Zombies, Kicks & Giggles

The not-so wise words of Adrienne Lecter

My writing plans for 2018

As it’s Monday and I’m having a really hard time concentrating this morning, I figured I’d do another post here. And because we are closing in on the ides of March now and I still haven’t done my “What to expect in 2018!” blog post… and yes, I’m procrastinating right now but sometimes the busy brain needs a downtime, please bear with me.

The tl:dr (too long, didn’t read) version: I’m planning to write a shit-load of books this year, and some personal stuff update at the end of the post.

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Cultural Differences

Or why it does make a difference whether you grew up in the US or in Europe.

I’m writing this as we’re watching Atomic Blonde for the second time, brought on by one of my readers tweeting her disappointment with the movie. I loved it the first time, after expecting a movie that was worse based on reviews from my two favorite YouTube movie critics. It holds up great the second time around, but now, prompted by that critical tweet, I’m watching it through different eyes. What makes the movie work so phenomenally well for me (us, really, my guy’s with me on that) is the 80s nostalgia. I was born in 1983 so I barely remember the time before the Iron Curtain fell, but my guy’s older than me so to him this was his childhood. To this day, I still feel more unease at someone mentioning the DDR’s Stasi than the Nazis (that’s the German abbreviation for Deutsche Demokratische Republik, or GDR, German Democratic Republic, “East Germany” for short. And the Stasi, if course, was the Staatssicherheitsdienst, SSD, or Ministry for State Security.) Sure, the Nazis killed more people and left a much more prominent footprint on Europe, but they were ghosts of a distant past compared to the recent, present oppressive constant menace. The movie captures that perfectly; same as the music, costumes, makeup, architecture, cars… the list is endless. I’ve never been to Berlin and I don’t know if they filmed the movie on location, but I’ve spent my entire life living in a city that still has a lot of those very same buildings. I still remember the very same cars driving down the streets. I remember the stories that my parents and in-laws told about interacting with people from the other side of the wall. And that they used German actors speaking actual German helps a lot to keep the atmosphere thick and believable. The movie is as much a period piece as it’s an action thriller.

We tried watching the new King Kong movie a few month back. We didn’t make it past the ten minutes mark because it just wasn’t doing anything for us. I really didn’t understand the good score it got from critics and audiences. Now, I understand. People in the US resonate with the movie that has a strong Vietnam war vibe going on while we Europeans of course know about all that and have seen it in movies a hundred times, but it’s not part of our culture. It doesn’t resonate. It’s pretty much the US equivalent to Atomic Blonde for Europeans, or at central Europeans east of France.

I’m also reflecting on all this because right now, I’m reading a few craft books on story structure, and what makes stories resonate with people. I think I’ve intuitively done a good job with my zombie novels so far (judging from the reviews and feedback I get) but of course, if there’s a formula to be cracked that I can apply to make my stories work for many more people, it’s something I at least have to consider.

Nowadays, we’re all living in a much more unified world. The internet has done more to bring North America and Europe together than any political moves in the past seventy years. We have Instagram, Facebook, Youtube. Commercial goods are produced by international conglomerates that often distribute globally, and even if they don’t, a few stores specializing in imported goods–and amazon–will deliver whatever you want right to your doorstep. When I have my VPN set to a US IP address and get US commercials, I’m familiar with most of the products. If I watch a movie from the 80s, very likely I’ve never seen the cereals the kids eat in real life.

Now, a lot of you shoot guns produced in Austria or Germany while I wear makeup from the US. It’s as easy for you to buy a Glock as it is for me to buy a Ford Edge. Actually, I drive by one almost every day on my way to the office or gym. I mostly follow a primal / paleo diet, a lifestyle that’s advocated in the US by people in the crossfit community while over here, you get really weird looks for that, same as if you get your membership to a crossfit box–but it’s all coming to us, slowly. Our cultures are merging, and I think that’s a good thing. Of course we still have our, particularly regional, differences that make our background truly unique, but I often feel like I have more in common with someone from London or New York than a 100-souls town in the alps. Because of my interests (crafty stuff like spinning your own yarn, prepping / survival stuff, but also being an Indie publisher) I already have more in common with someone who’s living in the Midwest than with most Austrians. I sometimes joke that it would take me all of three months to become completely fluent in speaking English if we ever moved to the US, six months to start having real trouble speaking German, and maybe ten years to lose my accent. Most days, I don’t feel any different from all of you because we pretty much live in the same world by the same rules and mannerisms.

But then something comes along and alienates me, or makes me do a double-take, and I remember that, indeed, I grew up in a very different world, and that still informs who I am, how I think, and how I react to certain things. Like Christmas traditions. Like that you all grew up with Disney movies while my parents read to me the old German fairy tales. I’m still miffed when I see Cinderella and there’s no cut-off toes or heels of the stepsisters to try to fit into the glass slipper, never mind the practicality of it. The Viennese are a morbid bunch by nature and history; we thrive on gruesome details. And yet, most people here don’t own guns and don’t know how to shoot, either. East coast liberals would feel right at home in the city. Five miles outside the capital, the world is a very different place. I find it very curious when Americans ask me if we have any guns at all. We have a lot of hunters, particularly for a country that’s so heavily populated. Lots of target shooters as well, and we’re still allowed to own guns for self-defense as well (like most Eastern European countries, contrary to the Germans). In recent years, the divide between Austria and Germany is becoming more noticeable once more, after sitting in the same boat since WW2. If anything grave were to happen, we’d likely throw our lot in with the Czech, Hungary, and other eastern and southeastern neighbors rather than Germany and France. I sincerely hope we never have to. I like being European as well as Austrian, and I believe in the EU as a communal trade and political construct. I also like seeing myself as part of the Western World which includes North America. We pretty much have the same culture and concerns, why shouldn’t we be united? Back in the 80s, differences were obvious enough that period piece movies resonate differently with us. Now, most TV shows manage to breach any remaining gaps easily. We all have our national identities and that’s a good thing, but the similarities far outweigh the differences.

Christmas in Austria

Merry Christmas and happy holidays, everyone!

I’m very fortunate that this year, we managed to get all the family stuff done by Dec 23, but usually, Christmas here centers on the eve of Dec 24, where the Christkind brings presents to us all. There is no Santa, no reindeers, and no home invasion during the night. We got this all covered by bed time.

Let me explain.

Austria is a foremost Roman Catholic country, so that’s the tradition we follow here. “Tradition,” really, as it’s not something that’s been done since the 13th century, and it’s already been changing since the very first Christmas I can remember. If you look at central / eastern European traditions, they all bear a lot of resemblance, and like most “Catholic” traditions you can easily see the heavy Germanic (pagan) influence in them.

We actually do have a St. Nicholas tradition (who Santa Claus embodies), but he visits us on Dec 6 and brings (small) gifts for well-behaved children. The brats get punished by the Krampus on Dec 5–depending on which version you believe in, the children either get a lump of coal, or they get put in a sack and are beaten with reeds or birch branches. Another version, if different in meaning, of the Krampus myth is celebrated, mostly in the alpine regions, as the Perchtenlauf, where people in full costume and demon masts run through the village, harass the onlookers, and supposedly scare away ghosts. Wild Hunt anyone? When I say Germanic influence, I mean Germanic is in the Norse Gods. We pretty much still worship Odin, just by another name. Usually, you get a red boot with peanuts and oranges, and some chocolate. St. Nicholas is accompanied by Knecht Ruprecht, who was immortalized by Theodor Storm in a poem that I can still recite, somewhat, because I loved it as a child. Fun fact: In the German language version of the Simpsons, the dog’s name is Knecht Ruprecht rather than Santa’s Little Helper.

And then there’s Christmas. Christmas Eve, to be precise, but we call it Christmas. Once it gets dark on Dec 24, the Christkind (literally: Baby Jesus), depicted as a (mostly female) angel of around 10 years of age with golden locks of hair comes and bring the presents, and the Christmas tree. But children may not observe, so it’s all done behind locked doors but on departure, the Christkind rings a bell so that the obnoxious brats who have been going through hell all day in anticipation may finally get their gifts. Yay!

