A typical day of being a full-time author when I am about to release one book and start another:
7 am: Rise and shine; feed the dog (husband walks the dog!)
8 am to 6:30 pm: Edit the Summer manuscript (again!) before it goes to the editor/proofreader. A few breaks during that time. I have to eat, stretch and take the dog out!
6:30 pm: Social media; listen to music; watch news; dinner
8 pm: Update the Finch’s Crossing Style Guide
8:30 pm: Continue to plot Winter
9 pm: Brainstorm ideas with hubby over a glass of wine.
9:30 p.m: Read
10:00 pm: Lights out!
I use a mini-binder planning system, with planning pages that I have customized over the years, based on what I'm doing at the time. Currently my planner includes a monthly overview of daily word counts and other milestones; a weekly overview and daily tasks list, plus a weekly social media action plan. The mini binder and tabs come from Russell+Hazel stationers.
I can't believe another three months has passed since I updated my Kanban board with my 90-day goals. (Kanban is Japanese for sign board and is used to manage systems and projects--see visual example) I updated it yesterday for June 1-Sept. 1.
(1) Complete Finch's Crossing Book Three, Summer, and publish on all platforms. (It's currently available for pre-order). You can read an excerpt here.
(2) Write 12,000 words on Finch's Crossing Book Four, Winter.
(3) Write 12,000 words on my new series (Shh! It's a secret for now) and do cover design research.
4) Run three special promos and giveaways,
(5) Continue Facebook ads and audience/demographics research.
There...now it's all out in the open and I have no choice but to meet the goals! :) Please heIp me keep it real people!
I am forever indebted to the amazing Sarra Cannon of Heart Breathings for sharing how she uses a Kanban board to steer her writing career.
Discouragement may seem like an odd choice for the first post of a new year and a new decade, but I have found that sometimes looking at a dark time helps me remember the light.
But first, a story.
I recently read the book Chop Wood Carry Water, by Joshua Medcalf. In it the author tells the story of a witch who is retiring and selling her “tools” at a garage sale. Towards the end of the sale a man tries to purchase the last remaining tool. The witch takes it from the man, inspects it, and tells him she had mistakenly put it out to be sold, and because it is the most powerful tool of all, she can never sell it. That tool was discouragement.
There were several months last year when I was so discouraged I didn’t write or tend to any of my writing-related tasks, such as promoting my books, writing blog posts, reading about my craft and encouraging other indie authors by buying and reviewing their books.
Discouragement is indeed an all-powerful force, and for me it was truly paralyzing. As I went through my funk I tried to ascertain the source of my discouragement, and this is what I came up with: Amazon had changed its algorithm for how it places book advertisements, and because I relied so heavily on Amazon ads, my sales took a hit. It was hard to watch other indie writers crank out books and sell them faster than they could write them. With fewer sales and fewer reviews, I felt like I was writing into a black hole. Was anyone listening? Was anyone even reading my books? I felt alone. But I knew had the choice of what I could do with my discouragement. I could either prolong the pity party, or I could do something about it.
It took me two months to get back on the wagon and whip myself into shape. I wish it hadn’t taken me so long, but that sentiment serves no purpose. The important thing is I’m back on track and going full speed ahead. I found other places to advertise and continue to educate myself about book promotion and sales.
And while I was pulling myself up, this happened.
A reader found me on Facebook and sent me this note via messenger:
“I love love Finch’s Crossing Book One: Autumn. I haven’t even finished reading it yet. Meanwhile, I’m hoping to read your Finch’s Crossing Book Two: Spring, soon. When is it coming out?”
We corresponded for a while and she continued to tell me that when she finished reading Autumn, she cried on the train ride home from work, which in turn made me cry.
Someone was reading.
It was wonderful to receive this jolt of appreciation, and the idea that I had touched at least one person with my writing was truly a gift. I thanked my new fan and she responded:
“Just know that there ARE people like me reading your books and find immense joy in your stories. The book Autumn really moved me and I can’t wait for Spring to come out.”
