Revitalize Your Writing Career

It’s Never Too Late to Revitalize Your Writing Career

A decade after I decided I needed to “get serious” about my writing career. I already had a master's degree in writing popular fiction and had been writing since I was a teenager. I'd managed to get a couple stories published and enjoyed my first professional sale. At the time, I thought I'd start making a living from my writing within five years.

That didn't happen. I watched other writers, newer writers, achieve the sort of success that I wanted. I kept at it and sold more stories. I made my first forays into indie publishing and it didn't take off the way I wanted. Since I also have a satisfying career as a librarian, I shifted my focus to my library career. I kept a few things going with my writing, but mostly I let it rest for about three years. Now I'm rebuilding, revitalizing my writing career. In this post I'll share four strategies I've found helpful in starting over.

Let Go of Envy and Focus on Your Writing Career—Not Another Writer's Career

It's normal enough to envy another person's success, particularly when their success is in your own field. You may see someone who started after you enjoying the success that you desire. Envy can quickly turn poisonous. 

  • “They got lucky…”
  • “It's terrible writing…”
  • “They only got attention because they are [blank]…”

None of that is positive or helpful in your own writing career. I've heard people (all too often) denounce a writer and their work because it is ‘too popular,' a condemnation based on classist views that equate popularity with lesser quality. Maybe that writer's books aren't to your taste, but clearly there are aspects to their writing that people enjoy. 

Rather than envying another writer's career, learn from them. Don't focus on what you think they've done wrong, or what you think are their weaknesses. Focus instead on their strengths. Maybe they're strong in an area where you can improve. Put aside your envy of their success and learn instead. 

Reframe Your Expectations

Do you see what I did years ago? I decided that I needed to “get serious.” For me that meant giving my writing career more attention, focus, and study. It meant increasing my production. And I expected that the work I was doing would result in making a living from my writing in a fairly short time frame.

Realistic? Not particularly. It wasn't based on any concrete reasons. I wanted a certain result, and expected that result to materialize simply because I worked hard. Whether or not that happened, my expectation wasn't reality-based. It was based on hopes and dreams rather than anything concrete, or anything within my control.

Set realistic and fair expectations for yourself. Can you control sales? No. Can you practice writing copy? Yes. Can you test different ads? Yes. Can you study how other writers create engaging openings? Yes. Is it realistic to expect to write 10,000 words per day? I don't know, it depends on you and your circumstances. It isn't a realistic expectation for me. 

Figure out realistic expectations for yourself, based on what you control, and you'll see more success with your writing career.

Refresh (or Release) Your Titles

One way I aim to revitalize my career is by refreshing existing titles with new editions and by releasing titles that I haven't previously published.

Maybe you have titles that haven't performed the way you desired. You're not stuck with that experience. You can change anything you want. Maybe your book needs a new title? Cover? Design? Everything? Many writers find improved success by relaunching and refreshing their backlist. 

If (like me) you have unpublished titles sitting in your files, why not get them out? I took my break from my writing career to focus on my librarian career after a year in which I wrote several books. I have the first two books in one series, and several other books that I haven't released yet. The first new book, Stowaway to Eternity, will come out soon.

Stowaway to EternityStowaway to Eternity

Focus on Fun

Finally, don't do what I did and “get serious.” I'm not suggesting that you don't do the best you can. I don't believe that it's a great idea to take your writing career so seriously that it strips away the fun. I've written stories for decades whether they sold or not.

One of the best ways to revitalize your writing career, gain new enthusiasm and excitement, is focusing on fun. Write the story that you want. After you're done you can figure out what you've written. Give yourself the freedom to experiment and try new things. Take risks. Challenge yourself without making the book too important. The more importance and stress you put on yourself to write the book, the harder you'll find it to stick with the book.

I'm excited about relaunching my writing career. I'm trying out new things and having fun. Over the rest of the year I plan to have many more books available. I hope you'll check back to see how it goes, and share your own progress with your writing career.

