I've been doing some serious thinking about my life as a writer and as a person. Or, more specifically, I've been doing a lot of thinking about how I’ve abandoned my own writing in order to make everyone and everything else a priority.
If you’re a follower of this blog, you’ve probably read my previous posts about balance and prioritizing writing. As I’ve said before, balance is always going to be an issue. Not just for me, but for everyone. We’ve all got families, day jobs, animals, and other responsibilities that take up a great deal of time. There’s always an illness or a crisis or something to derail our plans or offset our goals. For me, major depression often steals my motivation and robs me of the ability to prioritize anything at all. Getting out of bed and taking care of the bare essentials is all I have the strength to do, and so writing is often shoved to the back burner. Depression is the reason I’m constantly having to reset my goals and re-prioritize, but it’s not the only thing standing in the way of achieving my dreams.
I think for most of us, the roadblocks to writing success are numerous. For me, there’s a fear of failure that keeps me from plunging full-force ahead into my writing career. There’s the sneaking suspicion I’m not really that great of a writer and that all my good ideas have already been spent. And when it comes to actually marketing and selling my book, there’s the fear that I’ll annoy my lovely Facebook friends and family by posting book links. Is it bragging to post about my new release? Is it annoying? Do I look silly and delusional when I’m plugging my self-published book? I mean, is it really a ‘real’ book if I published it myself?
With my last book release, I posted a buying link to my blog and to my Facebook Author page. I shot out a couple of Tweets. And thanks to a couple of good author friends, I appeared on a few blogs. That was it. That was my book launch. It took me over four years to get this book published, but I gave it zero priority. I didn’t post a single link on my personal Facebook account. You know, because I didn’t want to bother anyone or make anyone thing I was trying to sell them something. I’m quite certain I spent more time commenting on pictures of what my Facebook friends had for dinner than I spent in promoting my own book.
I’ve liked and shared and commented on my friends’ posts. Wouldn’t they want to do the same for me? I suppose they would if they knew about the book in the first place. But since I didn’t treat myself and my writing as a priority, my friends didn’t realize it is one. It’s likely that some of my friends think I’ve stop writing altogether. Or that they’ve forgotten it was ever part of my life.
At my day job, people don’t know about my writing. I’ve chosen not to share that aspect of my life. I suppose if they decided to cyber-stalk me, they’d discover my ‘secret,’ but up until now, I’ve chosen to keep my writing life separate from my ‘real’ life. And I think this deliberate attempt to keep my writing separate, and to classify it as less than my ‘real’ life is a huge part of the problem. Hiding my writing has become a habit. When a new acquaintance asks what I do for a living, I tell them about the day job. It’s rare that I mention my writing and after all this time, it feels awkward to talk about it with ‘real’ people in my ‘real’ life.
I don’t remember making a conscious decision to put my writing into the hobby category. In fact, I’m sure I never made a deliberate decision to do so. But when I stopped treating my writing like a career or a priority, guess what? It became a hobby, something I indulge in when I’m being selfish or frivolous with my time. Any money I’ve made has been integrated into the family budget instead of reinvested in my career. To this day, I don’t own a paperback copy of my most recent book, even though it is available in that format. In fact, I don’t own paperback copies of many of my books (though I plan to rectify that as soon as I’m finished with this post). On Facebook, I’ve seen post after post from authors buying entire cases of their new releases. And I didn’t buy a single copy to put on my own shelf.
And that is so very sad.
It’s sad that I’ve pushed my writing to the side and that I treat my dream like it’s something annoying or shameful. It’s sad that I only allow myself to write AFTER I’ve done everything else for everyone else, and that by the time I have an opportunity to write, I’m too tired to do so. It’s sad that I downplay my own accomplishments because I’m a self-published author and that I often feel inferior because of it. And it’s sad that I’m a full grown adult who still cares so much about what other people might think and feel about what I do with my own time.
