Tag: Writing

One Year of Being a Published Author

June 27th, 2016 was a monumental day for me. It was the day that my first book, An Epilogue to Innocence, went on sale. It was available at that time via direct purchase on Kindle, as well as available for pre-order via CreateSpace and Amazon[1]. I’ve shared quite a bit about the publishing process, as well as the twist and turns things took both before publishing and after. If you care about reading those stories, click on the links in the previous sentence. What I’d rather do today is to have a bit of reflection on my book, on being an author, and on what I could have done well/did do well in the process.

When a fellow author found out I was going the self-publishing route, they gave me a bit of advice regarding sales. They told me not to expect to turn a profit, rather I should expect to lose money — potentially a significant amount — if I took my book to market. While their statement was technically wrong, the spirit of needing to temper my expectations for my book’s sales was correct. My book broke even last December, as sales related to a charity drive I did were just enough to edge into profit territory.

That said, even with a handful of sales this year, the amount of money I’ve pocketed is minimal. I went from first draft to published product with minimal financial cost on my end. I’ve run zero advertising campaigns anywhere that I had to pay for. Every review that’s been written for my book either falls into the category of pre-release readers who wrote reviews or people who have submitted their own reviews out of their own kindness. My costs were the cost to have the book edited, the cost to get a ISBN from CreateSpace, and the cost to have a handful of copies shipped to me that I in turn mailed out to people I had promised copies of the book to. With all that said, I think the amount of money I’ve personally made off the book is enough to buy a Chipotle burrito for my wife and I. No guac or drinks though[2].

Speaking of that charity drive, it was definitely both the most rewarding and most disappointing part of my first year as a published author. On one hand, I got to donate a bit of money to a cause I care a lot about — the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. On the other hand, the amount of money raised through the charity drive fell short of one-quarter of my mental goal for the drive itself. Limited advertising was definitely a reason for that, however I also think that other deserving causes got far more attention than suicide prevention in the wake of the 2016 US election. Had I hitched my wagon to a different cause, I think it would have done better. But suicide prevention is a cause I care a lot about, so I have no regrets about choosing the AFSP for the donation.

As for my book itself, shortly after I published, I saw a video from someone (I think John Green?) talking about how the most stressful part of being an author is seeing people misinterpret work you’ve written, and since it’s already published, you can’t change it. That idea, combined with the fact that I re-read my book so many times as part of the publishing process and wished I had changed some things, made me go back and think about each of the short stories in the book.

  • Ljepota Oni Izlučivati – This story ended up being one of the few in the book that I didn’t have any strong opinion changes about even after a year after the book went to market. If I had the opportunity to do it over again, I wouldn’t have led off the book with this story, however it definitely would have stayed. A year on, no one has found the hidden storyline within this story, so I feel like it was written really well for what it was meant to be.
  • Phosphor and Fear – This was the original story that was supposed to start the book, however I was convinced not to lead the book with it when someone told me that no one’s going to want to keep reading the book if I lead off with depression art. Unnecessary mental illness jokes aside, I think this story would have benefited from being a bit longer, particularly after the story’s time skip. The fact that I’d go back and change this one to make it longer has impacted some of the work I’ve done over the last year, particularly the first two chapters of the AI Project series that I posted this spring.
  • A Delayed First Date – Meh. It was a good premise. I took a risk trying to write from a point-of-view I didn’t understand. Even with research and interviews to try to write it better, this story hasn’t aged well to me. I mean, it’s fine. It’s not boring. I still love the concept. But I don’t like this specific story as much as I used to.
  • Soma – It was my favorite story before I decided to compile the book into a published entity. It’s still one of my favorites I’ve written a year on from publishing the book (though not my favorite anymore). I really need to keep focusing on adding heavy amounts of emotion to my writing. When it works, it really works. This is one of the stories in the book that I’ve received almost unanimous positive feedback about. Nothing I’d change here.
  • Elk Ridge – I’m so confused by this story and the reader reaction to it. Both me and my editor thought this was the weakest story in the book, even after adding quite a bit of length to it. Yet most people who have given feedback thought it was one of the better stories in the book. The ending is what seems to be divisive. I personally hate the ending and would re-write it if I had the chance. The whole ghostly spirit being released from a demolished building angle is kind of cliche and the longer it’s been since I published[3], the less I like it. Readers liked it though. I have no idea what people want.
  • The Strongest Feelings Are On the Inside – The reaction to this story was by far the most surprising of any story that went into the book. I received ZERO negative feedback on this story prior to publishing. Considering it was one of the few stories that had been on the blog prior to going in the book, this was doubly confusing. People were split down the middle as to what they thought was the biggest issue with this story — either it was too long compared to the rest of the book’s stories[4] or they were upset that the story’s main villain was bisexual. Remember what I said about stuff getting taken out of context? In context, it’s a story about a woman who loves someone of her same sex who doesn’t love her back and she doesn’t feel totally comfortable with it because of her religious background. She then tries to repress it with a deeper dive into cult-like religious practices to try to “fix” herself. Then, when her love dies, she has a mental break, using her warped religious views to exact revenge on those who hurt her beloved, going so far as to kidnap a lookalike and treat that lookalike as if she were the departed woman. Then the villain chooses to die once she finally has closure through that surrogate. That wasn’t the takeaway by some readers though. It’s a learning experience on a lot of levels.
  • Awkward? – The other story in the book that I didn’t particularly like but people loved. It was the closest thing to a light-hearted story in the book, and it was only included to serve as a change of pace following the previous story. Most people thought it was funny. I found it corny. If I did it all over again, this and A Delayed First Date would be cut in favor of making other stories longer.
  • Use As Directed – Along with Awkward First Date, this is the story I did the most research for prior to writing it. I’m really happy with how it turned out. Feedback was largely good, it had a neutral ending that I liked, and apparently I did a decent job at representing a perspective of someone with a mental illness fairly and objectively. This story makes me happy.
  • Laments of a Disillusioned Twenty Something – Oh my fucking god I was so whiny in this story. I’d re-write this story to be something more like what happens in one of the two storylines of Janus if I had it to do again.
  • Tia – This has become my favorite story in the book over time, however as one reviewer said, they really wished it was longer. I agree. It’s a very powerful story, but I could have done so much more with it. Definitely my biggest disappointment story-wise for that reason.

