Author Interviews, Fiction Blog, Writing Updates

Ask Me Anything: February 2018

Welcome to my February 2018 Ask Me Anything video!

Earlier this month, I asked readers from my Reader List and social media whether they had any questions about my books, writing and publishing, or anything else. As a reader, I love it when authors share more about their books and themselves, so I want to do the same for you!

You can watch the video right here. Or if you prefer to read my answers, I’ve summarized them below.

Will the fourth Desertera novel have a new main character? And if so, will you say who?

Yes! Sybil Tanner, who readers will remember as Dellwyn’s roommate and Zedara’s new maid, will be our leading lady. Originally, I planned for the fourth book to be written from Zedara’s point of view, but you’ll see why that wouldn’t work when you read it. I’m really enjoying Sybil’s perspective – she’s got a contagious vibrancy and energy, but she still struggles with trauma from her childhood and The Courtesan’s Avenger (Desertera #2). I hope you’ll find her as complex and charming as I do!

If you could only pay for editing or cover design, which would you choose?

As an independent author, you should always pay for BOTH editing and cover design whenever possible. When it comes to fiction novels, if I couldn’t afford one of those services, I would save money and wait to publish rather than put out an unfinished or unprofessional product. Even if you are a professional editor or cover designer, I would still recommend outsourcing that work to save time and get a second, unbiased opinion on your book.

That being said, I have skipped editing or cover design for other projects. The Desertera short story that I give to my Reader List subscribers is professionally edited, but since I don’t sell it at online retailers, I didn’t commission a cover. Instead, I made a simple cover in Canva (a free online design tool) to put on the landing page and give my readers an image for their e-readers.

For my nonfiction creative writing prompts booklets, I edited myself using online software and had the covers made by a friend, who is a professional graphic designer. Because I’m not publishing these booklets in print and they are just $0.99 each, I’m okay with them being slightly less professional and providing “pure” profit. However, I do intend to update them with professional editing and cover designs when my business allows.

What advice do you have for young or aspiring writers?

My best advice for young or aspiring writers is to read critically. I know that sounds like annoying school terminology, but it’s one of the most effective ways to learn about story and writing craft. As you read, ask yourself questions about the story. Does it flow well? Do the characters’ actions make sense? How would you change the plot to make it more powerful? This practice will help you think like a writer and nurture your creative instincts.

Another tip is to take advantage of any and all resources you have at your disposal. Borrow novels or writing craft books from your school or public library. Read writing blogs and listen to writing podcasts on the internet. If your school offers a creative writing elective, fit the class in your schedule. Ask your English teacher and/or librarians about local authors, writing groups, and other community resources. YOU are the best advocate for your writing, so do everything you can to learn and grow that passion.

What is your favorite wine?

My passion for wine began with Australian Cabernet Sauvignon, and even though I’ve tasted hundreds of different wines through the wine marketing company I work for, Aussie Cab is still my favorite style. It’s rich and full-bodied, with delicious, chocolatey, black-fruit flavors and just a hint of mint. It doesn’t get much yummier than mint chocolate in a glass.

What other books would you recommend if I like the Desertera series?

If you’re a fan of Desertera’s steampunk stylings, I strongly suggest Kara Jorgensen’s Ingenious Mechanical Devices series. The first book is The Earl of Brass. Her series is more classic steampunk, in that it takes place in Victorian-era London with a stronger emphasis on mechanical devices. However, it also has lots of fun fantasy and dark magic elements too and offers great character diversity in gender and sexuality.

I’d also recommend the Gemma Doyle trilogy by Libba Bray. The first book is A Great and Terrible Beauty. After her parents’ deaths, Gemma is sent to a boarding school in London, where she discovers that she has the power to transport her and her friends to a magical dimension. It’s full of strong, complex young women and social drama, with a swoon-worthy love story and a gorgeous Victorian-inspired backdrop. I picked it up in high school purely for the covers, and it’s still one of my favorite series.


That’s all for this video! Thanks to everyone who asked a question. I’ll be back in March with another round of Ask Me Anything, so feel free to submit your questions in the comments or through my contact page.

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Fiction Blog, Writing Updates

My 2018 Goals and Resolutions

Welcome, new readers! And welcome back, longtime readers! I hope you enjoyed your holidays and New Year festivities, and are ready to tackle 2018 with me.

Happy New Year

If you read the blog last year, you know that I’m a major goal junkie. Whether that’s New Year’s resolutions or just my daily to-do list, I’m always gunning to tick off those pesky must-do tasks and thinking forward to my larger goals. So, late December / early January is one of my favorite “seasons.” It’s a time to reflect on my accomplishments, consider where I want my writing and life in general to go, and plan out the next year.

