Thursday, October 31, 2019

Refilling the Well; Overcoming Creative Burnout
When I started setting up this post, I realized how much it related to several of my last few posts that basically dealt with how I've been low-key trying to diversify my life. I've talked about my discovery of, and subsequent addiction to, Hindi cinema ("Bollywood") and the value of escapist entertainment. I've talked about not quitting my day-job and how necessary it is to my creative process to not depend solely on said creative process for financial stability. I also blogged about how my passion for story-telling is continuously expanding to include roles beyond being a writer--such as being an editor and peer critic. Most recently, I wrote about how I'm dealing with my own midlife crisis by attempting lots of new things: traveling, learning languages, dancing, water sports, etc.

What all these posts have in common is that they exemplify how I've experienced a bit of a creative
slump and how I'm attempting to re-ignite my spark. Some creative people might be better at pacing themselves or finding the work-life balance that keeps their cycle of productivity steady and regular. Props to them! I'm envious. But as for me, as I've been trying over and over to make progress on my current two Works in Progress (A  YA contemporary fantasy and an adult urban fantasy), I've mostly felt like I've been bashing my head against a wall. It's not writer's block--I know what that feels like. This is something else. Some of it is that my non-creative life has gotten exceptionally busy, leaving me with far fewer "spoons" than I need for a productive creative life. But it's more than that, too. This, I think, is burnout.

For well over a decade, I've been chasing the "published author" dream. The many discarded novel and short story manuscripts in my digital "trunk" prove it. In the early years, I put much effort and energy into producing, producing, producing. In my mind, that was the only way I would achieve my goal. And then, when I finally did start publishing, I continued to produce, produce, produce. It was never a chore--I enjoyed it. Since 2015, along with keeping a full-time job and raising a kid, I have released two trilogy series, a stand-alone novel, a novella, and countless short stories appearing in SFF magazines and anthologies.

But after my last novel released earlier this year, I ran out of steam. I don't think I really acknowledged that fact on a conscious level until a few weeks ago. Obviously my subconscious has known for a while because it had been urging me to refill my empty well, an urge that led me on a journey of self-exploration and discovery I've been working on for most of 2019.

I theorize that creativity is like an engine, and it runs on fuel. If you don't keep the gas-tank filled, eventually the engine stops. To be clear, my engine is not broken. I don't for a moment entertain the thought that I'm done with writing. But I do know it's time for some self-care. It's time to give myself permission to take a break and not feel guilty about making other things (my family, my day-job, my community) a priority for now. It's time to refill the well.

So, how am I doing that? As mentioned earlier, a lot of my most recent posts on this blog are demonstrations of how I've been refilling the well. Most of those posts can be summed up in one way: Instead of producing producing producing, I've been consuming, consuming, consuming. When you're starving, you gotta eat, and I've been feasting! If you're curious about the ways I've been resting, recovering, and reflecting, I'll refrain from repeating myself and simply put links to some of my most relevant posts below. If you need it, I'm giving you permission ( how magnanimous of me, right? 😉) to take some time off. Rest. Recover. Reflect. Your creativity is still there, waiting for you. It'll welcome you back with open arms when you're ready to return.

Monday, October 28, 2019

A Halloween Bonanza!

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!
Hey everybody!  Whoo, I have been swamped this year for Horror Christmas.  But don't worry!  I didn't forget about any of you.

That's not entirely true.  What I should say is that my publishers didn't forget about any of you.  So let's talk briefly about some of the important elements of sales and what's going on with mine.

1.)  Scheduling

As with sales at brick-and-mortar stores, people shop for different things at different times.  People seem to shop for cars, mattresses and big-ticket items on Presidents Day, Labor Day, and the like, i.e. a day when more people than usually have of but there are no pressing familial obligations.  Black Friday and Christmas shopping in general are cutthroat events where everybody has to shop so vendors need to make sure you get in their shop.

So how does this help authors, largely pushing electronic merchandise?  Well, one good example is me today.  Horror books should go on sale for Halloween.  You can make similar pushes to a brick-and-mortar store for the winter holiday season and beach reading season.

The Ghoul Archipelago audiobook cover art Braineater Jones audiobook cover art Billy and the Cloneasaurus audiobook cover art

From what I can tell, Audible has decided to put their entire horror stock on sale for Halloween this year.  So you can get all three of my audiobooks for half price.  Check it out if you like!

