Broken and Built Anew

Do not think of today’s failures, but of the success that may come tomorrow.”

~ Helen Keller

Last week, I was ready to give up. This probably has something to do with the fact that my birthday is next week. I’m going to be 29.

Sarah Maas is 30 (8 books), Victoria Aveyard is 26 (3 books), Veronica Roth is 28 (4 books), Marissa Meyer is 32 (6 books). This doesn’t include novellas, compilations, short stories, collections, etc.

I felt too old to be only just starting.

I know, it probably sounds ridiculous. I shouldn’t be comparing myself to other writers, especially not those who are traditionally published and anyway, 29 isn’t that old! But I felt old and tired and exhausted and beaten and defeated and… broken.

I have wanted to be a writer since I could hold a pen(cil). I never really dream hopped. I didn’t want to be a veterinarian one day and an astronaut the next. If you asked me at age 6 what I wanted to be, I would have told you I wanted to be an author, ask me at 16, a novelist, at 22, a writer.

My dream has never changed, but I still managed to get so, so lost. For years, I struggled through a quagmire of mental health issues ranging from addiction to depression to agoraphobia to self-mutilation to panic attacks. I have insomnia. When I do sleep, I have terrible nightmares and night terrors. I spent years undereating only to then spend years overeating. My weight is in a constant state of confusion. I’ve weighed 106 pounds and 206 pounds and everywhere in between. Living is often exhausting for me. And last week, I thought, “You know what, this is hard enough as it is, why make it more complicated? Accept mediocrity. Accept that you’re never going to make it. It’s okay to be average. You don’t have to be special. You wake up every day and for someone with as many problems as you have, that’s enough. Enough is enough. Just stop.”

There is peace to be found in surrender. Peace sounded good. Surrender sounded good. Curling up under a comforter and never coming back out sounded good.

But none of those things are actually options. Not for me. Not when I feel so deeply that God has blessed me with a special gift—the gift of knowing what I want to do with my life.

I don’t talk about my faith very much, because faith is personal and controversial and for me, hard to nail down. But sometimes, usually in my darkest moments, it whispers to me.

I was not raised with faith. My mother has always identified as a Christian, but she didn’t really rediscover her faith until I was much older. My father is a scientist and like a majority of scientists, he is an atheist. While my mother read me fairy tales in the cradle, my father read me Darwin. When I was in the sixth grade, he bought me a copy of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (“Because it’s a good story”). I was brought up on the belief that religion is a crutch used by those who are desperate.

Maybe it is. Then again, maybe it isn’t. As the daughter of a scientist, I was encouraged to question, to be always curious about the unknown. Fostering curiosity is probably part of what led me to be a writer. It’s also what guided me to my faith.

I converted to Catholicism my sophomore year of college. I started attending mass because I was in love with a Catholic boy, and I wanted to impress him. I decided to convert because I felt like I’d found something that had been missing inside me, but I’d be lying if I said it’s been easy. I’ve struggled with my faith every day since the day I converted. I’m constantly questioning it just as I’m constantly questioning myself. But sometimes, I think I hear God’s voice, and it gets me through the day.

In that way, I guess my faith is a crutch. But a crutch helps those who cannot walk for themselves. A crutch helps broken people heal. It is exactly what I needed last week, and I clung to it until my knuckles turned white. And eventually, I found myself walking a little stronger, a little further. I found my despair easing its hold. Ideas started to flow again as hope sprang back to life inside me, a small ember at first, a tiny thing I had to nurture, but it was there all the same.

There’s something magical about being on the precipice of defeat and clawing your way back. There’s something empowering about being lost and finding your way again. There’s a reason the image of the phoenix rising from the ash is so popular, and it’s because never has there been a symbol that encompasses the human spirit so well. At some point in our lives, every single one of us has been the phoenix risen from darkness.

Last week, it was me. But I have risen stronger than before. My dream is more beautiful because it was broken. It will be so much more exciting when I make it a reality because I will remember the taste of the ash on my tongue and the burning in my throat as I fought my way back into the light.

Broken and built anew.

Never stop dreaming. Never stop fighting.

❤ Aimee

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Your Relationship with Your Editor

Author’s note: I currently have three posts ready to go, but all of them are somewhat controversial, and I’m having trouble finding the courage to hit the publish button, so I thought I’d write this one as my second book, The Blood Mage, is headed to the editor on January 30th (11 days, eek!)


In the end, what makes a book valuable is not the paper it’s printed on, but the thousands of hours of work by dozens of people who are dedicated to creating the best possible reading experience for you.

