Friday, February 01, 2013

Adventures in Self-Publishing - Pt. 3

Happy Friday, everyone! Last weekend was my husband's 40th birthday, so I took a few days off to focus on my family. This week has been spent mostly playing catch up on things I put off last week. I've also been wrapping up a couple of small writing projects and sending out submissions. 

I try to steadily submit new material, but it's difficult when you want to create projects to publish yourself, as well as continue to write to spec for a particular publisher or editor. Naturally, when you have to turn in material while on a deadline, the deadline piece takes top priority over your other projects. That's common sense, right? 

Even as recently as a few months ago, I've had to put self-publishing projects I love on the back burner to finish deadline pieces, and if I've learned anything from that, it's that it's easy to lose the spark you felt for a set of characters or a particular story when you have to set it aside for weeks or months at a time. 

Building a Writing Plan

I've been working on ways to combat that kind of story hopping and writer's fatigue without sacrificing the quality of my work. But building a writing plan has to work within the scope of the way I write. I know there are things about myself as a writer, certain habits and processes I have, that keep my writing flow going. I don't want to radically change my good writing habits to the point that I no longer feel comfortable when I face a blank page. However, I do want to implement changes that boost my productivity.

I consider myself a slow writer. My target word count is roughly 1000 words per day, although it's not unusual for me to go over that count by anywhere from 500-1500 words. That's a comfortable range for me. I tend to stick with that, unless I'm on a very tight deadline. 

I write several drafts per story, and I don't see myself changing that. And another thing that I don't think I could change is the amount of prewriting I do per story. At the very least, I do a full week's worth of story research before I dive in and start writing any story. Otherwise, I'll sit and stare at a blank page. And since I know that's what it takes for me to get a story going, I'm usually writing on one project while doing research on a completely different project. That way, I can take a break between stories to rest, and my research is waiting for me when I pick up the pen again and I'm ready to focus on my "new project". 

Backtracking a bit to drafting... I normally write two full drafts for every project, but I have written as many as four drafts before deciding a story was ready to send out. And I tend to make more passes over a story I plan to publish on my own. I know that if I do less than two thorough drafts on any project, I'm going to have a mess on my hands. I'll find a ton of typos and problems that will eat me alive in revisions later. Anyway, these are some of my die-hard habits, and instead of trying to break them, I'm trying to work with what I know. 

As part of my 2013 New Year's resolution, I set a goal to be more productive. To write more and publish more. I want to increase my output as well as wrap up self-publishing projects that have been waiting in the wings for my undivided attention. And I'd like to have a comfortable amount of time to do this without it carving into the time I set aside for writing material I plan to send out to traditional and digital publishers. 

To accomplish this, I've known from the outset I'd have to build a solid writing plan.

Word Counting and Yearly Goals

Until this year, I have always looked at my writing goals as how many words do I need per day to finish a project. How many days will it take to meet my minimum word count goal? When I'm working on a tight time frame, that's what I do. But after I submit a project, I often end up with a time gap between submissions. I've noticed this same phenomenon with my self-published work. So, I've set out to close that time gap.

I'm a huge fan of Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn. She is a popular self-published author and I highly recommend anyone interested in self-publishing to go to her site and read her blog posts and watch her videos. Speaking of videos, she posted a video on her Youtube Channel about building a production schedule for creating a daily writing habit. This is a brand new video she added just yesterday. I highly recommend it. 

A writing buddy gave me my first monthly planner in 2006. At first, I didn't know what to do with it, but I gradually made a habit of using one for writing. I primarily use a monthly planner to record important dates, meetings, classes and workshops, but in some cases, when I'm on a very tight deadline, I use it to map my writing goals. However, I admit, that I've never been very faithful in logging my word counts for every story. At least, until now. That's something I've changed this year. I'll tell you why in a minute.

I know, I know...I've posted this picture before, but the skinny book on the bottom of the stack is my 2013 monthly planner. I'm posting the picture again in case anyone wanted to see what kind of planner I use. It's just a cheap calendar style planner that I picked up at a discount store. It cost $1.00 plus tax, brand new. You can get similar planners at Target, Walmart, Family Dollar, Staples, Dollar Tree, Fred's, Office Depot, Dollar General... all those places carry planners for under $5.00. 

