5 Years in Publishing: A Celebration

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It’s my 5-year anniversary in the publishing business. It’s hard to believe. Without getting cheesy, I’ve been reflecting a lot lately over the last few years and how they’ve shaped where I am today. I am forever grateful to my day job for helping with the foundation as I learned so much about writing and marketing. And of course, huge thanks to those who have carried my books in their stores, hosted me for signings, and TO YOU THE READERS for taking a chance on my work. It’s really been a whirlwind, and while there are always struggles to go with the celebrations, I wouldn’t take back a single second of it because it’s how much I appreciate where I am today.

In the past 5 years I have:

  • Published:
    • Gifted, Donovan Circus book 1 (May 2012)
    • Burned, Donovan Circus book 2 (December 2013)
    • Hunted, Donovan Circus book 3 (March 2015)
    • Ignited, Donovan Circus book 4 (October 2015)
    • A Reaper Made (October 2014)
    • Witch Hearts (October 2013)
    • Heroes of Arcania trilogy
      • SuperNova (June 2016)
      • Fortune’s Favor (July 2016)
      • Unbreakable (August 2016)
    • “The Two Ringmasters” short story in The Peculiar Lives of Circus Freaks anthology (April 2017)
  • Public Speaking: This is a big part of my resume now, thanks to this career. This includes classes and workshops at various conferences, moderating or participating on panels, and solo opportunities to talk about a variety of topics in regards to self-publishing, marketing, social media, and more.
  • Conferences and signings: I won’t list them all, but I’ve been lucky to participate in dozens of events that connect me with other authors and readers.
  • Started Roanoke Author Invasion: now headed into its 4th year, I’m honored to bring so many authors and readers to my city. I love hosting this event and am so proud of its reputation of welcoming all into the fold, because I hope that’s how people see me in the publishing world – friendly and helpful.
  • Become Director of Roanoke Regional Writers Conference: while this one is more of a regional event, it’s one that has really helped me in networking and growth in the Roanoke area. I get to meet amazing writers (especially those outside my genres which can be a breath of fresh air sometimes!) and/or help those wanting to learn.
  • Set goals: Learning to set goals was a new one for me – by setting goals, I can work backwards to see how to reach them, which in turn helped me better understand marketing. It all goes hand in hand, like it or not, and is so much more than just publishing a book and waiting for it to sell like crazy. Setting goals and marketing plans for each title have really helped me not just get where I am, but become stronger in my career for the next title, and the next.
  • Author Connections: I have met some of my very best friends thanks to the book community. We help each other through everything – the mundane, the frustrations, the exciting celebrations – and I am so lucky to surround myself with quality people who have my back as much as I have theirs. Even introverts need besties!
  • This Blog: I am so glad to have met so many people who stop by to read my blog, whether they’re looking for tips or pep talks. I’m always surprised when people bring up something they read here, and so touched when they tell me that it helped them move forward to the next step in their process. MAN, that’s humbling.

So, what about the next 5 years?

  • Publishing:
    • My hope is to release the 5th and final book in the Donovan Circus series this summer (aka SOON!).
    • I have at least another 3 book ideas I’d like to work on (including one that’s nearly done with the first draft), with one to possibly query due to timely market needs
  • Public Speaking:
    • I’ll be speaking at the Virginia Writers Club Symposium in Charlottesville, VA this August!
    • And I will continue to add on these opportunities to my resume. I love speaking to people on topics I’m passionate about, and helping other writers with their journeys is incredibly gratifying.
  • Big goals. Now that I know how to set them, I can attempt to hit or even surpass them. Without going into too much detail, I’ve got a couple things lined up later this year that will hopefully be great for the writer career. Such as…
    • Hit a USA Today or NYT bestseller list
    • Branch out into new genres (I’ve forever wanted to write a murder mystery, possibly cozy, in addition to about 150 other ideas)
    • Attend more/new events = more author friends! New readers!

There are always more goals to add to the list, but rather than being afraid to try or overwhelmed, I’ll simply take it day by day and keep putting words down. And that’s the real thing, right? At the end of the day, writers have to write. We have stories bursting in our minds and hearts and no matter how you publish, or you have 2 readers or 2,000, putting great stories out in the world truly makes it worth it. So, here’s to my first 5 years in publishing – and here’s to many, many more! Cheers, friends!

Why Writers Should Attend Conferences

I recently confessed to a serious case of writer’s burn out. You’ve totally been there, I know it. After spending some 400+ straight days working on my trilogy, I found it difficult to try my hand at a new story. But then I’d feel listless, like I was wasting time if I wasn’t writing. So instead I froze, stuck somewhere in that in-between of a new release, creativity burnout, and desperate attempts to get out of it. I started to wonder if I’d ever write again. (Drastic, but you get the idea.) All in all, it does create quite a bit of self-pity in a writer’s soul. Who are we if we aren’t writers?

