Category Archives: Indie Publishing

Writing in Series

198046070_730a2474d2-300x225The Taylor Davis series is my second series. I finished the Divided Decade Trilogy last summer. (If you missed it, book one–The Candle Star–is free. See my sidebar for links.) When I was writing book two, I swore I’d never write another series again. That’s because it’s so hard to maintain a high level of creativity into a second book. And in the case of my trilogy, those were only related tales and not an extended story line. This is actually my first true series, and I’m finding it’s even harder to keep the same story going.

A series requires continuity. Readers expect the same great characters with the same strengths, the same weaknesses, the same idiosyncrasies. I’m finding that consistency is the name of the game. How would Ranofur act in this situation? The same as he acted in book one. The “rules” have to stay the same, too. If Swaugs turn to green goo in book one, he better turn to green goo in book two. A need for consistency is true of all books, but in a series there’s more at stake. If you derail, all the books that follow become a train wreck. It’s vital that you keep your characters on track. I’m constantly going back to book one to reread sections. I’m also struggling to know how much back story to put into sequels. Some is necessary, but odds are, if a reader is in book two, he read book one.

At the same time, it’s important to show growth within your main characters. In book one, Taylor begins to realize he’s not the screw-up he always thought he was. He finds courage and fortitude he didn’t know he had. His confidence has to continue to grow in stages, and he has to mature in more ways as well. Does his shyness fade? Does he begin to try new things? Does his skill in an area grow? Does he learn to value a particular virtue? Developing a character over a long haul can be a challenge, but one who remains static will never capture the hearts of an audience like one who learns and grows and changes.

It’s also tough to keep the adventure fresh and original. Taylor Davis and the Flame of Findul contains a lot of cool villains and tons of fun fight scenes. I’m stretching my imagination coming up with new material. What crazy place can I send him next? What new adversary will he meet? How can I keep old adversaries entertaining? What will be his next adventure? The longer the series continues, the tougher it becomes to create new content.

TaylorDavis_FlameOfFindul_cover nookSequels do, however, allow an author to explore brushed over areas a little more fully. For example, book one contained a cursory look at the families of my two main characters. In book two, I get to introduce family members who haven’t actually made an appearance yet, develop their personalities, and show the dynamics in the relationships. And I get to bring Hellfire back and give him a life.

Perhaps the most challenging thing of all is making sure multiple books all hang on the same thread. I have to tie everything together into one neat package. That means I’m constantly going back to my story arc. Constantly aligning details. Constantly looking for loose strings. And constantly looking for ways to tie four individual stories together. Who was the man Swain killed in book one? Why did he kill him? What does that have to do with book three? Why did Swain, a pirate, contribute to the building of his parents’ church, and where will I answer that? How did Q become so interested in WWI? What’s the significance to the symbol carved on the graves? And most importantly, how is Swain continually striving to meet his main objective, and how is Taylor going to thwart him?

I feel like I have my hands full. I’m learning a ton, stretching even more, but my enthusiasm for the series is sky high. I can hardly wait to work out the details and share Taylor’s next adventure!

 

 

A New Marketing Plan

After adding up last year’s successes and failures, it became apparent that I’m a horrible marketer. I have vowed to change that this year. By including some advertising, setting a book free on Kindle, bumping my prices just over the 2.99 dead-giveaway-that-you’re-an-indie-author and avoid-it-like-the-plague price range, and upping the number of bloggers I contact for reviews, I’m taking baby steps in the right direction.

It’s time to share how my first foray into advertising went.

I just learned how to take screenshots. Pretty cool, huh?

I just learned how to take screenshots. Pretty cool, huh?

Early in January I took out a $60 promotional ad for The Quill Pen with BookBub. They are a website that sends out one daily ebook bargain for each of its genres. Members choose their favorite genres and get only the notifications of interest to them. So my promotion was emailed to readers who expressly wanted to read teen books. Kind of a clever way of doing business, isn’t it?

When you sign up for your ad, BookBub predicts an average number of sales for each genre. It’s not a guarantee, but it gives you an idea of what to expect and helps you gauge whether the expense is worthwhile. My given average was 200-300 sales.

Now to advertise on BookBub, you have to mark your book at least half off. I marked mine down to $.99 from $3.95. That’s a nice, hefty 75% off for readers. Tough number to resist, isn’t it? Everyone likes to feel like they’re getting a deal. But when I drop my price below $2.99 on retail sites like Amazon, my royalties drop from 70% down to only 35-40%, depending on the site. That means I only make about $.35 to $.40 per sale. So I’d have to sell roughly 175 books to break even.

