Self-Publishing Online Workshop

I get questions all the time about self-publishing, so I thought I’d mention here that I’m teaching a two week online workshop on self-publishing through the Heart of Carolina Romance Writers.

The class will run from this Sunday, February 2nd to Sunday the 16th. Everything will take place online, so you don’t have to worry about location! I will be covering everything from the basics to some slightly more advanced techniques. By the end of the class, you’ll have information on how to format, upload, price, and market your self-published book. I’ll also give you a huge resource list with websites of popular self-pub blogs, cover artists, formatters, editors and more. Plus, I’ll be around to answer any of your questions even after the class is over.

I gave the same workshop last year and had tons of students self-publish their first books within the next month or two after the class. One student even hit the USA Today Bestseller list within six months of the class! I certainly can’t take credit for that, but I helped give her the tools she needed to get started.

If you’ve been interested in learning more about self-publishing, I hope you’ll join in on the class.

Price is $20 for members of Heart of Carolina Romance Writers and $25 for non-members.

Sign up here.

14 Ways to Motivate Your Writing in 2014

I have a motivation problem.

It’s not that I don’t love writing. I LOVE it. I am not sure I could live without it. I need to write. Which is probably part of the problem for me. The things I need the most are often the things I work the hardest to avoid.

And let me tell you, most days it’s easy to avoid writing. I am a full-time Mom to a very active 18-month-old and we have a brand new house with lots of unpacked boxes, so finding time to write is the difficult part. You’d think I would cherish any spare moment I have, right? So then why do I end up checking Facebook a thousand times a day? Or refreshing my email five times just to see if I have a new message? I KNOW I should be writing and when I waste time like that, I end up beating myself up for not getting some words in.

Not in 2014. This next year is going to be all about balance for me. No more beating myself up and wasting time online. I’m going to make a real difference in my own life this year. I’m going to spend less time online screwing around and really try to make the most of those stolen moments. It sounds simple enough, but if you’re anything like me, this is one of the great challenges of life. I am going to need lots of motivation. Here are 14 ideas I had for how to motivate myself (and hopefully others) to write more in 2014.

1. Rewards – Rewards are really one of the very best motivators. It’s simple. If there’s something you want (a massage, a trip, a new purse, a set of colorful pens), then it can work as motivation. You can come up with something easy that works as a one-time reward (when I finish this book I get to go to the beach for 3 nights) or you can develop some kind of permanent reward system. This is what I do!

SweetieStore

Or rather, what my husband has done for me. He calls me Sweetie, so he came up with the “Sweetie Store”. Whenever we’re out and about, we pick up little things that I want. Sometimes they are little dollar-type things like pens and notebooks. Sometimes it’s bigger, like a purse from the Sanrio store or a 1 hour massage. My system is based on dollars to words. 1000 words = 1000 Sweetie Points = $1. If I write more than 5000 words in a day, I get double points for the day. I can spend my points every day or I can save them up until I can “buy” the item I want most.

For me, this works. It works great. I’m a Hello Kitty addict, what can I say? About 99% of my store is Hello Kitty stuff. Everything from a pencil to a cute folder will get my butt in the chair writing.

Today my husband put together a bookcase in our bedroom for me to display my Sweetie Store. It helps to keep the items on display. (And no cheating! It doesn’t work if you take things out of the store without earning them, haha.)

2. Sprints. I’ve mentioned this a hundred times and will probably mention it a hundred more. This is one of the single best things I have ever done for my writing. When I’m avoiding writing, I tell myself, “Okay, just 15 minutes. All I have to do is focus for 15 minutes and then I can check my email or watch TV for 15 minutes.” When I’m on a roll, I can write 500-1,000 words in 15 minutes. Do that twice an hour a few times a day and before I know it, I’ve got a few thousand words easy. This works so great for Moms and Dads who stay home with the kids because I can usually get my Andrew to play on his own for at least 15 minutes before he starts to crawl on me :P .

My favorite programs for keeping track of time are Focus Booster and Pomodairo.

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3. Motivational Quotes on Display. I know this sounds cheesy, but it really works. I don’t know about you, but I pretty much have a negative voice talking in my head all day long. My husband calls her “evil sweetie”. She knocks me down every chance she gets. She tells me I’m lazy and stupid and fat. And every time she knocks me down, I feel less and less like writing. Confidence is extremely important and I think it helps to have motivational quotes and sayings around where you can actually see them on a daily basis.

4. Tell Stories That Excite You. This should go without saying, but these days, there’s so much pressure to write stories that are going to make money. So many writers I know are doubting themselves. They see other Indies making bank on hot genres and they set aside the stories they really want to write in order to try their hand at making money. The truth is, there’s really nothing wrong with this. We all want to make money and find success and there’s no doubt that taking advantage of a hot genre is the best shot you have sometimes at fast success.

And maybe writing stories for money is what excites you. You’re the one who knows yourself and what you want most. If you reach for that hot genre story and find yourself more stressed and less fulfilled, though, consider going back to the kinds of stories that keep you up at night. The ones you’re truly passionate about sharing with readers. If you’re excited about writing something, you’re more likely to write it for fun instead of seeing it as work.

5. Distance Yourself From Things That Upset You. Be honest with yourself about this. And once you figure out the things that are upsetting you, be ruthless about cutting them out of your life. Yes, it’s great to understand the market and know what types of books are selling or what types of covers are grabbing readers’ eyes these days. However, if you find that you’re constantly obsessing over the newer authors who are doing better than you, just stop checking those rankings for a while. It’s not important enough to let it get you down. If you belong to a group of writers who are constantly bragging about their success, even if they are good friends of yours, you don’t have to stick around and spend so much time with them if their brag sessions are bringing you down. Pay attention to anything that makes you avoid writing, then cut it out of your life.

6. Write-a-palooza. This is my fancy word for writing retreats. I started doing this about two or three years ago and it really works for me. When it started out, I didn’t have enough money to actually GO anywhere, so I would just declare a “write-a-palooza” weekend where I would dedicate the entire weekend to binge-writing. I would buy snacks and balloons and get my play-lists ready. I would set an ambitious but attainable word count goal. And I would write. All night long.

