Truth telling: Fear of success as an author

Last week at work, I was yelled at by a business I’d included in a newspaper article assignment. The woman on the other line called me out for not contacting them for proper information, which was true. Her voice continued to raise as she pointed her finger at everything I did wrong, and I didn’t fight her because everything she said was true. I’d written an entertaining article that ended up going gangbusters, much to my surprise, and this business was left to clean up the PR nightmare I’d unintentionally created for them by not verifying information. I felt genuinely bad, and I tried to apologize, promising a retraction. But then she hit me where it hurt.

“I see you’re a writer,” she told me. “I see you write things about how to be a writer. It would take nothing to put your name out there as someone who spreads bad information.” She let me know that if their company suffered from this article in any way, I was going down with them.

I was officially triggered. Every single fear I’ve ever had came crashing down on me, things I’ve felt all along, but now were staring me in the face. I’m not good enough. I don’t know what I’m doing. Who do I think I am? How dare I even believe I can keep playing this make-believe game of being a writer, both at work and in my personal life? I’m not educated enough. I’m not talented enough. I’m not smart enough. I’m a total and complete hack.

This triggered barrage of fears at work has seeped into my work as an author. I’m not supposed to talk about this. Who says? I don’t know. I just know that most authors keep things light and friendly, presenting their books in these neat little packages as if they didn’t spend months or years before that bleeding at their keyboard and contemplating ending it all out of self-doubt. My favorite indie authors who are making a killing at this game are funny, personable, and confident. Not me, though. I’m a complete disaster. I’m a mess. I doubt myself constantly. The worst time of my life is always book launch time, because I’ve already predicted its failure before the book is even released.

But truthfully, it’s also a relief when the book doesn’t sell. It means there’s less of a chance for someone to discover the flaws I’ve included between the pages. I’m afraid any research I’ve done hasn’t been enough. Readers will discover I don’t know how to sail a boat, grow a garden, live on a pot farm, or watch a good friend die. I’ll get something wrong, and a reader will call me on it, and the book will be destroyed.

Making it in this writing game is all I want, and it scares me the most. It would be amazing to reach the point where I can live off the proceeds from my books. But what happens if someone smears my name, either by something I’ve done, or something I haven’t done? You’ve all seen the internet mobs that come flying with their pitchforks over someone who’s done something terrible. It would take nothing for a false rumor to be spread that way and ruin someone’s life. If I had a platform, it would be too easy for someone I’d rubbed raw to smear my name and ruin my career. This woman that called me on the article could potentially ruin me by letting everyone know that I have no idea what I’m talking about, that I love to spread fake news.

This woman isn’t even my biggest fear. It’s the readers. When I’m writing a book, I am free, for the most part, of any doubts I have. It’s just me and the characters, and we’re having a great time during the weeks I write their story. But as soon as the book is ready to publish, all my fears take over. The door opens, and I invite people in to read all the things that have been private for months. I’m left vulnerable as people I don’t know pick up my story and witness what I’ve created. Worse, people I know pick up the story. I feel judged, exposed, emotional, afraid. The days after a book release, I usually hide, unable to muster a social media post or say anything about the book because I’m so spent and nursing a nasty book launch hangover.

Then there’s the marketing part. I tell people I know how to write, but I don’t know how to market. That’s a partial lie. I know things I can do that will help drum up interest, but I don’t do them because of my fear of rejection. If I tell people about the book, they will ask what it’s about, and as I tell them, I can hear a little voice telling me they’re not interested, they’re just being polite, no one reads anymore, and so on. I worry more that I will gather their interest, and then, once they read the book, they’ll be left disappointed because I failed to live up to my hype.

And, of course, there’s that one fear I spoke of a few paragraphs ago—if I gather a lot of interest, there’s more potential for someone to realize I’m a hack. I’ve published 9 books so far. I should be so much better at this game. Instead, I’m worse—and my self-doubt is my biggest reason why.

I was listening to Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday podcast with India.Arie, who spoke about leaving the music industry for a time because she felt like she was losing herself to the commercial side and not keeping true to her own beliefs. Her obstacle was her feeling of inadequacy. When she was nominated for 7 Grammys, she was so overwhelmed she couldn’t handle it. When she didn’t win a single one, she was caught somewhere between feelings of failure and a sense of relief. I totally get her on this one. Then she told Oprah a realization she’d had just a few weeks earlier in a moment of self-doubt.

“What if Oprah decided she was too fat for TV?”