Traditionally, at midnight, the Christmette (Christ mass) is held at church but nowadays, most people, even in the rural areas, don’t celebrate that. Unless you have a really good church choir.

Most parts of Germany, without the exception of Bavaria (note: traditions are usually Austria & Bavaria vs the rest of Germany, because really, we are kind of Bavarians. And 2/3 of what is tradition in Austria is also tradition in Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech republic, and even Poland), have the Weihnachtsmann rather than the Christkind, who’s a lot more like Santa. Because of TV influences both from Germany and abroad, he’s becoming more popular, but also gets a lot of flak because that’s watering down our traditions (something Austrians struggle a lot with Germany, also where language is concerned).

December 25 is Christtag (Christ day) and December 26 is Stefanitag (St. Stephen’s day, he was the first Christian martyr), both days are traditionally the time to visit (and try not to kill) family members and eat way too much delicious food. Dec 25-26 are public holidays, the 24th as well but because of Christmas, a lot of stores are open until early afternoon (which is frowned upon). Because Dec 31 & Jan 1 are the next holidays, and Jan 6 the next after that, a lot of people try to take a vacation from Dec 23-Jan 7. Schools and universities are closed, and skiing resorts burst at the seams.

What Christmas is not:

No Santa, no reindeers, no North pole, no elves. No fucking Elf on a Shelf! I still don’t get that, but I laugh whenever I see the meme with the dog that mauled the elf, with the “snitches gets stitches” tag line. Remember, being put in a sack and beaten if you’re a brat?! We don’t need no elf! We decorate, but mostly that’s mimicking American traditions. The tree goes up on Dec 24, not much before that and usually stays until after New Year’s Eve. We do have the Adventkranz (Advent wreath) with four candles that get lit one after the other, week by week, through the four weeks of Advent. This year, the 4th Adventsonntag (Advent Sunday) was Dec 24, tough luck for trying to burn those candles down evenly (which is obviously impossible). We have our Christkindlmärke (Christmas markets) where you can buy delicious food and hot alcoholic beverages, and lots of Christmassy stuff. Most larger streets in the cities, particularly in commercial centers, are lit up with ornaments. But again: we don’t decorate!
Children do write letters, but obviously to the Christkind, not Santa. In the city of Steyr in Upper Austria we even have an official Christkindl post office.

A little unrelated, another tradition is that for Dec 4, for St. Barbara’s day, you cut twigs from a cherry tree (or other fruit tree) and water them in your living room. If they bloom by Christmas, that means that next year you’ll have lots of luck! St. Barbara, the patron saint of miners and the artillery, or “everything that goes boom!”. So much sense (obviously, the 20 days are the ideal time for twigs to revive, sprout, and flower, but that’s besides the point). That tradition is very dear to my family because, guess what, Adrienne’s not the name on my birth certificate. It is a lovely tradition, and very typical of traditions in Austria–you can control or predict the outcome, and praise a random Catholic saint who very, very likely got merged with a pagan / Germanic god or goddess so people could continue to observe their old beliefs and praise Christ at the same time. Christians here are a very, very different game from the US or elsewhere in the world.

It’s not all about the money

I’m writing this on a sunny Dec 24 afternoon, which is Christmas for us. Yes, I know, Austrians are special. You don’t know the half of it. More about that tomorrow. Why today? Because yesterday I was rudely awakened at 4am by a cat demanding love (and a cozy place to sleep) which ended with me getting up because I couldn’t sleep anymore after I realized I hadn’t yet done this year’s pre-payment of my social security dues. The fees aren’t actually due until my official tax records have come back, plus up to three years, but I want to file them with my 2017 tax statement so they count as tax deductible in 2017. This is important to me for one reason. Well, two. The other is that I can save on taxes that way. If given the choice, I’d rather pay into my retirement fund than taxes for benefits I don’t personally directly profit from.

But the main reason is that I’ve officially “made it.”

Let me explain. As a writer, more precisely a self-published writer publishing my own books (please ignore the redundancy. I think it’s there because it’s still such a novelty), I’m self-employed. I fall into the same tax category as many freelancers, including cleaning staff, physical therapists, and other similar jobs. Like prostitutes. Ah well. Funny anecdotes aside, the Austrian tax system is very welcoming to new businesses. They expect us not to make any money, let alone profit, for the first three years so until then, we only pay social security minimums, and in my case as an artist, I can even distribute my profits over up to three years to balance out periods of high and low income (think: book launch: lots of money in a short time, followed by months of making next to nothing until the next book launch). Because the first two years of my official career as a self-employed business woman I didn’t make enough profits to even pay taxes, things have been very, very boring in my tax records. But then 2016 rolled around when most of you likely started reading my books, and things changed. Marvelously. Finally, taxes to pay! Yay! Not even joking. When you make actual profit for the very first time, it’s not the worst being asked to hand some of it back to the state to keep the social and healthcare systems running.

So far, so good. In theory, by year four you should have all your ducks in a row, make profit, so now comes the time to pay taxes on all the profits you’ve made so far, and pay the full amount of social security for said profits as well. In a Negan & Lucille-esque manner, of course, within 30 days of getting notified, that bat comes swinging at you, and if you haven’t already been ducking, you’re toast.

Now, of course you know this the day you sign the official self-employment form. The first thing mentioned on all information material is that you should put aside 50% of what you’re making because that’s about what you’ll have to pay in taxes and social security sooner or later. Unless you have to close your business before that, it’s coming, inevitably. Still, only 2 out of 5 businesses make it past the 4th year when all those demands pipe up.

I am one of those 2 in 5 businesses. My official 5th fiscal year starts on Jan 1, 2018, and I will have about 2,500 bucks in my account with all outstanding demands paid for.

Sure, that doesn’t look like much, but my books are in the black, all accounts are balanced; actually, my personal account has enough in it to pay for the first six months of the year, and I already have costs covered or put aside for the next 3 books (cover, editing, audio, promotion). My business has zero debt and the royalties coming in for Jan and Feb (from book sales in Nov and Dec, respectively) will give the start of the year a nice cushion. March should look even better, or April at the latest, as I plan to release the next book in late January, and the next 30 days after that will be the money making days of that release period.

I can’t tell you how much of a relief that is for me. I probably don’t have to tell you because I’m sure that all of us have at least once in our lives gone through a period where you’ve been living paycheck to paycheck. Don’t get me wrong, I love being my own boss but being 100% dependent on nothing but myself is scary as hell, and it took me long enough to get to the point where I could fully support myself on my book sales alone. I feel incredibly fortunate that what I make not just covers my costs of living but also pays for my car and the office space I rent because I can’t always write from home. Those are luxuries, not necessities, and I could do without them but I’m really happy that I don’t have to. I love that car. I’ve seldom had such strong ties to any inanimate object before in my life. I’ve actually bought happiness. Well, leased it; for financial and tax related reasons, not buying it up front made more sense. I won’t bore you with the details. I’ve also been able for the past one and a half years to set money aside to save up for later–retirement, needed renovations, health issues, times when my books don’t make enough to cover everything. Yes, I live in a socialist country (not socialist as in gulags, but where we have a strong social system where those that are better off feel morally obliged to help and support those that are not. And no opt-out clause for those that don’t feel like it.) but I fall through many of the gaps in the system because I’m self-employed. My life looks a lot closer to that of the typical American than Austrian. Sometimes, that keeps me up at night. Also, because most of you are active on facebook when I should be asleep, but I mean that other kind. That cold sweat, existential panic kind. I’m sure that, down the line, probably in the very near future before the next release, I will be too worried to sleep once more, but this time around, things are different: because I made it. I’m still here, alive and kickin’. And that’s probably the accomplishment I’m most proud of in my entire life.

Why am I telling you this? Well, for once because yes, I’m proud and I felt a little like bragging. But mostly to, again, say thank you to all of you for making this possible. Without you buying and borrowing my books this wouldn’t have happened. And it looks like it will keep happening for at least a few more years!

