Happy New Year

Happy New Year

The new year is a time to look ahead but also a time to reflect. The timing of this column is significant to me because ten years ago yesterday – January 12, 2007 – I sat down to write what would become my first science fiction novel. I finished the first draft in ten days, the second draft in four, and had a completed third draft by the end of the month. I started recording it – a few chapters at a time – in the front seat of my car because it was the quietest place I could find. I released the first episode at Podiobooks.com on February 17th. I made every mistake. I did everything wrong.

I wrote four novels that first year and podcast them all. I had no idea what I was doing and never imagined that I’d be here – ten years later – a full time novelist.

This column isn’t to tell you how great I am. It’s to help lend some perspective on how much the industry has changed since I began. Many think the golden age is over. The people who were in it when it began will always be the winners and there’s no room for the new folks coming along behind. The pool is flooded and it’s impossible to rise to the top.

Yeah. Not so much.

In 2007, the Kindle wasn’t on the market. Self-publishing consisted of Lulu and BookSurge for print-on-demand titles. The price points killed sales. Booksurge – which would become CreateSpace – took a drubbing in 2008 when Amazon tried to get all the POD authors to use only their interface to sell books on Amazon. It’s not that bad now, but the wise POD authors always list through CreateSpace for Amazon these days in order to keep their titles from going out-of-stock, but I digress.

In January, 2010, I signed with a small press to produce my books in text formats. They convinced me that we could do better together than I could on my own. The salient point is that I built my audience for three full years and across six titles before I tried to sell what we’d consider a book. I did it by giving my stories away as free podcasts.

I made a lot of strategic decisions in those years about what to write, where to release it, how to promote it, and what tools and techniques to use to build that audience. It took months to get the first hundred, a year to get the first thousand. By the time I signed with the publisher in 2010, I had a million downloads across all the episodes in all the books and that took three years.

We released Quarter Share just before the Baltimore Science Fiction Convention in the spring of 2010. By then the Kindle was making noise in the marketplace so we released both ebook and paper. That ebook thing was a gamble. In those days selling a few hundred ebooks a year was a Big Deal. We had a release party at BaltiCon and a table where I hand sold a few copies in paper, mostly to the fans who already knew the story from listening. Quarter Share sold a few hundred on release and settled down to about ten a month.

Things stayed quiet until the Kindle Autumn of 2010. That’s the point where the Kindle’s market penetration tipped into the mainstream market for heavy readers. It would be another three months before Kindles became more common with casual readers. In October I became the first author at my publishing house to sell a thousand units in a single month with a single title. Others had sold a thousand across multiple titles, but that was the beginning for me.

By 2012 I dissolved the contract with my publisher by exercising my exit clause, got my rights back and spent a year re-issuing the four titles they’d released under my own imprint. By then I had eight books. Now I’m working on lucky number thirteen and the future’s so bright I gotta wear shades.

But here’s the thing.

The fundamental market has changed, but for the better. Millions of people read ebooks now. Dedicated devices are less common. Tablets and smartphones have taken over. Amazon and Kobo have a presence everywhere around the globe making digital products available to almost half a billion English speakers. The early stigma of self-publishing as vanity press has not disappeared but has become significantly diluted as dedicated self-publishers approach the work professionally in order to produce works that rival – even exceed – the quality of those published by the Bigs.

The reality of publishing today encompasses a variety of paths. Small, productive self-publishers can – and often do – earn more than authors published by the likes of Random House and Macmillan. They get fat and happy on sales numbers that are too small to support any of the bigger houses and some of the small. With reduced fixed cost overheads and very small variable costs people like me can do what most authors were never able to achieve ten years ago. We can quit our day jobs.

It’s not fast. I spent three years just building audience for my stories and five years before becoming a full time author in the summer of 2012.

It’s not easy. I’ve written over two million words across my novels. I’ve tried and failed a couple of times along the way. I’ve had to learn some hard lessons.

It’s not guaranteed. Fiction is still art and art is fickle.

But it is possible if you’re willing to do the work – the real work, not the work you want to do. If you’re willing to stick it out for years, not weeks or months, in order to build the structures, establish your audience, and work it like the business that it is. The life of an author isn't a sprint or a marathon. It's not a race of any kind. There's only one finish line and it's the one we all face. If there's one thing I've learned over the last decade it's that writing is a way of life.

So Happy New Year, RMFW. We're already almost two weeks in. Go write something great.

Writerly Resolutions for 2017 – ADD YOURS

Normally I am not one to partake of new year resolutions. Mostly cuz I hate to fail at them.

That losing 10 pounds one has really added up since my first resolution twenty years ago...But let's not focus on my jiggly thighs. Of course, now you can't get that visual out of your head (you're welcome!)

I do like one kind of resolution though - WRITERLY ONES. 

So as much as 2016 sucked for some people, and brought joy for others, I'm glad to see 2017. It holds promise of words, words, and more words. Book births. Some book deaths, usually termed, OUT OF PRINT. Also the idea of ideas. The realities of agents, editors, publishers, marketing, promo. Wins. Losses. Queries. Decisions. Questions. And RMFW!

