I often cringe when I’m asked about my first sale, because it was just too easy, and the telling of this story only adds to my worst fears that, somehow, I must be a fraud. Why? Because, unlike so many of my fellow authors, who endured four-hundred plus rejections, I sold my very first book to the very first publisher we submitted to.
Of course, I didn’t believe it would be that easy. I’m a classic “plan for the worst, hope for the best” personality—all while secretly fearing the worst is what’s really going to happen.
I bought one-hundred manuscript boxes (yes, really, 100) and put them ALL together. They used to come flattened back in the Dark Ages. And just to get it out of the way, I finished them all—because, of course, I knew I would need every bloody one. So there they were, all stacked in my office/playroom wall, with my desk/old dining room table surrounded by Lego’s and Playskool toys—and, of course, children, who occasionally enjoyed knocking them all down. I mean, who can pass that up? It’s like sandcastles or houses of cards. That’s what they were really made for, to knock them all down. Right?
But here’s the best part and I’ll give you the short version: I printed off three chapters I liked best (WRONG, you’re supposed to send the first three chapters), and then sent them to ten agents and hired the first one who called (WRONG, you’re supposed to be patient, wait, and choose the best). So my first agent (Surprise! There were others) asked who I wished to submit to, and I figured, hey, why not? Let’s start at the tippity-top and get turned down by my entire Wish List before settling. Of course, I chose Avon Books, then owned by William Morrow Publishing, and, somehow, despite having done everything completely wrong, Editor Maggie Lichota called, and I said yes. That was thirty years ago next year (November of 1989). And that book was Angel of Fire, published in 1992.
I can’t say I never feel like a fraud anymore, because that’s just not true. The difference is that, after thirty plus books (and counting), and a precious lot of loyal readers, I figure that maybe I don’t suck. But it still feels too easy, because I’m doing what I love, and there’s nothing in the world I’d rather be doing.
I was fortunate through my early years in the industry, in that I had a great editor (Lyssa Keusch, who inherited me after Maggie left Avon) who believed in me. She encouraged me to write the stories I was on fire for, and if there’s one piece of advice I have for aspiring writers, it is: Write what you love. And, be ready to persevere. Truly, though I wasn’t tested through first-sale rejections, the industry has a way of testing our resolve. The good news is that there’s never been a better time to be a writer, or a reader, with so many fresh reads. And, in that vein, I hope you’ll enjoy A Winter’s Rose—a bit of a departure for me.
Happy Holidays, my dear friends!
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What am I? people so often ask. Really, as a first-generation American, it’s a question I’ve gotten too often. I’ll be honest: I generally find it annoying. My answer to people seeking to hear about my nationality, is this: I’m American. Even more salient a point: I’m a human being. I occupy the same earth you do, and its wellbeing affects us all.
Similarly, for those wanting to know whether I consider myself Indie or Trad, I generally feel the same way: Why are we segregating ourselves? We are all writers and authors. Why do we need labels? Why do we need to draw lines in the sand?
I’ve been published now for going on 28 years, which means that my publishing roots are 100 percent Trad. But I don’t consider myself either Indie or Trad. If you really need a label, the term Hybrid author most applies to me, but I dislike the word as well, because it’s just another label.
The next question I sometimes get, is: Why did you go Indie? Were you unhappy with Trad? People seem to expect an outcry. It ain’t comin’ folks. Okay, sure, I found frustrations. But I also learned a lot, and I have truly loved all my editors (I was lucky that way), and learned a lot from them. I wouldn’t trade the experience, and, yet, I have no regrets about my current path. The great news for writers is that there are more great choices available to writers than ever before.
Essentially, I don’t believe there is any one right path for an author to take and under the right circumstances traditional publishing is still a fabulous option. For me, I came to a point in the late nineties that I no longer enjoyed what I was writing. That, and life got in the way, so I took a hiatus from writing. When I came back to the industry, it was a different world, and I was determined to love writing again. For me that meant telling the stories I most wanted to tell and that was easier to do as an indie author.
