On Professional Headshots

Y’all might have noticed I don’t have photographs of myself anywhere on my website. If you check out my author Facebook page, my Twitter, my Instagram, you won’t find them either. I hate photographs of myself. I always have. I imagine I probably always will.

But conventional wisdom says professional head shots are a part of this industry, so I finally caved to said wisdom and had head shots done. I figured I can no longer hide behind anonymity, especially with my second book coming out. I guess I’m really doing this.

Now, as I have mentioned before, I have PTSD. One of the symptoms of my particular brand of PTSD is that I have difficulty being touched, especially by strangers. Because of this, I haven’t had a haircut in three years. So last weekend, I bit the bullet and started with this small step.

Three hours of being touched even by a stranger with the best intentions (making me look like I actually care about myself), was emotionally exhausting, but I felt better having done it. Look at me! I declared to the world. I’m doing a thing! My therapist will be so proud.

Still, I knew better than to try and rush it, so I scheduled the hair appointment a full week before the photo shoot, that way I didn’t have to do everything in one shot. Turns out, this was a great strategy for my sometimes fragile nerves.

The morning of the shoot, I had my hair blown out (forty-five minutes of touching) and my makeup done by a professional (another hour of unwanted but necessary stranger touching and this was especially anxiety inducing because it was close up). By the time I arrived at the studio, I was already exhausted.

Here’s the good thing about photographers, however: they’re artists too and a lot of them choose the side of the camera they’re on for a reason. I was happy to have a sympathetic ear to the plight that is, “Why is this a thing for authors?” Seriously though, can someone answer this for me? Why is this a thing for authors? Does what I look like truly matter?

Buuut, a sympathetic ear couldn’t save me from the studio or the camera. In addition to a tactile issue, I also have difficulty making eye contact. As it turns out, this difficulty extends to looking into a camera. Bless Krista’s soul for patiently repeating 7,000 times to look at the camera (honestly, I had no idea I wasn’t, it’s just a thing I do!).

Another fun fact about doing a professional photo shoot for those who might not have been through it yet: it’s not as easy as it may seem. I used to think the models who did this were just naturally pretty (and they are) but there’s more to it than just looking pretty. A lot of the body positioning is subtle and somewhat awkward feeling. It involves muscles many of us don’t frequently activate, which confuses the body (or at least it did mine). In addition, most of the poses are counter intuitive. You want me to turn my chin down to avoid making it look like I have a double chin? I’m supposed to angle my shoulder in an awkward way to make it look natural? Huh? For a clumsy, awkward, shy girl who is already emotionally exhausted, a lot of things that seemed basic enough felt massively complicated. In short, I will never make comment on how modeling must be so easy ever again.

Which leads me to my point… for me, it was totally worth it to have a professional do these photos. Krista (website here) was sympathetic, kind, easy to work with, patient, knowledgeable and most importantly, talented. When she sent me the proofs later that evening (how about that for turnaround time, right?) it was like receiving my cover art for The Wheel Mages all over again. I got that tingly feeling and a stupid grin on my face. Not because I am enamored with myself (I still am not my own biggest fan), but because these photos said “Author” in the same way seeing my name on the front of a book cover for the first time did. Plus, we artists all need to support each other, right?

Okay, so without further ado… tada! A real life picture of me.

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Have a great weekend everyone!

❤ Aimee

 

 

How a Trilogy Becomes More

Author’s Note: I’m sending out my very first newsletter this week and it has exciting NEWS in it, so if you’re interested, sign up here

At the end of last month (where is time going?), my second manuscript was sent to my editor. I wrote about it (briefly). When I sent it, it was 131,000 words, which is loooong. But I ran out of places to cut words and time to do it in so sent it with fingers crossed.

Meanwhile, I was in the middle of a serious argument with the third book in my trilogy. My characters did not want to cooperate with my plan. At all.

All of this, combined with a lot of other things going on in my life, including frustrating book sales, led me to overwhelm which led me to stasis. Something to know about me: When I get overwhelmed, I freeze. I didn’t want to abandon my series, because this is my dream, but I also felt the familiar sensation of losing my way creeping in.

Fortunately, I have a good editor who wasted no time in pulling me off the cliff. Although, I’ll be honest, I was a bit nervous when I received the email from her enclosing her critique. Katie and I have a great relationship, and I trust her, but something about seeing, “You’ll see that I do make a big recommendation that could change a few things” in an email from your editor can really make your heart rate spike.

Of course, my brain started to go into overdrive as I ran through worst case scenarios such as: she hates my new protagonist (who is a character I’ve been developing for approximately… forever); there’s a gaping plot hole I’m not going to know how to fix; the prose is terrible; the whole thing needs rewritten. All fixable, yes, but not pleasant. I should clarify, none of these were the case, either.

What I wasn’t expecting was a suggestion to expand the trilogy because well… the book is too long but parts need a bit more development and there’s nowhere to find 30,000 extra words. As Katie put it, “The story and characters have begged you to.”

