Being an Author in Quarantine [#AuthorToolboxBlogHop]

Lately it’s been difficult for me to focus on writing sometimes. I had my short story, “La Femme en Rouge” released in Masks on March 31st, and my novel, Broken, was released on April 7th. My mind has felt like it’s been in a million places lately trying to keep up with all of my deadlines, needs, and coping with the “current situation”, as it’s been politely referred to in work meetings I’ve attended.

I recently read Morbid Smile’s article on Bujo and the Art of Staying Sane Through Quarantine, and I thought about how much having a bullet journal has helped me during this perilous and unprecedented time. I wanted to share a few other things that have helped me since I know other authors are struggling with this right now.

This post is part of the Author Toolbox Blog Hop, a monthly hop hosted by authors with helpful information for authors. This can be anything from writing advice to publishing recommendations or even to hosting author booths at conventions. Take a look at some of my previous posts, and make sure you also check out the other author posts this month! I’m always amazed at the breadth of knowledge and the amount of tools and information I didn’t know before.

BuJo

Morbid Smile was absolutely right on the benefit of keeping a bullet journal. Usually I would only lists tasks that I’m trying to get done, like work on edits that have a deadline or writing a blog post, but lately I’ve been adding items to that list like working remotely for my day job, or doing the dishes, or cooking. Even if I don’t get as much done in my writing world as I want, I still feel accomplished because I have done things that need to be done.

Although my event schedule for the year has now been mostly scrapped, I also have trackers for books I’ve read, movies I’ve watched, and words I’ve written. Sure, I won’t get to be a vendor at a number of conventions I was hoping for this year, but I can see what new movies I’ve watched.

Virtual Author Events

You’re not the only author who is dealing with isolation right now, and therefore there is a ton of free material out there to help authors. From free writer conventions you can attend–Smashwords is holding a free Author Day as a virtual convention, for example.

Also this month Camp NaNoWriMo has started up! This is a wonderful way to get thrown into a cabin with other authors and you can all help encourage each other to reach your goals. Also you can set your own wordcount goals, so if you’re aiming for 50k or just 10k, this is a great way to motivate yourself.

I’ve seen authors streaming their word sprints live on places like Youtube, so you can participate along with other people and feel like you’re at your local cafe. I’ve seen authors reading from their own work to help provide options for all the parents teaching from home. The possibilities are really only limited to your imagination and creativity. We’re authors–we can do that.

Reading

Speaking of books, I’ve gotten so much reading done while I’ve been isolated. We just hit day 30 here in our household, and I find myself binge reading more than I used to. I simply have more time and a less pressing social calendar with folks outside of the home. This is great during those quiet times either late in the evening or early in the morning when most people are still asleep. Diving into some good books has tremendously helped my mood especially when I’ve felt really down or frustrated. Many publishing houses, including mine, are having sales on ebooks to help readers deal with the struggle of isolation right now, and I personally really appreciate it!

Talking with Fellow Authors/Artists

Pull up Zoom and open a chat group with a few author friends you know. Schedule a happy hour with them. Bring your current work in progress and read a few paragraphs aloud, or just talk out a snag in your manuscript. Just because you’re not in a physical space together doesn’t mean your meetings have to end.

Our first virtual meeting with our local Horror Writers Association group is this weekend, and we’re doing it over Zoom. It’s great cause now I don’t have to drive an hour to make it to the meeting, and I get to pet my cats while we talk about books. It’s a win-win situation, especially for my cats!

I hope all these ideas have inspired you on ways to help deal with being an author during this time. And if you don’t feel like writing or socializing or even reading, and just want to binge another series on Netflix right now, that’s fine too! There’s no pressure to be productive during this time because we’re dealing with a pandemic that is affecting the entire world. Be kind to yourself and allow yourself to just exist at times. Zone out, look at the trees, pet a cat. Sometimes that’s the best way to help ourselves.

We don’t have to define ourselves by our productivity. Let that sink in sometimes, authors!

Book Releases: It Gets Easier As You Go [#AuthorToolboxBlogHop]

I’m back with another Author Toolbox Blog Hop post this month! This monthly blog hop gives advice by authors for authors. Today’s post is focuses on how doing book releases gets easier as you go, and why. Check out all the posts in this month’s hop!