In the simplest terms, I chose indie when I returned, because I’m a control freak. (It’s true; just ask my husband.) I love being a part of every aspect of publishing. But there was always a certain part of this business that we were not privy to, and I hated being in the dark. I love, for example, my current relationships with vendors, and feel extremely fortunate to be able to send an email to them and say, hey, this is working well, but how can I make it better? I’m thrilled to be able to cultivate these relationships. I also love being able to control which cover I use where, and I love having the ability to grow my presence in audio and foreign markets.
All that said, I have come full circle to write for Lou Aronica, whom I first met during my stint at Avon Books. Lou is a fabulous editor/publisher/writer, and while he’s also someone I consider to be a dear friend, he’s a fair-minded business partner who has a vision of a publishing experience that is not divisive in its makeup. It encapsulates the industry as a whole, and works symbiotically to promote a healthy marketplace and a better reading experience for readers. What does that mean? Well, more simply put, we’re all in this together, folks: Indie, Hybrid, Trad. Therefore, we should make no decisions that would devalue ourselves OR our fellow writers, or undermine the industry we hope to keep thriving well past our own lifetimes. As I determined upon coming back from my hiatus, I want to love what I’m writing, I want my readers to love what I’m writing, and I want to be doing this for a very long time.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, since we are all in this together, we should start acting like it. Amazon is not our enemy. Trad publishing is not our enemy. Amazon is a business, and its greatest concerns are its customers and its bottom line. If they can help us out in the meantime, great. But they are not necessarily our allies. Neither are traditional publishers. They too are a business, and they, like Amazon are concerned with their bottom line. Some of them realize that nurturing their authors is good for their bottom line, and some of them haven’t figured this out yet. It’s up to us to do the research to determine where we best fit. But, I do believe this: We do have potential allies in this business, and they are also our competition. Only the day we wake up and realize we are the masters of our own fates, and it’s not our competition that will break us, it’s the decisions we make, we’ll be better suited for success. Write the best book you can. Take the path that will suit you best. Then build up your fellow authors and the market itself rather than tear it down.
This blog isn’t necessarily speaking to everyone. Some of us seem to get the principle of building up our friends and peers (where possible), instead of tearing them down, because as a whole we offer more to the world together. Does that mean you won’t sometimes be overshadowed by someone who is temporarily shining brighter? No. Does it mean we are assured a place in a very competitive market? No. But the answer to these questions is still “no” if you decide to take a scorched earth policy and firebomb the world to get ahead. Because, hey there, Mr. or Mrs. Nuclear, guess what? You might shine for 15 minutes, but you’ve created an environment where your star will cease to shine at some point, and then what?
It’s time for writers in this industry to stop segregating ourselves, and start bolstering each other. I love this quote from George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones (Yes, I’m a GoT freak, and you knew it would come up eventually), “when the cold winds blow the lone wolf dies and the pack survives.”
I wrote this post because, in the wake of the latest RWA controversy, with rumors that this person resigned and that person resigned because of Indies, and, on the other side of the fence, “Trad authors know nothing” (like Jon Snow), and Indie is the way to go. [Notice significant eye roll here] To me, this all sounds no different than other divisive propaganda. So, let’s all get back to loving the craft, AND the industry, because it is the ultimate symbiotic relationship.
You really wanna know what I am? I’m an author, who is fortunate enough to have lived long enough to write under many circumstances. I’ve written for Avon Books, Harlequin, Kensington, and now for The Story Plant, and I’m so grateful for each of these experiences. I also continue to write under my own imprint, because, well, I can, and because my readers seem to want me to. But one thing I can promise at this point in my life, and hopefully it’s a promise my readers will take to heart. I will write as long as I love it, and I will write with passion, from the heart. And maybe, if I’m lucky, and I feel that way at 90, maybe I’ll still be writing the stories you want to read.
Photo credit: Stolen from Glynnis Campbell, whom I met in Dallas Texas, and with whom I shared an agent. Glynnis and I are still friends, and bolster each other when we can. It’s been a great ride, Glynnis!
If you haven’t spotted them yet, it’s probably because you don’t shop on Amazon, where KU seems to allow scammers to thrive. It’s an unfortunate side-effect of Amazon’s proprietary subscription service. But before I move on to how to spot these scammers and their books, let me say what this article isn’t. It isn’t an opportunity to bash Amazon, because I appreciate Amazon as a marketplace, as I appreciate all vendors. The problem may be far more prevalent on Amazon, but exists anywhere scammers find an open door. It works like this: Scam authors, who most often appear to operate in Russia, or Eastern European and Asian countries are throwing poorly written, poorly edited (and sometimes stolen) books into KU, where, readers may download content free of charge, only it’s not actually free, because Amazon pays them for your download. More and more, authors are speaking up and reporting these books, but the key to removing them is for readers to begin standing up and complaining as well.
Personally, I have very few books in KU, but to say I don’t have a horse in this race is not entirely true. Honest authors, who work hard on a daily basis to write books from the heart are finding it harder and harder to survive amidst a sea of badly written and plagiarized books. So how does this affect you? Well, it’s pretty straightforward. As true authors find it harder and harder to devote time to a career that doesn’t allow them to make a living wage, you will lose access to better books and to your favorite authors. You might argue this will correct itself eventually–and it will–but at what cost in the interim?
I’m fortunate enough to have a very loyal readership and I love you all immensely, so, currently, I’m in no danger of going anywhere, but already I have witnessed the exodus of some of my own favorite authors from the industry, simply because they can’t make ends meet and can no longer focus on writing. It breaks my heart so much that I must speak up. But I’m not going to name names because that’s not the goal of this article. The goal is to simply make you aware of what’s going on and what you might do to help.
Aside from lost authors, these are the things that bother me most about this unfortunate trend:
a) The reader is being disrespected by author mills, who churn out the same revised and altered content over and over. Eventually, readers will grow bored, and that’s the biggest sin of all–that the joy found in reading may be lost.
b) Scam books take up valuable space on Amazon’s “bestseller” lists, because KU downloads are weighted more heavily than non KU books. Unfortunately, if you want to see real bestseller lists that reflect an entire world of books that might be obscured on Amazon, you’ll have to go look at the lists on competing vendors, like iBooks, Kobo, B&N and, of course, USA Today and New York Times. (And then dig down to the genre lists.)
c) Many scammers are not following the rules that real authors are forced to comply with, and they are benefiting nonetheless. For example, it’s against Amazon’s Terms of Service to buy reviews or pay for downloads, but that’s not stopping these hackers. One way they do this is through unsuspecting readers, who might not realize they are following a scam author and want to do their best to support them, especially when they have been offered a free review copy. The other way is through Click farms (Click this link here to see what I mean).
Now, let me say a few words about review copies, because all authors provide these, and all publishers do as well. 1) you should not be given a “gift card” to download books from the vendor. That is unethical because it manipulates lists. It’s against TOS and legit authors won’t put you or themselves in this position. If you are found out, it jeopardizes all your reviews and your ability to leave reviews in the future. 2) Review copies must be given without any stipulation or guarantee that you will ever post a review, or that it will be 4 and 5 stars. Although we sincerely hope you’ll love our books, you must be allowed not to like it if you choose.
So back to the scam book problem; how can you spot them and why should you bother? The most important reason is that it is potentially damaging to the entire industry, largely because Amazon holds such a large portion of market sales for traditional and not traditional authors. I’m a huge fan of choice and the No. 1 way to support choice is to support Amazon’s competitors. While I do also buy from Amazon, I try to spread the love, buying titles from iBooks, B&N and Kobo as well. (This is also why I don’t use, or any longer give away, vendor specific ereaders that are not universal, meaning, that they won’t allow books to be loaded from any vendor.)
a) The author profile seems “off.” If it looks like a stock photo, it probably is one. While some might argue that people should be allowed to hide behind a fake photo, I am not a fan of pretense, and these “fake authors” seem fond of using stock photos, probably because many of them are the same person and/or company, merely posing as an author.
b) The book cover is bad. They aren’t in it for the longterm. They are going to take the money and run, so many of the scammers don’t bother to put up great covers, although there are a few of them now that are making so much money they have begun to cover these books well, so this is not a fail proof way to tell. However, if the cover “looks” derivative, or reminds you of another author’s style, chances are they have copied it, and it’s a red flag.
d) Weirdly worded author bios that give you a sense that maybe English is not their first language. It seems to be more evident in the profile than in the book themselves, which are sometimes plagiarized.
e) Check to see when they released their books. Did they dump a bunch of titles onto Amazon over a short time, or even on the same day? HUGE red flag. It takes me months and months to write a book. While I have author friends who put out books every 6 weeks, I know they work hard to do this–so hard that some find it hard to have a life outside of writing. I love writing, and love the connection with my readers, but I also adore time with my husband and children and time in the garden. I want to be my best when I’m at my keyboards, and for me that means taking time to recharge, which means it takes me even longer.
f) They often have no website, and their facebook pages are very new.
There are many, many more ways to tell, and as I said, you can find some here and here. Ultimately, there’s only one way this is going to change, and that’s if the reader complains. Again, I won’t give you specific titles, because I mean to leave that up to your best judgment. Really, you’re responsible for your own reading material. However, I respect you enough to at least want you to be aware of this issue, because in the long run, it affects you. If there’s one thing I know about Amazon it’s that they care about their customers, so it’s only for you that they are going to make this a more even playing field.
Now, let’s rewind a bit, because up until now, we’ve assumed you already have a translator in mind. If you have no translator yet, and are searching for one, there are many ways to go about this. However, long before you get to this point, you must have decided how you will pay your translator. Whether you pay them up front, or use a royalty share, payment is crucial. No one wants to spend months translating your book and not get paid for it. Ideally, you will pay your translator what they are worth, either up front, or through royalties.
If you choose to use a service like Babelcube, or TraduzioneLibri (I have not used this one), these are a bit like ACX royalty shares, with the translator earning the majority up front. In my opinion, this is fair. If you choose this path to press, you must consider these books long term projects, and let go of short-term expectations. You’ll get these back free and clear in 5 years, if you so choose, and then you can distribute them anywhere. However, while they are on Babelcube, financially speaking, this is the translator’s time in the sun.
But what if my books don’t earn money for my translators? Well, this is something you, and your translator, must be willing to take a chance on, and in such case, both you and the translator must know when to say enough’s enough and move on. For example, I still have high hopes for the Dutch market, because these are very early days, and I see Kobo is expanding in that territory, but in all fairness, my Dutch translator has not earned any royalties on the book she translated for me, and although I did add in a signing bonus completely outside of Babelcube, I’m not pushing for more books in this market. While she is working on the sequel, it’s in her spare time, and so far, it’s been two years in the making without seeing its publication. In all fairness to her, I must allow her make the call on this one. This is where patience is a virtue.
But I’ve heard bad things about Babelcube! There has been lots of back and forth about this company, but for me, Babelcube has been a great thing. There is simply no way I could have translated 30 books into 5 different languages, not in the space of so little time. I will admit my greatest frustration with Babelcube is that they are a small company and their customer service has room for improvement. Regardless, whether or not you choose to use a royalty share deal, or to pay direct, YOU are the one responsible for hiring your translator. DO NOT accept the first translator who reaches out to you. Do your homework. These are the questions you should be asking: How many translations have they done? Have they ever translated fiction? Do they work with a proofreader? Do they have a good grasp on English (more than apparent from their e-mails). Search for other books they’ve translated on Amazon. What are the reviews their books have garnered? If they are poor reviews, is it because of story content? Or is it because of errors? This is YOUR homework and no one is going to do it for you. Plus, YOU have the greatest stake in this: Your reputation. Putting a bad book into publication into a new market is worse than having no book at all.
Okay, so on the other end of this deal, translators also have a responsibility to choose to work with authors they believe will pay off for them financially. But, in the end, sales in any given market are a bit of a crap shoot. While there are risks on both ends, your translator is investing a great deal of himself and his time into a project for someone mostly unknown to him, so be considerate of this. Expect them to be professional, but you be professional, too.
