Friday, 6 September 2019

The Breath of Earth is here!

It has been longer than I planned, but The Breath of Earth, the third book in my Frozen World Antarctic sci-fi series, is finally here!

Like all of my books, it's a living example showing that once you want something badly enough, the impossible becomes possible. I have four children aged 10 to 1 at home and a husband who works from home and who, let's face it, thinks taking the time to write is never justified if it clashes with housework - which is kind of always, because I don't think I'll ever reach a point in this life where I have no housework piled up. Furthermore, last January I had taken on an editing job to help pay the bills. If anyone can legitimately say that they have no time to write, it would probably be me. I have no set hours, no private work space, no budget for any extras, and zero support from my family.

What I do have is a brimming well of stories within me, a laptop, and a virtual cheerleading community of indie authors and amazing readers that keeps egging me on. Oh, and an overpowering, burning desire to make money from what I love and do best - writing fiction.

The Last Outpost, the first book in the Frozen World series, was a pivotal point in my writing career in the sense that it was the first book I didn't try to pitch to agents and publishers before going the self pub route. I didn't want a publishing deal even theoretically. What I did want was to have that book out in the world as soon as possible, working on my behalf and, hopefully, earning money. I also wanted a full measure of control over my story and how it would see the light of day. I knew I would make mistakes, I was prepared to do that and bounce back and keep learning.

While I had some ideas about a sequel to The Last Outpost when I released it, I was also prepared for the possibility of the book remaining a standalone. I knew I was tired of writing and publishing books nobody would buy. I no longer bought into the starving underappreciated artist trope. Just like a storyteller of old wouldn't be spinning their tales if nobody came to take a seat next to them beside the fire, I wouldn't keep writing things nobody else was interested in. But I got some very positive reviews for The Last Outpost and, for the first time ever, a trickle of sales that didn't fizzle out after the first few days.

Encouraged, I did two things:

1. Wrote a freebie short prequel, The Frozen Shore, and offered it for free on Smashwords to funnel readers to The Las Outpost. I don't have exact numbers, but I'm pretty sure I gained a few new readers that way.

2. Went full steam ahead with writing the sequel, The Ice Fortress, which took a few months. Once it was released, I was glad to see that the conversion rate from the readers of the first book was pretty good. It means that many readers have enjoyed the first book enough to buy the second, which is thrilling.

I have been holding off on paid promotion until I would have at least three books in the series, but even so, I have had daily sales with the first two Frozen World books - without advertising and initially, with no reviews to speak of. I do have a social media presence (this blog, Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and lately Instagram), but it is relatively modest.

My marketing plan for the near future includes making the first book of the series free for a few days, some AMS ads, and most importantly, working on the next book in the Frozen World saga.

So is there more to come? You betcha! I am currently working on an outline and getting pretty excited. Give me a few late-nighters, and it should be well under way.

Friday, 9 August 2019

Little Victories

This week, I wrote those two glorious words - The End - at the bottom of the first draft of The Breath of Earth, the third book in my Frozen World series. Yes, it's a first draft, and yes, it's a hot mess, and yes, it will probably (OK, certainly) require a whole lot of editing, but I still got this novel out of me, and I'm taking full advantage of this opportunity to celebrate. 

I don't remember ever working so hard to finish a first draft. Most of it was due to sheer exhaustion. I would spend the day taking care of the house and the kids and working on editing projects for the company I work with, and then, finally, the house would be quiet and I'd carve out some time for writing, and I'd sit down to my laptop and write a few paragraphs, and then my eyelids would droop and I'd wake up half an hour later, slumped forward with a crick in my neck. 

Or I would write in the living room, surrounded by my kids, who are always busy making sure my life wouldn't be boring. I'd type on, with the sounds of "Mom, mom, mom, mom!!" in my ears, and eventually I would stare at the screen and realize I've written total nonsense. 

Please don't think I've been intentionally neglecting my family. I'm an extremely efficient writer intent on making the most of the minuscule amount of time I have, and can churn out a 1,000 words in half an hour. Usually I split this into two 15-minute daily writing sessions. My kids can survive without having my undivided attention for 15 minutes. 

I'm not telling you all this to complain, but rather to reaffirm the efforts of anyone who is struggling. If you really want to, you can do it! It may be slower and harder, and building a backlist will take longer, but you will have that book in your hand eventually, and then another and another. 