Whoa. Let’s chew on that for a second. Oprah wasn’t always OPRAH. She was once a radio station newscaster who found her calling in the talk show arena because she knew how to tell a story. But what if she had decided she couldn’t be seen in the public eye because she wasn’t thin enough, smart enough, or likable enough?

What if Steph Curry decided he wasn’t good enough at basketball?

What if Justin Vernon of Bon Iver (my obsession) felt like his life was too messy to create music?

What if Stephen King had successfully thrown away his manuscript for Carrie?

What if Jesus, Gandhi, Muhammad, Confucius, Buddha, or the Dalai Lama decided they didn’t know what they were talking about, and kept quiet because they were afraid someone would strongly disagree with them?

Earlier this year, I tattooed my favorite Bible verse on my arm: Be not afraid or discouraged. The Lord your God is with you. Joshua 1:9. Fear has been my driving force for so many years. It’s been my God. My focus this year has been on faith, and part of that journey is to let go of fear. Here we are in November, and I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface. In many ways, I feel more afraid than ever. I wish for thick skin, and it’s ridiculously thin. I pretend I have callouses because I work at a newspaper and deal with ridicule on a daily basis. But I don’t have callouses, I have scars that keep reopening.

Not one person in this world is flawless. I’m just me, trying to figure out the world and where I fit in the story. I don’t have all the answers; I can’t even pretend that I do. But I do know that I can only own the things I can control. I can’t control how many people read my book, though I can do things to push it in their direction. I can’t control what people think about my book. But I can control what I write, and stay true to my beliefs as I write it. For that, I need to be clear on those beliefs. What’s my ultimate message? Each story incorporates something I’m grappling with in the time that I’m writing it. What have I learned from the story? What do I hope the reader will learn?

Finally, what’s my definition of success? I thought success was selling enough books so that I can be a full-time writer. However, this definition doesn’t make me happy. It feels shallow, and its broad definition makes the goal out of reach. But you know what makes me feel like I’ve fulfilled my purpose? When someone reaches out to me to say they found themselves in my story, that they felt less alone when they read it, that it reached a deep emotion inside they hadn’t even known was there. My definition of success is when a reader connects with the story I’ve told them, and I’ve changed them because of it.

That’s a definition I can live for.

There will always be critics in this world. I’m not done fearing them, but I’m trying to move away from that. The best I can do, the best any of us can do, is to remember we are all souls having a human experience. We are all connected in one way or another, even with our worst critics. What can we take from each experience? What should we leave behind. Most important, which voices in this world build us up and encourage us to be the best we can be? Those are the voices to focus on.

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The one where I reveal too much about my failure as an author

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I started writing the 3rd novel in my Hope series (still haven’t decided on a name, so this is what I’m going to call it for now) on Dec. 1. I came into the month with a clear idea on what I wanted to happen to Maddie, and what I wanted wrapped up by the time I reached the conclusion. But all the in between stuff, like the layout of each chapter and the steps it would take to get from the beginning to end, I left that to figure out later. I was just too eager to get started on writing, and I didn’t want to lose my train of thought to create the beginning.

And so I started writing. I created my epic beginning, and it was everything I envisioned it would be. Then I came to the next chapter, and I wrote the rest of what I knew about the setup of this novel. Now I’m on Day 3 of writing, and I’ve managed to do anything but write. I’m easily distracted, and I’ve found so many things to do during this writing time, the only time I have today to work on my novel.

The reason I can’t write is because I don’t have a plan. I know where I am, and I know where I’m going. But I don’t know the in-between parts on how I want to get there.

It occurred to me today that this is exactly what’s going on with my author business. This can’t be the first time I’ve realized this, can it? I’m sure I’ve realized this before. However, this epiphany struck me today, and I suddenly feel stupid.

I’m about to be more honest than I should be in this blog, so bear with me.

Four years ago, I was polishing the manuscript that would become my very first published novel. I had this huge vision for the future, my success as an author at the very core. I was smart enough to know that my first novel wouldn’t make me millions. I’d probably only sell a few hundred copies or so. I’d heard that the third novel was the magic number, and I was banking on that one getting me out of my full-time job and onto a glittery path of being a literary celebrity. I was humble in this dream. I wouldn’t quite be J.K. Rowling. But maybe I could be as big as Liz Gilbert or Anne Lamott, or in the biggest of hopes, the next Ernest Hemingway.