To sum up Babelcube, it isn’t a publishing house. While they do cursory checks, no one is insuring that all translators who apply to translate your book are serious, or even capable. You can’t think of this path in that way. Just as “anybody can publish,” “anyone can also translate.” All the work you would put into hiring a translator direct, you must still apply to translators here. All Babelcube is, aside from a place to facilitate meetings between authors and translators and fulfill distribution, is a different financial option. Period. It provides a means for you to pay over time for translations you will own free and clear after five years. If you earn a bit on these titles before then, well, good for you!
The pros of Babelcube: low cash output (mostly covers, formatting, and possibly proofing), you own translations after 5 years, you don’t have to manage money.
The cons: you have almost zero control over distribution, almost no control over marketing (although you do have the option of running special promotions), and you and the translator may not earn out, given the limited control.
Okay, so maybe you don’t like the idea of Babelcube, and you don’t want to wait for your money, and most importantly, you have plenty of capital to invest. Go direct. Know that if you are choosing to go direct, you are taking the biggest risk up front, but now that I’m more than 100 books in, I can tell you I prefer it, though I would not choose this path with a new, unknown translator, unless they come to me as a recommendation. And even then, one shoe doesn’t fit all, so this doesn’t absolve you from doing your homework. I’ve managed nearly all my German translations this way, and I’m so pleased I did.
Whether you’re working through Babelcube or going direct, once you’ve discovered teams you work well with, and trust them, you might want to begin paying for a few direct translations. The upside here is substantial for everyone. The translator gets paid up front. You retain all your book’s rights, and you can distribute wherever and however you wish. Clearly, this is not an option available to everyone, because translations can run from 1.5k to 10k, varying widely, and then you still have to pay a proofer, on top of the cover artist and formatting. However, I have chosen to do this for most of my German books, many of my French books, and a few of my Italian books, with no regrets. Hands down, German has had the greatest rewards, but my French sales are great, and Italian as well. However, for some reason, it seems there are a great many Italian translators on Babelcube, so I chose to do most of these titles through that medium. Whatever the language, direct will give you the most control to work with vendors to promote your books. This is your goal!
Also keep in mind, that once you get to a certain stage, even direct translations will provide more production options, including short-term and long-term royalty share plans with translators you trust. You must decide what you’re willing to live with and what is best for you and your translator. At best and worst, this is a highly symbiotic relationship, and if you’re fortunate enough to find great translators, treat them as your partners. No, you shouldn’t have to pay them for the life of your published translation, but you do owe them respect.
And I can’t stress enough: Do your homework. A bad translation is worse than having no translation at all. You won’t grow in that market and whatever sales you get will be pennies toward a derailed career in <insert country>.
And know this: Even if you do your homework, it’s no safe-guard against a bad translation. People get lazy. And yet, if you do your part along the road to publication, you’ll lessen the chances this will happen, and if something slips by, because, let’s face it, nobody is perfect, there are ways to deal with this, including kill fees.
Also, keep this in mind: I know MANY authors who have had books translated by publishers only to hear nightmare stories about the translation, or of books cut short in non holistic ways. Indies are not the only ones who are subject to these issues.
There is no reason, in my opinion, not to do translations—except one, and this one is more than valid. Indies wear a LOT of hats. If you don’t want to manage one more process, don’t do it. Either hire someone you trust to manage the process for you, or pursue foreign translations the old-fashioned way, through an agent. Ultimately, you’ve got to do what works for you, but I’m guessing if you’ve read this far, it’s because, like me, you’re not in the mood to let traditional obstacles stand in your way. The good news is, these are not traditional times. Good luck!
If you’re in the mood to read more about translations, here are Interviews with me provided by my translators:
Once upon a time I was terrified of foreign editions. I mean, why wouldn’t I be? Even my agent had a tough time selling these, so what made me think I could tackle them on my own? In fact, even while at the Big-5, translated books would literally fall onto my lap seemingly from the sky. I had no inkling which books might become chosen ones, and I was unaware of the processes that went on behind the scenes, including, as it seems, financials. (Yes, a few translations appear to have come and gone without any clear indication I was paid for them, and/or I got paid without ever having been involved in negotiations.)
Nevertheless, early on, when I dove into the Indie scene, I took the reins from my then agent, and despite that I didn’t begin the process right away, I let it mill about in my head, because I’m not that girl who’s easily stopped by road blocks. I figure, “where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
So, the more I thought about it, the less intimidating the process appeared to be (for reasons I’ll go into later). However, my biggest deterrent was a financial one. I researched endlessly about possibilities, and even heard, at one point, that Amazon might be venturing into an ACX type program for translations.
Enter Babelcube.com. This is where I discover how fortunate I am that English is not my first language. I was raised by a Spanish mother. Her closest friends were multicultural—French, German, Italian. Back in the day, there simply weren’t any great Spanish speaking communities, so the wives of American soldiers, particularly those with foreign nationalities, all hung out together. And, mostly, it seemed, at my house. All the while I was cringing over the Flamenco music blaring from my house as I exited the school bus, I didn’t realize how precious this experience was until I began to hash out my plan for foreign translations.
So I realized I had an exceptional support network, and I had people I trusted to run the initial translations by. And this is important: I trusted their judgment. If they told me they couldn’t understand a translation, or it was “messy,” I turned the translator down. Period. And through this process, I was able to form a core group of translators for French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Dutch. This is where I started, excluding all languages I didn’t feel immediately comfortable managing (i.e. Chinese, Russian, etc).
Clearly, my core group was a wider group than it might be for most English speakers. So, I would advise you to choose ONE language you are comfortable with, where the sales of e-books seem promising. (These languages have all done well for me: German, French, Italian, Portuguese.)
For example, if you’re most familiar with Spanish, still don’t start there, because Spanish sales are lackluster, and you want to be sure you choose a language that will encourage you to continue, and earn back any capital you’re putting into it. Choose another language, where maybe you have a close friend, or someone you trust, who can vet the first sample (about ten pages of translation). Once it gets the thumb’s up by someone you trust, you can move on to the next phase.
Phase Two of vetting is a bit more intense, but it’s an important next step, unless you a) have family members who are translators (which, I do!) or b) you are already 10 books in and now have a core group you trust. However, even if you do have a family of translators, you simply can’t ask them to vet thirty books each in five plus languages, for free. Most of your close family and friends won’t mind looking over one or two, but since you’re the one to gain, I would offer to compensate your initial readers.
I used this process to pinpoint my initial trusted translator. Once this is done, you want to hire a proofreader who is not also your translator and who is not “friends” with your translator. You can find proofreaders anywhere, including Upwork and Fiverr, but your goal is to hire a proofreader, who is a complete stranger to the translator and who has no reason to protect the translator’s “feelings.” He also must have a solid grasp of both languages—the one you’re translating from and the one you’re translating to. If you don’t know this person, or he didn’t come recommended, you’ll determine this through works they’ve produced/edited.
Do the translators already have reviews on Amazon?
Do the proofreaders and translators have resumes?
Don’t be afraid to ask. Professionals are happy to provide this. Here are some additional questions to ask your prospective translators:
Have you previously translated any works?
Have you translated full-length fiction?
How many books have you translated?
What genres do you prefer to read?
Do you work with an editor/proofreader? (And are you willing to work with am editor/proofreader of my choosing?)
In the usual fashion for me, when I find myself faced with the notion that “I must do something or else,” nine times out of ten, I am compelled to dig in my heels and say, “uh uh.” This is where I found myself about six months ago, faced with an emerging paradigm amidst Indie authors to jump on the bandwagon and write, publish, write, write, write, publish, at such a crazy pace that I personally can’t be comfortable with my own processes.
If you’re reading this as a reader of my books, the one thing I want to most convey is that I still want to—and plan to—write ALL the stories you want me to write. They just won’t come quickly.
If you’re reading this as a writer, let’s talk. First of all, I want to say that I realize there are a handful of amazing writers out there who naturally write at break-neck speed. If you’re one of those who can do it and produce quality stories, with an editorial process in place that complements your writing pace, and somehow you still manage to spend time with the kids and grandkids, keep a date night with your husband, tend your garden and generally have a life—and even more importantly, you’re paying attention to your health—then wow. I’m in awe of you, and you should keep doing that. I will watch you and pull for you and be amazed by your energy, your tenacity, and your talent.