Having very limited time, I've been focusing entirely on Frozen World during the past months, because it's my best-received series, and the only one for which I have mostly organic reviews. I have some thoughts about subsequent books, too - four and beyond - with plans for a POV shift and new characters. 

I'm also tweaking the first book's cover and changing the second book's cover entirely to create consistent branding for the series. But that's a subject for another post. 

Saturday, 27 July 2019

Mental health for writers

It has taken me years to acknowledge that I do indeed suffer from legitimate emotional/mental issues and do need help to cope from time to time. During my first session with my therapist, when I mentioned that I'm a writer, she smiled and said, "Well, you know, depression and anxiety are something like professional diseases."

Indeed, depression and anxiety do seem to be something like an athlete's foot for writers. The same acute receptivity that makes us good at transmitting shades of emotion into words makes us extra sensitive to existential fears, insecurities and mood swings. Throw in the loneliness of the writer's work, the long-term uncertainty and struggle, and oftentimes the financial instability, and you've got the makings of General Anxiety Disorder.

Obviously, mental health issues are something anyone might struggle with, but I do believe writers had better pay attention to themselves because sometimes those things are elusive. Are you suffering from writer's block or are you simply too anxious to think straight? Is your home extra messy because of your irregular work hours or because of depression?

What made me more open about this was the loss of a dear friend to suicide caused by depression. I would never have believed it of her, such a sunny person overflowing with life. Apparently she was struggling by herself and few people knew about it. So please, please don't suffer in silence.

1. Acknowledge there is a problem. Don't try to push through, holding it all together at any cost. You don't deserve this, and neither do your loved ones.

2. Be kind to yourself. Get enough sleep, eat well, exercise, keep a healthy posture while you work. Avoid unhealthy habits such as overeating and smoking.

3. Writing is an excellent therapy, and I certainly have found that putting words down helps me feel grounded even during the toughest of times, but keeping one's hands busy is therapeutic in a whole different way. I garden, bake, and crochet. Many of my writer friends are also painters, crafters, bakers, etc. Try it - you might just discover a new hobby you love.

4. Don't be alone. Find your tribe, whether in real life or online. Whatever you are going through, chances are many people are in the same boat as you, and things are easier to deal with together.

Thursday, 20 June 2019

Making it as an author: diversify your strategies

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Making it as an author (however you define "making it") can be a twisting, steep path, and if you ask established authors to tell their success stories, their breakthroughs, you'll likely hear very different tales as to what finally got the snowball rolling for each of them. One thing all the stories are almost guaranteed to have in common, however, is persistence - nobody has succeeded by quitting yet, as far as I know!

This doesn't mean, however, that you should just keep going on doing the same old thing, the same old way. That would be like banging into the wall again and again, insisting that there MUST be a door. That's probably true - but the door might be a few steps away, and you need to make those steps to find it!

Stepping back and taking a break for a while might be necessary for your mental health. I had once reached a point when my fingers would shake and my heart would race whenever I sat down to check my email, and when I attempted to write, my eyes would just roll back in my head and I'd doze off (even if it was midmorning). I had been running on an empty battery for too long and I was exhausted. It took some good sober reassessment (and plenty of paperbacks and yarn) to help me recover.

Next, ask yourself some questions:

1. Have I chosen the right genre? Of course, when it comes to book genres, there is no right or wrong, but some genres are more niche than others. I don't suggest that you write something which does not inspire you, because that won't work, but maybe you have a way to tweak your writing to match a more popular genre.

For example, when I began promoting my Viking era novel, The Greenlanders, I discovered that had I included more romance in the plot, I could have gotten into the historical romance category, which has more voracious readers than just historical fiction.

2. Have I delivered the best product I possibly can? I realize this is a tricky one, because the perfect is the enemy of the good. There's literally no end to the amount of money you can pour into a book, including editing, cover design, formatting, and marketing. So set a reasonable budget and work within it.

You can also publish on no budget at all, despite what some literary snobs would have you believe. It will just take more time because you'll likely have to swap services with other people and/or do a lot yourself. I know of an author who doesn't even read their first draft - it just goes straight to the editor, but that's an exception. Most of us don't have enough money to pay an editor for taking care of a messy early draft.

