Tuesday, 18 February 2020

Why I'm happy I stopped querying

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I used to send out queries to literary agents every month. Then I gave up.

That's it in a nutshell, but of course, it's a longer and more complicated story. I have had about 250 rejection emails, cumulatively, over several projects. There probably isn't a single agent in each project's genre that I haven't queried. I have had some limited interest but no takers.

As I wrote in my blog post of 2018, I know it sounds very unfashionable, with all the positive upbeat advice out there: "Never give up! You never know when it happens for you! The next query might just be the one!"

Well, folks, I do give up. Mind, I don't give up writing, publishing, making it as an author or earning money through my books. I give up the uphill task of researching agents, sending queries, waiting (or giving up on waiting) for feedback, and receiving another form rejection or, at best, an "I like your style, but it won't sell" type of message.

I had two choices... No, make it three: keep querying and hope to land a book deal one day; become discouraged and give up writing; or keep working on writing and getting my books out there myself. I chose the last one.

Upon thinking, I realized that the indie publishing model is my preferred modus operandi anyway. I wasn't seeking approval stamps or literary recognition. I like having total control of my own work. I like how quickly an indie book can be produced and hit the market (because you bypass all the stages when you're negotiating with someone else for approval).

Over a year after I had sent out my last query, I can definitely say I'm happy with my decision. Time is a very precious resource for me, and I freed up a large chunk of it once I decided to focus solely on the indie author path. Now I can concentrate on writing the next book, and the next one, and on finding my audience. I have started making some money from my books, and it flows directly to me, and much more quickly, too, than if it had had to pass through more hands.

I have had my Wild Children series placed with a small publishing house, and while I loved working with my publisher and really appreciated the thorough, professional attitude, I realized that I have a lot more fun (and am much more motivated) as a solo venture. I'm pleased to be an indie - or, as some say, an author-entrepreneur, and am excited about all the possibilities this opens before me.

As for 2020: onward and upward!

Saturday, 25 January 2020

Writing through plotter block

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Everyone knows what writer's block is; and although I have repeatedly stated that I don't really believe in it, and that I'm ALWAYS ready to write once I've gotten a couple of little people off my back, 2019 has challenged this statement somewhat.

It was a busy year. I have edited over a million words (in the course of my work as a fiction editor), or about the equivalent of a dozen full-length novels - a novel a month. Thankful as I was for not being out of work a single day that year, there were moments when I wish I could slow down.

It is no wonder, then, that working on the fourth book in my Frozen World sci-fi series, my own book often got whatever dregs and scraps I was able to piece together at the end of a day. Even beginning to write, though I got the premise and title more or less figured out as soon as I finished the latest book in the series, was a stretch.

I have been a plotter for a very long time - from about the moment when I realized that having an outline may well make the difference between finishing a novel in a reasonable time and muddling for years through a series of plot holes big as the moon's craters. So, of course, my credo became, "I'm not even starting before I know how I will finish!"

The problem is, in this case waiting to have the perfect worked-out plot resulted in me sitting before that plot outline, staring at it evening after evening, closing it in frustration, and ending up writing nothing at all.

At all. For a very long time.

I knew how the story would begin. I knew more or less where it was heading. But some parts were blank.

And eventually, I threw in the towel and just started writing.

It was the best decision I could have made. It alleviated my frustration and helped keep my creative juices flowing. It helped me focus. It enhanced my productivity - by challenging myself to produce 1,000 words a day, rain or shine, I was forced to figuratively take a sledgehammer and hack away at the plot block wall until it crumbled, because the show had to go on. So far I have written 35,000 words of this new book and hope to finish the first draft in February.

My takeaway? Don't get hung up on a system, even if it's a good system and has served you well. If it's hindering you from actually writing, make a U-turn and try something new.

Write. Take time off, but also write. It gets easier once you're in the habit of productivity, I promise.

Thursday, 5 December 2019

2019 Recap

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As the end of the year is approaching, it's time for another recap. Compared to 2018, it was a less intense year in terms of books: I only released two, compared to four last year.

I opened 2019 with the release of Dragon Diplomacy, my first Middle Grade fantasy novel, which I did not predict to bring me many sales, and so it did indeed happen - but I'm still glad I wrote and published it, because it was a labor of love co-written with my two eldest daughters, and I immensely enjoyed working on it.

Then I shifted my focus back on working on the Frozen World series, and released The Breath of Earth, the third book of the sci-fi saga, in September. I am now working on book four of the series, which will be titled The Bloodthirst Gene, and while I don't have an estimated release date yet, it will definitely be sometime in 2020.

It was also a year of professional growth for me as an editor, with having such an inflow of work that I actually had to turn down several manuscripts - I haven't had to advertise actively for almost a year now, a vote of confidence from my clients which I appreciate beyond what words can express.

In the meantime, I also did quite a bit of self-education on novel serialization and expanding into the Asian market, which has been an ongoing learning curve, and on which I hope to be able to provide an update soon.