Over the last few years, I’ve adopted my husband’s tradition of making one resolution per year of my age. That means I’m making 25 for 2018. (Before you comment about how you’re 48 and could never do this … the whole mentality is that you find more reasons to live and make the most of your time as you age … there’s no rule against making small, simple goals!).

As I sat down to write my New Year’s resolutions, I realized that most of them don’t have the typical “resolution” quality. Sure, some of them speak to personal habits or lifestyle improvements, but the majority are simply goals or tasks that I aim to accomplish. As usual, with 25 goals, I’m biting off more than I can chew.  In 2017, I “only” hit 17 of 24 goals … but if I hadn’t set so many objectives, I wouldn’t have done even that much.

I know I won’t accomplish every goal I set. But if I shoot for the moon, I can still hit several stars along the way.

Usually, I list out all my goals and resolutions to share with you. This year, I’m going to share a few of them, but mostly focus on the larger reasons and themes that connect my goals. (Some are rather personal in nature, and others details exciting projects I’m not yet at liberty to discuss!)

Writing Goals

createSame as last year, my primary writing goal is to create (either writing, editing, or outlining) at least five days per week. Like many writers, I still struggle with consistency. I’ll write a whole book in 90 days or less … then go for a month without putting a single word on the page. I know consistency is the key to a sustainable, long-term writing career (as well as my specific production goals), so it remains top of my list.

As for my specific production goals, I’d like to finish the Desertera series this year. This means writing and publishing the final two books in the series, and hopefully putting out a complete boxed set and starting audiobook versions. I’d also like to kick off my dark fantasy / paranormal thriller series … and I have a few other ideas in the works too.

Business Goals

Most of these are pretty boring for non-entrepreneurs (okay, even for some entrepreneurs too), so I won’t go into too much detail. Mainly, I want to refine my author brand. With three novels, a nonfiction series, and several other endeavors under my belt, I think I finally have a strong grasp on who I am as a writer and who my readers are. Everything I do with my business in 2018 will focus on creating value for my readers, sharing more of myself, and building assets/revenue so I can do even more in the future. So, yes. MY business is really all about YOU.

Personal Goals

Kate cookieIn the second half of 2017, I finally made exercise a regular part of my life. I also started meditating. These are habits on which I hope to expand in 2018. I’m lucky to be young and in good health … so I want to keep it that way as long as possible! (Though, I’ll still have the occasional cookie — especially if it’s that cute!)

Another major theme of my personal goals is being more present and intentional with my actions. Like many people, I feel the need to be superhuman and do ALL THE THINGS. This societal-/self-imposed pressure has led to stress and even migraines (which resurfaced with some negative events at the end of 2017). So, one of my big goals is to stop multi-tasking and focus on one task at a time. I’m hoping that this will reduce how often I feel “spread too thin,” as well as increase my efficiency and the quality of my work, whatever the task may be.

How I’m Tracking My Goals

For daily tasks that apply to my goals (such as meditating, exercising, writing, reading, etc.), I use a habit tracker on my phone. This allows me to check off each task as it is accomplished, as well as see my progress for the week, month, or year. Sometimes, I’m surprised by how much I completed … and other days, it’s the harsh wakeup call I need!

For weekly, monthly, and one-time 2018 goals, I’ve created my own tracker in Google Sheets. Each category of goals has its own sheet, and once a week, I will go into the spreadsheet and report my progress. Instead of simply checking off a goal or leaving it blank, I’m marking it off with a color (green for accomplished, red for failed, and yellow for partially accomplished) for an easy and immediate visual representation of my progress. At the end of 2018, I hope my spreadsheet will have lots of green!

Making Your Own Resolutions

targetIf you’re looking for advice on making your own resolutions or goals, I give my strategy in this post. (And Dr. Google has millions of tips too). In the end, what it comes down to is deciding what’s really important to you (not what you “should” do, but what you genuinely want to do), dreaming as big as you can, then working toward that dream with several small, specific, and realistic goals. It might take the whole year (or several years) to accomplish your dreams, but if you don’t start taking those steps, you’ll never make it.

And if you’re one of those New Year Scrooges who hates resolutions, that’s fine too.

As for me, I’ll keep shooting for that moon one goal at a time.

What are your goals and resolutions for 2018? Why did you choose these objectives? Share your dreams (and tips for reaching them!) in the comments.

Author Business & Publishing, Fiction Blog, Writing Updates

2017 Year-End Update

Kate on Golden GateLooking back on 2017, the year hasn’t been as much of a dumpster fire as I originally thought. Author-wise, I published my third Desertera novel, The Tyrant’s Heir, re-evaluated my writing and business goals, and strengthened connections with my amazing readers and author friends. On the personal side, I lost two beloved family members to chronic illnesses, moved from Connecticut to California (with a brief vacation at home in Kansas), and traveled to new places in the United States.