3. Have I chosen the right publishing strategy? If you have been querying, consider the responses you got so far. If you only get form rejections, it might be time to tweak your query letter. If you get feedback along the lines of "I like it, but this will never sell" consider that traditional publishing is a conservative world, and also that many rejected authors have gone on to succeed as indies.

If you are an indie, consider whether you are locked onto ways and means that don't work, or don't work as well as you'd like. Do you try and try to get a BookBub ad, and get frustrated when you fail? Do you expend a lot of energy on blog tours that don't really help you get sales? Do you leave your books in KDP Select by default because exploring the possibilities of wide distribution seems daunting, or because it's easier than logging in and opting to check out of the program?

4. Am I still enjoying this? Writers are very often introverted people, which doesn't work to our advantage when it comes to marketing and PR, but there must still be some solid kernel of enjoyment left in this whole thing, or you won't be able to go on.

It must still be, at the core, about the writing, telling your story, creating your world. So make mental space for that. Read some really good books, put on some inspiring music. Exercise your creativity in other ways - plant a garden, cook, do crafts. Take walks. Connect with nature. Throw expectations out of the window - if someone is telling you it's no use if you don't manage to bang out two full-length novels each year, tell them to get lost. Guard that inner core of joy and creativity in your writing, because that's your biggest long-term asset.

Monday, 3 June 2019

Reaching new readers in the Asian market

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Have you ever asked yourself, "How on earth will I reach readers with so many indie authors out there?"

It's true that the indie book market is so vast that trying to stand out seems almost impossible, with literally millions of titles being published each year. You might find yourself getting desperate, envying those folks who had jumped on the bandwagon earlier, when competition was less aggressive and Amazon's algorithms were easier to game.

Here's the good news, though: there might be a lot more authors to compete with these days, but there are also more readers - and not all of them on Amazon.

At the beginning of the indie author boom, it was obvious that the target audience is English speaking and Western, primarily in the US, Canada, the UK, Australia and, to a lesser extent, Europe.

These days, however, many countries in Asia and the Far East are going through a rapid process of globalization, technological advancement, and economical development. They are avid consumers of online content, primarily on mobile, and many of them speak and read English fluently. This means the pie is growing apace - there's a whole new market of potential readers for us. Hurray!

There are now over 800 million Internet users in China and over 500 million in India. You can bet some of these people, like everywhere in the world, can appreciate a good story. Can you imagine how fantastic it would be to reach even a fraction of them and have your books before such a huge fresh audience?

A popular reading medium is book serialization through platforms on which users pay a small fee to unlock subsequent chapters or the whole novel. The system is made sustainable thanks to sheer numbers of users, and popular authors can find a very nice income stream there. If this reminds you of Amazon's Kindle Unlimited, it's because there's definitely some similarity - but the beauty of it is that this is an audience largely unreached by Amazon.

I first became aware of this market through my collaboration with Nyoibo Studio, an imprint of Jianlai Global - an international digital publisher based in China and, more recently, the US. They have started out by bringing translated Chinese novels (usually extra long ones) to an English-speaking audience, which I thought was pretty exciting.

So when I heard of their new project of signing up novels originally written in English, I decided to enroll at once. I had a few books which I had sitting in Kindle Unlimited for a couple of years, without any significant benefit. I had decided to pull them out of KDP Select and go wide. And what could be wider than a whole new market?

Here's what made this a very easy decision for me:

1. There is zero risk. That's the most important thing for me - there is literally nothing to lose and everything to gain. The authors do not pay any fees to enroll and are not required to give up any book rights. You remain free to publish your work elsewhere, and your only limitation is the inability to partake in the KDP Select program (but, as I said, I had already decided to go wide anyway).

2. The absolute straightforwardness and transparency of the process. Authors who choose to enroll sign a clear, no-nonsense contract that covers their share of the royalties, payment thresholds, any legal liabilities, copyright issues, etc. The company takes book rights very seriously and will never distribute any content without the author's permission.

3. My inner knowledge of how the company works - I knew that it is honest, legitimate, and makes money off readers, not authors (so you won't have to dodge all sorts of offers of author services, promotion packages, etc).