My first thought was: Why didn’t I think of that? Why did that not ever seem like an option?

It’s funny how strict you can be with yourself, how solid an idea can be before it’s even formed. In my head, my series was always a trilogy. That’s just how it was. Period. As I’ve said before, I’m not a plotter, so how that one idea became so solid, I’m not 100% sure, but it was. Three books. No more, no less.

I called an emergency “meeting” with a couple of my most trusted beta readers. Frantically, I spelled out to them via Facebook messenger what my editor was proposing. Then I sat back, wincing as I waited.

Here’s something else you should know: My betas are the best people I know, but they can be a tough audience. That’s what makes them good (and my friends). I expected some kind of resistance from them especially because expanding a series is done frequently in fantasy and sometimes it’s not done all that well. They know that. I know that. I expected them to remind me of that.

Surprisingly, they didn’t. “I like it,” said one.

Hm… I thought, then winced again and decided to poke the sleeping bear. “This would help me fix the problems with book three that were making me want to throw the book out the window. I guess I was just dead set on a trilogy.”

The three dots on the message screen blinked, and my stomach flipped somersaults as I tried my best not to grind my teeth down to nothing. “Trilogies are so passe. Ten million books plus ten novellas are so hip right now.”

I burst out laughing. Just when you think you know what to expect, people throw you a curve ball. Which is, of course, exactly what my characters did to me too, sneaky bastards (and I mean that term literally in at least one case if you’ve read book one).

With my betas on board, I decided it was possible to discuss this thing with my editor. So after taking a night to sleep on her critique to digest what her suggestions would look like, I sent her a sprawling, long-winded email that concluded by addressing the elephant in the room: fantasy series that are expanded poorly.

Everyone who reads this blog knows my policy on not tearing down any specific works by any specific author, and I’m not about to break that now. Instead, I’ll say that sometimes authors expand series because they’re popular, and their readers want them to, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they should. This shows in the writing. The books start to drag or get redundant or the characters no longer seem to be on an arc but more of a flat line path. No one is developing. In short, the writing loses its spark.

This is sort of my biggest fear when it comes to a series. I want my series to reflect the arc in my own writing. Book two should be (and in my extremely biased opinion, is) better than book one. Book three should be better than book two, etc. You’re growing as a writer, and your characters should grow with you. That’s organic. That’s (dare I say it) art.

Don’t get me wrong, plenty of fantasy series have more than three books and are absolutely lovely. Obviously, the most famous fantasy series in the history of the world consists of seven books, and they’re all stellar.

That said, there are plenty of series that could have stopped at book two or even book one and been fine. And I couldn’t quite get my professors at UNC out of my head as I started to contemplate a possible expansion. The famous “six-word novel” hung heavy on my heart. For those who don’t know it, it is as follows:

For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

It’s often mistakenly attributed to Hemingway, but there were stories like this before Hemingway. It’s true author appears to be unknown.

The point remains the same, however. Less is more. This was always an extremely difficult concept for me to grasp, and though I believe I’ve gotten much better at it, I probably won’t be writing any six-word stories any time soon.

Still, those extra words nagged at me. I could see the possibility on the horizon. I wanted those words. The strength with which I wanted them made me shove through the fear and the self-doubt and dare to imagine what this series could look like if I had the room to really open up and let my characters do what they want instead of constantly fighting me.

Ultimately, the decision to expand was born through a combination of that desire and my editor’s sage advice: “Overall, listen to the characters and the story, and don’t worry about trying to fit it in a certain number of books.”

Now, I might not be able to write a six-word novel, but that is something I can do.

Here we go y’all.

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The First 100 Books

There is a ton of advice out there about how to sell the first 1,000 copies of your debut novel. So much advice that 1,000 copies became kind of a mantra of mine. If there’s all this advice, people must be doing it, right? If they can, I can.

1,000 copies became a magic number for me. At first, it sounds like a ton but when you think about the population of the United States (320 million or so) that’s only .0003%. Statisticians wouldn’t even look at a number like that as being relevant except in lottery chances.

It can’t be that hard, right?

Well… as it turns out—it is. According to my editor, 90% of self-published books will sell less than 100 copies. After I heard that, the way I looked at my book changed. It was no longer about selling the first 1,000 copies. It was about selling the first 100 copies. It was about breaking into that elite 10% of self-published authors.

This means selling one book at a time.

In some ways, this shift in mentality is extremely disheartening. I’ve spent close to $4,000 on my debut novel. To recoup that investment, I have to sell over 1,400 copies of my e-book (you see now another reason the 1,000 copies was a magic number for me). For the record, I don’t regret my investment at all because that’s precisely how I see it—an investment. Investments don’t typically return money overnight. They take time to mature, which is what I hope my novel will do. As I said in a previous post, I write because I have to. I publish to make money, but I realize that takes time. The old adage that “you have to spend money to make money” rings true. Additionally, I can’t imagine my book without my team. I didn’t simply invest in my book, I invested in talent and that’s something I’m extremely proud to have been a part of (and will continue to be a part of).

