Earlier this week on his show, comedian John Oliver spoke about public shaming, particularly on the Internet. At the time I’m posting this, the YouTube video of the segment, which features an interview with Monica Lewinsky, has nearly five million views. Take a look below:
Now, if you don’t have time to watch the twenty-six minute video, let me reiterate the main points: while public shaming may be needed when someone in the public eye does something truly awful, sometimes the shaming is taken out of context, becomes too harsh, or goes on for far too long, leaving those affected by it psychologically scarred and sometimes affecting their careers and prospects for years afterwards. And unfortunately, this unwarranted shaming happens far too often for all the wrong reasons.*
Unfortunately, this sort of thing happens quite a bit in the writing community. Sometimes this has been necessary: in 2017, Lani Sarem tried to scam her novel to the top of the New York Times bestseller list to get a film deal. In 2018, Faleena Hopkins tried to trademark the word “cocky” in book titles so no one else could use the word without fear of legal action. In both cases, the reaction from the greater author community, especially from the genres these writers wrote in, was instrumental in keeping these injustices from going unpunished.
However, there has been a number of authors who’ve been the target of online attacks that frankly don’t deserve it. In the past couple of months, there have been articles about writers who had to withdraw their books from publication–sometimes for huge amounts of money–just because they were targeted by their genre’s online community.
In the case of one author, she withdrew her book after people objected to one of the characters, a slave in that fictional universe’s version of post-Imperial Russia, was described as having “tawny” skin, and took that to mean African-American, meaning a horrible depiction of African-Americans in bondage. I believe the author, who is Asian, was actually going for a commentary on modern slavery and human trafficking in Asia.
In the case of another author, the objection was of the leads being two gay, African-American teens during the Kosovo War and one villain being an Albanian Muslim. And while I have my own reservations on including a Muslim villain, given my past published works, Americans did experience the Kosovo War firsthand, and no side of that conflict had clean hands.**
The fact of the matter is, these attacks are causing more harm than good. Yes, there are times when anger is needed, but in some of these communities the instinct to lash out has gotten so bad that people keep screenshots of things said online by their friends to use against them later if they ever have to. In other words, yesterday’s crusader has to prepare in case they or their friend is today’s victim. Or to put it simply, this is literary auto-cannibalism.
And at the rate it’s going, soon there will be no one left to go after. There will be only those who are too scared to write lest they be targeted, those who have been targeted and don’t dare to write anymore, those who walk a tightrope lest they be targeted, and those who would attack and grumble that nothing new and mold-breaking comes out anymore.
So how do we stop it? Well, I think part of the solution has already come about by identifying the issue. But there’s much to do. It starts with awareness. And then it improves by resolving to not be part of mobs like this. Before striking out at anyone, look up to see if articles from reliable sources exist. Read more than one, if possible, from multiple sides. Read the work in question, or excerpts if that’s not available. Then try to understand what the author was going for. And then ask if what people are saying is worth getting angry about.
Also remember that publishers are usually great gatekeepers for this kind of thing. They wouldn’t dare publish something if they thought it was offensive and would cost them more to publish than they could earn. If the publishers deem it fine, shouldn’t that at least factor into our reasoning over whether to get upset over a book’s content?
And if others are upset and you think it’s not worth it, don’t engage. Anger like this is fueled by attention, and refusing to give mobs like this the attention it craves is like depriving a fire of oxygen. Don’t be part of the mob.
Obviously this might not be enough Any social problem requires a multi-pronged approach, and this may only turn out to be one or two prongs. But it’s a start. And without that, we can only expect more of the same, until the writing community at large becomes too toxic to survive. I don’t want to see that. Do you?
And if you’ve been the target of this sort of behavior, know this: you are not the problem. You don’t deserve what happened or what is happening to you. But there are people on your side. More than you realize. And you can get through this. And you will emerge stronger from this. I believe in you, and so do the rest of us.
Have you witnessed this sort of behavior before? Have you any strategies for dealing with this sort of behavior?
*And I’m well aware that even talking about this subject may upset someone and get me targeted for public shaming. However, I’m a Jewish bisexual man with a couple of disabilities and even more eccentricities. My very existence and interests probably offend somebody for stupid reasons. Not to mention I write horror, which always finds a way to offend somebody just by trying to scare people. I won’t let any of that keep me from putting myself out there, so I won’t let this do it either.
And if anyone does try to go after me, they should know: I BITE.
**Also, if one book gets this sort of reaction from these communities for a Muslim villain, I hope television shows like NCIS and Homeland or authors like James Patterson, Dan Brown or Daniel Levin, get the same sort of attention from them. Oh, they don’t? Interesting. Maybe they’re too big for them.
(We’re soliciting reader feedback for a special upcoming article, so please read through to the end if you’d like to participate.)
The other day on Twitter, a friend of mine posted that she had switched the font on her WIP to Comic Sans font, and found herself frustrated by it. Curious, I asked her why she did that, and she pointed me in the direction of an article on the website Lifehacker by A.A. Newton. According to the article, titled Get Over Yourself and Start Writing in Comic Sans, the unique nature of the font, where every letter is different from the other twenty-five, keeps writers from losing focus, becoming super-nitpicky of their work, and in the case of people with dyslexia, easily tell the letters and words apart.
After reading the article, I thought I’d try it myself to see if it would help my own writing, and as I was starting a new story, I switched the font from my normal Times New Roman (yeah, I know, but I like that font) to Comic Sans and went to work. Last night I finished said story and surveyed my work.
What did I think?
Well, I did feel like I was filling out pages out much faster than I normally do. This was probably because, while I changed the font, I didn’t change the font size, and 12-point Comic Sans is slightly bigger than 12-point Times New Roman. so it did actually fill the page faster.
However, I’m not sure it made that significant an impact on my writing. I still got out words at my normal pace, and I still found myself pausing to think about how best to say what I wanted to say. The only difference was that there was a bigger font.
Which, by the way, I switched back to Times New Roman after the story was finished. What can I say? I like that font, it looks professional, and working in Times New Roman, especially during the editing phase, is just easier overall for me.
Overall, I don’t think I’d switch to writing in Comic Sans. It’s just not helpful to me in the way I need it to be.
Of course, I’m just one writer. At the time I’m writing this article, this site has 3,752 subscribed followers. A single person reporting their results is a case study. An entire group of people? Now that’s a real experiment.