Lately I’ve been actually going to a hotel to do this. I find that it helps so much to just get away to a dedicated space for a night or two. No distractions (which basically means no diapers to change, hallelujah!). If I can, I bring a friend. Zoe Dawson went with me to the last few and I ended up writing over 17,000 words in a night almost every time. It was amazing! There’s just something about being totally immersed in the story that helps me write fast. And to be honest, the words were actually good. I didn’t need tons of edits like you might think. I plan to do more write-a-palooza weekends this year.

 

New writer friends at NASW

New writer friends at NASW

7. Writing Conferences or Events. This is along those same lines, but instead of being alone or with a friend or two, this is more of a big-scale event. Something like the RWA national convention or RT or IndieGirl Con. I just recently went to the New Adult Sleepover Weekend in Savannah and it was amazing. There’s something about gathering together with other authors that is just exhilarating. These are people just like you who are willing to talk books and marketing and sexy heroes all night long! It’s inspiring and motivational every single time!

8. Watch Great TV. Okay, so this sounds like another avoidance tactic, but it’s not! I promise! I find that when my creative well is dry and I’m feeling exhausted, it really helps me to watch some really great TV. Netflix. HBO Go. Whatever. I just love to binge on an entire series, watching episodes back-to-back for hours. Usually I have to do this after the baby goes to bed these days, but back before I was a mom, I used to watch an entire season in a day or two. In fact, that’s how I thought up the original idea for Beautiful Demons, believe it or not. I binged on Veronica Mars and voila, an idea was born! Great TV is great storytelling. It can be a source of great story motivation.

9. Stop Beating Yourself Up. As Indie authors, we’re putting extraordinary demands on ourselves these days. As discoverability becomes more and more difficult, the demands are getting crazier. I had three writer friends who ended up in the hospital in 2013 from exhaustion. We’re trying to produce so fast and we’re under so much pressure, it can be debilitating. Then, on top of all of that, a lot of us are mentally beating ourselves up. We work every single day of the year almost. On vacation. On our kids’ birthdays. On our anniversaries. And when we–God forbid–actually take a day off or sit down to watch some TV or read a book, we beat ourselves up as if we’re just being lazy. That has to stop. It’s a motivation-stealer! Be kind to yourself in 2014!!!

10. Pinterest. Just like TV, pictures can be a wonderful source of inspiration. I haven’t done much of this online, but I do love to make collages. I’ll find clothes my characters might wear or images that evoke a similar feeling to the setting of my story and I’ll cut them out and paste them on poster-board. But with a baby running around, I honestly don’t have a lot of time for this. Plus, he gets into everything! Pinterest, though, is easier! I can start a virtual board and pin pics of my hero and heroine or the cars they drive, etc. Then, when I’m writing, I can use those pictures to really get into the story and find motivation from them. And the cool thing is that fans can visit those boards and see what images you found inspiring as you were writing. I really want to use this more in 2014.

11. Trust Your Process. This one took me a long time to figure out. I knew that a big part of my process was to write a rough draft that was complete crap. I knew that I would need to rewrite the entire book almost every single time. I just needed to get into the story and the heads of the characters before it would come together. But I avoided writing that first draft because I hated the fact that I would have to rewrite it. I didn’t want to! I wanted to write something that would be solid and amazing the first time through. So I didn’t write at all. And guess what? All that waiting did NOT result in an amazing first draft. I still had to write the shitty first draft, only now I was three weeks late in starting it. So why not get it over with already?

Trust your own process. Embrace it. Use it as fuel for your writing instead of a reason to avoid it. Now that I understand my process, I know that the best thing for me to do is write my sucky rough draft as fast as possible. I give myself full permission to suck. Knowing my process motivates me to write the rough draft and get it out of the way so I can hopefully, eventually, turn that book into something that doesn’t suck.

12. Count Your Blessings. This kind of goes back to my blog post from last week where I said to Stop Comparing Yourself To Other Authors. Sometimes I think we all need to take a step back and really think about what we have. Yes, there is probably someone out there who has more. There is probably a lot more you want out of this career. But take a moment as often as you can and really think about the things you DO have and how blessed you are to have them. Even if it’s one single amazing fan who reads everything you write, that’s something to be proud of and thankful for! I think maybe if I can spend some time refocusing on the ways that I’m blessed instead of always thinking of what I don’t have or haven’t achieved yet, I’ll be happier and more motivated to write every day.

13. Take A Vacation. No, a real one. A vacation where you don’t even take your laptop with you. You don’t answer emails or check Facebook. Don’t check your sales rank or reviews. Don’t even think about looking at Goodreads. Heck, don’t even read if it’s going to make you think about story structure. Just once this year, try taking a real vacation from this business of writing. Spend time with your family. Spend time having fun without feeling guilty about not hitting your daily word count. Just take some time off for a day or two or three. Recharge your batteries. Refill your well. Then come back and hit it hard. See if that mental break gave you a bit of extra motivation and love for what you do.

14. Let It Go. Write the book the way you want. Tell the story you love. And then let it go. Sure, market it however you can with some advertisements, pricing strategies, whatever. But don’t spend the next six months letting the fact that this amazing book you just wrote hasn’t hit the NYT Bestseller list. These days, it seems like almost every book I write comes with some kind of ridiculous hope or expectation attached to it. “Maybe this will be the one that hits big.” “I bet I’ll sell at least 500 copies the first week.” I could list a million of those (but I don’t want to embarrass myself too much).

Sometimes a book will exceed your wildest expectations in terms of sales and accolades. But most of the time for most of the writers, our books will just do what they do. They’ll launch where they launch. Maybe better than the last book. Maybe the same. Sometimes worse. They’ll stay up for a little while and then after a time, they’ll start to fall in sales. The book will get noticed less and less. It happens to everyone at some point. This is a business of ups and downs. It just is.

So don’t let it destroy your confidence and motivation when a book heads for the down part of that rollercoaster.

Write a book you can be proud of.

Publish it.

Let it go.

Write the next one.

 

What about you? Do you have any tips on how to get motivated to write? What are you going to focus on in 2014?

STOP Comparing Yourself

STOP COMPARING YOURSELF TO OTHER AUTHORS!!!

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Seriously, stop.

