SF SV’s 1st month results & the homegrown MFA in genre writing

Today is the one month anniversary of the release of book 1!

By the numbers, for sci-fi only:
Royalties earned to date for this pen name: $804.26 (approx)
Sales: 620
Kindle Unlimited page reads: 89,180 (works out to be about 250 full reads, give or take)

Now it’s time to adjust the year end goals. By the end of 2017 I will have:

  • Finished books 2 and 3 (80,000 words to the finish line)
  • Made a submission to an anthology (w/no guarantee of acceptance)
  • Wrote one more short story for my mailing list subscribers
  • Grown the mailing list to 3,000 people
  • Made one Bookbub submission (accepting that my chances are nil-low)
  • Read and made notes from 4 craft books, focusing on characters/structure/plotting

I wish I could make a royalties goal for the end of the year but I really have zero clue as to how things will go once books 2 and 3 come out. A slight boost, I hope, but I’ll be surprised if I hit over $1k/mo income for any month this year.

My Homegrown MFA
I’ve been thinking about how to characterize SV. Of course, I want to make money and attract readers. But as I started picking up some writing craft books this year I kicked around the idea of getting more formal training and education in writing. That said, as I ruminated (lookit me using them big words!), I realized that I’d made the most progress as a writer by, well, actually writing. And the best, most accurate (ugh, brutally accurate) feedback came via sales, or lack thereof.

So, I’ve decided that Side Venture is going to be my very own homegrown MFA in genre writing. There are three components:

  1. Craft – This is one I’ve largely ignored as I plowed through writing the first few novels of my life. I downloaded some loose novel outlines and kindasorta adhered to them; I adapted a couple popular beat sheets; I created an outline structure in a spreadsheet that has been working okay but not great. Picked up a book on scenes by Jack Bickham recently and discovered that there is so much good info and guidance that I’ve just been blithely ignoring by going my own way. I flatter myself thinking I have a basic understanding of what makes effective storytelling, but there’s so much more that I could be thinking about to improve it. Good craftsmanship means that a reader is unconscious of the effort that went into the writing, and can simply immerse themselves in the experience/world of the novel. The end goal: learn to write absorbing, pleasing, page-turning scenes.
    1. Craft curriculum for 2017: read the 4 craft books on my list (Scene and Structure by Bickham, 20 Master Plots by Tobias, 45 Master Characters by Schmidt, and Writer’s Guide to Heroes and Heroines by Viders). Put notes into Evernote.
  2. Process & Productivity – I have a full enough life as it is. So, I need to learn how to maximize the time I do have for writing (she thought with self-righteous determination as she continued to waste time on her blog). MFA students have this part easy: they have deadlines and professors and thesis projects. I have to come up with my own motivation, schedule, and techniques for making this happen. A spreadsheet is probably involved. So far my daily word goals are helping here but this is going to evolve constantly until I reach a pace I’m satisfied with.
  3. Marketing – The bane of all writers’ existence, and the most mysterious. I have an ad campaign running for book 1 on AMS but do need to figure out Facebook ads at some point. Some day. Probably in 2018. Right now, the pieces here are to build up enough of a social media presence that I look like a “normal” author and develop my mailing list engagement. Facebook ads can wait until 2018.

When do I graduate? I’ve thought carefully about this. I think when I have made over $60,000/year I can consider myself graduated from this MFA. If I’m making that much money, then I’m probably doing enough things right to consider myself a true professional wordslinger.

Beginning a tentative goal list for 2018:

  • Have at least one month where I make >$1k/mo
  • Make 3 figures every single month
  • Write standalone novel in current SF universe (60k words?)
  • Write 2 more novels
  • Run a Kindle Scout campaign
  • Compose list of craft books for 2018

More goals to be added at the end of the year, when I have a better sense of my books and universe, and how saleable this particular universe is. Maybe I’ll start a new series or keep writing in this one. We’ll save that analysis for the end of the year when I have more/better data, and update my MFA curriculum to match.

SV Mid-Q2 2017

I’m only $139.22 in the hole, including projected earnings from last month. Closing the gap! Looks like I’ll be able to break even this year. Woohoo.