So for the next three months, I’m asking our lovely readers here at Self-Published Authors Helping Other Authors to try writing in Comic Sans. Try writing a short story (or if you’re in the middle of a novel, a section or chapter) in Comic Sans, and let me know the following by May 1st:
Short story or novel chapter/section
How did it go for you?
For that last part, if you could tell me in 150-250 words, I’d appreciate it.
Please send your submissions to my author email address: email@example.com, with the subject line Self-Pub Authors – Comic Sans. Depending on how many submissions we get, yours could end up being showcased here on the site. And if we get A LOT of submissions–like, more than we can fit in a single blog post–I’ll work something out.
And if you already write in Comic Sans, we’d also like to hear from you. Please tell us all about it and how it helps you write.
Remember folks, this is entirely voluntary, but we would really like to hear from you. When we did something like this a while back, we got some great responses, so I hope to see if we can get that same magic again.
There’s this scene in the early parts of Stephen King’s IT that has nothing to do with the titular entity or anything scary at all, but which I love nonetheless. When the novel is going over protagonist Bill Denbrough’s college career and how it lead to him becoming a famous author, it shows one of his creative writing classes. Which is less of a creative writing class and more of a creative writing about revolution class. The weed-smoking teacher and most of the students all believe that writing should only be written to make a deeper statement about society.
In one class, Bill finally has enough and says to the class, “Sociopolitical, socioeconomic, sociocultural, socio-sexual, socio-everything. Why can’t a story just be a story?”
The professor says in disbelief, “Do you think Hemingway just wrote stories to write stories? Did Shakespeare write plays just to make a buck?”
Bill: “Yes, I think they did.”
The professor: “Clearly, you have a lot to learn.”
This is by no means an exact quote or even a very good paraphrase, so I hope this doesn’t bring me the ire of any King fans or King’s legal team. Also, while I can’t speak to Hemingway or whichever author the professor actually pointed out in the book, I do have enough knowledge of history and Shakespeare’s works under my belt to say that yes, Shakespeare probably did write to make a quick buck. Sad, but true.
But I bring up this minor exchange in one of King’s greatest novels for a reason: in the course of writing, you are going to meet authors who insist that when you write something, you have to be saying something or trying to change something about society. Not just themes woven into the story’s fabric, but when the story’s deeper meaning and the story itself can’t be distinguished from one or the other. Folks like this exist in just about every artistic medium, though in this case we’re talking about the literary types. Not knocking another artist’s perspective on the craft, just giving an arguably very simple definition of a viewpoint.
The question is, do the stories we write need to have some deeper statement? Are the themes we weave into our works not enough? Many of these “impact stories” have become famous and influential. Charles Dickens and Mark Twain often sought to instigate social examination and change in their work. Kate Chopin’s novel The Awakening was probably written just to remind the world that women do desire more than marriage and motherhood. Those and other novels are taught in classrooms around the world to this day. Maybe we should try to give our work deeper meaning.
Well, from King’s novel, you can tell his view on the matter. But in my humble opinion?
Well, I’ve written both kinds of stories in my time. Rose, my upcoming novel, has had several different themes over the course of writing and editing it (I can’t tell you how many changes this book’s gone through since I started writing it in 2014). But while the themes have changed over time, there’s never been a moment where the novel was trying to say anything. Why would there be? It was primarily a supernatural horror novel involving an obsessed young man and a young woman in an impossible situation. I didn’t need to put any big statement or meaning into the story, because it didn’t need it and I couldn’t say anything trying to do so.
Another recent novel I wrote, River of Wrath, on the other hand, has a statement that can’t be cut away from the story. That’s because the novel is about the effect of racism and prejudice, as well as what it leads to, on your soul, and it takes place in the 1960s Mississippi. You can probably guess the rest from there.
However, I don’t think I could make every story I write have a deeper meaning. I enjoy writing too many stories that, while they may have themes woven in, wouldn’t do well trying to make a statement with. I mean, it’s kind of difficult to initiate social change when your story focuses on a ballerina and several cannibalistic murders. Not impossible, but difficult.
I think it’s a rare author who can make every story they write have this deeper message of social examination or social change. I think they have to seek to tell stories like that. As for the rest, I think as long as we’re enjoying the stories we write, that’s what really matters. And if a story has to have this deeper side to it, then it will arise organically at some point during the writing process.
Either way though, what’s important is that the writing is genuine, and that you, the author, love and are proud of the story you’ve created. That, in the end, is all that truly matters.
And while I still have your attention, we here at Self-Published Authors Helping Other Authors would like to thank you for spending so much time with us. We aim to help authors of all stripes, and seeing so many of you come to check out our articles time and time again, as well as becoming subscribers, makes it all worth it. So from us to you, Happy Holidays and Happy New Year. I hope we continue to see you and help you in 2019. Cheers!
Overall, the definition of happiness in the indie writing community is this:
High Income + Hitting a Big List (like USA or New York Times Bestseller) = Happiness
The USA and NYT Bestselling lists aren’t mandatory, but I see enough authors claiming some sort of bestselling list to know it’s important to them. A bestselling list of some kind lends itself to a form of success in their eyes. If this wasn’t a badge of success, authors wouldn’t mention it on their covers, in their book descriptions, or on their websites. The income thing is harder for others to see unless the authors are sharing their sales graphs, but the lists are easy to display, which is why we see so many claims to these lists.
Is it wrong to share information about income and a bestseller list? Of course not. But in doing so, we set up an unspoken rule that these are the things that make you “somebody worth listening to” in the writing community. It makes you stand out from the crowd.
Let me illustrate what I mean by this. Say you have two authors: Author A and Author B. Author A has sold about 50 ebooks in the past year, which made him $100. He’s not on any lists. Author B, on the other hand, has sold 500,000 ebooks in the past year (which equaled about $1,000,000) and made the New York Times Bestseller list. Now, both of these authors give out the same advice on their blogs and in reader forums. Will people cite Author A or Author B when they pass on that advice? Which author has more credibility in the writing community? Also, taking this a step further, which author will get featured in interviews? Which author will be given the bigger microphone to pass on their advice? In other words: which author is successful?
In the business of writing, numbers do matter. Numbers are seen as a gauge of success. And success is seen as measure of happiness. This is the illusion of happiness in the writing community. We have this perception that in order to be happy as writers, we must fit the writing community’s standard of success.