As for me and how being a published author has impacted me…it really hasn’t. As I mentioned, there hasn’t been a financial impact of any kind. It’s not like my social media life has taken off[5]. Even though I still a see a copy or two of my book purchased every now and again, the book sits largely dormant now. I definitely haven’t been able to make a career change to be a full-time author…not that I’d be able to if currently proposed healthcare plans pass anyway.

I’m still writing though. I’m working on a couple of different projects as a writer, as well as trying to get some work together as a copy editor. If anything my real job prevents me from writing as much as I want or need to due to mental fatigue. That said, it’s largely been a positive experience, in spite of my gripes. I’ve learned you can’t please everyone, even if you have the best intentions. I’ve learned that I can produce quality work. And I’ve learned above all else that I love writing — even if my family still doesn’t know I’m a published author, even a year on.

Writing Diversely From A Non-Diverse Standpoint

A few weeks back, someone posted a thought on Twitter that can be summarized as such:

Dear white people: Please stop writing minority characters into your books. You’re taking away readership from POC/minority writers.

I remember not being particularly caught off guard by the tweet. After all, it came from a writer who identifies as a minority writer in many ways (race, sexuality, religion…those are the ones I can recall at least). And part of me gets the point. There is definitely a gap between sales of books from white authors and from non-white authors, whether we’re talking about children’s book authors or otherwise. There’s a need for diversity in writing, not just in characters, stories, and points-of-view, but also in authorship. That much is very true.

And yet, I can’t do anything about the fact that I am writing from a white, straight, English-speaking, higher-educated male viewpoint. I want to write in a more diverse manner. It’s a goal I put forward for myself after publishing An Epilogue to Innocence.

I do think there are some things I did well in AETI. I tried to make the book less about good guys and bad guys and more about people — regardless of their gender, background, or religious views. Yes, religion, sexuality, gender, and mental illness were addressed in the book to varying degrees. And yes, there were shortcomings I had with the book. In particular, I wanted to find a way to make my future writing more diverse racially and culturally.

As an example, I recently wrote a story that I think has a lot of potential. The story is intended to introduce a larger world and as such, there are very limited deep details given about the main characters in the story that will be reappearing in later iterations of the story. You know, world building and what not.

One of the characters is supposed to be a woman of Filipina descent. I actively chose not to introduce this facet of her character in the first section[1] of the story because I didn’t want her race to become the focus of her introduction. While her race is part of who she is, in the world in which she exists, what causes judgement and discrimination is not race — it’s something else entirely[2]. Yet, at the same time, I feel as though it’s not only important that I have an understanding of the discrimination that any minority individual goes through in order to write my story effectively, but also in order to grow as a writer, I need to better understand how to write characters who are culturally different from me.