That first book sold well in the first month. Of course, I had to lower my standards to see that it sold well. Amazed by my achievement of writing a book, many of my friends bought and read this novel. A portion of these friends even left reviews, prompted by my regular requests to help populate the reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. Over the next few months, I gave copies away and gained a few more reviews. To help speed along my plan toward success, I published two other books from writing I’d done over the years. The first was a memoir of essays on single parenting, and the second was a book on poetry.

Now I had three books! I waited for the money to start rolling in.

As you probably have guessed, my book #3 was not the magic number. I failed to recognize that you need three books to draw in the same group of people who were attracted to the first book. By publishing a fiction book, and then a parenting memoir, and finally a poetry book, I was speaking to three different crowds. I was all over the map.

And so I wrote the sequel to my first book. The first one, A Symphony of Cicadas, told of a mother who died, and her journey through the afterlife. The second book, Forever Thirteen, told about her son, a 13-year-old boy who died in the same accident. I love both of these stories. However, they should never have been written together.

Here’s why.

The first book was full of swear words and a few sex scenes. It was appropriate for the story, and I feel that stripping those parts out would take away from the story. However, the second book was written about a 13-year-old protagonist, and was definitely geared toward young adult. So, I have one book that is aimed at adults, and its companion book aimed at young teens. If these young teens want to learn about the other half of the story, they must read through a bunch of swear words and sex scenes, and grown-up situations that probably won’t even interest them.

Do you see the problem here? Because it took me a while to get it.

My third fiction book, The Road to Hope, was the literary fiction story I always wanted to write, the one where I got to write the truth in fiction. With this one, I suddenly saw a small spike in interest through sales and borrows.

My fourth fiction book, Come Here, Cupcake, bombed (note: I should not be admitting this). It’s supposed to be the start of a magical realism series, but I still haven’t brought myself to write the rest of the books because that one took so much out of me.

My fifth fiction book, Loving the Wind: The Story of Tiger Lily & Peter Pan, is my favorite book I’ve ever written…and it still hasn’t been noticed. I still have hope that it will pick up, because I truly feel it’s a story almost anyone could enjoy. But perhaps I’m just biased because I’m such a Peter Pan fan.

In between releasing those two books was my non-fiction book, Reclaim Your Creative Soul, my answer to anyone who wondered how to fit creativity into their lives when they also held a job, raised a family, or felt like they were just too busy to do anything they were passionate about. This one had the best of intentions, and a lot of vital information I’ve learned over the years. And yet, I have not been pro-active at all in getting it into the hands of people who need to read it. It’s like I thought I could just release it, and the magic would happen on its own.

That’s eight books in all over the span of four years. Eight books, and I am still working full-time at a highly stressful job, and now going to school so that I might be able to figure out what I want to do with my life that might make me happy because writing novels is not paying the bills.

I’ve spent a lot of energy lamenting my failure as an author. Again, I shouldn’t even write this. No successful author ever admits this. They write about how much they love their fans, and cool things about their book, and post photos of how awesome they are as people because they’re writing books and killing it. Me, I’m spewing my disappointment on these pages because I have 10 or less people who read this blog every day, and it’s way too long and self-loathing for anyone’s attention span.

I’ve spent thousands of dollars on covers, editing, advertising, and everything else it takes to create a book and present it to the world. I’ve spent so much time listening to podcasts, reading articles, and trying to absorb every piece of information I can gather to bring my author business to the next level. I’ve lost sleep in favor of writing, created and posted cool images for social media marketing, sent out newsletters to my mailing list, and tried to build my platform in hopes that I could grow the audience that reads any of my books.

And my sales have flat-lined. Even The Road to Hope, the one I used to see activity on every day, has been forgotten.

I realize now that I’ve spent a lot of energy on all the wrong things. Of my eight books, I have a two-book series that takes place in the afterlife—one that’s geared toward adults, and one toward young adults. I have one literary fiction book. I have a magical realism book. I have a young adult fan-fiction book. I have a parenting memoir. I have a non-fiction guide for creators. I have a poetry book.

I have eight books aimed at eight different audiences. There’s nothing for each audience to come back for, as I keep speaking to a new audience and forgetting the old. Readers can’t figure out what to expect from me, because I haven’t been clear on what I write.

And this is why I’ve failed.