But if you’re one of those authors who cannot keep up, and you’re trying to do it anyway, you’re the one I want to chat with right now. I’m a private person, but I’m going to shed that natural instinct today to confess I have tried. It didn’t work out for me. I found myself stressed, neglecting everyone around me, working too many hours to pay attention to healthy sleep habits, blood pressure, posture, return phone calls, etc. I woke up every morning and dove for the computer, got sucked into emails, promo opportunities, etc. And once I wrested myself away from that (a monumental feat in itself), I tried to write, while managing foreign translations, audiobooks, etc. In short, I turned myself into a publishing machine with a single purpose and to the exclusion of everything else that mattered to me in life. The first thing that gave out was my health. A lack of sleep, poor diet and exercise, and long hours at the computer with poor posture led to an all-out rebellion of my body. I developed a very sudden and frightening allergy to NSAIDs (which I was popping indiscriminately at the time). Then came the posture issues, with debilitating arthritic pain at the back of my neck—an issue I am STILL dealing with after two years of massage therapy. And still, through all of this, I continued, attempting to keep up in a market that was changing at lightning speed.
Until about six months ago.
And then this happened: I wrote two books back to back—two very important books for me. One was for a publisher I had been dying to work with, the other strictly for my fans. I was proud of both books, but because of the timing, I had NO new books out in 2015. Zero. Nada. Zip. And yet, I worked harder in 2015 than ever before. There was simply no product to show for it—not yet. So I stressed a little more. “Oh my God!” I thought. “I’m going to be forgotten!”
It seemed to me that everyone was passing me by. Friends I won’t mention here, because they are not the point (they are clearly working with different parameters), were putting out books every six weeks. In the meantime, I was a stressed-out, pain-filled pretzel trying to keep up. I was so out of sorts this past November that when I took a trip to New York to meet with my new publisher, the sales director took one look at me and said, “I hope you don’t mind my saying, but I can see you’re in pain.” I was! And I needed it to S.T.O.P.
So I came home and brought everything to a screeching halt. That pressure to “do something, or else” smacked me upside the head… and I responded as I have come to know I will. It wasn’t the first time. Back in the late ‘90s, with a thriving career, I took a 10-year hiatus from publishing. I jumped off a speeding treadmill only to get back on, and this time I was by far “meaner” to myself than any publisher could be. By this, I mean that I gave myself tougher deadlines, berated myself for EVERY SINGLE misplaced comma. EVERY TYPO. The perfectionist in me was given free rein to bop me upside the head with the “perfectionist hammer” any time it wished to. It was no wonder I was slowly beginning to not enjoy writing again. And this was the biggest tell of all. I was beginning to look for ways to avoid writing.
Those who know me well know I’m not a complainer. The only reason I’m writing this today is because I found a solution—for me. On the off-chance that my solution might work for someone else, I’m sharing, so that if you’re on that brutal, life-sucking treadmill and you don’t belong there, maybe you’ll give yourself permission to get off.
An amazing thing happened after I dug my heels into the sand so firmly I couldn’t get a word out of my brain without complete and utter agony. “Oh, my God,” I thought at first, “You have XX number books to write, because, well, you HAVE to!”
But did I really have to? I took stock of where I was. After a full year with no new books out, I had a stable, if slowly growing market. I hadn’t faced a sudden and catastrophic collapse of my career. “So what now?” I asked myself. And despite the nearly irresistible urge to try to dive back in, I did the unthinkable: I slowed down even more. I quit writing for two months to heal my neck and make time for my neglected husband. I gardened. I cooked. I went to dinner with friends, and whenever my friends asked me what book I was working on today, for the first time, maybe EVER, I said, “Nothing. I’m taking a break.” What I discovered was this: I began to want to write again. I couldn’t wait to get back to the keyboard to tell the stories I want to tell. I rediscovered my joy.
