Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Year Of Trying (Or An Introvert's Feeble Attempts At Marketing)

After my debut year, I have to admit I was a bit down on the, er, seemingly downward trajectory of my writing career. My publisher wasn't interested in anything else I was proposing to them. My book just wasn't selling well enough to convince them to want more from me. I have a novel that's been on sub almost a year in the US without any signs of a sale (Can I be done with year long failed subs? Because seriously, been there, done that.). Luckily my UK publisher still liked me enough to buy two more books from me, because that's been a bright spot in an otherwise "meh" debut scenario. Add in my adventures in indie publishing and it's all turned out pretty okay.

Despite difficulties and feeling like an overall failure, I decided to keep trying. In January of this year, that's what I resolved to do, I guess. Not officially with a New Year's resolution, but I determined I needed to at least TRY. I wanted to give up so badly. It felt like everything I tried just didn't help anyone see my books or care about them. So why keep screaming to the void, you know?

I was clearly bad at marketing so I wanted to throw in the towel. Marketing is uncomfortable for me—it always has been because I don't like standing in spotlights let alone shining one on myself. That was a big part of why I tried so hard to get published traditionally: I hoped they would market for me. And they have done some, but not nearly what I imagined in my newbie head. So much of it is still on me.

I am still pretty miserable at marketing (I might always be), but I have tried new things this year and some old things, and because I'm a hybrid author I can see more easily what makes a difference in my sales and what doesn't. I'm glad for this because it helps me know where to put my effort, and as the anxious person I am I can better plan what I can handle.

First, I've found doing conferences is pretty beneficial for me. While they take a toll on my mental health and I have to be careful to avoid things that trigger my panic attacks, I always see a bump in sales when I do a conference. Not like I am suddenly selling like gangbusters, but it does HELP. Especially in finding new readers. Signing events also help, though not quite in the same way because most signings are attended by people who already know you. But it's a good chance to meet readers and see their excitement and connect with them.

Another note on events: I've been surprised at the impact of non-writing-specific events. While I may not have as many book sales as at a writing conference, I see a lot of new faces and some of those faces stick around and become readers. It's also been fun because I get to share my other interests, like anime/esports/video games/art, at these other events. It's refreshing.

I've also seen how promotional sales can be a huge help in breathing life into a book. When TRANSPARENT went on sale for $1.99 this last April, it saw a higher rank on Kindle than it did when the book debuted. Not like I became a bestseller, but the book has had a new pair of legs and sold a little better than it would have if that sale hadn't happened—it was all but dead before that.

What has surprised me is the impact giveaways seem to have. While sales seem to TANK a bit during a giveaway (I think because people may hold off buying should they happen to win), there is a bump in "visibility." I usually gain more followers and have more people talking about the giveaway online. So it's a matter of possibly sacrificing some sales in exchange for expanding visibility.

Sadly, I'm seeing less and less impact from my blog and longer posts like these. I've jumped on Instagram and Tumblr this year for the first time and seen some new life on those sites in comparison to the blog scene and even Twitter. I've been surprised to see my covers and other images about me and my books on Pinterest, even. It seems like many writers and readers I know are experiencing social media fatigue, and it feels like promotion online is reflecting that. It's almost like white noise, and I don't see a ton of impact from my daily social media pursuits. At least not like it used to be several years back in the height of blogging.

I'm not really saying you need to do any of this as a writer, but I guess I'm just telling you what I've found because I've been kind of surprised that my TRYING has actually yielded some RESULTS. It's been nice to discover that, to see those bumps in sales through my indie books and knowing that likely applies to my traditionally published books as well. It's so easy as an author to feel like all the effort you put in does nothing, but that's not true. Maybe your marketing attempts won't do as much as you hope, but this year I've learned that your marketing will do more than if you had done nothing at all. That's an important lesson for me, and maybe it'll be one for you, too.

So if you are tired of trying, if you think it makes no difference, I'm here to tell you that it DOES make a difference. So keep going. Even if it's hard sometimes.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Art Vs. Craft

I've been thinking a lot about the idea of "art" and the concept of "craft" lately. While I was watching MasterChef (yes, of course I watch that), there was an episode where one of the judges talked about how cooking isn't an ART—it is a CRAFT and there are rules and training and a right way and a wrong way. This really hit home to me. I thought this likely also applied to writing in some ways. So I hunted down some definitions.

ART: noun: something that is created with imagination and skill and that is beautiful or that expresses important ideas or feelings

: works created by artists : paintings, sculptures, etc., that are created to be beautiful or to express important ideas or feelings

CRAFT: noun: an activity that involves making something in a skillful way by using your hands

: a job or activity that requires special skill

verb: to make or produce (something) with care or skill


I find these definitions really fascinating. They are somewhat similar, but the small differences say a lot to me. ART is something of the imagination, meant to be beautiful and thoughtful and emotional. CRAFT is something skillfully made with your hands, to make something with care and skill. So where does WRITING fall? Is it an art? A craft?