I’m saying this for my sake as much as yours, believe me. And hey, maybe you don’t have this problem. Maybe you are a shining example of peace and happiness and self-love regardless of your sales numbers. If you are, I want to know your secret!

Most of us, though, are daily passengers on the comparison roller-coaster.

Why that book and not mine? Why did she get accepted for that program/ad/opportunity over me? My sales have completely disappeared and all my friends are hitting the New York Times bestseller list. I’m a loser. Should I switch genres and write what she’s writing? Everyone has bare-chested hot guys on their covers, should I rebrand my entire series? Will I ever be as successful as that other person? Am I doing everything wrong? Making all the wrong decisions? Why does everyone else make it look so easy??

These are the kinds of things I hear from authors every single day. Including myself.

In some ways, I wish I could be an island. I wish I could live in a little bubble or a cave somewhere, blissfully ignorant of how my books were doing compared to other people. I wish my days could consist only of fan mail, good reviews, and fun Facebook exchanges with people who love my books. I wish I could happily write the books of my heart without a care in the world about how many I’ve sold or how many the person who released her book the day before mine has sold.

But it just doesn’t work like that. I like having friends who are writers. I like talking to Indie authors in particular. They understand what I’m going through. They share ideas with me and help motivate me to bigger and better things. However, having Indie friends can be difficult. Especially when they’re doing worlds better than you and making loads more money. It’s not that I’m not happy for them. I’m cheering for them every step of the way.

The problem is that I can’t seem to help comparing myself to them. And when I look at my measly $3,000 in income this month compared to their $30,000, I start to doubt everything I am. I start to worry that I’m failing at this or that I’m slipping away into nothingness.

It’s not true, of course. It’s really just a matter of perspective. To some people, $3,000 a month would be a dream come true and here I am being an asshole for calling it “measly”. Hell, three years ago, I would have died if you told me I could make $3,000 a month writing books! But being close to a whole group of people who make that look like pocket change tends to distort perspective.

I’m lucky in that most of my friends who are doing better than I am are at least nice about it. They still cheer me on and believe in me whether I’ve had a big month or a small one. They never rub their earnings in my face (intentionally, anyway) and they never would say anything to purposely make me feel bad. No, I’m doing that to myself.

However, believe it or not, there are also authors out there who would purposely use their success as a weapon to tear others down. Someone in particular recently did everything in her power to make me feel about an inch tall. She insulted my writing and told me her sales numbers made her more important than me. Which is complete bullshit. I should have laughed in her face and shrugged it off, but I didn’t. Since I’m a highly emotional person who has been comparing myself to my peers all year, I let it get to me. I let it make me feel like less than what I am.

NOT ANYMORE.

Whether it’s a well-intending friend simply sharing information or a narcissistic drama queen with no soul, no one should have the power to make me doubt my success or my future. I’m the one giving them that power. I’m the one beating myself down all the time by comparing my situation and sales to those around me.

And I’m done. D.O.N.E.

I love writing. I love creating new worlds and new characters and getting to share them with fans who truly appreciate them and connect with my stories. Writing is what I want to do more than anything in the whole world. It makes me happy, and I’m not going to let anything steal that joy from me. Especially not my own insecurities or fears.

I have been extremely lucky and blessed in that I’ve been able to write for a living for the past three years of my life. And I really want to keep doing it forever.

If I could just write for the sake of writing–for the sake of art–it would take a lot of the pressure off. But the fact of the matter is that I need to make money doing this. I want to succeed. And there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be successful. The problem comes in when I start to want more so badly that I stop being happy and grateful for what I have.

There has to be a way to find balance. There has to be a way to strive for more and to write the very best stories I can, but still be happy with whatever success comes as a result of those stories. There has to be a way to be incredibly happy for my friends who are finding great success without letting it make me feel bad about myself when my sales are low.

So, how do I plan to do that? How do we learn to stop comparing ourselves to others (when it’s kind of human nature)? I don’t have all the answers, but here are 5 guidelines I’m going to use from now on:

1. Understand that you are MORE than just a sales rank. Your value as a writer/human is not in any way tied to the number of sales you have.

2. Separate yourself from anyone who tries to make you feel LESS. Any author/friend who tries to make you feel like you’re less of a writer simply because their sales are better or their reviews are better or they’re traditionally published or whatever, is someone who doesn’t really deserve to be in your monkey-sphere. Distance these types of people from your life in every way that makes sense for you.

3. Write what you love. This is so incredibly important. Chasing trends isn’t going to bring you happiness. If you’re a writer because you NEED to write, fulfillment will only come from telling the stories you need to tell.

4. Be patient. Being an indie author these days is like living life in the fast-lane. Books zoom out of obscurity and onto the bestseller lists over night. Genre trends change so fast it would make any reader’s head spin. But this isn’t a race with a clear beginning and end. Just because you don’t hit a list by the end of this year doesn’t mean you never will. Just because this one series isn’t selling a ton yet doesn’t mean it won’t catch on by the time you have three or four books out. Be patient. Keep writing.

5. Believe in yourself. Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing. Just do your thing. Always believe in yourself.

These are the five things I am going to focus on from now on. I’m going to write what I love, put my whole heart into my books and surround myself with people who love and support me. I’m going to make my own definition of success and stop worrying about how others define it. I’m going to stop comparing myself to others and remind myself on a daily basis that I’m pretty damn awesome just the way I am. In the words of one of my favorite poets, Erica Jong, I “declare myself for joy.”

I’m determined to make 2014 a year of balance and joy and amazing stories. Who’s with me?

Nook Press Chat

I’m so excited to announce that I’ll be the featured guest tonight on the NOOK Press facebook page, answering questions about self-publishing!!!

I almost freaked out when I saw this on my NOOK press self-publishing dashboard:

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Seeing my name up there where everyone can see it made me find kind of famous for a few minutes!!! HAHA!

Anyway, I know I have lots of readers who are interested in writing their own novel and self-publishing it, so this is your chance to come ask questions. Hope to see you there! To attend, simply visit the NOOK Press FB page at 8 PM eastern time tonight for a one hour chat!

Milestone: 150,000 Books Sold!!!