But do you know what is really, really sad? That there are other people like me out there who are experiencing the same thing. Not just writers. Anyone who has a dream. Anyone who wants to leave their 9-to-5 job to pursue their passions. Anyone who is feeling unfulfilled in life but doesn’t believe they are entitled to wanting more. It’s so incredibly sad. Sure, we all have to do things we don’t want to do. It’s part of life and being an adult. But the fact that there are people out there who don’t give themselves permission to dream? Well, that just breaks my heart.
So, today I am claiming it. I am claiming my title as an Author. I am claiming my desire to make writing a career. I’m claiming my books and I’m claiming my writing time as sacred. I’m setting goals and making my writing a priority instead of an afterthought. And I’m claiming my right to celebrate my accomplishments too. I’m ready to take risks and make personal investments in my future.
A month ago, I was drowning in emails. My phone dinged with alerts. I had heart palpitations every time I tried to confront my out of control inbox. It was common for me to wake up to fifty (or more!) new emails every morning. After working all day, I’d come home to dozens of new emails. I couldn’t keep up and had a difficult time sorting the important, time-sensitive stuff from the fluff.
Today, things have changed. My inbox is manageable. New emails trickle in at a much slower pace. The stress associated with checking my email is gone.
How did I do it? By making a few, easy changes.
Some of you might be wondering why it took me so long to figure out how to do all this. I’ll admit, I’m a little behind the times when it comes to technology. I also tend to be lazy. Deleting an email is much quicker than going through the unsubscribe process or flagging spam, but in the long run, it’s a huge time saver.
Experts. They’re everywhere. Self-publishing experts, social media experts, writing experts… the list goes on and on.
How can you tell if someone is an expert in their field? Anyone can claim to be an expert. Not everyone who claims to be an expert is an expert. They lack credentials, experience, and sometimes integrity. They sell services to unsuspecting authors and pad their own pockets by destroying a writer’s dreams.
I know an author who paid a “professional” to edit and format her book. When she tried to upload the book, it looked a mess on Kindle. It wouldn’t pass Createspace’s review. Her “formatted” file was useless. When she asked for help in a writer’s group we both belong to, I offered to look at her file. Wow. Not only was the formatting horrible, the editing was a mess too. When I skimmed the document in an attempt to clean up the formatting, I found dozens of errors. I don’t know if the author was able to get any of her money back, but I hope so. Whatever she paid was too much.
Fake experts can come in the form of cover artists who don’t secure the necessary licensing requirements before using a stock photo to make your book cover.
Fake experts can come in the form of editors who don’t understand the basics of grammar and sentence structure. They charge authors hundreds, or even thousands of dollars and leave the author with a poorly edited manuscript.
Fake experts can also come in the form of formatters. Book promoters. Public relations professionals. Writing coaches. They’re everywhere!
Beware the experts. Not only those who are selling services, but those who are selling “how to” books or classes. Don’t part with your money until you’ve checked references and consulted helpful sites such as Absolute Write and P&E. Who has the editor worked with? Checked out the books they claim to have worked on. Does the author mention the editor in their acknowledgments or somewhere else in their book? Do customer reviews mention editing issues? Ask the cover artist where they get the stock photos they use. Ask to see the licensing agreement on any images used on your cover. Research, research, research.
Beware the experts who offer free advice too. Their advice might work for some authors, but will it work for you? Their expert advice might be based on their experiences as a bestselling romance author, but some of their advice might not apply to your epic fantasy series or your non-fiction work. Different authors are going to use different strategies to market their unique books. And just because something works for one author doesn’t mean it will work for you.
Learn to pick and choose which advice suits your needs. Writer’s blogs (even this one!) are full of advice, but not all of it will be useful to you. Some of it contradicts. That doesn’t mean one author is wrong and the other is right – it just means they have had different experiences.
Always trust your instincts as a writer. You are the expert when it comes to doing what is best for you.
Most authors worry about how their book will be received by others. What if people hate it? What if they leave a scathing review? Well, writing a book everyone will like is easy! Anyone can do it, right? Wrong!