Probably something in the middle. Or perhaps what writing is changes based on what you intend that writing for. I think as a hobbyist, a writer has the liberty to focus more on ART, but when you are seeking commercial publishing a writer need to focus on CRAFT just as much. The drafting process I would say is a more creative, imaginative process that I would liken to making ART. The editing process is a skillful, intense activity that certainly feels more like a CRAFT.

I'm starting to think that realizing this duality of writing is key to improvement. Because I've seen some writers focus entirely on their ART, and they stay in this world where they put the creative process first and don't think they need the CRAFT part because feelings and passion will carry them through. And I've seen some writers obsess over CRAFT and strangle their ART to the point that their worlds have no life because they think if the words are perfect then the story is.

In reality, CRAFT augments ART. It facilitates its understanding, provides a filter that helps people see the imagination and creativity and passion in the creator. And ART illuminates CRAFT, providing the spark that takes a good "product" and makes it something bigger.

ART and CRAFT are both essential in creative professions, and striking that balance between the two is, I believe, when the magic happens.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Trust Me, I'm A Ninja Cover Reveal!

My newsletter subscribers got to see this early, but now I'm sharing it with the world. Behold! The awesome cover of TRUST ME, I'M A NINJA (Book #2 in the I'm A Ninja series)!


Isn't is the coolest? Michelle, my designer, really outdid herself here. I am so IN LOVE with this cover, and I didn't think I could love one more than the first! I can't believe this book is going to be a book so SOON. Less than a month, guys! I've spent all of this year working on it, and I hope you love the story inside as much as this cover!

Now it's on to book #3 in the series for me. I am so excited to finally see Tosh's story to the end. For a long time I thought this trilogy would never be written, and to know I'm two-thirds through it now is crazy. And if you think this cover is awesome, just wait until book #3! I already have the cover image bought and paid for, and it is *perfect.* I'm so excited.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Newsletter!

I'm really excited to announce that I am starting a newsletter! It won't be anything that's a huge deal, and I won't be sending it often, but it'll be a guaranteed way for you, my readers, to have the latest news about my books, sales, and events. Sometimes you just miss things online—I know I do.

So if you're interested, please sign up! I'm really excited to be sharing covers for TRUST ME, I'M A NINJA and FISH OUT OF WATER there first, along with teasers and sales. You'll be the first to know when my indie titles release, which is kinda cool.



Sign up for my newsletter!

* indicates required

Friday, July 18, 2014

Why I Can't Read Anymore

I've been pretty open about my whole mental breakdown surrounding publishing. It's crazy to think it's been four years since then, and even crazier to realize that I'm still digging myself out of that hole in a lot of aspects. But I've come a long way, and I'm definitely in a really good mental space right now, all things considered. There's just this one thing that I'm still struggling with:

I can't read books without feeling like a terrible author, without thinking every book is better than mine, without having significant anxiety attacks about how insufficient I am. It doesn't matter the book. This is true for my friends' novels, for bestsellers, for indies, for debuts across genres and age groups.

It's really annoying.

I actually remember the exact moment this became an issue for me. It was the summer of 2011, and I was at a writer's retreat with a bunch of friends. We'd done this retreat two years prior, and in 2009 we had these story times where we'd read from our WIPs for fun. It was my favorite part in 2009…in 2011, something changed.

I don't know what it was. I mean, in 2011 I had sold my first two novels. I was going to be a published author like I had dreamed about for so long. I was recovering from the intense panic attacks of fall 2010 pretty well. Or so I thought.

But as we began story time, as I listened to my closest friends read their awesome stories…I grew horribly self-conscious. To the point that I really didn't want to read my WIP at all. Awful thoughts blossomed in my head: "Your stories aren't that good. Their stories are all better than yours. Why are you even getting published? You suck in comparison to your friends and now everyone will be able to read your book and know that. Your friends must pity you and aren't telling you how much lower and suckier you are. You're really pathetic."

My head is not a nice place to be sometimes. Lots of the time, I guess. Thank you, social anxiety.

I bought into these negative thoughts at the time, though I didn't realize it then. I let them sink in deep—I know this because three years later I STILL feel like that whenever I pick up a book to read. First, I started avoiding the books everyone said were amazing, because I knew I would be crippled in my writing for weeks if I read them (which I couldn't afford when I was on deadline). Then it spread to books by my favorite authors. While I knew I'd love them, I also knew they'd make me feel completely lacking. So I stopped reading those. After that I started to avoid almost everything—debuts, books people criticized, indies, out of genre—I would just get so worked up and full of anxiety it wasn't worth it.