My ad went out on Wednesday, January 9 and advertised a deal that ran until Monday, January 14. Most of my sales were made on that first day, but they trickled in all during the following weekend. Here are the numbers on Monday morning:

Amazon: 229 books = $80.15

Barnes and Noble: 111 books = $44.40

Kobo: 3 books = $1.37

The promotional ad also included a link to Smashwords, but figuring out Smashwords reports is sort of like “figuring your income tax with an abacus,” to quote Catherine Ryan Howard. I have no idea how many or what books I sold, but my total sales figure went up about two bucks over the weekend. Assuming they were the result of my ad, that brings my grand sales total to about $128.00 (345 books). My net profit, therefore, would be about $68. Not a huge amount, but worthwhile. The surge in sales also seemed to up visibility on B&N and Amazon as sales on each site continued to dribble in for the rest of the month. They even continued on B&N after I raised the price.

Unfortunately, I learned a valuable lesson concerning sale prices on Amazon: Discontinue Smashwords’ other sales channels.  When I dropped the price on Smashwords, it spread throughout their distribution and Amazon price matched, so I have been unable to raise the price back up to 3.95. I will have to wait for the sale price to filter out of all distribution sites before Amazon will raise theirs back to normal. (It went back up yesterday.)

All in all, a successful venture. I will certainly list another book with BookBub at a later date.

Lessons From the Couch

I’ve been in recuperation mode for eighteen days now. I think I could have squeaked in my goal of a three week recovery time (a week less than the doc’s minimum–I’m so stubborn, aren’t I?) if I hadn’t sneezed. Yes, I pulled a not-quite-healed stomach muscle and I’ve been back to hobbling this week after feeling so good over the weekend. Alas, a few more days on the couch.

But the couch is a pretty good place to reflect. With the schedule I keep, I don’t sit on it often. Over the last  five days, however, I’ve blown through an amazing 1,600 pages, and before that I clocked a spectacular nine hours of movie time in one day. Unheard of! All this to say, the couch has taught me a lesson: there’s something to be said for loosening the rigidity of one’s schedule.

Does this mean I intend to become a couch potato? Ha! You don’t know me if you think so! But couch sitting does give one time to reflect, and there’s definitely some chains to be broken. One of the things I’m going to free myself from is the third weekly post on my blog. In fact, once my summer reading reviews run out (some time in December!), I might even drop to once a week. Again, unheard of! I intend to drop some other I-always-do-that activities as well. It’s not so much that I’m overwhelmed this year, I just don’t want to be so locked into place. Maybe I’m feeling rebellious, but I wanna do what I wanna do. Maybe I’ll post three times. Maybe I won’t want to. Either way, I won’t have to.

What I want to do most is get my latest book into print. Then I have a grain of an idea for a YA book that I’d like to start. But I don’t want to be confined to the writing schedule I keep last year, either. I intend to give myelf a full year to get it done. That means I get to have a life as well. *Sigh* Why is it that I must always remind myself about balance?

In the meantime, I’m feeling a little heavy on relaxation. I’m eager to get out walking, driving, even cooking again. As things get back to normal, I intend to continue mixing in the things I love with the things I must do, but I’m not going to let myself become bound by them.

Now a question for you: Do you ever feel like you have to do things that don’t really have to be done? What?

My Experience with Giveaways (Unmasking an Author Series, #2)

This is the second in a series about author visibility. Last week I discussed some challenges indies face. This week and next I’ll be discussing the use of freebies.

“Giveaways are a great way to generate interest and spread the word about your book.”

That is what I was told by several veteran indie authors, various bloggers, and a whole bunch of indie websites, so I buckled down and organized several. Unfortunately, I mistranslated that statement. I thought it meant that giveaways generate sales, and I was disappointed. Giveaways DO have a place, but before you jump into one, give thought to what you hope to accomplish.

Blog Giveaways

The most common type of giveaway seems to be the blog giveaway. This is when a blogger features a particular book and gives away a copy which has been donated by the author. In my experience, however, I’ve found that it’s not a very effective sales method. In fact, just the opposite usually happens. The folks who enter blog giveaways usually aren’t interested in buying your book; they want it free, and by the close of the contest they have forgotten all about it. Nobody actually buys your book. Then at the end of the week, one person wins, and you have to donate a copy. If you’re donating a paperback, you’ve just lost money.