I say this is an illusion because no matter how much people acquire, most people want more. And that desire for more doesn’t lead to happiness. It just leads to setting the bar higher. When a writer reaches one level of success (say being able to pay the mortgage), the writer thinks, “Wow. I was able to do that. But what if I was able to make a living wage with my income?” So then the writer sets the bar of success to making the living wage. And when they reach that goal, they look around at other authors who are making $20,000 a month. The writer then thinks, “Hmm… That looks like a totally awesome goal. I want to do that, too.” And on and on this goes.
The problem is that the writer isn’t satisfied with what they’ve accomplished. There’s more to obtain. There will always be more to obtain. When you measure yourself against those who are doing better, you will find yourself lacking, and that sense of lack will create a sense of unhappiness. You think, “If only I could get X, then I’ll be happy.” But the reality is, it doesn’t create happiness. Not lasting happiness. Sure, the writer may be happy for a few days. Maybe a few weeks. Maybe even a few months. But sooner or later, they will feel like they need to accomplish more.
The cycle is unending, and the only way to end it is by getting out of it.
So how do we do that?
We start by being happy first. Learn to be content with how things currently are for you. We often hear “don’t compare yourself to others”, and I think this falls in line with that idea. It’s hard to be content with how things are for you if you are comparing yourself to someone else.
I’m also going to say something that is probably going to upset quite a few people. It’s time to stop listening to others tell you WHAT makes an author successful. I understand that writers are looking to make money, but the pursuit of money does end up trapping us into the cycle I mentioned above. This post is talking about happiness, not money. You can have both if you learn to be content with the money you’re making. But what I find most of the time is that writers want to make more. It’s more and more. Even if they’re making a living, it’s not enough. And the marketing experts know this. This is why they sell courses teaching authors how to make more money. The illusion of money (aka success) = lasting happiness is a powerful one in the writer community, and there are some people out there who are taking advantage of that.
If your aim is to be happy for the long-term, you have to shift your mindset. I’m currently working on shifting mine. For the past couple of months, I’ve felt incredible despair about writing. I was thinking, “What’s the point in writing if I can’t sell books unless I write to market?” and “What’s the point in writing when my income keeps dropping?”
And don’t think I was happy when I was selling very well. I don’t want to give away my numbers, but there was a time when I was making well over a comfortable living wage with my writing. And I always wanted more. I was stuck in that cycle. I was not happy. I was running myself ragged in trying to sell more and more books because there was an author who was making way more than I was in my genre. I sacrificed time with friends and family to be at my computer chasing the newer goal I had placed before me. I wrote to market. I followed marketers’ advice. I ran myself ragged in this cycle like I see so many authors doing today. All I can say is that the constant pursuit for more money, awards, acclaim, etc is a trap.
For people who are caught in this cycle because this is how they are making ends meet for their family, I sympathize. I know this isn’t something you can just stop. In your case, I would find ways to cut expenses so you can live on less. Then save everything you can. Look for free stuff to do with the family. Look for bargains while shopping. Live in a cheaper place if you have to. I’ve had to do all of this, and believe me, a savings account that is built up helps to lessen the stress you’re going through. (I know this is stressful since I used to be the sole provider of my own family off the writing income.)
I’m currently reading a book called The Happiness Equation: Want Nothing + Do Anything = Have Everything by Neil Pasricha.
His proposal is this:
BE HAPPY —–> GREAT WORK —–> BIG SUCCESS
This isn’t a book geared directly to writers, but I think the principles in it can apply to writers. These days, I’m more interested in being happy as a writer than I am in trying to make a lot of money. I do think there’s merit in starting with happiness. He says that if we are happy first, we’ll naturally do our best, and this will lead to success. But I should clarify that success is a broad range. We shouldn’t box ourselves in with what others tell us success is. Success is going to look different to everyone. If you start off being happy, it stands to follow you’ll be happy with the results that follow from writing your books.
I know some of you who read this blog have found a place of happiness, and I’m hoping to join you soon.
I’d love to hear if anyone has tips on how to start at happiness. How do you approach your stories with great enthusiasm? How do you avoid the horrible cycle of always striving for more?
: This post is a serious discussion about writing a common feature in literature and how to do it. It is not meant to be humorous, titillating, or controversial. That being said, this post will go into a topic that many people find uncomfortable, so please use your own discretion before proceeding further. Thank you for your understanding.
Sex scenes show up quite a bit in fiction, and seem to have increased with the passage of time as society has become much more tolerant of (or maybe obsessed with) the subject of sex and sexuality. That being said, many writers aren’t sure how to write these sort of scenes into their stories, let alone if they should have one to begin with. I recently wrote one into my WIP, and I figured now might be a good time to talk about this subject.
Now, I don’t write sex scenes often. However, I’ve written a few in my career, as well as read too many to count, including some in erotica novels and short stories (though not for the reasons you’re probably thinking). I’ve gained some insights over the years into this type of scene, so I think the ones I share here with you should be helpful.
This brings us to our first question:
Should I have a sex scene in my story? The obvious answer is, it depends. And it depends on two factors: the story’s need for one and the author’s level of comfort. Some stories just don’t require a sex scene. My upcoming novel Rose didn’t require one and adding one would’ve felt gratuitous, so I didn’t include one. For my WIP River of Wrath however, I could see where a sex scene might actually add something to the story, so I included it.
How do you tell which stories should have a sex scene? Well, some are more obvious than others. However, if you’re not sure, go back in later drafts and see if the scene feels weirdly inserted upon a second reading. And if you’re still not sure, ask your beta readers. That’s what they’re there for.
And if you as the writer don’t feel comfortable writing sex scenes, no problem. Everyone’s comfort levels with these things should be taken into account, and we’re all comfortable with different things. If you don’t like the idea of casually broaching the subject of sex, let alone writing about it, don’t. No one will send you to prison for it, let alone prevent you from ever getting published.
So if the story could use a sex scene and you feel comfortable enough to write it, what’s next?
Have the scene evolve like sex normally does. Sex doesn’t just happen: there’s a progression. Sometimes it starts with a kiss and involves foreplay. Sometimes it involves a look and goes straight to doing the deed. It depends on the people involved and what they’re up for. Likewise, how it happens in your story should have a natural evolution. Just having characters talk or meet and then go straight to sex doesn’t usually work, so show how it happens.