For another, as a bit of a reality check. Yes, I’m making a living, but I’m not building a castle made of gold or platinum blocks yet. I can’t hop on a plane to the US and do a month-long book signing tour. I can’t afford to get tickets to Comic-Con, neither as a visitor and even less as an exhibitor or artist. I can’t go on extravagant research trips. Not yet, and likely not in the next few years. But I promise you, I will work hard on keeping my business going, and hopefully making that fluke 2016 year a regular thing going forward. 2017 wasn’t bad, not by any standards, but I was missing somewhere between one and three extra releases to reach those numbers. I want to one day meet you all, sign your books, T-shirts, and mugs, give you all a hug and chat about nonsense. I want to, but right now, I can’t. What I can do is write more books and spend quality time with you on social media. For now, the fact that I’m still around has to suffice–but that’s a pretty sweet deal as it is. I hope you agree, and get where I’m coming from.

Let’s talk audio

When amazon released the kindle in 2007, it changed the face of the publishing industry forever. Within just a few years, it not only established the KDP planform for ebook Indie publishing, but made it a powerhouse for thousands of new authors. Readers rejoiced, as not only could they now read yet undiscovered talent, but also buy a book for less money than a coffee! Having the kindle app on your phone made taking books everywhere easier still. But having time to sit down with a book is still a luxury not everyone has, every day — and this is where audiobooks came in and turned the book world upside down once again.

Audiobooks aren’t a new invention, not by a long shot, but the ease to just download or stream the file that contains the entire book and take it everywhere with you wasn’t possible until the advent of the smartphone. Who can easily carry a box of 20+ CDs or tapes with them? You could, of course, sit down at home and listen, but you could have just as easily read that book directly yourself. Another aspect of the audiobook revolution is that now that they are compressed media files, audiobooks can be made available much cheaper. You just need a server farm and the internet for distribution; warehouses and logistics are a thing of the past. No more possible damage to the goods, less people handling the actual product, and delivery times of seconds rather than days make it easy to cut overhead costs. It only made sense that amazon did for audiobooks what it before did for ebooks (although this time around, they bought the company that did all the foundation building: Audible), and kicked open the doors for us Indies. Again, for the readers that means more content by fresh voices that couldn’t have been heard before.

Now, how does one go about getting their book turned into an audiobook? We have marketplaces for editors and cover artists that we can turn to, and a lot of them work as freelancers with their own websites. But how the everloving f*ck would you find someone qualified to narrate your book, and who also does the sound editing etc? Well, trust amazon to have a platform available for all that as well. It’s called ACX (the Audiobook Creation Exchange), and it works surprisingly well. All you need to do is select your book from the amazon listing, fill out a questionnaire with what you are looking for in a narrator, and wait for auditions. Or you can contact any of the hundreds of narrators who are already working with ACX and Audible, and see whether they will take on your project. Once all the details are hashed out, they record the book, you get to listen to it to proof it if you want, and then it heads into Audible’s quality control. Two weeks or so later, it’s available from amazon, Audible, and iTunes. Just wait for your money to come pouring in!

Well, not quite. There are a few hick-ups along the lines.

  • Quality isn’t cheap. Some narrators are supportive of the Indie cause and give us reduced rates, but having real talent work for hours on your book comes with a price tag. Production is paid for in finished hours of the book, and usually, $200 per finished hour is where rates of tested and tried narrators who know what they are doing start. A 100.000 words long book that has 400 paperback pages will be around 9-10 hours long, so you can imagine that it might be a bit of a struggle to finance that when you’ve just started publishing books. For non-fiction in particular you can get away with narrating your books yourself if you are a good public speaker, with the added benefit of people getting your book told by you, but fiction authors do a lot better with professional narrators. A lot of them do voice acting as well, or are regular theatre actors in stage productions.
  • Sound editing is part of quality, so either you know how to do it, pay a sound editor to do it, or luck out as I did and your narrator already works with a sound editor as a team. Audible won’t accept an audiobook that’s not of stellar recording quality and has been edited.
  • ACX offers two options: pay for production (like I do), or do a royalty split with your narrator. That spreads the risk of the book not earning out quickly, and theoretically invests your narrator in doing some promotions for the book as well, but that also means that for 7 years, 50% of the royalties go to your narrator, but you have no upfront costs. Sounds good at a glance, but if you’re selling enough ebooks to be able to pay for audiobook production, you could expect to earn back your investment from audiobook royalties in about 2-3 years, so you’ll likely make more money if you pay up front. I also feel that’s fairer for both parties: the author, as the licenser of their intellectual property, should be the one earning royalties of their products, while the narrator, a freelancer hired for a job, deserves to get the entire money that was agreed on at once to they don’t have to play the long game. Also, the less people involved, the less issues if you need to make changes or contract clauses become interesting.
  • You also need a cover specifically for the audiobook. Audiobooks are much harder to promote than ebooks as they cost more, and there’s not a lot of promotional activities available. Also, Audible sets the price so I can’t dump the price of the first in series or give it away for free as incentive for people to buy the other books if they loved the first. We do get some promotional codes, but that’s nowhere comparable to running a free promo for 5 days on ebooks on amazon.
  • You have a lot less control about everything else as well, not just pricing. Doing audiobooks hammered down that I wouldn’t be happy as a trad. published author. I love being Indie. A big publisher would have to pay me a LOT to sign a contract to make up for being free to do with my products as I please.
  • The audiobook market has exploded over the past years, and coming in now means having missed out on some pretty sweet deals back in the day. Now, voracious listeners demand audiobooks, and best at the same time as the ebook is released. No can do, folks, sorry! My narrator gets her text the day I upload the ebook, so even with tight scheduling, the audiobook will always be 2 months late — unless I hold the ebook back, and I have no impulse control, so nope. I know that’s disappointing, but I can’t change that at the moment. I’m trying to keep it to no more than 2 months, promise.
  • Amazon pays 70% royalties on ebooks. I get 40% royalties for my audiobooks. Ebooks cost less than $1000 to produce. I’ve paid over $3000 for the audiobook of longest in my series. My narrator deserves every cent, and I get that Audible’s platform has a lot more to handle than amazon’s KDP ebook platform (like 500x the data size) but those are not numbers that make anyone happy. After almost 2 years in the game and 10,000 audiobooks sold, audiobooks are an alternate income stream for me now and I’m close to the last two audiobooks earning out (the other five already have), but I couldn’t live as a full-time writer from what I make from audio sales.

So you see, if you happen to find a new gem in the author pool, now you might get a better idea why they don’t have their books available in audio format yet. It’s always a good idea to let them know if you’d want them, though, so that they know they would have their first audio fans waiting once they made the jump. Going the audio route was, so far, the scariest decision in my author life. I hired my narrator / producer as the third book in my series came out, and ended up paying for five audiobooks within half a year. If sales had tapered off after the release of the 4th book, or worse yet, stopped, I would have been broke, with not much chance to recoup my losses any time soon. Thankfully, I have the best fans in the world who are voracious readers and listeners so I’m not in the comfortable position where my audiobooks pay for themselves and their sequels, which is amazing both from a financial point but also one of my biggest emotional successes. 10k audiobooks in under 2 years. Just, wow. I know that’s peanuts for some of the big shot authors, but I’m not one of those. Yet. Let’s change that, shall we? 😉

Writing is Rewriting. Not.

I should be writing. No, seriously, that’s what my brain is screaming at me right now. Writing. As in, new words on the virgin white page. Err, screen. Scrivener file, new chapter. You get what I mean.

What am I doing instead? Sifting through a manuscript that I’ve already written, started on Tuesday, July 26, and pretty much finished in late November–when I realized that what I’d written was not the first half of a book, but the complete book, and what remained of the idea would be the next volume. If you’ve interacted with me in any shape or form in the past weeks, you probably know that already.

Writing has been a bit choppy for me over the past couple of months, either no progress at all or happily puttering along, and while the manuscript feels fluid–and very solid–to me, it has its flaws. They all do at the first draft stage, that’s how it’s supposed to be: it’s the very first version of a story. I love writing first drafts, and I’m a relatively clean first draft writer, so sometimes all that’s needed is a light copy edit (hunting typos that I missed while I was typing fast, and the odd repetitive phrases) before it goes out to be presented to someone’s eyes who is much better at polishing these things–and doesn’t have my uber smart brain that thinks it’s a good idea to read what it was supposed to have typed rather than what is actually on-screen. That’s why everyone needs an editor. You simply can’t do it all yourself. You’re too bright for that.

