“1. Attempt what is not certain. Certainty may or may not come later.”

“1. Attempt what is not certain. Certainty may or may not come later. It may then be a valuable delusion.” -Notes to myself on beginning a painting, by Richard Diebenkorn

Today I’m taking a vacation day for purely arbitrary reasons. As I was eating my eggs and zucchini this morning I thought about how glorious this time of day is, when the rest of the day is just spread before me like a vast banquet. As I start eating, though, dishes start disappearing, and as I get full the less I can take in. If I eat the roast lamb there’s no room for the peking duck, and so on. By the end of the day I’m struggling to get through the rice pudding. I like food metaphors.

So, sometimes I feel a little loath to start the day because it means that I can’t have every dish on the banquet table. Especially sunny, chilly, quiet autumn days like today. But whether I eat or not, the dishes will fade away. In fact some of them have already started to disappear. Better start eating.

By the numbers, for both pen names:
Royalties earned to date: $4500 (approx)

Well, it’s not looking like I’ll hit my $5k goal for 2017. I’m guessing as to what kind of income I can rake in during November and December and I’ll most likely be a few hundred bucks short. I feel okay about it. My productivity was not where it should have been for a few months this year, but ya know…full time job, baby, husband, shockingly needy dog.

That said, this year is winding down in a positive way right now. I wrote 30,000 words in October, and most of it during the second half; I have been doing writing sprints and they’ve been giving my productivity a real shot in the arm. I plan to write 40,000 in November and be on track for publication come the new year. I’ve already booked the editor so I must stay on track. Deadlines, accountability, profit, YES.

2018’s tentative schedule:
Dec-Jan: publish book 3; finish writing book 1 in the Charlie trilogy by end of Jan
Feb-Mar: write Charlie book 2, have Charlie book 1 edited
Apr-May: write Charlie book 3, have Charlie book 2 edited
June: Charlie book 1 published in anthology
July: Charlie book 2 publish
July-Aug: Charlie book 3 publish; write book 4 to finish current SF series
Sept: finish book 4, have it edited, publish it
Oct: Charlie book 1 publish; start Kindle Scout campaign for standalone (30 days)
Nov: publish standalone (assuming I don’t get picked, which is most likely)
Dec: take a goddamn break. Maybe learn about ads, somewhere during the year?

That’s 6 releases. I’ve haven’t had a release schedule like that since…gosh, my romance days, and that was for novellas of 20k words max, not full length 70k word novels.

However, I’ve been averaging over 2k words a day on weekdays, which means about 44k words a month. As long as I don’t hit any major roadblocks, I should do fine. My sprints are really doing wonders and I am a better writer now than I was a year ago.

Also, I might be writing a few romance shorts for the ole dependable romance pen name. Just for fun, and to keep that income stream alive.

Sorry that this blog has just turned into my business planning blog. But I gotta do it somewhere.

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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.

“A cheerful life is what the Muses love, A soaring spirit is their prime delight.”

A cheerful life is what the Muses love, A soaring spirit is their prime delight. -William Wordsworth

I was sitting on the can a few mornings ago and still half asleep. I ran my hands over my belly and for a strange moment thought–this is just fat! There’s nothing here! I’m not pregnant at all–must have all been a dream. Dang, people are going to be mad when they find out. I wonder if I’ll have to return the shower gifts. 

Well, I got in the shower and the gut-kicks began, so I suppose baby took umbrage at that.

I’m not writing, and I feel pretty good about it. First, because I feel pretty awful otherwise–still nursing a head cold that my husband gave me as a pre-Valentine’s gift. My world is zoomed in on mucus and sinus pressure and fatigue (with a nice dose of heartburn from the pregnancy) and there’s not much room for much else at present.

Yesterday I finished the 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle that was my anniversary gift (4 pieces missing! Rage!!), and cooked a curry and a pot of rice, and that’s about all I was able to accomplish. Oh, and a quick library trip to hit my 10k daily stepcount.

I kept thinking–how am I going to wing this with a baby? What happens when my entire household is out sick? What do I do then? How am I going to feel awful and take care of another human being (or two)?

It was a small, brief manifestation of my tendency to catastrophic thinking. I headed it off with a nap and a bowl of tang yuan. Stress-sleeping is a good coping strategy, although the dreams get weird.

Anyway, regarding writing: I finished novel 1 in my space opera series at about 60k words, but have only started outlining its sequel. With the lapse in productivity I’ll be lucky to finish novel 2 before baby comes, assuming that I even have the brainpower to write towards the end of pregnancy–egads, we’re only 8.5 weeks away from D-day! And as for the closing novel–I have no plans for it, although I know how the series will close. Altogether with the increasing toll of the 3rd trimester I don’t feel bad about where I stand with writing. Some things are more important than Side Venture. It’s time to relax, spoon some curry in my mouth, and take a nap on the couch.

“The mundane is the edge of glory.”

11wks

That, messieurs et mesdames, is my daughter or son. At 11 weeks old he or she was twitching and moving in the womb, waving her arms and beating her heart as fast as she could. Yesterday I went for my nuchal test;  the little one was bigger than ever and even more active, wiggling so much that the ultrasound tech struggled to make the measurements.

It’s so strange to think that all of this movement is going on–perhaps at any hour of the day and night?–without my knowledge, inside my very body. I am eating, working, sleeping, watching terrible television, reading. Meanwhile this tiny person is building a spine, organs, and arranging her cells in preparation for life among us. This is all a mystery.

When I think about it too much I feel light-headed.

So, I don’t think about it too much. Half my time is spent eating or thinking about eating. The rest of the time, I’m trying to write, exercise, draw, and keep my head tightly screwed on to the rest of my body.

Exercise
Hitting 10,000 steps most days, although my goal is still 12,000-15,000. Once in a while I squeeze out a 17,000 step day, but that’s few and far between compared to how far I used to go. I do the occasional prenatal yoga video, but I think this is less strength/cardio and more stretching.

Drawing
I’m not doing the best job this go around, But I have been making some progress on drawing faces in perspective.

Writing
Making a surprising amount of progress here. Doing nano, at a rate of 2,000 words a day. I’m on track to finish my novella before Thanksgiving–probably won’t write a full novel, which is not something I do for side venture anyways. I handed off space opera partial to an alpha reader and got positive feedback. I’m feeling optimistic about this project.

Side Venture
Projecting $12,000 for 2015, which is $2k beyond my initial for 2015! I’m delighted beyond words. Will do a full accounting at the end of this year, but I am happy with how it went this year. I’m scaling goals back for 2016 due to baby ($6,000?), but very satisfied with the success of SV this year.

I have a lot of plans for writing in 2016, but not quite as much where publication goes–at least until the fall. I want to spend the first half of 2016 writing, the summer polishing and getting covers lined up (to skip over the summer slump), and then some fast paced publishing come fall. I’ve got plans. Yes, I do. If I play my cards right, 2017 might be very interesting indeed.

Or, it could be a total flop, in which case I will bury my nose in my baby’s sweet neck and let it go. The prenatal yoga videos encourage me to think about the word surrender, which is a good virtue for the pregnant state, but I can’t bring myself to do it completely. I have an irresistible urge to keep pushing at everything, but at work and writing in particular. Partly with the knowledge that I can’t predict how productive I’ll be once baby comes, but also because I feel like I can and should and want to push myself.

For now, the motto is: work hard, and then surrender.

“Writing is the only profession where no one considers you ridiculous if you earn no money.”

Writing is the only profession where no one considers you ridiculous if you earn no money. -Jules Renard

Biz
I’ve stopped really keeping track of my earnings since March, except in passing…no more obsessive weekly tabulating of numbers and extrapolation of expected payouts, except a very thorough calculation at the end of the month for tax purposes. I think I passed the $3,000 mark (gross, pre-tax) in Q1. That’s around 2,000 sales on Amazon only.

One thing I might do in the future to boost revenue is eliminate my $0.99 books. They earn me hardly anything since at that price point Amazon takes most of the money, although I like having a range of prices across my catalog (free-$4.99). I think the current $0.99 books will stay where they are, but everything else going forward will be $2.99+.

Another point is diversification. Amazon is great for the first 3 months of a book’s life, but beyond that I think it’s less useful. So I published one story + a freebie on 6 non-Amazon platforms at the beginning of this month and am pleasantly surprised by how well it’s doing. It’s made $54.47 as of today, which is a lot more than I expected.  I thought it would earn, at most, $100/month total on all non-Amazon platforms, but at this rate, it might make at least double that. As much as the ‘Zon is the main marketplace for books, there are apparently readers that live and buy on other platforms, so it’s worth reaching out to them.

I need to get serious about my marketing game. Part of the issue is short stories vs. full length novellas and novels; 95% of my catalog are short stories, which turned out to be more profitable than I thought, but readers really want full novels for their buck. And where marketing/promo is concerned, it’s much easier to do novels than shorts. I do loathe marketing, though; I hate twitter, I hate Facebook, and I hate researching book blogs and asking for reviews. That said, it’s surprising how far I’ve gotten with no marketing: 3.66 average rating on Goodreads, and review averages of 4-5 stars on the ‘Zon (around 50 total).