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I was so hoping to hit this major milestone before my 3 year Indie-versary in October, and wow! I made it!!! This is such a dream come true and when I think about the number 150,000, it makes me want to sit down and cry out of sheer gratefulness. I am so happy to be a full-time writer and to have people who come back to my books over and over. First and foremost, thank you to all my readers and friends for your support over the past 3 years. I couldn’t have done this without you.

When I hit the 100,000 sales milestone back in September of 2012, I posted information on the numbers and how I got there. I thought I would update those numbers now, then share the top 10 things I’ve learned along the way. Believe me, I know there are many authors who have achieved far greater sales, but I also know that I’m very lucky to have come this far.

We often hear a lot about the really BIG sellers, but I think it’s good to see that there are also people like me who are making a good living without selling tens of thousands of books a month. I’ve never had a single month of ten thousand sales (so close this month but not quite!). I don’t publish a book a month. In fact, I took quite a bit of time off to have a baby. I’ve made it to 150,000 without a huge breakout month. I’m not hitting any major bestseller lists, but I’m supporting my family and living my dream. I hope that by sharing my numbers and more about what I’ve done, some people will feel encouraged and inspired. I hope that this will help others realize that the dream of making a living as a writer is achievable and real, even without the bestseller lists.

THE NUMBERS

If you look back to the 100k post I made, you’ll see that some of the numbers are different. I recently purchased TrackerBox software and it’s been like a miracle! Before, I was doing everything by hand (and I’m terrible with math). Now, though, I just feed all of my sales reports into TrackerBox and it compiles the information for me.

First, I arranged the numbers by Month. I published my first book, Beautiful Demons, toward the end of October 2010. To the right, I’ve listed any new releases. You’ll notice the huge gap in 2012. My son was born in June 2012 and I had a really hard time writing during my late pregnancy and his early life. The only reason my sales continued to grow was because Beautiful Demons went perma-free in April 2012.

In blue, I’ve marked my best selling month, July 2011. I’m still hopeful I could beat that by the end of September if the next few days are good! The 10k sales in a month, however, still eludes me.

150k2010 150k2011 150k2012 150k2013

I’ve also broken it down by book, just so you can see the series sell-through on my different series. Since my Peachville High Demons series was the one I concentrated on for most of my publishing career, it’s the biggest seller. Once the series ended in December, I entered a rebuilding phase. I’m writing one series in a new genre (NA contemporary) and have started a new YA series (zombies! yay!). You’ll notice the zombie/witch book (Death’s Awakening) hasn’t sold a ton of copies, but I’m not giving up on this series. I have confidence that after three or four books in the series, it will start to sell a lot better. Besides, I loved writing the first book and can’t wait to write the next one!

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Finally, I have separated the numbers out by vendor. Amazon.com is by far the bulk of my sales and income. I’ve been really happy to see a lot of growth lately at Kobo and Amazon UK, so I am hoping they continue to build.

150kretailers

MY TOP 10 TIPS

I wanted to talk a little about what’s worked for me, what I would recommend to other Indie authors, and what I’ve learned along the way. These are just tips and opinions, though, because there is no ONE WAY. There’s no magic bullet or proven sure-fire path. There’s only what works for you and what doesn’t. None of these tips are meant to be taken as ‘you must do this’ kind of advice. There are plenty of examples of successful authors who took different paths from me and found great success. All I can speak on, though, is what I’ve done and what works in my situation.

1. Write A Series – Deciding to dedicate all of my early publishing career to a single series paid off tremendously well for me. It’s my belief that most readers are more loyal to a set of characters or a series than they are to an author. Especially when that author only has one or two books published. Sure, once you’re Stephen King or Nora Roberts and you’ve proven a hundred times over that you can write great fiction, you can get by with starting all kinds of new series and writing lots of stand-alone novels. Newer Indie authors can do that too, but the road will most likely be slower and more uphill for you if you’re writing stand-alones or several series at once.

I found this out somewhat the hard way because once my Demons series was done, my next YA series starter, Death’s Awakening, didn’t sell well. I blindly expected most of my fans to follow me to this new series, but for some reason, not many have yet. I’m not giving up on it, because I love this series, but I understand now that realistically, it might take 3 or 4 books in the new series before it starts to catch on. If you’re just starting out, consider writing one strong series and focusing your attention on that. Give it at least 3 books before you make any judgment on its viability as a money-maker. Consider starting the next series, though, before you end the first one. This is something I would change if I could.

2. Be Yourself – One of the things that makes being a writer so much fun for me is the daily interaction with other writers and readers. I love talking to fans on Facebook and Twitter, responding to emails that come through my website, and chatting with other authors on KBoards or other online sites. I have found that it’s just best to simply be yourself when you’re talking to everyone. There’s no need to put a lot of pressure on yourself to create some amazing online personality. Just be yourself. Be authentic. People will respond to that.

3. Start A Mailing List – I wish I had done this on day 1. It’s an important part of my publishing path now because it’s the most direct way to reach readers who enjoy my books. Whenever I have a new release, I send an email to the people who have signed up for my mailing list. I use Mailchimp, but I’m sure there are several choices out there for managing a mailing list. I simply put a link to this list in the back of my books and on my website so people who want to know about new releases will get notices right away. Even if your list only begins with one or two people a month, that’s okay. Those are one or two more people who will probably buy your book the day it comes out. I highly recommend starting your mailing list right away!

4. Pay Attention – There is nothing static about the publishing industry right now. The game is completely different now than it was three years ago when I started, and I’m sure it will be different this time next year. It’s a rapidly evolving eco-system and if you aren’t paying attention to changes at various vendors or policies at different websites, you might be missing out on marketing opportunities. You also might be planning a launch around something that isn’t true anymore. Maybe Amazon’s algorithms changed and now free books aren’t weighted the same. Maybe several vendors suddenly changed their websites around and have new categories. Pay attention to the changes. Pay attention to what’s working for other authors around you.

5. Get The Next Book Out – Do you have to publish a book a month or six books a year to have a career as an Indie author? Absolutely NOT. Does it help? Most of the time, yes, but it’s not necessary if it means killing yourself or compromising yourself to do it. I built most of my sales by releasing about 2-3 books a year. I believe the fast releases in the beginning helped me out, but even if I’d gone slower, it would have been okay. Always look to the next book. Sit your butt down in the chair and write it to the best of your ability and as quickly as you can, but keep your sanity and your health as a priority. Work as hard as you can, but forgive yourself when you can’t keep up.