Pay attention to language. I’ve received some feedback on this from my own sex scenes, so I’m passing it on to you. First off, don’t be afraid to actually talk about certain body parts or their nicknames (apparently women are okay using the word c**k or d**k in literature. I was very surprised to learn that). You don’t have to get super-technical about it, using words like “vulva” or “vas deferens.” Just don’t be afraid to talk about them or what’s being done to them.
The second point is that the language should match the mood of the scene. Going for something risque? The language should reflect the adventurous nature of the scene. Kinky, maybe even involving BDSM? Rougher words would work better. Romantic, like the one in my WIP? Words emphasizing sensuality, connection, touch and love work the best.
Just don’t use phrases like “Holy cow” to describe one participant’s reaction to the other’s penis being unveiled. Sorry EL James, but that’s more laughable than erotic.
The scene doesn’t have to be super-long. I’ve encountered sex scenes that have gone for a whole chapter comprising of several thousand words, and I’ve encountered some that were as short as a page. The one I wrote in my WIP was a little over a thousand words, or about four or five pages. So if you write one that’s maybe three pages, don’t feel bad that it isn’t longer. As I said, they come in all different lengths.
Pay attention to all body parts and surroundings. As much as we think of sex as involving only a few select body parts, it involves the entire body of each participant. As much as the scene may emphasize what the lower parts are doing, pay attention to what the arms and legs are doing. What is the back doing? Is the hair doing anything worth noting (yes, it can be worth mentioning)? Keep all that in mind while writing the scene.
Also, pay attention to surroundings. Is the scene taking place in a bed? Does it creak during the scene? Are items on the wall affected? Perhaps it’s taking place in a more public setting, like the back of a car. The participants may worry about being spotted by passerby. In a club? Are they noticing music playing or other people passing by?
These are important things to keep in mind, so don’t lose track of them while writing your scene.
And finally, there’s one more piece of advice on this subject I’d like to impart:
Read plenty of other examples and practice. Writing is often learned by intuition, example, trial and error. That being said, only so much can be imparted by reading this article. If you’re truly interested in writing a sex scene, read plenty of scenes from other authors from many different genres. See what works and what doesn’t, and incorporate it into your own style.
And it couldn’t hurt to practice writing these sorts of scenes. It hasn’t have to be part of a story you’re working on, or something you’d ever consider publishing. Just try it to see if you can write a scene that you’d consider halfway decent. Like anything in our field, getting good takes practice, and that includes sex scenes. So consider practicing them as well when you have a moment. It can’t hurt, can it?
Whether or not you’ve ever considered writing these scenes or whether or not they’re necessary, it’s always a good idea to have some idea on how to write a sex scene. A lot goes into writing them, so it’s always a good idea to have some idea of what to do when working on them. I hope this article helped in some capacity with your own sex scenes.
How often do you write sex scenes? What tips do you have for writing them?
Two of my kids are old enough to create and manage their own You Tube channels, and they expressed an interest in doing so. I figured it was a good idea because they’d learn social networking skills, how to create videos, edit those videos, etc. These are things they could potentially use for future employment. They, however, had stars in their eyes. They heard that people are making a good living off of videos via the ads on You Tube. When you get popular enough, your videos can start getting monetized. As they were talking about how many subscribers it would take to start earning money, I realized this is similar to what I hear from new authors.
When I hear most new authors talk, their focus is on how much money they’re going to make in X amount of time. This is why courses on how to make a six-figure income in a short amount of time are so popular. These courses feed into this “get rick quick” mindset. This is the same thing my kids were thinking when it came to You Tube. I had to sit down and explain to my kids how this stuff really works. Sure, there are always people who will make it big. For all the actors that run out to Hollywood, there is a small number that hit the big time. But this isn’t going to happen to most of them. And just because they post videos on You Tube, it doesn’t mean they’re going to be making a nice cushy living off their videos when they’re 18.
So today, I thought I’d make a blog post about what is a more realistic approach to the business side of being a creative person.
There are two main things you need to keep in mind when going into the business side of writing.
If you build it, they may not come.
I know this isn’t what new authors want to hear, but it’s true. Just because you publish books, it doesn’t mean you’ll make money. Just because you write in a certain genre with a certain plot, it doesn’t mean it’ll sell. Sometimes a book doesn’t resonate with readers, so they don’t buy them. It doesn’t mean the book is bad. (I’ve seen plenty of great books not selling well.) It just means the book didn’t “click” for some reason.
Even if you wrote something specifically to market, had tons of feedback on it from your target audience, got a professional cover, had a professional editor, and have the best website on the planet, you aren’t guaranteed sales. Also, you can run ads, do permafrees on the first in a series, or do other promotional stuff all day long, and you still might not reach the level of income you were hoping for. I’ve seen authors do all of the right things and still not make a living at this. The sad reality is that sometimes it just doesn’t happen.
If you do make money, don’t think your troubles will be over. Even if you’re not exclusive to Amazon, you will find sales going up and down. Things don’t always go up and up and up and… You get the idea.
I’ve been publishing through Amazon and Smashwords since 2009, and I’ve found this whole business to be a rollercoaster. Over the past three years, I’ve been carefully tracking my sales data, and I noticed that my sales went up and down across all retailers. I’ve always been wide. I’ve never been exclusive to Amazon. So I’ve had plenty of time to build an audience on the wide channels. And I have found that regardless of the retailer, sales go up and down. Yes, having a new book out often means sales go up, but it doesn’t mean it goes up to the same level it did with previous book, and it doesn’t mean it’ll succeed the same way at all retailers.
If you do manage to make money at this, I urge you to do three very important things I never did.
One: Save half of the income for taxes.
Disclaimer: This is specifically for the United States authors. (I don’t know how tax payments work in other countries.)
Maybe you won’t need to pay taxes on how much you make, but if you have to, at least the money is there. I had to sell stuff to pay my taxes because I hadn’t even thought to save a portion of my income back then. Believe me, you don’t want to be in a situation where you’re scrambling around to come up with the tax money you owe the government based off of last year’s income.