2020 is going to be another busy year with more writing, and probably two books coming out, more exploration of new markets, and more growth. I daresay it will be pretty exciting!

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Some slice of life writing challenges


The latest post on Joanna Penn's excellent blog features Andrea Pearson, who offers some essential advice on time management for authors who are also the mothers of young children.

... And who happen to have the privilege of a cleaning lady, an assistant, budget to outsource things like editing and layout, and a fantastically supportive husband who is totally on board with their writing business and actually lends a hand with some aspects of its management.

Now welcome back to the reality of a frazzled author mom on a shoestring budget, who doesn't have a peaceful moment in a day and whose husband believes that if today is the 27th of the month and she has a deadline on the 29th, rearranging the pantry is still WAY more important than anything writing-related.

Please understand that my snark here is not directed at Ms Pearson, who does sound like a fantastically organized and competent author. She has three children and homeschools, so any help she can get is definitely warranted and I can imagine she is not spoiled with an excess of free time either! Many authors with fewer commitments struggle with time management. In fact, as Ms Pearson rightly says, being busy forces us to make good use of our time.

But here's the thing. Many authors are struggling so hard to keep their heads above water that they wouldn't even have the time or energy to give an interview like Ms Pearson's. I was one of them. Like a miser lovingly clutching his coins, I would snatch every available moment to write - on a pad while being stuck in traffic, on my phone while lending myself as a pillow to a child who was struggling to fall asleep. I was literally clawing out those moments out of an overworked, unappreciated existence.

Getting my own laptop was a game changer. I used to write on the family desktop PC located in the middle of the living room, which meant I was always in the eye of the tornado. It would also often crash and my work would be unsaved.

Often, I knew that the baby wouldn't nap for long, and I needed to choose between a shower and writing. A snack and writing. Answering a call from a friend who was going through a hard time and writing.

And I chose writing.

I was that perpetually hungry, crazy-haired, lonely individual who resented her bladder for stealing a few moments that could be spent in front of the screen typing. Does that sound nuts? It is. I was nuts.

It's just that I wanted to make it really, really, REALLY bad.

And I am making it, because I still make the same choices every day. I'm more efficient in a lot of things, but my work doesn't just happen unless I put my foot down and say "Now everything waits while I meet that deadline".

What about support from your spouse or extended family?

A couple of years ago, an author told me concerning family support: "A clean house, cooked dinners, and the full-time paycheck I made didn't matter. What mattered to them was that not every single moment of my day was focused on them and serving their needs".

She was not alone. And if you are going through the same thing, neither are you. This isn't because so many spouses and children are big meanies trying to sabotage the author who happens to be their mom/dad/wife/husband. It's just that many people genuinely don't get it. And children are, by nature, selfish - you have to teach them otherwise.

If you are surrounded by an environment that all seems to conspire against your writing dream, you have to stand up and assert that dream. Take up spare moments and hoard them until you have an hour. Take those words, one by one, and put them together until you have a novel.

Things do get easier. You manage to carve out your writing corner. People learn not to drop in on you unexpectedly. Your children learn to respect your boundaries. You become more efficient at what you do and are able to do more in the same amount of time.

You rise, baby. And then you laugh in life's face, and say, "Ha! I made it despite everything!"

You can do it. I can do it. All it takes is getting up, each day, with the determination of following your dream.

Sunday, 17 November 2019

The Downside of Discipline, or why I allowed myself to loaf for a bit

Feet up in Paradise - Time to Relax (XXXL) : Stock Photo

Those who have been reading my blog for a while know that my biggest point of writing advice is: Consistency! Consistency! Consistency! Write 1000 words a day, every day. I don't believe in writer's block. My "writer's block" consists of a kid or three blocking my way to my laptop because they want to watch cartoons on it.

I do know, however, that there is such a thing as burnout. I was quite alarmed, once, at my sudden intense aversion to books and daydreaming of never having to write a single darn thing again. Was this me? Me, the one who has identified as a writer and storyteller since the age of six?

I give myself more slack now. Well, perhaps "slack" is not the right term. I work as a fiction editor, so basically, my whole life revolves around books. Every month, I edit the equivalent of two full-length novels. I read no less than 50 pages of fiction, sometimes written so poorly it makes my eyes water, every day just for work. Is it any wonder that when night rolls around I often feel so run down I can't bring myself to read anything but crochet patterns?

In 2017 and 2018, I released four books per year. In 2019, I released two, and my output is not about to increase in 2020 if the volume of work I perform each month remains the same. I enjoy what I do, but I just had to come to terms with the fact that it takes up, in addition to time, some of the "writing space" in my brain.

So I just had to let my brain lie fallow for a while. Remember the concept of the Sabbatical year? Not working the land and just leaving it to soak up the rain and dew and letting the worms work their magic? A year might be a bit excessive, but after the release of The Breath of Earth in September I stepped back and allowed myself to slip into hibernation mode. Read for fun, no review copies. Watch inspirational videos (Antarctic scenery. Who doesn't love to watch whales frolic and call it research?). Just sort of vegetate until writing started to be fun again, rather than a lifetime penance.