Most days I dread doing too much biz-related stuff at the cost of wordcount, but when I do, it’s shockingly fun. I like thinking like a businesswoman–doing market research, and running little experiments. I’m open to traditionally publishing at some point, but really love the level of control I have over every aspect of this side venture so far.

The Writing
This is the steadier, more predictable part of things, but also the more existential-dread-inducing.

1) space opera! The more I work on this, the more I love it. I don’t even care if it sells. Writing it is enjoyable enough. That said, it’s sooo muchhh slowerrrr than almost anything else I’ve written before (excluding literary fiction). Worldbuilding is fun but it can be like a prison sometimes to remember what all the elements are, and how it might affect the story. I’m falling in love with some of my minor characters, also, to the point where I’m having a hard time keeping track of my protagonist, who is increasingly boring in comparison. That’s okay. Everyone thought Han Solo was cooler than Luke Skywalker, right? The goal for space opera is to be finished by July (I know, I know…moving the deadline out, but it’s so much harder to write!). I also realized that I can’t push this story as hard as I can push romance stories. If the next scene is not there, it’s just…not there. Writing this genre required me to slow down, to let it sit fallow and then come back to it after a few days or a week, even.

But I love it so much I always come back. For once, this is not going to be a story that I’m going to abandon. I even have sketchy outlines for parts 2 and 3…

2) Side Venture: I’m fast at this now. Fast fast fast. 2k-3k per day. It helps to have a strong outline to kick me in the ass whenever I slow down. I’ve also run some polls among my subscribers and now know what my readers want to read next (results were not surprising–about what I expected). Over the last 2 weeks I’ve written about 14k for my next SV story; it’s going to be a full length novel, maybe around 60k total. It flows so quickly and easily compared to space opera; going back to SV writing after getting stuck on my last space battle was reassuring, because it showed me that it really was the genre/story, and not that I was intrinsically blocked in my writing. I have no idea when this will be done–I’m prioritizing space opera, but space opera gets congested regularly, during which time I revert to working on SV. So…end of August, early September?

Total works to be written: 5, approx. 205,000 words
1. Space opera (80k)
2. SV novel (65k)
3. SV sequel #1 (15-20k)
4. SV sequel #2 (40-50k)
5. SV sequel #3 (undecided-maybe 25k?)

If there are 147 weekdays left in the year, that means I have to write about 1395 words per day to hit that number. I exclude weekends because, well, weekends. If I include weekends that drops the number down to a nice clean 1k. This is all doable.

Subscribers helped me organize the order of sequel stories to be completed this year, as well. This year I’ll have fewer published works, but better quality works and longer ones.

Misc
1. Learn & build custom WordPress site, find host
2. More regular newsletter postings

Excelsior!

“Our doubts are traitors…”

“Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by daring to attempt.” -William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure

March closed out at a little over $800. But SV is on hold for a while as I sort through the space opera story that’s been nibbling at the edges of my subconscious during the last few months.

It’s the first story I’ve written that has a concrete beginning, middle, and end. There is a grand conflict and there are smaller ones, and there are character arcs, and angst aplenty. There are planets and space battles and aliens and one big love story. My outline is an elastic thing, stretching from the microbits of a scene to broad, general sweeping plot turns (“write epic battle here”).

It’s not detailed enough for me to pound out 10,000 words in a day, as the astonishing Rachel Aaron has been known to do, but I’m stumbling through it as I go. I’m functioning off the fact that I tend to go off the rails at some point in my writing, with or without an outline, and a hyper-detailed outline would probably feel like waste at that point as I gleefully twirl off into the great blue beyond.

I’ve been managing 1,000 words a day. This is okay, not great, but space opera is much, much harder to write than anything I’ve worked on before. Building an entire universe up from scratch has a way of making my fingers freeze on my keyboard. I’m launching into my first big battle scene this weekend and am giving myself permission to take a day or two to outline it out so I can write through it quickly and logically come the weekend.

I do get frustrated with my prose. It’s either too slippery and elusive for genre fiction or too basic and declarative-sentence-y for my own taste. I’m struggling to hit the right balance with my diction–honestly, I’ve read fan fiction in the sci-fi genre that’s much better written than what I’m outputting. This is dismaying but I press forward regardless–what other choice is there?

If all goes well I should be finished with this novel by mid-June. Excelsior!