2.)  All or Some?

Brick-and-mortars have stock known as "loss leaders."  When McDonald's sells a hundred chicken nuggets for $0.99, they're not planning to make money from the chicken nuggets.  They're planning to have a bunch of people who wouldn't normally come in, stop by and get nuggets.  But then they'll also get french fries for regular price, $0.03 worth of sugar water for $1.85, and a couple of burgers for little Suzie who doesn't like nuggets.

For the most part, authors don't have that luxury.  People either like you and like your books or...they don't.  Stephen King's not exactly giving away copies of MISERY so that people will haul off BLOCKADE BILLY.  Books don't really work that way.

What you should think about, though, is cycling through putting your books on sale.  Maybe you do a sale twice a year, or once a quarter.  Maybe you only put one book on sale at a time, or only two or three, depending on the size of your back catalog.  Or do you want to take a gamble and put everything on sale at once, hoping sales for some will translate into sales for all?

Image may contain: text

Harkening back to point one, Sinister Grin Press has opted to put their entire catalog, including several of my books, on sale for Halloween.  So in this case I may be the sugar water people are picking up with the "nuggets" of their Wrath James White books. 

3.)  Discount Size

Here's one of the trickier points of today's discussion, and one with no real clear cut answers.  What constitutes a good sale?  For that matter, what constitutes a good price for a book in the first place?

Your George R.R. Martins of the world can get away with a $15.99 price point for an e-book.  Your Stephen Kozeniewskis?  Not so much.

I've heard the argument that indie authors should just generally price their products a bit exorbitantly, and then plan to make all their money in sales, because people will be drawn in by the size of the discount.  A $10 book on sale for $1 is a 90% discount!  Sort of like when Macy's slowly raises their prices through Autumn so that Black Friday sales seem amaaaazing.

If you price your products more reasonably year-round, you can never really compete with that size of a discount, but maybe you'll make it up with more regular sales during the course of the year. 

Sinister Grin normally prices my books at $2.99, and brought them down this week to $0.99, which is a solid two thirds off.  But you should also bear in mind that when books sell on Amazon for less than $2.99, the author is getting 35% of profits, as opposed to 70% for those over $2.99.  Also something to bear in mind if you're a self publisher.

What about you?  How do you plan your sales and what considerations do you keep in mind?  Let me know in the comments below!

Thursday, October 24, 2019

So You Want to be a Writer?

By Cheryl Oreglia

Word on the street is you'll need an author platform. This has to do with your visibility or your reach as an author. How many followers you have on various social media accounts is indicative of your ability to sell your work or reach an audience.
A person is a fool to become a writer. His only compensation is absolute freedom. He has no master except his own soul, and that, I am sure, is why he does it. Roald Dahl.
Writers need readers or what's the point? And in today's world readers are hard to find. There are millions of blogs out there all hoping to distinguish themselves, self-publishing has opened the doors to both professional and amateur writers, and currently I believe there are more books available then there are people to read them. The good news is tough times don't last, but tough people do, so hang in there.
"Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time." Thomas Edison
Perhaps you have decided that you will write even if no one ever reads your work but readers complete the creative cycle. Don't you think? Feedback is crucial to the writing process and if no one reads your work, no one is suggesting how you might improve, or on a more positive note - what you do well.

When supply outpaces demand how do we find a community of readers who will remain loyal to our work?

Marketing is part of the solution but that can be not only costly but time consuming. And if I were being totally honest I would admit I hate the marketing side of the writing business. For me it's confusing, exhausting, and lacks authenticity. It's what emptying the liter box is to owning a cat. A shitty job but it must be done.

It's not all doom and gloom. If you can develop a robust platform that attracts and keeps readers you can probably make a living at what you love best. Writing.

Everything I've read, found on twitter, or from a podcast says you have to define your niche, know your primary audience, and identify the topics are you are most passionate about. Your author platform is the perfect tool to attract readers, and stop pissing off your friends, because they're tried of you pitching your work on their blatantly deaf ears.
“When I write, I feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth.” Kurt Vonnegut
You'll need to establish a website where people can find you, something that introduces your niche, promotes your published work, maybe includes a blog, guest posts, and a social media presence. Some people add a YouTube channel or podcast. I've heard that popular web sites can lead to speaking engagements, workshop opportunities, free lance work for magazines or journals, writing retreats, editing opportunities, and depending on your orator skills you might be invited to tour with a group of inspirational speakers. That has yet to be my experience but I've seen it happen for some.