Luckily, Utopia Con came at just the right time. As my 3rd year, it was, as expected, a wild week full of laughter and love. Many attendees already know each other, are already family, but they welcome newbies with open arms. This year, I was honored to be nominated for 2 Utopia Awards categories, moderate a panel on world-building and give an Idea E(x)change talk about beating the self-publishing stigma (video coming soon). I was never alone, constantly surrounded by friends and peers who both inspire and encourage. When I said goodbyes Saturday night, I struggled not to tear up because I love these people and how we are together-who I am with them. I left exhausted, my cheeks hurting from the smiles, and my brain buzzing with ideas. I couldn’t wait to get back in action, both to market the HoA trilogy and to get back to work on other stories. It was the jumpstart I needed and while I suspected it would happen like that, I’m downright relieved to be moving forward.

For me, a writing conference is important for more than a few reasons. It’s not just about the writing panels or the signing tables or showing your books off to anyone who will glance at them. There’s a camaraderie you don’t get online; it’s infectious and loud and unshakeable even a week after you’ve been home. It’s #tribelife for sure, to surround yourself with other hard-working, enthusiastic writers who are reaching for similar goals. And because of tribe vibe, it isn’t competition – we all lift as we climb (a motto I take seriously now more than ever). We share questions and goals, brainstorm on stories and marketing, ooh and ahh over covers and formatting. We are all there to be better than we currently are, and when you’re surrounded by those kinds of people, it’s hard not to be inspired and caught up in the enthusiastic stream of ideas.

Two specific parts of the week stand out for me. Both unplanned, both necessary to my writer soul. Friday night dinner with my mastermind group (incredible women writers – Mindy Ruiz, Misty Provencher, Kelly Martin, BJ Sheldon, Tia Silverthorne Bach, Amy Evans) as we talked each other off ledges, shared desserts, and laughed so hard I could barely see straight; and Saturday afternoon, as a similar group randomly came together to discuss PAs, sales and marketing. It was one of those organic things that happened by chance and became an important conversation that’s sometimes hard to have online.

And then there are the readers. Readers are why we do this; it’s sure why I write. I love giving someone an escape from reality. To hear that it happened, well, that’s something that motivates me to get my ass in chair and get back to work. I won’t go into personal details, but my friend Ginny shared an emotional story with me about reading my series (i.e. escaping from reality). She had us both tearing up and at the end, she said “Don’t ever stop writing.” It was the exact sort of thing I needed to hear, from someone who I interact with online but had never really talked to about my books. I had no idea – and it’s a moment that I know will stick with me forever. You simply don’t know how much you impact a person.

Writers should attend conferences not just to sell books. That’s important. It’s not just about networking, either – you can’t force your friendship on the biggest author in attendance. Connections need to be genuine (that word is quickly turning into my word of the year), as do you. Go in with an open mind. Be ready to share your own experiences or pitfalls. You are not alone in this. You’ll find your people, and when you do, trust in them to have your back. You’re there to learn and grow, and be open to people willing to help you. Selling books or giving talks is the cherry on top of the awesomesauce conference sundae.

I owe Utopia Con and Janet Wallace more than I can explain – because of it, I’ve found many of my closest friends and confidantes, met so many incredible and smart people (including readers, marketing people, and my HoA cover designer), and my confidence has grown in leaps and bounds from where I was 3 years ago. I can’t wait to see what the next year holds for all of us before we do it all over again.

Clockwise: me at my table; one of my favorites from the batch – ST Bende and I laughing (which is kinda how the whole weekend felt honestly); with the gorgeous #HoA cover designer (!!!) Regina Wamba; Kelly Martin!!!; with Ginny Gallagher; with Bryna Butler and Casey Bond; with BJ Sheldon; with Brittney and Ethan, who have to be my 2 best readers and fan club members 😉

Why I’m Mad About Self-Publishing Stigma

I’m mad.

What’s worse is that what I’m mad about is truly something out of my control. There’s not a thing I can do about it except keep pushing barriers. To hold my head high and keep on keepin’ on with the rest of the crowd.

You can probably guess why I’m angry thanks to the headline. Wait – no, I’m NOT mad about self-publishing. But rather the thoughts behind self-publishing and the ideas that we’re not as good or “real” as traditionally published authors.

The publishing system isn’t broken by any means, but the stigma behind “traditional” and “indie” publishing has really gotten my goat lately.