Now, you can set up a payment plan with the government. Some people do that. But since you’re considered a small business owner, you will be making quarterly tax payments (if the government thinks you’re making enough). So four times a year, you’ll have to pay taxes based off of last year’s income. If you miss the deadline for a quarter, you will have to pay a penalty. The quarterly tax payments are due mid-April, mid-July, mid-September, and mid-January. Usually, it’s the 15, but if the 15th is on a holiday or weekend, the date can get pushed back to the 16 or 17. Either way, you will be required to send in these tax payments.
You will save yourself a lot of stress and heartache if you save half of your money into the tax fund while you’re making it. Whatever you don’t end up having to pay can be tucked away into savings.
Which brings me to my next piece of advice…
Two: Put as much as you can into savings.
I didn’t do this, and I am currently living to regret it. The day might come when you aren’t making as much as you used to. This is what happened to me. This year, I’m projected to lose income for a third time. When I was making good money, I failed to save anything. After taxes were paid, I spent money like my income was going to stay consistent. I currently have $40 in my savings account. I have no investments. I have nothing tucked away in a retirement account, either. I’m 43. I made bad financial decisions. A lot of bad financial decisions. I’m not proud to admit it, but if you can be better off in the future because you’re going learn from my experience, then it’ll be worth going public with this. Every time I mention losing money, I get criticized. This isn’t a popular thing to talk about in the writing community, but I don’t want anyone to end up in my shoes. So please, learn from my mistakes. You don’t want to end up where I am.
Three: Learn to say no.
Over the past couple of months, I have had to start saying “no” to people I sincerely care about when they asked for money. I hate saying no. The fact that I had trouble saying no in the past is part of what led me to a situation where I only have $40 in savings. It feels good to give. But if you don’t position yourself on a firm foundation, how can you really help out someone else? Sometimes you have to think of yourself before you can think of another person. I know this one is hard. For those of you who are like me and will often sacrifice what we have to the point where we’re at the end of your own financial rope, saying no is a crucial lesson to learn.
At the end of the day, you have to be able to take care of yourself before you’re in a good position to help someone else. I don’t have a rule book on this, but in my opinion, you should have at least six months of living expenses tucked away before you can afford to help another person. A man I was watching in a You Tube video recommended one year’s worth of savings. With sales being so unpredictable, I’m inclined to say that you should aim to save between 6-12 months of living expenses (including tax payments). Of course, you need to keep saving beyond that. You’ll probably want to look into investments for your future, too, but I would get the savings built up first. You want something you can get to right away if you run into an emergency.
I do think there’s value in giving, but it needs to be balanced with savings. Only you can figure out the right ratio that works for your household. But I strongly advise you to say no to others until you have taken care of your own situation. You can’t get someone else out of a sinking boat until you plug up the holes in your own boat first.
So those are my tips for new authors. Does anyone have any tips they’d like to share?
I almost didn’t post this because this goes against the current marketing advice floating around out there right now, but this topic keeps bugging me so I’m just going to bite the bullet and make this post.
Here’s my thesis: writing to market kills creativity.
Now for my argument to back up the thesis.
After writing to market for two years, I reached a point where I actually hated to write. What I had once loved became something I resented.
“The reason that happened is because you weren’t doing it right,” someone might say.
I don’t think so. Yes, writing to market is lucrative. It brings in more money. I’ve seen too much evidence to argue this point. The point I’m arguing is that a writer who engages in the writing to market mindset has their critical voice screaming at them the entire time they’re writing. This critical voice hampers the creative one.
When people say “write to market”, they are talking about writing in a genre you already love. I understand that. It’s what I did for two years. Then they tell you to put your own unique spin on it. I did that, too. Or at least, I did it for what was unique in my opinion. The truth is, there are only so many ideas out there, and just when you think you’re the first person to ever come up with something, you realize someone in the past has already done it in one form or another. So really, what the people are saying is that you need to tell this story in a way that seems fresh and new to the reader.
And I think it’s possible to do that for a time. But then, the months pass by. The months add up to years. And before you know it, it starts to wear on you. You lose your enthusiasm. The reason this happens is because after a while, you realize you’re pretty much boxed in. Writing to market has boundaries. Those boundaries are reinforced by the critical voice in our minds telling us what the reader wants. How do we know what readers want? By studying books that are more successful than ours in our chosen genre and sub-genre, of course.
Writing to market means you put the reader first. Then you work out a story to write for the reader. You’re looking for a way to appeal to the most readers in your chosen genre. Because, when it all comes down to it, writing to market is about writing for money. Now, I have no problems with earning money from our work. It’s great when we can get paid for what we do. However, I think the idea behind writing to market is, at its core, an attempt to make the most money possible. This is why tailoring a book for the majority of readers in a certain genre is key in this philosophy.
If you want to write that way, it’s fine with me. I’m not telling you to write for passion. If you want to make a gazillion dollars a month, go for it. I hope you have more success than I did because by the time year #2 was up, I had crashed and burned so hard that I was looking at working outside the home just to avoid writing another word again. I’m not saying that will happen to you. You might be able to write to market for the rest of your life. I’m not saying it’s impossible. I know it is. But will you enjoy it?
Writing to market killed my creativity. I stopped enjoying the process of storytelling. I’m convinced that writing to market kills creative voice. When writers listen to creative voice, they write books they’re most passionate about first and then try to find a market for it. Their voice is fresh and new, and they’re storytelling is strong. These are often the best stories they’ll ever write.
“You could be wrong,” someone is probably saying. “Writing to market hasn’t killed my creativity at all.”
I hope it never does.
But it did for me. I got some feedback from a couple of my readers who used to read everything I wrote, and what they said alarmed me. They said that they could tell the quality of my work had gone down. They said I had lost the passion in my voice that once captivated them. This quality went down at the time I started writing to market. This wasn’t a coincidence. I think it was a correlation. I lost those readers, and I don’t know if they’ll ever come back.
What I do know is that the moment I made the decision to stop writing to market, I felt like a weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. I got my enthusiasm back. I wanted to write again. My energy finally returned. It’s no longer a chore to sit at the computer and try to figure out what on earth I can write that won’t end up being carbon copies of books I’d written to market already. As I said, writing to market has boundaries, and eventually, you find yourself stuck in a box. Creative voice allows you to go outside the box, so there’s no limits to what you can do.