It got so bad I had to stop critting for many of my friends, because I would read their work and cry and panic because it was just so good and I would never measure up. Then I began to worry that they would HATE ME for not critting for them when they always helped me so much. So now I'm in this horrible cycle of having anxiety over books to the point I can't read, but then also having anxiety about people finding out I'm an author who can't read and also worrying my friends will hate me… *sigh*

This whole not-reading-because-it-hurts thing has been like my dirty little secret. I suppose I'm writing about it today because usually the first step to healing is acknowledging a problem. So here I am. Acknowledging.

I feel like this is one of my last hurdles in my long road to getting better. My heart is racing just typing this, just thinking about trying to fix it. But I miss books. I miss being able to enjoy reading—or at least not feeling like I suck when I read other authors' books. I miss the worlds of my favorite authors, where I used to find comfort but have now avoided because of my own insecurities.

I don't really know how to fix this weird problem of mine. But more and more I am getting the feeling there's only one way: To READ. To read until I don't feel like that anymore. To face the books I know I will love but will also make me feel like I shouldn't be writing.

It's ridiculous how scared I am.

But I'm going to try. I'm starting this weekend with a HUGE book from an author I practically idolize. I'm afraid I will never write again after because I'll be a puddle of "why do I suck so much?" But I'm going to do it anyway. Because I can't keep going like this, avoiding my fears.

Wish me luck.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Some Ninja Sekrits

Actual ninja sekrit: It's said they often wore a
deep blue because black was too dark and
stood out in shadow. There is conjecture that
they also had a white inner liner for their gi, in
case it snowed.
I keep telling people in person when they ask, so I figure I may as well TELL THE WHOLE INTERNET and get it over with.

RELAX, I'M A NINJA is actually the first in a trilogy.

Tosh's story was always meant to be a series from the second I started writing it, and since I'm in charge of these books in their entirety I decided why not? I'm writing the series I wanted to write. Regardless of how well they sell. Regardless of a vast or small readership. These books are MINE. For me. This is my one corner of control in an uncontrollable business.

So yeah, SEQUELS. They are happening. In fact, they are happening very soon.

The second book is in edits with my awesome editor Diane Dalton. I spent the winter and spring writing it amidst all those other books coming out. It has a cover designed by the awesome MDA Books. A cover I think tops the first (sorry I'm totally not showing you cuz I'm mean).

So when is it coming out? Well, I'm not gonna tell you an exact date. I like surprises. I'm sure YOU like surprises. It'll be like getting a birthday present on a random day. A…ninja present, you could say. And what better present is there?

Friday, June 20, 2014

"No One Will Care If You Stop Writing"

This week I got the chance to teach at Writers & Illustrators For Young Readers, and while I was there I was able to catch a pretty awesome talk given by guest agent, John M. Cusick. He said gobs of smart things, but the one that stuck with me was this:

"Truth is, no one will care if you stop writing."

He went on to explain that you, the author, will always care more than anyone else if you're writing or not writing. That's just how it is, and that's okay.

This might sound a little depressing to some people. And you know what? I've been struggling with this fear lately—that no one cares about whether or not I keep writing, that no one really cares about the stuff I have written, that my words will just fade into black as time marches on. I think I've been so afraid of it because, well, it's likely true. If I stop writing, a few people might be sad for a second, and then they will find new authors to love and life will go on.

I don't have to keep doing this. I really don't.

So why do I?

When it's hard and I make little profit and I feel silly or whatever…why do I keep writing when I don't have to and no one really cares?

As John was up there talking about this, saying these things that were so very true, an undeniable sense of freedom suddenly came over me. I'd been so afraid of these thoughts, and it was so comforting to hear someone else say them and give them context.

In that moment I realized that, while writing isn't always pretty, I must still love it. That is the only real reason I have to keep doing this thing. Because I care. I care A LOT about my own writing. I FREAKING CARE.

I've been spending a lot of time trying not to care, guys. Because writers are supposed to be tough and take criticism and treat this career like a job and gosh-stop-caring-about-those-rejections. But when I know "no one else cares as much as I care," I realize I am fine just the way I am—doing all the caring about my own work. If I don't love what I do, then there's no point, right?

So today I'm loving my work. And I'm okay with being the only one who care if I keep writing. It's liberating in a way—it takes me back to a time when I wasn't on social media and I didn't know a single writer and I'd never been to a book signing or conference and didn't even know what an agent was. Back then it was just me and the page. I thought after 8 years that had changed, but this week I figured out that the rest was all an illusion.

It's still me and the page. It always will be.