Now that the mojo is back, it's time for some discipline again. Time to tell myself, No, you won't just 'check your email for a moment'. You won't get up to get yourself another piece of chocolate, you glutton. You'll keep at it until your 1000 words are added to the daily word count, you lazy slug.

Monday, 28 October 2019

Walking on eggshells: diversity in literature

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Here is another article that serves as a perfect example of how diversity in literature is becoming a scattering of sharp eggshells authors find extremely hard to walk on, because whatever you do (or don't do), there will be people wielding a large magnifying glass, scrutinizing your work and tsk-tsk-ing about your shortcomings. And the shortcomings are there, believe me. Because whether you underplay or emphasize race, whether you include many minority characters or not enough, someone out there will complain.

And even if you have the perfect nonwhite, non-standard main character and do it all perfectly, it's a shame you had written this at all, because #ownvoices, you know?!

A disclaimer: I hate racism and bigotry. I hate those things with a passion and whenever I encounter them, my blood pressure rises, my heart starts racing, and I normally won't walk away without taking a stand. You want some background? Hitler nearly wiped out my family. Being Jewish, I belong to one of the most ethnically diverse peoples in the world, with a Jewish diaspora having existed in almost every country from Finland to Ethiopia (and yes, they are all MY people! Jews from Yemen and Jews from Ukraine. People who speak Yiddish, Arabic, Amharic. People who make gefilte fish and people who make couscous. Isn't that awesome?)

I find the very beginning of this article - "adding diversity to your writing is a difficult task" - a bit problematic. I can honestly tell you I have never gone through a manuscript saying, "hmm, is this diverse enough? Have I included enough minority characters?" - nor do I think it would be reasonable. My books don't generally focus on race. Neither do, or should, most books. I do have characters of various ethnicity, but it has always been a part of who I was, not a "let's include this character and that character because DIVERSITY!" thing. 

And how about, "Also, don’t dehumanize us. A common example is equating skin tone to food. Avoid this insensitive technique as it’s a grave reminder of our history as slave labor involving commodities like coffee, cacao, sugar, et cetera. We are not products to be consumed, so do not treat us as such."

Really?! What about peaches-and-cream skin? Honey-colored hair? I could go on but you get the idea. Once, I recall reading about a farm worker's freckles described as "a smattering of golden wheat grains". Does this allude to social oppression?

It is true, however, that description of characters' looks shouldn't boil down to redundant cliches. I have learned some important lessons in this during my work as an editor of translated Chinese novels. In books written by Chinese authors where all the characters are Chinese, nobody has "silky black hair and almond-shaped eyes" (you could as well describe someone as 'the dude with two ears and one nose'). Characters are described as having heavy brow ridges, high cheekbones, light or heavy build, thin or puffy lips, and so on. And the occasional European or American foreigner? He doesn't get any description beyond "the middle-aged Caucasian man". 

My own novel, Land of the Lost Tribe, takes place in Ethiopia. You can bet I didn't describe any character as "dark-skinned" or "with kinky hair" (beyond the encounter with different-looking foreigners). I had to get a lot more creative!

As usual with diversity posts, I feel I could go on and on. But you know what? I won't. Just go ahead and write that story. A darn good story with awesomesaucy characters and spot-on brilliant descriptions. Write what fires up your imagination and don't worry about anything else, because you can't please everyone anyway.

Monday, 14 October 2019

Marketing a book series: initial insights

It has been a month since the release of The Breath of Earth, the third book in my Frozen World Antarctic sci-fi saga, and though I am not a metadata whiz like many of my fellow indie authors, I can share two observations:

1. The amount of sales and KU page reads for the whole series has definitely jump-started.

2. I see the most dramatic increase in the sales of book 2.

Part of it is no doubt thanks to reader-funneling after a free book promo for book 1 (The Last Outpost) which I ran on the release of book 3. However, even taking this into account, the read-through from book 1 to book 2 has definitely increased with the release of book 3, even though book 3 hasn't made any substantial waves yet.

Which brings me to the following conclusion, which might or might not be accurate:

Readers are more eager to keep reading when they see an actual ongoing series, not just a book and a sequel.

Psychologically, I know this is definitely true for me as a reader. When I read the first book in a series and like it, I'm more motivated to keep going with the next books in the series if I see I have a lot to look forward to, and the more the better. Therefore, you could argue that the very existence of book 3 is prompting me to buy/read book 2, even though it will be a while before I get to book 3 yet.

All this tallies with the advice to indie authors to not even bother doing much marketing for a series until at least three books are out.

Bottom line: keep writing and getting those books out there! The books in a series work as a team, promoting each other and making it easier for you to make sales.

Also check out this excellent article, How to Launch and Promote a New Book That's Part of a Series