With that being said, I firmly believe your best marketing tool is your next book. And the next one. For most people, tweaking covers and taking out ads and entering contests is never going to do as much for you as writing your next book. I’m not saying don’t do those other things. I’m just saying don’t do them INSTEAD of writing.

6. STOP Comparing Yourself To Others – This is a really tough one for me, but it’s also one of the most important to remember. Self-publishing is an extremely fast-paced world. People who were low on the totem pole six months ago might be sitting in the number one spot on Amazon tomorrow. Watching others zoom past us in sales and income can really take its toll. We start to ask ourself why? What am I doing wrong? Why can’t I find that kind of success? While there might be value in watching what someone else has done and emulating that, be careful not to let jealousy or fear or envy eat at your creative energy.

I’ve had days where a single bad review comes in on one of my books and then bam, I look and see a fellow Indie author announcing they just hit the NYT Bestseller list, and suddenly my whole writing day is wrecked. It’s embarrassing to admit it, but I bet I’m not the only one this happens to. I’m happy for the success of my friends, but when I see someone achieving everything I want (and seeming to do it effortlessly), it brings me down. Not down on them, down on me. It’s toxic and poisonous to my writing life when I compare myself to others and wonder why I’m not where they are. It’s better to remember that we’re each on an individual journey. Don’t miss the fun and excitement of celebrating your own successes (no matter how small you think they are), just because you’re too busy comparing yourself to other authors.

Remember this: There’s no time limit on success. Just because it feels like everyone around you is doing better than you now doesn’t mean you won’t be right there with them by this time next year. Keep working, concentrate on your own goals, and don’t give up.

7. Reward Yourself – Find exciting and motivational ways to reward yourself for writing. I love writing and I have heard people say it should be its own reward, but man, sometimes self-publishing is tough. I need a little pick-me-up to help me get back in the saddle and keep working. My amazing husband came up with a points/reward system to help motivate me. He calls it the “Sweetie Store”. I’m obsessed with Hello Kitty, colorful pens and post-its, and all things cute. When we see something I want, whether it’s a $1 pencil or a $60 purse, we buy it and put it in the Sweetie Store. For every $1 spent on the item, I have to earn 1000 Sweetie Points. So if I really want a $20 pencil case, I have to earn 20,000 Sweetie Points.

How do I earn these points? Easy. I write. 1 word = 1 point. (He’s a programmer so he actually wrote a program where I put points in and it factors in bonuses for me too. For example, if I have a big day and write 5000 words, I get 5000 bonus points.) When I’ve earned the points, I cash out, get my item from the store and wear a huge smile on my face. It may sound silly, but it keeps me writing! It keeps me motivated even on days when I feel sad or discouraged. If you’re just starting out or don’t have the money to do this kind of store system, come up with some other way to reward yourself. Something that really gets you excited. It can be as simple as getting to play Candy Crush for twenty minutes without interruption or guilt. Make it work for you and I promise you’ll see results.

This was my latest Sweetie Store splurge. I saved all my points from writing the end of The Moment We Began and bought a new purse, stickers, post-its, a pencil case, all kinds of fun stuff!!!

Loot

8. Write In Sprints – Since fast releases are beneficial to almost every Indie author, another way to produce more words in a day is to write in sprints. I use a program called Focus Booster. It’s a simple timer that I can set to 10-15-20 minutes (or however many I want), and then factor in a break between. This is the same as the Pomodoro technique. My writing evening might look like this: Write 15 minutes, take a 5 minute break. Write 15 minutes, take a 5 minute break. Write 15 minutes, take a 30 minute break.

As long as I focus for those 15 minutes, I know I’ll get at least a few hundred words. If I’m on an exciting part of the story, I can get as many as 1,000 words in a sprint. Do that 4 or 5 times a day and suddenly I have 2,000 or more words done. And it barely felt like work. Sprinting with friends and other writers helps too. I have a group of friends who sprint with me often, and it makes a world of difference in keeping me motivated! As a mom to a 15 month old, it also helps me to grab 10 or 15 minutes here and there throughout the day when a spot opens up. You’d be surprised how fast the words add up when you’re sprinting.

9. Write What You Love – I completely understand that we all want to make money doing this. We all want to quit our day jobs and write for a living, right? But if you write in a genre you don’t like just because it’s hot and you think you’ll make more money, you’re kind of missing the point. If you want to write because you love it and it makes you happy, don’t steal your own joy by writing something you don’t love just to pay the bills. Of course, I don’t mean you shouldn’t try new things and try your best to be business-minded when it comes to what you’re writing. If you have a story in a hot genre that excites you, write it and see what happens. Just don’t force yourself to write a genre you don’t like writing in hopes of hitting it big and making a lot of money. For one, the readers will usually be able to tell. And second, it really will steal your joy.

10. Believe In Yourself – This is one of the top tips I have for you. Trust your own instincts. Being Indie means being a professional, full-time decision-maker. We’re faced with so many decisions all day long and no one to really tell us which path is best. It can be debilitating.

If you can learn to truly believe in yourself, you’re setting yourself up for success. YOU are in control of your covers, your content, your path. Stop focusing on the things you can’t control like algorithms and crappy luck when it comes to glitches on launch day. You can’t control the fact that a major publisher just dumped 800 backlist titles onto Amazon at $1.99, so stop worrying about them.

Believe in yourself. Do what you feel is best for you and your fans. It’s going to pay off in the best way for you, because once you learn to cut out the noise that leads to self-doubt and fear, your writing will be better and faster.

 

I feel like I have so much more to say, but I also feel like it’ll be a miracle if anyone gets this far on such a long post :P . I want to say again how grateful I am to have this as my job. Next month, I’ll celebrate 3 years as a full-time Indie author. It’s been a wild ride so far, and I’m looking forward to the journey ahead. Here’s to the next 150,000!

WRITE-A-PALOOZA!!!! Myrtle Beach Spring Edition

It’s that time again for me! I get this itch for the beach every so often, and I’m incredibly lucky and grateful that I only live a short drive away from the beautiful beaches on the Atlantic coast. Myrtle Beach, SC here I come!!!!