~ John Green

I’ve written about the importance of professional editing before. Recently, however, as I slog my way through edits for my second book, I’ve come to appreciate the relationship I have with my editor much, much more.

You see, as I did some quick research for this post, which was originally set to be a piece on why professional editing is so important for indie authors, I came to realize a lot of writers have a contentious relationship with editors. Some of the things writers have said about editors is… less than kind.

I can’t help but wonder if this uneasy relationship is created more by the writer or by the publishing house. I do understand it’s difficult to have your work critiqued (you can check out a short retelling of the temper tantrum I threw when my manuscript came back from the editor in the blog I linked to above). But I also have to wonder if some of this unease comes from the traditionally published author being forced by his publishing house to work with an editor he doesn’t click with.

Not every professional relationship in your life needs to be the perfect fit. It doesn’t matter so much if you like your accountant, for example. It helps, to be sure, but as long as everything is done properly, there doesn’t really need to be chemistry. There are some professional relationships, however, where chemistry is extremely important. Editors fall into this second category (therapists, doctors, and teachers also come to mind).

And I’m not talking about chemistry in terms of you and your editor are BFFs, although some writers do share that relationship with their editors. I’m talking about professional chemistry which, in my experience, is premised upon mutual respect and, most importantly, trust.

Trust, especially in the self-publishing world, is incredibly important, because let’s be honest, there are a lot of people out there trying to scam indie authors (and succeeding at it). We don’t have publishing houses behind us to protect us from these people. A lot of us don’t even have agents. Publishing houses and agents will protect traditionally published authors because it’s in their best interests to do so. But, as in all things indie, we must fill that void and step up to protect our own interests, which means finding an editor we can trust not only with our money, but also with our writing.

All this leads me to a few bullet points which are indicative of a good relationship with your editor:

  • Your editor is enthusiastic about your work. If your editor isn’t proud to put his or her name on your book, something is wrong. My editor was as excited about my book launch as I was. She shared my book on her social media platforms and put it in her newsletter. If she hadn’t been excited to put her name on it, I would have been very, very worried. Your book is not only a reflection of you but also your editor, and if your editor doesn’t want to claim it, you might have a problem.
  • Your editor takes time to listen to your concerns and questions surrounding her suggestions. The editing process should be a collaboration. We are indie authors for a reason. This is not the way it used to be where editors in publishing houses were handed the manuscript and a red pen, and the author was handed a blindfold and handcuffs. All right, this is an exaggeration, but you get where I’m going. One of the nice things about being an indie author is increased creative control. This means that your editor should never be steamrolling you. Improving your manuscript should be a conversation, and your editor should be happy to participate. My editor is very intuitive about my characters and my writing, so to be honest, I don’t usually have a ton of questions for her, but when I do, her responses are always thoughtful, and most of the time, I end up coming up with something that is a combination of my vision and hers that works better than either of our original ideas.
  • Your editor is interested in your long-term success as an author. This actually is just good business sense. Your editor should want you to be successful so you keep coming back. Also, the more successful you are, the more their reputation grows. An editor interested in maintaining long-term relationships with clients is an editor who is vested in the success of their clients. My editor helped me answer questions related not only to writing, but also to the industry. When she didn’t have the answers, she would point me in the direction of someone who did. She wants me to succeed, because it will help her succeed. This should always be a symbiotic relationship. An editor who couldn’t care less when your next book is coming out, is an editor who isn’t invested in you or your career and by extension, your writing.

If you have these three things in an editor, you’re probably well on your way to a good relationship. And trust me, in this industry, you’re going to need it.

For a list of editors to consider, I will refer you to Joanna Penn’s: http://www.thecreativepenn.com/editors/

For information on my editor, the fabulous Katie McCoach, visit her site here: http://katiemccoach.com/

Have any other advice for a happy and healthy relationship with an editor? Add it to the comments!

Happy editing everyone!

❤ Aimee

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I shared this on my Facebook the other day and thought it was appropriate for this post. I’m so proud to have published my debut novel with an all female team. Girl power, y’all.

 

First Month Sales

Okay… deep breaths… I’m going to do this.

When I first started out on this whole self-publishing venture, I told myself I would be honest and open about the entire process, including releasing my sales figures. Of course, now that the time has come to do so, I’m nervous.