The intricacies of social media can be daunting and eat up an enormous amount of time. There are several free scheduling sites that allow you to schedule posts as a way of attracting readers while you tole away at your day job. I come across a few like Hootsuite or Buffer or something like Tweetdeck, there are lots to choose from, so go with the one that seems most suited to your needs. Full disclosure, I haven't actually used one of these, but I'm curious, and they make a lot of sense to me.

What is your experience with social media scheduling sites?

Another way to attract followers is to engage with the influencers in your niche, if you catch the eye of an influencer, and they end up retweeting or promoting your work on their sites, this can compel you to stardom overnight. At least temporary stardom. Most people sort of rubberneck, as if you're an accident on the side of the road, and tend to forget about you after a short span of time. 
“Sometimes writing is running downhill, your fingers jerking behind you on the keyboard the way your legs do when they can’t quite keep up with gravity.” Rainbow Rowell
Join a community of writers who are interested in the same topics, promote each other, engage with each other. This allows other people to find you and possibly follow your work because your particular brand speaks to them. Guest posting on popular sites is another way to promote your work.

My daughter told me the other day, "Mom make it your goal to get 100 rejection letters by the end of the year. That way you'll just keep going until you reach your goal and if you do get 100 rejections - Bravo - you achieved what you set out to do." I thought a silent but thoughtful look was the best response in this particular situation. But she does have a point.
"Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work." Thomas Edison (I have no idea why I keep coming across Edison quotes this week but I'm going with it.)
We have to decide why we want to write in the first place? Is it for achievement and recognition? Or are we looking for connection and relationship? Maybe independence and freedom? Influence and power? What is your gig? I love the idea of story telling but more importantly I love to find deeper meaning embedded in our common experiences. I want to expose my way of thinking  to my readers and see if it speaks to them, I want to take the fear out of aging, and find the humor hiding in the wrinkles. If I want to make aging gracefully seem like the most appealing part of life I might have to lie a lot! Haha - just messing with you.
“There is something in us, as storytellers and as listeners to stories, that demands the redemptive act, that demands that what falls at least be offered the chance to be restored. The reader of today looks for this motion, and rightly so, but what he has forgotten is the cost of it. His sense of evil is diluted or lacking altogether, and so he has forgotten the price of restoration. When he reads a novel, he wants either his sense tormented or his spirits raised. He wants to be transported, instantly, either to mock damnation or a mock innocence.” Flannery O'Connor
Motivation is key, it drives success, so knowing what motivates you is important. I thought I started a blog to establish a platform for my great American novel but along the way I discovered I love blogging, the simplicity of a short essay, the ability to publish weekly and build a small following that enjoys engaging with each other. As blogging became my priority the idea of a book got waylaid, as if an ex-boyfriend who you think about once in a while.

So I want to be a writer, but I veered off the path, and I found out blogging was my thing.

How about you? Why do you write? How to you stay motivated?

When I'm not writing for Across the Board, I'm Living in the Gap, drop by anytime.

Friday, October 18, 2019

End of Year Planning

Ten weeks today, Christmas will be over.

Eleven weeks today, it will be January 2, 2020.

For anyone like me who thinks it's still's not. I mean, I know it's not mid-July - it's dark by 6:30 pm now, and getting earlier every day - but in my head the year can't possibly be careening wildly to an end already. Yet, here we are.

Which means it's time to prioritize and plan. Now. Before the stress of the holidays comes in.

Do you do something special for your readers to coincide with Thanksgiving/Hanukkah/Christmas/New Year/Kwanzaa? Now's the time to plan it, which means: 