And if some days it feels like I’m only writing for this one, wonderful reader who reached out to me, that’s fine. The important thing is to keep moving forward. I’ll release my second Finch’s Crossing book in a few months. The third in the series will be out in July, and I’ll release the first book in a spin-off series around the same time.
That’s the thing about taking action. The more you do, well, the more you do.
And when I find myself dipping again into discouragement, I remind myself:
And of course, I’ve saved screenshots of the messages from my Number One Fan. They are a powerful reminder of why I started writing in the first place. And no algorithm can take that away from me.
As authors, we are indelibly connected to the multi-dimensional aspects of our writing. We feel a kinship to the characters we have carefully created and nurtured, and sometimes must painfully let go. We immerse ourselves in a story’s time and place, meticulously researching and seeking those details that promise authenticity above all else. And where do we carry all of this? Certainly in our minds and hearts. And most likely also in scribbled notes to ourselves.
It may sound strange, but my mobile weather app is a place that connects me to my two novels, both of which have sequels in the works. Along with the cities where my loved ones live, and my favorite vacation spot, I have Scottdale, Pennsylvania and St. Louis Obispo California listed in my app. These cities, which I have visited on research trips, inspired my fictional communities of Finch’s Crossing and Sierra Beach.
As I write this, it’s a balmy 50 degrees in St. Louis Obispo, with sun on the way this week. It’s also 50 degrees in Scottdale, but raining heavily, and I suspect the wind is singing an icy winter song. When I check my local weather, it’s comforting to see the settings of my books in my mind’s eye. I like to think of my characters making their way through my words, and wonder where they will go next.
My historical novel, set in the Great Depression, is very much on my mind these days as I am looking for an agent. The story follows three homeless teens who chase the fruit harvest across the country, just as they chase the trains that take them everywhere, and nowhere. I wish there was a weather app for a period in time, not just a physical place. If the Great Depression were to appear on my weather app, it would show the drought, heat, and wind that plunged the nation into despair for a decade.
I’m also planning my next literary novel, which will be set near Covington, Pennsylvania. It’s 45 degrees there, with a lot of rain on the way. This book is in the very early “thinking” stage, and it feels as if there is a layer of fog hanging above the plot that I must penetrate before the planning can begin. I have to feel my way through what is currently a blur, before I know where the story is going.
Does having these cities listed on my weather app help me write, or make me a better writer? Well, no. But isn’t it nice that my books and their worlds have one more place to perch and inspire me? I think so.
So what does your mobile weather app say about you? Leave a comment below!
It’s a long story, but in a nutshell, getting a puppy in August changed a week in Mexico over Thanksgiving to a nine-day “writecation.” (That’s a staycation where you stay home and write.) And it starts tomorrow! The timing is perfect, as this year I am participating in National Novel Writing Month in order to finish my novel, Spring. Given that there are so many temptations around the house—books that have to be read, closets that need reorganizing—you get the idea, I decided to develop some writecation rules for myself. Here they are:
There are many reasons why I decided to self-publish Stealing Away, my young adult (YA) novel about a teenage identity thief, as an e-book.
The first reason is relatively straightforward: After working on the manuscript for seven years and submitting it to many literary agencies, I have not found an agent to represent me.
The other reasons are more complex and reflect my triumph over my struggles with self-worth and fear of embarrassment. To move forward into positive change, we have to let go of the things that are holding us back--whether they be a negative person, fear, or a lack of confidence/poor self image. The latter being my particular problem.
As a Gen-Xer (those born between the early 1960s and the early 1980s) I came of age during the “Golden Age of Publishing” (approximately 1946 through the early 1980s), when publishers were churning out printed books. As a teen I wrote short stories and a lot of bad poetry, but it was my dream to publish a YA novel. Between 1996 and 2003 I published seven non-fiction books with Lerner Publishing, the largest school and library publisher in the United States, and published scores of freelance articles. But things changed for me in the early 2000s when the Internet was in full swing, offering a platform for anybody to write anything, and freelancing became more competitive and less lucrative. So I returned to my childhood dream and started writing a YA novel.