When I released my debut full-length novel, Stolen, last year, I was daunted by the amount of work that had to be done prior to release day. There were eARCs to send out, book reviewers to reach out to, blog tours to organize, and in person signing events to schedule. I only had some idea of the workload it would take, and it was only when the wave passed by that I realized how much work it was and how well I handled it. I also realized how to do it better next time.

Now I’m prepping for the sequel for that book, Broken, to be released on April 7th. This book release is very different from my experience with Stolen, and I wanted to share what I think has improved this time around compared to last time.

  • Book signings are easier to book. Last year I went to a number of small and indie bookstores to do signings. It was an eye-opening experience. I had to find places that would take an indie author and a small publishing company. Not all bookstores do, and I was shocked to discover that. This time around, I already have locations that I’ve made connections with. Some of them, like Story on the Square and The Southern Pen, stock copies of my books already and are preparing to stock Broken as well. This takes a huge weight off my shoulders this time around.
  • Have readers to reach out to. If you’ve ever started going down the rabbit hole of trying to find ARC book reviewers, you know how helpful this is. Most times when I reach out cold to a blog site, I get crickets. And there are a ton of potential book bloggers. It’s just a lot of time spent with sometimes very little reward. This time around I have a group of ARC readers and reviewers to reach out to, people who loved my first book and are excited to read the second book. Not having to spend time organizing all this also takes a huge weight off of me.
  • I have local fans. I’ve been to enough local shows and events now that I have people who work hard to come out to my book signings and readings. It’s so flattering, but it also means there’s the pressure to create regularly and to constantly improve my craft. I enjoy this, so I don’t mind. It also means that I don’t setup a signing and don’t have anyone appear any longer. I usually at least have one person show up.

These are just a few of the areas that I think are easier this time around, but each one makes a big difference. Instead of gaining all of these contacts and experience, I can focus on new projects and organizing all of these events instead of trying to find them.

For those looking to publish multiple books, I hope this eases that feeling of being overwhelmed when faced with what to do on your first book publication. It will get easier as you go, even though it doesn’t seem like it will at first. The goal is to improve as you go, learn the ropes, make mistakes, and get better with each release.

I Started a Ko-fi

I’ve been writing professionally for ten years now. It’s crazy to think that.

I’ve seen so many small presses come and go. I’ve encountered incredible editors (and frightful ones), I’ve seen glowing rejection letters (and decimating ones), and I’ve slowly learned the ropes. It’s taken a lot of time and a lot of dedication. It requires becoming an expert or at least gaining competency in a variety of areas.

Here are just a few that I came up with off the top of my head. These are all skillsets I didn’t really have ten years ago, but now definitely do.

  • Legal consultant
  • Contract negotiator
  • Social media representative
  • Therapist
  • Software specialist
  • Website engineer
  • Business entrepreneur
  • Tax agent
  • Festival representative
  • Graphic designer
  • Videographer
  • Book tour planner
  • Public speaker
  • And so many more…

About three years back, as my sister and I started to break down the parts and pieces of turning this work into a small business, it quickly became a no-brainer. The amount of time/money/effort that goes into being an author easily makes up a small business. It takes up my evenings, my weekends, my family time, and especially time with my friends. (Love y’all!)

The truth is: I create because I love doing this, not because it pays. (Maybe some day.)

I thought it would be a good idea to give you all, my readers and fans, the opportunity to buy me a coffee (or tea in my case). Imagine sitting down beside me at a local Starbucks and just sliding the cup over while I’m deep in a scene. Know that it’ll help fuel a good afternoon of content creation, whether that’s thinking up some horrific scenes or writing some dialogue that pulls at the heartstrings — or it might help me celebrate my birthday today. 🙂

It’s small, but it helps. It adds up. Thank you for supporting me!

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

Short Story Series 3: Finding Publishers [#AuthorToolboxBlogHop]

As part of the Author Toolbox Blog Hop this month, I’m picking up on my Short Story series. It fizzled out a while back, but it’s something I’ve wanted to get back to but just hadn’t found the time. Well this Blog Hop was the perfect excuse! Check out all the posts in this month’s hop!