And best of all reading a mass of great books by RMFW writers.

With resolutions in mind, here are a few of my writerly resolutions for 2017:

I vow to finish more than 3 manuscripts this year. Mind you, probably not good ones, but still...

I also promise to, and please hold me to this, be more social and active in my community, both writerly and other.

And finally, I will make a point to meet RMFW writers, find out who they are and what writing brings to them.

What about you?

If you could take a moment to add your resolution to the comments, we'd love to read them. 

 

Time to Update Your Bucket List for 2015

By Patricia Stoltey

I don't do resolutions anymore. Goal setting is good (see yesterday's post from Liesa Malik for more on that topic), but updating my bucket list ranks at the top of my year end ToDos.

Just because something was important enough to add to my list in the past doesn't mean it should stay there until I finally do it. I kept "A ride in a hot air balloon" on my list for about ten years, had plenty of opportunities to fulfill the wish, and chickened out every time. It's now off the list forever.

"Visit Greece" used to be on my list, but no longer. "One more trip to Paris" is on the list now, and that one can remain on the list as long as I'm alive and mobile. "Return to Norway" is a permanent entry as well. This is a photo I took about ten p.m. (early May 1998) from the window of a cabin that sits on a corner of the land my Norwegian ancestors once owned. I took that bucket list trip by myself, a true adventure for an upper-middle-aged lady who was accustomed to spending long hours at a desk.Norway_Through the Cabin Window at NightThere used to be a few other ambitious excursions on my list. Once upon a time I had a few items such as "Hike the Appalachian Trail" and "Walk the Camino de Santiago" on my list.

Stop laughing. I was serious at the time.

I have replaced those lofty dreams with "Walk every trail in and around my town" which is still a challenge in this outdoors-oriented corner of Colorado but can be accomplished (at least, it can be accomplished once I get this stupid knee fixed and buy a good, sturdy walking stick). A bucket list must be flexible and dynamic.

I put big writing-related items on my bucket list, too. "Make the New York Times Bestseller List" can stay on the list as long as I'm alive and writing. "See one of my novels made into a movie" is another favorite. I'd even like to "Win the Colorado Book Award" someday. My bucket list must include only achievable dreams, or at least dreams I've convinced myself I can achieve, even while others may call me delusional.

What about you? Do you do resolutions, goal setting, and/or a bucket list? What's at the top of your preferred list for 2015?

The Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers blog will return to its regular Monday through Friday schedule on Monday, January 5th. The regular monthly post for Kevin Paul Tracy has been moved from January 1st to January 7th. The regular monthly post for Mary Gillgannon has been moved from the 2nd to the 12th.

I wish you a wonderful new year, full of joy and great accomplishment.

Setting Smart Goals for 2015

By Liesa Malik

New Year's Resolutions. Bah, humbug, right? The whole practice of writing down what amount to goals that seem firmer just by calling them "resolutions" can be intimidating and defeatist.

Me? I've always liked this clean-slate time of year.  At least for a week or so I haven't goofed up my brand new year.  I really will lose those ten pounds, leap tall buildings in a single bound, write that best-selling novel that gets turned into an Academy Award Winning motion picture, earn millions, and go live in the Bahamas when Colorado winters get to me.

But wait!

A resolution is a goal, a plan, a firm decision--not a wish and a dream.  And here's where the conflict begins.  As writers, our job is to live in a semi-dream state for a good deal of our time.  Without our imaginations we couldn't conjure up the stories we do.  Without a wish, our heroes and heroines would be, well, just like us.  We need that skewed perspective on life.

But as professional writers, we also need a foot firmly planted on the ground.  We need to take our literary vision and make it a reality. So how can we blend the two?

In my work as a marketing professional for twenty years, I've had this conflict a lot (both with my own goals and those of my clients).  Over time, I've learned to embrace it, and one of the best tools I know to do so is the S.M.A.R.T. goal. Here's how it might work for a writer.

One: Dream Big

Think of all the writing projects, awards, accomplishments, and kudos that could happen this New Year.  Go ahead.  Shoot for the stars.  Say things like, "I will finish that novel I've been working on and write a complete second novel to boot!" or "I will write twelve short stories that will make it into the finals of the Writer's Digest annual competition."  You can even go so far as to jot down, "My mother will be so proud of me!"  Whatever your heart truly desires.  Take time to enjoy a great vision of  yourself (hey, we're all entitled to a holiday gift from ourselves, right?)

Two: S is for Specific

Now take your dreams and turn them into a list of goals.  But be specific.  Writing a novel is a good goal, but a novel can be a romance, a murder, a sci-fi piece, and a novel can be 80,000 words or 120,000 or anything you determine is right for your project.  The point here is to choose what specifically is right for you.  Go ahead.  Look through your dreams and write down a few specific goals.

Three: M is for Measurable

Eew! As writers, measurable sounds an awful lot like math--hex, gag, whatever!  But being measurable doesn't have to be intimidating.  Let's say you've chosen to write a novel in the mystery genre. That's nice and specific.  But let's make that goal measurable by putting a word count to it.