You see, before I published, I saw plenty of blog posts from established independent authors sharing their sales figures, and how much they made per year, per month, etc. and the numbers were, quite frankly, staggering. Six figure salaries and five figure per month marketing budgets were plentiful. But I didn’t see many (read: any) new indie authors sharing their sales figures, at least not publicly, so I said to myself, “Self, when we do this, we shall publish our sales figures every month, so other indie authors have a better understanding of what this process really looks like.”

It sounded great before I knew what the sales were going to be. Now, I’m less than enthused about sharing my first month’s sales, but… I will. Because I need to learn how to be brave. Because this industry requires courage and tenacity and strength. Because if I’m ever going to succeed, I must first learn to embrace my failures.

So… without further ado… here are the sales figures for the first month of sales of my debut novel, The Wheel Mages.


Sales Period: November 29, 2016 (launch date) through December 29, 2016

Vendor: Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (Kindle)

Copies sold: 27

Territories sold: United States (26) and Denmark! (1)

Royalties: 71.21 USD, 2.18 EUR

Vendor: CreateSpace (Paperback)

Copies sold: 23

Territories sold: United States (23)

Royalties: 26.68 USD

Vendor: Personal Sales (Paperback)

Copies sold: 7

Territories sold: United States (7)

Royalties: 36.12 USD

Vendor: iTunes (iBook)

Copies sold: 1

Territories sold: United States (1)

Royalties: 2.80 USD

Total copies sold in the first month: 58

Territories sold: United States (57) and Denmark! (1)

Royalties: 136.81 USD, 2.18 EUR

To put this into perspective, my cover art cost $175, so in my first month of sales, I’ve almost made that back. Except none of this money, with the exception of the money I made from selling books to friends and family (see: Vendor: Personal Sales) has actually arrived in my bank account yet, because Amazon doesn’t release the royalties until you’ve accumulated $100. So, there’s that. And my next book is due to the content editor in 17 days, so unless I wake up one morning and I’ve miraculously sold 2,000 copies overnight (listen, this is something I still sort of hope for), there’s another big check looming in my not-too-distant future. Sidenote: If you’re writing a series, maybe consider budgeting for the first two books.

My goal was to sell 100 books in the first month. As you can see, I didn’t make it. And although I wish I could tell you I sold 10,000 copies, the truth is less extraordinary, which I suppose in some ways, makes it all the more important to share.

This is reality, y’all, the good, the bad, and the ugly. So here’s to selling more books in 2017!

❤ Aimee

P.S. On a WAY more exciting note, I received my first bit of fanart yesterday! FANART! Can you believe it? Yeah, I’m super pumped. I smiled so hard my face almost fell off. Check it out!!! There’s another piece as well, but I want to save it to share in another post, so keep your eyes peeled!

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On Discussing Your Book

What’s it about?

Whoever thought that one question could so paralyze an author. But it does—every time. Without fail. No matter how many times I’ve rehearsed what I’ll say about the book in my head, no matter how many intriguing phrases I’ve tried to come up with to better pitch my work, whenever this question spills out of an unassuming throat, all the words fly from my brain.

Last night, I was fortunate enough to have a mini-reunion of sorts with a bunch of people I haven’t seen in almost a decade. Of course, my big news was I published a book. And almost instantly the next question came out and the paralysis began. Example:

Person: So what’s it about?

Me: Uh…it’s a young adult fantasy.

[long awkward pause]

Person: And…?

Me: Uh…there’s magic?

Person: Cool, cool.

[increasingly awkward pause as person slinks away]

I wish I was making this up for comedic value, but I’m really not. Talking about my book is HARD. Making whatever comes out of my mouth sound both interesting and genuine is even harder. It’s not that the book isn’t interesting (it is, I promise!) or that I’m not passionate about it (I am!), it’s simply… awkward. How am I supposed to sum up what took me months of development in a few sentences? And more importantly, how am I supposed to sum it up in a way that doesn’t sound like I’m reading the back of the book? Sidenote: At one point during my evening, a friend of mine took her copy of the book out and I legit handed it to people who asked what it was about so they could read the back instead of attempting to communicate. I know this is probably not the right course of action, but I was feeling the pressure.

I think it feels so awkward because the book has such a huge part of my soul thrown into it that I’m terrified of talking about it because it feels almost too personal a conversation to have. What is it about? Well, it’s about struggle, and failure, and feeling helpless and alone even when you’re surrounded by humanity. It’s about people depending on you when you still don’t know how to depend on yourself. It’s about love and how painful it is. It’s me, bleeding onto a page, that’s what it’s about. Can you imagine the looks I would receive for throwing that into a crowded room?