This time, not so much. Yeah, the smart thing, too, but I was referring to the clean first draft. Well, it is clean now that I’ve gone over it twice, but it’s not a finished draft ready to head to the editor and beta team. Not only is it a little on the short side, but it’s missing a few cohesive bits that as I keep thinking about them become more and more important. I hate downtimes when writing, for obvious productivity and related paycheck reasons, but this book needed it. For instance, last weekend I worked out details of the backstory that will factor more heavily into one of the future books but I ignored it so far as I didn’t need it now, and a vague sense was enough. Now that I do know I’ve realized that, in fact, the backstory already is causing ripples in the books, has been the driving factor in actions of various parties in book #7 (yes, I’m looking at you, Bucky!), and can have a huge impact in this book as well.

Long story short, I’m in rewriting hell. Not only am I adding a few details and the odd conversation that I cut before because it wasn’t necessary, but I’m also retroactively influencing my characters’ actions because of that new information that’s suddenly there.

I can’t tell you how much I hate this.

Not the new info part. And not the influencing. That’s actually great. I can’t wait until I’m in the later chapters where there’s an entire new conversation that is probably the second most fun scene in the entire book for me to write. It changes so much for me, the creator, and I love having those enlightenment moments when I myself go “A-Ha!” at something that’s been roiling around in the recesses of my mind for years.

No, I hate the actual rewriting of the book.

I’ve done it before. My first ever published book had 4 versions, and some parts of that have been regurgitated and reused so many times that I pretty much know them by heart. As in verbatim. And then they were cut because they weren’t essential. Turning Incubation from a biotech thriller to the starter of a zombie apocalypse series was peanuts compared to that. Including changing the time table inside the book and switching the title from “24 hours” (or at one time, 48) to what it is today. I also ran into massive pacing issues with that first romance series of mine when I realized I needed a 4th book to finish the trilogy. Yes, I’m one of those writers! I was. One of the reasons why I generally guard my romance alter ego like a hawk is because those books are decent, but they have massive flaws. I learned so much since then. Actually, I’m pretty sure the Green Fields books are 300% better because of the mistakes I made in the past. But even in this series, I’ve had to break my outline with every single book, and the 5th, Resurgence, had at different times two different endings. The first was earlier, when Bree came to the Halsey settlement, and realized someone she’d presumed dead was still alive (trying to keep this spoiler free). The other possible ending was at 1/3 point of the 6th book, Unity, before they set out south (again, trying to avoid spoilers! I’m sure you remember what happened). Both were great ending points. Both were mild to moderate cliffhangers. I ended the book in the middle of the story between both events because it also felt like a good place to stop, and it was already at over 142k words or almost 600 paperback pages. It was good that I stopped there because Unity ran even longer, anyway, and would have started with a drag otherwise. My point is, just because when I plan a book I think I know where it ends, that’s often not the case, and experience has taught me to trust my gut on this. If it doesn’t feel right, it’s not.

But for the life of me, I wish I’d known two months ago that #8 (still untitled, eeeep!) would actually become two books so I didn’t have to streamline it that much to begin with… and wouldn’t be sitting in rewriting hell now.

Not all writers are first draft writers. A lot, in fact, hate first drafts; for them, the magic is in going back in, fleshing out the skeleton of the story they pretty much vomited onto the page in the first run, and in several turns craft this magically perfect manuscript that then ends up being the final book. I sometimes envy them because they can’t measure their productivity as actual words written each day, so taking longer to hone the tale doesn’t feel like constant failure to them. It does to me. That’s part of why rewriting is stressing me out. Yesterday I “wrote” five words in four hours! Of course I know that it was much more, that I deleted words and entire sentences and later added others at different points, but the bottom line I have to show for all that is five fucking words! Argh!

I also hate that I couldn’t get it right the first time. I hate that I’m chewing through parts of a story that I’ve been over what feels like at least three times too often. I’m afraid I’m smoothing over too much and that I’m losing what’s “unique” to my writing voice. I’m spending my entire day with my editing hat on, the critical voice in the driver’s seat, and I’d rather run around screaming wildly like the 2-year-old that my creative voice resembles. Critical voice is also awesome at making me feel like the worst writer in the world. Creative voice is 120% convinced I’m the best writer to ever tell a story!

So why this blog post? Because I’m miserable, and now I’ve stolen five minutes of your time and we can be miserable together! No, not really. I’m still convinced my blog posts are hilarious, funny, and very deserving of the time they take you to read them. I know you’re waiting for the book. Or the beta copy. Or the promised open call for beta readers so you might start waiting for your beta copy. It’s going to take me a little while longer than I expected. No, actually, I expected to take until right before Christmas to get this done but I was hoping to have it wrapped up sooner. That’s the first draft writer in me talking, who calculates a book to take two months to write, one week to proofread myself, then four weeks with the editor and beta team, and then a last week for me to implement all that before I release it into the great wild world out there. There’s no time calculated for having to go back in and turn half a book into a working full book that reads as if it had always been intended as such. That probably adds a month, which fits the realistic schedule perfectly. I’m just not happy about it because, miserable. Fuck. Rewriting.

Every writer is different. Heck, every book is different. As I told a friend yesterday, this is my 15th book, you’d think that by now I’d have a clue what I’m doing. I don’t. Not always, and not in all the details. If you gather ten writers, they’ll likely tell you fifty different ways to write a book, and all fifty, plus the hundred extra ways they forgot to mention, are all “the right way” to write a book. So if you’re a newbie writer, never let anyone tell you that what feels right to you isn’t. If it’s actually wrong, sooner or later you’ll realize that and move on to do better next time. If you’re a seasoned writer, you’re likely cringing right now at all the right books that are actually wrong but sitting on kindles and shelves all over the world right now that you can’t change anymore. I’m cringing all right. I think it’s part of what makes me a better writer than I was in 2014, so that’s okay. But if you’ve ever wondered why sometimes we, the authors, can’t tell you when a book will be done although we technically have finished writing it, now you know. I’m back to rewriting now because complaining about something never made it easier, and with every line that I correct, I’m closer to that phenomenal extra scene. Mwahahaha, mine is an evil laugh!

Burnout / My Publishing History

aka Why Unity (GF#6) was released in April 2017 rather than September 2016.

This is not a sob story. This is actually a story of empowerment. If you ever wondered how I got into publishing or what is up with that gap in the release dates of my books (probably only if you were already a fan and waiting for the next one) here goes:

I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t telling stories. There exist tapes when my father recorded me, sitting in the kitchen, telling the story of what one of my favorite plushy toys had done that day. At first, my parents thought that I was simply telling what I had done, but no. Even at four years old, my mind was making shit up in a semi coherent way.

We got our first computer in 1995. On April 6, 1996 I started writing my first book. Before that, I was writing Star Wars fanfic in pencil on a legal pad. I still have those gems. I didn’t know what fanfic was back then. The book I started was original fiction, mostly. 99%. Before you laugh, that book back then ended up being four or five parts long, over 1500 pages printed out. Yes, I was the weird girl who wrote books in her free time and then handed the printouts to her friends to read. I think in the end I was the only one ever surprised I’d become a writer. That book will, one day, be rewritten. It was epic fantasy, but think more Game of Thrones than Lord of the Rings. Had a mean body count going on and some nasty intrigues. In my first year of university when I met someone from my high school class, he was surprised I was studying molecular biology rather than literature. Pretty much the only time I didn’t write was in university when I didn’t have any brainpower left.

Fast-forward a decade or so. I’d fallen in with some lovely ladies who loved to read smutty fanfic. In hindsight, I can’t really say why I ended up writing for that specific fandom. I really didn’t like the original books, and even the drive to write something that built on the potential they hadn’t fulfilled doesn’t make that much sense. I managed to get a decent readership who liked my somewhat subversive stance toward the books. I ended up pissing a LOT of people off when I wrote a wonderful twisty thriller and turned their favorite hero into a real monster. That right there should have been the moment for me to realize, romance? Not my strong suit. Alas, I had a platform, and back in those days, a lot of the writers were turning their stories into books. One reader was running an independent e-zine and she published my very first short story in Fall of 2013. That one still has in the author description that I am trying to get an agent and find a publisher. Ha, good ol’ times. She asked me if I’d looked into self-publishing. I hadn’t. I did. You could say, the rest is history.