This is Part 3 of a series on publishing Short Stories. If you find these helpful, please leave a comment or share with your friends!

So you’ve written your short story, had someone else look at it, and gotten it as good as you can make it. The next step is finding a publisher for it! There are plenty of free blog posts that authors work to keep up to date for interested authors, but there are some sites that work to compile these publishers. And a few that publishers seek out to ensure they’re listed as a potential option. Some of these require a monthly payment and others don’t. Some are for particular genres and others are for all types of writing. I’ve tried to keep this list short and to only mention ones that I’ve personally used.

  • Duotrope ($5/month or $50/year)
    • https://duotrope.com/
    • Years ago Duotrope was a free site. It was run by volunteers and it ran an annual donation drive. However over the years the donations just didn’t meet up with the server/data demands. So back in 2012 they went to pay.

      I would argue they’re one of the best places to find publishers and to get ideas for writing prompts for short stories. Check out their calendar of theme deadlines for plenty of ideas. They let you keep track of your acceptances & rejections for years and if you have to skip a few months and come back due to your budget, your data will still be waiting for you. I highly recommend them.
  • The Grinder (Free)
    • https://thegrinder.diabolicalplots.com
    • One of the very first submission tracker available for free for authors was The Grinder. You can dig all sorts of information out of their site. Going to the homepage you can see all the recent rejections and acceptances that have been reported to the system. While I don’t think it’s as fully featured as Duotrope is, I find that it’s frequently recommended when the budget isn’t available for Duotrope’s fancier user interface and designs. It’s also not as personalized, but the information is up to date and you may find publishers here that aren’t in Duotrope and vica versa.
    • The Grinder runs on donations through the Paypal Donate button on their page. If you rely on their services please consider donating either monthly or annually to them through their site.
      https://thegrinder.diabolicalplots.com/Home/Donate
  • The Horror Tree (Free – Horror/Dark Fantasy)
    • https://horrortree.com/
    • I’ve found a lot of unique calls for submissions and opportunities over at The Horror Tree. I can’t really say when they started out, but they’re fairly new, and their dedication to finding all sorts of horror and dark themed calls for submission are impressive. They also post occasional original shorts and do author interviews as well. (I did an interview with them last year, and will probably reach out to them again when The Seeking comes out!)
    • The Horror Tree runs on donations through their Patreon site. If you use this service, please consider becoming one of their Patrons!
      The Horror Tree Patreon
  • Facebook Groups for Writing Associations
    • Look for Facebook writing groups that will post up opportunities on a regular basis. For example, the Horror Writers Association Atlanta Chapter has a public group open to anyone with an interest in what’s going on with the Atlanta Chapter. Announcements happen there and so do discussions. Sometimes opportunities are posted too.
    • The Horror Writers Association also has a public group and it is super active. Sometimes opportunities get posted too.
  • Facebook Groups
    • There are a TON of Facebook groups available for finding publishers. I honestly can’t list them all, but a few searches will bring up several options. From fantasy to science fiction to horror, there are all sorts of areas where publishers get listed. Make friends with authors in real life, befriend them on Facebook, find out what groups they’re in, and check them out yourself. Not all groups are equal and not all publishers are the same.

With that said, regardless of what publishers you find, before you send off your precious story, make sure you vet them to ensure they aren’t trying to scam authors. Duotrope screens their publishers, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do the same. Look for warning signs:

  • Never pay to have your story published.
  • Never pay for editing services.
  • Never pay for publication services.
  • The money should always flow toward the author.
  • Look at other books they’ve had come out. How do their ratings look? How are their sales? Are there complaints about editing or quality?
  • Check out authors from their existing groups. Find their websites and see what kind of feedback you can find. Don’t be afraid to reach out, but don’t be surprised if you don’t hear back right away.
  • See if they’re listed on the Writer Beware website. These folks investigate claims of scamming and keep an active list of publishers and agents doing shady things.
  • Writer Beware has an excellent write-up of what to look for when evaluating a small press. Please don’t let this list intimidate you, but it’s good to do your research so you’re aware of what to look for in publishers, contracts, and how to speak up and negotiate for yourself. Usually short story contracts are pretty cut and dry and you don’t usually negotiate with those, but get used to evaluating them and reviewing them because you might one day want to read over one for a novel or collection of your short stories.