So I look to you, my readers, for advice. Many of you are also fellow writers, hence hoping to pick your brain on this topic. How do you write more diversely when you write fiction? What tips, tricks, and recommendations would you have for me as I look to become a writer that writers not just about those I know, but also those I hope to better understand?

And Then Something Peculiar Occurred

The life of a self-published author is difficult and strange. This is especially true when you’re acting as a self-published author who doesn’t keep an incredibly interactive social media presence. I understand that being more active on social media platforms could certainly help my writing career. I made a choice a few years ago not to be active on most social media. At the time, the decision was based out of fear and frustration, though now I’ve chosen to keep that stance because social media just isn’t interesting to me.

I say all of this to talk about how my free book event that occurred this week went. I did a free book event back in July of last year, giving away 10 copies of the book across three days. Extrapolating that out to five days, I expected to give away somewhere in between 5 and 20 copies of the book. I had no reason to expect anything else.

Through 4pm or so on Monday, my expectations were pretty accurate. I’d given away 2 copies of the book, putting me on pace for somewhere in the middle of that estimate range. Considering most of my friends had a copy of the book — either a hard copy, a digital copy, or both — I figured my best hope was someone randomly scrolling through the free Kindle books and buying because they liked the cover art[1].

And then something peculiar happened…

I got home from work and saw the number had tripled. Six. Took a nap because I felt like death. Woke up twenty minutes later to find the total at 11. My wife got home, bringing dinner for her as well as my congested and feverish self. The count was up to 17.

So the night went. In a feeling I had never experienced before, I was able to refresh Kindle’s publishing reports and literally watch as new downloads of my book posted to the account. The day ended with An Epilogue to Innocence being downloaded 56 times. That’s not a giant amount, but it’s 5.6 times the number of downloads of the entire Kindle event I ran near launch.

When I woke up the next morning, I was able to grab this picture off Amazon.

Category Rank

I had risen to #64 in free Kindle books for Single Author Fiction Short Stories. Is that a super specific category? Yes it is. Did I care? No I did not.

By the end of the week, my rank had tailed off a bit. I went from that #64 rank in category to the mid 200s. My overall Kindle rank had fallen from ~3,500th to ~8,000th. I really didn’t care though. After all, I couldn’t explain where the sudden burst in downloads had come from. I still can’t explain it. I had three people who I know personally reach out to me letting me know they got the Kindle version of the book. Still doesn’t explain the other 77 copies that were downloaded last week.

On one hand, I know there’s not a ton of reasons to get excited about 80 free copies of my book getting downloaded. It’s not like I’m making money off of them. On the other hand, this is my Kindle sales report for the last 30 days.

units-ordered

Those 80 free copies that were given away in the last 5 days? That’s literally 1.6 times the number of books — free or paid — that I’ve managed to get out there since July. For all months combined. 80 free copies given away in 5 days is 61.5% of all copies of my book in the world today. That’s why 80 free copies is a big deal. That’s why I’m celebrating this.

I don’t know who did this or how I managed to get so many copies out there. To the three people I know downloaded the book because you mentioned it to me — Kait, Jenn, and Stephanie — thank you. To the other 77 of you, thank you too. Here’s to hoping this influx of new readers means some new, positive reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.

 

Oh…and if you want to actually buy the book and help me out that way, that’d be awesome too. Go pick it up from Amazon or Createspace.

Jealousy and Confusion

I’m almost always excited when I see people I know succeed. It’s gratifying to see people I’ve worked with, people I’ve learned from, people I’ve mentored, or even people I’ve influenced become successful in their own way. It’s also great to see people who I’ve looked up to be successful. In some cases, they were already doing well for themselves when I heard of them. In other cases, that person was as anonymous as me when I first met them, but they’ve made something of themselves. It’s an awesome thing to see.

Yet, for some reason I cannot fully explain or comprehend, I find myself jealous of that success. Instead of solely being happy for my friend or colleague, I’m wishing that I had received that book deal or that I been the one to get that promotion — even if their triumph was in an area that has little to nothing to do with what I’m good at doing or what I enjoy doing.

As a kid, I wanted to be a lot of different things when I grew up (as most kids are wont to do). At various points, I wanted to be a history teacher, a pro football player, a race car driver, an author, and a famous musician. Somewhere in there, around the age of 11 or so, I wanted to be a professional wrestler. The urge to be a wrestler didn’t last any longer than the other things that I wanted to be when I grew up[1], but it sticks out to me as an adult because of how vividly I had thought things through. I was going to go wrestle for the WWF, where my ring name would be the Juke Box Hero — an odd cross between early 1990s Randy Savage and HBK-era Shawn Michaels —  and my finishing move would be a knee drop from the top turnbuckle. My dad even got mad at me when I broke my brother’s bed by performing said knee drop on one of my pillows. My entrance music? Clearly already picked out for me.