If you want to write a book everyone will hate (including you), here’s how to do it:
Write the book YOU like. Create the best book YOU can write and be proud of your work. Just write!
This is a post I’ve been thinking about for a while. It’s about trigger warnings. When are they appropriate? And who decides what content is controversial or upsetting?
I started thinking a great deal about trigger warnings when I released Sweet Sorrow a couple of weeks ago. For a while, I was on the fence about adding a trigger warning, but I finally came to the conclusion that although the book isn’t graphic, I should give readers an opportunity to make an informed decision before reading.
I’ve used trigger warnings in the past. I used one with The Fifth Circle because that book deals with sexual abuse, domestic abuse, and mental illness. There are some graphic, disturbing scenes and I felt that it would be important to add a trigger warning for those who are dealing with their own issues and are trying to avoid books that contain such subject matter.
I understand it isn’t possible to put trigger warnings on everything, nor is it possible to list every conceivable trigger. I don’t think trigger warnings should be mandatory, but as an independent author who has control over my book blurb, I would like to help readers avoid an acute panic attack if I possibly can. After all, I don’t want to tread on someone’s recovery when, for me, it’s as simple as adding a sentence at the end of the blurb.
Trigger warnings aren’t about avoiding hurt feelings or preventing offense. I use trigger warnings to let readers know when there is content depicting abuse or violence, but I’m sure there’s other subject matter in my books readers might find offensive. Some people might be offended by the interracial romance in one of my books. Or they might be offended by the foul language in another. Like I said, this isn’t about preventing readers from being offended. I use trigger warnings to help readers who might be struggling with PTSD and anxiety resulting from abuse or sexual assault. Other authors might choose to identity other triggers. And, yes, other authors might choose not to use trigger warnings at all.
I would really like to have a thoughtful discussion about the use of trigger warnings. I’d love to hear your opinion; however, please don’t leave comments about how our society is sissified and how when we were kids, bullying built character, and parents beat their kids for their own good, and yada yada. Please be sensitive. There are some people dealing with truly horrific trauma, and I don’t want to make light of their pain. “Get over it and move on” is not helpful advice.
What do you think? Are there any authors out there who have added trigger warnings to your book descriptions? As readers, do you find trigger warnings helpful? When are they necessary? Are they necessary at all?
As authors, we often hear about the importance of social media. We’re supposed to establish a presence on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Tsu, Pinterest, Tumblr, Reddit, and other sites I probably have never heard of. Overwhelmed yet? I am. The idea of being in all these places is daunting, especially if you’re new to social media and are still trying to find your way around.
In addition to being told we need to have a profile set up on all the platforms listed above, we’re also told we’re supposed to have a snazzy website. We’re instructed to blog X number of times every week and to engage with other bloggers. We have to Tweet X number of times per day, but not too many Tweets about our books, or we’ll run the risk of being labeled “spammers.” YA authors are encouraged to be active on Wattpad. And in addition to all the social media sites, we’re also told we need to set up profiles (and engage) on reader-oriented sites such as Goodreads and Library Thing. Oh, and while we’re at it, there are also a whole host of writer-oriented sites and author databases we need to visit so we can register our author profiles.
And, as if all this Tweeting, blogging, Pinning, and profiling isn’t enough? We have to do it well. We can’t just set up a profile and abandon it, right? No! We have to be everywhere, all the time, because if we don’t do it perfectly, no one will know we exist and they won’t buy our books!!!
The idea of doing all these things every single day is exhausting. I’ve seen a few authors who seem to juggle all this social media stuff, but I can’t do it. Not if I want to pay my bills, feed my kids, and still have time to write.
So what is an author to do?
If we can’t be everywhere at once (and let’s face it, few of us can), we need to pick a place to be.
An author platform is a cool thing to have. I think every author needs SOME sort of author platform. In my humble opinion, here are the places we need to be and the stuff we should have.
