Tag Archives: writing

#ROW80 Susan, what the hell are you doing?

Hell, I don’t know.

I think maybe I’m a recovering stats junkie. I used to right on top of all my stuff. Checking my sales everywhere and recording that in a spreadsheet used to be the first thing I did every morning. It used to be a bit of hobby for me to watch changes in rank and to get a sense of about how many sales per day meant about what rank and how that changed with the changes in the market as a whole. (For example, at one point getting into the top 100 might have meant selling at least 100 books in 24 hours. And then at another point 100 books in 24 hours might have gotten you into the top 700 as more books and customers entered the marketplace.)

But anyway, I pretty much walked away from all that. I learned a lot. I think I needed to learn stuff, and I don’t feel like it was totally time wasted, but… I can’t control things like rank and sales. When you see those things taking even a natural downturn, even when everyone around you is reporting decreased sales, still, just looking at something makes you want to affect it. And you can’t. Not really. Not directly, I guess.

So anyway, had to stop obsessing over that stuff, and I think that’s been good for me. I just realized that Hush Money is a year old. Like, today. A year ago today it went up on Smashwords. In a few days it will be a whole year it’s been up on Amazon. I’ve sold over 20,000 copies. I’ve gotten so much love and support from readers and other writers. It’s been awesome.

You know the question I get asked most? When are we going to get Heroes ‘Til Curfew? You have no idea how I’ve struggled with this question. Because the simple answer is: I don’t know. And the rest of the answer is complicated.

Books one and two of the Talent Chronicles are currently being shopped by my agent. We’re looking for a contract for both of them. To take this step, to even seriously consider selling the rights to these to someone else and put this much control of my world into someone else hands…it’s huge.

I often wonder what the hell I’m doing.

Every other week we hear about another known author self-publishing. This week it was Holly Lisle. People I respect and admire turning away from what I’m approaching and moving toward where I’ve been.

As though I’m moving backward.

But maybe it’s not linear. Maybe there is no backward. (Maybe there is no spoon.) I understand my own reasons for seeking this out. I know what I want out of it.

But the waiting is nerve-wracking. There’s wondering. There’s dreams I’m afraid of dreaming. There’s worrying. There’s this feeling of life on hold.

And if I would just give up this whole idea I could go back to what I know. To where I’ve been successful before and hope I can do half as well with Heroes ‘Til Curfew as I did with Hush Money. And then when people asked me when book 2 is coming out I have a better answer for them!

I just feel like Hush Money and I have done so well on our own, but does that mean we should just sit back and be satisfied with that or should we see if there’s more than can be done? Now that I’ve already had thousands of readers, what might happen if I had a publisher behind me who could get me wider distribution? Where I’m, like, a new author, but not quite brand new. Maybe it could be awesomer.

Look, I may never get a TV series or a comic or a video game. Okay, yeah, I probably won’t. I get that. But I think that even if a lot of readers no longer need a publishers’ stamp on book for them to give it a try, I think the world might still be at a point where that would make it slightly less impossible to be considered for the next level. The Talent Chronicles graphic novel level.

Do you get this sense that I’m deeply conflicted? I want this. I want to try this. I want to have these opportunities if I can. I want to learn shit. New shit. And I don’t want to wait. I feel so friggin’ guilty about the waiting to release this book that it’s eating me up. And I’m so worried about not having new material to release and having readers forget about me. And I’m so worried about not releasing and thence not having an income and thence not having a Christmas.

Do you know what I’ve done in this year since I released Hush Money? I’ve traded my size 14 pants for size 4. Sometimes I think it’s all from worrying.

This should be a happy birthday post. It should be chock full of awesome, and I’m sorry that it’s not. This is why I’m not around a lot. I’m just in this holding pattern that makes me crazy and crazy-angsty, and I feel like I don’t know what to say because I don’t KNOW anything anymore.

So, I don’t know what you think of that from a ROW80 standpoint. I guess it means that I’m still trying to get myself settled back in and back on track.

What the hell is up with Susan? To be continued…

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Only You

Only you
can make this world seem right
Only you
can make the darkness bright
Only you and you alone
can thrill me like you do…

Thank you, Platters. You may go now.

Don’t expect some big revelation today. This is one of those posts in which I babble about stuff we already know.

So yesterday I mentioned that I spent a good part of my weekend planning out the future of the Talent Chronicles–the actual what happens in the books part, not the part where Joss Whedon wants to direct the TV series AND have a hand in the comic books. I plan that part all the time. Nope, this weekend I was doing actual, productive work.