Here’s the truth. I love writing literary fiction. I also love writing magical realism and young adult. I know I can write all of these. I also know people love reading across the genres. However, I need to stick to one at a time, and really build that genre up. Right now, my focus is on The Road to Hope and building that story out into a series. I have an exciting idea for it that will create a series of at least five books, and I hope it generates the same enthusiasm I feel about it.

Back to that plan for the book I’m writing now. To make this book a success, I need to pause and really think about what steps need to happen to get from beginning to end. It takes more than a good idea to write a novel. I need to plot out the story so that I don’t lose my focus as I write.

As well, I need a plan for my author business. I keep wishing for success. I keep getting distracted by all the millions of things I should be doing to gather attention toward my books. I keep begging my family and friends for support, but I don’t know how to reach beyond the people I know and hold on to them as readers. I keep lamenting the fact that I’m still a full-time employee, and my books are costing me more than I make from them. I keep wallowing in depression that things aren’t happening the way they’re supposed to happen, and then wasting my time on things that don’t work…or worse, doing nothing at all because I’m so overwhelmed by too much information, lack of energy, and the weight of failure that remains on my shoulders.

I realize now that, just like my lack of focus in writing to an audience, I’ve also developed a lack of focus when it comes to growing my business. I’ve thrown a lot of things at the wall in hopes that they’ll stick. Goodreads giveaways. Facebook advertising. Promoted Instagram posts. Paid mailing lists. Promoting to friends and family. An occasional call-out to join my mailing list. A weekly newsletter that’s opened by only 20% of the people I send it to. It’s all well and good, but there’s no focus.

So yes, I need a plan. I don’t know what that is, but I do know it needs to be more than just a few sporadic actions with no backbone. On the writing side, my focused plan is to stick to a series, and then build from there. For growing my platform, I still need to figure that out. I’m tired of writing my soul, and then releasing it into oblivion. I’m not just writing for me. Writing is my way of communication. I wish to change people through my stories, to give a new perspective, and to offer inspiration though my characters’ journeys. But that won’t happen if no one is reading my books.

If you’ve read this far, thank you. I know this is just a lot of word vomit on the page. This post is way too long. I shouldn’t even publish this. But I will for several reasons. First, if there are other authors who come across this and are frustrated by the process, I hope to offer my own warning about how lack of focus can kill your business. Second, if I ever do become successful, I want to have something I can look back to so I can remember how hard this was. I want clear evidence of the time when I was ready to throw in the towel so I can be grateful for where I’m at. Third, if I’m ever successful, I want there to be clear evidence to other authors just starting out that it’s not unique to feel lost in this crazy world of novel writing.

If you’re in the same camp as I am—wanting something so bad, feeling like it’s just out of reach, and ready to make a change to get to the next level—please let me know in the comments. I need support today, and I want to connect with others who need the same support. I want to hear from you so that I know I’m not alone. Let’s be miserable together, and then let’s cheer each other on as we move forward in building our businesses.

The introverted author and reading on stage

open-micThis past Saturday, I was one of the featured readers at the Redwood Writers Open Mic event at Gaia’s Garden in Santa Rosa. What’s cool about being the featured reader at this event is I get to read from my novel for 20 full minutes. What’s terrifying is I get to read from my novel for 20 full minutes.

20 minutes is a really, really long time to be on stage.

I’m no longer new to reading my books in front of a crowd. My first time reading was 3 years ago. I was reading from my very first published novel, A Symphony of Cicadas. And I was TERRIFIED. In fact, I downed a half bottle of wine before I began reading just to give me the courage to step up on that stage. It worked, somewhat. I got up there. And I read. And I hardly remember a thing about it because it went by so fast (and I was a little buzzed). One minute I opened my book to start reading. The next, I reached the very last page and people were clapping. The one thing I do remember is that they laughed at the appropriate times, and got quiet at the more serious moments. It was a relief to see that people were actually following along!

Each time I read in front of people gets a bit easier. I’ve never died from reading in public. I’ve never forgotten the words (they’re written right in front of me!). I’ve never fainted or thrown up. People have never booed me off stage. The worst that’s happened is that people are talking while I’m reading. When that happens, I’ve learned to just tune them out and keep going so that the people who are listening aren’t distracted.