Goodreads Giveaways

With that lesson learned, I thought I’d experiment with a Goodreads giveaway. After all, those often attract thousands of would-be readers. Who wouldn’t want that kind of exposure, right? Well, notice I said would-be readers, not would-be buyers. Again, these are people with their hands out. Honestly, I’m not bashing them. I’ve entered many myself. I’m simply pointing out that this mindset is the logical reason why giveaways don’t result in sales.

So I went into this new giveaway with lower expectations and a further test in mind. After a winning name was drawn and the paperback sent out, I contacted forty of the most active Goodreads members who had signed up for my contest. This is actually against Goodreads policy, but I went ahead and did it anyway for the sake of experiment. The first day, I contacted 20 people explaining that they didn’t win the paperback, but I offered them a coupon for a .99 Smashwords download of the same novel. I had absolutely no sales as a result. A few days later, I contacted 20 more members, but this time I gave away a coupon for a free Smashwords download. About five of those coupons were actually cashed in. Interesting, huh?  It rather proved my point: Giveaways do not generate sales.

Reevaluate Your Expectations

So should we give up on giveaways altogether? Not at all. I read a post from one fellow who did this very same Goodreads experiment, only on a much larger scale and with a different motivation. He offered every single person who signed up for his Goodreads giveaway a free download of his book afterward, hoping to get some reviews posted on the site. Did you catch that? His motivation was not sales, it was reviews, and he was successful. Out of several hundred contacts, he ended up with a good handful of reviews. I forget the number, exactly, but it was like 20 or 30, I believe. That’s not bad. And that brings me to my final point: Giveaways can indirectly influence sales.

Let’s go back up to that first statement: “Giveaways are a great way to generate interest and spread the word about your book.” After my disappointments, I realized there is actually a lot of truth in there. Giveaways are effective, but they aren’t the microwave recipe I thought they’d be. Rather, they’re a slow cooked meal.

In marketing, I’ve learned there is a “Rule of Seven.” It states that in general, a consumer must be exposed to a product seven times before they purchase it. That’s why those Subway ads ran again and again and again during the Olympics. The franchise marketing team has this figured out. And do you know what? After a few days of watching the games, I had to go out and try the new avocado topping on my favorite ham and provolone sub. (It’s delicious, by the way!)

Giveaways work in the same way. Each feature, each review, each giveaway is one more t.v. commercial. It’s a seed planted. Few readers will buy on the first exposure, so an author must be patient, must keep planting, must keep giving away. Eventually the hard work will pay off.

Effective Giveaways

So abandon the thought that throwing a few free copies before the masses will make you rich and famous. It won’t. You have to get more strategic than that. Here are a few ways to make giveaways work for you:

1. Give books away to blog reviewers. If enough people leave enough varying viewpoints in key locations, they will influence buyers. They’ll serve as proof that someone out there was glad they took a chance on your book. Even a few negative reviews can be useful by showing genuine reactions and boosting curiosity. And, hey, it’s spreading the word.

2.  Set the first book in a series free. I haven’t tried this yet, but I’ve heard lots of success stories. It’s sort of like baiting a fishing line. Lots of folks will pick up a freebie. If the book is well written, many will swallow the hook and move on to purchase book two, then three, then…you get the idea. I have set single titles free on Amazon temporarily to boost the sale of other single titles and had modest success. Since KDP, however, this hasn’t worked as well. The method seems more reliable with a series.

3.  Create related content and give it away. This could include a short story featuring some of your characters, or additional scenes. Bonus material. (Think movie special features and deleted scenes.) This type of content won’t take nearly as long to put together as a novel. You simply want to create an appetizer that will draw people to your main course.

As a former teacher who now writes for kids, I like to put together a collection of materials (study questions, links, vocab, extension ideas) for each of my novels that educators might find useful in the classroom. The paperbacks have a price tag, but I make digital versions free on Smashwords and Barnes and Noble. So far one has gone free on Amazon as well. As soon as it did, I started selling more copies of that novel.

4. I’ve even seen the first several chapters of a book published as an ebook and used as a free preview (though I didn’t know it when I downloaded it and was angry when I found out and refused to buy it, so if you take this road, LET YOUR READERS KNOW WHAT THEY’RE GETTING).