And I loved it. Very much a feeling of “I love it when a plan comes together.” One random thought I had over the weekend was, It’s good that I’m getting this all down on paper. Because if it does really well, I will surely be hit by a bus so that I can’t enjoy it, and if I have notes then whoever they hire to continue the writing will know where I was going. Also, tangentially, After I get hit by the bus and they hire someone else to write as me, I’ll probably be even more prolific and sell better. Like VC Andrews. Because there’s always a bright side.

But I digress. Regularly. Even in my head.

What this made me remember is just that no matter what notes I leave behind, no one will be able to pick up and write the Talent Chronicles as I would have written it. Could someone mimic my voice and style? Sure. How hard could that be? But the life experience I put into my work is uniquely mine. The things that occur to me to come out of my characters’ mouths, the quirks of character and backstory that I come up, that stuff is all me. Because no one else has experienced the world the way I have, processes it the way I do, or sees things the same way.

I am a speshul snowflake. So are you.

One of my favorite parts of Hush Money, especially of writing it, comes early in the book when Joss’s dad is leaving her in charge of the store and is giving her last minute instructions. And these should be about putting the money in the safe and making sure the doors are locked. Boring! But Gene suddenly goes off about emergency escape pack and getting to the rendezvous point. I had known Gene was a survivalist and that would be part of the story, but until that came out I didn’t know he had “issues.”

Who Gene is very much came out of my life. Is that my relationship with my dad? Um, no. It’s not. But Gene, and Joss’s relationship with him, come from things I’ve experienced including people I’ve known, books I’ve read, and situations I’ve been in. And I believe I’m the only person who would have written that speech coming out of Gene’s mouth in that moment.

If there’s anything helpful or comforting in this revelation, I think it’s the fact that there will always be originality.

You see, there’s nothing to do anymore. Everything decent’s been done. All the great themes have been used up. Turned into theme parks. So I don’t really find it cheerful to be living in a, like, totally exhausted decade where there is nothing to look forward to…

Yes, Happy Harry Hard-On, that was deep. And sometimes it seems that way. But it’s not really true. There will always be new, unique ideas, combinations, presentations, and the more of yourself you put into what you’re doing, the more what you’re doing will be uniquely yours.

My name is Paige Woodward and I have something to say to you people… We are all really scared to be who we really are. I am not perfect. I’ve just been going through the motions of being perfect, and inside I’m screaming.

I think what Paige is suggesting is that when you’re worried about what everyone else is doing, when you’re worried about getting it right, maybe what you should do is scream.

Like only you can scream.

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#ROW80, Recs, and Talent Chronicles plans

So the ROW80 stuff… Proving that I can only concentrate on one thing at time, I missed my Friday blog post because I was working on planning out the future of the Talent Chronicles. This was something I had wanted to work on during this round. Agent Jane called me on Thursday and asked me to write something up for her about where I see the series headed. So of course I was like “Oh sure, no problem.” [hangs up] “Oh crap, where is this thing headed??”

Fortunately, all this stuff in my head that feels very scattered and choppy actually came together better than I thought it would. Me being me this meant I wrote over 8,000 words on Friday and by the time I was finished Saturday night I had nearly 11,000 words and 18 pages of notes for over a dozen more books. I think maybe this was overkill, but I sent it to her this morning so we’ll see.

The important thing was that I had an absolutely fabulous time doing this, and am so excited about what I’m doing.

And on to…

Recommended Reading

Save the comma!
Short and sweet, this post from Stephanie DeVita both amused me and made a good point. What are bits of bad writing advice you’ve read? (via subscription)

That’s my girl!
I’ve been out of it and totally out of the loop, so it should come as no surprise that I did not know that the reason Harry Potter hasn’t been available in e-book is that JK Rowling retained those rights herself, not because the publishers were holding them back. Oh! Jane Dystel talks about that and what it means for indie publishing in this post. After reading this, really, how excited am I all over again that this is the person representing my work? Very. (via subscription)

Novel Killer!
Kait and I used to exchange scenes every day and polish each scene as it got written. While we learned a lot by doing this and it helped develop our working relationship, overall it wasn’t good for the work and we decided that were going to stop editing on the first draft and avoid reading each other’s work until the draft was finished. Much better. In Meet the Novel Killer, the brilliant Kristen Lamb explains why editing the beginning before you’ve reached the ending is such a bad idea. While I kind of disagree about taking it to the extreme of not even being able to correct spelling errors when you see them, I do know that since I started to avoid reading and working my own early pages before the end of the first draft, I’ve been much more likely to actually reach The End. And when I do go back and read, I find a bunch of cool things I did at the beginning that relate to the end that I don’t even remember putting there. Awesome! (via subscription)

Speaking of Killers…
Nothing kills a read for me like overwriting. And in the ebook world where you’ve got 3 screens of text to snare me in the sample before I move on, if those three screens are full of wordy descriptions and the like, I might not even get that far before I have to go away. In In Which We Have Sprinkles, Writer_Monkey makes a nice analogy for this common problem. (via ROW80 Check-in)

And she was never heard from again…
Earlier this week I talked about the kinds of video games I liked. Topping the list are the Sims franchise from EA Games and Pop Cap games like Bejeweled and Plants vs. Zombies. So then I came across an article announcing that EA has acquired Pop Cap. Surely this means my doom. DOOM! Okay, not recommended reading for most of you, but perhaps interesting to a few. (found because I got video game recs in my comments this week and was checking them out when I was supposed to be sleeping.)

