My Self-Publishing Journey: 2012, Part Deux

I was recently discussing the need authors have for Business and Marketing plans with a few other writers. We all agreed that having them is a good idea. It’s like carrying a map with you on a cross country trip. You may not always follow the planned itinerary, sometimes you decide to take a side road, and sometimes there’s an unexpected detour, but having a map (or a business plan) helps to keep you from going in circles.

Most writers don’t have rigid or formal plans. And given the new information that seems to come out daily about what does and doesn’t work to build sales, that’s probably a good thing. Based on recent information, but mostly on my own observations, I’ve made some changes to my plan.

Back in January I told you about my plan for the year. Here’s how I’ve implemented my plan, and how I’ve changed it.

  • I brought out DANGEROUS TALENTS in April. I completed the first draft and first revision of FIRSTBORN which is now titled BETRAYED BY TRUST, a book set in the Celestial Affairs universe in 1979. I won’t be releasing BBT until next year, though. Instead, I’m bringing out the sequel to DT, FORBIDDEN TALENTS, in October. I’m also working on a non-fiction book derived from this blog. That will be released next spring. I also hope to release GUARDIAN, the sequel to LIGHTBRINGER, next fall.
  • Social Media: I’ve recently seen data that casts doubt on the effectiveness of using such sites as Facebook,Twitter, and Goodreads to promote sales.  On the other hand, there’s anecdotal evidence that suggests it does help. In the meantime, my use of such sites remains minimal. I will continue to blog, however, because I enjoy it.
  • I haven’t followed through very well on submitting my books for review. I plan to do more of that.
  • I have done the personal appearances and speaking events I planned to do.
  • I haven’t sent out postcards to conferences or conventions. I no longer believe that to be a cost effective means of advertising, except as inserts in books in the same series.
  • I’m making use of Kindle Select’s free promotions to increase awareness of my book and improve sales. So far, that seems to be the single most effective tactic I’ve used. The 80/20 Rule dictates that I should do that and forget the rest. I’m not sure I’m ready to do that, however.
  • I will gradually move books to other distribution platforms.

That’s the essence of my business plan for what’s left of 2012 and early 2013. I’ll let you know if anything changes.


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Synchronicity and Perfection

I had a brief exchange recently with a new follower on Twitter. This man is a stay at home dad with four kids, and amazing writing productivity. Yet he’s still looking for ways to increase his output because he believes that by writing more he’ll become a better writer, faster.

I couldn’t help but remind him that quality is as important as quantity. (Sue me, I’m a devil’s advocate.) I think there is just as much to be learned from the revision process as there is from composition. Learning to let your subconscious do its thing is important. Learning how to critique your work by seeing what works and what doesn’t teaches your subconscious to do better next time. The trick is to not get bogged down in endless revisions.

Actually, I think that writing a lot is important. That’s why I encourage beginners (and others who ask) to write short stories at first. You can create an entire story arc, experiment with voice, POV, plotting, and character development in a small package and bring it to a conclusion in days or weeks instead of the months a novel requires. (Yes, short stories are different animals from novels, but they’re similar enough to be a good starting point.)

Just after I had the exchange on Twitter, I stumbled upon a post from a couple of weeks ago by Kris Rusch on the topic “Perfection.”   What I took away from Kris’s essay was that there is 1) No ultimate arbiter of perfection, 2) The single most important criteria to use in evaluating a story is not the quality of punctuation, imagery, or plot, but whether it entertained you, 3) Strive to write the best story you can right now, not for perfection, and then, 4) Move on to the next best story you can write.

That’s where the synchronicity comes in. I just finished reviewing FORBIDDEN TALENTS one last time before sending it to my editor. This book was the second novel I finished. It’s been through more than one critique group, but I hadn’t looked at it in over a year.  I read through it again to clean up word processing artifacts, and touch up word choice here and there. I wanted to clarify things for readers who haven’t read DANGEROUS TALENTS. Fortunately I didn’t find any glaring problems. Does that mean I wasted my time?

Remember Pareto’s Law? Eighty percent of your results come from 20% of your effort. The time I spent on FORBIDDEN TALENTS this week was not part of the most productive 20%. Whatever entertainment value the story has was already there.

And yet, the devil’s in the details. I can’t help thinking that my readers will have a slightly smoother ride because I spent that extra bit of time. Will that mean I sell more books? Who knows? But I do know that I’ll be sending FORBIDDEN TALENTS out into the world with the confidence that it is the best I can do, right now.


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How Much of You is in the Heroine/Hero?

Every writer gets this question in some form or other unless they keep their identity a secret. People want to know if you model the main characters in your books after yourself, or if you write romance, if the love interest is like your significant other. I think readers mostly assume there must be a high correlation, especially if you’ve done a good job of making the characters feel real.

The first time I was asked a version of this question was by my hairdresser. She’d just read VEILED MIRROR. “How much of you is in Beth?”

I tried using a great answer I’d once heard another author use: “There are elements of me in every character I write.” Apparently that answer works better with an impersonal audience than it does with someone who knows you pretty well. She just gave me the eyeball that demanded a straight answer. My hair was at her mercy so I complied.

Actually, my original answer was pretty close to the truth, as it would be for most writers I know, and readers should be very glad of it. It’s much better to think that some of the great villains of literature were developed from tiny elements of an author’s psyche, rather than being an accurate depiction of a significant part of our personalities. Who wants Hannibal Lector living next door?

As for heroes and heroines, some authors have a fairly consistent type, that makes it seem they’re writing about themselves. However, most writers work hard to make each character distinct and believable. That variety gives us the chance to explore situations we’d never want to be in, and do things we’d never do in real life. Sometimes the exploration is wish fulfillment. More often it’s just the author trying to craft a compelling and entertaining story.

So what did I tell my hairdresser?  Pieces of Beth are me. As are pieces of Ellie. But mostly I created them for that story. OTOH, since DANGEROUS TALENTS started out as an experiment, Celia is probably more like me at the time the book was written than any of my other heroines are.

My heroes? Well, half of them are inspired by my husband. And the other half I just made up. 🙂



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And The Winner Is . . .

First, thanks everyone for your comments on my last post! It’s nice to know you’re out there reading.

And now without further ado, the winner of my drawing for a copy of DANGEROUS TALENTS is . . . J.D. Revezzo! Congratulations!

Please contact me at frankierobertson (at) earthlink dot net to let me know if you’d like a Kindle edition or a paper copy.

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DANGEROUS TALENTS Is Now Available on Amazon

DANGEROUS TALENTS, a romantic fantasy novel, is now available on Amazon.

I really enjoyed writing this story, and I hope you enjoy reading it. It combines my love of fantasy (with magic, swords, and elves) with my love of a good romance. Like tales told by C.S. Lewis, Diana Gabaldon, and Joy Chant, the heroine is a contemporary woman who has to cope with an unexpected change in circumstances:

Celia Montrose has been trained to deal with any emergency—except being thrust into another world. Crisis management training hasn’t prepared her for meeting the descendants of the lost Vinland colony, or coping with kidnapping, murder, and magic.

Lord Dahleven is trying to avert a war when he rescues a strange and beautiful woman in the drylands. Though he fears Celia may be Fey-marked, Dahleven can’t resist the powerful attraction he feels for her. But is Celia in league with the enemy, or will she provide the key to saving his people?

Alone and off-balance, Celia finds herself falling for Lord Dahleven. But dangerous forces are at work, and one of them is offering Celia a way home—for a price.


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My Self-Publishing Journey: Planning 2012

I’m a big believer in making lists and having a plan. I don’t always follow the plan exactly, but I’ve got one.

It’s good, essential even, to have dreams, but you have to have a plan for how you’re going to get there, or you’re likely to flounder around without making much progress. I believe in setting goals which are measurable and within my control to achieve. I start with the big goal, then break it down into smaller steps as I get closer. As the saying goes, life is what happens while you’re making other plans, so I like to keep my plan loose until I’m almost ready to implement the next step. You might call it “just in time” management. I don’t see the benefit of nailing down every detail far in advance, when circumstances might change.

I’ve had one quarter of being a publisher as well as a writer. If sales continue at the current pace, I’ll break even in 22 months. My dream is that the pace of my sales will increase as I continue to bring out more books, but I have no direct control over that. What I do have control over is how much I charge for my work, and how much I spend on the various components of publishing. I also have control over how much time I spend on free social media promoting my work. I don’t have control over whether time spent on social media converts to sales.

So how am I going allocate my time and money in 2012?

  • The majority of my time will be spent writing, revising, and publishing two books. I’m currently preparing a backlist novel, DANGEROUS TALENTS, for publishing. DT should be out by May. I’m also writing FIRSTBORN, a tie-in novel in the Celestial Affairs universe that LIGHTBRINGER began. I plan to release FIRSTBORN in the fall. Then I’ll either begin work on GUARDIAN, the next Celestial Affairs novel, or prepare FORBIDDEN TALENTS for publishing in 2013. I will not plan another Christmas release as I did in 2011.
  • I’ll continue to use social media to let the world know that I, and my books exist. I’ll blog a little less frequently, and tweet a little more. I’ll look into guest blogging so I can reach a new audience.
  • I’ll send review requests to blogs that discuss the kinds of books I write.
  • I’ll make personal appearances at events I enjoy: The Amore and More talks at the Pima County Library, the Tucson Festival of Books, and TusCon Science Fiction Convention.
  • I’ll send postcards to book events advertising my books. I’m not sure how immediately effective this kind of advertising is, but at least it has the benefit of being targeted to readers. In direct mail campaigns a 1% conversion rate is pretty standard. With a targeted campaign it might be as high as 3%. Hmm. Now that I’m doing the math, that’s not a good return on investment. I may rethink how I implement this.
  • I will research less expensive alternatives to certain production tasks, like cover design.
  • I’ll research inexpensive advertising opportunities to implement once Castle Rock Publishing has three titles for sale.
  • I’ll stay flexible and keep my eyes open so I can take advantage of opportunities as they present themselves.

Mostly this year, my focus is going to be on making my work available for sale. My long range plan is to release a minimum of two books a year. I’ll let you know how it goes. 🙂




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My Self-Publishing Journey: Pareto’s Law Revisited

I wrote a while back about Pareto’s Law: the 80/20 Rule. That’s the idea that 80% of your results come from 20% of your effort. The trick, of course, is knowing which 20% of your effort is producing the results.

Castle Rock Publishing is preparing to publish DANGEROUS TALENTS. Part of that process is deciding what level of editing to pay for. DANGEROUS TALENTS has been through multiple rounds of critique with authors who have published well over 100 books between them. Is that enough?  Do I (as the owner of Castle Rock) hire a less expensive editor to go over this much longer book? Or do I stick with an editor whom I know does excellent work? Do I pay for a developmental editing pass I may not need, or do I pay only for copy and proof editing?

This is no small matter. I’m in business. Every dollar spent up front pushes the break-even point further away. At the same time, my books represent me. They can build or hurt my reputation.

I’ve made my decision based on my dedication to producing high quality entertainment for you, my readers. But I wanted to share my dilemma with you because if you’re self-publishing these are the kind of decisions you’ll face too.

In the meantime, I want to announce the winners of my drawing for a free copy of one of my books. These winners may choose either a print or digital copy of VEILED MIRROR, LIGHTBRINGER, or DANGEROUS TALENTS when it’s released next spring.

Congratulations to Christine Wunch, Caroline Mickleson, and Benita Grunseth. Thank you for leaving reviews of my books. You can contact me with your preference at FrankieRobertson@earthlink.net.


Filed under Publishing