I’m independently published, or self-published. What does that mean? It means I do not have an agent or traditional publisher backing me. It means that I’m in control of my stories, my edits, my covers, my marketing, and everything else that goes along with it. It means that I bust my ass working towards a dream.

Does it make me better than traditional authors? Nope. We all work hard to earn our keep; they just have a little extra help.

Does it make me worse than traditional authors? Still no. I’m not just chucking up the first draft and waiting for rave reviews to come in.

Things are changing and it’s time for folks to get on board before they’re left behind. I work in magazines, but it’s no secret that the indie waves are crashing down and changing the book publishing landscape. You know the stories – how Amanda Hocking self-published and rocked the publishing world to its knees when she became a bestseller without the help of the Big Six. How hundreds of authors are hitting NY Times and USA Today bestseller lists thanks to their fans and friends, to the straight up hustle it takes to earn such a title.

No, I don’t have tons of research or numbers to back up my facts. There are plenty of other posts out there with that info if you wish to look it up. This, my friends, is a flat out rant to those who judge our books based on the publisher – especially if it’s by “self.”

My local media (newspaper, TV, radio) won’t review my books because they don’t have a Big 5 publisher name attached. My own alma mater told me they won’t feature my successes in their alumni magazine because I don’t have a traditional publisher. (I found this out AFTER they agreed to feature me, then retracted the offer once they realized I was self-published). Never mind that I’ve put out 5 books since graduation, touting my pride and knowledge that their English department put me on my current course. A REAPER MADE takes place on the campus, for heaven’s sake! But they won’t even think about hosting me in their bookstore or inviting me up to speak to their students – because while they won’t say it, I’m not a “real author” as I don’t have some fancy publisher to back me.

I’m not looking for your sympathy, but that freakin’ hurts. It’s hard enough getting strangers to take a chance on us, but for the college I put my heart and soul into for four years, I thought surely they’d want to spotlight the students who work to better themselves (no matter what it is). But they’re not the first to behave that way, nor will they be the last.

If you’re indie, you know the looks. The ones where people get super excited to hear you’re a writer, then when they ask who published you, and you say, “I’m self-published”, you get “the look.” You know the one. “Oh,” they say, their shoulders deflating with disappointment. “I thought you were like, famous or something.”

It irks me because they make me feel like I’m not good enough. That I’ll always be “not good enough.” That we aren’t “real writers.” It’s why it took me years to finally tell people about my books and still get shy about it even today – because I don’t want them to roll their eyes and think because I’m doing it all myself, that must mean I’m no good. And dammit, we already have enough of that to go around from critics and trolls and Negative Nancys.

Self-published authors are not desperate losers (nor were they ever, but I like to think we’re more marketable now). Those of us in it to win it are not hoping to publish one book and get rich quick. I’m not quitting my job in the hopes of writing the “Next Great Novel” (because that plan doesn’t work for me).

I don’t need to be a traditionally published author to understand what goes into my books. I put on my pants like everyone else, going through the correct steps just like traditional authors do with their work: I have an editor to check my spelling and grammar, brilliant cover designers to catch readers’ attention, and a marketing team behind me so that I’m not in it alone and completely overwhelmed.

I’m not looking to be famous, either. I’m not saving lives like my EMT sister or building kids’ foundations like my teacher husband. They’re the ones who should be in the limelight, for making a difference in people’s lives. I simply want to be allowed to follow a dream without feeling like I’m being judged for it. I want people to be able to take a chance on my writing and not worry about who published it. Why should that matter? It’s about the story, how much you fall in love with it. No matter what I write, I want to provide an escape from reality for readers.

And when a reader tells me I did just that for them, there’s not a grump in the world who can bring me down.

Indie or traditional, you gotta do what’s best for you. And in the end, that’s what truly matters. Not some raised eyebrow from stranger Jack or a rejection email from your alma mater.

So how about we indies celebrate the fact that we’re taking charge of our lives by going after our dreams? That there are just as many of us out there who will succeed (or already have) because we don’t let the jerks get us down? That even if a publisher comes along to scoop us up, we know we were already successful?

Because you’re already a winner in my book, kid. How do I know? You’re going after a dream and refuse to let anyone stand in your way.

Amazon KDP Select: How I Got Over 20K Downloads

Last month, I made GIFTED, A DONOVAN CIRCUS NOVEL, free for 3 days to celebrate my new release WITCH HEARTS. I spent weeks beforehand preparing a strategy, figuring out how to promote it, and goals that would hopefully be achieved during it. The hard work paid off, because I had over 20,000 downloads, stayed at #5 in the Top 100, and even got new reviews out of it. (Update: I have received 13 new reviews, which is definitely awesome!)