In February 2014 I found out that, otherwise really backwards Austria had the legal framework in place for self-published authors, including social security. On May 2, 2014 I officially became a self-published author, registering with our equivalent of the IRS. In August 2014 I released my very first novel. It was one of those converted, albeit completely rewritten stories that held only parts of the fanfic, and nothing of the already far, far removed books. That’s one of the reasons why it didn’t sell. Well, it did sell, and for a debut Indie author I made quite the splash, but only for the first month. I told myself this was just the beginning of a life-long career. I was living my dream! I was also broke without a job. This was my meal ticket!

Or not. I watched as sales dwindled, the book never really took off. I’d spent the entire time between publishing that short story and the release of the first book reading every scrap of information about publishing and writing books. I also wrote two books: that first one, and what you now know as Incubation. I decided to go with romance as it was the option where I already had a bit of a platform. I wasn’t wrong. Those first 720 books or so I sold that first month were amazing, but there was no followup. So I converted that other story, the much more popular, twisted one, and released some short stories in-between. It bombed. OMG did it bomb. It earned its investment back but not much more. And remember, compared to a trad. published author who gets an advance, even if it’s a small one, I was funding all this out of my very shallow pockets. Then in March 2015 I released the sequel to the first book. It made some sales but only a bit above breaking even. This right there was my dream dying, and dying a horribly slow death. It was all I’d ever wanted, but not enough.

The smart thing would have been to learn my lesson, get a day job to stave off the existential crisis of the decade, and continue writing in the evenings, but I couldn’t. I HAD to make it! This was the thing for me! But why, oh why, weren’t my books selling? They were so hard to write! I loved the smut, I loved the characters, but damnit, you try writing 400 pages with a plot that fits on a single page!

Then I remembered that I had this other story that I started for NaNoWriMo 2013, finished in February 2014, but didn’t choose as my first book to publish. I already knew that it wouldn’t appeal to my “audience,” but seeing as I didn’t really have one that could sustain me and I was incapable of grabbing new readers’ attention, I decided to go for it. It was a mess. It was a biotech thriller that I loved, with characters I couldn’t let go but I was incapable of writing a second book. I only had the beginning and one pivotal scene about 30% in, a little like the very end of True Lies where Bree and Nate would come for Gabriel Greene to beat some extra information out of him. It was a spy thriller. It didn’t work. Fun fact: that first book ended with Nate in prison, the Ice Queen dead, and Andrej teaching Bree how to become a super spy so together they could break Nate out of prison. Ah, the hilarity.

I don’t remember what made me consider changing the plot from them saving the world to watching it burn. I read a lot of zombie fiction at the time, mostly because Bobby Adair had been on a self-publishing podcast and talked about his books, and I picked them up and devoured them, and that was it for me. I hadn’t seen more than the first 5 minutes of the first TWD episode by then so that wasn’t it. But zombies… and that day, in late winter 2015, saved my sanity.

So back to the drawing board! It only took me about a week to map out the entire Green Fields series, all six books. Yes, I knew about Sam, and Greene, and Taggard and Bucky, when I went back in and tore the first book apart so it would make sense. That was in April 2015. In May, I wrote Outbreak, plus a good chunk of Escalation. Talk about books that are hard to write. I was on FIRE! The very experience of telling the story was amazing. Like nothing I’d ever done before. Being high on pain meds might have helped at times. I forgot about all the misery my now non-existent sales on the other books were causing. I talked to my editor, she was happy to work on whatever I came up with, and she was the first who was super excited about the new story. I got a cover, I set up my website and new accounts, got all my ducks in a row. And on August 26, 2015 I jumped the gun and released Incubation. I told my old audience but I knew there would be next to no crossover. There was a thread of a love story in there but it wasn’t about the central couple, who, for all intents and purposes, weren’t a couple until late in the second book, and it would take book four for them to have a real, strong, unbreakable bond. It was her story alone, and really, I could have easily ditched Nate and substituted him with a few other characters lending a hand sometimes. And zombies!

The book sold 30 copies or so in September. It had no release spike, it made no splash. It was 99 cents and nobody wanted to read it. I refused to be crushed because I loved the story too much. It was the thing for me, I just knew it. And it was good. It just needed some exposure. It hadn’t found an audience yet. And I had 2 more books almost ready in the series, no reason to fret or panic.

Of course I was panicking, but I’d by then read enough success stories to know that my first round in this arena was weird in all its many ways. You don’t normally splash and burn, no, it starts slow and then it gets better and better and better. Patience. So I petered along, wrote the 3rd of the romance series and released it on October 23. Bit of a splash but happy fans, and that was good. Not amazing, not great, but I still prefer happy fans over money. Which I needed, desperately, because now I was feeding two bottomless holes that needed editing, covers, and promotion. I wanted to release Outbreak later, but then just couldn’t take it anymore, and on October 29, 2015, the second Green Fields book saw the light of day. And for good measure, I set the first to free for five days because sales really couldn’t get any worse.

And that’s when the magic happens.

There were downloads. And there were sales. The entire series took off, even when the first was back out of free, and I increased the price to the $2.99 it still is regularly today. The sales graphs looked exactly like they should, a slow, steady increase. The sale ranks were getting better every day. I started to get reviews, and reader feedback, and I just knew: this is it.

I hate leaving things unfinished, and I was getting torn apart for not releasing the second part of the twisted thriller in almost a year now. And the romance trilogy needed a 4th book to tie it all up. I didn’t really want to write them, I wanted to write more books that sold–and came from my very soul, not my “this could sell, maybe” stupid brain. I wasn’t stupid. I knew that one factor was the quick release schedule for the new series that made amazon’s algorithms kick in and push it like crazy. So I decided to make a pact with myself: work yourself to the bone until you’ve made it. Two books could be a fluke. An entire series, not so much. I had no money for vacation, I had no other obligations, so why not switch to 60-80 hour work weeks, kick the living shit out of myself and write until my fingers bleed? I had nothing to lose but everything to gain.

So that’s what I did. I wrote, proofread, continued to learn so, so much about publishing and marketing and stuff. I also had to do a lot more on social media, and killed off what remained of my social life. Predictably, the 2nd part of the thriller bombed when it was released on December 19, 2015, but I didn’t really care about that anymore. I’d written the second half of that book in the first week of November, “winning” NaNoWriMo on day 5 or 7. It was done. Writing my last romance book made me hate myself, the story, the characters, pretty much everything except the readers who I knew I couldn’t disappoint. That came out on February 10, 2016, and by then the first day sales spike wasn’t visible anymore in my overall graph because Escalation, the 3rd Green Fields books had come out in early January, and the series continued it’s very steep rise to the top of the post-apocalyptic & dystopia genres. It was another box checked, a last obligation fulfilled, now I was free to go play in the mud and continue to murder people.

You can’t imagine how crazy that time was. Going from watching my bank account being ready to commit suicide to earning enough that I decided to book my ticket for the London Book Fair so I could meet other people in the industry and maybe brag a little with my numbers. Numbers that kept rising every day. New readers that were discovering–and loving!–my books, every day. Making actual money with my books, first enough to say I made minimum wage had I paid myself, then start to build small cushions. Of course I had the numbers–raw sales data, money made, books sold and borrowed in KU–but it all didn’t really sink in until much later. I wrote Extinction, book 4, in a little more time than the others, but, come on! That book’s one happy acid trip for every writer, with all the great vibes and the wonderfully crushing cliffhanger at the end. To this day I think it’s the heart of the series. And it was full of all the good things that were happening to me at the time. I released it in April, just in time for the book fair so that my numbers were great. Also, audiobooks! I had the 2nd and 3rd to proof-listen by then, and they were all financed by the ebook sales! I couldn’t have sunk thousands of dollars into anything just half a year ago, and now my books were financing their own alternate income streams! I was finally living the dream, and it was glorious!

