5 Things About Elements #4

It seems I’m in the mood to write lists these days, so why fight it? Here are 5 things you might want to know about the next book in the Elements series. (If you haven’t already read TURNING TIDES, there are some rather vague spoilers below.)

1. The title is… drum roll, please… LOST CAUSES.

2. I haven’t set an official release date, but we’re looking at an early 2015 release. Right now, I’d guess the first week or two of February. That’s a month or two later than I’d hoped, but I’m trying this thing where I don’t overload myself with publishing stuff. I did that for the previous books, and each time I was so overwhelmed that I had little time or energy to write while dealing with the business side of things. I’ve adjusted my priorities, so now it’s “1. Write. 2. (way, way down the list) Everything else.”

3. This is the first book without a separate mystery. I considered it for about three seconds, but there’s so much already going on with Aidan, Mac, and the elemental community that there plain wasn’t time for the gang to run around, trying to solve someone else’s mystery.  This time, they need to solve their own mysteries.

4. The “boy in the car” might come up again. In case you were wondering.

5. Missing Tahoe? Me too. They’ll get back there… eventually. They have a few things they need to do first.

Any other questions? Well, tough! The rest is secret, though I might have a few more teasers over the next several months. For now, though, I just need to keep writing. February really isn’t that far away…

5 Things I Did Right When Indie Publishing

Last week, I looked at 5 mistakes I made as an indie publisher. Luckily, I also managed to do a few things right. While part of the appeal of indie publishing is the ability to do things your own way, I’d argue these five things should be part of every author’s way.

1. I edited the hell out of my books. Even though it sometimes felt like BROKEN ELEMENTS was rushed to publication, many, many people helped whip it into shape. First, I edited my own draft before sending it to the developmental editor. After I incorporated many of her suggested changes, four beta readers had a go at it. Then, it went back to the developmental editor, and finally a copy editor. When the published book still had an embarrassing number of typos, the book went to three proofers, just to be thorough. When the rights came back to me and I published as Match Books, I sent it through another copy edit, because I knew the book still had errors.

There is no such thing as too many eyes looking at a manuscript, and it’s never too late to fix your mistakes. At a minimum, I recommend a developmental editor and a copy editor, but without a dedicated proofer or two you’ll likely still find errors. If you want to be taken seriously as a writer, you need to take your work seriously–and that means respecting it enough to not throw a typo-ridden mess up on Amazon just because you can.

2. I acted like a grown-up. This one is particularly surprising, as I generally fail at being an adult. But really, I just followed the same basic rules we all learned in kindergarten: be nice, tell the truth, don’t get into fights, accept that life isn’t always fair, and don’t eat the paste. Translated to publishing, that means I didn’t write fake reviews, either positive ones for myself or negative ones for other authors. When I got a bad review, I didn’t explain why the reader was wrong. I didn’t blame the gatekeepers of the Big 5 for my lack of instant success. I feel like this is obvious stuff any professional writer should know, but somehow there are still writers out there advocating for writers to engage with negative reviewers. Do not listen to those authors. They are wrong. Just do your work, do it honestly, and try not to worry too much about how others react. When in doubt about whether to care what others are saying about your work, channel the Dude (a rule that applies to so many things in life)…

youropinion

…then let it go. And seriously, don’t eat the paste.

3. I learned as many publishing skills as I possibly could. I don’t know why I’m sticking this at #3, because this is probably the piece of advice I offer most often to people looking to publish independently. As I mentioned last week, publishing professional quality books takes a lot of money, and the more you can do yourself, the better off you’ll be. I didn’t want to pay someone to reformat the books every time there was a printing issue or a new typo was found, or when I wanted to add a new link to an eBook, so I taught myself InDesign and eBook conversion. When I wanted to redo my website, I did it myself. I’m no artist, but I can create basic promotional graphics.

Each time I don’t farm out work to an expert, I save money, sometimes hundreds of dollars, and I have more control over the final product. Maybe you have a patron who loves giving you money, and if so, could you please give them my number? For the rest of us, look for any way to cut costs without producing an inferior book. Do that, and you’ll have more to spend where you really need it.

4. I knew when to ask for outside help. Consider this the flip side of #3. Knowing some Photoshop doesn’t mean I should do my own covers, because they’ll just look like I was too cheap to hire someone. I know a lot of indie authors create their own covers to save money, but I’m telling you now, 99.9% of the time, it looks like they designed their own covers to save money. If work appears low-quality, it’s hard to convince people the words between the covers are worth their time.

badfeeling

Fair or not, if I see a cover of questionable artistic merit on an indie book, I question the author’s artistic judgment.