Again, I admit in the past I have never really been faithful in using a planner to map my daily output.  But, that has changed this year. I stumbled across a fabulous series of articles over at  about How to Keep Your Production Going All Year. He is quite a prolific author, and he's different because talks about the merits of determining how many words you want to write in a year. 

That is a completely new concept for me, but if you read his articles (it's easy to go spend hours going through the articles on his blog!), he gives you his personal formula for creating a reasonable daily word count to actually meet your yearly writing goals. It's brilliant. If you're serious about self-publishing, or you simply want to increase your productivity, I highly recommend paying his website a visit.

The idea is to map out your yearly goal and spend 80% of your writing time putting new words on the page. I'm still working on this myself, but this has become my new writing plan. 

By changing my habits and thinking on a yearly scale instead of focusing solely on time spent project by project, I'm seeing a nice change in my writing output. It's very encouraging.

Targeting Your Readership

Self-publishing allows us to publish stories that push the boundaries of genre. That's a wonderful thing, but at the same time, it's a good idea to keep in mind who your target audience is going to be for your self-published book even while you're still writing it. Even though you have more freedom to write the book of your dreams, if you plan to upload your finished product onto a website like Smashwords or Amazon, you've going to have to select a genre for your book so they can categorize it on their website.

Who do you envision buying your book?

I have friends who write "slipstream", or cross-genre, fiction. I've also sold a few slipstream short stories myself, and I speak from experience that cross-genre stories are much harder to sell no matter how you publish them. Editors have a hard time placing them within the most common marketing categories, they are harder to promote, and I've noticed that some readers are reluctant to give cross-genre books a second glance. Most readers have a few select genres they like, or even one dedicated genre they tend to gravitate toward.

Be discerning about how you want your book categorized. Think about where you'd want your book shelved digitally, or in a bookstore. If people can't find your book, they can't buy it.

I think we've all been through that annoying incident at the bookstore, where you pick up a book based on the title on the spine, or the cover, and once you read the back blurb, you wonder how that book ended up being shelved in that particular area. For example, a zombie horror novel being shelved in the sci-fi section. Or a fantasy with the barest traces of romantic elements being shelved in the romance section. It's just my opinion, but it seems to me you're far more likely to lose a sale that way than to gain one. Categorize your books where your readers are going to be browsing.

When choosing a category, it's also helpful to take a good look at who you imagine picking up your book and actually buying it.

TIP: This is more or less for beginning writers who plan to self-publish. You may have elements in your story that would appeal to romance readers, or sci-fi fans, or people who like stories about mermaids, but if you're writing a fantasy battle epic, you want to shelve your book in the fantasy section. Realistically, fantasy readers are most likely to be the readership looking for your type of book. Not romance readers. Not sci-fi readers. If you're writing a cross-genre YA - categorize it as a YA. When in doubt, pick the dominant genre. Most readers are looking to buy a book that is a specific genre written to appeal to a specific readership. It's the writer's job to know what genre their book is, and who it's targeted to. That may sound obvious, but I've been to book fairs where people have attempted to sell me their self-published book, when they themselves have struggled to classify what kind of story they're selling.   

If you're uncertain where your book might be shelved in a bookstore, try to figure out who makes up your primary readership. If your book is likely to be read by erotica readers, resist the temptation to slip it into the romance section because romance sells well. Put it where people who read erotica will go to look for it - in the erotica section. You're more likely to make sales that way, and by marketing it in a way that is true to the dominant genre, that will also help you avoid getting bad reviews by people who picked up your book by mistake because it was inappropriately shelved.

The same thing goes for book covers. Be genre appropriate. Readers have expectations. Before paying someone to make your cover, or before you buy stock art to make your own, I highly recommend browsing the bookstore. You can even do that online. Look at the covers in your genre, particularly the best sellers, and take notes on what catches your eye. Whatever you decide on cover-art wise, be true to your genre. A bookcover is often a reader's first impression of your book. And you know what they say about first impressions.

That's all for now. If you're interested in hearing more about my personal take on self-publishing, look for Adventures in Self-Publishing - Pt. 4 next week. I'll be talking more about book covers and promotion, and I'll be linking to more of my favorite books, videos, and websites on self-publishing. 

Until next time, happy writing!

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