Monday, April 30, 2012

The best way to reach your goals

I'm sure we've all wondered about this before. It doesn't matter if your goals are personal or professional, or a mixture of both. Everyone has wondered how to get there faster.

How am I qualified to answer such a question? Well, I've reached several of my own personal goals. I'm a multi-published author. I've got books with 3 different publishing houses (one of them is Ellora's Cave, that has recently gotten some very good press). I'm not rich by any means, but I'm earning more on royalties each year. (I've been published for almost 5 years now.) I've also started to self-publish some books recently. Yes, I do plan to continue working with a traditional publishing house, as well as self-publishing.

As for personal goals, I will share one of my biggest and most important (to me). I've lost 34 pounds since this time last year! I am so excited about that. It didn't happen fast and there was a lot of hard work involved. I'm still working toward where I want to be. Just like my writing career, my body is a work in progress.

My point isn't to brag, not at all. I've worked hard to be where I am. I may not be on top yet, but I'm getting there. I am proud, sure. But I'm not full of myself.

So, how have I come so far and what has this got to do with reaching your goals?

The very best answer I can give is this: Help others to reach their goals and congratulate them when they do.

Long before I was a published author, I was excited about the prospect of one day writing my own books. I didn't read popular authors and scoff, "Oh, I'm so much better than them. Their writing sucks. Blah, blah, blah." I didn't write scathing reviews online because I felt they were competition or out of flat out jealousy. (Or any other reason.) I've certainly read more than a few books that I didn't like. However, I never felt the need to bash them in public. There are plenty of people who I'm sure loved them.

I approached the task of writing my first book (and signing my first publishing contract) with humility. I am honored that people would take the time to read my books and I am so far beyond thrilled to hear when someone enjoys one of them.

I am happy for my fellow writers when they get a new contract, or a great review. It is exciting to see so many movies based on books too! That gives me hope. Ha. Ha. Ha. I don't sit there wondering, "How the crap did that happen?" I think how awesome it is that there's a chance it could happen to me too! My odds are no different than anyone else's, and neither are yours.

When I was at my highest weight, I was happy for my cousin who started running and losing weight. It hurt to look in the mirror and see an image I was less than proud of, but I never envied her. I was proud of her. I cheered her on and I still do. She's a marathon runner now and I'm so happy for her! I'm training to be able to run a 5k and someday soon, I'll be right there with her.

My point is, whatever your goals are, don't belittle other people who might get there ahead of you. I assure you, the climb isn't easy. No one is ever handed anything, even if it may look as if they are. None of us knows what goes on behind the scenes in someone else's life. You have no way of knowing how hard they worked to get where they are and it may not even be that far ahead of you anyways.

We all have our own battles. Everyone who reads this post is fighting for something. Maybe you want your voice to be heard, like having your book published, or you're struggling to get into better shape. Maybe you are fighting for some cause that is deeply personal to you. My point is, everyone is fighting for something.

In light of sounding like the biggest hippie in the world, we should stop fighting each other and offer support instead. (This applies to personal and professional goals, not world domination. That's bad.) If someone accomplishes something you would dearly love to do, congratulate them. Do it sincerely, not out of spite or with a snide remark. You'll be surprised how great it will make you feel.

What goes around really does come around, whether you believe in karma or not. I put out what I hope to get back one day.

I support those I admire, and those in my field. I don't belittle my fellow author and I don't begrudge all the miles my cousin has ran that I haven't. Ha. Ha. I'll get there soon enough.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Why am I in such a hurry?

Does anyone else remember that old song, "In a hurry and don't know why?" I think it was by Alabama. Part of the lyrics say, "I rush and rush until life's no fun. All I really gotta do is live and die. But, I'm in a hurry and don't know why." Kind of depressing. Anyway, my point is this, I find myself rushing all the time. I hurry to finish the laundry as if my life won't be complete without a clean house. Ha. Ha. Ha. Okay, so I have a touch of OCD. I often try to do everything on my "To Do" list all in one day, even though the list can be quite long.

I don't know if I'm addicted to a sense of accomplishment or if I lack the ability to relax. The new book I started a few weeks ago, Bound by Blood, I've made a conscious decision to put it on hold. I don't have writer's block. (I don't believe in it.) I know exactly what's going to happen, I'm just not ready to write it yet. I want to "live" with these characters a bit longer. I want to get to know them better so that I can tell their stories more completely. You can tell if a writer really understood the world and the characters by the emotion (or lack thereof) in any story. I want mine to be complete.

This is a choice I made. I did it on purpose. When will the story be ready? I'm not sure. It might be tomorrow or it might be a few months from now. So, why did I start working on it again yesterday? Because I'm impatient. By the way, I put the project back on the shelf after making some important notes. Nothing wrong with notes.