In addition to hiring graphic designers, I spend money on marketing, because I’m really quite terrible at promoting my own books. (“You might like them! I used letters AND punctuation!”) Until I get better at tooting my own horn, I’m going to pay someone to toot it for me. So to speak. Stop sniggering.

Be honest about your weaknesses, and don’t just gloss over them and hope no one will notice. Fix them.

5. I didn’t talk about the stuff I shouldn’t talk about. And if I’m going to keep my own rule, I won’t talk about it here much, either. Just know that, over the last two years, a LOT of things went wrong, or at least not as well as I would have liked. And every time, this was me:

nothingtoseehere

Here’s an example from a year and a half ago, so I think the statute of limitations on my silence has expired. When BROKEN ELEMENTS was changing publishers, I attempted to get an agent. I knew it was a long-shot, as most published books only get picked up if they have a proven track record of sales, which it didn’t at the time. Still, my longterm goal is to be a hybrid author, and I wanted an agent to help guide my career in that direction. I sent out twenty queries, and I was rejected twenty times. It was what I expected, but it still kind of sucked—and I never talked about it publicly.

It’s okay to not be all rainbows & puppies all the time, but keep the real disappointments to yourself. No one likes a whiner, and perhaps more importantly, it does your career no favors. At the risk of sounding like a new age motivational speaker, success breeds success, so why on earth would you emphasize your failures over your achievements? The bad stuff can be discussed later, once the disappointment is in the past, but when you’re in the middle of it and have little to no objectivity, bitch to a good friend, not the internet. Never the internet.

The tl:dr version? View your writing career as just that—a career. Act like a professional. Don’t gossip publicly about your co-workers or engage them in petty fights. Learn skills that will help you go further in your career, and rely on others to help on occasion. If you’re already doing all that as an indie writer, then this one’s just for you:

bravo

5 Mistakes I Made When Indie Publishing

TURNING TIDES came out a month and a half ago, and I’m just now wrapping up the publishing and marketing work required for the release. These things take time, and a lot of it. I’ve also spent much of that time feeling grateful that I’m less of an idiot now than when I published my first book.

As much as my pride would prefer I keep these examples of glaring stupidity to myself, if admitting my mistakes can help just one author avoid the same foolishness, then at least they were good for something.

BROKEN ELEMENTS was published through a now-defunct small press, so it wasn’t exactly a self-published book. However, I was friends with the owners and ended up working closely with them every step of the way. My mistakes and theirs are intertwined, so I’ll take, er, credit for the worst of them. Plus, the company folded so quickly I was re-publishing the book on my own seven months later, so I got to go through all this twice. Let’s just say I learned a thing or two in the process.

Here then are five things not to do when publishing your own work.

1. I didn’t allow enough time between a finished draft and publication. I completed the final draft in April. It was published in July. This was, in no way, shape or form, enough time. Without even getting into how rushed some of the editing and proofing was (mainly because I still have PTSD from that time), several months needed to be built into the schedule to allow for things to go wrong. Because they will go wrong, in glorious and unexpected fashion. I think that’s the only certainty in publishing. I know how tempting it is to just launch the book into the world and start finding readers, but trust me—unless you’re this guy…

Timey-Wimey

…build 1-3 months more than you think you’ll need into the schedule.

In addition to the publishing fuckups that WILL happen, you’ll need to give reviewers plenty of time. They’re not actually looking at their to-read pile with puppy dog eyes, wondering why your book isn’t there. Bloggers need between 4-6 weeks, and national magazines require several months.

What I do now: Content & copy edits (and ideally a final proofing) are completed three months before the publication date, giving my publicist plenty of time for advance marketing and giving me time to deal with those inevitable catastrophes.

2. I didn’t have a marketing plan. That’s not entirely true. I had a plan. It was “Publish book. After it’s published, contact every blog in the world and try to get them to review it. Be roundly ignored because they don’t know me from every other indie pubbed author in the world. Plus, didn’t you see #1? You gotta start this shit early, woman.” It was a rather flawed plan. When it failed, I fell back on the “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks” plan. It looked something like this:

I-have-no-idea-what-I-am-doing

It was also a waste of time and money. Marketing begins before a book is released, and while a certain amount of flexibility is required, you still gotta start with a plan. The plan may resemble a flowchart, full of all sorts of contingencies and what ifs, but it’s a necessary place to start.

What I do now: I work with my fabulous publicist Beverly Bambury, who is so much better at this stuff than I am. To keep track of it all, I have an entire whiteboard filled with my marketing schedule on the run-up to release day. And, most importantly, I start marketing as soon as I have something that resembles a book on my computer.