When it comes to New Year’s resolutions, I accomplished far more than I did in 2016! My husband and I have a tradition of making one resolution per year we’ve been alive, so I made 24 goals for 2017. I never expect to achieve them all — but if I shoot for the moon, I still hit the stars. And I hit quite a few stars this year.

Writing & Publishing

Desertera books1. Create (write, edit, outline, or research) 5 days a week
My average ended up being four days per week, as I allowed myself extended breaks for my cross-country move and two bereavement periods.
2. Write Desertera #3
3. Edit Desertera #3 (C)
4. Publish Desertera #3 (C)
5. Write a second novel
While I didn’t start drafting, the world is built and ready to write for 2018!
6. Edit a second novel
7. Start Desertera #4
8. Make 2018 production schedule

Business

9. Make $2,000 from Boxthorn Press
Just a little short!
10. Create freebie for Writing Newsletter subscribers 
11. Create freebie for Reader List subscribers
12. Blog 2x per month
13. Maintain social media schedule
14. Diversify existing products (audiobooks, box sets, etc.)
I’ll be focusing on this in 2018 instead!
15. Do one marketing/promotion task per month
Choosing to forgo marketing until I have a larger catalog is why I didn’t hit my income goal. While I’m disappointed with myself, I know playing the long game will pay off eventually.
16. Read 52 books
I read 40 books. Now that I don’t ride the train every morning, I need to find a new reading time!

Personal

Tommy travels17. Work on positivity
18. Exercise 3x per week
19. Break a bad habit
20. Recoup savings account post-Yale
21. Make post-Yale plan
22. Visit final NYC sites
23. Visit new state
24. Visit new country
I achieved ALL of my personal goals! Here’s to leaving 2017 a happier, healthier, and better-traveled human!

Overall, I’m pleased with how much I accomplished in 2017. I’ll be finalizing my 2018 New Year’s resolutions today, and I can’t wait to dive into them. Here’s to a fantastic year!

What did you accomplish in 2017? What goals are you setting for 2018? Share them in the comments!

Author Business & Publishing, Writing & Publishing Articles

How to Overcome FOMO as an Independent Author

How to Overcome FOMOHow Indie Authors Get FOMO

If you choose the path of independent publishing, you’ll quickly learn that you have a lot of responsibilities. You’ll need to write your book, manage the editing, cover design, and formatting, and handle the publishing and marketing. While you can (and should!) hire professional help, in the end, you’re the one who makes the big decisions. This pressure alone can make you feel like you have to be a super human to make it as an author.

The good news? There are thousands of books, podcasts, blogs, and other resources ready to help you in your journey. The bad news? Each one exalts a different method of writing, publishing, and/or marketing – and new tactics emerge almost daily.

As this information flies at you from all sides and other authors skyrocket to success (seemingly overnight!), you’ll feel like you’re missing something, some crucial key to your success. So, you latch onto those new tactics. Yes! Signing up for a new social media site will boost my exposure. Yes! Paying for this new ad service will increase my sales. Yes! Selling my soul to a crossroads demon will make me a best-selling author for 50 years!

Okay, that last one might be an exaggeration (everyone knows crossroads demons only give you 10 years), but you get my point. All this chasing and hustling and worrying has a name: Fear of Missing Out (aka FOMO). And the best news? Once you know its name, you can define and defeat it.

What is FOMO?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, FOMO is “anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on social media.”

Applied specifically to independent authors, it’s what I described above. Anxiety that you’re missing out on a new marketing tactic, writing technique, book convention, etc. that – if you did participate in it – would be the key to your success.

How Can I Overcome FOMO?

If you’re still with me, I assume you don’t want to live in constant fear of missing out. Or, you at least want to learn how to know when you’re really missing something and when you’re wasting your time. As I always say, you’re the only one who can answer that question for yourself … but I’ll do my best to help guide you.

Know Your Why

This is my favorite lesson from the gang at Sterling & Stone (one of the top indie publishing outfits). Essentially, you need to know what your goal is for your author career. Is it to replace your full-time income? Is it to win a literary prize? Different goals require different paths.

Personally, I want to earn enough money from my book sales to become a full-time author. So, whenever I sense FOMO creeping in, I take a step back and evaluate the tactic from that goal. Will signing up for a Snapchat account help me gain readers and sell books? Maybe. But wouldn’t the time it takes to sign up, build a following, research how to effectively use the platform, and actually use it, be better spent writing more books, utilizing proven advertising methods, and connecting with readers via my email list and familiar platforms? Absolutely!