In other ways, however, thinking about selling my first 100 books is refreshing. Every single book I sell feels like a victory. Every review on Amazon brings a fresh spark to my veins. I get excited about the process all over again. It gives me the fuel to keep going. I have a feeling it won’t always be this way, so I’m trying to focus on the little things and hold this moment close. One book at a time.

When I started this blog, I promised myself I would be completely transparent with my readers. In the name of transparency, I’ll tell you it has been 3(ish) days since my book launched and I’ve sold 20 copies. All 20 have been on Amazon. Most of the 20 were to people I know, but there are a couple I can’t account for. The mystery readers are especially exciting.

I am one-fifth of the way there!

Of course, this journey is only beginning, but I want to use this blog as a place to keep track of my thoughts while they’re happening in the hopes that one day I can look back on it and smile to myself about how far I’ve come and think about how silly I was. I also hope one day others can read about this journey for what it was. I’ve had tons of people send me encouraging messages about how many times J.K. Rowling was rejected and how she struggled, but I think it would be an interesting experiment to watch the struggle in real time with a real life person who probably won’t ever be J.K. Rowling-famous. Maybe one day, if I ever make it, aspiring writers can look at this blog and know they’re not alone. Maybe even if I don’t make it, I can help one person feel less alone.

So… here are some brief thoughts for the first 20 copies of my book:

1. Facebook ads will attract “likes” but not necessarily sales. This is really bizarre to me, by the way. I posted an ad on launch day with a link to my book on Amazon and I had 24 people “like” or “love” it (95% of whom I didn’t know) and as far as I can tell, not a single sale. I’m confused who would like an ad without buying the product, but I suppose that’s neither here nor there. I haven’t completely given up on Facebook ads because well… it’s only day four, and I’ve heard they can be successful, but the early results are not convincing me.

2. The internet loves cats more than dogs. Okay, I don’t actually know how true this is, but I tweeted a picture of my dog Gabi and a picture of my cat Maia and Maia won the mini-Twitter war. This doesn’t have much to do with book sales, but I did want to mention it in the event you were considering putting an animal of some sort on your cover—pro tip: pick a cat.

3. There are people who literally Instagram pictures of books. This was something I didn’t know but is really fascinating to me. One of my friends told me I should send copies of my print version book to some IGers and see if they’d post. I was thoroughly confused. When I looked into it… my mind was blown. These photos are incredibly beautiful and strangely calming to look at, but I had no idea this was a thing.

4. People who say they’re going to buy your book probably won’t. If you’re relying on people who hear you’re writing a book and say, “I’ll definitely buy it”—don’t. Some of them will (especially friends, family and coworkers who are forced to see you every day and know you will shame them if they don’t support your work) but most of them won’t. I really thought that first 100 books would be no problem because I had at least that many Facebook friends tell me they’d buy it. All right, that’s not being entirely honest, I had maybe 40 Facebook friends tell me they’d buy it, but whatever. Not that many did. That’s okay, though. They’re mostly not my target audience anyway, and I’m building a business here as much as a book. I want readers who are in my target audience who will continue to come back for more.

5. It’s okay to be sad. Yesterday was a rough day for me. I was disheartened. I’m normally a pretty logical person but yesterday my emotions got the best of me. I knew I wouldn’t wake up on Tuesday and have sold 10,000 copies. I knew it would involve a lot of work. Everyone tells you it’s going to be tons of work—your editors, designers, other indie authors, they tell you. I told myself, over and over, but I still harbored thoughts that was going to be the exception. When I wasn’t, I was bummed. I cried. “I worked so hard,” I whined into my pillow and to a couple close friends. “I spent so much money.” “I did everything everyone said.” (I didn’t, by the way). “I feel like a failure.”

I got a lot of advice. “It’s only been two days.” “Keep marketing.” “Tell everyone.” “There’s always a publishing house.” “Sometimes it just takes luck.” “You’ll get there eventually.” The best bit of advice I got though was: “Cry it out now. Just get it all out and then once you’re done, take some deep breaths and make the decision that you’re going to keep working at it until it IS successful.” So. Much. This.

There’s so many people in our lives who will tell us to suck it up and stop whining and put our nose to the grindstones and if “you’d just work harder” we sometimes forget we’re freaking artists. We’re spiritual, emotional, creative beings and we need to feel. We need to suffer. We need to allow ourselves to suffer. If I hadn’t suffered, I wouldn’t be where I am now. I wouldn’t have these words to share. Suffering made me a writer. Suffering is the one thing all people have in common. It’s the great connector. To block ourselves off from it is to block ourselves off from the one thing that makes us writers. So go ahead and cry. I know it’s stupid and trivial, and it feels foolish to cry over shit book sales in your first three days because there’s war in other countries and people are starving and your first world problems are nothing in comparison to the problems of many. But it’s fine. Do it. It will help refresh your creative spirit. And then when you’re done, get back to work. There’s another book to sell.

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