3. I didn’t have a budget. I wrote out some vague and overly optimistic outline for what everything would cost, then promptly threw it out the window at the first unexpected expense. If you’re an independent publisher determined to produce a professional-quality product, it’s going to cost a pretty penny: NetGalley, ads, giveaways, etc.—and that’s just the beginning. What happens when you find typos (and you WILL find typos)? Will you pay to reformat and resubmit the book for printing? What about promotional graphics, if you don’t have the Photoshop gene? Will you pay someone to organize your blog tour? How about attending your first convention? You’ll have registration costs, airfare, hotel, and swag. Probably a new wardrobe, too, because when you go out in public they’ll expect you to wear pants. It’s so easy to keep adding one more expense, and then one more, until you realize you just sold lots of copies of your first book and are still in the red.

And you feel like you spent the first year of your fabulous career doing this:

throwing_money

Being an independent writer is like starting any other business. You probably won’t turn a profit right away. Be prepared for this and carefully assess every new cost to determine its value. Writing is a dream, but it’s a career, too, and it’s easier to pursue a career if you’re not bankrupt.

What I do now: Spreadsheets, baby. It’s all about the spreadsheets. I also have a credit card I use just for business stuff, so it’s really easy to see the expenses adding up. And since business expenses multiply faster than a bunny-shaped tribble, I check it regularly and make sure I’m not writing my way into the poorhouse.

4. I thought people wanted to read my book. Oh, I wish I could go back to 2012 Mia, that innocent, wide-eyed author, and pat her on the head—in a really condescending way. I genuinely thought there were urban fantasy readers out there who would pick up my book just because it was urban fantasy. Then I thought people would pick it up because it had a decent review from RT Book Reviews, or because some people on Goodreads seemed to like it. Nope. For the first six months, this was me:

rejects

The fact is, people have no interest in your book until you give them a reason to be interested. Maybe it’s an awesome tagline, fabulous back cover copy, or effusive friends praising it, but it’s always something. No one is going to pay you money just because you want them to. It’s so obvious, perhaps I should add a light smack when I meet 2012 Mia.

What I do now: Other than cheer and shout whenever a new reader discovers the Elements books? I still market, of course, and always try new strategies for reaching readers. I also learned to manage my expectations, because this is a long game, and the instantly successful writer is so rare she might as well stick a horn on her forehead and learn to whinny. More than anything else, though, I write, because that is the best way to introduce new readers to my work. I still have bad days, but there are a lot more good ones now, and that only improves with each published book.

5. I charged too much. I made a deliberate choice not to undersell my book. I genuinely believed it could hold its own among traditionally published urban fantasy. I’d spent six months writing and editing it. It was just under 100k words, was professionally edited, and had a gorgeous cover. I didn’t want to slap a 99 cent price on it and call it good, and I didn’t want to be part of the current trend of devaluing books and writers—and the work of the many other professionals involved in the publishing process. So, I tried to charge $6.99, the going rate for most urban fantasy eBooks. A few sold, but not many, so I dropped the price to $5.99. A few more sold, but again, not many. Once SHIFTING SELVES came out, I gave up and lowered BROKEN ELEMENTS to $2.99—and then the series started to gain some momentum.

What I do now: It all goes back to #4. You have to give the reader a reason to be interested, and if all you have to start with is a low price, then that’s where you need to start. My morals were all well and good, but the books sold much better once I started ignoring them. So, I guess for now I ignore my principles. Yay?

The tl:dr version? Give yourself more time than you think you’ll need. Have a plan with so many backups and contingencies even a Bond villain would be impressed. Research the hell out of the market, and be ready for surprises. You’ll still make mistakes, cause that’s what happens, but hopefully they’ll be a whole different set of mistakes than I made.

And if all goes well, you’ll be less this:

incompetent

and more this:

deflect

Next week: I didn’t do it all wrong, thankfully, so check back next Monday, when I’ll talk about five things I managed to do right.

 

New FAQ

I’m working on a few longer posts on the good and bad of indie publishing, so those will show up next week.

In the meantime, I finally got around to creating a FAQ, mainly because a lot of people seemed to be under the impression that TURNING TIDES is the last book in the series. People, I may enjoy torturing my characters, but even I am not that cruel. Which is why I’m hard at work on book 4 and writing more half-assed blog posts than I really should.

If you have any questions I didn’t answer in the FAQ, just let me know.

Things from the past week

Things that have happened since the last blog post:

1. I’ve started writing Elements #4. It has a title, but I’m holding it close for the moment. Everything feels so fragile in those first few days of writing a book, and I’m not yet ready to send it out into the world.