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My Second Book Syndrome: Change of Process

So I was trying to think of something to write about today that has to do with the writing life. I should have a ton of stuff. I feel like I learned a ton of stuff as I worked my way through Heroes ‘Til Curfew. There were a lot of times I said to someone, one thing I learned while writing this book is that… And right now I’m having trouble remembering what any of those things actually were.

Okay, here’s one: Be willing to change your “process.”

Once upon a time, I met a fellow amateur writer online and we exchanged work. I immediately saw potential in what I was reading, but I could also see reasons why it wasn’t ready yet. Some feedback I gave her was that there were scenes that didn’t seem to advance the plot. (I don’t think that’s how I put it because I didn’t always know the right terms to explain what I meant back then–still don’t.) Or there were scenes with a bunch of details that didn’t seem to matter. There was an “and then…and then…and then…” quality to these portions of the story that slowed it down and made me wonder why the author was spending my time this way.

My new writer friend took this very well, which, to me, was another flashing neon sign of great writer potential. And after a bit of back and forth she explained to me that this was just “her process.” This sticking with the character, recording her every action as she went along, this was how this writer found her way through the story. (Because, yes, she was a pantster.)

As we moved along, this writer was ever willing to cut things that didn’t seem relevant, but she was spending a lot of time writing things that got cut while complaining that she needed more time to write. Eventually, I started a campaign against her process, in the name of efficiency.

Today you know Kait Nolan as a kick-ass writer of tight, fast-paced, action-packed fiction, as well as a staunch supporter of plotting and, yes, even outlining! But this is not actually a post to tell you how she owes all her success to me (joke!); it’s about how part of being professional is about seeing what’s holding you back and being will to change it.

I wrote the draft of Hush Money in 30 days. Of course I did a lot of prep work. I had a strong structure in place and an outline that gave me most of the basics while allowing me to discover the details in the writing. I was writing a series that had been on my mind for years, characters who had been living in my head for a while. I had months and months of not writing bottled up, words just waiting to spew out, and two close indie friends with actual sales and readers making me excited, envious, and chomping at the bit to get something out there.

No wonder it came out so fast.

In contrast, I think that once the outline was really in place, it must have taken at least nine months to write the draft of Heroes ‘Til Curfew. People, my daughter was seven weeks early. I don’t even put in nine months baking a baby let alone a book! What the hell??

The hell was my damned process. This idea I have that it should always be easy. If it’s not easy, if it’s not freakin’ inspired, it’s just not ready to come out of my head and it’s just not going to be good. Of course I didn’t say these things to myself. I didn’t realize that this was in my head. If I had, hopefully I would have bitch-slapped myself a long time ago. But in retrospect, I’m sure this was part of the problem.

But things were so different setting out to write this book. I now had something established. I had places I wanted to go, and this book had to fit where I’d been as well as where I wanted to take the series. I had readers. Readers who liked the voice, the characters…readers with expectations. Expectations absolutely kicked my ass on this thing. The pressure I put on myself was ridiculous, and the fear of living up to something I built up in my head was a big issue.

Anyway, the point of THIS post was that I was not in the same place for this manuscript as I was with the last one. Of course it wasn’t going to come out the same way. But if it wasn’t just going to come out, then what was I going to do?

I was going to have to change my process. I was going to have to accept that there might be serious rewriting involved. I was going to have to push through and put something on the page, even if there didn’t seem to be any words on my fingertips that day. If there was just a big blank spot in my head where the scene was supposed to be, I was going to have to make it be there–because I couldn’t keep sitting around and waiting for it to appear by magic like it has in the past.

Imagine that.

And the end of the story is that it was still good. I dragged my way through that book knowing that when I got through I’d have this horrific pile of uninspired schlock and have to start all over again.

But I didn’t. Did I make changes? Yeah, I did. I’m still pretty new at this actually finishing work, getting to and getting through the editing phase. This was probably the first manuscript that I made radical changes in, went back and added in whole scenes, or cut most of a scene and rewrote it in a different context.