To find more useful tools, check out my page on Writing Resources. And make sure you check out the other posts this month on the Author Toolbox Blog Hop!

Writing a Trilogy: The Lessons I Have Learned [#AuthorToolboxBlogHop]

It’s a new year, a new decade, and here I am starting on book three of my Stolen trilogy, the first series of books I’ve written. As I ease back into the world and the characters that give this series so much life, I realize how very different it has been for me to write each book. I thought it might be helpful to share what I’ve learned in this month’s Author Toolbox Blog Hop.

AuthorToolboxBlogHop Title Image

This hop is made up of a bunch of authors all sharing advice and experiences to help out other authors. I’m always thrilled to be part of this, and I hope you’ll take the time to go check out some of the other author blogs!

Cover for Stolen, Book 1 of the Stolen series
Stolen, Book 1 of the Stolen series

Book one (Stolen – now available) had its own challenges, as I explained way back in 2013 when I struggled with drafting it. It sometimes baffles me when I look back on that post at how much I’ve learned since then, and how much more refined my writing has become. Somehow it was easy for me then to talk about how books ought to end, how stories ought to progress, and how characters ought to evolve. It’s really different when the blank page is staring at you and you realize that you’re the only one who can create those things and finish the story. When the stakes are higher you suddenly understand why writing series is so difficult.

Cover for Broken, Book 2 of the Stolen series
Broken, Book 2 of the Stolen series

Book two (Broken – coming April 7th) had its own set of problems. I thought I had handled all the loose ends in book one quite well. I thought the sequel would just continue the story, but then details came up during writing like they do, and I couldn’t remember a character’s eye color or the color of their hair. Where was that scar again? What was that background? I have the utmost respect for people who have written ten and twenty books in a series because I think I might need to write a reference book just for myself to keep track of all the details. Needless to say, it was a learning experience–though the end product was so very worth it.

Now here I am, finally on book three (Chosen – coming soon), and I have once again a whole new challenge. All those parts and pieces I dripped in those early books now have their calling. All those last minute scenes I want to include need to be written. And this is the last call for character development. It’s honestly daunting but also thrilling at the same time. As a pantser, I too want to see how these characters get to where I want them to be. I’m looking forward to wrapping up this series and preparing for new projects, but I’m also worried about the finality of this tale coming to a close. Of course I can write spin-offs and extended universes, but this will be the end of the main story for these characters that I’ve molded and directed for eight years. I want to do the right thing for them.

This will certainly not be the last series I write, I’ve already started gathering inspiration for the next one, but I’ve learned a lot during this time and wanted to share some of my takeaways with other authors who are starting their first series. Hopefully my experiences help you!

Lessons Learned from Writing 2/3 Books in my Trilogy

  • Use a comprehensive writing system like Scrivener if you can, or make really organized folders.
    • I know, I talk about Scrivener a lot, but being able to keep all of my writing in a single file has been so helpful to keep things straight.
  • Take the time to make those character sheets.
    • You’ll miss them so much if you forget to make one for your background character in book 2. Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything…
  • Know generally where each book should start and end.
    • I know, it’s hard to do for us pantsers, but having a general cut-off point will help in pacing. Especially for the middle child if you’re writing a trilogy.
  • When in doubt, make a map.
    • I’ve made maps for the inside of buildings so I can make sure I can describe it properly. Just draw it out and take a picture of it to put it into your writing system so you can reference it later.
  • If possible, take breaks in between books.
    • I know for a fact this just isn’t possible for so many authors. Taking time off from a project or a world or series means it’ll take longer to get back into it again. However getting away from the world (if you can) will help enrich it. Remember to replenish that creative well!

Experimentation is of course the best teacher with these things. I’ll have to report back in a few years on whether it got easier with the next series. I would love to write very long series, but I can’t quite do it yet. I think I need to “level up” my author skills a bit more first.

I’ll probably come back and add onto this list at some point. I’m sure I’m missing some things, but I hope this helps. There’s a seemingly endless supply of advice on how to write books out there, but not so much is focused specifically on series. Hopefully this helps bridge that gap.

Have you considered writing a series? Why or why not? Any advice for those who have completed one?

Happy writing, everyone!