Writing Depression

Writing Through Depression

Writing and depression both factor into my life. For the longest time, I didn't know that I suffered from depression and anxiety. It showed in many ways, the worst that I presented a positive face in public but my family saw the downside of keeping up that smiling depression. Fortunately, a couple years ago a major depressive episode actually helped me realize I needed assistance, that doing so wasn't a sign of weakness.

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Recognizing Depression

At the time when I struggled with depressive thoughts, if asked I wouldn't have been able to recognize that I was depressed. What reason did I have to be depressed? I had a loving family, a great job, things I was interested in—I couldn't be depressed. I didn't know exactly what it meant to be depressed, other than associating it with suicide, sadness, and problems more serious than mine.

Not everyone experiences depression in the same way. Some might not even realize that they are depressed, especially if they seem like they're managing their day-to-day life. Smiling Depression, Psychology Today

Sadly, there's a stigma associated with depression, and mental health issues. We don't talk about it—which makes it very difficult for someone to recognize it and get help. There are things you can do to manage depression, however it manifests. A major barrier to getting help, and a reason for the stigma around depression and mental health is that we term it mental health instead of just health. No one is blamed if their eyesight requires glasses. When it comes to the brain, however, we tend to ignore the organic root of the issue and can become critical because someone takes antidepressants to help with their condition. Each person is different. That one needs medication and another doesn't is unimportant. What matters is that they get the help they need.

If you think there's any possibility that you suffer from depression and anxiety—get help.

Writing and Depression

We've faced a number of life rolls in this new year. Money stress due to unexpected expenses, and lately, one of our dogs hasn't been well. He's a big dog, 7 years old, and suddenly has had a number of medical issues leading to vet visits. My doctor had also declined to refill my medication pending a check up.

Yesterday my depression hit me upside the head. One of those I just want to crawl under the covers and stay there sort of days. I didn't. Instead, I used techniques that have helped me keep going and writing despite being depressed.

  • Meditation. I meditate each day using Headspace. I find a regular practice helps.
  • Journal. I also keep a (brief) journal. It's a few comments each day, notes on emotions, sleep, and a gratitude statement.
  • Routine. I went to work despite everything. I worried about our dog, anticipating the vet calling, and did my best to focus on my routines.
  • Create. I tackled creative tasks I could manage and wrote the new description for a novel as well as some other notes.
  • Kindness. Finally, I treated myself with kindness. I recognized my depression. I identified it, noted it, and was gentle with myself.

Depression is hard. None of this makes it easy. All this does is make it possible to deal. These are a few of the things I do to handle days like yesterday and still manage to write. Writing itself helps.

I'm doing better today, not 100%, but better. If you have techniques that help you write through depression, please share in the comments below.

Sell Direct

Why Sell Direct to Readers?

I'm setting up my site so that I can sell direct to readers. I still plan to offer my books through the major retailers. Selling direct offers many advantages for both authors and readers. I'd planned to do this years ago, but at the time it was a much more difficult thing to set up. Today, many tools exist to make direct sells easier than ever. This post isn't about the details of setting it up so much as why consider it at all?

Sell Direct For Options

One of the big reasons for me to sell direct is to have options to improve service to my readers. I started reading e-books long before the launch of Kindle and all along I've been frustrated by the lack of options available as both a reader and an author. Selling direct gives me opportunities, such as:

  • Free e-books with print purchase. I'm amazed that publishers don't offer this now. Amazon implemented their Kindle matchbook, and you can offer a free e-book with a print purchase, but it isn't promoted well on the site. And often it isn't a free e-book. I'll roll this out as I get print editions released so that anyone buying print copies will get a free e-book as well.
  • Coupons, Sales, and other Discounts. Some of the platforms allow authors to run promotions and offer coupons or other discounts—on their terms. With my own platform, I can decide what sort of offers I want to make available without having to go exclusive with a platform. I can experiment and try different things within my own environment.
  • Unique Offers. I can create unique offers when I sell direct, such as special bundles, book and swag combinations, signed copies, and anything else that I can imagine (e.g., one idea, personally signed e-books that are customized for the purchaser).
  • Patrons. I support creators at Patreon, but I can set up the same sort of thing through my own site and save the fees associated with the service. I'm not limited by their platform. I can customize my site to work for my readers.