That’s my spin on it. For what it’s worth, I don’t make $30-50K a month like these writers who write to market. Yes, there is money in writing to market. It’s good money. But it’s possible to make money writing what you love. It’s not going to be as much. That’s where you have to decide what your goals for writing are. Writing to market might work for you. I still think it’ll kill your creativity in the long run, but I’m not going to argue that it’s a good short-term strategy. You have to weigh the pros and cons and do your own thing.
All I know is that I can never go back to writing to market. It’ll be the death of my writing career if I do. My ultimate goal is still be writing and publishing books for the rest of my life. Given that I’m 43 right now, I plan to be doing this for a long time. In order to do that, creativity needs to always be brimming at the top of my cup.
Bottom line: if we want this to be a long-term and sustainable way of life, then we are better off nurturing our creativity. Doing anything to hinder it will shorten the lifespan of our writing.
There’s no doubt that some things are changing in the self-publishing landscape. This year has marked things I never thought I’d see when I started publishing on Amazon and Smashwords back in 2009. Back then the big thing was setting up free or cheap ebooks in order to gain a readership. Ebooks were new, and people buying e-reading devices were looking for content. This led to a boom in self-publishing I never thought I’d see. I honestly expected self-publishing to remain the redheaded step-child of the publishing world. Then somewhere around 2012-2014, it became popular and took off.
Around 2015, I started hearing about self-publishing becoming less lucrative than it used to be. Granted, there were some breaking out and making a lot of money. Some were making much more than I ever did at my peak. Some authors are still flourishing in this landscape. It seems to be mostly KU authors who are writing to market and buying a lot of ads. So at the moment, it looks like KU and ads have afforded some authors a very nice living.
Deep in my gut, however, I feel like we’re in for another shift in the self-publishing landscape. I have no evidence to prove this statement. I’m merely posting a theory. If you’d like to play, “Guess what’s to come,” feel free to join me in the comments below. 🙂
Now, more than ever, it’s time to focus on the quality of our work.
This has always been true, of course, but in the hamster wheel game that has become popular at Amazon, I think genuine quality has fallen to the wayside. Amazon rewards authors for getting books out fast. They’re not rewarding authors for quality. They’re rewarding for quantity. This is a huge deal. For the short-term, authors can play this game. I went from publishing about every three months to two months, and last year, I was trying for one book a month. Long story short, I was unable to crank out a 50-60K story every single month. But I did push myself into burn-out by trying to do it.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had started to treat my books like a product on a widget line. This isn’t good. When we start looking at books as a cheap little widget to be shoved out the door as quickly as possible, we stop looking at good storytelling.
So really, there are three options I see open to authors right now: sacrifice quality to get books out as quickly as possible, hire ghostwriters, or slow down and focus on quality.
I think time is going to reward authors who focus on quality. If we want current fans to keep investing in our work, we need to keep writing good quality stories. If we want to acquire new fans, we need to make sure our next book is good quality, too. I have nothing against ghostwriters, but I don’t think two writers will write the same way. There’s something about your voice that no one else can master. A ghostwriter might come close, but there’s only one you in the entire world. I think readers can tell when we wrote the book or not. There’s something in our voice and style that is like a fingerprint. We are distinct. We are unique. So we’re not really producing a widget on an assembly line. We’re crafting a story. I think authors who focus on crafting good quality stories will have an advantage over those who don’t.
As a side note: I realize some readers don’t mind ghostwritten books. They just want a good story. Our most passionate fans, however, might feel betrayed if we don’t write our own stories. So weigh the pros and cons of this option. If you choose to hire a ghostwriter, I hope you pay that person fairly for their time.
Personally, I want to keep writing my own stories, so I’m picking that option. Which brings me to this thought…
Passion will trump writing to market in the long run.
This one is a wild prediction since it goes against most of the marketing advice I hear, but I think we tell our best stories when we’re passionate about them. I wrote to market for two years, and I crashed and burned. I never would have been able to keep writing if I had tried to keep going. I’ve since noticed other authors in forums mentioning being tired of what they’re writing. Some have even quit. I think you can only write to market for so long because eventually you box yourself in. That’s what happened to me. I eventually ran out of anything interesting enough to write about because I’d exhausted all of the angles that I believed the majority of historical romance readers wanted to read.
Writing to market is writing with the reader in mind. It is tailoring your story for the reader. From the outset, you have certain things you must do. There might be a few authors who can pull this off for years and years, but from my research on the topic, those authors who have been writing longterm write for passion first. To sustain a longterm career (or even hobby) as a writer, I think you have to enjoy what you’re doing.
Think about upping the price.
I think the time of free and $0.99 stories are about used up in effectiveness. I do think having a couple of series perma-free can still work for you, especially if you’re not exclusive to Amazon. If you’re wide, you have more leverage in this area. KU readers already get books for “free”, so this is a strategy I mostly suggest to wide authors.
Earlier this year, I stopped making every single series starter free. I cut that down to about half. I decided to go with $0.99 instead. Then I put a couple of the last books in my series at $3.99. I’m in romance, so that is within a good range for the romance genre. You need to price according to what your genre’s comfort zone is. I think at Amazon, cheaper books are probably still going to be popular. But I think if you’re looking for a strategy going forward in a wider market, then going a dollar or two more might be to your advantage.
I think there are so many free and cheap books out now that they don’t give us an advantage like they used to. If we’re focusing on good quality stories, then people who love our work will be willing to pay another dollar or two for a new book. The key is to focus on quality. Readers who prefer Kobo, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and Google Play buy books. They don’t borrow them like KU readers do on Amazon. Their mindset is different. When people buy something, they’re using a different thinking process in making a decision.
Here’s my personal experience from just releasing a new book at $3.99. I’ve been doing $2.99 since 2011 or 2012. (It’s been so long I can’t even remember.) Anyway, I noticed that my sales did take a hit on Amazon. On the other retailers, though, they stayed the same. I thought that was interesting, and it is what I expected to happen based on what other authors have been telling me.
Yes, you want a good cover. Yes, you want a good description. Yes, you want it edited by someone who knows what they’re doing. Yes, you want a good quality story. You’d want all of that anyway regardless of whether you’re in KU or you’re wide. But I think we’re at the point in self-publishing where we’re going to have to up the price. Upping the price won’t mean anything to KU readers. They pay one price a month no matter what. Wide readers pay for the book. I used to think that a higher price point didn’t give authors much of an advantage, but I’m changing my tune. I think a higher price will help us, especially if we’re wide. BUT a higher price only helps if the book is great quality. I also think the pricing going up is best done slowly so you don’t shock your current fanbase. That’s why I’m starting with a $1 raise in the price. I’m not jumping to $2.
