To keep this post from being 8 miles long, I will not go into minute detail about the Kanban board (you can check out one of Sarra’s videos for detail), but the Kanban board is part of the HB90 setup as well. It is originally a Japanese form of organization where you get a dry erase board/paper/digital board and divide it into three parts. It goes to-do, currently working on, done. The idea is that you put everything in the to-do part, and as you work on it, you move it down until it ends up in the done section. Sarra uses sticky notes, and because my tasks aren’t super granular this quarter, I decided to use dry erase magnets as they are less likely to fall off.

The things written on each magnet are tasks that I need to do this quarter. I’m sure I’m missing some, but that’s what the extra magnets are for. What I like about this technique is that it is very visual. I am a tactile, visual person who needs lists in front of my face in order to remember to do things. If I can see progress (aka things moving down the board), I think I will feel better about myself and maintaining my mental health with be easier. Something I have struggled with is feeling like I’m doing so much but not getting anywhere. Something I’m still gauging is how much will fit in 90 days, but that should come with practice and will vary based on what classes on I’m teaching and such.

Final Thoughts

I’m excited to have some sort of framework in which to organize my writing and indie author stuff because these last few years have been a shit show for me. Sarra Cannon’s videos and course has helped to reignite my focus and zest for being an indie author. I’m cautiously hopeful that this will get me back on track.

Let me know if you want to know anything else about the HB90 program or how I use planners in the future! I do plan to update you all on how this is going at the end of the quarter.

Monthly Review · Writing

June 2016 in Review

In Review June

Last year, I decided that I would post my accomplishments for the month and what goals I hope to achieve in the following month.

Now that I’m completely free from school and waist-deep in Dead Magic, I have been writing my little fingers off and being shockingly productive. Part of me is pleased and part of me is wondering when it will all come crashing to a halt.

What I accomplished in June:

  1. Wrote 21,000 words of Dead Magic
  2. Wrote 6 blog posts and a guest blog on Mariella Hunt’s website
  3. Published a Spanish translation of The Earl of Brass entitled El Conde de Latón, which is available here.
  4. Published the audiobook for The Winter Garden, which is available here.
  5. Planned out the beats for a forthcoming Ingenious Mechanical Devices novella
  6. Read 4 books
    1. Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet by Charlie N. Holmberg (2 stars)
    2. Ninety-Nine Righteous Men by K.M. Claude (4.5 stars)
    3. Fiction Unboxed by Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant (4 stars)
    4. Nimona by Noelle Stevenson (5 stars)

What I hope to achieve in July:

  1. Write 20,ooo words of Dead Magic
  2. Write 10,000 words of the unnamed novella
  3. Write 6 blog posts
  4. Work more on my syllabus for freshman writing
  5. Work on the cover for Dead Magic with my designer
  6. Read 3 books
  7. Enjoy life in between everything mentioned above

I love watching my word count steadily increase from month to month. June was wonderful in terms of productivity. I feel like I got so much done and that the rest of Dead Magic should go smoothly now that I’ve hit the 2/3s mark.

There are quite a few balls in the air with my series. I have my Spanish translator working on The Winter Garden, my Italian and Portuguese translators working on The Earl of Brass, and my narrator is working on the audiobook for The Earl and the Artificer. Then I have Dead Magic to start wrapping up soon and the novella I’ve been plotting. I’m confident it will all get done, and that I can manage.

I’m seriously excited about my writing projects. Ideas are bubbling out of me, and now if only my productivity could keep up with my ideas. The one thing that was completely neglected in June was editing. I told myself I would edit chapters 1-8, but in the end, I decided to dump that idea. I’ve been spot editing as I go, fixing issues that arise or adding foreshadowing of future chapters, but at this point, editing without being finished or having a clear goal in mind seems pointless.

Right now, my tentative release date for Dead Magic is November 15th, BUT if the book is done before then, I will happily move the date forward. I’m really hoping the book will be out sooner than that.

Finally, I will be taking part in Camp NaNoWriMo and am sharing a cabin with some fantastic authors. What will you be doing this July?