Sell Direct for Connections

In addition to improving service for readers, I also want to sell direct in order to connect directly with readers. I'm grateful for anyone choosing to read my work, whatever store they use. When you purchase through Amazon, Apple, or Kobo, there's no direction connection. You're their customer. I appreciate it either way, but I'd like to build a direct relationship with readers. As a librarian, I've spent countless hours talking to readers. I want to make those connections outside of the library as well.

Obviously, these aren't mutually exclusive. Anyone choosing to go through a retailer is still perfectly welcome to contact me, sign up for my email list, or go through me for some purchases and not others. 

Sell Direct for a More Secure Future

I posted before about Amazon having all of your eggs. In the USA, Amazon controls much of the market for books. The idea of opening a storefront may seem odd. Except that people do it all the time. A great many entrepreneurs sell direct through their site—and don't sell on Amazon at all. I plan to sell products on Amazon that make sense, but as I mentioned above, there are more options with my own store. Short stories, for example.

On Amazon, an author only receives 35% royalty for a short story priced under $2.99. Likewise, if you want to offer a bundle at a price higher than $9.99. Between those two prices authors receive 70% royalty. Through my own store, I can offer a short story at .99¢ and it doesn't impact what I receive from the sale. Using Woocommerce and BookFunnel, I can sell a story for .99¢ and get ~65% from the sale after transaction costs. That's much better than 35%! 

I don't plan for direct sales to account for all of my income. I plan to make my novels widely available. I also plan to offer exclusive content through my site and deals for readers that aren't available elsewhere. By diversifying, I make my future more secure and proof against changes in retailer policy.

A Quick Rundown of Resources

I'm not going to go into great detail here, but I wanted to share the resources that I am using to sell direct. Or will be using once everything is up!

  • ConvertKit. I picked ConvertKit for my email list after listening to Nathan Barry talk about his reasons for creating the service. It's great.
  • WordPress. I use WordPress to create my site. I've been a WordPress user since the early days and continue to learn more all the time.
  • Thrive Themes. My brother turned me onto Thrive Themes. They're great and the themes and plugins offer so much functionality. I really appreciate their tutorials!
  • Woocommerce. I'm using the very popular Woocommerce for my shop. It offers great functionality and extensibility as well as integrations with my other tools.
  • BookFunnel. A great service that makes it easy to deliver e-books to readers and provides support and apps for readers.
  • LearnDash. I plan to use LearnDash for future courses offered on my site.

Those are the major services that I'm using at the moment. I'll post in more detail about all of them in the future. In the meantime, if you have other tools to recommend, please share in the comments!

Anthology Workshop Ocean

Reflections on the Anthology Workshop 2018

I just spent over a week on the Oregon coast attending the 2018 Anthology Workshop run by WMG Publishing's Dean Wesley Smith, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, and Allyson Longueira. The other editors this year included Denise Little, Ron and Brigid Collins, and Mark Leslie Lefebvre. Plus nearly fifty professional writers who wrote stories for six different Fiction River anthologies and Pulphouse Magazine. How was it? Fantastic and intense. 

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Anthology Workshop Basics

Dean Wesley Smith runs the Anthology Workshop along with Kristine Kathryn Rusch and WMG Publishing on the Oregon coast. The link to Dean's site provides more information about this invitation-only workshop. Basically, a bunch of professional writers write short stories on a tight deadline for a half-dozen anthologies before going to the workshop. They also read the stories.

This isn't a critique workshop. The writers don't critique each other's work. The only critiques come from the panel of editors who each give their opinions and thoughts on each story in turn. The editor of that anthology is the final word on the story, making an offer to purchase the story (pro-rates) or rejecting it. It takes all day to get through the stories for each anthology.