  • Make or commission the necessary graphics. 
  • Schedule your posts. Yes, really. (Facebook seems inconsistent with allowing scheduled posts on author pages. I had this option last week and now it's gone. Maybe it will come back. Maybe it won't. Either way, you can use a 3rd party scheduler to set it and forget it. I like Buffer for this.)
  • If you're giving away prizes - particularly signed paperbacks - order them now and put them on a shelf to collect dust for a month or so. You'll be happy you did.
Are you planning a sale or a freebie?
  • If you're in KU, schedule your price change. If you're not in KU, put a date on your calendar at least a week in advance of when you want the price changed on Amazon to start changing on other vendors and request the change from the Zon. The closer it is to Black Friday, the slower they'll be.
  • Schedule your promo, including newsletter promotions, Facebook and Amazon ads.
  • Hit up author friends now for cross-promotion/newsletter swaps. Lots of us will be sending out a holiday newsletter and a sale/freebie is in the giving spirit, right?
Not planning a sale/freebie and no gifts for readers doesn't mean you won't feel overwhelmed, unfortunately. Which means it's time to think about what you want to STOP doing. (This coincides with 2020 planning for me, as well.)
  • How many social media platforms do you REALLY need to be on? It might be time to Marie Kondo your time online.
  • Same with your advertising. This one is very math-intensive, but when you sit down and actually plug numbers into a spreadsheet, it can be illuminating. It's worthy of its own post, but opening up Excel is a good first step.
  • Decide how many hours per week you can REALISTICALLY devote to writing with the holidays approaching. Then give yourself permission to work those hours.
  • FOMO has ruined more days for me than I care to admit, but I sat down and had a long talk with myself a few years ago about being happy in my lane, and it's better now. Curtailing social media helps with this.
  • Teachers, coaches, assistants and babysitters like gift cards. I know it feels like a cop-out, but I swear gift cards are decent gifts. If you're short on funds, see if anyone else wants to go in on it with you. Then set a deadline for contributions.
  • Lastly - decide which healthy habit is going to get you through. Maybe it's a lunchtime walk, more veg, curtailing alcohol/caffeine/junk food consumption when you can so the times you overindulge don't feel so frequent. Or, maybe it's spending more time with supportive friends, reading to escape or binging Hallmark Christmas movies. 
Whatever you do to get yourself through the end of the year, I hope the next ten weeks are as stress-free as possible. And I'd love to hear your tips for dealing with end of year madness!

Monday, October 14, 2019

Greetings from London!

Hey everyone! Mary here, and I’m in London! About to head out so I’ll be brief... so brief I won’t even put on my usual MF logo (blogger’s app is wild). Anyway, I’ve been here for less than 48 hours and already I’ve hit up a bookstore and bought five (FIVE) new books. Which is a bit of an issue since I only brought a little carry on suitcase, and it was already full to the brim. Not to worry though — I seem to have Doctor Strange-style powers to warp reality and render spacetime meaningless when it comes to packing books ;-). Anyway, here are some pics!

Also, I visited the street where HG Wells lived for a spell! Totally geeked out!

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Interview with Alison Grey: a Savvy Southern Writer

Greetings ATB readers! You are in for a treat. Please welcome to the blog my dear friend Alison Grey, one of the most diligent--and generous--writers in indie publishing. She writes crime fiction of all flavors--domestic suspense, psych thrillers, and atmospheric mysteries.

If you're interested in self-publishing or floundering with your own titles, pay attention. She doles out great advice.
Welcome, Alison!

How long have you been self-publishing? What is your biggest takeaway when it comes to indie publishing and trying to make a dent in a crowded market?

I’ve been self-publishing for almost 5 years. It’s been quite the ride. The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that nothing stays the same in indie publishing. You have to constantly pivot to keep up with the changes in the market. A year in this business is like 7 years outside of it. Almost anything becomes dated (as far as marketing goes) within 6 months. So making a dent in the market is becoming increasingly more difficult because every genre is just saturated now. So I focus on what I can control— I try to write the best story I can and give it the best cover and blurb I can to make it stand out. So learn to adapt. That’s the most important skill in this business.

What three pieces of advice would you give an author looking to self-publish for the first time?

— Be prepared to do a lot of things that won’t be writing. You’re a publisher, and that’s an entirely different job. If you can accept that and embrace it, you’ll be ahead of the game.
— Do not make your own cover or use any cover that isn’t as great as the covers on the bestsellers’ lists. This does not necessarily have to be expensive. I don’t think people realize you can get amazing covers for less than $100. Even so, do not skimp on this. And be honest with yourself. “Acceptable” is not going to work. Not in this market. The cover has to be great. It has to tell the reader immediately what genre it is and what they can expect from the story or they will scroll (or stroll) on by.
— Nothing matters more than writing. If you’re not getting words in, you’re wasting time. Yes, you have to do plenty of non-writing stuff. But nothing should ever come before words. Don’t get distracted by anything else. There’s no course or marketing plan that can make up for not having words to sell. Writing is king.