I obviously didn’t become a pro wrestler[2]. I have zero regrets about not being one either. But I think the appeal to that childhood ambition was to be noticed. When you’re in the wrestling ring, the focus is, by its very nature, on you. The better you and your opponent are at putting on a show and telling a story, the more the crowd cares about what you have to say. Professional wrestling is just as much about story telling as it is feats of athletic prowess. Just don’t tell that to pre-teen me.

As an adult, I’ve learned that I don’t always want the spotlight on me. In an age of social media panic, every action we take is judged and misjudged until the meaning is largely lost. Yet that same technology is also the technology that allowed me to get what I had to say out to the masses — be that this blog, my book, my podcast, or just the random bullshit I spouted off for whatever reason.

I know these people I see around me being successful are becoming that way because they’re working their asses off. I know I do the same — just not to the same extent. It’s not to say I don’t try hard. I definitely try hard and I definitely care a ton about the creative work I create. If I could be someone who just creates meaningful content for a living, be that my own work or something educational like Crash Course, that would be the ideal job situation for me.

Yet I haven’t completely found the thing that moves me so much that I want to create content about that thing and nothing more. I haven’t found that idea that sparks me to want to develop that pro wrestling persona that I thought up as a child (or at least its adulthood applicable equivalent). And that fact is both inspiring and depressing. On one hand, I know I have a lot of time to get to the point where I am inspired. Yet, on the other hand, I know the longer that inspiration goes unfound, the harder it’ll be for me to act upon it.

Adult responsibilities kill time. There’s only so much time to be had before you have no free time left. And to create quality work, you need time to focus your energy on that work. That means for me, and for many others, if you’re working a full-time job and trying to create creative content, you need some time to unwind. It works out great if you never sleep. That said, I’ve found that sleep deprived content rarely turns out positive.

I want to see my work be successful. I want to achieve some modicum of greatness with my life. I want to make an impact with the work I do. I wouldn’t be jealous of the success of others if I didn’t want these things. I’m just confused as to the direction I need to go.

A Series of Updates

I don’t have a particularly long post to share today. I have a couple of things in my head that I’d like to try to get written in time for Christmas and/or New Year’s, as well as a guest post that I’ve been working on coordinating. With that said, I wanted to put out a few bullet points towards items that I’ve talked about on this blog before.

Charity Drive Update

First and foremost, the charity drive I’m running where proceeds from my book are going to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is coming to a close. With only seven days left as of this post, there’s been a total of $22.02 raised for the AFSP. While that’s a low number, considering that’s almost double where we were just two weeks ago, I’ll take the small progress.

If you want to buy the book as part of the drive, you have until 11:59pm on December 24th. If you purchase from the CreateSpace store, nearly double the amount of money goes to the AFSP compared to purchasing from Amazon[1]. That said, if you purchase the Kindle copy, 68% of the total cost you pay is going directly to the AFSP[2]. And if you’re one of those awesome people who has Kindle Unlimited — just reading the book gets money for the AFSP. If you know someone with Kindle Unlimited, please encourage them to read the book to raise money.

Podcast

I haven’t mentioned it in a few weeks, I do have a podcast with Samantha Clarke, blogger at Comic Wisdom. Since I last mentioned it, our podcast, Everyone Is Funnier Than Us, is now available on iTunes, Google Play, and Pocket Casts for download. So far, the podcast seems to be going quite well. If nothing else, I enjoy getting to talk behind a microphone again. It’s like I’m back on radio. Though I’m not talking sports this time, it’s still a pretty exciting experience.

If you’re someone who listens to podcasts — and if you’re a commuter, even if you don’t currently, I’d highly recommend it…it’s the one thing that keeps me sane during my long drive to work — please subscribe to our podcast and give it a listen. We’re still learning what we’re doing a bit, but overall I’ve seen a lot of growth in our content, even in only 7 episodes.

Writing Project

In my last post, I talked about how I might do a writing project wherein I’ll be writing a story over the first part of next year — ideally a chapter a week — then sharing updates with a small group of people to get feedback, make adjustments, and see what people think. I have the story idea framed out and I think I’ll be on track to start this in the new year. That said, if anyone is still interested in reading and providing feedback. I think I have two people willing to do so right now, which means I’d like to have 1-2 more to do so.

 

That’s all for now. The next update will likely be at the end of the charity drive, barring any drastic changes.