When I read on Saturday, the butterflies managed to keep away. In fact, I was so excited to read from Loving the Wind, that I volunteered to go first – something I never do! But I wanted to be able to read right away, and then enjoy the other people’s readings without mulling over my own. So I barrelled forward, taking that first time slot, and stepping on to the stage to kick off the event. My nerves remained intact, and I smiled at the modest crowd of 13 listeners. And then I began to share my story.

openmic2That was the moment that my tongue decided I hadn’t had enough to drink. It dried out completely, replacing itself with a wad of cotton. I had brought a drink on stage with me, but it was just out of reach. So I powered through, licking my lips every now and then to try and turn my cotton tongue back to normal. I was aware of every word that came out of my mouth, sure that people could hear the garbled texture of my words as they spilled out over my cotton tongue.

Eventually, my normal tongue found itself. I began enjoying the words I was reading, feeding off the way the room had silenced as people listened to my words. No one was talking, which is a great sign. It means they were paying attention. A few quick glances out into the audience, and I could see it was true. It was good to be first. It meant the crowd was fresh and ready for a story.

Fifteen minutes in, and I was reaching the most dramatic point of the scene. And that’s when I felt the tickle in my throat. There was no pushing it aside. I had to pause.

“Bravo!” the MC clapped as I stopped reading and reached for my drink. She thought I was done.

“Oh, there’s more,” I promised. For a brief moment, I second guessed myself. Was the audience done listening? Were they ready for me to be done so that the next reader could come up? I banned these thoughts from my head, took a swig of my drink, then stepped back up to the microphone.

“…here’s the secret about pixie dust…” I continued, feeling all eyes light up as I went on with Tiger Lily’s story of Neverland.

The reading ended, and the crowd clapped. And the show went on.

I will probably never get over being nervous before readings. I no longer need liquid courage to get up on stage, but the butterflies or cotton tongue will likely accompany me in the spotlight. But that’s okay. It’s only because it means so much to me to stare out at a crowd of people and share stories with them that I wrote from the heart.

Cotton tongue and butterflies can’t stop me from doing it again, and again.

The book that almost never was

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I’m about to tell you about the book that almost never was. Every year I write a book for National Novel Writing Month in November. This last year, however, I was stumped. I had just written Reclaim Your Creative Soul, and that book took a lot of energy out of me. I figured I would just skip it this year. But at the eleventh hour before the eleventh month, an idea came to me—why not just have fun with it this year? I know, a novel idea for a novel.

And so, I did. Having always been a fan of Peter Pan and Neverland, I began exploring the idea of writing about a character that only got a bit role in the original story: Tiger Lily. I began to develop who she was, where she came from, the values of her people, and her likes and dislikes. Just like Peter Pan is a coming of age story, Tiger Lily’s story was much the same. She became a princess held captive by rules she didn’t appreciate, and with hopes and desires that didn’t fit the mold of her people.

Throw in some pirates, a few Never beasts, the Lost Boys, and Peter Pan, and I suddenly had a story.

To up the ante, I not only wrote the story, I LIVE wrote it. Many of you followed along as I posted each chapter to Wattpad, allowing you to see the inside process of what it’s like for a novel to be written beginning to ending. While it was just a rough draft, I was pleased with how things worked out as I wrote. Many of you expressed interest as well, anxiously waiting for me to post the next chapter.

The story was never supposed to be published. It was just something to amuse myself and a few fans, and nothing more. However, the more I wrote, the more I realized that the story was taking on a life of its own. It was more than just an amusing tale, it was a story that needed to be told.

This story became Loving the Wind: The Story of Tiger Lily & Peter Pan, and it just published this morning!

For the next few days, I am keeping the Kindle version of this book at 99 cents so that there are no barriers for you to buy this book. This is my gift to you for sticking alongside me, cheering me on, and anticipating this very moment. Please don’t delay in buying this book now, as the price goes back up after the weekend.

Furthermore, I have a few contests on my Facebook page if you’d like a chance to win the print version of this book. Just look up #LTWgiveaways and you’ll find a bunch of contests that are going until Sunday.

Thank you for all your support, and happy reading!

Love,
Crissi

Culture Dept. podcast: Reclaim Your Creative Soul

CultureDeptThis week I was a guest on Culture Dept., a podcast that, in their words, “features interviews with artists, creatives, and entrepreneurs who share their insights on building a sustainable, contemporary creative life.” Host Daedalus Howell and I discussed how to make creativity a huge part of one’s life, accomplishing creative goals even with a busy schedule and full-time life. These insights were from my latest book, Reclaim Your Creative Soul.

The podcast is only 20 minutes, perfect for your drive into work. I hope it inspires you! Also, I encourage you to subscribe to the Culture Dept. podcast. I’ve listened to almost every single episode, and each one is brilliant.