Here WE come, actually. I’ll be heading there on Saturday with my little family of three. We have a two bedroom oceanfront condo, and I can’t wait! The weather is supposed to be gorgeous, warm and sunny. Exactly what I need right now, let me tell you.

But this isn’t a vacation in the typical sense. This is a write-a-palooza! I always seem to get inspired at the beach, and when I write there, the words just seem to flow. We haven’t been since last October, so I’m really looking forward to getting some great writing in and being inspired by the sounds of the ocean.

What’s even more fun is that I’ll be starting a new project! I finally finished the current draft of Death’s Awakening. Looking over it, I know it still needs some edits, but I’d like to let it sit for a while before I come back to it with fresh eyes. Instead, I’ll be working on The Trouble With Goodbye! This story is so strong in my mind, and every time I sit down to write the other book, it’s Leigh Anne and Knox there in my head instead. I HAVE to write this book! My plan for this write-a-palooza is to write the first half of my rough draft. 30,000 words. More if I can swing it, but I want to keep my expectations realistic.

My husband will be watching the baby a lot, but we’ll still hopefully have some fun-in-the-sun family time. Mostly, though, this will be a working vacation for me, and I’m so excited! Actually, I’m even MORE excited after the amazing cover reveal earlier this week. Over 300 people added The Trouble With Goodbye to their goodreads shelf and over 60 blogs featured the cover on Tuesday. The response totally blew me away, so thank you to ATOMR Blog Tours for organizing the reveal and to every blog that helped with the reveal. It was so much fun!

As I’ve done in the past, I’ll be putting up a word meter for everyone to be able to follow my progress. It helps to keep me accountable, so I hope you’ll check in with me and see how I’m doing throughout the trip. I put one meter here and one on the homepage too. Hopefully by the time I come home on Wednesday, the word meter will be full and I’ll have 30,000 new words written!

Do you get inspired by the beach? Or are you more of a mountains/woods type of person? OR, do you prefer big cities? My husband would be in Vegas every weekend if he could, haha, but me? I love the beach!

MILESTONE: 100,000 Sales. The numbers.

I remember a time when selling a hundred books was the most exciting thing in the world. I had actually sold books to people who were not my family!! Unbelievable! To see a number like 100,000 just makes me so incredibly grateful and happy. I never thought I would sell a thousand books, much less a hundred times that. (For my celebration giveaway, click over to my Sweetie Chronicles Blog to enter.)

So how did I do it? I know that as a new self-published author I would always look to blogs and sales figures for ideas and for hope. If even one thing I have to say or share makes a difference to other writers out there who have dreams of being able to make a living writing, then I’m more than happy to share what I’ve learned.

THE NUMBERS

I thought it might be helpful to post a comprehensive list of my monthly sales numbers and then divide them out by vendor so you can see where I found the most success. After that, I’m just going to talk a little bit about what I think helped me to sell over 100,000 books in less than 2 years and also what I think has held me back from selling more.

First, my sales numbers. To be honest, it’s up and down and I never know at the beginning of the month what I can expect to make or sell. The best I can do is keep writing and hope that with each new book, the average continues to go up.

The basics: I write Young Adult paranormal with a bit of romance and mystery. I self-published my first book October 29, 2010. Beautiful Demons is a short novel at only about 47,000 words and is the first book in my Peachville High Demons series about an orphan who is sent to live in the strange town of Peachville after being kicked out of so many foster homes she’s lost count. I currently have 5 books out in the series and the 6th and final book is due out next month. I don’t have any other books out at this time, so the 5 series books is what makes up the sales figures you’re going to see.

As I post this list of sales figures by month, I will also post if I had a new release that month. These monthly numbers only include Amazon and B&N.

As you can see, I am on track to have more sales this year than last year (I hope!). I also highlighted July 2011 in blue just to show that this was my best ever month for sales.

Every night at midnight, I plug my sales numbers into a spreadsheet saved in Google Drive, so my records are pretty accurate. Unfortunately, Smashwords and the premium catalog are much more difficult to keep track of since they report at random and don’t have a great reporting system. Rather than separate them out and cause myself a huge headache, I’m just listing those sales here in bulk.

(*It’s worth noting that I didn’t put my books into the Apple store until December 2011. What was I thinking? Lol. Probably a lot of missed revenue potential there.)

100,333!!! Yippee!! It’s so exciting to see that six-figure sales number. It’s still hard to believe! Here’s how it all breaks down according to the top 4 vendors in order of total sales:

There’s no doubt about it that Amazon is where I’ve seen the most success. Is it enough to take my books off sale everywhere else and go with KDP select? I think my income at these other sites is enough to stick with it. Plus, I believe in being good to my fans. It wouldn’t be very nice to current fans of the series for me to publish the next book exclusively at Amazon, so I haven’t gone with KDP select for any of my books. If I had a standalone, I might try it out since Amazon is such a huge source of my sales, but for now, it isn’t really the best choice.

INCOME AND PRICING

Sales numbers are great, but income is important too. 100,000 books at 99 cents doesn’t produce nearly as much income as 100,000 books at $2.99, so where do I fall? There have been way too many posts online about pricing for me to try to discuss all the ins and outs of the pricing debate. Instead, I’ll just tell you what I decided and why.

As a new author in 2010, I decided to put my first book up at $0.99. This isn’t because I didn’t believe my book was good. I priced it low so that it would be an impulse buy. A no-brainer. If someone was interested, they would buy it without having to think too hard about it. When book 2 went up just 2 months later, I decided to stick with the $0.99 price. I figured that early-on, more sales was more important than more money. My hope was that if people liked book 1 even a little bit, they wouldn’t even think twice about paying just a dollar for the second book.

With book 3, however, I raised my price up to $2.99. I knew that if readers had followed me through the first two books and were still interested in the series, they wouldn’t mind paying a bit more. $2.99 was low enough to still be easy for readers to pay but high enough for me to get that 70% royalty. Win-Win. I have kept the price of the next books in the series at this same $2.99 price just to stay consistent and to keep prices low so that anyone who wants to read can afford it.