Put simply, KDP Select is a program authors can sign up with through Amazon for Kindle. You are enrolled for 90 days (and automatically re-enrolled once it’s over, so if you only plan on using it once, pay attention to your days) and your ebook can only be available on this platform. You get 5 promotion days to use throughout the 90 day program. You can use them as you see fit – 3 days and 2 later, 1 and 1, etc. Most authors recommend using at least 2 days in a row and I would have to agree – if you’re trying to get as much bang for your buck as possible, 1 day won’t cut it. (And while you could schedule all 5 at once if you wanted, you probably want to stash a day or two for later. Remember, you’re enrolled for 90 days, whether you use them or not. And no, KDP Days do not roll over to the new 90 day period.)

So I signed up for the KDP program and scheduled out my 3 free days for GIFTED. Many people differ on when to host your days, but from my research, you get better sales days (actual purchases) on the weekend, so perhaps in the middle of the week would work better. Because WITCH HEARTS released on a Tuesday, my free days for GIFTED ran on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Tuesday was my biggest download day as that’s when my scheduled promos through various sites posted them. I still had plenty of downloads Wednesday and Thursday, but there was a distinct plunge of downloads by the last half of Day 2.

Because I can’t get too technical with my numbers (Amazon doesn’t like you revealing exactly how many downloads you got), instead I wanted to offer up the links I used to research as well as submit my free days. You’ll have to be willing to put in the work, but I have yet to meet an indie author who isn’t already quite prepared for that 😉

The biggest thing I did, at least in my opinion, was submitting my book for a BookBub submission. Many authors worry about the cost, as it can get a bit pricey. However, I found their customer service to be excellent and the results from their marketing absolutely boosted my downloads and ranking (I hit #5 of Top 100 Free bestselling books and stayed #1 in SF/Fantasy and #1 in Fantasy Adventure for all 3 days). I originally submitted GIFTED as a Fantasy novel and was ready to pay the $90 fee. To my surprise, I heard back from a real person who looked over my listing and suggested a better placement in YA – a $40 fee. The fact she helped me to put my book in the correct spot even while knowing it would save me money was a HUGE bonus to using them. (It’s not often you find businesses willing to part with extra dollars!)

Anywho, the email that went out about GIFTED on the first free day compared the story to The Hunger Games trilogy, a comparison that both tickled and terrified me. Regardless, I will absolutely use BookBub’s resources for all future advertising, especially on free KDP days. It’s worth the price, assuming you’ve got a decent marketing budget.

The Author Marketing Club has a page here for authors looking to submit their free KDP days for promotion. If you scroll down and click on the list of logos, it brings up a window where you can enter your information – just make sure to do it ahead of time, say at least a week, so you’re guaranteed to have it listed (plus, it’s just polite AND keeps you from going crazy at the last minute).

I also used a bit of marketing help from thedesertgirl on Fiverr. For $25, she promoted my days to several sites I wouldn’t have known about otherwise. I was happy to pay the small fee for her to handle it, since the day my sales started all I had to go was log in to see she’d tagged and promoted me with several book listing sites. I will definitely use her again for future free book days.

I  took out a Facebook ad too, promoting a post about the free download days. I think I put in maybe $25 – I got a ton of new fans for my author page and feel confident it converted into at least a couple handfuls of the 20K+ downloads.

I would absolutely recommend checking out these links for other advice too. They not only list great links for where to submit your listing, but also offer tips on when to choose your days, how to promote through social media, and more.

Laura Howard – Finding Bliss – KDP Select Layering Strategy

Interviews with India Authors – My KDP Success Story

World Lit Cafe – Maximizing Free Days on Kindle Select

A Place for Aspiring Writers of Fiction – Benefits of KDP Select Days

Before your days, make sure to submit your listings to all of the sites you can find like these (Pixel of Ink, Free Booksy, etc.). I also have amazing friends (authors and readers alike) who shared out my posts on Facebook and Twitter, hosted me on their blog for the day, and/or promoted it however they could. Next time, I hope to better implement a hashtag on Twitter (#WitchHearts/#Gifted) that will catch on with any of my communities.

On the day of, make sure you’re posting on all your networks! Use your Facebook fan page to your advantage and talk it up. Same goes for Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, etc. Write up a blog post announcing it and make it live that morning so it reaches your fans and followers early. Ask your fellow writing groups and author contacts to share it out  (and make sure to offer to repay the favor for them). And for all that is holy, thank every. single. person. who shares, RTs, and helps to promote YOUR product. We wouldn’t get far without them.