It seems like I'm always in a hurry to do something. I lack stillness. Now, I'm not talking about the kind of stillness like sitting on your butt and eating chips in front of the television. Ha. Ha. I'm talking about stillness of mind.

The older I get the more I have this unexplainable sense of urgency to get things done, to accomplish something truly wonderful and/or noteworthy.

When I wrote my first novel in 2007, that was right in the middle of a truly stressful time in my life. Not because of writing, but other factors. For example, I had a chain of horribly stressful jobs that took their toll on me mentally and physically. Not to sound like a whiner, but I haven't worked with the public since March, 2010 and I am only now beginning to feel like I've recovered. People are so awful to each other that it takes my breath away. Being professional and preforming your job to the best of your ability doesn't count for shit and it certainly doesn't give you any job security.

When I began writing full-time, it wasn't only because I was working toward my dream, it was out of necessity. Two years later, I don't feel like a different person. I feel like my old self. You know, the me before I became bitter and wounded by repeat encounters from "Assholes R' Us" card carrying members.

Things are improving for me by the day and for that I am truly thankful. Still, I can't seem to shake this sense of urgency. Maybe it's because I worked for an obsessive compulsive lunatic for 4 years who breathed down the back of my neck every second. Sometimes I think that may be the case.

The rest of the time (when I'm not suffering from PMS) I realize that if I suffer permanently from dealing with those jerks, then they win. I can't let that happen. If it takes 1000 workouts and hours of meditation, I will learn to calm down and take my time. Damn it, I'm going to lollygag if it kills me! LOL

Just because I don't have a new book come out every month doesn't mean readers will forget I exist. Besides, I've had 2 new releases this year already. Not to mention, all my backlist books that I'm re-editing, adding content to (in many cases) and re-releasing. Plus, I'm working on getting into the best shape of my life. At least, that's my goal.

As writers if we don't take time to read works besides our own, watch favorite (or new) movies, and experience life, we miss the chance to refill our creativity.

So, here's the reality I keep telling myself, I'm not on a deadline. No one is breathing down my neck to finish this book. My readers will enjoy it more when it is all it was meant to be, and so will I.

Once again, I'm sharing this because I truly believe I am not the only writer who has feelings like this. Hell, I don't think you have to be a writer to relate to me. I think ALL people who have to work for a living go through things like this.

Plus, yesterday (April 26th) was my birthday and I tend to look more harshly at my accomplishments (or lack thereof) when another year has past.

But has a year really passed, or just another day? The day before my birthday was just another day. And you know what? So is my birthday. I didn't suddenly age a year in one day. It happened gradually, day by day, minute by minute. That's how a life is made. It's how success is built. It's how winning is done.

Now, who wants ice cream? Oh, right, I'm lactose intolerant. Really, I'll stop making jokes now. I promise.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Constant Cravings was on Bloomberg!

Okay, so it was only for a few seconds. LOL But still, how cool is that? I was catching up on emails this morning when I started looking through the digest from the Ellora's Cave author group. Someone posted a link to an interview with the company's CEO, Patty Marks. Okay, that's worth watching, I thought. So, I clicked the link.

Not only was it worth watching as a fabulous piece of industry news, it was seriously GREAT press for Ellora's Cave. And seeing my book in the background was an added bonus.

So, without further rambling, here's the link to the article.

They show my new release Constant Cravings TWICE in the background! The picture is small, but it's there! LOL

Some people may not get how much I'm excited about this. But, to have my book flashed briefly in the background in an interview where J.K. Rowling is mentioned AND Ellora's Cave, AND erotic romance are discussed, I am THRILLED.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Should you self-publish AND do your own cover art?

As some of you might know, I've been practicing "un-plugging." That's where (in my case) you check your email and then don't go near the computer for the rest of the day. It's been wonderful.

However, today I browsed a forum online that was discussing the pros and cons of a few topics I feel do not have a clear answer. What I mean is, the answer is different for everyone.

The first topic I stumbled across was more of a listing of cons than a discussion. It was someone stating how an author should NEVER do their own cover art. Their reasoning was that an author didn't know the proper size for the image and didn't know how to blend backgrounds. They also said that authors would only use standard fonts that came with the software they were using and that these fonts were boring.

Although I understand their point (there are lots of examples of this on Amazon) I disagree that you should always hire a cover artist. There are many authors out there who do an amazing job on their own cover art. Mandy Roth and Michelle Pillow are two that come to mind. Just because you write doesn't mean you don't have other talents.