5.  And finally…well, I do have one more specific idea for using giveaways to good advantage. I have been thinking on this all spring and summer, so it is a really good one. One I’m going to put into practice very soon. But I want to discuss freebies a little further before I unveil it. Tune in next week. In the meantime…

What has your experience been with giveaways?

Challenges Indies Face (Unmasking an Author Series, #1)

Today marks the first of a four part series I’ll be doing on author visibility.

The single most crippling obstacle all new authors face is invisibility. No one has ever heard of us before. Our work is untested, unfamiliar. Why would anyone chance good money on a newbie? That highlights the single most advantageous reason, in my opinion, to land a contract with a major publishing house—the marketing team. It’s their job to convince all those would-be buyers to part with their money. We indies must take the mantle of marketing upon ourselves. But a secondary problem soon presents itself for those of us in the children’s genres: Who to market to?

See, children’s authors like myself are in a unique pickle. The kids for whom we write do not own credit cards. They don’t have jobs. They can’t buy our books for themselves. They depend entirely on adults to purchase literature for them.

In addition, most children don’t have ereaders; therefore, they have no way of reading ebooks, the mainstay of most indie publishers. How many kids do you know who own a Kindle? A Nook? Not many. These gadgets are expensive, and kids tend to be irresponsible. Not a good combination. My kids don’t have ereaders, either.

Not only can kids not purchase or read our books, they don’t even have a way of hearing about them! Not many kids hang out book blogs or bookish sites like LibraryThing, Shelfari, or Goodreads. Technically, they’re not even allowed to participate on most of these sites.

So what’s a children’s novelist to do?

1.  Obviously, we have to tell the adults. Most of them don’t care a whit for children’s literature, however, so we have to hunt down the ones who do. These include parents, teachers and librarians. We can find them on homeschool sites, on teacher’s blogs, on librarian book review blogs. They’re in forums on Amazon, in groups on Goodreads. They are out there.

2.  We also have to keep a sharp look out for kid bloggers, reviewers, and writers. They’re out there, too, just not in the same numbers as adults. After all, kids are our target audience. They’re a great source of information, feedback, and contacts. They are a unique window to the kids “out there.” (Not to mention, they’re the up-and-comers, and I think it’s our job, it’s our pleasure, to encourage them. Guess that’s the teacher in me again.)

3.  Next, we have to make our books available in many formats and inform our readers. Kids may not have ereaders, but a good percentage of them have ipods or cell phones. Do they know about the Kindle app? Do they have a home computer which will open a book in pdf format? It’s also a very wise idea to have paperbacks versions of our work available for those who simply can’t do digital.

4.  Last and perhaps most important, we have to make sure our work is absolutely the best it can be. Only then will our efforts have a chance of snowballing. No one will pass on a recommendation for slop.

I know this post is a little shy on specific solutions. In fact, it probably prompted more questions than it answered. This time around, however, I mostly wanted to point out some basic challenges facing indies, specifically children’s lit indies, and let them stew in your minds for a time, as they’ve been stewing in mine. As the series continues, I’ll be arriving at more answers.

In the meantime, I’d welcome your comments on this catch-22. I’m curious, do you market to kids or adults? What has been your best strategy? What hasn’t worked at all?

My Experience With Giveaways (Unmasking an Author Series, #2)

Sales Equation: Cheap + Bulk = Profit

Last week I argued for the creation of paperbacks even in this digital age. If you do have a paperback available for sale, you can benefit from a sales technique often overlooked by indie authors–bulk sales.

But bulk sells at a price lower than what I hope to get for my work, you may be thinking. And you’d be correct. Selling in quantity means selling at a discount. But it also means more sales.

How about I illustrate this with some actual figures? I’ll plug in my own. My paperbacks all sell at $10. My profit on the sale of a single book ordered through Amazon is determined by my cost, which is determined by the length of that particular book, but it hovers around $3. We’ll use that nice, round figure. If I sell one book, I make three bucks. But I’ve decided to set discounts for bulk purchases. Here’s my sliding scale:

3-10 copies: $8 per book
11-25 copies: $7 per book
26+ copies: $6 per book
 

How can I afford to set a $3 or $4 discount when I only make $3 per book? Because $3 is the profit I make when a customer purchases my book through Amazon. There is a cost for Amazon’s distribution services. But if I order my own books from the printer through my own account, I can get them for about $4 a book. I can then make a profit even if I resell them more cheaply.