And when I finally read it, I loved it. In the final product, I’m not sure if you can tell the difference between what parts were inspiration and what were perspiration. Would I say I’ve got it down now? That I’m good at this business of just pushing through and doing the work, inspiration or no? No. No I wouldn’t.

But at the same time, I’ve seen this problem for what it is. In psychology there’s this thing called “reality testing.” When you have an irrational fear of something, like pushing through a story when you’re not inspired, you have to go out and do it anyway. This is in order to prove to yourself that whatever horror you think will befall–like coming out with a nicely formatted file of pure crap–won’t actually happen. So I’ve been through the reality testing phase of treating the syndrome on this manuscript. Now I just have to continue to practice the new behaviors, the new thoughts, the new process.

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#ROW80 Goal/Update Combo

I have a lot to catch you up on, I know.

I was supposed to write this over the weekend, but, being a holiday, it’s been busy. So considering that a lot of my ROW80 goals have to do with blogging and getting back into the swing of things here and on Twitter, I’m sort of starting off in a fail state. But rather than call it fail, we’ll just say it’s perfectly acceptable to wait until the first update day to state my goals.

But first I should answer the question some of you are asking and some of you have already heard. If I’d participated in round 2, my goal would have been to finish my draft of Heroes ‘Til Curfew. That did get done. Finally. The manuscript has been through a very quick round of crit with a few peeps and is now with Agent Jane for her to read. Once it was finally done and I was able to read it over, I really came to love what I’ve done with this story. Still, I’m really nervous about how it will be received. That’s just the way of things.

So here we are in round 3 and Kait came ’round a-hinting that she needed another sponsor. I didn’t think I did too well with round 1, didn’t participate in round 2, and really hadn’t given much thought to round 3 at all. But impulsively volunteered in the hopes that it would help me back into things with you guys.

So I guess my primary ROW80 goals have to do with blogging, Twitter, and perhaps even [cue evil music] Facebook. During the school year, I usually have the computer open all day and am sitting in front of it more often than not. During the summer, this is really not the case. My daughter requires a lot of attention and there are days I don’t open it at all or don’t do more than check my email. I’m here on my new laptop and still haven’t set up my email client so I’m still hardly checking that at all. (There are so many things I told myself I couldn’t do until AFTER the draft was finished that I now have a to-do list as long as my arm).

Social Media Goals

  • Do the ROW80 updates twice a week.
  • Do my sponsor duty and visit some ROW80 bloggers.
  • Check in to Twitter at least once a day to reply to mentions.

That’s it for now. Baby steps. Later I want to get back to my blogging schedule, actually get back to interacting with my friends on Twitter, and make a habit of updating on my Facebook page at least a few times a week. But I’m not ready to jump right back in even though I feel kind of guilty about that.

Writing Goals

  • Continue to work the blueprint for book 3, working title Heroes Under Siege

This should have some kind of definite, measurable thing attached to it, but…not yet.

As I was finishing the draft, I started getting up at 5:30am when my husband leaves for work and getting at least a couple hours done before my daughter woke up. After finishing up the draft and the initial edits, I gave myself a little vacation. I need to readjust my sleep schedule and go back to doing that, but until I do, claiming I’m going to get up at that hour to get the work done is just setting myself up for badness. And if I don’t work while motor-mouth is unconscious, I can’t possibly claim I’ll get anything done that makes any sense. If I push it there will likely be some yelling and bad feelings all around. Yes, discipline is a problem for me in all areas.

However, the blueprint is going well and it’s the kind of thing that my brain works on while I’m not physically writing it down. The basics are there. I know what the plot is. I know what each act is basically about. I know my character arcs. I know, generally, how it ends. I am excited about this story.

So later I’d like to tweak my goals to be more measurable. I’d like to be working every a few hours every day. This round I’d like to finish up the blueprint, have a scene list ready to go, and deal with whatever edits come my way regarding Heroes ‘Til Curfew. I also haven’t given up the idea of writing that short piece that takes place at the end of Hush Money and I’ve got at least one other short I’d like to work on as well. And I need to do some work on my long-range plans for the series.

I know I’ve been away a long time and I’ve probably got a million things to tell you about. Likely I won’t remember what they are. If anyone wants to give me blog fodder by asking stuff in the comments (stuff that’s not about a release date for HTC because I can’t answer that now), do feel free.

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All About You on TweetDeck

I<3 Tweetdeck. I couldn’t manage on Twitter without it.

This post is going to be about how/why I use it and a specific column to add, but to get the basics out of the way, TweetDeck is a desktop application (or you can download other versions for portable stuff) that helps you manage your TwitLife. If you don’t use it and you want to get started, here’s a nice tutorial video. TweetDeck organizes the tweets in your stream into columns so you can concentrate on one thing at a time, so now that I’m going to talk about columns, you can have an idea what I’m talking about.