I don't think I've done too badly on the covers for my self-pub titles either. I created the look I wanted and that as a reader would attract my attention. That can't be all bad. I also didn't use "standard" font. I found something that I believed conveyed the mood of the story. I took everything into consideration. The initial cover image, the background, the colors, fonts, placement of fonts, how it would look in a thumbnail on Amazon, as well as how it would look on the front of a print copy.

In this same forum someone also said that they thought it was expensive to hire a cover artist. Someone else replied (snidely I thought) that, "If you think $50-100 is expensive, then yes." Um, it isn't cheap. If you've been affected by this economy the way many have and need to carefully plan your budget, you don't have $50-100 to just throw around. I'll admit I don't. Now that is a very rough estimate. Some artists will do covers for less and some charge more. I also respect the fact that they need to make a living as well. I'm simply saying that from my point of view, it is an expense that doesn't make sense.

I also respect the fact that not everyone is comfortable or has the desire to do their own cover art. However, if you CAN do it and do it well, then I say go for it.

Another hot topic I stumbled across in these forums was the old argument of self-published vs. traditional. This decision is personal to each individual and depends on lots of factors. Many argue the point that if you use a traditional publisher, you don't have to do all the marketing yourself. Um, wrong. While publishers will do some small amount of advertising, they generally advertise their company and not individual authors. I don't blame them. Who could afford to advertise for EVERY author in a big house? For the cover of your book to even be included in a big ad, you generally need to be established with the house and your books need to be selling pretty well.

I'm not knocking publishers for this at all. It makes good business sense. I'm just pointing out that the idea of, "I'll get a contract and then someone else will do the rest of the work," is way off base.

Regardless of whether you self or traditionally publish, there is marketing to be done. Lots and lots of it. It can be overwhelming and even depressing at times. Then again, there are some publishers who will put your book up for sale and never advertise it at all. It just sits there looking pretty on their site. In these cases, uploading it to Amazon and letting it just sit THERE looking pretty might get your title more visibility based on location alone. It's a lot to consider.

Another point made was that everyone needs an editor. I agree. No one is perfect. I'm a better writer because of the editors I've worked with and I'm grateful for that. That is why I continue to traditionally publish as well as dipping my toes into self-pub. For my self-published titles, I have someone who helps me edit. I'm lucky to know someone who is so good at this. I also use test readers from time to time to check everything about the story I can think of that needs to be checked.

In this same forum (which I don't plan to read any more LOL) someone was expressing their opinion about the importance of reviews. They believed that people religiously checked book reviews just as they do movie reviews before purchase and that reviews were therefore VERY important.

While I understand their point and see where it is entirely reasonable for someone to have this opinion, I disagree. I never read movie reviews unless I've already seen the film, hated it, and want to see if others agree. Ha. Ha. Sad, but true. Movie reviews, just like most film trailers these days, ruin the plot for me. I do not appreciate spoilers.

Now, back to the subject of books. I agree that an honest review is a very nice thing to take into consideration before a purchase. However, those are getting harder and harder to find. As I've often shared my opinions on this topic here, I'm not going to get into a rant. I promise. Many sites that allow for reviews to be posted will let people say anything. Reviews have become the place for the author to be bashed, not the book. Rather than sharing honest points they liked or disliked and the reasoning behind it, many "reviewers" just sling insults and bad language. They seem to be of the opinion that being rude means they're being honest. No, it just means they are an ass with no consideration for others and no respect for themselves.

Now, I'm reeling in that rant like I promised. My point is, I don't put a lot of faith in reviews in general. That's not to say that there aren't some REVIEWERS whose opinions I trust and value. THAT is a different matter entirely. I'm talking about the general subject of reviews.

It's too easy for people who haven't even read a book to go online and trash it and the author. Likewise, it's just as easy for someone to get their friends to write 5 star reviews.

Thanks to the advice of a fellow author, I've stopped reading reviews unless someone emails me a link. You wouldn't believe how much my stress levels have dropped when I stopped obsessing over every little thing other people say. Sure, public opinion is important. I don't mean to dismiss that. Readers send me positive letters all the time to let me know I'm on track. I listen to THEM. I write for THEM. Know what I mean?

The decision to self-publish or not isn't an easy one. It's also not easy to decide what to do about cover art. Here are my closing thoughts on both topics. Hopefully, they will be of some help.

If you are computer savy, formatting an ebook (or print book) isn't that difficult.

Photoshop is pretty user friendly. There are many videos on youtube that can teach you the basics.

Just because you have a contract with a publisher, doesn't mean your part of the deal is finished. There is still work to do regardless of which route you choose.

With self-publishing you get a larger percentage of your profits.