Let’s run the numbers.

So let’s say someone orders 10 copies. That will cost me $40, but I’d resell them at $8 per book, or $80. That’s a customer discount of twenty bucks, and I actually make a higher profit than I would off Amazon, $40 compared to $30.

Let’s try 20 books. That would cost me $80. If I resold them at $7 a piece, they would cost the consumer $140, a savings of $60. However, I would still be making a profit of $3 per book, or $60, which is exactly what I would make selling 20 books through Amazon.

Let’s run the numbers again at 35 copies. That would cost me $140 to order but would be resold at $6 per book, or $210, a profit of $2 per copy. That’s a consumer savings of $140 and a profit of $70 for me. I’d even be willing to sell at half price if the order was large enough. One hundred books at $1 profit is still $100!

So you can see that each time, everyone wins! By having a bulk sale policy in place, buyers might be more inclined to purchase more than one book. Even if your profits per book grow smaller, quantity assures they still beat out a single sale. In addition, bulk sales result in more visibility. Notice, however, that I have to do the ordering and distributing and the collecting of funds, which is a small time factor and a larger risk factor. Also, I pass on the shipping costs to the customer, which, incidentally, average out to be MUCH less per book than Amazon’s single-book rate of $3.99.

But who would buy that many books? Classrooms are the most obvious answer. Bookstores, too. But I’ve also been contacted by a reading group who would like to include one of my titles on their list next year. And I made a bulk sale to an organization that was considering my book for an award. (I didn’t win, but I was thrilled to be nominated, and not too disappointed in a 25-book order.) You never know who might become interested, so it’s wise to have a bulk order policy in place.

Now you tell me…have you had any experience selling in bulk? Would you consider it?

Beneath the Slashings Blog Tour

To celebrate the August 2012 release of my middle grade novel, Beneath the Slashings, I put together a pretty awesome blog tour. Now that it’s over, I reshuffled this post a bit. I’ve condensed all the links into a single, cohesive list below, just in case you missed any. If you’re unfamiliar with the book or the Divided Decade Trilogy, here’s a link to some great info. Or if you’d rather, you can hear me talk about the series in this video.

Here’s where to find it:

Kindle
Smashwords
Paperback
Nook
 

And here are the tour links:

Tour stop #1 This Kid Reviews Books

Tour stop #2 The Secret Files of DMS Fairday

Tour stop #3 Mom Loves 2 Read

Tour stop #5 DMS Fairday

Tour stop #6 Comfort Books

Tour stop #7 The True Book Addict

Tour stop #8 Putting Pen to Paper

Tour stop #9 Abigail Boyd’s Blog

Tour stop #10  Write Now

Tour stop #11 Buried in Books

Tour stop #12 DMS Fairday

Tour stop #13 This Kid Reviews Books

Tour stop #14 The Crooked Word

Tour stop #15 Maggie’s Corner

Tour stop #16 Children’s Books Heal

Tour stop #17 The Readers and Writers Paradise

Tour stop #18 Middle Grade Fiction Finder

Tour stop #19 Chat With Vera

Tour stop #20 Flying Turtle

Tour stop #21 Geo Librarian

Tour stop #22 The Book Reaper (book 1)

Tour stop #23 The Creative Penn

Tour stop #24 The Book Reaper (book 2)

Tour stop #25 Bookworm Blather

Tour stop #26 The Book Reaper (book 3)

Tour stop #27 Disencentive Reviews

Tour stop #28 The Girl Named Jack

Tour stop #29  Bookworm Blather

Tour stop #30 Ebook Endeavors

Paperbacks–So Last Century?

Lots of indie authors are getting in on the ebook craze, and why not? It’s affordable, doable, and just so cool to see your novel up on Amazon. But fewer authors, it seems, take the time to create a paperback version of their novel. I’m here to say, you’ve gone through all the trouble of writing your masterpiece. Make it available to everyone!

Why paper?

Ereaders have been all the rage for awhile now, and ebooks are capturing a greater share of the market each year—I saw 25% in 2011! But you’ll notice that still leaves 75% squarely on the paperback side. You see, not everyone has an ereader. Not everyone wants and ereader. In my not-so-scientific observation of the blogging world over the past year and a half, perhaps half of the book reviewers I run across still accept only paperback. And these are people fully immersed in the digital world—bloggers and writers. What about all those people who don’t live online? What about the older generation which is much more hesitant to sell out to the computer age? What about those younger-than-forties who still like the feel and smell of paper in their hands? Yes, you’re missing a huge audience by not creating paperbacks.