For years I clung to the idea that my first YA novel would be traditionally published by a top New York City publishing house. Hard cover copies of my book would sit smartly in bookstore displays nationwide. Then it would be translated into many languages. Eventually, there would be a movie.
I finished Stealing Away in 2007 and pitched it to agents. Some expressed interest and asked to see the complete manuscript, but all ultimately passed. So I re-wrote the book, made it considerably better, and submitted it again to another round of agents, with the same result. Although I knew it was a good book, I let my discouragement override my belief in myself.
In 2015, when I began writing sweet romance novels and self-published them as e-books, my husband encouraged me to do the same with Stealing Away.
Despite my foray into self-publishing, I told my husband that I would not—and in fact I would never—self-publish my precious YA novel. This treacherous act would betray my life-long dream. It would be an admission of failure. And what would people think if I became one of “those writers” who couldn’t get a novel published? At this point, my book had languished for a few years, waiting patiently for me on a thumb drive. Not long after that conversation with my husband, I powered up my computer and opened the document. I realized I had not worked on the manuscript in two years. It was a stunning revelation. I had abandoned my book—this thing that I loved and had spent years working on—because I was unable to see beyond my own stubborn thought patterns and beliefs.
Thus began my “journey from no.”
It was time for me to reconsider—and maybe reconfigure—my childhood dream. But change is hard-won, and must be coaxed and coddled. Most of all, it has to be earned by taking a hard look in the mirror, facing your demons and deciding once and for all to let them go.
I thought back to my original arguments about why I would never self-publish my YA novel. I had presented the reasons to my husband as irrefutable facts and with indignation. But if I was going to change my circumstances (i.e., publish my novel), I would have to take out my arguments, examine them one by one, and reconsider the alternatives.
First, it has been my life-long dream to traditionally publish a YA novel that would make a big splash. And who wants to let go of a dream? But I had to ask myself, was that really my dream? If I stripped everything away, would I see that my goal—on the purest level—was to write and publish a YA novel? I realized I had three options: I could continue to submit the manuscript (i.e. doing the same thing expecting different results), I could leave it to die in the shadows, or I could publish it myself.
My second argument was that self-publishing would mean I had capitulated and admitted failure. Failure? Really? I took a look at my “failure” as I writer, and when I had gathered together the bits and pieces of my writing career, I realized I was wrong. I could not be a failure as a writer, because I had already succeeded as one. I have published seven non-fiction books. I was once the editor of an award-winning children’s history magazine. I have written two “sweet romance” e-books that, while sell only modestly, do sell.
The third argument against self-publishing, “what would people think?” has been the biggest obstacle over the years and the nastiest demon to overcome. I realized the notion of what other people might think of me was, in fact, the real reason I struggled with the idea of self-publishing, no matter how much I hated to admit that. I worried about what my "high-brow" former work colleagues in literary and artistic circles would think, and imagined them snickering at me. It suddenly seemed absurd that I wasn't pursing a dream because I was afraid of what a handful of people—who I really didn't like anyway—thought of me and my work.
Stealing Away is almost like my child, and I think that’s why I clung to it for so long. But after years of nourishing the manuscript, I decided to do what any good mother would do—I set it, and ultimately myself, free. I sent the manuscript to a professional copywriter and hired a designer who created a beautiful cover. I bought an ISBN number and made a website and book trailer. And then I sent Stealing Away out into the world to find its place.
And it has. And when I look at my book on amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com, I no longer care what people think of my self-published work, because now—at long last— can think of myself and my accomplishments with pride. I love what I have done. And love that I had the courage to change.
My experience, this "journey from no," puts me in mind of a quote from one of my favorite writers, Victorian novelist George Eliot, who wrote: "It is never too late to be what you might have been."
All it takes is a willingness to change.