If you have a hard time with form rejection letters, sitting and taking notes while 6-7 editors pick apart your story in front of a room full of writers might not be for you. It's a fantastic opportunity to learn.

Historic Anchor Inn<img class=”tve_image wp-image-676″ alt=”Historic Anchor Inn” width=”4160″ height=”3120″ title=”IMG_20180226_095007″ data-id=”676″ src=”//ryanmwilliams.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/IMG_20180226_095007.jpg” style=”width: 100%;”>

Historic Anchor Inn

Anthology Workshop Reflections

A year ago I decided to attend the Anthology Workshop once I finished my MLIS degree. I've attended numerous other Oregon coast workshops on writing craft and business. I've sold stories to Fiction River. Despite that, I hadn't attended one of the anthology workshops. I knew what to expect (more or less) from my other experiences. It definitely met my expectations and was a great way to launch my effort to relaunch my writing.

The schedule each day started with joining other writers at breakfast at 9 AM at the Historic Anchor Inn. Then up to the Inn at the Spanish Head for the sessions at 11 AM. The editor panel started through the stories up for that anthology. We broke for lunch at 1 PM and came back at 3 PM to continue. Another break at 6 PM for dinner, back at 8 PM for the final stories. Once the panel finished with the stories the anthology editor assembled the anthology, making decisions about ‘maybe' stories. In some cases decisions waited until later in the week. Throughout Dean also picked stories for Pulphouse Magazine. By 9:30 PM (usually), we wrapped up and went back to the Anchor to hang out until 11 PM or so.

Socialization Overload

It's great fun hanging out with lots of writers. I also found that I needed to take care of myself by getting some solitary time back in my room. As the days went on, I cut back on attending some of the morning and evening sessions. I needed that time. I still took time to spend talking with the other writers and editors. I learned a lot and enjoyed those conversations. I just took time for myself when needed.

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Storytelling Lessons

The Anthology Workshop highlights so many invaluable details about storytelling. As each editor discusses each story, you hear what worked, what didn't, and what they might suggest changing in edits. You see them disagree with each other. One editor might say that they got confused, or think that something should be changed, only to have another editor contradict them. Very few stories work for the entire panel.

A chief lesson: send the stories out. Each reader will have different reactions. Some will love a story while others don't. 

Selling Isn't Everything

Out of the six stories I submitted, two got picked up. One for Fiction River and another for Pulphouse Magazine. That's two more professional sales and I'm thrilled. It isn't the most important thing that I took away from the anthology workshop. The writers wrote something like 1.2 million words of fiction for the anthology workshop. The editors talked about every single story. And I have notes about all of the stories.

That is the best thing about the anthology workshop. I have extensive notes about what worked and what didn't work for each editor about each story. That's a terrific learning resource which will help me improve my writing. I'll be happy when my stories get published, but the storytelling lessons will continue to improve my writing for years to come.

A Writer’s Introduction to Life Rolls

The view out my window shows gently falling snow and frosted fir trees. Pretty, so long as I'm sitting here looking out the window. Less so when I head out later to pick up my sick dog from the vet. What does this have to do with life rolls? What are life rolls?Continue reading

Eggs with Amazon logo illustration cash streams

Amazon Has All Your Eggs: Diversifying Cash Streams

I didn't think about cash streams when I started writing. My basic understanding was that I'd write something, send it out, and I'd either get paid for it or not. Of course, this was back before the Web and before the current age of self-publishing (which has been the model in the past). I wasn't thinking about cash streams or about different ways I might use the copyright on that work. I also didn't consider how long I could continue to benefit from my intellectual property.

Today writers face many different decisions around cash streams and our intellectual property.

Amazon Has All Your Eggs

In the United States (not necessarily in other parts of the world) Amazon is a giant. This dominant market position leads writers to put everything in Amazon's basket by going exclusively with Kindle Select. This can work very well. With the integration of print into KDP, it is also easy to offer paperback copies. It offers promotional opportunities and inclusion in the Kindle Unlimited all-you-can-read e-book lending program. Paid by page reads, many writers find a lot of success this way by offering work that readers want.

