Thursday, February 12, 2015

Anniversary Come and Gone


It is funny how life can sometimes get so normal, an anniversary can pass and out of the blue you suddenly remember that just a few years ago, life was very different.

I have been a full-time writer now for two years.  January 4, 2013 was the magical anniversary day, to be exact.  I emptied out my desk in my windowless cubicle and walked out the door of an institution I had called "job" for close to ten years.  That night, there was a party going on, so as I rolled my cart full of old pay stubs and random desk chum, there were literally bands playing and lasers going off.  That day, my publishers had also secured a special promotion for my book, so as I bid my co-workers goodbye, explaining I was off to become a fancy-pants writer, I also found myself saying, "And today there is this sale on my book and it looks like I'm also #4 on all of the books on all of the Amazon."

But much like a wedding, being an author is actually about the life before and the life after.  They say that success is being prepared when opportunity knocks, and I have to say that my journey has been a reflection of that truth - a mixture of dumb luck backed up by the work I put in when nothing is happening.

So, to mark this anniversary, I thought I would share some of the things that worked for me.

I self-published.  I went through five years worth of rejection letters before I made the decision to self-publish, but none of my success would have happened if I had not to taken that chance.  In fact, the moment I made The Decision, I was still waiting for a response from Simon & Schuster for a book they requested nine months earlier.  It's been four years now, and they still haven't gotten back to me.  In that time, that book which never got past their slush pile has sold close to 100,000 copies.

The sites I use to self publish or have a great reputation are:
  •  (ebooks and print)
  • Draft2Digital  (aggregator for ebook, print, and audiobooks. Access to ebook stores not available direct)
  • (has now merged with KDP)
  • (ebooks and print)
  • Ingramspark (print)
  • ACX  (audiobook production and distribution.  Avoid the "royalty share" production option.  It locks you into a seven year contract and at the end of seven years, it turns into a hot mess.  Also, don't do exclusive.  There are seismic shifts in the audiobook industry and you'll want to be able to take advantage of these things.)  Sadly, due to the return policies of Audible, I recommend waiting before distributing to Audible or using ACX.  They permit (and actually promote) people listening to your whole book, returning it, and you don't get paid.  As a member of the Dramatists Guild, I would caution you to hold off until this is sorted out.
  • Findaway (really great for audiobook distribution with the ability to promote on BookBub via Chirp.  I hear mixed things about production)
  • Author's Republic  (audiobook distribution.  Nice because they pay regularly via PayPal.)
  • ListenUp Audiobooks (I really enjoyed self-producing with them.)
*I personally would publish to Amazon with KDP for print and ebooks, all of the other stores with Draft2Digital, self-produce audiobooks through ListenUp, and publish audiobooks through Findaway.

These are all free to publish (although you cover the costs of buying your covers or producing an audiobook recording).  Self-publishing is not like it used to be where you had to buy 1,000 copies of your book and sell them out of the back of your car.  The various paperback/hardback publishers are print on demand (POD), so when someone buys a book, they print a book.  They take a cut for the cost of printing and you get the rest.  Draft2Digital is an aggregator.  You upload your Word document, they convert it into a beautiful ebook, and they list it on all the sites for you, collect the  money, and deposit into your bank account each month.  They charge a small percentage, but it is about the same you would be paying out if you had an agent.  KDP is Amazon's Kindle publishing site.  You take the beautifully formatted book from Draft2Digital, upload it on KDP, and you're published on Amazon.  And we are entering into a golden age of audiobooks.  ACX can help you produce your audiobook and distribute it to Audible and iTunes.  Author's Republic can help you get it everywhere else.  And I had a great experience getting my audiobook for Queen Mab produced by ListenUp Audio.

It is important to make sure your book is something people will enjoy.  And that means you HAVE to get some other eyes on your project.  I start off with beta readers - they are trusted friends and readers who read through my book and point out plot holes and confusing parts.  In exchange for their time and talents, I beta read for them anytime they ask.  I also recommend grabbing a copy of The Complete Indie Editor.  It is worth EVERY penny.  It has a list of simple search-and-replace suggestions for common errors (its/it's, their/there/they're, that/which, lightening/lightning, etc.)  I then hire proofreaders and editors to go through my books and look for any boo-boos.  Here are some of the people I have used:
The other HUGE part of having a successful book is having an eye catching cover.  Unfortunately in our digital age, your audience will make its decision based upon a thumbnail sized picture, so the artwork you pick will need to be attractive at 3/4" tall.  If you invest any money in your book's success, THIS is where to do it.  Everything hinges on a lovely cover.  Here are the cover artists I have used that are still in business:
But there are are a ton of beautiful cover designers out there.  Many of them offer "pre-made" designs.  That means the cover is all done, they just insert your title and author name, but it costs shockingly less than a custom design (so if your budget is stretched, take a look at a premade.  Many of them are only $25-$100, as opposed to $100 - $700.)

Cover design has been a place where I have gotten into trouble in the past, so as a word of caution, don't pay it all up front.  Pay on delivery or (at most) pay 1/2 up front and 1/2 upon completion, and establish a specific date for delivery (and make that date several weeks before you actually need it because, with nothing but love in my heart, I have had more than one cover artist flake.) 