You have read enough of my stories to know there’s a “but” coming, right? Indeed it is. I like to imagine that through winter and spring of 2016, I was running like the Roadrunner, a huge cloud of dust in my wake. As I finished GF#4 and started on GF#5, that dust of cloud caught fire. Not in the “oh, she’s one fire, she’s killing it!” way but the “this is all burning to the ground” kind. I was burning the candle at both ends, deliberately, knowingly; I loved it–but I should have realized that I couldn’t sustain that speed for much longer. By April, I’d already made more money that year than ever from my books, and it would have been enough to get me well into 2017, but I couldn’t slow down. I couldn’t stop.

And Resurgence, GF#5, was not an easy book to write to start with.

I’ve learned since that it’s often around that time in a writer’s career that they feel confident enough to embrace the dark side of themselves, their shadow selves, if you will, and dive even deeper into the story, write the really raw, gritty things that make a book unforgettable. I wrote a lot of that into that book. A lot of myself; if you’ve been following my other blog posts for a while, you know that the mood landscape of my brain can get interesting at times. I pretty much did a soul strip for that book and wrote way, way too close to myself into it. I think I also needed to do it for myself, but it mostly made sense for the story. I was also starting to flag–bad diet, no exercise, no social interaction, constant stress, no sleep–and I made a promise to myself that once the book was out, I would take a break. Not before, I couldn’t do that. I’d foolishly let myself be pinned down on a release date, and I had to make that. I kept that same work schedule up through our five day lake vacation, thinking wonderful holiday thoughts like, if I only swim for 20 minutes I can sooner get back to editing; or if we don’t take a drive at sunset, my favorite time of day, I can get back to editing. Writing the book was hard enough and I got blocked several times. Editing it was hell, but somehow I made it. The book came out on Tuesday, June 28, 2016.

I know, because that’s the day I slammed into a wall going 200 miles an hour, and I did not rebound.

Releases are always harrowing, for most writers, but this one was the worst. I was so glad the book was out. I was so happy I hadn’t disappointed anyone with being late. There was a lot of buzz, and to this day, the book got the best sales rank I’ve ever managed on amazon, #512 in overall kindle books. Only 511 other ebooks had sold more that day, including bestsellers, more successful people, people who’d been in the industry forever and had huge publishing houses behind them. I was too numb to really celebrate that. Readers were ecstatic. I think I managed to pretend like I was, too, but it was impossibly hard. First feedback came in and it was great… until one of the people who’d been fawning all over my silly ass for weeks left me a 2-star review, purposefully on the US site rather than his native UK store to stress how displeased he was. Silly girl writer, how does she even think anyone would be distressed about a miscarriage?! That was the last straw. The straw that broke the camel’s back. And that for the book I’d poured so much of myself into. Don’t get me wrong, nobody likes negative reviews but once you’ve been a writer for a while, you learn to handle and ignore them. I wasn’t handling anything. I was empty. I was raw. I was done.

The only thing I did in July was do accounting. Not a single word written. Nada. I had some accounting to catch up to because my single-page spreadsheet from before wasn’t cutting it anymore, not with now actually sitting on a pile of money that needed to be, well, accounted (for). And by August, I was ready to start typing again, but it wasn’t really writing. I was still empty, and there was nothing I could do about it except despair, which as you can imagine helps a lot. I’d foolishly expected my insane ride to continue so I’d promised the next book for September. That was not going to happen, and that crushed me.

Things picked up a little in September, when we spent a week at the beach, also financed by my books because now I was more than just breaking even. I should have been over the moon (and I kind of was) as end of August I got the royalties from the release month of June, and boy, that was a lot of money. If I ignored taxes and social security, that month alone would have covered all my yearly costs. I should have been laughing non-stop and shouting my joy from the rooftops. Well, at least I spent a week lazing at the beach, inhaling books, enjoying a last borrowed week of summer that we’d actually not had that year as it was raining constantly. It was a first step of recovery, an important new beginning, but just that.

I won’t bore you with the details of what comes next. It took me a few months to get back in the saddle. Months where I was confronted with nice “fans” who had nothing better to do than tear me apart on my facebook page because they wanted the next book, and yesterday, and I dared to please ask them to take that question to the other thread, not the one where I tried to find a name for the blog I’d planned to start. I kid you not. I’m not a fucking retail worker, you moron, the least I deserve is a smidgen of respect. Obviously, I was wrong, and this continued into January of this year, until I pulled everything from the page expect the release news of book #5. I wasn’t ready to quit, but I was a breath away from quitting social media. I was going through a really, really bad time, and that wasn’t helping.

In December 2016, my grandma died. That was the first day I wrote over 5000 words in a day since spring. She was my last living relative of that generation, and I’m still crying as I type this. Sometimes I think I needed to be numb with grief to be able to stop being numb from burning out. Much more likely, my creative well had been filling, slowly, drop by drop, since June, and around that time it was finally fool enough that I could dive back in and pick up where I had left off. For all those reasons together, and some other factors, I didn’t get that much done in January 2017, but in February I finished Unity in one week, and the book was released on April 4. The book was much harder to write than I’d expected, after four books that had pretty much written themselves. Books that tie off things usually are, I knew that before, but I forgot. But I did it. And all of you were still there, waiting, and you fell on it like the lovely piranhas that you are, made it a huge success just as if it had come out in September rather than a full 7 months late, and things have been going well ever since. Not on their own, mind you, but because I’ve learned my lesson.

Financially, that 10 month break was a disaster, of course, but I made enough before that to cushion the blow, and since releasing the 7th book in late August, amazon has forgiven me for my transgression and the algorithms are treating me decently again. 2017 was a good year, particularly for only 2 releases and a short story collection.

Looking back, I’m still damn proud of myself. I published 8 full-length novels in 10 months. I turned from a nobody romance writer into a somewhat less-nobody zombie apocalypse writer. I’ve now successfully established myself and made a living for two consecutive years doing what I love. And I love it again, even the parts I really don’t like doing. I also try very hard to take better care of myself. I make sure to eat things that are actually good for my body, I exercise regularly, and try to keep up a semblance of a social life. In fact, whenever I have the choice, should I work or should I exercise or socialize, I force myself to choose the non-work option. Yes, that means my books take more time to write now. It also means, hopefully, that I won’t lose months at a time where I can’t do anything. And I mean anything. I couldn’t read, I couldn’t write, I couldn’t even watch TV. It should have been the summer of my life, and it’s one black hole in my memory now (thankfully!). I’m not doing this to myself again. And you know what? I don’t think I’ll have to. Of course, things will throw me for a loop again in the future, but looking back, November was my perfect month. I wrote a shit ton of words, I made smart decisions about the book (that it needs to be split, and requires some extra scenes), I worked out regularly and cleaned up my diet. I now sleep a lot, and when I wake up I’m more often than not a functioning human being. If I keep that up, I could easily publish 4 books, maybe even 6 if they’re shorter (they won’t be. I can’t do short books). And all that without being overworked, stressed, and pretty much on the verge of going insane.

Recovery took me over a year, and I’m still feeling the last dregs of it today. I never want to go there again. I’m better than this. Don’t get me wrong, I still insist that it was necessary, and you likely wouldn’t be reading my books otherwise, but, damn. I think I stripped off a few months of my lifespan this way. I know you’re a great, supportive bunch. Actually, you’re the best readers in the world! I hope that, reading this, some of my weirder reactions make sense, and that you don’t frown when you see that I take time off to recoup or hog the left lane in my gym’s pool. Yes, it’s time I spend away from the keyboard, but it’s also time necessary to reset the clock, let the creative pool refill. They say you can’t create something out of nothing, and that “something” required is time. I listen to podcasts while I swim so technically, I’m still working, planning my next marketing move or what else to do to keep my strong, healthy business as in Indie author and publisher going. I’ve also dropped a bra and pants size in the last months, which is as awesome (yay!) as daunting (no more perfectly fitting comfy bra and jeans!). Also, bulking up in my shoulders and upper back, which I like, and is amazing for someone who spends way too much time hunched over a keyboard. More importantly, I feel relaxed and balanced, and a healthy mind can much more easily craft stories and cope with the insanity that is life. I know this was a long one but I guess I needed to tell you my story. Thanks for being a good sport and reading to the very end! If you have any questions, I’m happy to answer them in the comments. At the moment, the facebook fan group works best for that, also because, again, you guys are amazing!! Couldn’t have done all this without you. Because if my journey as a writer taught me something, it’s that without you, I’d be nothing. And I’ll forever be grateful to everyone who helped me make my dream come true.