All that being said, the more books you have out, the more you can have prices all across the board, which can help you gain new readers who prefer different price points.
I know some of you aren’t in the United States (US), so you’re already thinking globally. The self-publishing market is ripe for explosion around the world. The US market has already exploded. While the US is still good, I think we have a wonderful opportunity to reach people worldwide. Kobo, iBooks, and Google Play are probably going to play a big factor in these markets. I know Amazon has a foothold there, too, but I think the other retailers have an edge in the international landscape. (This is based on things I’ve heard in podcasts over the past two years.)
What might be a small market today could be a tremendous source of income in the future. One thing I’ve learned over the past nine years is that every little bit counts. The more places you can be in, the better your chances are for exposure. Notice I said “the better your chances are”. There is no guarantee. There never was a guarantee. Whether you’re in KU or wide, there is no guarantee of sales. But you can increase your odds by reaching out in new territories.
You are the best marketing tool you have.
Free used to be the big marketing tool early on. I came in during this time of self-publishing. Shortly after I came on the scene, the big tool was $0.99. Remember John Locke and Amanda Hocking? That was that era. Then it was KDP Select. Then it was KU. Currently it’s ads. I see KU and ads declining in effectiveness. Authors who used to make good money in KU aren’t doing so anymore. As for ads… Well, when a lot of people are running ads, it’s hard to stand out from the crowd. Some authors used to swear by email lists, too, and recently, I hear that’s on its way out the door because readers have gotten exhausted from being inundated with emails all to the time. Does that mean we shouldn’t do free books, $0.99 books, run ads, or do email lists? Of course not. What it means is that these aren’t as effective as they used to be. They don’t carry the same “punch” anymore. I’ve never been in KU, nor would I join. So the KU thing is up to you to figure out. I understand why authors go into KU. For some authors, this is still an effective strategy.
But ultimately, what do we have that can survive the trends? We have ourselves. We are our brand. I still think it’s important to have a physical presence on the web. There should be a blog or website where you list all of your books, the links to your books, and where people can find you. I think having one place where you are willing to meet with readers is a good thing, too. Choose whatever social media platform you want, but make sure it’s something you enjoy. If you pick blogging and you hate blogging, this is going to become a chore really fast. Maybe you’d rather share pictures, give short little tweets, do videos, or engage in conversations other people have started. Whatever you enjoy, that’s what you should do because this is something you’ll want to stick with. You can’t gain traction anywhere unless you commit to it.
I don’t think you need to have a “contact me” page on your website or blog if you have a Facebook or Twitter account that allows people to contact you. There were a few people in my past who harassed me through my personal email account, so I don’t set up “contact me” pages on my sites anymore. One person even let me know they did a background check on me and what they had found out. The world gets too scary sometimes to be that personal. But I’m comfortable with letting Facebook be the way people communicate with me, so I’m available for contact over there. You need to do what is comfortable for you.
For those of you who don’t have a big following, remember that an organic and slow growth of genuine fans is much better than people you gathered quickly who don’t remember who you are. This is a marathon. Quality in your fanbase is just as important as the quality of your stories. They’ll invest in you. Whatever you write, they’ll read it. And they will pay a higher price because you gained their trust. Even better, they’ll probably mention you to someone else.
Side note: I don’t have big numbers. I’m not a huge seller. I have a little over 200 people on my email list. I used to have almost 500 before the whole GDPR thing in May. I just got 117 members in my personal Facebook group. On Bookbub, I think I’m at 494 followers. So my numbers are not impressive at all, and I’ve been doing this since 2009. Other (newer) authors outdo me by miles. So if you’re disheartened by having low numbers, just remember, you’re not alone.
Back to topic: We’ve hit a saturated market. We have a lot of books out there. The one thing we can leverage is us. Like our writing, no one can replace us. Who we are when we engage with people is as unique as our storytelling.
What about you? What do you think is going to change in the self-publishing landscape? Was there anything that took you by surprise? Are things worse, better, the same? I’d love to know your thoughts!
Today’s post is inspired by the all-too-familiar phrase, “If you don’t write every day, you’re not a real writer.”
Would we ever tell a teacher, “If you don’t teach every day, you’re not a real teacher.”?Would we tell this kind of thing to a lawyer? A doctor? A cook? A janitor? Take your pick of any profession out there. Which fits into the “If you don’t do X every every, you’re not a real X?
If we truly believe that to be a “real” something, then why don’t we make everyone work seven days a week? Why don’t we tell them they must work 365 days a year, except in the case of leap year. In that case, it’s 366.
Do you see how absurd this sounds? Why is it writers are held to this standard? There’s no reasonable explanation for it.
Here’s the truth: a real writer is one who writes.
Writing is the only thing a writer must do to be a real writer. It doesn’t matter how often they write. It doesn’t matter how fast or slow they write. It doesn’t matter if they write by daily word counts or by a certain number of scenes or chapters that day. It doesn’t matter if they write only one book at a time or work on multiple books at the same time. It doesn’t matter if they write first thing in the morning, in the afternoon, or in the evening. It doesn’t matter if they write in 15 minute chunks at a time or if they reserve two hours of nonstop writing at the keyboard. (Now, it might benefit a writer to step away from the computer to avoid eye strain, something I deal with, or to avoid hurting your wrist or back. But that has nothing to do with whether or not you’re a real writer.)
You know what does matter?
The quality of the story.
I realize this isn’t popular thinking. We’re led to believe that if we take days off or go on vacations (while leaving all writing behind), we’re lazy. Because if we truly loved writing–if it was our real passion–we would have to do it every single day. I’ve read the “write every day” advice in blog posts and books. I’ve seen it in videos and heard it in podcasts. It seems to be everywhere. I’m not saying that every single writer says this. But a lot do. And quite frankly, I’m sick of hearing it.
I think it’s time to change the mindset on this one. Breaks are good for the health and wellbeing of the writer. They allow the creative mind a chance to simmer over what’s going on in the story. They offer us a chance to spend time with friends and family. They offer us a chance to pursue something else that will help us grow as individuals. They give us freedom to be a more well-rounded person. And I think they will actually make us better writers.