My favorite columns that I display where I can watch them are:

  • Favs
  • #amwriting
  • All Friends
  • Mentions
  • Susan Bischoff

Favs is a must. I auto-follow. I got to a point where it just seemed like having to read bios and go to Twitter to click follow every time someone added me was just taking up too much of my time. It’s not like I’m innundated with followers, people, but those little bits of time add up. That does mean I end up following a bunch of people I’m not actually interested in following, but with TweetDeck this is absolutely not problem.

I maintain a list of people who interact with me and whom I actually want to follow. You can do this by clicking the + (Add Column) button in the upper left and choosing Groups/Lists in the box that pops up. TweetDeck will then show you all the people you follow and you can choose the ones to add to this list. Save it when you’re done. This way, you never have to exclude someone by not following them back. (You never know when someone who tweets about their business is a reader interested in you and your writing!) And when you feel like you need to cull some followers, you can cull them from your list and not lose someone awesome because they’re just learning or they’re away for a while.

I don’t go around keeping track of who follows me and who doesn’t, and I don’t un-follow people just because they don’t follow me, BUT it does really irritate me when I go to send a DM to help out someone I’ve talked to several times and feel friendly with, only to find out I can’t because they don’t follow me. WTF? But it’s probably just a result of a limited follow policy they’ve made to keep things under control. But possibly possibly alienating people in this way doesn’t need to happen and I think lists are a better way to go.

I edit this column regularly, whenever I need to add someone new because I feel like we made a connection and I need to watch for their tweets. Once the column is on your screen, hovering around the top of it will make an edit button appear.

#amwriting is good example of a hashtag conversation. Trying to follow one of these can have its annoying moments because not everyone thinks of hashtags in this way and will drop a lot of junk into the conversation. Adding a column and putting #amwriting or another hashtag into the search box causes a new column to pop up that will be updated anytime someone uses the hashtag. TweetDeck is awesome for this. I’ve found a lot of interesting links via #amwriting, and I like to send out the occasional random tweet to a writer I don’t know who needs encouragement or deserves a pat on the back.

All Friends is where I have all those tweets scrolling by from everyone, so fast that I would certainly miss everything if this was all I had to go by. I try to glance at this every once in a while to discover awesome people I’m already following so I can follow them more closely on my Favs list.

Mentions is pretty obvious, but that’s a column that updates when a tweet contains @susan_bischoff. It’s important to keep track of when people are speaking to you directly or going out of their way to mention you in a way they know you’ll see. That’s why this is one of the columns TweetDeck makes for you automatically.

Susan Bischoff is the one I really planned to talk about today. Sometimes people just talk about me. Either they don’t want to point out to me that they’re talking about me by using @, or maybe they don’t even know I’m on Twitter. In this column I find things like “I just read Hush Money by Susan Bischoff and it was awesome!” or when people link to my blog, it pops up in this column, I guess because my name gets embedded in the link somehow? I don’t know, but it happens. When people use Goodreads’ auto-tweet feature, I get links to reviews or reading updates.

Links to my books for sale on some sites pop up in this column too, and that’s why this column has been on my mind as an important thing to talk about. Because the two times I’ve found someone selling my book illegally, it’s been via this column. It’s not like they’re going to tweet, “Hey, I’m selling @susan_bischoff’s book, come check it out!” But they do use my name to sell my book, so I sometimes see it on TweetDeck before I get it from Google Alerts.

I know a lot of this is will be old-hat for a lot of you, but I hope it’s useful for someone.

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Now with representation…

We interrupt Friday’s regularly scheduled hero fiction appreciation (which I wasn’t even able to come up with this week anyway, as I’ve had my nose in my own book and haven’t gotten a whole lot of fiction myself, except for Dean, and we just talked about him the other day and I’m sure SOME of you [cough]Kait, Cher[cough] could deal with a weekly Dean segment, but…I digress) to bring you the following update on the writing life of me.

I’m now represented by Jane Dystel of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management.

So, yeah, it’s been one of those exciting yet surreal weeks for me. A lot of this post is going to be about why I wanted an agent because I know there’s some sentiment that we don’t need them. Personal choice. You know that my friend and crit partner Kait is indie an has an agent. She’ll eventually have work both traditionally and self-published. The plans that she and her agent are making for her career make absolute sense for what she wants and it seems to be a beautiful arrangement. My friend Zoe is fiercely independent. She loves the business aspects of this job at least as much as she loves the writing. She thrives on it and doesn’t want to give any of that over to someone else. Totally valid and I totally get where she’s coming from. There’s no right answer.