But paperbacks are so 1990’s, you say. They cost more. They take up space. They use up natural resources. They wear out. They’re heavy. They take more time and effort to produce. They require different formatting than ebooks. They require different software. They’re tying me to an old project when I want to move on to a new one. They’re an ever-living pain in the you-know-what!

Agreed.

But my former arguments haven’t gone away, have they?

Why not paper?

Let’s look at your accomplishments so far. You’ve already spent years writing a book. Then you paid for editing and created a cover image. You’ve spent time creating blurbs, tweeting, and asking for reviews. You’re on Goodreads and Facebook. Why not put in a little more effort and reap bigger rewards? It’s not as intimidating as you might think.

So how do you do it?

Sorry. This post isn’t meant to be an in-depth tutorial. (But I have written one of those, if you have time to look it up.) This is simply a consideration of the pros and cons and an encouragement to get out there and learn the process for yourself.

A Few Considerations Before Starting

If you do choose to go the paper route, I would strongly recommend pay-on-demand. This means a digital copy of your book will be stored on your printer’s database so readers can order as few as one copy at a time. Prices will be slightly higher than mass-produced books—and the longer the book, the higher the cost, but as children’s books hover in the 50,000 word range, my prices have always remained fairly reasonable. Pay-on-demand also means that you, the author, will not be responsible to pay for, store, and distribute a 500- or 1,000-book print run.

Also, I advise not rushing, no matter how strong the urge to get your book out there quickly. New formatting requires further editing. Order a proof copy. Check and double check for errors, particularly spacing and page breaks. When you find them, fix them and proof it again. It may take a few tries, but having an error free book is worth it.  Get it right the first time.

And finally, don’t expect your paperback to be a best-seller. It won’t be on the shelves of Walmart. It won’t travel through the avenues the big six publishing houses use. You may be able to convince the local bookstore to stock a few copies, but most readers will not find your book. However, if you’ve created a clean, professional ebook and done your marketing homework, you will create more and more demand for your paperback.

Have them ready!

Now tell me your thoughts. Would you consider creating a paperback? Have you already? Was it worth your time? 

A Front Porch, a Corkboard, and a Stationary Bike

Why do you blog?

That’s a good question, one I’ve been asked many times. Sometimes the question translates, Why do you waste your time doing something that I would find more painful than shooting myself in the feet? Other times it means, Everyone blogs. What makes you think you’ve got anything to add to the pool? And still other times I’m being asked, What do you gain from blogging? Since the first two are usually accompanied by a good deal of indifference and disdain rather than a true spirit of inquiry, I’ll choose to forego them today and just deal with the last one.

We bloggers have many reasons for doing what we do. have many reasons, but today I’ll just share three: my blog is a front porch, a corkboard, and a stationary bike all rolled into one.

Huh?

Another excellent question. Let me explain.

The Benefits of Blogging

My blog, for me, is a place from which I can chat with the world. When I sit out on my real porch (actually, I don’t have one, so I sit on my lawn, but let’s pretend for the sake of illustration), my neighbors will often stop by and chat. I find out what’s going on with them; they ask about my life. We share information, discuss ideas, and have an enjoyable time doing it. My blog gives me that same sort of availability, the same give-and-take as a front porch, only to a much larger audience. Often I’ll drop by another writer’s “front porch” and see what they’re up to. I enjoy that interaction a great deal, so I keep on blogging.

Second, my blog is a corkboard. Yes, sometimes we call it a “platform,” but that sounds so self-exalting. I’d rather think of it as a bulletin board where I can share those things most important to me in a place that’s easily accessible. My books take highest prominence, of course, but each review and each Friday Freebie is another note pinned up for anyone to read.

And last, my blog is sort of a literary stationary bike. Just like our bodies, we need to give our muse regular workouts or it atrophies. And just like softball skills or volleyball skills, our writing skills get better and better the more we exercise them. Blogging two or three times a week keeps me sharp and helps me stay in the game.

A Word of Caution

Although a blog provides many helpful benefits, it also serves as a window for readers. Anyone tuned in is actually looking in on me and make judgment calls. Is she too serious? Too corny? Too sloppy in her writing? Can she write a decent sentence? Does she know how to spell? Does she know what she’s talking about? Is she consistent? Is she honest? Is she reliable? All these judgments have a bearing on my reputation as a blogger and author.