What are the biggest misconceptions people have when it comes to the indie book market? 

I don’t know if people still think this, but it used to be that people considered anything self-published as being crap. And sometimes it is, but those books don’t sell. It’s not like it was in 2013 when it seemed anything would sell. Today, indie books (the ones that sell and the ones on the bestsellers lists) are indistinguishable from any other book on the market. That’s the great thing about it becoming a competitive market, in order to do well you have to be good. You have to have a professional product. Indie publishing is no longer the slush pile in ePub form.
Tell us about your latest crime series--Murder on the Redneck Riviera.  
My Murder On the Redneck Riviera series is about the Beckett sisters, Dee and Meg. The sisters are estranged and haven’t spoken in years due to a dark secret they share. When their dad dies,  Meg is put in charge of the dilapidated panhandle beach (the Redneck Riviera is the nickname for the beaches on the Florida panhandle) motel their family has owned since the 1950s. Dee is forced to come home for mysterious reasons and begs Meg for a job and a place to crash. Despite Meg not wanting anything to do with her sister, she agrees and that’s when the trouble begins. Dee’s first night working the front desk of the motel she finds a dead body in one of the rooms… and she knows the guy. Except she thought she killed him ten years ago. 

It’s a very Florida story. I was inspired by other Florida series I love by Carl Hiassen and Dawn Lee McKenna. There’s eccentric characters, murder, family secrets, and nothing is quite as it seems. Much like Florida!
(You can preorder it now.) 

You live in South Carolina and really embrace the setting in your thrillers. What is it about the South that lends itself to crime fiction? 

I think what’s great about the south are the people. I mean the south is full of eccentric characters. What’s the old saying? Something about in the south we don’t hide our crazy people. We show them off in the living room and offer them a cocktail. No one asks if you have crazy people in your family, they just ask you what side they’re on. I absolutely LOVE southerners. They aren’t afraid to tell you who they are and they tend to have complicated pasts. They also live in this very haunting place with a dark and Gothic history. I love the Spanish moss, the confederate jasmine that creeps up its antebellum homes, and I absolutely love the food and unwillingness to part with certain traditions. There’s a bizarre sort of social hierarchy that still exists in the south today and I think it’s the perfect recipe for a good crime story. 

Who are your favorite authors? Who are you reading right now?

My favorite author of all time is Pat Conroy. I love Fannie Flagg, Carl Hiassen, Liane Moriarty. Shirley Jackson and Flannery O’Connor are up there with Conroy for me. I love the darkness in their stories. Right now I am reading a lot of domestic suspense, I just read a great book by Anna Pitoniak called Necessary People that was very good.

What TV shows are you binge watching?

I mean, sadly, I watch a lot of reality TV. I really love studying the women on the shows, their desires and their motivations. It’s also just a shallow escape. As far as actual television shows, I am obsessed with The Crown. I love the show Bloodline which is a Florida suspense series. Veronica Mars. Breaking Bad. I’m very into Succession right now.
Can't Let Go, a psychological suspense about Charleston's well-to-do, is available now.

Alison lives in Charleston with her husband and kids. You can connect with her via Instagram to find out more about her work and her life.

And buy her books! You won't be disappointed.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Google Search: Writer Slang

I had intended to post Part 2 of my Zodiac Profiles for Writers, but I decided to stick with my assigned topic for this moth - a Google search. I’ll give you Part 2 next month.

As the mom of a newly minted teenager, I find I'm constantly trying to keep up. I’m the mom who monitors her phone whenever I feel the urge (she’s aware of this, by the way, and I tell her when I do a check - it’s a good way to keep her on her toes). I also follow her on all her social media. I also have to be added to any private stories she has on Snapchat. This means that occasionally I’m exposed to some slang terms that I’m too old to understand. I’m often looking up terms (and sometimes crying when I find out what the mean). This got me thinking - what kind of slang terms exist for writers? 

A Google search gave me the following suggestions:

A click on Writer Slang Name took me to and while there were some I was familiar with (like in the first picture below), there’s a whole world of terms I never knew existed. I selected just a few to share with you here today, but I urge you to go and explore on your own.

If you have a favorite writer slang term, feel free to drop it in the comments below - just dont forget to tell us what it means!

~ Carrie 
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