I used to think that if I took the weekends off, I would lose momentum in writing. My daily word count goal is 3,000 words. I used to think, “I’ll lose 6,000 words if I don’t write on Saturday and Sunday.” But something funny happened. I noticed my daily word count went from an average of 3,000 words to about 1,500 when I pushed myself to write every day. No matter how hard I tried, I kept getting blocked because I hit a point in the story where I didn’t know what to do next. So I had to force myself to stop and give myself time to get the creativity flowing again. You know what happened? When I came back to the story, the ideas returned. The words came a lot easier. And I think I ended up telling a better story because I could see the characters moving around and hear what they were saying as if I was watching a movie. My average word count on days I wrote went from 1,5000 to 3,000 again. I’m able to get more done on writing days again. I owe that all to the breaks.
Breaks are great. Breaks allow writers to work smarter, not harder. I think breaks help buffer writers from burnout. I understand you’ll often make more money if you publish more often, but sooner or later, you’ll only be able to publish so much. We’re not robots.
We’re human beings. Human beings need rest. All writing every single day is going to get you is the sensation that you’re a hamster in a wheel that just spins around and around. It depletes you of your energy, and it takes time away from other things that are also important. Yes, writing is important, but it’s NOT the only thing that’s important. Next time someone tries to make you feel like you’re not a real writer because you don’t write every day, politely smile and leave them to their hamster wheel. Just because they want to run around in it, it doesn’t mean you have to.
So if you didn’t hear, a novel I’ve been working on since college is getting published, and I’ve been working with a professional editor to make sure that the story is the best it can be before publication. During the revision process, we agreed that the number of flashbacks in the story were actually getting in the way of the story, so I should nix them. Unfortunately, that meant a third of the book went out the window, and another third that relied on that first third had to go as well.
Yeah, that got me depressed for a little while, and it took a lot for me to climb out of that funk. But I’m not here to talk about that. I’m actually here to talk about what happened with my story. Because you see, now that essentially the majority of the novel had been chucked out, I had to figure out where to go with the story. I couldn’t go the original direction of the story, because the flashbacks I’d tossed out were so essential to that direction.
Luckily, I was able to come up with a new direction for the story using a method that I’d never used before, which I call the inner dialogue. I can’t remember where I picked this method up,* but it’s stayed in the back of my mind for years, and I figured this was as good a situation as any to use it.
The inner dialogue is where you simulate a conversation with your inner writer (we all have one) when you’re struggling with what to do with a story. This could be trying to overcome writer’s block, figuring out why what a character is doing in the story feels wrong to you, having to rewrite a majority of the story, or any other issue you may be having during the writing/editing process of a story.
Here’s what you have to do:
Get a notebook and pen, or a typewriter and paper, or open up your preferred writing program on your computer. Imagine that you’re sitting down with your inner writer at a cafe, in your favorite writing spot, in a dark basement underneath a seedy dive bar, wherever you feel most comfortable talking to your inner writer. And have an honest conversation with them, writing down what you say and writing down what your inner writer says back. Think of it like texting, only you’re texting with a part of your mind you use for storytelling.
Bounce ideas off them, talk about the criticisms people have with the story, discuss what about the story is bugging you. Something about this method, writing out the problems and some possible situations to remedy this, allows your mind to open up and see new possibilities and solutions.
It might also make people wonder if you’re channeling spirits and doing automatic writing and/or if you’re having some sort of psychological crisis. But I think that’s a risk worth taking for finding what you need to make a story as good as it possibly can be.
Here’s an example conversation of me and my inner writer (who I’ve found to be very sassy during our conversations) discussing a hypothetical book idea I’ve been working on. My dialogue is written normally, while my inner writer uses bold letters:
So we’re doing this again, are we?
Yes, we are. Alright, let’s talk about my idea for a novel I’ve been working on. It centers on a group of cheerleaders.
I’m sure it does, you naughty dog.
Ha ha, very funny. Anyway, we’ve gone over what would happen to them once they arrive at the main setting of the story. But why does it happen? There’s always a catalyst that sets things up. Even if we don’t see it until the end of the story, there’s always something that starts the horror off.
Not always, baby boy. Remember The Haunting of Hill House? That really didn’t have a–no wait, that’s not right. The catalyst was that they entered the house for the investigation, and one of the subjects is mentally still very much a child, which puts her the most at risk to the house’s charms.
Yeah, catalysts in stories can be debatable or hard to pin down sometimes. But what could be a catalyst for this story. Why does this happen to these characters?
You were playing around with the idea of the setting being an illusion, weren’t you? Something created by the characters and the dark secrets in their minds. Can we do anything with that still? Maybe a variation?
You see where this is going, right? But it is very effective. I got ideas for this hypothetical novel just from doing an inner dialogue here in this blog post. And if doing it as a demonstration in this blog post can give me ideas for a novel, imagine what it can do for your work at home.
With that in mind, I just want to leave you with a couple of tips for doing this. You don’t have to use them, but I find them useful:
Be honest and write down everything. It may be a lot of work, but you’ll find it helpful to write down everything in these dialogues. Especially if you want to go back and see what you’ve come up with. Any thought, any idea, could prove useful, so write them down, even if your thoughts are kind of weird (mine certainly are).
Give your inner writer a voice. Like in your stories, the inner writer is also a character, even if they only exist inside you. That being said, you’ll want to give them a voice, motivations, everything you’d give a normal character. That way, they can speak to you just like any other character, and make the dialogue that much more effective.
It also helps to give the inner writer’s dialogue some distinguishing characteristic, so it doesn’t get jumbled up with your own. A different font, italics, as long as it helps you differentiate, it’s all good.
Mark the dates and times of the dialogues. Often these dialogues can last a while. Mine lasted two weeks while I was trying to find a new direction. So mark the date and times you had these dialogues in the document you’re using. You’ll find it very helpful for later.
Nobody wants to find out a story is flawed or that they can’t figure out how to fix its problems. But there are a variety of methods to overcome these issues. Perhaps the inner dialogue is a good one for you, and will help you write, edit and publish your best work. You just have to sit down, and commit to talking to yourself for a little while. You never know what you’ll unlock.
*For some reason I think it might have something to do with Stephen King, but I think I’d remember if I came across this method in a King novel. If you have any idea where it came from, let me know in the comments. I’d like to give a proper acknowledgement to whoever or wherever I got the inner dialogue.