author life,  ramble

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.

One Comment

  • HB

    I absolutely love your books. Brilliant and refreshing stories that, thankfully, I happened to come across when I was looking for audiobooks to listen to while I drive my truck across country. Thank you for persevering and especially for taking care of yourself ao you can keep creating.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *