2018 Writing Goals

Well… 2017 has been a bit of a rough one if I’m honest (which I try to be). It’s been a difficult year to create for me and many others if Twitter is to be believed. But when I sit down and push all the noise aside, I realize I did accomplish quite a bit in the last year, which I will now reflect on.

  • I hit (and surpassed) the elusive 100 book sales mark for my debut novel The Wheel Mages.
    • Note: 90% of self-published books will sell less than 100 copies, so this is a real accomplishment even if it doesn’t seem like much in terms of sales numbers.

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  • I published the second book in my Changing Tides series, The Blood Mage.

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  • Although I didn’t make into Pitch Wars this year, I did enter, which was quite a feat. Plus, it means I have a novel ready to query for (hopefully) a traditional publishing deal. The King’s Blade features a diverse cast of characters including a triumvirate of Deep Sea power by way of a competent assassin, a mermaid magician and scientist, a young king who has a knack for political maneuvers and on land, you’ll find a human prince who is softer than my average male character and a budding naturalist himself. I did more research for The King’s Blade than anything I’ve ever worked on, and I am immensely proud of it. Read more about it here.

With all that said, I do have some pretty serious writing goals for 2018. Let’s see if I can accomplish them!

  1. Create a real marketing strategy for my Changing Tides Series and execute, execute, execute!
  2. Pay off the editing fees for The Blood Mage.
  3. Finish the draft of the third book in my Changing Tides Series and get it out for developmental edits at the very least.
  4. Start querying The King’s Blade for a traditional deal.
  5. Finish my beta reads!
  6. Read, read, read (my TBR is out of this world and I can’t seem to stop buying more things to add to it!)

All you writers out there: What did you accomplish in 2017 and what are some of your goals for the New Year?

Happy Holidays everyone!

❤ Aimee

 

There is Time

Authoring is hard. And those seventeen hour days finally caught up to me.

Here’s some truth: Being an author doesn’t only involve writing and editing. It involves answering emails and posting on social media and writing blogs and marketing. It involves updating your website and keeping track of trends in the market and thinking of innovative ways to sell your work. It involves reading and reading and reading some more, inside and outside of your genre.

And if you work a full time job (like so many of us), that means a lot of late nights and weekend hours. The reality of being an author is much less illustrious than the movies make it out to be. Over 77% of self-published authors make less than $1,000 a year from their writing. For traditional authors, that number is still 53.9% making less than $1,000 a year.

I don’t know about you, but $1,000 a year really isn’t going to pay my bills. Especially considering my rent is $1,200 a month, and I’m single. So I work a full-time job. A vast majority of authors work part-time or full-time or have another income to help out. And at the end of the day, the full-time job has to come before writing. Because I have to eat. And not live on the street.

So I work my 9-5:30 (or later), Monday through Friday, and I write/edit/market/blog/Twitter/Instagram/Facebook during the evenings/into the wee hours of the morning and on the weekends. But that kind of schedule catches up to you.

In my world, things started to pile up. My apartment was a mess. I was ordering out too much because I felt like I had too much to do to go to the grocery store or cook (which increased my expenses). My diet suffered. I drank too much caffeine. My dog got antsy and bored. My social life suffered. I hardly left my apartment. Sleep was something I daydreamed about.

So I promised myself that after I submitted to Pitch Wars I would take a break. Not just from writing, but from everything. From social media, from blogging, even from reading. I needed to recharge my batteries.

At first, the author anxiety almost destroyed my much needed authoring hiatus. For the first few days of said break, I found myself in the presence of my friends without engaging. Instead, I sat in a literal corner silently obsessing over what I had to do. I have a third book in a series to finish revising. I have continuing edits to The King’s Blade to hammer out, because regardless of how it does in Pitch Wars, I’ll be querying soon. I have an idea for a women’s fiction novel that’s itching at me. I have emails to answer. I have reading to do. I have to post on social media to keep my presence up. I have to write a blog. I have to do, do, do.

The “break” didn’t come easy. I had to force myself to take it. But after three or four days, I started to slide into it. There is time became my mantra. It’s okay not to write every day. It’s okay not to read two books a week. It’s okay to leave my phone on the charger. It’s okay to take a day or two to respond to an email. It’s okay to take some time to clean my apartment and go to the grocery store and catch up on Game of Thrones and sit outside with my friends for hours doing nothing but shooting the shit.

We only get one life. Writing is my passion. It’s what I love to do. But when it becomes a chore, I’ve lost something. And that something is the fire, and I need the fire to write.

So writers, as hard as it can be, go ahead and give yourself that break. You don’t need to write every day. There is time.

❤ Always,

Aimee

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Launch Day! The Blood Mage

Well… it’s here! Today, my second book, The Blood Mage goes out into the big wide world for your consumption. This book has a really special place in my heart. They’re all different: the books, that is. They all occupy different spaces in my heart, but this one is the book I felt like I needed to write. So I’m excited (and nervous) to share it with you.

Anyhoo, before I get too reflective, there are some special people I want to thank for making this book (and all the books in this series) possible. You can find the following in the Acknowledgement section of The Blood Mage, but I wanted to share it here as well. These people can’t get enough props in my mind. So without further ado, here are my thank yous to those who helped me put the book of my heart into the hands of others.

Acknowledgments:

Self-published authors often find themselves labeled as “go-it-alone” types. In my experience, this isn’t true. I’m fortunate enough to find myself surrounded by people who have all helped make me who I am and who have helped make this book, and this series, what it is.

First, I want to thank my little brother, Tyler, who has given me not only encouragement, but hope. His unrelenting optimism and shameless promotion of this series has brought me so much joy. TJ, I’m honored to call you brother.

To the rest of my small but mighty family—thank you. Always and forever, thank you.

I also want to thank the entire town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, who seriously showed up for the first book. Punxsy brought me my first reviewer, my first signing, and the first time I ever sold out of copies of The Wheel Mages. Y’all are fantastic (or should I say y’uns?).

To my best friend, Jen, I will never be able to say enough how grateful I am to have you in my life.

To my beta readers, especially Emily and Kelly, thank you. And a special shout out to Emily who was the hand behind getting my first book into its very first library, who has been an ardent supporter, who has pushed me to always keep challenging myself, and who has been a shoulder to cry on—your friendship has meant the world to me.

Always to my editor, Katie, but most definitely this time. This book has seen more revisions than I thought possible, and you never once faltered. When I was sure the problem was insurmountable, you made me readjust my vision and see a molehill instead of a mountain. I honestly don’t know how I could have done it without you.

To Nikki, my copy editor, who probably doesn’t get as much credit as she deserves because copy editing is too often overlooked—you’re awesome, and I appreciate everything you do. Also, I’m sorry I didn’t send this Acknowledgement section to you for copy edits, but I wanted to surprise you. Sorry if there’s something in here that’s making your eye twitch (and I’m sure there is).

Big shout out and continuous thanks to my cover artist, Fiona, whose cover design inspired the words, “I want to marry that cover.” Indeed. I don’t know how you do it, but you are a rock star. Also new to the team, I want to thank Tamara, my formatter, who saved me lots of time and cursing and made this print book much lovelier than its predecessor. I’m so excited to have you on board and to not ever have to format a book myself again.

Book bloggers, reviewers, bookstagrammers, and booktubers, y’all are incredible. I appreciate you so, so much. Thank you for supporting not only me, but indie authors in general, and promoting our work. Special thanks to those of you who have given me not only your time, but also your friendship.

Thank you to my coworkers at my 9-5 who have been amazingly supportive of my moonlight career as an author and have purchased, read, reviewed, and plugged my work. You guys are seriously like a family to me, and I’m so overwhelmed by your constant support and kindness.

Finally, to my readers, I want you all to know you mean the world to me. Even if we’ve never met, even if I’ve never said a word to you, even if we have met and I’ve been incredibly awkward about the whole thing, I care about you all so much. Every day, you’re the ones who make my dreams come true, and there is no amount of praise or thanks I could ever truly assign to that.

With every bit of love in my heart, thank you,

Aimee

My Characters Aren’t Pretty

Note: This post is a little jumbled because my thoughts are a little jumbled. This is one of those topics I’d like to revisit when I have a better handle on what’s going on inside my head, but I figured it might be worth sharing as a discussion topic.

Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth

~ Albert Camus

When I was in college learning how to be a better writer, I was also a teenager struggling to learn how to be a better person. Both are struggles that continue to this day and will hopefully continue for the rest of my life.

I’ve made my fair share of mistakes along the way but that’s one of the things that intrigues me about writing fiction. Humanity is messy and that messiness lends itself to literature as a mirror for life. The quote I started with is a reflection of that idea not only because of what it says but also because of whom it was said by. Albert Camus was an absurdist, a philosophy centering the individual and his/her/their inability to find value or meaning in life.

Authors are also interested in exploring both the individual and the Truth and that exploration can be found in spades in young adult literature. Maybe it’s because young adults have so much to explore, as they’re trying to find their own way, or maybe it’s simply because young adult readers see through a different lens. Whatever the reason, it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently.

Often, in discussions of the differences between young adult and adult fantasy, in addition to the age of the main character, characterization versus world building is addressed. Young adult fantasies tend to be character-driven stories whereas adult fantasies tend to be world-driven stories. Obviously there are exceptions, as there always are, but this difference fascinates me.

Absurdism, as Camus saw it, was a rejection of nihilism, a philosophy centering the thought that life is meaningless. Camus, although he believed the individual would never be able to grasp the meaning of life, believed he/she/they should still seek it. The difference between the two philosophies is interesting in that nihilism seems to take a more world-driven approach. Life (as a big, abstract concept) is meaningless. Whereas absurdism seems to take a more character-driven approach. We humans cannot understand the meaning of life.

I don’t think either approach to writing (or life) is wrong. I don’t think there really is such a thing as “wrong” when it comes to writing. Art is art and expression is expression. There are no hard and fast rules and exceptions are abundant. But I do prefer to read and write character-driven stories.

My characters aren’t pretty, though. And I don’t mean that in a physical beauty sort of way, I mean it in a they are morally gray kind of way. Their flaws are what make them interesting and, quite honestly, what make them human.

One of the reasons my Sanctum series is written in first person is because I like the idea of a one-sided story. I like getting into the head of a character and putting her on display, warts and all. In some ways, when you write from the first person POV, you’re always dealing with an unreliable narrator of sorts. A reader can never reach the Truth of your world, because he/she/they only ever see it through one set of eyes. It’s absurd and it’s exploratory and I think it’s part of the reason why first person POV is so prevalent in YA.

The world we live in is increasingly divisive, however. Sides are chosen and swords are drawn. The vehemence of our individual beliefs is put on full display via social media. It’s fascinating and, if I’m honest, a little bit frightening.

See, my core belief system is hinged on the concepts of compromise and understanding. I don’t like confrontation and my opinions are constantly in flux. I’m a listener, a watcher, a mediator. I like the middle because so much of my life has been chaotic. I find humanity to be violent and messy and glorious and caring and beautiful. I’m a dark, serious person but I’m also endlessly optimistic about humanity. I think at our core, humans want to be “good.” But “good” is such a loaded term, especially these days. What is “good” and what is “bad?” The meanings of these words shift depending on your side, on your belief system, on your experience. This is that heavy stuff the absurdists were talking about, the meaning of life that we should strive for but will never be able to fully grasp. The Truth that the lie of fiction tries to bring to the surface.

When I was in college, my work was often critiqued for being “too preachy.” People are smart and readers are some of the smartest people there are so I was taught to let them come to their own conclusions, not try to impose my belief system through my writing. “You’re not writing fables, Aimee,” was a familiar refrain. “You can guide but don’t shove. It’s sloppy writing, too heavy handed. The author’s touch should be so light it is unnoticeable. Create characters that someone can imagine leaping off the page and you’ll create discussion.” Discussion is the beating heart of a free society. It is a sacred thing and as a writer, I take it very seriously.

One of these same writing professors was obsessed with Anton Chekhov. I despised him (Chekhov, not my professor, I loved her). Anton Chekhov has written some of the most despicable characters I’ve ever read. They are misogynistic, sex-crazed, unfaithful, wife-batterers and I don’t like them. I don’t feel sympathy for them. I don’t want them to win (in fact, I’m happy that they usually don’t). I have never in my life cheered for a Chekhov character. His women are vapid and flippant and ridiculous. His men are arrogant narcissists. Cheating is rampant. Domestic abuse is thrown onto the page without a care. It bothered me. And as I’m writing this, I realize it still bothers me.

Here’s the thing though–his characters make me feel. His characters make me yell. For those who don’t know me in real life, yelling is not a thing I do often. As I mentioned earlier in this post, I don’t like conflict. If I’m pushed to yelling, something has gone terribly wrong. I like to see both (or all ten) sides before making a decision. I like to evaluate and weigh and usually, I come out somewhere in the middle. With Chekhov, I am never in the middle. His writing forced me, someone who rarely chooses “sides,” to take one and it stimulated discussion. Discussion I had to bolster with lines in the text. Discussion that made me a more analytical reader and, I will grudgingly admit, a better writer.

Chekhov is not preachy. His characters are morally gray (bending toward bad) and they spark a response in me most characters don’t. In college, I didn’t entirely understand that concept but now that I’m a published author myself, I read Chekhov with a different lens and a deeper appreciation. Please don’t mistake appreciation for “enjoyment.” Reading Chekhov still feels like a hate read and I still want to punch all of his characters in the face. But feeling is a writing win, even if the feeling stimulated isn’t always pleasant.

A reader recently told me she wanted to “strangle Alena sometimes,” and I had to chuckle. “Why?” I asked innocently. She rolled her eyes. “Because she makes stupid decisions.” I smiled softly and nodded. “Don’t we all, though?”

Something to think about.

Now accepting discussion but not argument in the comments.

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Next week on the blog: Unveiling the #DeepSeaWIP and my participation in this year’s #PitchWars. Don’t want to miss it? Don’t forget to follow!

Some Thoughts: Kindle Unlimited

Okay, so last week, I wrote about how I recently enrolled The Wheel Mages in Amazon’s KDP Select program. With that enrollment, my book was automatically placed in Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited library. As an aside, I don’t think that’s optional. I’m pretty sure if you’re KDP Select you have to be part of Kindle Unlimited. If any other authors out there want to correct me on that one, please do.

What is Kindle Unlimited, you ask?

Well, it’s basically like Netflix for books. For $9.99 a month, a reader gets unlimited digital downloads of anything in the Kindle Unlimited library. Keep in mind that as far as I’m aware, none of the Big Five offers its books exclusively through Amazon and as a consequence are not part of Kindle Select or Kindle Unlimited, so this library is entirely indie and small press titles. Simple, right?

For the reader, sure. For the author… not so much.

Figuring out how the royalties for Kindle Unlimited are calculated was a headache. I wanted to be a part of KDP Select for promotion purposes, and as far as I know, that means I get saddled with Kindle Unlimited too. But you only have to be a part of KDP Select for 90 days before you can decide to keep it or toss it, so I figured, why not? One of the nice things about being an indie author is this ability to experiment, so that’s what I’m doing.

In the end, I did figure out how royalties on Kindle Unlimited work… I think. And from what I can gather, there are a few things to be aware of.

The KDP Global Fund

The KDP Global Fund is basically a big pot of money where all those $9.99 subscriptions end up. Every month, Amazon calculates the total fund and pays authors who have had their books downloaded from the library out of that pot. In January of 2017, it was $17.6 million. 

Amazon’s Calculation of Pages

Amazon pays from the Global Fund based on pages read, not based on books downloaded. So an author only gets paid when a reader downloads their book and reads some of it. I have feelings about this I’ll discuss later.

But Amazon doesn’t use the page total of the book as formatted by the author. Apparently, to avoid authors trying to scam them by making the font super big or leaving blank spaces or something, Amazon uses its own algorithm or page counter of sorts. Why someone would risk losing readers by formatting his/her/their book in an ugly way just to get a few extra tenths of a cent is beyond me, but I suppose that’s for another time. Anyway, as this article points out, it all boils down to Amazon basically calculating a “page” as 187 words. For me, this actually turns out to be a good thing. My book is 334 pages on the Kindle, but for Kindle Unlimited royalty payout purposes, Amazon calculates it as approximately 556 pages, so score there.

The Royalties

Now we get to the part people are actually interested in, I’d wager: the calculation of royalties. Okay, so how this works is every month, Amazon calculates the amount of money in the Global Fund and takes a chunk of it as author payouts. How big that chunk is seems somewhat unclear. I’d hope it was something like the 70% an author gets in royalties when a book is sold, but who knows. Anyway, after they pull out this chunk, they divide it by the number of pages read and distribute it based on a price per page. From what I’ve read, it seems like this normally comes out to be about $0.004-$0.005 per page. So half a cent per page or thereabout. Meaning that if someone reads my 556 (Amazon) page book, I see between $2.22 and $2.78 in royalties. My $3.99 book garners me $2.79 in royalties when someone buys it outright, so for me, the payout is somewhat equivalent. But with Kindle Unlimited, I only get paid if the book is read.

My Feelings

As with everything indie, my feelings on Kindle Unlimited are mixed, and I’m sure they’ll evolve as I see how the program affects (or doesn’t) my earnings. Right now, though, they are as follows:

The Good:

I like that the book is essentially free for some users (including in limited circumstances to Amazon Prime users) because, as I said last week, people like free stuff. If someone can get my book for free, and I still get paid for it (if they read it), I think that’s a win-win for the author and the reader.

The Mixed:

I sort of like the fact that an author is paid by page read. In some ways, this function acts a bit like a gatekeeper, because you only get rewarded if your book is actually read. I think this serves as a partial remedy to the indie image problem of poorly edited and formatted books and might help get indie authors to up their game a bit by encouraging proper editing and formatting.

I also don’t like that authors are paid by page read because a reader may DNF a book for reasons relating to taste or personal preference. I very rarely DNF a book, but I’m also not incredibly picky when it comes to what I read. I know there are plenty of readers out there who are and who might only read 10 pages before tossing the book aside, especially if they have access to unlimited downloads. Does this mean that you really have to make sure your book is excellent? Yeah, absolutely, which is a good thing. But it also punishes an author for something out of his/her/their control–reader taste preferences, which isn’t something that happens on other platforms. I’ve read plenty of books I was “meh” about or DNF but spent $10 or $20 on and never thought about returning it to Barnes & Noble. I suppose there’s something to be said about learning how to deal with changing platforms and media in this, but as an author, it’s kind of rough.

There’s also this graph that I want to talk about.

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Okay so that’s the graph that tells you how many pages of your book have been read. If you can’t see it because it’s too small, the X axis shows the date and the Y axis shows the number of pages read. This is mostly blank because until the other weekend The Wheel Mages wasn’t available in the Kindle Unlimited library and also because it was given away for free for everyone (free downloads are different from borrowing a book from the Kindle Unlimited library).

What looks like happened is someone borrowed it from the Kindle Unlimited library on maybe Friday. So Saturday, I get up, and I see this graph. And it shows me only 10 pages have been read. As an artist and someone with anxiety, this made me kind of sick. I just kept thinking, “Oh my God, someone borrowed my book from the library and only read 10 (Amazon) pages. Which is about 1,800 words, which is almost exactly the prologue and first chapter. Then… nothing. They must have hated it. I’m a failure. I should never write again.”

All day Saturday, I obsessively checked that damn chart. Nothing, nothing, nothing. And I know this is totally irrational, but that really kind of broke my spirit. That chart just would not leave me alone.

But then, Sunday, I get up and I see the chart looking like this. It now sits at about 550 pages read. Meaning, I think, that probably whoever borrowed the book read it from start to finish. This had me on the opposite end of the spectrum. Instead of despair, now I was elated. Someone read my book in a weekend! THE WHOLE THING! I went from 10 pages read to someone finishing it! WOOHOO! I’m awesome.

In the end, though, I could honestly do without the chart. I am simply someone who takes things way too personally and way too hard and having that chart staring me in the face as a constant mirror of my self-worth or something is just a bit… much.

I should also note this chart doesn’t reflect pages read for any books downloaded for purchase, only books “borrowed” from the Kindle Unlimited library. So I have no idea how many pages were read or weren’t read from the hundreds of downloads I had during my free weekend. And you know what? I’m much happier not knowing.

In Conclusion

The jury is still out. I’m not 100% sure if I’m #TeamKindleUnlimited or #TeamFreeIndieAuthors on this one yet (I totally made those hashtags up, btw), but I’ll be sure to let you know in 90 days.

Any indie authors want to chime in? Love Kindle Unlimited? Hate it? Meh about it? Sound off in the comments.

And, as always, take care of yourselves.

❤ Aimee

Next week on the blog: My Characters Aren’t Pretty: Thoughts on morally gray characters in a time of black and white. Don’t want to miss it? Make sure to follow.

KDP Select & Free Books

Last week, I pulled The Wheel Mages from iBooks and Smashwords (the places it was available other than Amazon) to enroll it in Amazon’s KDP Select Program. For those who don’t know what the hell I’m talking about, KDP Select is a program offered to authors who distribute their ebooks exclusively through Amazon. Read more here.

The benefits of KDP Select are that the author is able to offer promotions through Amazon where he/she/they can give the book away for free for a limited period or at a reduced cost also for a limited period. It also enrolls the book in Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program where a reader can purchase unlimited digital downloads of books in the Kindle Unlimited Library for $9.99 a month (think Netflix for books).

First order of business for me was to run one of these promotions I’d heard so much about. So I did a giveaway blitz this weekend, impromptu (which probably doesn’t come so highly recommended, I think planning is usually better but this was a test run of sorts), and I learned some things! Which I will now share, along with the results of said promotion.

People like free stuff.

Okay, so maybe this doesn’t actually have to be said, but there are some lessons to be learned here. Let me start by saying I am one of those indie authors who really balks at the idea of giving my book away for free. I’ve done it before through Instafreebie with much, much less success, but it’s still not my favorite thing. I spent close to $5,000 on The Wheel Mages. I already think it’s worth more than its $3.99 sticker price, and I do genuinely wonder if authors (especially indie authors) hurt themselves by offering their books for free so frequently. There’s this thing in the creative professions where people often feel they have to do a lot of free work for “the exposure”. I wrinkle my nose when I hear that term. What other industries require you to do free labor “for the exposure”? My 9-5 is in the law, right? One of the many things I’ve learned in this field is that a lawyer doesn’t learn how to practice law at law school. Just like most other professionals, lawyers learn how to practice by training under a seasoned lawyer. But you don’t ask someone to go to law school, put in all that time, money, and effort, and then require them to work for a firm for free for awhile “for the exposure.” They need exposure, true, but they’re paid while they do it. So this free work for the exposure idea has never really sat well with me. It seems intrinsically devaluing to my labor and education.

Still, my artistic purity or sense of fairness or whatever was not helping me sell books. Exposure (I’m still cringing, y’all) helps sell books. For the record, I don’t actually think this “for the exposure” problem is soley an indie author problem. I think it’s abundant in all the arts and in traditional publishing as well. Traditional authors give their books away for free or reduced rates all the time too. Art just doesn’t have the value I feel it should. But I’m digressing again.

So, back to the things I learned. People like free stuff. A lot. Since The Wheel Mages came out in November, I’ve sold something like 104 copies across all platforms (digital and paperback combined). I surpassed that in digital downloads in less than hour of the book being listed as free on Amazon. An. Hour. With essentially no marketing, just a quick post on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

What does that tell me?

Well, it tells me people are, in fact, interested in reading the book. Which is good news. It means my cover and blurb are probably working, because even if the book is free, people aren’t going to download it unless they’re interested in maybe at some point reading it. I hope, anyway. So, as much as it pains me to know I’m giving away all these free copies, this was valuable information to gather and it did give me some sense of validation.

My target market is American.

Also might have gone without saying, but there are a lot of international book bloggers, Goodreads reviewers, and bookstagrammers out there, so I was curious about this.

Okay, so now seems like a good time for some data. Everyone likes data, right?

All total, I gave away 397 copies of The Wheel Mages. 311 of them were downloaded in the United States (78.3%). The next highest market for me was, unsurprisingly, Great Britain, where 36 copies were downloaded (9.1%). Mexico came in third with 18 copies (4.5%) and the only other country to come in with some decent numbers was Denmark (10 copies at 2.5%). I’m confused about where Canada and Australia (other large, English-speaking countries) are at, but whatever. Shoutout to Mexico and Denmark, y’all are awesome.

Anyway, what this tells me is that my audience is largely American and British, which isn’t surprising since Amazon is based in the U.S. and the United States has traditionally controlled this market. This information also mirrors ebook sales trends overall where the United States dominates the English-speaking market at 77% of total ebook sales with the UK right behind at 15%. Good news. I’m standard. This information also tells me where I should focus my marketing efforts and helps me determine which reviewers to target. Although I still love international reviewers, so if you’re one of those, don’t despair, I see you.

The first day of the promo goes better. Or maybe Saturdays are just better. Unclear.

More data. Saturday’s downloads (though I sold to less countries, interestingly) were higher. There were 224 downloads on Saturday (56.4% of total downloads) as compared to 173 on Sunday (43.6%). I’m sure a lot of factors go into this. I marketed a little bit more Saturday (I posted twice on Twitter on Saturday and twice on Facebook and on Sunday I didn’t post on Instagram at all). By Sunday maybe the novelty had worn off, or maybe Saturday is just a better day to download because you have the whole weekend in front of you. The jury is still out on this one, but I think if I do this again (I probably will), I’ll try a one-day download window maybe on a Friday or a Saturday. Now I’m honestly just curious. I like statistics, though I was never particularly good at it.

It doesn’t take that much to get your book to rise in Amazon’s bestsellers ranks. Which is good because visibility.

When you publish in an age group and genre as saturated as mine and one that’s mostly dominated by the powerhouses of traditional publishing, it’s hard to get anywhere in Amazon’s sales ranks. This means you’re basically relegated to the back pages of searches which isn’t at all all that helpful.

Giving the book away for free helped bump me up by stimulating lots of downloads over a short period of time. I’m not going to lie, this was a little bit exciting until I remembered I wasn’t actually making any money off these “sales” nor was I actually doing much of anything except letting my book float out there, but I think it’s worth mentioning because visibility is still important. And really, brain, can you let me have this one thing?

At one point, I reached #15 in YA fantasy coming of age books and #16 in epic fantasy which sounds niche but isn’t really. Anyway, I might have gone higher but this was as high as I caught it. Check it.

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For comparison purposes, I’m now #859 in Coming of Age and apparently so low in Epic Fantasy it’s not even worth Amazon mentioning it. So yeah, for a glorious moment, my book got to be on the very first page if someone searched “epic fantasy”. Which is actually kind of exciting to my nerd senses.

If you have a series, free books are helpful.

Okay, final point here because this is getting long. If you’re an author with a series, running a free book promo on the first book is helpful. Probably the most encouraging thing of the whole promotion is the effect it had on my preorders for The Blood Mage. They have doubled already. Okay, that may sound more dramatic than it is, because honestly, I had 3 preorders before the promo and I have 7 now, but seriously, that’s awesome. I’m not discrediting that. It means people downloaded the book, read the book, and liked the book enough to want to BUY the second one. That’s fantastic news, and as I’ve said before, every sale matters.

Have a great week everyone!

❤ Aimee

Next week on the blog: My feelings about Kindle Unlimited. Don’t want to miss it? Make sure to follow.

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#OwnVoices & Self-Publishing

First, I would like to say I use this hashtag (even in this blog) with incredible caution because I’m aware of my privilege. I’m white, straight, cisgender, heterosexual, and able-bodied (ish). I have a huge amount of privilege, which I acknowledge. I don’t want to undercut other marginalized voices by speaking over them. To avoid doing so, in this post, I will be as specific as possible. I’ll discuss my mental illness and how it impacted my publishing decisions, especially in relation to my upcoming novel, The Blood Mage. I’ll talk about #OwnVoices as it relates to me, my marginalization, my work. But please be aware this is not the only opinion in this discussion, so seek out others and listen. Always, always listen.

K, so if you don’t know what #OwnVoices is, read this. Also, check out We Need Diverse Books. That’s all I’m going to say on that. From here on out, I’m going to assume you know what I mean when I say #OwnVoices.

The Blood Mage is #OwnVoices. Without spoilers, it’s a book centering a character who has post traumatic stress disorder. It largely deals with her struggle with the darkness that often accompanies mental illness. This book was extremely difficult for me to write, but it was also one of the great joys of my life.

The Wheel Mages will always have a special place in my heart because it was the first book I published, just as In the Light of Dawn will occupy a similar place because it was the first manuscript I ever completed. But The Blood Mage is me spilled onto the page. Alena’s struggle is very much my struggle. That makes this launch both the most exhilarating and most terrifying experience of my life.

I knew what this series was going to be before I started it. I knew The Wheel Mages was in some way the vessel to get to The Blood Mage. I am not a plotter, but I did have a general sense of direction when I sat down to write this series. PTSD can’t be unlinked from the trauma that produced it. That’s sort of the whole of it. And, when I set out to write the Changing Tides series, I knew that, because I’ve lived (and continue to live) that reality.

When I contemplated this series, I thought about what bothered me in the fantasy I’d grown up with. I loved stories about magic and romance and heroic, epic battles. But something that rang intrinsically false to me was this idea that epic battles have no consequences. Frequently, battle scenes proceed like so: A hero or heroine kills someone (or lots of someones), throws up, a fellow warrior pats him/her on the back and says it’s normal and that’s the long and short of it.

Part of the problem is that epic battles tend to be the climax of fantasy novels and denouements in young adult and adult literature are notoriously fast-paced. In young adult literature, there’s also an emphasis on happily ever afters so things need to be wrapped up with a nice bow quite quickly. That doesn’t leave much room for exploration of trauma and what it does to the psyche.

I wanted to make some room. But to get there, I needed a series. One book to lead to the trauma and at least two more to flesh it out. I needed space, and space isn’t something that’s always guaranteed in the traditional publishing world. Of course, people sell series all the time. But if book one flops, there’s no guarantee you’re going to get book two. For me, book two was critical. Without The Blood MageThe Wheel Mages is a rather traditional young adult fantasy (albeit with a somewhat nontraditional ending).

Now, anyone involved in publishing knows there are not many things you can guarantee, especially when it comes to sales. But this wasn’t about sales–not really. This was about putting this series out there. It was about knowing it existed. And that was something I could, in fact, guarantee.

If I self-published.

For someone like me, someone who was trained to traditionally publish, who was constantly fed the lie that only rejects self-publish, making a decision to walk this road was not easy. Several times, I contemplated giving up and querying. I know, it might be funny to some to hear it said this way, because usually it’s the other way around: giving up querying to self-publish, but for me, this was how it worked.

The main reason I didn’t give up though, was because I wanted this series out there. I grew up reading stories of epic battles, but what I saw was different than what others might see. I didn’t see stories of valor; I saw stories of trauma with no consequences. I saw characters doing and living through horrible things and coming out on the other side with their psyches intact. Epic battles in fantasy novels didn’t make me feel strong. They made me feel weak. Because I hadn’t come out of my own trauma with my psyche intact.

If I went traditional, and The Wheel Mages didn’t do well, and the publisher decided not to continue the series, I would have written a traditional fantasy novel with an epic battle at the end and no consequences, essentially perpetuating the lie I was trying to fight against. I couldn’t have that, not on my watch.

So why didn’t I simply write The Blood Mage first, then? Well, because trauma is a tricky thing. Like I said above, the effects of trauma can’t be separated from the trauma itself. Could I have created a character who was #OwnVoices from the beginning? Surely. But in my personal experience, the trauma is as important as the post traumatic stress, so I wanted the reader to get the whole picture in real time, not through flashback or compression.

There are a lot of factors that go into making this critical decision, and everyone has to choose his/her/their own path, but for me, this was the right one, at least for this story.

In short, don’t let anyone tell you your story isn’t important, or that it’s not worthy, or that no one is interested in reading it. Because somewhere out there, there’s someone who has been reading the same story over and over again, desperate for something new, something that speaks to their experience, and you might be the one to finally tell it.

❤ Always,

Aimee

Both books together

On Beta Readers

I think I promised to write a post about beta readers back in November when my first book came out and then… didn’t. Until now!

Let’s start with basics and branch out, shall we? I’m going to try another FAQ format, because I think that worked last time I used one.

What is a Beta Reader?

Beta readers are non-professional readers (read: not editors or sensitivity readers who are being paid by you or your agent, publishing house, etc.) who read your manuscript (your unpublished book) at varying stages in the process. Some people also use the term “alpha reader” which is basically the beta reader who reads your manuscript first. I don’t differentiate, so for purposes of this post, any non-professional reader will be referred to as a beta reader.

A beta reader is different from a critique partner. A critique partner is another writer with whom you exchange chapters and/or whole works. You scratch my back, I scratch yours, kind of thing. A beta reader does not necessarily have to be a writer nor does the relationship extend both ways. So a critique partner is always a beta reader but a beta reader is not always a critique partner.

When should you send your manuscript for beta reads? 

Every writer is different and the timing of when to send your manuscript for beta reads might vary based on the way your process works and the time your beta readers can devote to the project. For me, I’ve come to a point in my writing career where I don’t send my manuscript out for beta reads until it’s finished and I’ve been through it at least twice. I take beta reads seriously (if you hadn’t noticed, I’m a pretty serious person). My beta readers are reading my manuscripts for free, meaning they’re spending their valuable time on my work pro bono. I don’t want to waste that time by sending them something I know isn’t as good as it could be. Also, if your beta reader is too caught up in gaping plot holes, or confusing description, he/she/they might be unable to really hunker down and get to the meat of your work. Basically, my thought is to treat a beta reader exactly as I’d treat an agent or an editor. I make the manuscript shine, then send it out, then I have the room to really grow and level up my work.

That’s how I do it. Others do it differently (obviously). I’ve been the beta reader for scenes, excerpts, unfinished works, etc. and that’s fine as long as I know what I’m getting myself into. Sometimes bouncing ideas off people and getting a new perspective before the work is complete can help you breathe new life into your ideas or help you get unstuck. I do send small scenes to my beta readers on occasion, mostly to share excitement and get out of my own head, but when it’s time to send the final thing, I want to try and respect the time of my betas by sending them a self-edited product.

How do you pick beta readers?

There are some great resources online about where to find beta readers. I just googled it and briefly perused. This looked like a good start. But that’s not how I found my beta readers.

I’m fortunate enough to have a lot of talented, bright people in my social network who read in my genre, so I put a post out on Facebook seeking beta readers. I had a bunch of responses. It worked well, and I’m extremely grateful for all the help I received on that first manuscript.

Now, though, I’ve narrowed my beta readers down to three. These three all bring something different to the table, but they share some commonality I think is important to have in a good beta reader:

  1. Knowledge of the genre. Meaning they’re widely read and are up to date on the latest works. They might not be market experts, but they know what they like and they’ve read the big names of the genre. They know what a book in your genre is supposed to look like. Bonus points if they’re aware of popular tropes and themes and are willing to discuss their likes and dislikes and why they have those views.
  2. Analytical readers. My beta readers don’t stop at “this is good” or “this is bad”. They all tell me why they like what they like in my work and why they dislike what they dislike. They know what world building is, they know some common pitfalls, and they have a good understanding of what good writing looks like, even if they don’t know the technicalities. Bonus points if they do know the technicalities.
  3. Constructive Criticism. This one seems like a no brainer in a beta reader, but I’ve found that it’s not. I see a lot of writers default to beta readers who are “safe” for the writer. And by safe I mean they’ll serve as an ego booster to the writer. “My beta reader said it was great!” Is something I see a lot. My first thought when I see this is: “You don’t have a good beta reader.” I know, it sounds shitty, but in my experience, it’s true. “This is great,” is the least helpful “critique” you can receive. Nothing is ever perfect, not published works, and certainly not manuscripts. Having someone there to cheer you on is excellent and important for writers who tend to be a down on themselves lot, but a cheerleader is not a good beta reader. A beta reader is someone who will be willing to tell you the hard truths behind your work. The opposite end of the spectrum is a beta reader who only sends negative feedback through the line. Negative feedback is arguably more important than positive, but you need to know what is working, too. I like to have beta readers who understand how to provide both.
  4. Enthusiasm. Not to be confused with “cheerleader” as discussed above. A beta reader should be enthusiastic about your work, but not to the point where he/she/they is blinded by said enthusiasm and defaults to “everything you write is divine.” True enthusiasm, as I see it, is a beta reader who enjoys your work so much she’s excited to help you make it better. One of my beta readers, for example, consistently kicks my ass on her critiques, but she was the first person to buy my book when it came out, and she was the first person to get my book into a real library. A good beta reader has some skin in the game, and is emotionally invested in your work because they helped make it what it is.
  5. Growth. A great beta reader will become a better reader as you become a better writer, and you’ll grow together. When I learn something at a conference or workshop or read an article that sparks me or something happens on Twitter that makes me reflect on my own work, I share it with my betas. We all learn and grow together. It’s definitely a collaborative process.

How many beta readers do you need?

I think this is subjective. I currently have three, as I said. These three give super detailed feedback. I’m confident in their opinions, and I’ve created a close working relationship with them. I might seek more readers for the standalone fantasy I’m working on right now, but for my series, I’m content. I tend to prefer a smaller number of readers who will give me more detailed feedback than lots of readers who will give me small amounts of feedback, but there’s a lot to be said about many different eyes and points of view as well.

If you could do it again…

I definitely made some mistakes with my beta readers in the beginning, and my process is constantly changing as my knowledge of craft grows. The good news is that if you’re planning on doing this writing thing for a living, you have more books in you, so you can make some mistakes and still keep moving forward. I’ve been able to correct my beta reading process in subsequent manuscripts, but if you’re looking to maybe save time and do this a tad more efficiently than I did, here are some things you might want to consider.

  1. Sending your manuscript too soon. See: When should you send your manuscript? I was so excited to share my first manuscript with the world that I sent it for beta reads before it was ready. As a consequence, I think some of my potential beta readers dropped out, and I might have lost some good readers. This was also a problem because for those beta readers who did stick around, a lot of time was spent discussing things I knew had to be fixed, which wasn’t especially helpful and was frustrating for both parties. Additionally, for the few beta readers who were willing to give the manuscript a second look after I’d made changes, some things became confused because they no longer had “virgin” eyes. They’d already read the work at that point and versions became confused, dampening the impact of some of my revisions.
  2. Being specific. I am one of those people who doesn’t like to feel like they’re infringing on someone or being too pushy or sounding ungrateful. Beta readers are doing me a huge favor in agreeing to read my work, so when I sent my first manuscript out I was basically just a ball of excitement, fervent gratitude, wishful thinking, and “here it is.” This was… not helpful. As the writer, it’s your job to explain to your betas what they’re getting into, especially if they’re not a writer. You need to be specific: “This is not finished. There are going to be grammar errors.” Your beta readers aren’t line or copy editors, but they might not know that, so you should tell them. Specific instructions can help. “Please tell me the exact location where you stopped reading or felt thrown from the story.” “Please tell me where you became bored.” “Please tell me where confusion happened and what you were confused about, specifically.”
  3. Thicken your skin. Seriously. This might sound callous, but I mean it. Criticism is hard, and it hurts, and thickening your skin is the only way you’re going to be able to protect yourself from it. If you want to be a writer, be prepared to take some hits. I joke that my beta readers are the toughest reviewers I have, but my betas are also people I know in real life who are aware they’re speaking to an actual human being on the other end of the keyboard, one they mostly like. The critique of your betas is nothing compared to hits your manuscript-turned-book will receive in the big, wide world, so consider this a test run.

Final thoughts

LISTEN. You don’t have to take every bit of advice your betas give you, but make sure you consider it and consider it hard. Think past the sting and the pain it might cause you and really chew on it, then digest, then edit.

WAIT. Always, always let your critique rest before you start making edits. Do not allow yourself to be blinded by whatever initial feelings you might have about your critique. Give yourself some time to get over yourself (and your feelings) before you make a determination about any critique point. Bonus, as you grow as a writer, and as your relationship with your betas grow, a lot of your knee-jerk reactions to their critique and advice will fade and you won’t have to wait as long.

THANK. Do not forget to thank your beta readers. They are awesome, amazing people who have done you a great service. Put them in your acknowledgements, talk about them on your blog, bake them cookies, give them free copies of your book, bring them presents, and mostly, when your book is out there in the wild, make sure to remind them that their hands are on this thing, too, and you love them for it.

Have things to add? Pop them in the comments.

❤ Aimee

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The Wheel Mages – Free All Week

Let’s not beat around the bush, y’all! My debut, young adult, high fantasy novel The Wheel Mages is FREE all week.

Why this week, you ask?

Well, the answer is simple. It’s Teacher Appreciation Week and as The Wheel Mages is dedicated to teachers and in particular, the teacher of my heart, my best friend, Jen, the book is now available for digital download absolutely, 100% free all week (May 8-14).

Wheel Mages dedication

If you download it, I ask only one thing in return: Thank a teacher!

So without further ado, CLICK HERE.

And if you like The Wheel Mages and want to see what’s coming in The Blood Mage, sign up for my newsletter here and get a sneak peek of the new book as well!

Sales: Months 3&4

Okay, I’m throwing these up quickly because I promised them in my last newsletter (sign up for that, pretty please?). I’ve been super busy with shiny new thing syndrome (pretty sure I lifted that phrase from my editor, so consider this a citation to Katie McCoach) and trying to get ready for the launch of The Blood Mage (it’s coming up so fast!)

Anyway, things to look out for on the blog in the next couple of weeks:

  1. Why I Write YA (spoiler: it’s because I have a lot of things to say to my past self)
  2. COVER and LAUNCH DATE reveal for The Blood Mage (oh yeah, get pumped)
  3. Why I’m looking into hybrid author options and maybe a look into my new WIP (work in progress)
  4. Meet the author (random fun facts about me because it’s been heavy around here lately!)

Now, without further ado, some depressing sales numbers for February and March. Remember that post I wrote about failure? #Relevant.

Sales Period: January 30, 2017 through March 31, 2017

Vendor: Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (Kindle)

Copies sold: 6

Territories sold: United States (6)

Royalties: 13.70 USD

Vendor: iTunes Connect (iBooks)

Copies sold: 2

Territories sold: United States (2)

Royalties: 5.60 USD

Vendor: CreateSpace (Paperback)

Copies sold: 2

Territories sold: United States (2)

Royalties: 2.32 USD (fun fact, I did actually get a direct deposit for that amount, where’s the crying so hard I’m laughing emoji?)

Vendor: Personal Sales (Paperback)

Copies sold: 3

Territories sold: United States (3)

Royalties: 15.48 USD

Total Copies sold in months three and four: 13

Territories Sold: United States (13)

Royalties: 37.10 USD

Total combined copies (since launch): 83 (still haven’t broken my 100 book goal, anyone want to help a girl out?)

Territories sold: United States (81), Denmark (1), UK (1)

Total Royalties: 207.41 USD, 2.18 EUR, 1.85 GBP

Moral of the story… this is hard y’all.

Hope everyone has a great rest of their week, and I hope to bring you more upbeat news soon!

❤ Aimee