I have been very interested in representation for last few months, ever since I had that incident of interest in the translation rights that I didn’t know how to deal with. Advice I got from those ahead of me was to get an agent, but of course I had no idea whom to approach. I think there’s been this clear feeling in the indie community that the industry sees us as damaged goods and no one wants to pick up a used commodity. (Actually, I read that, with nicer words, on an agent’s blog once.) Weird, huh? Clearly that’s changing, and like the rest of the changes that are going on around us, it’s changing fast.

But I couldn’t tell who was interested in representing self-published authors, and couldn’t find help to figure it out. So it’s one of the many things I just let go as too complicated for the moment, even though I have very much felt that I’m at a point where I could use the guidance of people with more experience than I have.

Honestly you guys, we’re all monumentally busy, and it just keeps going. What did Amanda say recently? “I do not want to spend 40 hours a week handling e-mails, formatting covers, finding editors, etc. Right now, being me is a full-time corporation.” Bless her heart, I can only imagine. But really, isn’t being you a full-time job already? A huge part of my trouble this year has been in trying to take my already inefficiently-run life and suddenly trying to shove a full-time author/publisher/book-marketer/manager career into that.

My daughter made a calendar in school last year. It was one of those Home Depot kid projects they do on Saturdays, but they do a lot of those in the class my daughter was in last year. Anyway, it’s a perpetual calendar with blocks you turn to show the date. It sits on my stove. One day this winter I looked at that calendar and it said August 2, 2010.

The date I first uploaded Hush Money.

The date that time stopped.

Or at least that I stopped being able to focus on stuff in my home. Susan, you just signed with an awesome literary agent, what are you going to do next? Scrub my bathroom. That’s what I did this week. I gave my bathroom some quality time. I washed the walls and the baseboards. I’m going to have to re-caulk. And I’m going to have to figure out a way to do everything I need to do. And unlike a lot of you guys, I don’t even have a 9-5 job I have to do 40 hours a week. (Really, did I mention I’m inefficient?)

I’ve wanted someone who could be there when questions like this foreign rights stuff come up, so I wouldn’t have to waste a couple days with Google and then another day with an attorney–only to have nothing come of it! I’m going to want sound editorial advice on this book I’m working on, and I don’t want to waste time trying to figure out whom to hire for that. I think we’ll [indies will] get to a point where we have reputable editors for hire, but I don’t know who they are now. It seems like so many of the writers I know are so monumentally busy they’ve hardly got a brain cell to spare these days to answer questions for me, let alone read a scene and tell me why it sucks. I love the idea of having someone to go to with this stuff, and someone who has an interest such that I don’t have to feel like I’m just sucking their time.

So anyway, last week Jane sent me an email and then we spoke on the phone. I have to tell you that “the call” was kind of a series of brain mines, followed by an aftermath of disbelief and the certainty that there would be a phone call from a receptionist informing me of some unfortunate error. I mean, guys, I’m just now getting to the point where I can start paying my credit card bill with my royalties instead of hoarding the royalties in the bank in case someone calls to tell me about an unfortunate accounting error and demands them back.

My serious issues aside, a huge thrill in all this is that I love to learn, and I am so excited about the opportunity to learn from someone with this much experience in the industry. That’s freakin’ awesome! Some people are pretty negative about different editorial perspectives, you know? They feel like they’re being told what to do and forced into this and that. I know that my own perspective is very narrow and that I don’t see everything. I love it when a fresh opinion opens me up to thinking about something in a way it wouldn’t have occurred to me to think before. At the end of the day I may not change the work, but I’ll know that I covered another angle in terms of looking at it and that that was an informed decision.

The opportunity to discuss my work with experienced people who actually have time and give a shit about it? That’s an opportunity I absolutely want and am very excited about.

I love that Jane contacted me. I understand how the query process came to be how it is, but eep, it’s rough. Being thrown out of the running for a novel on the basis of not being able to write a stand-out letter is something I think a lot of us are uncomfortable with regarding things as they stand now. I’m hoping that we’ll continue see more agents willing to scout.

Anyway, sorry this is long, but as far as my thoughts on the whole business, you guys really got short version. Trust me.

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Would you ever take a contract?

Ok, so this is sort of a take-off on Ms. Jami Gold’s recent post on Would You Ever Turn Down A Contract? And on that specific subject, Nadia Lee had some interesting things to say about that on Zoe Winters’ blog a while back. Because of course you might. There are some damned good reasons for doing just that.

However, what Jami’s post was really about was someone who was not interested in indie authorship/publishing basically saying that he couldn’t imagine anyone self-pubbing if they had a choice. Which you can either take as one of those “self-publishing is a last ditch effort of the inferior writer to get any kind of audience” things, or you can just assume, as I am, that this person simply has not thought about some of the things we have thought about.