I’m still dealing with neck issues, but the neck has begun to improve. My blood pressure went down (114/74). I ate breakfast with my husband out on the deck and enjoyed the scent of the roses I’d planted—so, literally, I stopped to smell the roses. I remembered that I’m not twenty-something anymore. On the day I close my eyes that final time, I’m pretty sure I won’t wish I’d written one more book.
This is an amazing time for us as writers. We can do whatever we want; I firmly believe that. For some of us that goal is quite lofty and money is very important, but I had to stop and ask myself what my goal was—what was important to me? Was it fame? No, not really. Obviously, I want my fans to recognize my name and buy my books. So was it money? Umm, well, I do need money to live, but how much is enough?
Ultimately, I realized that what I wanted most was pretty simple: I want to earn enough so I can write full time and so I can be an asset to my family. Check. I want to love writing because it’s in my blood, and I need it the same as I need that morning cup of coffee. Check. I want to continue writing and growing my brand until the day I kick up my toes, all the while writing books I truly love and can stand behind. Only time will tell if I accomplish this one. But these are a few things I have decided are important to me and have become part of my personal bible:
In the future, I will not make decisions that devalue or undervalue me or my work
I will do my part to ensure a stable and growing marketplace, including partnering with vendors for the sake of healthy competition
I will be a source of strength to my community (both writing and living)
I will pay attention to my health and choose it first (kind of like putting the oxygen mask on myself before others)
I will enjoy writing and protect the mindset that allows it
I will keep better office hours and learn better time management
I will read at least one book a week (because that’s where this joyful profession was fostered)
I will exercise at least five days per week
I will not publish so fast I cannot comfortably employ a proper editorial process
I will put the computer down when people are talking to me and listen to what they are saying
There are many more, but these are the highlights. I’ve made a list I can refer to every day.
After all, I feel the need to point out that just because you are not writing a brand new book every six weeks doesn’t mean you can’t stay relevant and in the game. I believe most of us are not exploiting our works to the best of our ability. There are ancillary products we still don’t properly exploit: audiobooks, foreign editions, promotional sets. One thing I did in 2015, because maybe some part of me sensed the coming rebellion: I pushed myself to do audiobooks and put in place a structure and support team to expand into foreign markets. So while my frontlist and backlist wasn’t growing, my list was still growing. Today, I feel very comfortable with my foundation in this business and I expect to be doing this for a long time to come. I also feel compelled to point out that labels don’t behoove us so let’s not pigeonhole ourselves. Traditional, indie, hybrid, whatever. We’re authors. Everything we do in the publishing landscape affects us all, both short and long term.
I realize this business is ever-changing and tomorrow I might make a different decision, but I’m no longer racing against time to produce new works. In fact, I’ve purposely slowed down to the point that I am focusing on my contemporary works, and unfortunately this means it’ll be a while before I can return to historicals. If I have readers who have stuck with me thus far, please take heart: I love historicals as much as I do the contemporaries, but I can’t do both in good health and I owe it to myself to explore this much ignored aspect of my career. Plus, I am working with an amazing publisher and that experience deserves my all.
For those of you who keep that crazy schedule and thrive in it, please don’t feel this is in any way a criticism. I’m in awe of you. More power to you, and I will look forward to seeing where you carry your torch. But if there are writers out there who, like me, are sacrificing health and wellness and peace of mind just to keep up with this crazy business, maybe it’s time to stop, take stock of where you are, and ask yourself, “how much is enough?” I’m here to say you will not become irrelevant. If anything, you might find yourself able to devise ways to grow your brand with a clearer head and partner with fellow authors and vendors in ways that not only grow you as an author but help improve the industry as a whole. If we are not healthy, we’re not making healthy decisions for ourselves or for the market that supports us. That’s all. Life is short. It truly is. Don’t make it shorter than it has to be. Love yourself. Love your writing. I plan to. And it feels great to finally come into my own.
A Reader’s Companion to the Highland Worlds of Tanya Anne Crosby. This is not a novel, nor a short story.HIGHLAND BRIDES & TRIBES is an updated version of TRIBES. It catalogs the most notable members of the seven noble houses in Tanya Anne Crosby’s Highlander books, all pledged to honor blood be...