Here’s where you can find the Culture Dept. episode that I am featured on:

If you listen, let me know what you think!

8 things I wish I’d known as a newbie writer

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As long as I’ve been able to write, I’ve known I wanted to be a writer. But as we all know, the desire to be a writer doesn’t create books alone. I’ve started writing novels, only to give up three chapters in. I’ve hidden my writing so that the world would never see my scribbles. I had aspirations of being a famous novelist, but didn’t know how to get there.

I was in my mid-thirties when I finally published my first novel. Three years later, and I’m gearing up to publish my fifth fiction novel and eight book. I can’t help wondering how many stories I missed writing because I lacked the courage sooner to write them.

Here are eight things I wish I had known as a newbie writer.

1. Don’t wait until tomorrow to start your book.
When people learn I’m an author, they usually tell me that they hope to write a book someday. Buy why wait? What makes someday a more perfect time than today? I put off writing a book for decades. When I finally started writing, it was a scary place to be. Publishing it was even scarier. But after that first book came the second, and then the third, and so on.
If you are waiting until your life gets less busy, stop waiting. There will always be obligations, a full calendar, and that 9-5 job. If something is crossed off your list, another responsibility is bound to take its place. That perfect moment to start writing may never exist. So make the time today to start writing your book.

2. Bad writing only leads to good writing.
The first attempt at anything is terrible. However, if you keep trying, things start to get better. This is true of anything in your life, including writing. I think back to the very first novel I ever wrote. It was awful! I put a lot of time and energy into that book, only to stuff it under my bed, never to see the light of day again. Without that first attempt at novel writing, I may never have gone on to write novels I was proud to share.
The same things goes for my rough drafts. I’ve stripped out chapters of books I’ve written that took days to create. While it hurt to let them go, I don’t regret having written them. They served as the bridge to the parts of the story I wanted to tell.

3. You are just as capable of greatness as the writers you admire most.
Many great writers had humble beginnings. JK Rowling began writing Harry Potter in a coffee shop, barely making it as a single mother. Stephen King initially threw away the manuscript that eventually put his name on the map. Diana Gabaldon started out as a freelance writer, taking any job that would pay her. Nicholas Sparks racked up years of debt and rejection letters before selling the manuscript to The Notebook.
If your writing isn’t where you want it to be, or your book is largely ignored, you may just be in your humble beginning. Remember this time. When you make it big, you can use your backstory to encourage other writers who are aspiring for greatness.

4. Write EVERY SINGLE DAY.
Once you start writing your novel, don’t skip even one day of writing. Even if you only write 50 words some of those days, you have to stick with that story. Otherwise, numerous obstacles are going to attempt war on your writing efforts. You’ll lose interest in the story. You’ll doubt your abilities as a writer. You’ll lose track of the storyline. You’ll fill up your writing time with other things.
To be a writer, you have to keep your writing muscle conditioned. Skipping one day may lead to a second skipped day. Before you know it, you’ll have missed a week of writing, and that novel will end up an unrealized dream.

5. Step out of the writing cave now and then.
Yes, you need to write every day. However, a great story doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Get out of your house occasionally. Visit with friends, enjoy the fresh air, and practice your communication skills. After all, you never know when an experience might make it into one of your stories.

6. Learning is a lifelong process.
There will always be things you don’t know about writing. There are writers who are more talented than you are. There are ways your novel can improve. Rather than throwing in the towel, aim to be better. Take workshops or classes. Seek advice from other writers. Read, read, and read! Never stop learning.

7. Write what you love, and stop writing what you don’t love.
There are going to be days when the story you’re writing just isn’t there. As a novelist, your job is to keep plugging away until you hit your stride again. However, sometimes the story just isn’t there. If the book you’re writing has lost its appeal for good, it’s okay to put it down and start something new. Why waste your time on something you don’t enjoy? It could be keeping you from the story you were meant to write.

8. Being an author is not a way to get rich quick.
Three years ago when I published my first book, I had visions of the mansion I would buy with my millions, the movie contracts I would sign, how my kids’ college would be paid for, the speech I would give my boss when I quit my job…. Three years later, I am still working the same hours at the same job. I am a hundredaire on the income from my books, though I still haven’t made more than I’ve spent producing them. No movie director has contacted me. And I still get excited over each sale and review.
There are times when I am frustrated that I haven’t hit the jackpot with my books. When I focus on my numbers, it makes me want to throw in the towel. That’s why numbers are the wrong thing to focus on.
As an author, you MUST remember why you are doing this. You love writing. You have stories to tell. This is your creative outlet. You are passionate about creating books.
Don’t forget the reason why you started writing in the first place, especially when success proves to be elusive. And if you started writing as a way to make millions, start looking for a different profession.