November (+NaNoWriMo) 2017 recap

A little late this month but hey, you get an extra week of December for free!

November has been a weird month for me. Productive, but weird. I wrote just over 50k words plus 19k on the blog, coming to a very neat 70k, which makes it in the top 2 productive months of the year. I “won” NaNoWriMo! I accidentally finished a novel as I realized my plot was too long for just one book and I’m now adding all the details in I skipped over (or hadn’t seemed necessary it the time). I also went swimming on 18 days out of 30, swimming over 22 hours. I’ve cleaned up my diet somewhat; sleep has been mostly good except for a few days. I’ve been socializing more than I expected. Overall, a pretty amazing month!

Doesn’t entirely feel like it, which makes me wonder: am I just sabotaging myself, or is it due to the shit ton of exercise that I’m doing that my mood has been mostly stable of late, letting me coast through the days at a max of 10% meh, which is feeling pretty normal and healthy to me. So, yay!

I’ve split books before but never like this. I’ve also re-written books, but also never like this. Not too fond of the process as I’m def. a first draft writer (meaning, for me, writing that very first version of the story is where the fun is). Editing is painful; sifting through it all now in detail and adding content is… taxing. But it also gives me a lot of opportunities to improve, that’s something I really like, and might get into. Just yesterday I realized I need to write two characters out of the story again. Didn’t really need them, and I’m not just dragging them along to kill off at least one of them (I think you’ll thank me later. You can take a guess now if you want. It will be pretty obvious once the book is out). It’s funny how sometimes, things change. Usually, unimportant characters push themselves to the forefront. This time two decided to take a step back. Means more changes but I think the story works better this way.

Book sales have been surprisingly good in November, for being the 3rd post-release month. Must be doing something right. I’m right now trying to learn more about copywriting so I can write better descriptions for my books, but mostly to run ads. While GF8 is going to the editor and beta readers, I will be starting a new campaign of ads and see if that helps sales. Not sure how much of a factor that is since most of my money comes from KU and I feel like KU readers are less receptive to ads, but let’s see! I know, terribly exciting for you, but that’s part of my job as well, as CFO and head of the marketing department of my own little business here.

I’ve also signed up for attending a conference near London in February. All Indie authors, that will be interesting. I knew about it before, then forgot, then was reminded, and when I found a good deal on flights and a hotel close to the venue I jumped the gun last Friday. It’s not that I’m averse to staying at a spa / conference hotel but I’m now paying as much for three nights as I would have for a single one, and it’s closer to the train station so that I don’t need to learn how to use the uber app. Yes, I might be at the forefront of independent publishing but I’m still not trusting these newfangled smartphone thingies! And get off my lawn! Instead I will make a day-long detour with the tube and national rail rather than a 10 minute taxi ride. I think every Brit reading this will now be convinced that I’m insane. But I get to visit London on my travel days while I leave my baggage at the train station, so that’s nice, too! I’ve been to London book fair twice now and will attend in 2018 as well, but this conference is different. It’s back-to-back business for Indies stuff with some craft info in the mix, but all centered on how we do our thing. Plus, I maybe get to brag a bit about my numbers. Or not. Many people attending will have been outselling me by a lot for years. Always good to learn from the success stories in your chosen field, I say! I’m both scared and excited about this. Don’t really like meeting strangers. Considering there will be 95% introverts attending, I think we will all be fine (after breaking the ice and babbling incoherently for the first 30 mins).

Not much else I can say, you already got waaaay too much behind the scenes with the NaNoWriMo blog posts. And that’s okay, but still scary as hell for me. I’m not someone who is, on the long run, comfortable with getting too familiar with people when I can’t gauge their reaction. Let’s not do that again. I know you prefer book updates, anyway.

As for what to expect on the blog in December:
– audiobooks (finally! Post is all done, just need to proof it one more time)
– burnout (a hotly discussed topic in the community at the moment, and maybe you’d like my take on it, seeing as you had to sit through an extended, 10-month waiting period last year)
– preorders & why I don’t do them / what my overall publishing process looks like

… and maybe more, particularly if I happen to come across something I feel like might be fun explaining. Writing non-fiction helps a little to appease the fiction Gods. At least in November it kept me writing. Of course, now I’m re-writing, which is hell, and I will take any excuse not to have to do it at the moment… like now… Shutting up now so I can get through the first chapter of revisions, then hop into the pool, and hopefully not work through the entire long weekend ahead (tomorrow’s a publish holiday here, thanks, Roman Catholics!)

In response to Kindle Unlimited

I know I have a lot of interactive readers but I didn’t expect my little blog post about KU to be met with such a (positive) response! So here’s what I feel was missing from the previous post:

Thank you all so much! I can’t tell you how blessed I feel for having all of you as my readers! (and I’m saying that as a person who’s not very religious). I know that part of my success is due to Kindle Unlimited, but it took your response to hammer down just how important it is. Please let me explain.

As an Indie writer in particular, it’s so easy to get lost in the numbers. This is my job. I don’t have any other source of income. I need to consider this as a business. Until, say, 2009, anything on writing you would find was craft related. Don’t get me wrong, craft and talent are important–when you write the book. But my work isn’t done there: I need to publish it, market it, and make damn sure that my bottom line is a solid one. Most information I research about Indie publishing is on the business side because that’s where solid information is available, compiled by other Indies who’ve done the work, crunched the numbers, and are happy to share.

But what is way more important than sales, borrows, conversion rate, expenses, and business strategies are you: the readers.

Of course, this is not an entirely altruistic endeavor–you know I make money from KU the same as from sales. But if there is a way how I can help readers, even if it might come at a possible disadvantage for myself, I will always go for that, and KU seems to be a Godsend for so many of you. Trust me, I know how it is when you have to decide between bare necessities (like food and clothes) and luxury goods (like books). I’ve been there, and in many ways, you were my salvation, because you grabbed my books and devoured them, loved them, left reviews and recommended them to your friends and random strangers on the internet–and thus not just made my career as a writer take off, but turned it into a valid job. Without you, I’d be nothing! Or at least not a successful full-time writer.

I read a lot myself–not as much as I used to, but still enough to leave a dent in my budget. My reading habits over the last decade have changed a lot; I barely buy paperbacks anymore, mostly for non-fiction. I’ve always loved to read series, and now most of what is published, particularly by Indies, are series. Yay! Who doesn’t love to know there are five more books when you’ve practically inhaled the first? And the idea that I can read as many books of that series as I want for just ten bucks a month in KU is amazing! Knowing that the writer makes a pretty penny from that as well, even better!! But my point is, where I am in life, I could afford to buy all the books I want to read. I might hesitate on some, though–and if they are in KU, I won’t, because I don’t stand to lose anything if I borrow that book and find out 20% in that I don’t like it. But many readers don’t have the option of deciding whether they want to buy a book, because buying is just not an option for them.

That’s where KU comes in. For voracious readers with (limited) budgets it’s a much-needed respite. Sure, there are libraries, but libraries need to pay for books as well, and, let’s face it, why would they take a chance on a random Indie? If you have KU, you can bypass any middlemen and get your favorite escape from reality almost straight from the author, no limits, little restrictions. It might just be the only way for the reader to get that book.

I think that because of so many reasons, like all that business talk, so many authors lose sight of this. Not because they are greedy or cold-hearted, but because nobody told them. Maybe I’m in a special position. From what I see all over author groups on the internet, most writers don’t have so many readers taking advantage of KU. Maybe if I made less than 40% of my income from KU, I’d decide to drop out as well and try my luck elsewhere, but I feel like this would be a tremendous disservice to you all. 60-80% of my income is from KU; that means, 6 to 8 out of 10 readers read in KU. I don’t want to piss off 6 to 8 out of 10 of my readers, and even less, let them down and disappoint them.