Write and release often.  The visibility search engines favor those who release a book every thirty days, but you can streeeeetch it to ninety days before crisis hits.  Now, I know that many are concerned writing at such a pace might have an impact on quality.  I only share this information as a reflection of a cold, hard truth we have no control over.  It is just the way the world works and expectations should be adjusted accordingly.  As a fellow author once remarked, "If you expect to make a full-time wage as a writer, you have to put in full-time hours."

SO how do you write that much?  When I get out of the habit, my attention is usually waning after about twenty minutes. Much like running a marathon, ya gotta train up to it.  What I recommend is using a timer.  This was taught to me by my mom who started using it through a site called The Fly Lady.  The premise is that you can endure almost ANYTHING for fifteen minutes.  So, set a timer for fifteen minutes and then write.  No distractions.  No getting up to do laundry.  No checking your email.  Just write for fifteen minutes.  And then once the timer goes off?  If you're mentally done, get up guilt free.  But if you're having a good time, keep going.  Repeat throughout the day.

Gather together a group of people to keep accountable to.  Over the years, for me, this has taken the form of meeting up with other writers in a place to write, checking in with other writers via email every week, taking part in NaNo.  Let's face it.  If left to my own devices, I will binge watch old episodes of The Great British Bakeoff all day.  The reality of having to 'fess up to someone that I slacked all week keeps me honest.  Let peer pressure work for you!

The other thing I have started to do is to get more organized so that I'm using my writing time more effectively.  I recommend a book called 2k to 10k.  It teaches you how to go from writing two thousand words a day to ten thousand words a day.  And it works.  You spend a couple of lousy, mind melting days figuring out characters and an outline, but from there on out?  It is a piece of cake!  You just write from point to point and your fingers fly!  I have found if I don't use the 2k to 10k method, I spend months breaking my brain.  So, three lousy days or three lousy months.  It's a choice.
I stay on top of marketing trends.  I recommend The Writers Cafe on  This is a forum of indie authors very generously sharing their experiences.  The atmosphere here shifts, so sometimes it is super helpful, sometimes people are being jerks (much like any forum), so I would say lurk around, take what you can use, leave the rest.  But when something new hits the indie marketing scene, this has been the most reliable resource for information I have found if you are new.  (UPDATE - KBoards was unfortunately purchased by a company with rights-grabby Terms of Service.  Lurk, but don't post.  The new TOS basically says they own your entire life if you so much as post a "thank you.")  They will help you keep an eye for scammers.  Some charge $2000 for publishing packages and willingly break Amazon's terms of service, which can result in your account being suspended.  There's been a rise in people wanting to take $800+ from you and provide you with crappy covers and poor marketing.  That's what the old vanity publishers used to do and how self publishing got it's bad reputation back in the day.  NO ONE will take better care of your book than you.  Don't hand this precious, precious word baby over to someone who is going to leave it alone by itself next to the knife drawer while they go out for whiskey and smokes.  Yes, indie publishing takes work.  Yes, your gift to the world is worth some sweat equity.

But speaking of getting to know your peers.  Don't be a jerk.  This is not a zero-sum game.  Shared success breeds success.  So much of the good stuff which has happened to me is because of a gal named SM Reine.  A billion years ago, we came onto each other's radar on kboards.  She then invited me to participate in a group book promotion, which led to massive success for my Maggie book.  Then, she invited me to be a part of a boxed set with darlings Deanna Chase, Dannika Dark, and Jovee Winters which hit the USA Today bestseller list.  The pattern repeated itself with other boxed sets and other wonderful publishers and writers.  But what's great is that I look at the people I do business with now  and I genuinely like them.  They are generous of spirit, they look out for others, and they are not afraid to lend their shoulders for others to stand upon, because they know that person will turn around and lift them up and over, too.  Surround yourself with people like that.  Help them.  They will help you.

And most importantly, write what you love.  Keep in mind that if you are successful, that means you are going to have to write MORE in that world, not that suddenly buckets of money will rain from above and suddenly you'll have the opportunity to write what you really want to write.  No, your time will be gobbled up with demands to stay in that world you never really wanted to be in the first place.  So don't write for exposure, don't write for opportunity, write because it is something you love.  As an author, you get to play pretend all day.  You get to decide what game of make believe you want to be real.  So make it something which brings you joy.

Now get in that sandbox and start building castles!

Updated December 8, 2017


  1. Happy Anniversary!! I adore you and I'm so damn proud of you. xoxo

  2. You guys are awesome! Thank you! Couldn't have done any of this without you! I MEAN IT!

  3. <3 To many more years of life without cubicle walls!

  4. Having just had my two year anniversary it seems to be an auspicious time for indie authorpreneurs. But as you've noted, it's a full time career. A lot of people start out today and expect to make money overnight. That rarely happens. It takes hard work, an eye for business, and a love for the genre. Congratulations, Kate! *raises glass* Here's to many more years in the biz ;)