Audience building

  • Mailing list size: 2194; open rate’s gone down since I’ve added more subscribers but no one is reporting me for spam and I get a lot of clicks from the people who do open my emails. Year end goal: 3k subscribers.
  • All review averages for both novel + novella are above 4.5 on Amazon and Goodreads.

Actual writing
So, this is the hard bit (naturally). I’m slogging along with book 2 but have made an appointment with the proofreader to have the draft to her by June 25 at the latest. That means a minimum of a thousand words a day, maybe pushing to 1.5 to be safe. I think I can make that. I have to.

SV Beginning of Q2 2017

Profit: $1005.77
Expenses: $1506.45

A bigger deficit than last time, yikes. Approx $500 in the red. Buuuut we’ll see where things fall in a few months. Actually, I’ll probably even deeper in the red. I might modify 2017’s goals to be: break even.

Audience building

  • Mailing list size: 1160; open rate holding steady at 54%, click rate at 32%. Will need to shave off subs who haven’t opened emails.
  • 4.7 star average on Amazon for novel, from ARC reviewers, 7 reviews total; aiming for at least 10 before publishing

Actual writing
I’m 5k into the action in book 2; wrote 2 novella/short stories in the series as reader magnets (17k and 12k each). That’s around 30k so far in 2017. End goal? 180k. Time to get to work…

“Fear is the mind-killer…”

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain. -Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear, Dune, Frank Herbert

In December, where did I think I would be by now? I thought I would be releasing book 1. <insert image of God/the fates having a good guffaw>

In a sci-fi state of mind, I thought of the Litany Against Fear this morning when I was thinking about what I wanted to accomplish this year for Side Venture. I’m more fearful about turning SV away from romance and towards sci-fi, since romance is just so naturally profitable and popular, and I’d built a small & faithful audience. But the problem is, writing romance is not sustainable for me. If I were writing full time and had time to maintain more than one pen name, then I’d keep doing it, but I have limited time now and must choose. So I pick the one I personally enjoy reading more–SF.

Last night I received my marked-up draft of book 1 from the proofreader. I was initially excited, and then terrified. She did a great job, and there were positive marks as well as critical ones, and I thought I was good at taking feedback by now, but it did still send a pang of anxiety through me about the quality of my writing. I climbed into bed with C and he said, you won’t know if it’s good until you publish it. And, it doesn’t even have to be good, look at ____ author.

He was, as he usually is, right about this. But it’s hard for the perfectionist in me to let go of a work that might not be good–might just be so-so or even mildly bad. Or it could be absolutely great fun and it will find its audience. I dunno.

Today I’ve worked through her suggestions and feel a little better about things. Apparently, my perfectionism likes to aim the occasional salvo at my work, hopes and dreams, but actually getting down and dirty into the actual work fends her off. (She’s a jerk, but a lazy one.)

So, because I’m too tired and preoccupied to cogitate more about whether my writing has any merit, the state of SV by the numbers:

Profit: $731.98 (from romance pen name)
Expenses: $950.45(PO box, DBA filings, proof of filings, review service, cheap covers for freebie stories, notary, domain purchase & hosting, proofreading, pre-booking book promo service)
*Currently -$218.47 in the red, but that will decrease slightly when my ‘Zon payments come in at the end of the month.
*At least I don’t have to pay any taxes this quarter if I stay in the red! But seriously, I haven’t been in the red since I started SV, so this is giving me some anxiety.
*Forecasting further expenses for the year: $180 for proofreading (going w/cheaper editor for books 2/3), $90 for PO box to fulfill can-spam reqs, $300 for miscellaneous (including marketing) puts me at $570 for the rest of the year’s expenses. Even if I only make $100/month from romance pen name residuals and very little from sci-fi, I should be in the black by the end of the year. (I hope.)

Audience building

  • Over 1,000 people have downloaded a short story of mine for free in exchange for being added to my mailing list. Open rate for this list is 54%, click rate is 32%, which is pretty darn good for a list of freebie-seekers. Unsubscribes at about 3%. Hoping that translates to an okay conversion rate when I actually have a book to sell!
  • Observation: sci-fi readers skew male. Or readers attracted to my kind of sci-fi do.
  • Someone emailed me: “I would rate “<short story>” FIVE STARS. I enjoyed the book tremendously. The storyline and characters were great. Thank you for a exciting story”. It made me feel pretty good. 🙂
  • about 14 people requested to join my review team. I need around 10 reviews to be able to run book promotions. Hoping for a 50% yield from that list, so…7 reviews? Organic reviews will fill out the rest, I hope.
  • No one follows me on FB or twitter, which I understand to be no big deal as far as sales are concerned. Thank god, because tweeting does not come naturally to this old lady.