How about you? What advice do you wish you had known as a newbie writer?

The cutest cupcake chapter headers ever!

Today I’m working on the last bit of cleanup for Come Here, Cupcake before I send it off to my editor. And while all formatting work will have to wait until it’s done being edited, I couldn’t help but start working on the chapter headers. You guys, these are so adorable, I just want to eat them off the page! 😀 Here it is, with a tiny, tiny teaser of Chapter 1:

chapter teaser
I mean, seriously, how cute are those cupcake headers?

By the way, I’ve recently started a new business that’s so new, I’m still trying to figure out its permanent name. I’m offering my services for super cheap on things like book formatting, editing, website creation, social media setup, and more. You could be one of my first clients and take advantage of super low pricing! For more information, CLICK HERE.

5 reasons I love indie books

I admit it. Before I became an author, I had never read an indie-published book. I can list a few different reasons for this:
– There’s less risk with a traditionally published book…a publisher thought it was good, so it must be good (uh, right).
– Traditionally published books are more recognizable, thanks to deep marketing pockets.
– I know what to expect in a traditionally published book.

The truth is, most traditionally published books ARE good. Most of my favorite books are traditionally published1. However, I’ve become increasingly aware of how good some indie-published books can be, mostly for the things traditionally published books CAN’T be. Here are a few of the reasons why:

1. Indie books are cheap. This is good news for someone who reads a lot, like me. I am able to feed my habit and not go broke. For less than a cup of coffee, I can grab a new book for my Kindle and devour it in days. And then I can go back for more. This is because an indie-published author has cut out the middle man to get their book out there, thus cutting out all the people who share a cut of their pay. Traditionally published authors have to charge $7 or more by contract, and their cut is a sad, tiny portion of that.

2. Indie books possess wild, carefree plots. I mean, seriously. The craziest things can happen in an indie book because there isn’t some bigwig telling the author “no one would be interested in reading that.” The truth is, much of what traditional publishers turn away is exactly what readers would want to read. And indie authors know this. Why? Because they are in tune with what their readers want to read because they hear what their readers want to read FROM THEIR READERS. Which brings me to #3….

3. It’s easier to interact with indie authors. Can you email J.K. Rowling and receive a thoughtful reply in return? Of course not. But can you email, say, Colleen Hoover (who is kinda huge in the indie author world, but personable nonetheless?). Likely, yes.

4. Indie authors aren’t so invisible anymore. They are the underdogs of the publishing world, and all of a sudden, they’re winning! It’s becoming commonplace for indie authors to find their way onto the New York Times bestsellers lists. On Amazon, the top 100 books holds many indie titles. And according to this article on Smashwords, indie books may make up 50% of all published books by 2020.  What once seemed like such an elite profession now feels much more attainable. There are indie authors out there who have quit their day jobs and are actually making a living off of what they write. No longer does publishing book need to be on a bucket list of things you may never do.

5. Indie authors give us hope. It’s a big feat to write a book. But know what’s even more difficult than that? Getting a traditional publisher to agree to publish it. It’s hard enough to even get them to read the dang thing. However, indie publishers are sidestepping these gatekeepers, opening the door to their dreams on their own and saying YES, I can accomplish my lifelong goal, and YOU CAN’T TELL ME NO. Seriously, that’s inspiring regardless of what your dream is.

Here are some of my most recent indie reads that I highly recommend. If you have a favorite indie book you’ve read and loved, please enlighten us all and leave it in the comments.