So for those of us who have gone indie, perhaps especially for those of us who never queried and for whom indie publishing was a first choice endeavor, we’ve actually thought about those things a lot. We’ve done a lot of convincing ourselves that we’re doing the right thing for our work and our careers.

Maybe that’s where the backlash against Amanda Hocking came from when she “sold out” for a two million dollar deal. Maybe some of us have just convinced ourselves that hard. To be honest, I was exposed to very little of the nastiness first-hand because I didn’t go looking to read it, but as friends responded to it on their blogs, even I couldn’t help but notice it was going on.

And the bummer I got from that lingers on.

But anyway, the interesting thing is that when I got into this several months ago, a lot of people were talking about starting out in indie for the express purpose of getting picked up by a publisher, or at least starting to get some name recognition going to make themselves more attractive come negotiation time. That’s why Kait got into it, and even though she got sidetracked into being satisfied with staying indie, she ended up with an agent who came to her, who is interested in how the two methods can support each other, and Kait will probably end up very successful with great work in both worlds because she kicks ass like that.

Sorry, I think my waxing about Kait made me forget my point. :scrolls back up to find it: Oh, right. So the with so many indies saying they were doing it for those kinds of reasons and maintaining aspirations of eventual traditional publication, I was pretty astonished by the ugliness that followed Amanda’s news. Because here was an indie who did face rejection, went out a proved herself, got a fabulous deal that will give her security and freedom from stuff she doesn’t want to manage–she did good. It seems like just a few months ago people would have been happy about that.

But they weren’t? Is this how it is now? Are we really down to us and them like that?

How do you feel about traditional publishing? Are you indie but still hoping for that? Are you so indie you can’t imagine a contract that you would accept?

Do you think there’s been a significant climate change in our community, or that the sell-out crowd just barked louder this time?

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Writing to a Niche

So again this morning I find myself clicking from an Etsy newsletter to an article, and in that article finding so much that seems to pertain to us indie authors. I should probably have some kind of Etsyish Publishing category or tag on the blog.

Anyway, 4 Ways to Make Your Products More Niche on the Crafting an MBA blog is a great article for indie authors to read because it carries some of those same messages we read all the time: you can’t be all things to all readers, write the book you want to write and you’ll find the readers like you who have been waiting for just that… So click on that title and give it a read-through. Will just take a couple minutes, and as you read, think of parallels to what you’re trying to do as an indie author.

My early designs were average and unimaginative.

How are we going to stand out and get found? That’s a big thing with us, and it’s part of the reason I continue to click on these Etsy articles, because I know from

Everyday jeans and tees for an everyday doll earned me low wages and only a few very kind fans.

experience that it’s a big thing there too. When I started on Etsy, I really had no direction, except that I was going to make doll clothes, starting with Barbie. I knew they would be better quality than most of what was out there–because that’s part of what handmade is–and that they would fit well, but in terms of design I was very much average in my thinking.

My Blythe doll

When a friend pointed me at Blythe, showed me the doll’s increasing popularity, the higher price points for the indie clothing that was coming into the market, and finally sent me a doll to get me started, she was sending me into a niche. After all, I’d wager that most domiciles in this country have

I moved into the Blythe niche, but my designs were still nothing to get excited about.

seen at least one Barbie doll within their walls at one time or another, while most people still don’t know what a Blythe is.

My early designs for Blythe were boring, just like what I’d done for Barbie. I made more money per piece, because of the niche. A dress for Barbie could get $3. A similar dress for Blythe could get $10, and was more likely to sell (eventually). This was due to the increasing popularity of the doll (or genre, if you will), the demographic (adult collectors vs. children), and the lack of Blythe-sized clothing on the market.

So already I’m hoping that you’re seeing similarities. When you’re selling just another epic fantasy or just another apocalyptic thriller, it may be hard for you to get found. And this is true even if you move into a hot, trendy niche, as I did with Blythe or you might do with vampire romance.

Since Blythe was a growing trend, my friend wasn’t the only one who noticed the premium prices people were paying for her clothing. Soon, more and more Blythe-centric clothing shops opened up on Etsy. And this is very much like with indie publishing: anyone can try to do it. So we saw people who knew how to sew (write) who had been sewing completely different items like baby quilts and children’s clothing (writing in a completely different genre), buy dolls and start turning out Blythe clothes. We also saw Blythe enthusiasts who were just learning to sew opening up shops and trying to sell work that just wasn’t ready for a pricetag (and we’ve all seen those indie writers too).

All those listings flooded the Blythe market on Etsy. Literally thousands of items tagged Blythe or coming up in a search. Even if you were doing quality work,  putting out nice items at a reasonable price, how were you going to get seen in the deluge?