Separating myself from my work is something I’ve always struggled with and something I’ve spent a considerable amount of time working on. I’ve done it successfully enough when it comes to critiques, but apparently I’ve failed to replicate it in terms of having a normal conversation with someone about the finished product.

Whatever the reason, be it my own anxiety, social awkwardness, or simply being a new author, it’s a terrifying hurdle I didn’t expect to have to climb, but will work on doing so, one foot at a time.

Anyone else have this problem when it comes to his/her writing? Make me feel less alone in the comments!

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My dad and stepmom got this for me for Christmas, I’m so excited about it!

 

 

Step by Painful Step

I recently shared with you how and where The Wheel Mages was born. Now, I want to share with you the more technical aspects of how 238 handwritten pages became an eBook and a print. This is only a skeleton of what went into the launch of The Wheel Mages and some things were not successful or how other authors would do them. I learned from the launch of my first book as most authors do and hopefully you’ll find some help in those failures.

Step One (May, 2016): Beta Readers

In May, 2016, I started soliciting beta readers for The Wheel Mages. I’ve read recently that some authors don’t use beta readers, but for me, this was a crucial step. Beta readers will help you save money on editing costs and will immensely improve the quality of your work. When you send your manuscript to your editor, you want to send the best possible version. You want to hand your editor something that you feel confident you could publish tomorrow. That way, when the editor gets it, he or she will be able to dig deep into the work and help guide you to the next level, beyond even your own expectations.

I found my beta readers by putting out a call on Facebook. I posted a brief synopsis of my manuscript and asked if anyone was interested in reading it for me to tell me what he or she thought. I was fortunate to get a lot of great feedback and interest. Not only did this call help me find beta readers, it also helped me gauge interest and potential target market. The people who responded to my call were the people who were most likely to become future readers.

I intend to write an entire post on beta readers in the future, so I’ll leave you with this: don’t expect your beta readers to blow smoke up your ass. If you’re looking for someone to tell you your work is perfect and not to change a thing, you’re not ready to publish yet.

Step Two (May, 2016): Cover Art

I did this a little bit out of order. For the second book in my series, I intend to send my book to the content editor (see Step Three) before I hook back up with my designer for cover art. The reason I did the cover art for The Wheel Mages before I did anything else was to give myself a little bit of encouragement. Once I paid that invoice, there was no going back. As soon as there was a book cover with my name on the front, I was committed. It helped give me a little bit of bravery I needed.

My cover art and all the graphics for my website, Facebook page, Twitter, etc. were done by Fiona Jayde Media. I found Fiona through Google research. I viewed the portfolios of dozens of artists before I settled on her. It’s important to note that finding a cover artist who works in your genre is important. People do judge your book by its cover. Make sure you pick an artist who not only creates a breathtaking cover but also understands your market and target audience. Remember: I write because I have to, I publish to make money. To make money, you have to create something appealing to your audience, not you. If you find the right designer, you’ll hopefully end up with both, but if your designer tells you that your idea for a cover isn’t right for the market—listen. They know what they’re doing, that’s why you’re paying them.

Step Three (July, 2016): Content Editor

In July, after I’d overhauled my manuscript based on the great insights provided to me by my beta readers, I decided it was ready for a content editor. This step is important. I cannot stress enough how crucial it is for your manuscript to be reviewed by an editor before it’s published. A book coming out of a publishing house would never be sent to print without being reviewed by editors (plural). In order to compete with the publishing houses, your book has to be a professional product, which means it has to be handled by editors. My editor, Katie McCoach, has a great blog on this explaining it from an editor’s perspective which you can read here.

If you’re serious about writing, you’re also serious about the process. Editors are arguably the biggest part of the process (perhaps even bigger than writing the dang thing). A good editor will better not only the manuscript in front of them, but your future writing as well. They’ll help you evolve as an artist. They’re expensive, there’s really no way around that, but they’re worth every penny.

I found my editor on a list provided by the fabulously successful indie author and fierce advocate for self-publishing, Joanna Penn. Joanna’s insights are incredibly helpful and I highly recommend reading her blog, following her on Facebook, and listening to her podcasts. She is a wealth of FREE knowledge.

Step Four (August, 2016): Re-Read 

After I received my manuscript back from Katie, my content editor, I spent a few days mulling over her critique. I think as artists our gut instinct is to go on the defensive when receiving critique, even when it’s handled well. The reason I find Katie to be such a fantastic editor is because she tells me what I’m doing right as often as she tells me what I’m doing wrong. Both are important.