In my opinion, everything else is cool, but optional. I’m signed up and registered in lots of places, and I’ll be darned if I can remember where. On Google+, Pinterest, and Tumblr, my attendance is sporadic. On some of the other sites, I’ve forgotten my password because I haven’t been there in so long.
I signed up for Authorsdb several months ago. I didn’t go back to the site until recently, and since I hadn’t been there for so long, all my information was outdated. Really outdated. I know there are other sites I’ve signed up for that are probably even more outdated than this one, but I can’t remember where.
Personally, I think it’s better to have no profile on a site than an outdated one. Don’t sign up for more sites than you can keep up with. If you really, really, really don’t want a Twitter account, don’t get one! If you don’t want to be on Pinterest, don’t do it.
You can’t be everywhere, but be somewhere. It’s up to you where you want to be.
I’ve been working on a blog post off and on for hours. Not this one, but a different one. A really rambling, ranting one that seemed like a good idea when I started it, but turned out not to be such a great idea after all. Actually, the concept behind the blog post isn’t such a bad idea – it’s my delivery that needs some work. I’ll probably rewrite my post later when my mind is more settled.
As a blogger, I feel pressured to blog more than once a week. After multiple reblogs, I feel like I should post something original. Which led to the aforementioned rambling post I almost published.
Thank goodness I didn’t.
Rambling rants are never a good idea, even if they might seem to be at the time. It’s great to be fired up and passionate about a topic. Sometimes that passion leads to a great blog post. Sometimes it leads to something that’s argumentative. Other times (like in the case of my rambling post), it leads to something that is disjointed, nonsensical, and borderline snotty.
I’ve seen authors almost ruin their careers over a blog post. I can think of at least two authors who ended up shutting down their entire blog and pulling their books off Amazon all because of a blog post that probably seemed like a good idea when they posted it, but ended up being a complete disaster.
If you’re feeling fired up, it might be a good idea to cool down before you hit that “publish” button. Sarcastic or ranting posts don’t always come across the way we intend. A bad post can alienate readers. It can destroy our online presence.
So, before you hit the publish button, re-read your post. Set it aside for a day or two. Do you still want to post it? Does it need a little tweaking? Does your online attitude need a slight adjustment before you share that post with the world?
Blog carefully, everyone. And have a great week!
Last week, I discovered a broken link on my blog. This might not sound like a big deal to you, and in reality, it probably isn’t – unless my broken link directed a potential reader away from my blog. A broken link can cost you a book sale. It can cost you the opportunity to connect with readers and other authors.
I don’t want my blog and website visitors to encounter broken links and pages that lead to nowhere, nor do I want to send them on a treasure hunt to find the buying links for my books. I want to make things as easy to navigate as possible. I’ve blogged about creating a Reader Friendly Blog in the past, so I probably need to practice what I preach, but when you’re juggling multiple social media sites, sometimes things fall through the cracks.
On certain websites, a slight change in the page name can change the URL. So, if you’ve shared a link to that particular page, it’s no longer valid once you’ve made that change. If you make changes to the name of your Facebook page or Twitter handle, the link changes and you’ll need to update this on your website and social media pages. You’ll also need to update the media kit you send to bloggers when you’re interviewed or featured.
Here’s another thing to look out for: Sometimes, when copying a URL, letters or slashes can get deleted or changed, resulting in a “link” that leads to nowhere. It’s always a good idea to double check your links just in case.
I’m not the only person who might have missed some opportunities due to broken links. Here are some examples of things I’ve stumbled across recently:
No contact information on an author blog. Authors should have an email address posted on their site or at least a contact form. Sure, I can search for them on Facebook and try to send them a private message, but does the author really want to make their readers (or potential agents, publishers, film makers who want to offer them a multi-million dollar deal) work that hard to find them?
No buying links on an author’s website. While visiting an author’s blog/website, I liked what I saw and wanted to learn more about their books. Only two of their three books were listed on their “books” page, and there were no buying links. I looked around from page to page, and all down the side panel. No buying links anywhere.
