YAY! I made it! Oh, wait…

A frenzy of self-publishing followed Amazon’s program to allow authors to publish their own works. A bit slowly at first, and then an explosion in 2011 and 2012, which is still exploding. And no, Amazon wasn’t the only company, but they were, and still are, the largest.

Some of the big names to come out of that time? Colleen Hoover, Abbi Glines, Jaime McGuire, etc, etc, etc…

But there were some smaller authors, who were say… Maybe between agents with finished young adult books, and they did pretty well too.

I made more money than I ever thought I would writing. For about a little over a year, my salary equaled my husband’s – he’s a prosecutor. So, an attorney, but a public servant attorney. Good money. Not Mercedes-owner kind of money. But again, wayyyy more than I ever expected to make writing books for teens.

I’ll admit. It felt AWESOME. I was grateful, amazed, and thrilled that I was making a living doing something I’d always wanted to do. I’d finally pushed myself, and IT WORKED!

And you wanna know what happened?

A LOT of people started publishing books on their own. And to be heard/found, they were selling them for 0.99, almost all the time. Giving away books for free. Putting MANY books in packages, and selling the packages for 0.99.

Do you know what happens when you put books out there, and tell people that each book is only worth pennies?

People start to believe that books are worth pennies.

And after years of either checking out from a library, or paying around 10 bucks a book, people were loading their kindles and nooks (ok, mostly kindles, let’s be honest) with so many books, they’d need three lifetimes to read them all. BECAUSE BOOKS FOR PENNIES! (yes, I’m guilty of this too – on both the buying and publishing end of things)

A few things happened. FAST: Too many new cheap books to keep up with. Too many new authors. Readers realized they’d need to live 3 lifetimes to read all the books they’d purchased. (probably more).

And the bottom fell out. (not for everyone, and there’s still room for new “superstars” of self-publishing) But for a lot of us, the bottom fell out. Dropped in what felt like minutes.

But, I’m one of MANY authors whose income went from 3-12K a month to next to nothing. This happened so fast, we were all left stunned.

Imagine, for a moment, that your income is based on the things you create with your heart and mind, and then imagine that suddenly, you were being shown that those things had no worth.

This is how I felt for a while. I still sometimes do, you know, on those days when I want to have a pity-party for myself 😉

But I was one of the lucky ones. I was one of the few who jumped ship (sort of) for traditional publishing when I was still making money on self-published novels. For a while, I blamed the long publishing timelines that go with traditional publishing on my numbers dropping, and then I blamed… Well, isn’t it always easier to blame something else?

The truth is that things change: Readers change, timelines change, trends change… There is only so much a person can control. I will tell you right now that the books I put the most effort into, generally sold the least, and the books I put up for fun, paid off student loans, and bought family cars. To this day, there’s no rhyme or reason as to why one novel sells great, and the next flops. (I’m maybe in the minority here).

I read a fab blog post by Chuck Wendig for authors who are mid-career. He said two things that have stuck with me:

  1. People who have been authors for a long time, most of them, have reinvented themselves through genres, categories, and pen names, several times over.
  2. DIVERSIFY. Take advantage of ALL the publishing options out there. Do so without shame.

He didn’t use those exact words, but that’s MY takeaway, and let’s be honest – once our words are out in the world, people can interpret them as they wish. (If you’d like to gain your own interpretation of this post, go check it out – http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2016/01/20/some-thoughts-for-you-mid-career-writers-out-there/

So, where does that leave me now?

Making a few bucks a month from the stories I’ve left on Amazon that I’ve done on my own, and needing a new challenge. One of those new challenges is editing. Helping bring someone else’s story to life is MAGICAL. Almost as magical as bringing my own novels to life. Another new challenge, is my NEED to switch up what I write.

Yes, stepping outside the genre I write for my publisher might not be my best move, but sometimes a person NEEDS change.

About a year ago, I talked about stretching writerly wings and starting fresh (you can find that here – https://beenwriting.com/2017/01/09/spreading-writerly-wings/). I’m very happy to say that I’m settling into the idea that I CAN TAKE MY TIME to decide what I want to do next. That I can write several novels that will probably never see the light of day while I gain some new footing. That I can also take time to dig myself into enough genres that I’ll know what I’d like to move forward with next. Where I’d like to be publishing next. What publication avenue would best suit the novels that have been spit out in a flurry of drafting, and now sit on my computer, waiting for me to make my next move.