"I will write a mystery novel with a goofy protagonist who likes romance but keeps stumbling across dead bodies in 85,000 words."

Wow. That is both specific and measurable. Cool. What's next?

Four: A is for Actionable

Now is where we start to deep dive on a goal.  What actions can we take to get that novel written? In other words, what smaller goals do we need to put into place to make that new novel appear in electronic form instead of in dreamworld hopes?  Here are some things I would consider as good actions:

  • Make a character list
  • Write character biographies or backgrounds
  • Develop a theme or life question that really challenges me
  • Write a list of obstacles or challenges that might appear by putting two or more of my characters in a life-defining situation
  • Write a short outline of "what happened" from each character's point of view
  • Make a master outline (sorry pants-ers, us plotters need this sometimes)
  • Write 1,000 words a day in my first draft

Five: R is for Realistic

Ouch! Who wants real in a creative writing project?  Well, to be honest, I do.  I have a hard time thinking that maybe one day I'll have a novel published when I don't have a plan to get that novel written.  For a goal to be realistic you need to be in control of the outcome.  You can't say "I'll get a contract for six new novel sales this year" because you don't control the editors and agents who might offer that contract.  However, you can say "I'll pitch to twenty agents and editors each month this year," and then you can have realistic hopes of landing a contract.

Six: T is for Time-Bound

Again, this may sound restrictive at first, but in reality a project with a beginning, middle and END is very satisfying.  Let's say you've been working on a novel for oh, six or seven years.  Will this be the year you finish it?  YES!  If you tell  yourself you'll have goals X,Y, and Z done by June 15th and that date comes, you have the power to say, "Know what? I've put enough time into this project. Do I still want to invest more in it, or do I want to go on to something new?"  That isn't being a quitter.  That is being realistic.  Some projects work, and others don't.  If you're into your new novel and the deadline (decision time) looms, you can sit back and say, "Okay, I'm behind schedule, but I can get back on track by doing . . . " It's your decision.

Yes. I like resolutions.  But I love SMART goals.  Wishing you a wonderful holiday season and a New Year that's filled with SMART writing success.

A New Year: A New Writerly You

By J.A. (Julie) Kazimer

Yeah, yeah, January 1st was thirteen days ago. Get over it already, you’re probably saying to yourself, or a busload of captive passengers, who, by now are looking at you a little strange.

Yes it was.

But just because half of our resolutions are already ripped apart, most by January 3rd (after all, who vows to eat more seaweed? That stuff is fine in sushi, but not great with hotdogs…). This doesn’t mean it’s over for the rest. We can always make new ones.

A few days before the New Year, I did a facebook survey (and we all know how scientific those are) on what most writers are resolving to do in the upcoming year. You wouldn’t believe the answers (oddly enough many included weird things with chocolate. What can I say? Writers are just plain weird). What surprised me most about the answers were, no one vowed to give me millions of dollars.

Right? I couldn’t believe it either.

My stingy facebook writer friends’ lack of generosity aside, the main resolution imparted was finishing a project, either one they’ve been working on or starting a brand new one and finishing it by the end of this year.

A great goal for every writer.

One of my editors, before he was my editor, asked me while we were in a pitch appointment at the CO Gold Conference in 2010, how long would it take me to write a book, from word one until it was ready to submit? I smugly said 1 year. He raised an eyebrow.

And guess what?

Our last contract was for two books, both to be finished in one year. For those writers like me who are bad at math, this means, one book every six months. Yes, I sort of feel sick just thinking about it. But in this publishing world, a book a year won't cut it for a new author. We need to push harder and write faster.

So now that you've resolved to quit writing all together...

Other resolutions my writerly friends shared involved submission (promising to send stuff out weekly or so many a month), getting an agent, self-publishing (designing cover art, hiring a copy editor, formatting, etc), and marketing (the bane of all author existence), and a few odd resolutions about plastic-wares.

Learning craft was also nice to see, but we all know RMFW and those who are thinking of joining because of this fabulous post don’t need to learn craft. We are naturally awesome (though the workshops and classes by RWFW members are, of course, the reason why we rock so much more).

The other big resolution was to write.

Simple and to the point.

We aren’t writers unless we are putting words on the page (i.e. computer screen, yellow legal notepad, college-ruled white paper, that journal you got for the holidays from your grandma, etc).

So in 2014, let’s forget losing weight, getting healthy, quitting vile habits, and instead, focus on doing what we love, which, sadly isn’t giving me money, but writing, in whatever method or madness works for you.

Did you make a writerly resolution? Did you break it yet? If not, what is it? If so, what will be your new-today resolution?

I’ve vowed to be more social, in person, so if you catch me trying to be a hermit, please call me on it.

Happy 2014 to you!

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J.A. (Julie) Kazimer lives in Denver, CO. Novels include CURSES! A F***ed-Up Fairy Tale, Holy Socks & Dirtier Demons, Dope Sick: A Love Story and FROGGY STYLE as well as the forthcoming book, The Assassin’s Heart. J.A. spent years spilling drinks as a bartender and then stalked people while working as a private investigator. For more about Julie, visit her website and blog.

Connect with Julie on Twitter and Facebook.