Of course, this is still my business and I need to protect my income, but, come on: even if the KU payout fluctuates with every month, KU borrows usually do a lot for sale ranks and discoverability beyond being a separate stream of income. I get options like offering my books for free to boost sales on the others in the series, or discount them but retain a higher royalty rate. Amazon is one of the leading businesses that crunch data and develop business strategies based on machine learning. If they think KU works this way–and the last iteration changed almost nothing, making it seem like a balanced, working system now–with all the data they collect from every single reader and author, I’d say, let’s trust them to keep making money! After all, of every book I sell, they get 30%, and seeing as the KU payout matches my sale royalties, that must be working for them as well. It also works for millions of readers, so… win / win, right?

Long story short: thank you all so much!! Also, for giving me this insight, so that when next someone tells me I’m short-sighted and don’t have a business strategy, I can tell them, on the contrary: I like to put my readers first and give them the opportunity to read my books that would otherwise be inaccessible to them. It may not work like this for everyone, but it works for you, my readers, and I’m eternally grateful for that. You rock!

A few words about Kindle Unlimited

If you’ve read my books, there’s a big chance that you are, or have been, a subscriber of Kindle Unlimited, amazon’s ebook flatrate program. I just checked my stats: I’m making 2.4x as much in KU as from direct sales, and I know that some of you love my books so much that you’ve bought them after borrowing them in KU, so the balance might be closer to 3x. And I’m mostly very happy about that! (I’m always ecstatic about a sale after a borrow, that’s out of the question. That means I get paid twice. So if you have a KU subscription and you want to help out a poor, struggling Indie author, borrow and read first, then buy!)

For those not in the know, or who would love a look behind the curtain, this is how KU works:

  1. Unlike with a book that is “for sale,” you don’t get to set the price. In KU, you get paid per “pages” read, although a “page” is less than a normal ebook or paperback page. The value of a page read is determined by how much money is in the KU pot (calculated from the fees you pay for the subscription, and sometimes something extra amazon ads to it), divided by how many pages were read in that month. It’s usually between $0.0040 – $0.0055. Yes, you read that right. I get less or about half a cent per page that you read.
  2. Now, amazon encourages us to price our books between $2.99 and $5.99 or something like that, and for most of my books, on a full read-through in KU I get about as much royalties as for a book that’s for sale at 3-4 bucks. If you check my amazon page, all my books are priced in that range. So, technically, I don’t miss out on money, provided I write a book that’s long enough, and you devour it until the very last page.
  3. KU has a huge advantage, and it’s exactly that where I see the program’s strength: no risk for the reader. You borrow a book for free, you either like it and read it, or you don’t so you hand it back after 5 pages. The author gets a whooping 2 cents for your trouble, and you haven’t lost anything except 5 minutes of your time, if that. It’s great to be discovered as a new author, and it’s a valid option for books you like to read but not necessarily keep or read again, or if your budget only allows for three books but you like to read 20 each month.

This all sounds good, doesn’t it? So why are some authors very anti-KU to the point of calling everyone who is in it a hack and only in it for the short run, not as a writer for life?

  1. You have to be exclusive with amazon for your ebooks, so no can do for iBooks / iTunes, kobo, nook, and all the other vendors. That’s the real downside that the few perks we get really don’t make up for. It’s also a no-go for many well-established authors that already have readers across all platforms.
  2. As I said, you don’t set the price. If you write shorter books, KU payouts will be less than the $2.99 that are very reasonable for a 300 page book. With short stories, it’s even worse. When KU started, it used to be that if 10% of a book were read, you’d get a fixed share of about $1.30. For short fiction, that was amazing as the alternative was a price at $0.99, which gets us 35 cents in royalties. 1.30 vs 0.35? You bet that a lot of short story authors were furious when KU changed to the page read system. Us long novel authors? We finally felt treated fairly, or as fairly as a system like that can be.
  3. The payout varies from month to month, and it used to be higher than it is right now. I was lucky; after the release of GF#7: Affliction, I had two of my strongest months in September and October, and the payout was higher than it used to be over the summer. The payout has dropped by about 20% since they changed to the page read system, and for some authors, that’s not acceptable. To me, it seems like amazon simply needed time and data to set the payout right, and I’d rather take a 20% cut on a system that is calibrated now and is sustainable for the future without amazon having to heavily support it, rather than no cut but KU will be history as of next year. Call me jaded, but for my 140k book that is for sale at $3.99 I still get the same cut from KU, so what’s the problem? Do I want to make more money? Always!! But it’s fair, and I’m happy with it.
  4. KU conditions have changed from one moment to the next in the past. They can, and will, change again in the future. It’s a bit of a gamble, and as a risk-averse being I’m not always happy about that aspect.
  5. Some people generally don’t like amazon as it’s the biggest player in the market.
  6. Some people think their books deserve more than three bucks in royalties, and they won’t get that in KU.
  7. It works much better for fiction than non-fiction, also because non-fiction tends to sell at a higher price for shorter page counts. Then again, I like reading how-to books in KU first to test them, then buy them, maybe even in paperback, to keep them.

The biggest gripe most non-KU authors have with KU is that you’re technically not independent, and that you’re exclusive. I agree with both points, but it’s getting really old that whenever I listen to an Indie publishing podcast, I get called an idiot for being in KU with every single of my books. No, I don’t like not having extra readers outside of the amazon ecosystem, damnit! And no, I don’t plan this to be my business strategy for the next 30 years, but I’m sure that if amazon ruins KU, all the other distributors will welcome us former KU authors with open arms and sweet deals. Why? Money!

Also: because the reader wants it. 2.4x, remember? I’d piss off over 2/3 of my readers if I dropped out of KU tomorrow.

I already said so above, but I feel the need to stress this again: some people just don’t have the money to splurge on books, paying $9.99 or more for every book they pick up, $25 for hardcovers. Sure, we all have our absolute favorite writers that we want to keep on our shelf in the living room. But if you read a book a day, or even a book a week, that can get pricey quickly. We writers all want more money, sure, but I’m very happy that there’s a system in place that lets me get my books in front of readers without them having to decide, book or dinner?

And even if you aren’t short on cash, I love to write long series. At the moment, the complete Green Fields series will set you back something like $32 if you buy it. I get a lot of readers who binge that in a week or two, and it IS an investment, even if every single book is pretty cheap, also for their page count and the amount of time you spend reading them. When I’m done, it will be closer to $50. That’s several months of Netflix. That’s a blu-ray box set of your favorite show. That’s a nice dinner, or two IMAX movie tickets. One of the biggest gripes the publishing industry has at the moment is that people have so many other entertainment options. Well, maybe offering them all the content they want to consume for ten bucks a month might make your lame, old books suddenly very interesting and competitive?

Where does that leave me? At the moment, I’m pretty stoked to be in KU. People still discover my books and inhale them in one sitting. That’s one of the most amazing things for any author out there. Also, I get paid, which is nice, too. If I could change one thing, it would be the exclusivity clause. I don’t think anyone already getting their books from amazon would suddenly switch to iTunes or B&N, but it would be nice to tap into those audiences that steer clear of amazon for whatever reasons.
So next time you see another article on the web about how badly amazon treats us, and that KU is killing authors? Maybe read it with a grain, or entire sack, of salt. It’s not a perfect system but for some of us, it’s a fair, balanced alternative. Nobody is forced to be in KU, and it doesn’t work for every genre, every type of book, or every author. But if you, as a reader, like KU, don’t hesitate to use it! Borrow all the books you like, read them, recommend them to your friends! Never feel like you’re hurting us authors, because you’re not. If you really like a book and want to keep it, buy it after you’ve sampled it in KU, because it might not be in the program when you want to pick it up at a later date for a second go. Also, we only get paid once for you reading it, not for every time you borrow and re-read. The payout isn’t huge, but royalties for a 0.99 book aren’t, either, and you need to sell a shit load of $2.99 books to pay the rent every month as well.

I wrote a follow-up article here that you might want to read as well.

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