2. Apparently, there is a bear wandering around my neighborhood. It was spotted heading into my yard this morning. My neighbors seem to think I should be nervous, but I’m wondering if the bear simply wants to tell me the latest shifter news from further up the mountain. Seriously, though–I LOVE living in the mountains. Bears never came to visit when I lived in Glasgow or Seattle.

3. I started actually using my Wattpad account. If you know any Wattpad users who you think would love the Elements series, send them my way!

4. There are two current giveaways for the Elements series! Talk Supe has a short interview about the Elements series and a fab giveaway filled with all sorts of books to celebrate their Blogoversary, and Paranormal Book Club has an exclusive Turning Tides excerpt and giveaway! This will be your last chance for quite some time to win Elements books, so be sure so enter if you want your very own copies!

This is not a post.

No blog post today, but I have a very good reason. I’m writing Elements #4.  I’ll be deep in the writing cave for the next couple of months, so don’t worry if I’m quieter than usual. I’m just busy trying to get Aidan out of her latest jam.

I’ll post updates as I have them!

Links and Such

I still intend to post every Monday, but I forgot yesterday was Monday. Three day weekends are tricky that way.

I’m settling back into regular writing after the RT Convention and rush of the TURNING TIDES release, so I’ll keep this short. In case you missed it, here are the various places I’ve been on the web over the last week or two:

I stopped by SF Signal to talk about how I write books for women—and I don’t see a problem with that.

Literary Escapism has an exclusive excerpt from TURNING TIDES.

On All Things Urban Fantasy, I discussed ten reasons I became the fabulous geek I am today. To no one’s surprise, books had a lot to do with it. And Buffy.

And now, back to work. I’ll have more info about what I’m working on next week!

The Speech I Didn’t Give

When they called my name at the RT Awards Ceremony, I stepped on stage, babbled nervously, then bolted in a panic.

That wasn’t the original plan.

I had a speech, a short one I’d practiced in my head a few times. It went something like this:

Several years ago, my health failed rather spectacularly, and I learned that, as a single person, when you lose your health, you pretty much lose everything. I couldn’t do my job, so that went, then my apartment, and blah blah blah sob story.

But here’s what else I learned. I still had my words, and I still had stories, and no one could take those from me. And so, from those words and stories, I began to build a ladder out of the darkest time in my life. These days, it looks like a weird circus ladder, full of twists and turns, and I still don’t know where it’s taking me. While this award may just be one more rung on that ladder, it’s a very nice one, and I’m honored to receive it.

I did not give that speech. I mentally ran through it a few times before my name was called, making sure I remembered it, and I couldn’t even get through it in my head without tearing up. I knew that if I tried to speak those words before a roomful of sympathetic faces, I’d turn into a blubbering mess.

Every word was true, but not the entire truth. Yes, there was a pit, and yes, words and stories pulled me out of it, but that suggests it was a one-time thing.

There are always new pits, and I fear I found myself in one this last week. The reasons don’t matter. I don’t talk about it much, but like a lot of creative types, I struggle with depression. Over the years I’ve learned a couple of things about this stupid illness. 1. Depression lies. 2. Depression has a twisted sense of humor and an awful sense of timing. 3. I’ll get through it, cause depression doesn’t get to win.

It’s okay. This is a tough time, but everyone has tough times on occasion. Sometimes, you just need to acknowledge that, hey, things suck a little bit. And then maybe cry, but probably not on the stage of an awards ceremony you were very excited to be invited to.

And then you find your words and stories, because no one can ever take those from you, and you begin to build the next ladder.

2014 RT Booklovers Convention

I’m about to hop on a plane that will take me to New Orleans and the RT Booklovers Convention, and I am more than a little excited about it. I had a blast last year in Kansas City, and this time we get all the fabulousness of the convention PLUS New Orleans. I believe the official term is “boatloads of awesome.”

If you’re looking for me, I have a few things scheduled:

CLUB RT:
Wednesday May 14, 1:15
Thursday May 15, 11:45

GIANT BOOK FAIR:
Saturday May 17, 11:00-2:00 (free with library card, $5 without)

FAN-TASTIC DAY PARTY
Saturday May 17, 6:15-6:50

I’ll also have a spot on the promo tables, where you can grab bookmarks, buttons, pens, etc.

swag2014

 

Finally, if you see me in person, feel free to say hi! I’ll keep some of the fancier swag on me at all times and will be looking for an excuse to give it away.

And, of course, if it’s after 8:00, you can probably find me in the bar. This is New Orleans, after all.