Hopeless, by Colleen Hoover
Forever & Always, by Jasinda WilderA Place In The World, by Cinda Crabbe MacKinnon
Writer Dad, by Sean Platt
Kissing Midnight, by Laura Bradley Rede
Forged In Grace, by Jordan E. Rosenfeld

Tales of the cat lady

Lucci“Muffin!  Mr. Tinkles!” Edna cooed down the hall. She clicked her tongue against the top of her mouth, creating a quick sound that echoed around the house. From a back room we could hear a drop to the ground and a low meow.
Edna had described to us two balls of playful fluff when telling us about her cats. The way she talked about them, we were expecting adorable kittens that would chase string if we dangled it in front of them. What came out of the back room was the exact opposite of this image. Two emaciated cats emerged, hurrying over to Edna for food and affection. One of them had part of its ear missing, one of its eyes closed up tight, and an obvious limp as it walked. Its dark fur was brushed well, but missing in several patches as if it had been scratched bald. The other, appearing a bit younger than the first, had short black hair all over, except for an orange patch over its eye. Its tail stuck straight up, curved in a crooked hook at the end. While the first cat ignored us altogether, this second cat took turns swirling at our feet. I bent down to pet it and recoiled at the feel of its greasy hair.  – A Symphony of Cicadas, Chapter 6, pages 64-65

Edna became one of those characters who just kind of showed up in the story.  In this flashback to Rachel’s childhood, she was the crazy cat lady, the neighbor no one wanted to be around.  But we can’t always choose our neighbors, can we?

This scene was slipped into a rather somber chapter.  At this point in the story, things were starting to look dismal for Rachel, the main character.  But when Edna showed up (and seriously, she kind of just wrote herself into the storyline), she added a bit of color to the chapter – as colorful as the neon dresses she liked to wear.

Oh, and that cat pictured up there?  That’s my Lucci.  He’s not an ugly cat by any means, but actually quite pretty (maybe only to me, but whatever).  And he has been missing since October when I left for my honeymoon.  I gained a husband, but lost my cat.  And he was the best cat ever.  😦  You have no idea how much I miss that cat!

At any rate, there’s your inside peek to A Symphony of Cicadas.  Are you reading along?  What do you think so far?

This is just one of several posts to come that dives into the chapters of A Symphony of Cicadas, and the inspiration behind the story. For all sneak peeks at the novel, CLICK HERE. To purchase the book, go to http://amzn.to/YZYB8w – only 99 cents for a limited time!

Stay tuned for more!

When friends borrow instead of buying your book

So, you’ve just put all your blood, sweat, and tears, as well as all your time and money, into a published book you now hold in your hands.  And you’ve been practically selling your soul to try and sell the dang thing.  You’ve already managed to get all your friends and family to buy, and are now working on furthering your reach to include people you don’t know.  And as you struggle with sales, your friend brags about how all her friends are now borrowing her copy of your book so they can read it too.

Wait, what?

If you’ve just heard correctly, your friend just told you that she is GIVING AWAY your story for free instead of urging her friends to BUY your book.  She is stealing from your children and taking food off your table!  She might as well get access to your bank account, because she has just succeeded in ensuring you will never see another dollar again!

Ok, calm down there bucko.  She’s actually done you a favor.  Stay with me.

I’m going to throw some numbers at you.

$2.74.  That is the amount I get back for each eBook I sell with a $3.99 asking price.

$3.97. That is the amount I get back for each paperback book I sell with a $13.95 asking price.

Are you following me here?  One book will cover a fancy cup of coffee.  It is not feeding my children.  It’s not sending me on tropical vacations.  I have not been able to quit my day job over this amount.  So when a friend loans their book out to other friends, it’s not likely to break the bank.

I know what you’re thinking.  But what about my sales ranking?  Those borrowed books aren’t adding to that number either!  My friend is giving away my book, and meanwhile, my ranking is the same number as the population of San Francisco!

Do you really think a few borrowed books are going to keep you from entering the Top 100?

So back to that favor your friend did you by lending your book out to others.  What she has done is created BUZZ about your book.  At this point, the best thing that can be done for you, as an author, is to get other people talking about your book.  The more people who read it, the more people are talking about it with their friends.  Remember how you have been trying to get your book to reach further than your family and friends?

It’s happening!

Even though you are a struggling artist and would love to make some money off that book you just wrote, those freebies aren’t for naught.  The buzz that’s being created will amount to dollar signs.  You just have to be patient.

Another point – you should consider it a compliment when your friend loans out your book.  It means she thought it was so good, she wants to share it with others.  That is what EVERY struggling writer needs to focus their attention on – your book is so good, other people are clamoring to read it!

Isn’t that why you wanted to write anyway?  So you could share your writing with others?

So when you hear that your book is being loaned out, thank your friend for sharing your book!  They’ve just done some of your marketing for you.  Oh, and if you slip in a request that those friends leave you a review on Amazon or Goodreads in exchange for borrowing, I won’t tell. 😉

xoxo

Crissi Langwell is the debut author of A Symphony of Cicadas.  Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.