Incorrect or incomplete links. An author was offering a free book on Kindle, so I clicked the Amazon link provided on their Facebook post. The author didn’t set this up properly, and the link went to Amazon’s home page.
Broken links on a Facebook Page. I found an author on Facebook who I really liked. One of their posts caught my eye, so I clicked on the link to their website because I wanted to learn more about them. I guess it was an old website or something, because the link gave me a 404 error message.
Twitter Validation Service. I wanted to follow an author, but couldn’t because they use a verification/validation service. I suppose I could have filled out all the stuff they wanted me to fill out, and given this service access to my Twitter account, but… wait! No way. Sorry, but I don’t do Twitter validation services. Of course, each author must make his or her own choice when it comes to using or not using such services. I’ve decided to avoid validation services, even if it means having to miss out on Tweets from some of my friends and favorite authors.
When it comes to missing or broken links, I suppose it isn’t a huge deal. If I’m really interested in a book or a website, I’ll try to find it. (Well, unless I get distracted by something else during my search.) A broken link isn’t the end of the world, and forgetting to update your site when you release a new book is probably not going to affect your sales significantly. If you choose to use a validation service, does it really matter if it drives away a few potential followers? That’s for you to decide.
I hate the idea that people have to work extra hard to find something they’re looking for, especially when the solution to this problem is as easy as me double checking my website and links periodically just to make sure everything is working the way it should.
While a broken link certainly won’t chase away your friends or fans, it might prevent potential readers from discovering your book. Regularly check your links and sites. Make sure buying links are clearly displayed and that there’s an easy way for people to contact you if they need to. Don’t miss out on any opportunities!
There’s a lot of writing advice out there, some good and some not so good. As writers, we have to pick and choose what works for us. Stephen King has a ton of great writing advice floating around out there, but this particular gem resonated with me this week and helped me overcome some serious barriers to getting my book finished.
“You think you might have misspelled a word? O.K., so here is your choice: either look it up in the dictionary, thereby making sure you have it right – and breaking your train of thought and the writer’s trance in the bargain – or just spell it phonetically and correct it later. Why not? Did you think it was going to go somewhere? And if you need to know the largest city in Brazil and you find you don’t have it in your head, why not write in Miami, or Cleveland? You can check it … but later. When you sit down to write, write. Don’t do anything else except go to the bathroom, and only do that if it absolutely cannot be put off.” ~ Stephen King, Everything you need to know about writing successfully.
This advice might not mean much to some of you, but for me, it’s incredibly helpful. Here’s what happens when I break my train of thought:
Mr… Mr…. What did I name that drama teacher I mentioned back in chapter three? I’d better check my spreadsheet. Fredericks. That’s right. Mr. Fredericks. While I’m taking a break, I might as well check my email. Oh, look! Susan has a new blog post. That looks intriguing. I’d pop over and check it out. Better leave a comment too while I’m here. And Tweet. I should tweet this. Oh, it looks like I have some new followers on Twitter. That’s nice. I’d better check out their profiles. Well, this lady has a book that looks interesting. I’d better add it to my Goodreads shelf. Okay, now back to writing. But, while I’m already on the internet, I should go ahead and check Facebook. You know, so I don’t get distracted again. What an adorable picture of Grumpy Cat. I swear she gets cuter every day. Oh, there’s a message from Maegan. She says she sent me an email. I’d better go check…
And this, ladies and gentlemen, is what one of my writing sessions looks like. I know some of you are wondering what the hell’s wrong with me. But for some of you, my writing session might look kind of familiar.
Today, I wrote 3600 words. When I got hung up on something, I made a note in parentheses and highlighted it. I can always go back later to find out how far L.A. is from the Mexican border. I can always go back and look up the name of that girl who sat next to my main character in History class. Or the name of the drama teacher (it’s Mr. Fredericks, by the way). If I’d stopped writing to look stuff up, well, I might never have written 3600 words today.
What is the best writing advice you’ve received?