Actual writing (I mean, really. Who does that?)
Book 2 is fully outlined and ready to chug, but I’m realizing that I need to outline book 3 so it can inform what happens in book 2. This pushes my writing schedule back slightly. Blarghity.

To work, and beyond!


Screen Shot 2016-11-29 at 9.51.53 AM.png

That there is a screenshot from my receipt for the commissioning of three covers for my space opera project. I had to take a couple of deep breaths before I clicked the buy button; I’ve never, ever spent so much money related to side venture. And immediately the doubts poured forth: what if I never break even on the covers alone? Should I have picked a cheaper artist? A more expensive one? What if I get a bunch of one star reviews? What if I never finish the sequels? What if someone I know picks up the book and the shame of my terrible writing becomes known? What if no one buys it at all? Have I been going about this all wrong and don’t even know it?

But. The fact of the matter is, I did click that buy button. It means I’m committed. I want to do this, have always wanted to do this, and I have no time to waste. The baby needs a mother with some measure of courage.

Also, I have too much scrimpy immigrant in me to spend that much money and not try to squeeze all the value I can out of it.

Finally, I like this story. I’m having fun writing it, which is more than I can say for some other things I’ve worked on. I would write this story even if it did go exactly nowhere. So maybe–even if my worst dreams came true, and it was a commercial flop, I would still be happy to have written it. That’s a good thing.

When I look at my previous post, I realize that I’m really not so behind when it comes to SV goals. I’ve outlined SO1 extensively and is 25% written; SO2 is lightly outlined, and I know how SO3 ends. I didn’t complete nano (blame he-who-shall-not-be-named, a cold, a 7 month old, and Thanksgiving), but am still continuing to write at a steady pace. I found a cover artist. We’re on track.

Deep breaths.

Updated SV goals for the end of the year
-Finish SO1
-Finish SO3 light outline
-If time, do detailed outline for SO2 + SO3
-Start list of blog topics (have backlog of 5-10 before publication of SO1)

2017 Q1 SV Goals
-Complete SO2
-Detailed outline for SO3
-Hire proofreader for SO1
-Set up mailing list
-Compile list of new release book promo sites
-Find advance reviewers
-Facebook page?
-Plan for February release?!

2017 Misc/long-range goals
-Complete SO3
-Return to romance pen name, finish short stories 1-3
-Further blog topics for SO
-AWS/Facebook ads?
-Make $10k in 2017

Starting over – side venture & beyond

Well, baby is 6 months–almost 7 months!–and much has changed. Is that a simple, obvious understatement? Yes. Motherhood and early babyhood is so overflowing with drama and meaning and boredom and drudgery that I can scarcely make heads or tails of it. Things are moving so quickly that to stop and reflect means scrambling to catch up a few minutes or days later. It’s harder than I thought it would be, much harder. Nothing I have done in life could have prepared me for it, and things are getting easier and more complex at the same time. The doula who led my mother’s group said that parenting is to adapt and adjust, over and over and over again. We are all alive, C is gaining weight, and more aware day by day. She can roll, hold food to gnaw on, drink water, and grapple with toys. She loves to be held, although she’ll complain loudly if she’s not properly entertained while in our arms. That’s where we are for now–in a month, or even a few days, everything will change. That is the only thing that’s certain.

Side Venture
And now for the self-knowing: I need to get back to writing. For sanity and meaning and purpose and profit.

In 2015, the year I was most active with publishing, I made $12,475.15. This year thus far, I’ve been paid $6,743.36, about half of what I earned in 2015.

I haven’t published at all, written much, and have done zero marketing/advertising. It took me weeks to respond to a few meager pieces of fan mail. So, I surpassed my royalty goal while being totally indolent, which was $6k. If I  make $7k total for 2016, I’ll be content.

Nonetheless earnings continue to dip as the algorithms are so dependent on new releases. I should expect that I drop from about $200 a month to $150 and eventually $100 a month next year without new releases. This makes my quit number quite beyond reach. So, it’s time to ramp things up with writing in order to get off the CHW (corporate hamster wheel).