Could I make more money by pricing my books higher? Yes, I am sure I could make quite a bit more. In fact, I could sell LESS books and still make MORE money. For me, then, it becomes a question of what’s more important? More sales or more money? I don’t even have to think twice about that at this point in my career. More sales is way more important to me, because I know that the more books I sell, the more potential fans-for-life I gain.

My belief is that the better I am to my fans, the more willingly they will follow me to my next series, and my next, and so on forever. My goal is to become a must-buy to as many readers as possible. The best way I know to do that is to 1) Write the best books I can and 2) Keep my prices low. I’m not in this to be a one-hit wonder or a flash in the pan. I want to still be making a living writing twenty years from now, so that’s always on my mind when I am making decisions about price.

I certainly don’t judge anyone else for their pricing decisions, but for me, this is what has worked. So far, I have made about $120,000 off of my books. I’m extremely happy with that and hope that my decision to keep prices low in the beginning of my career will really pay off for me in the long run. I don’t know that I’m always making the right decisions, but all I can do is try my best. One thing I know for sure is that self-publishing was the right decision for me in every way.

WHAT MADE THE MOST DIFFERENCE?

In my opinion, these are the things that have made the most difference in helping me sell 100,000 books:

  • Fast release dates – Especially in the beginning, I was able to get my books out back to back very quickly. I really think this made a huge difference in getting my books noticed. Of course, since I didn’t have a backlist of books to put out, that meant I was writing them fast too. I had a book out in October, December and February that first year I self-pubbed. My sales soared because of it. Unfortunately, I couldn’t keep up with that pace as infertility began to take its toll. Then, when I finally did get pregnant, writing got even harder!! Now, with a newborn, I’m struggling daily to find balance. My release schedule has suffered, and I hope someday to get back to a faster schedule. I firmly believe that releasing books quickly can make a huge impact on success.
  • Writing a Series – I enjoy reading series and so do a lot of other readers. They are especially popular with young adult readers, so I think my decision to write a series helped me find success.
  • Professional, Branded Covers – I originally had a friend’s husband design my covers. They were cute, but they looked homemade. In Feb. ’11 with the release of book 3, I also hired the amazing Robin Ludwig to create all new book covers. I adore these news covers. Yes, I have had a few people make negative comments about them, but no one is going to like everything. Most people love them and say that the covers drew them to the series. One thing Robin really did for me was to help me brand the series. When you see these covers, you know instantly that they are part of a set. Since a lot of readers like series, they are drawn to the similar covers as well.
  • Low Prices and Going Free – See above about the prices. Something I didn’t mention there, however, was that I worked to get my first book to go FREE everywhere, including Amazon. I hope to leave that first book perma-free to draw in readers and let them sample my series. In addition to my 100k paid sales, I’ve also had about 100k free downloads of Beautiful Demons. It’s made a big difference in keeping my sales high even without a new release this summer.
  • Writing What I Love In My Own Way – Instead of following all these rules that are placed on writers (can’t start a chapter with the MC waking up or in a car), I decided to just write the way I wanted to write. I write fragmented sentences. I don’t always follow the expected plot. The love story between Harper and Jackson develops slower than a lot of YA. I think readers really appreciate that my books are not like all the trad pub YA books out there that have similar plots and love stories. They like those other books too, but sometimes they want something a little bit unique, which hopefully is why they keep coming back.

WHAT HAS HELD ME BACK?

In the same way that I recognize some of what has helped me find success, I also have some ideas about what has kept me from breaking out into a Top 100 Overall Best Seller.

  • Cheerleaders – My books are about cheerleaders who are witches. I think a lot of people read that and think the books are going to be very surface and cheesy. That’s not at all what the books are. The characters and relationships grow very deep and the story really goes a lot deeper than the cheerleading aspect. Still, I think a series that on the surface is about popular cheerleading witches holds me back somewhat. I don’t want to change that, so instead I’ll just hope my next series has a broader appeal.
  • Slowing Release Dates – I listed above that my fast release dates were a big plus. Well, it was really only the first 2 of 5 that came out quickly. Book 4 took almost 5 months to write, Book 5 took about 6, and now fans have been waiting for Book 6 since January. I honestly believe that if I had been putting ALL of my books out quickly, I would have had much more success. Still, I can’t regret my journey to motherhood, so I’ll just chalk this up to life experience and leave it at that.
  • My Blurbs – I’m honestly not satisfied with my blurbs. I wonder if they’ve kept some readers from trying out my series, and I think I need to rewrite/revisit them. I have a feeling they are holding me back, but for lack of being able to come up with something better yet, they haven’t changed yet. I think my covers draw attention, but the blurb doesn’t always deliver.

MARKETING

This post is already crazy long, so I won’t keep you much longer (if you’ve gotten this far!). Still, I think it’s important to touch on marketing. I think a lot of writers who are new to self-publishing think that marketing is the most important aspect of selling books. In my experience, this is the biggest mistake self-published authors make.

Sure, marketing is great. It doesn’t hurt, that’s for sure. It’s important to have a social media presence and to communicate with readers in a positive way. (My friend Tivi calls this Warm Fuzzies.) I think readers appreciate this about Indie authors. Our approachability is awesome.

On the other hand, it’s all too easy to get caught up in spending most of your free time writing blog posts, arranging blog tours, and hanging around on social media sites instead of WRITING. I’m sure you’ve heard it before, but let me just add my voice to the chorus: Your best marketing tool is your next book! NOT blog posts or tours or twitter followers.

It’s much more important to write and get more books on your virtual shelves than it is to have a blog tour. If you have time for both, more power to you. Great. But don’t sacrifice writing time for marketing time. For me, I know I only have so much creative juice in me on any given day. I can only write for so long. So I write as much as I can, and THEN I market. And I try not to stress out about the marketing aspect of self-publishing. It’s not worth it. The books are the important part. The rest is just the cherry on top. That’s my two cents anyway.

That being said, I will say that reaching out to book bloggers was probably the most valuable marketing I have done. Once book 3 came out, I started spending my spare time approaching popular book blogs about the possibility of reading and reviewing Beautiful Demons. I had a good response and I really owe a lot to bloggers like Julie at A Tale of Many Reviews, Ivy at Ivy Reads, and Kim at The Caffeinated Diva. They were some of the first to take a chance on my book, and I can’t thank them enough. Book bloggers are awesome and if you’re going to spend time on marketing, I would suggest reaching out to bloggers first.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I know there are a lot of other writers out there who probably ramble less and have more valuable information, but if what I’ve had to say and share has inspired even one person, then it’s worth it. I never dreamed I would make it this far, but now that I’m here with 100,000 sales under my belt, I feel as though it’s just the beginning.