“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves, at the same time.” [part deux]

spoon o'destiny

With full scale guts-level renovations in one house and preparing the other for sale and husband heading to law school and the day-to-day slog, I’ve been busy. The house is in a state of unrest, with boxes everywhere. My nighttime written journal entries are so boring, basically lists of things I’ve done and things I need to do, it’s gotten colorless and utterly grim. They’re robotic with only the barest hints of human emotion (“feeling iffy today”), and none of this stuff is anything I want to remember when I’m older.

There’s not much time for leisure art time, so I’ve taken to drawing Outfit-of-the-Day in my bedside journal, maybe spending around 5 or 10 minutes at most on each one while I’m sprawled on my stomach in bed. The goal is not to do good art or to even record my fashionable-ness (I’m the farthest thing from a clotheshorse…maybe a clothesgerbil). The goal is to have some record of the day, and to unwind with a little sketch.

The interesting thing is, every drawing is so different.

The inescapable fact of adulthood is a narrowing of your options. That was what was so breathtaking about being in college: as my oboe teacher told me ten years ago, you have the world by the balls just by the sheer fact that you’re twenty-one years old. You can go anywhere, do anything, and it seems that every idea and profession and possibility is offering itself to you like a crush of drunken, enamored strangers at a bar. At twenty-one, there are no strings, no commitments.

I had my birthday last month, and am coming up on my first wedding anniversary. I most definitely have commitments now: a husband, a dog-beast, a job, two (!) mortgages, a dentist appointment every half year, and no less than six houseplants. The houseplants are surprisingly needy.

One one level, my prospects are certainly narrowed; I may never finish my dissertation, never go to law school, never become a professional pianist (not that I have ever wanted to accomplish all these things, but things seemed so…ripe and possible when I was younger). I will probably never be as fluent in Mandarin as I or my family would like.

Being an adult requires giving up certain things, saying no when you’d like to say yes just for the hell of it, and making choices. Irrevocable ones, which means you are killing off the unchosen options to move forward with the one you’ve chosen. Or if you’re not killing them off, they are getting short thrifted.

In simpler terms, a grad school friend told me that you could have it all (a good family life, a strong career, and a healthy/fulfilled self), but not at the same time. Inevitably, one thing suffers. Shonda Rhimes referred to this conundrum in this year’s Dartmouth commencement speech (worth a read for the “pass out, die, poop” references alone): “Whenever you see me somewhere succeeding in one area of my life, that almost certainly means I am failing in another area of my life.” Creatively, I might be failing right now, but I’m okay with that.

I am confident about my choices and mostly happy with them, despite the occasional dream about having finished the diss. I like the trajectory of my life right now, even though it’s not anything I would have predicted ten years ago.

And the interesting thing about the OOTD drawings is that they are so different, changing every day, and I still think each drawing looks like me in some way. Each one different yet accurate. Some of my freedom and some of my possibilities are dying off, that’s true, but I am not as fixed and finished a person as I thought I was when I graduated college. I guess what I’m saying is that my internal life is growing more vivid even as my life on paper looks ever more flat and limited, and I never expected that.

I remember reading in Suzanne Farrell’s memoir some reference to the fact that creativity needs  limitations and structure to really thrive, even if it’s just to break that rule or structure, spectacularly. Beauty and creativity are like roses and climbing vines, they need something to grow on.

I’m thinking of using my woefully neglected tumblr to record my OOTDs. Maybe?

Almost fourteen years ago I started college (on 9/11/2001, which was the day my parents dropped me off at my dormitory). The professor in my freshman seminar gave all the eager, anxious students in her class this poem, and I loved it very much. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately.

Seed Leaves

Here something stubborn comes,
Dislodging the earth crumbs
And making crusty rubble.
It comes up bending double,
And looks like a green staple.
It could be seedling maple,
Or artichoke, or bean.
That remains to be seen.

Forced to make choice of ends,
The stalk in time unbends,
Shakes off the seed-case, heaves
Aloft, and spreads two leaves
Which still display no sure
And special signature.
Toothless and fat, they keep
The oval form of sleep.

This plant would like to grow
And yet be embryo;
Increase, and yet escape
The doom of taking shape;
Be vaguely vast, and climb
To the tip end of time
With all of space to fill,
Like boundless Igdrasil
That has the stars for fruit.

But something at the root
More urgent than that urge
Bids two true leaves emerge,
And now the plant, resigned
To being self-defined
Before it can commerce
With the great universe,
Takes aim at all the sky
And starts to ramify.

-Richard Wilbur, New and Collected Poems