With self-publishing you have complete creative control. Don't let it go to your head. This makes it easier to tell the story you want to tell. However, it also makes it easier to publish crap.

Here are examples of cover art I've done myself. I'm proud of them. :)

As always, I hope some of this is helpful to you in your publishing adventures. :)

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Writing, stress, and Rocky Balboa

I'm sure you've been wondering why I haven't been blogging more often, right? Ha. Ha. Well, whether you've missed me or not, here's what's up. I'm still here, I just needed a break.

Anyone can get burned out on any job, regardless of how much you love it. Between dealing with my private life (nothing bad, just lots going on), trying to get my yard in shape, trying to get MYSELF in shape, AND writing a new book, AND promoting my older works, AND editing some previously published books for re-release later this year, AND looking for photos appropriate for cover art for those books, AND dealing with a rash of bitchy reviews, AND ... Oh, hell. I lost track of all the "ands," but you get the point.

I'm tired. It's very stressful when you're working your ass off and can't understand why sales aren't higher. The majority of my reviews are good. I get nice emails from readers all the time. The feedback from my editors is positive as well. What the crap, right?

Who knows? Either way, it was really taking a toll. I already have insomnia off and on and lately it had been more on.

Last week was spring break for my son. I spent lots of quality time with him and his Xbox. Ha. Ha. Ha. And I loved it. It made me realize how very much I needed to take a break.

Honestly, I don't even want to LOOK at a book for a few weeks. If I'm going to continue writing, I want to be able to do that to the best of my ability. I want readers to enjoy what I publish, not just suffer through it. In order for me to do my very best, I've GOT to start taking breaks.

I see comments online all the time where people are going on about how they write EVERY day. When I'm working on a project, yes, I try to write some on that project every day. However, I work best if I take some time between books. That's what works best for me. That time could range from a few weeks to a few months. It all depends on how insistent my next project is.

I've written some of my best stuff after taking three months off in the middle of a book. I needed the time to remember the joy of writing. If the joy is gone and it's become just another job, the book will never be what it could. I want my works to all live up to their potential in my eyes. I want to know that when I have a book published I wouldn't have done it any other way. So, regardless of what critics say, it is a quality product, and I KNOW that if it's what readers are into, the majority will enjoy it.

This is going to sound cheesy, but I'm going to take a little time to get my joy back before I finish my work in progress. After that rash of nasty reviews, I took some time to seriously consider if I wanted to keep writing, if remaining in this business was worth it.

Here's my answer, I'm a writer. I write. It's not just what I do, it's who I am. I don't know how to be anything else. If I worked at a store, I'd be a store worker who dreamed of writing. If I taught classes, I'd be a teacher who dreamed of being a writer. And doing either of those things would make me miserable. I would still tell these stories, even if they were for my enjoyment alone.

The second thing that I would miss is meeting new readers. I've met some great people I otherwise never would have known if they hadn't enjoyed my books and decided to write to me. Some have become friends and I treasure that.

Not to mention I've got a series I haven't finished yet. I don't want to disappoint everyone who has been patiently waiting to see what happens to Lilith Mercury and her band of merry werewolves. LOL

Okay, so they're not all merry, but you know what I mean.

Everyone gets down sometimes. People get stressed and overworked. Even people who have their dream job need to rest. I'm going to end this post with a quote that I find has lots of personal meaning for me. I've been a kickboxer for more years than I care to share. Besides being a writer, I'm a fighter. Rocky Balboa never fails to inspire me. Yet again, cheesy but true. Hey, there's nothing wrong with being cheesy sometimes.

Rocky Balboa is worth watching, by the way, even if you don't like the other Rocky films.

At one point in the movie he tells his son, "You ain't gonna believe this, but you used to fit right here. [taps on the inside of his hand] I'd hold you up and say to your mother, 'this kid's gonna be the best kid in the world. This kid's gonna be somebody better than anybody I ever knew.'

And you grew up good and wonderful. It was great just watching you, every day was like a privilege. Then the time come for you to be your own man and take on the world, and you did.
But somewhere along the line, you changed. You stopped being you. You let people stick a finger in your face and tell you you're no good. And when things got hard, you started looking for something to blame, like a big shadow.

Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain't all sunshine and rainbows. It's a very mean and nasty place and I don't care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life.
But it ain't about how hard ya hit. It's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That's how winning is done!

Now if you know what you're worth then go out and get what you're worth. But ya gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you ain't where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody! Cowards do that and that ain't you! You're better than that! I'm always gonna love you no matter what. No matter what happens. You're my son and you're my blood. You're the best thing in my life. But until you start believing in yourself, ya ain't gonna have a life."

Excuse me while I pick myself up again.