There has never been a better time to be a writer or a reader. There is more money to be made than ever before and we can charge less for the books at the same time! Self-publishing is hard work, but it’s also incredibly rewarding. I can confidently say that the decision to self-publish was one of the best I’ve ever made, and as things stand in the industry right now, I can’t see a situation where it would be worth it to sign a traditional publishing contract. At least not here in the US, but that’s a post for another day.

All I can say to wrap things up is that I’m incredibly grateful to everyone who has supported me along the way to this milestone – fans, my critique group, bloggers, other writers, the community on Kindle Boards. The Indie writing community is amazing, and I hope to give back even a part of what they have given to me.

The fact that I can write the books I love and still make money is truly a dream come true.

And honestly, I don’t ever want to wake up…

So Close To The Next Milestone!!

September is going to be one of the most exciting in my publishing career so far!! As of the beginning of this month, I have sold 97,579 books! I am so incredibly close to the HUGE milestone of 100,000 paid sales, and I have no doubt I will hit it within the next couple of weeks. In fact, I’m still waiting for my August sales figures from the iTunes store, which could push me up as far as 99,000 or more. EEEEEEK!!!!

I honestly can’t believe this is happening. And the fact that I’m this close before I’ve even hit my two year Indie-versary is so mind-blowing. When I first started this journey in late October 2010, I was so nervous and scared. I had no idea if I would ever sell books to anyone other than my family, haha. Now I actually have almost 100,000 copies of my books floating around out there! It’s insane!

Thank you so much to everyone who has supported me. You are really the reason I’ve made it so far and that I’m actually making a living as a full time writer. It’s truly a dream come true. Hopefully I’ll be posting again soon to announce two things. 1) That I’ve reached my 100,000 sales milestone, and 2) Hopefully I’ll finally get to announce my secret news, because it’s so hard to keep it inside! I will tell you that some contracts are getting signed this week, so an exciting announcement is definitely coming soon!

So what do you think? What kind of giveaway would you guys like to see as a celebration when I hit the big 100k milestone???

75,000 Books Sold!!!

It’s been a while since I did a sales update, but wow, this year has already been so amazing! I posted back in February that I had hit a sales milestone of 60k sales. I didn’t expect to hit another milestone so quickly, but as of this month, I’ve officially sold 75,000 ebooks in my Peachville High Demons series!!!!

The two biggest boosts in sales for 2012 so far this year have been 1) the release of Rival Demons, book 5 of my Peachville High Demons series back in January and 2) Beautiful Demons (book 1) going free in all stores. I had heard other Indie authors raving about going free and how much it helped them get their series off the ground, but I never knew the full power of it until I set my own book free through Smashwords.

Beautiful Demons Sarra CannonI think I set Beautiful Demons free on Smashwords back in February (maybe? I can’t quite remember). It took some time, but eventually they ‘shipped’ the free ebook to Barnes & Noble, Sony, and iTunes. I saw a boost in sales at B&N, but it wasn’t huge. I didn’t realize how much of a boost I’d had on iTunes until I saw the numbers come in. Having the first book in a series free on iTunes seems to be a very powerful sales tool over there. In April and May combined, I sold about 4,000 books there.

Then, miracle of miracles, Amazon price-matched Beautiful Demons to free on April 10th. Beautiful Demons rose all the way to #13 free in the Kindle store, getting over 35,000 downloads in the month of April and just over 7,000 so far in May. Of course, these free downloads aren’t sales. They are giveaways, so they don’t count toward any sales milestones. However, a certain percentage of the people who have downloaded the book for free actually read the book, liked it, and decided to pick up the next books in the series. This is where the sales boost comes in, and I couldn’t be more grateful to everyone who has supported the series and continued to read.

Since it had been a few months since my newest release, I was actually expecting a very modest sales month. Instead, here’s how it turned out in April:

  • Beautiful Demons – At least 36,752 Free downloads (even though there are really more since iTunes doesn’t report free downloads and I’m not sure how many I got on Sony or B&N either) and 86 sales (before it went free).
  • Inner Demons – 2321 Paid Sales
  • Bitter Demons – 1642 Paid Sales
  • Shadow Demons – 1459 Paid Sales
  • Rival Demons – 1554 Paid Sales

Total Paid Sales: 7062

(*This figure doesn’t even include the roughly 2500 sales from iTunes that I got in April. I just haven’t taken the time to go through the Smashwords report yet, so the real total is more like 9500 paid sales.)

To my delight and extreme surprise, April 2012 ended up being my very best month of all time. I made over $13,000 last month, which believe me will come in handy since we’re having our first baby in about 3 weeks, haha. It’s honestly hard to believe this could all be true!

So far in May, I’ve already sold 4330 books (not including Apple since they report late through Smashwords). When you combine all of my paid sales since I first self-published in late October 2010, it comes to an amazing 77,516 paid sales!!

I honestly never dreamed this could be my life. I always wanted to be a writer, but I never imagined so many people would be interested in the stories I had to tell. Thank you from the bottom of my heart to all of you who have picked up my books and continued on through the series so far. You have truly changed my life.

MILESTONE: 60,000 Books Sold!

Yippeee!!! I’m very excited to announce that yesterday, I hit a new sales milestone. 60,000 books sold. This is an all-time figure, starting when I self-published my first novel, Beautiful Demons, at the end of October 2010. It took me almost exactly 16 months to reach this milestone, and I couldn’t be happier.

More than anything, I just wanted to say thank you! Thank you to all my faithful readers who have purchased the books in the Peachville High Demons series and supported me. It means more to me than I could ever say. You have all made my dreams come true. There is nothing I have ever wanted to do more than write, and every day for the last 16 months has felt like a gift. So thank you so much.

I’m setting my sights now on 75k, and then the 100,000 sales milestone, hoping to hit them both before the end of 2012! That might be a tad ambitious, but a girl can hope right? :)