Still, receiving feedback is never easy. It feels like a gut punch to the soul. Let me be completely honest with you here. When I received Katie’s first critique of The Wheel Mages, I was an angry, snarling beast. I was like a toddler throwing a temper tantrum. She didn’t GET it. She didn’t UNDERSTAND. She was blind to MY VISION. I couldn’t believe I’d paid her so much money.

I received her report on Friday, August 5th. On Monday, August 8th, after I’d had time to settle down and think, I re-read the critique and realized she did, in fact, get it. She wasn’t blind. She had her eyes wide open. I was the blind one. I was the one who didn’t understand she was trying to make my vision more accessible to the reader. She’d done everything I’d asked her to do and more. It was time to suck it up and stop being a petulant child because there was work to be done. I sent her an email on August 8th and fibbed a little (Katie: If you happen to read this, sorry!). I didn’t feel the need to share my gut reaction because the gut reaction wasn’t helpful to anyone. Instead, I told her my new truth—her critique was insightful, well thought out, professionally presented and, most importantly, helpful.

Then, I got to work making revisions. Shortly thereafter, I sent her a revised version of the manuscript for a re-read.

Step Five (October, 2016): Copy Edit

After the re-read and more revisions, I felt like I was ready for a copy edit. I chose to work with a copy editor that works with Katie. By that point, I knew Katie well, I was pleased with her work, and wanted to stick with people she recommended. A side note, it’s pretty important to trust your editor. If you feel like you’re being taken advantage of, you probably need to find a new editor. The copy editor Katie suggested was a little bit more expensive than I had originally budgeted, but when I saw a sample of her work, I decided it was worth it.

Step Six (November, 2016): Publishing

In November, after my book came back from the copy editor, and I’d reviewed and made decisions on her changes, I started to shore up the last pieces of the puzzle. I worked on formatting (formatting for print is the absolute worst, by the way), I launched my website, started an author Facebook page, got myself a Twitter and an Instagram, filled out tax information on the platforms I’d decided on, purchased ISBNs, and spent an incredible amount of time floundering around like a fish out of water. Here’s a brief overview of what services I used and how I’d fix errors I made:

ISBN Numbers: There’s only one place you can purchase ISBN numbers in the United States and that’s from Bowker. It’s really important to know that you need a different ISBN number for every single version of your book so if you’re going to sell a print version and an eBook, you’ll need at least two ISBN numbers. Smashwords, which is a distributor for indie authors, says you need a separate ISBN number for every online retailer as well, so if you distribute your eBook to Amazon and Apple, you need two distinct ISBN numbers. This advice seems to be somewhat different depending on who you talk to and Smashwords appears to be taking the most cautious approach. Regardless, it makes the most sense to purchase 10 ISBN numbers at the very least.

Website: WordPress. I actually started working on my website in the late summer. This was a great idea and for those who aren’t technologically savvy like me, I recommend it. Working with websites is hard on me. I get frustrated easily when it comes to technology, so having lots of time where I’m not pressed up against a deadline worked in my favor. Website designers are super expensive, so if you don’t have a limitless amount of money in your budget, this is probably something you’ll do on your own. Be patient with yourself.

Social Media: I have a Twitter, a Facebook and an Instagram. I briefly dabbled with the idea of launching a Snapchat but I don’t understand Snapchat and running a blog and three social media accounts while working full time, editing my second and third books, working on a fourth, taking care of three animals, and trying to maintain a home is already probably too much.

eBook Formatting: To format my eBook, I used Vellum. Vellum is an Apple-only product (sorry PC users) and it was a Godsend. All I had to do was plug in my Microsoft Word file, choose a format I liked, and Vellum created all the file formats I’d need for publishing. It. Was. Awesome. And all for the low, low price of $29.99.

eBook Platforms: My book is currently directly uploaded on Amazon and iBooks. It’s also registered with Smashwords where it’s distributed to a bunch of other smaller retailers, including Barnes & Noble.

Printer: To create a print on demand version of my book, I used CreateSpace. For me, preparing the book for print was the most painful part of the process and the one I made the most mistakes with. First of all, in hindsight, this would be the very first part I prepare. If I could do it all over again, I would’ve set the print up weeks in advance. This was by far and away my biggest failure with the book launch, so I’m not about to give you any advice on it except to tell you CreateSpace is the way most indie authors do it and warn you to learn about the process in advance. Way in advance.

Whew. Okay, this blog is already 2,000(ish) words, so I’m going to cut it off there. Keep your eyes peeled for a future blog containing more detailed information regarding the above and some things I didn’t do and why.

❤ Aimee

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