I was enjoying creating for Blythe, but I wasn’t making any real money at it. It was worth doing because I love to sew and play with my dolls, and even if I made $20 a month, it was $20 more than I had before. And then, and I know I’ve talked about this before, so just bear with me, I wanted to do

My first commissioned order.

something different. Something kind of crazy. I wanted to see if I could smock in miniature and make a smocked dress for Blythe. This was taking an embroidery technique that is usually done for babies and very young children on an area say 12″ x 4-6″ and reducing it to an area of about 2″ x 1″, and then crafting that finished embroidery piece into a garment that was somewhat more complicated in construction compared to most of the handmade Blythe garments being sold at that time.

I was really nervous about this. This won’t be much of a surprise to my regular readers as I seem to be nervous about every damned thing, but really, I was actually scared to put out something so different. In retrospect, I see what a ninny I was, but there’s a certain level of comfort in doing what everyone else is doing.

Overindulgence was my most expensive design ever.

Next thing you know, I had more interest in my work than I knew what to do with. My inbox was flooded with compliments and special requests. I had a waiting list of at least 20 special order clients for months, even though I was asking more than twice as much for these dresses as I did for the original smocked design.  I had started out making quality yet boring dresses for Barbie for $3, and these dresses were earning me an average of $45-$50. The most expensive dress I ever did went for

The design had 6 of these detailed floral spray embroideries

$120, and making the second one of that ridiculously detailed dress just about killed me. Let’s retire that design!

Why did this dress and all the others command such high prices, and why was there so much interest in my work? These were doll dresses for Heaven’s sake. Because I was in a popular niche, yes, but doing something that no one else was doing (people started referring to me as “the crazy smocking lady”) and doing it well because it was something that I loved.

I’ve wanted to write the Talent Chronicles because for years I’ve been loving the superheroes and having to sit back and say: That would have been awesome if they hadn’t screwed it up. The kinds of stories that I really wanted just weren’t part of the genre. Hell, the format that I wanted to work in–novels–really hasn’t been part of the genre. The book category is NOT Comic books, Graphic Novels, and Superhero Novels. There’s no place for me there. Which I’ve decided is fine. I don’t think I really belong there.

Your niche doesn’t have to be something that no one’s ever done before. I certainly didn’t create meta-humans. I want to come to be known for superhero romance, but I didn’t come up with that idea either. Superheroes have had all kinds of love stories, just mostly the kind where someone ends up dead or abandoned. And I’m certainly not the only one working on this. So you don’t have to re-invent the wheel here.

But there are tons of books out there and there are going to be more and more–because anyone can do it now. So now, more than ever before, I think we really need to think about what makes our concept different from everything else that’s out there, and we need to think about how we’re going to use that difference to market our fiction. And if you can’t come up with a difference, maybe you’ll want to take a harder look at what you’re working on. (Maybe not. Your call.)

Same sh!t, different doll. Oh no, wait, that's the same doll too.

Your story is so very special to you. Even my boring dresses and t-shirts were special to me because they were lovingly crafted and I spent a lot of time on them. But I look back at these photos and I can totally see how uninspiring they are. Part of why a lot of indies get angry with traditional publishers is because the publisher says they just can’t see how this is going to stand out and sell. And they know that it’s not enough to have a good book, you’ve got to get some people to read that thing. It’s not enough for us either. We have

My special sh!t for a special doll

to have some sense of what we can say about this book, about what makes it different and better than the sea of books already out there, in order to get people to look at it.

Maybe the hardest thing to accept about a niche is that it’s often small, and that often means small growth. It also means that we’re not always going to be able to make reasonable comparisons between our successes and those of our peers, when our peers are writing for a different audience.

I honestly think I’m writing for the same people who read Twilight (whether they loved it or not), and are still talking about Buffy. But I write vampire-free (I’m thinking of starting a tagging trend on that, btw), so I’m never going to get seen on the Vampire Romance Bestseller List on Amazon, and I’m never going to get found in vampy tag searches. I don’t even have any kind of normal demon/angel/shifter/witchy paranormal anything in my books, and how many people are out there searching “superhero romance”?

Not a lot.

Yet.

Hey, I’m just sayin’.

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Long Nights, Impossible Odds

Not usually a band I write with, but some days you just gotta get your Styx fix, you know? Blue Collar Man reminded me of us writer types. If you’re throwing yourself back into writing because you’re unemployed and have to do something in this economy, if family is telling you that you’re sabotaging your future by putting your efforts into your art rather than something more secure (which is absurd, ask those unemployed guys in the previous clause), or if you just want to sing the “long nights, impossible odds” line because you were up half the night scribbling away on your WIP, here’s “Blue Collar Man” for you.

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