As a wife and mom, I’ve spent the past many years putting others ahead of myself. Kids, of course, always take top priority especially when they’re young and depending on mom for everything. Siblings, parents, spouses, and friends – these are people who are important in our lives and who depend on us. There will always be times we have to put others ahead of ourselves. When it gets to the point where we’re putting everyone ahead of our own needs, we’ve got to make some tough decisions.
I’ve barely written anything all year, and now it’s time for me to take a good, hard look at myself and the way I manage my time.
So far this year, I’ve skipped my writing time on multiple occasions in order to beta read for friends. I also read and reviewed a book for a complete stranger, regardless of the fact that I am no longer doing reviews on Authors to Watch. I broke my own rules for a complete stranger who didn’t even have the decency to say thank you in return. Whose fault is this? It’s mine. I have a difficult time saying no. I put others ahead of myself, and in the case of beta reading for friends, that’s okay to do sometimes. We all need help. We all rely on others. But when it comes to breaking my own rules in order to accommodate someone who displayed a lack of regard for my time from the very beginning? That’s unacceptable.
Time and time again, I put my writing on hold to beta read. Or review books. Or help someone write a blurb. Maybe I’m too nice to say no. Or maybe I’m allowing other people derail me as an excuse to procrastinate. This is my fault. And it’s unacceptable.
It’s unacceptable for me to allow others to derail me, and it’s even more unacceptable for me to blame other people and things (other writers, my day job, my laundry, invitations to play Quiz Up) for my inability to prioritize.
The truth is, I waste time. I procrastinate. I don’t prioritize. I don’t put myself first – ever. I don’t write because I don’t make time to write.
It’s time to make some tough decisions. Am I a writer, or not? Am I in it for the long haul, or am I going to keep “playing writer” by changing backgrounds on my blog or making pretty banners? Writers write. Yes, we all have issues pop up from time to time, but if Facebook can distract me so easily, maybe I’m in the wrong business.
Where are my priorities? Reviewing books? (If so, that’s fine, but then I need to call myself a “reviewer” instead of an author.) Facebook quizzes? (I love Facebook quizzes.) Sharing Grumpy Cat pictures? (I love Grumpy Cat!) Website maintenance? (I can waste tons of time rearranging stuff on my website.) Or writing?
If you time to spend on Facebook, you have time to write. Even if it’s only for five minutes a day. Yes, social media is important to your author platform, but do you really need an author platform if you never finish writing your book? How important is that pretty banner on your author page if you’ve pushed back the deadline on publishing your book until no one believes there’s an actual story to go with that snazzy cover?
Making connections with other authors is important, and so is promoting and helping other writers. Without forging relationships with other writers, we go crazy. But take a look at these friendships. Are they give and take relationships, or are you doing all the giving? Are you sharing support and advice, or just complaining about the publishing industry and the evils of writer’s block?
Do you really have writer’s block? Or are you just using that as an excuse for slacking off?
No more excuses! I’m determined to finish a book (or two) this year. I’m determined to write every day, even if it means skipping Facebook and Quiz Up. I’m determined to kick procrastination in the rear. And I’m determined to find that elusive balance between helping others and making time for myself.
Saying “no” to other people is a way of saying “yes” to myself. It’s a way to tell myself (and others) that I have a job to do. I’ve made a commitment to myself. I would never dream of backing out on a commitment I’ve made to someone else, so why would I back out on a commitment I’ve made to myself? Aren’t I just as important?
You are important too. So is your writing. For some of us, there are REAL challenges to writing. Family problems, health issues, day jobs – we can’t control everything. If you have REAL challenges that prevent you from writing, that’s okay. Take all the time you need. But if you have time for television and computer games and Facebook quizzes, chances are your problem is you – not writer’s block. So get busy and write!
For those of you who have fallen into a pattern of procrastination, I challenge you to get to the heart of it. Is fear holding you back? Are you afraid to say no? Do you allow others to derail you, and if so, why? How do you plan to prioritize your writing?