I've also seen the reactions when Amazon changes how Kindle Unlimited works. A change to recommendations, to what gets paid, can mean that what worked before doesn't work for some writers. With everything in Amazon's basket, writers are vulnerable to such disruptions.

Going Wide

Another group of writers talks about the benefits of going wide to multiple stores and distributors. Whether going directly to Kobo or iTunes or using a service like Draft2Digital, these writers aim to reach as many readers as possible on an international scale. With enough success around the globe, Amazon's share of contributing to the writer's income drops. It still might make up the biggest piece of the pie but it becomes obvious that it isn't the whole pie.

This is where those other cash streams come into the picture. Say sales through Amazon makes up 60% of your income. Does it make sense to drop the other 40%? If you never had anything except Amazon sales it might not be obvious how much you're missing.

It's Not All E-Books

Intellectual property—copyrights you own—can provide an endless variety of income streams. The same story might sell in e-book, different print formats, audiobooks, in periodicals, anthologies, gift boxes, and other formats that you decide to produce. It can be translated into other languages. It can be adapted to other media, such as plays, films, or TV shows. It might become the basis for gaming titles across a variety of game genres. Comic books offer yet another take on your story. Merchandise is another possibility, through licensing or other avenues.

Think about a popular intellectual property, e.g., Star Wars or Game of Thrones. Ask yourself a question about those stories. Would they exist in the way they do if either George had published the story as an exclusive e-book on Amazon? (And yes, I realize that wasn't an option back then.)

What if your book is the ‘next [fill in the blank of your favorite title]'? Even if you don't think that your story has the potential to be the next whatever, there are still so many formats and opportunities available.

And yes, going exclusively with Kindle Select doesn't have to be forever. Except writers do sign exclusive deals all the time with major publishers that have far-ranging implications on how that writer makes money. Get an intellectual property attorney (not an agent) to look at any contract. Amazon is relatively benign in comparison to many publishing contracts. At least with Kindle Select, you can opt out in 90 days—with a publisher contract you might be lucky if you can opt out in 35 YEARS.

Lots of Eggs in Lots of Baskets

That's my strategy (though it isn't true at the moment). As I relaunch my titles and release new titles, I plan to go wide and hit as many formats as possible. I plan to have lots of titles available wherever readers can find them. Lots of eggs in lots of baskets. Some of the eggs might get broken. A basket might develop a hole in the bottom, but I'll have other income streams in place. I may even have a Kindle Select basket with targeted titles that are likely to be of interest to Kindle Unlimited readers. I want to experiment.

What About You?

Do you want Amazon, a publisher, or another vendor to have all your eggs? Share in the comments!

Tortoise shell pattern

Self-Publish Like A (Badass) Tortoise

I am relaunching my writing career this year, planning to move the dial from very few sales to the bestseller ranks. With twenty-four titles including new and previously published titles, I have a lot of work to do. It's easy to get frustrated that I'm not moving faster.

Take Tortoise Steps

I am embracing the tortoise approach to self-publishing. I'm picking my steps to make incremental progress. One thing at a time. Otherwise, it quickly gets too overwhelming.

Examples:

I have a bunch of previously published novels that I want to reissue. I published some under my name, others under pen names, but I plan to bring them back out under my name. I want to change my print-on-demand (POD) approach to move Amazon paperbacks over to the Kindle Direct Platform (KDP) from CreateSpace, move expanded distribution to IngramSpark, add hardcover editions via IngramSpark, and add large print editions on IngramSpark as well. That means I'll have four versions of each book across different formats and platforms.

Then there are e-book editions of each novel. I plan to go direct with KDP, Kobo, and run the rest through Draft2Digital.

The new editions of the books will have new covers (and different print formats require changes there too). Designing and illustrating my own work may not be the best approach from a strictly commercial view. I'm doing it because I love doing illustration work. The artwork hasn't been what I want—yet. I'm getting better and continue to learn.