The lesson to learn is that anyone can reset, at any time, if they’re willing to work for it.

I find myself feeling very much like I did before I signed my first contract. Hopeful. Excited. More ideas spinning in my head than I could ever hope to have the time to write. But this time I have the advantage of experience. And good, bad, or mediocre, that experience is worth more than any pennies I’ve made along the way.

Happy Writing and Happy Holidays,

Jo

Things We Forget

I remember a moment of time before I signed my first publication contract when I would hear published authors say – All of you newer writers, enjoy this time of no deadlines, where you are writing purely for the joy of writing. Where you can shut out the world, deadlines, editors, and critics and just write.

They weren’t lying. Being able to shut those things off is brilliant. But they also sometimes forgot to mention that the more novels we have behind us, and the more edits we’ve gone through, the louder that internal editor can be. That editor-voice can scream before we start writing, while we’re writing, and after we’re through. Now, I’m not saying this is a BAD thing, but it can really trip us up.

I knew NaNo (National Novel Writing Month) was out for me this year. I’m knee-deep in house buying and selling paperwork, my husband has already moved so I’m single-parenting it, I’m recovering from a fairly major hip surgery, and I’ve kicked up my editing job a few notches. But I love the spirit of NaNo for its reckless abandon of everything but story. In that spirit, I started a new project this month. Something else totally new for me, and while I love it, I’ve also spent a lot of time over-thinking, and just when I was about to set it aside indefinitely, I figured I’d write up the end to see how the mess I’d planned all turned out. (I plot in loose bullet points and scribbled out name changes).

Here’s what I’d forgotten: If I know a novel ends happy, I need that ending written early. I need to write that ending when I first start. I need to write that ending again when I’m about 1/3 of the way through and then again when I’m 1/2 the way through, and then again when I finally write myself to the end.

The ending sets the trail and tone for so many little moments, scenes and twists. Now that I know where I take my people, I can’t wait to sit down and write, which is a lovely change from sitting down, wondering if the work is going to be worth it, and then picking up another editing project instead.

So, here’s my best piece of advice for people stuck in a story – NaNo project or not: Find a way to love your characters so much that you cannot possibly let their story go untold. If that’s writing the happy end? Go for it. If that’s spending 2-10 days working on character sketches? DO IT. Find your path, take it, and revel in the feel of weaving a story from an idea.

And never forget why you started your journey.

~ Happy Writing!

Jo

P.S. I promise to try and not leave you all for so long, but for all the reasons listed above, my brain just isn’t functioning to capacity, so I’ve saved all the bestest brain cells for my lovely clients.

 

Hone Story-Telling Skills Without Writing

I’m going to start this post with a short personal note.

Over the past week I put a house on the market that I designed and built. I had my first surgery outside of wisdom teeth removal and have been stuck in bed. And while bed-ridden, moved from the house I built into a basement where the few clothes I can wear sit in a laundry bin. We’re preparing for a move out of state.

Between big life changes and pain-killers, my brain is not in a good place for writing.

This makes me panic on two levels:

ONE – I define myself (probably far too much) as a writer.

TWO – I’m working on a few projects that are very different for me and require a lot of brainpower. I feel a NEED to turn something over to my agent.

So, instead of writing, I’m reading and watching TV. And not just reading, but reading books that have sold well, that are similar to what I want to write. I’m studying the characters, informational reveals, and pacing.

I’m watching TV (Netflix) for the same things – Character study, subtext, pacing, what makes one show compelling and a similar show boring. Teen shows, mystery-suspense, paranormal… Even a few documentaries (let’s face it, a lot of us love mysteries that read like documentaries – just look at Silence of the Lambs).

I could totally take time off. I could shut down my brain and watch bad TV for bad TV’s sake. And maybe I should do that more often. But right now, I feel as if I’m both taking a break and doing research that will make my stories stronger in the end.

On another note – my edit brain seems to be working quite well, and since I have all this free time on my hands, I can turn around a story edit pretty dang fast. See HERE for details.

THANK YOU!

Happy writing!

~ Jo

 

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