The problem is, when I sit down to write, or even outline, my eyes glaze over and I tab over to facebook or reddit or some forum. My ability to concentrate is weak and flabby, as if my brain’s constantly scanning the environment for snakes or spiders or tips from my mothers’ groups. That must change. And, like all exercise, it’s all about repetition and discipline. I think my ability to focus will improve if I just try, over and over and over again.

Tentative SV goals, for the end of the year:
-Outline SO1
-Outline SO2
-Outline SO3
-Outline SOprequel
-Complete nanowrimo (for SO1)
-Find cover artist

One markedly positive thing that came out of pregnancy and birth is a deepened sense of appreciation for my body. For what it has done for me, for what it has done for C, for simply what it is capable of (more than I ever gave it credit for!). I want to do more to make life easier on body.

Body goals
-Lose 5 lbs
-Wean in Dec/Jan

The worst week of my life

Cee was born on a Friday morning and spent the first weekend of her life in the NICU under the lights, being treated for a mild case of jaundice—she’s A+ like Carter while I’m O+, and was sluggish during her first night with us. As we were trying to sleep the pediatricians came in, looked at her, then took her to the nursery for some time in a bili blanket. Her levels didn’t go down; in the morning they said that out of caution they were putting her under the heavy-duty NICU lights, and supplementing her with formula since my milk hadn’t come in yet.

It was good in a way; I was able to rest and sleep and go up to the nursery to attempt breastfeeding every four hours or so. Three of my closest friends came to visit on Saturday and I escorted them up to meet her. My best friend burst into tears—good ones—at the sight of her. We stood in front of the incubator with our arms around each other and looked—just looked at her.

Carter went home to sleep on Saturday night, and I spent the night going up and down to and from the NICU. He came and brought food—sandwiches and smoothies from Whole Foods, Chinese takeout. Sunday they released her, and we put her in the carseat and drove home with Carter’s mother in tow. I had a feeling of mild unease when we went home; I knew that the real hard times were about to begin. Over the next few days my breasts became painfully engorged, my legs and ankles and feet swelled with fluids. I couldn’t fit in any of my shoes. The nights were murderously difficult as I tried to feed Cee with my minimal milk and then supplemented her with formula. I think I burst into tears on Tuesday night after Cee burst out of her ineffectual swaddle for the third time.

The engorgement slowly began to fade; by the weekend it seemed things were better. Sunday, however, Cee stopped eating. Her latch was terrible and then she began to refuse formula, which was a first. As she faded we panicked and went back to the ER; they admitted her to the NICU again. We hoped it was jaundice; it was not. The nurses and doctors had no idea what it was. They did every test they could think of over the next week: upper GI, head ultrasound, jaundice, electrolytes, blood cultures, spinal taps, everything. All was normal.

I became gradually more and more unhinged. I would go to the NICU and sit there with my floppy baby on my lap, sobbing over her. My milk production was low, and I spent hours tethered to the pump. I’ve never fallen apart like that before. I spent time furtively running searches on the internet about obscure medical conditions. I tried to bargain with God.

Carter’s mother came to help us, buying me flowers and cooking meals and staying up to keep me company. I tried to pump to bring in milk to the NICU—I didn’t manage to get much. Less than an ounce most of the time. Stress? I don’t know.

On Thursday the 7th, my mother-in-law and I got up to go to the NICU in the morning. When we arrived, the nurse told us that Cee had eaten 70 milliliters, and had been fussy. I high-fived her and promptly burst into tears. Now you’ve got me going, said my mother-in-law, and then she started to cry.

I leaned over her bed and kissed Cee on her forehead and promised her that I’d never complain about being woken up in the middle of the night again. All the while wiping my nose to avoid dripping tears and snot all over her.

I texted Carter that she’d eaten 70 milliliters!

I took her onto my lap and breastfed her, while my mother-in-law took a call from Carter. She handed the phone to me and I said yes, she’s eating, I’m nursing her right now. He told me he loved me.

That moment was like the laws of entropy had been reversed in the universe.

They kept her for a few more days to make sure she gained weight. I went home and pumped milk with a renewed determination. She came home the following Sunday morning. We were together again.