4. The possibility of being translated into Chinese if your book is especially popular. For me, this is really the cherry on top. I'd love to reach such an enormous audience in its native language.

The English language novel project is launching now, and I am sharing this knowledge with you because I genuinely want to see my fellow indie authors succeed. Nothing will make me happier than getting a message from some of you a little down the road, saying "Hey, I signed up for that project you mentioned and have tapped into a new crowd of overseas fans."

To read more about the project and find out if your work is eligible for participation, visit Jianlai Global's website here, or contact me directly. I would be happy to chat and answer any questions you might have.

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Of Mad Queens, plot arcs, and audience expectations

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Disclaimer: this post is less about writing and more about pandering to my obsession with Game of Thrones.

This week, after eight heart-rending, nail-biting, roller-coasting seasons, we saw the ugliest barbed iron chair in the world go the way of scrap metal by one dragon's wrath - not before Daenerys Targaryen, First of Her Name, The Unburned, etc, was stabbed to death by her lover right in front of the throne she had always fought for but never got to sit on.

A lot of people expressed their disappointment with the way the show handled Daenerys's arc, but to me it made perfect sense. Daenerys wanted that throne so badly, and was ready to do so much to occupy it, that it kind of seemed to me it would never happen (because it's George Martin, you know). She was probably the most epic character in the series; moreover, she was a Targaryen, and that line isn't known for their mental stability. It is only fitting that her end should be tragic, culminating in the loss of friends, sanity, goals and, ultimately, life.

It is also very fitting, in my opinion, that the one who thwarted the madness of the Dragon Queen should be no other than Jon Snow, a.k.a Aegon Targaryen, the ultimate embodiment of A Song of Ice (Lyanna) and Fire (Rhaegar). 

Was Dany's descent into madness rushed? Uncharacteristic? Crudely handled? In my opinion, the seed had been planted a long time ago. The lovely queen was never averse to spilling a few gallons of blood for the supposed greater good, and again, she is a volatile Targaryen. A few provocations, the hint of disloyalty from those close to her, a threat to her claim to the throne, and things naturally go downhill really fast. 

Perhaps most importantly, however, this plot twist follows the principle of Killing Your Darlings. Everyone loved Daenerys (except those people who hated her). Everyone admired her (even those who hated her). Her death leaves us shocked, indignant, bereaved. That's the genius of both the books and the show. There are no promises. No guarantees. No character is safe. 

I'm off, my friends. I'm going with Jon Snow and Tormund into the vast wilderness beyond the Wall (which apparently had been rebuilt in record time). I hope Tyrion joins us soon. If you ask me, he has paid his debts to humanity ten times over.

Monday, 6 May 2019

Blood Heir again: the victory of sanity

A couple of months ago, I wrote about the insane blow-up of PC culture around the soon-to-be released fantasy novel Blood Heir, in which some precious snowflake allegedly found some gross insensitivity to offend their delicate feelings. This resulted in an online shaming and bullying campaign which ultimately caused the poor overwhelmed author, Amelie Zhao, to pull the book and write an apology letter.

In the past few days, I have found out, to my delight, that the book is going to be published after all, and is due to be released in November of this year. I can't express how immensely pleased I am. I don't know the author and haven't read the book, but no one deserves to be ganged upon that way because of some stupid hyped-up charge.

"When the controversy over “Blood Heir” erupted, battle lines were quickly drawn within the close-knit children’s publishing community. A small but influential group of authors argued that the novel dealt insensitively with race and the legacy of slavery, and was an affront to nonwhite communities."

Is it only me, or does it sound like someone was looking for a reason to be offended?

I only hope that the author and editing team did not decide to make any major changes in the text, pandering to the violent righteousness of our Thought Police.

So let's just take a moment to celebrate the victory of sanity, creativity, and artistic freedom, over a PC crazy, hypersensitive cultural movement obsessed with #ownvoices, 'representation', cultural appropriation, and trying to shut people up because #notyourstory.

I hate racism, oppression, and bigotry with a passion, and I firmly believe that so do 99% of the thinking, feeling, writing human beings the author community consists of. One would be hard pressed to find a single expression of real racism, sexism, fascism, or any other infamous 'ism' in mainstream modern fiction. It appears that this is no longer enough, though. Nope, these days one can be punished for not expressing enough loyalty to a certain agenda.