Have you ever been on an author blog that was full of errors, sloppy sentences, and inconsistencies? I have. Needless to say, I did not purchased their work. On the flip side, a well-done blog can be beneficial. It gives an author the opportunity to display a sample of their writing to the world. Knowing that, I’m very careful to maintain a professional appearance. No one’s perfect, but I do try to catch all my typos. I treat every book I review and every person who comments with respect. I also promised myself when I started out that I’d always be completely honest. I’m going to be me, just a polite and polished me.  :)

Our blogs project onto our work. If readers like what they see, they might try out a book. If we’re producing sloppy, unedited drivel, however, we might as well pack up the laptop, get out the gun, and start aiming for our toes.

Your turn…do you blog? Why or why not? What benefits do you derive from blogging? What downsides do you encounter?

Slow and Steady Writes the Novel

In my last Friday Freebie, before I vacated for the Smokies, I posted about trimming our writing schedules to avoid burnout. Today it may seem like I’m talking out of the other side of my face: quit procrastinating and write!  But I don’t think these two bits of wisdom are contradictory at all. You see, writing, like anything else, requires balance. Too much is not good, and too little is just as bad. And it’s real easy to get in a vicious cycle that includes both.

I shared a little about how obsessive I get in the winter, pushing my WIP till I want to scream. Then in the summer, once the novel is wrapped up, I take it easy. Before I know it, the kids are starting school and I’ve done nothing but read for months! Don’t get me wrong, I like to read, I want to keep up on the children’s market for professional reasons, and maintaining a book review blog requires a certain amount of reading, so it’s not exactly a waste of my time. But it sure is hard to abandon the months-long leisure habit and return to the hard work of producing my own stories.

Because hard work it is–only non-writers will tell you it’s not–and that’s why we find so many reasons not to do it. But writing is the key to our success. Few of us will experience the instant wealth and mega-stardom of J.K. Rowling or Suzanne Collins (not to minimize how hard these ladies worked to get there). But for most of us, generating a fan base and an income is a slow process that requires producing, producing, producing. So we need to identify those things that hinder us.

I already mentioned burnout as a huge obstacle. Another hangup, in my case, is the internet. It’s so easy for me to pop online when I sit down to write and waste an hour checking my sales reports, reading through the handful of blogs I follow, returning emails–sometimes I even get absorbed in research. Again, these are all necessary activities, but they need to be controlled. I like to set time limits for myself. Fifteen minutes and I’m on to writing. I might even disable the connection so I’m not tempted to hop back on.

Another thing that hinders my writing is a busy family schedule. Sometimes there’s not much you can do about that: everyone has to eat and likes clean clothes. I’ve been fortunate to be able to stay home with my kids, who are still quite young, so I needn’t work around an outside-the-home job (I’m trying to make writing my career), but motherhood comes with a pretty big job description all its own. However, when additional activities arise, ask yourself, do I need to help with every classroom party? Must I teach Sunday school and Wednesday night  Bible club? Can Daddy coach AYSSO himself? I will never advise putting career ahead of family, but occasionally making time to write comes down to hard choices.

A third hindrance I run into is the sheer number of projects I hope to accomplish. My blog tour (next month) took an amazing amount of time, upwards of 80 hours. I’m currently recording podcast episodes of The Candle Star and it, too, turned into a real beast. I took time this spring to publish most of the Christmas plays I’ve written for church over the years. I also like to create and publish materials to help teachers use my books in the classroom, but I haven’t even had time to think about doing that for my new release yet. In the meantime, I really want to develop the story arc for a new series I’m planning. So how much time have I spent on my WIP this summer? Not enough to release it in November as I hope to if I keep this pace. Now that the blog tour is a wrap, I plan to hit the manuscript hard.

One final thing that keeps me from writing is my blog. Yes, my blog! While I love it, I keep a close eye on how many weekly posts I can sustain. I’ll never abandon my MMGM Monday posts, and I’m trying really hard to build the instructional nature of my blog with these Friday posts, but if I have to, I can always cut my Wednesday book reviews (and the hours spent reading for them) temporarily or long-term. My books have to come first.

We are all busy, but if we are going to make a go of this writing thing, it’s going to require, well, writing! Like the tortoise, we’ll only finish if we keep plugging away. So let’s get to it!

Now you tell me…what hinders you?