I also plan to check the interiors to catch mistakes that might have been missed in previous editions.

Then beyond all of that are other things I want to do with the books, such as audiobook versions, other language editions, merchandising, and other projects around my work.

That doesn't even begin to tackle marketing, email lists, and promotion.

Whew!

That's too much! Rather than tackle all of that right now, I plan to take one step at a time. I can create new cover art and update the e-book. I can put the books back up that I took down from Kobo and Draft2Digital to try out Kindle Select. I can create KDP paperbacks even if I don't have the hardcover editions done yet. It doesn't all have to happen right now. The key is just taking those steps, one after another.

Forget the Rabbits!

I hear about writers putting out a book each month and other high-productivity efforts. That's great! I'm glad it works for them. I'd like to increase my production rate, but right now I plan to continue at a pace I can manage. That's okay too. As I relaunch my writing career I try to do something each day that will help me move it forward. Today I wrote ~1,500 words between the blog post, finishing one short story, and starting another story. I listened to podcasts to help me improve. I practiced drawing by creating the pattern for this entry's featured image.

Sounds like a pretty good day to me!

What Steps Are You Taking?

I'd love to hear what steps you're taking to move your creative practice forward! Share your thoughts in the comments.

Eyes

5 Reason Your Novel Doesn’t Matter—And Why That Is a Good Thing!

Fear is a serial killer. Creativity, productivity, confidence—fear kills them all. And writers often fear many things. Rejection tops many lists in its various guises. We might rework a story or novel because on a deep level we feel it is not good enough. We develop rituals to handle the fear even if we fail to recognize that the real problem is that we are afraid.

Realizing that your novel (or story) doesn't matter will set you free to create without limits!

5. Your Novel Is One In a Million (Literally)

Each year human beings publish more books than we can count. Year after year. It has been going on for a very long time. The average American reads 12 books in a year. No matter how many books you write it will never be more than a drop in a very big bucket. That's great! One more reason not to stress about your book. Move on to the next.

4. You Novel Is A Game With No Takebacks

You can't take back a Superbowl. Your team played the best they could in that particular game. They don't get to go back and say, “Wait! We want to redo that play. If we—.” Nope. Game over. They can use what they learned playing that game to try and do better in the next game, but that game is done. The same thing is true with your novel. It's done. Move on and write the next book. Keep repeating that and learning.

3. Your Novel Is Only As Good As What It Taught You

Whether your novel makes you a million dollars or ten dollars (or puts you in the hole)—it doesn't matter. Really. Yes, it matters whether or not you can pay the bills. Which is better?

  • Writing and rewriting a book over and over because you feel your financial future hangs on it?
  • Writing several books in the same time period and learning from each?

If you have several books out your chances of paying the bills increases. There's no guarantee but you can't be sure obsessing over making one book perfect is going to result in increased earnings either. Judge the success of your book by what it teaches you, not by how much money it earns (and you need to take the long view on that too).

2.  Your Novel Is Not Your Story

Your novel doesn't matter because it is only a communication tool. It isn't the story. Think about it. Your writing is a process of encoding marks on the page to tell a story. Do a good job and the reader gets the story you wanted to tell. They experience what you tell them to experience. If you screw it up it's like picking up a call with a bad connection. The reader can't hear you, hangs up, and goes on with their day. So the call didn't go through, so what? Try to make the call again. Or call someone else. If you write a manuscript that doesn't work—pitch it! It doesn't matter. Write it again.

1. You Novel Doesn't Determine Your Future

You wrote a book. Great. Good on you. Now write another. And another. Have fun with it! I often hear people say that you need to treat writing as a job. Okay, I get that, but it doesn't sound fun. Think back to games you played as a kid, at the stories that you made up while you played. Play when you write your novel. Sure, you'll learn from it. Kids learn as they play. Play and learning are inextricably linked. Go play! Have fun. Don't take it so seriously. Then do it again!