Think Like a Business

If you’re in independent publishing to make a career, then you’re an entrepreneur. Think like one!

Whenever you participate in a business activity, you’re investing resources: time, money, energy, etc. Before you jump onto the latest craze, ask yourself: what is my investment? And what is my logical return on investment?

For example, let’s say I find a book review service. I pay them to reach out to book reviewers on my behalf. How much does that cost? How many reviews can I expect in return? Who are these reviewers, will they like my book, and do they write quality reviews? How many reviews do I need to actually impact my book sales? What is the “cost per review” then?

It’s not a perfect science, and with the qualitative nature of our field, the answers might be unclear. But the more precise you can be, the more intelligently and effectively you’ll use your resources.

Take an Outside Perspective

When we see what other indie authors are doing, it’s easy to evaluate their decisions in a logical manner. We can look at someone else’s Twitter timeline and say, “They should spend less time tweeting about their book and more time editing it.” While I’m not advocating you scour your feeds looking for authors to criticize, I encourage you to take note when those thoughts strike you. When they do, you’re probably basing that person’s actions on your own goals.

Consider the last tactic you tried and imagine that this “misguided” author was the one doing it. Would you judge them? Would you list “more important” tasks they could complete? Or would you admire their hustle and business savvy? That should tell you everything you need to know.

Find a Mentor

My indie author mentor is Joanna Penn. No, I don’t know her personally. However, her career path aligns with my personal goals. Therefore, whenever I learn of a new tactic that worked for her, I know it’s worth considering for me.

Focusing on one author helps narrow your options, and if they meet your definition of success, it gives you one (of infinite) paths to take. Which author could you follow?

Do What’s Really Important

It all comes back to the first point: knowing your own writing and publishing goals. Define your goals, research the best way to achieve them, and then do it. Focus on the broader strategies (not the new tactics and get-rich-quick tricks that pop up) and you’ll get there.

You’ll feel better, too. Earlier this year, I spent a lot of time feeling overwhelmed. So many authors have been touting new services and courses and tactics, and it gave me a serious case of FOMO. This month, I’ve focused almost exclusively on writing my next book, which right now, should be my No. 1 priority. And you know what? I haven’t felt FOMO once, because I know that I’m actively doing the most important thing for my author business.

When is FOMO Justified?

Here’s the BIG secret: most of the time, you’re not missing out on anything. There will always be a new social media craze, snazzy marketing service, or revolutionary writing technique to adopt. If you spend your time, money, and energy chasing them all, you’ll never get anything productive done.

That being said, sometimes your FOMO will be justified. In those rare cases, the shiny new button will be something that aligns with your goals, makes good business sense, works for other authors with similar goals, and doesn’t leave you with the nagging sensation that you’ve wasted resources or the guilt that you’ve ignored what’s really important. If you stick to those tenants, you’ll know something valuable when you see it.

What Now?

Use your best judgment. Be honest about your goals and how your actions serve them. And, as the latest catchphrase insists: work smarter, not harder.

Do that, over and over, day-in and day-out, and you’ll make it. The only thing you’ll miss? All the time you wasted worrying about or chasing all the crap that never mattered in the first place.

Author Business & Publishing, Guest Posts, Writing & Publishing Articles

Guest Post: Branding Basics for Authors by Dave Chesson

Today, I’m thrilled to host Dave Chesson of Kindlepreneur.com. If you don’t know Dave and his website, you’re missing out on a wealth of self-publishing knowledge! In this article, he discusses the elements of an author brand and how to design a unique brand that fits you. This is an aspect of publishing I’m still working on, so I’m super excited to read his tips! Over to Dave …


What Is An Author Brand?

At first glance, the concept of an author brand may seem strange or out of place. After all, doesn’t an author’s work speak for itself? Shouldn’t an author be judged by that alone?

The first thing to realize about author branding is that every author has a brand, whether they choose to deliberately develop it or not. The brand an author has is simply the way they are perceived by those who encounter them.

It is natural that readers form an opinion and an impression about writers whose work they come across. The impression formed is influenced by the choice of words the writer uses to describe their life and their work, the type of images they use when promoting their books, and the design and feel of their website, blog or any other platform officially associated with the author.

When you think of author branding as inevitable, it makes sense that an author would wish to take control of their brand and how they are perceived by the public. If readers are going to hold a certain perception, it makes sense for authors to try and influence that perception in their favour.

Read on to discover the benefits that come with taking control of your author brand, the main ways in which authors are able to influence the ways they are perceived, and some easy steps for getting started with your branding efforts.

Why Author Brands Matter

The term ‘brand’ sounds somewhat sterile and corporate and this can be off-putting for creatively minded people, such as authors. It’s better to instead think of the ways in which authors form connections with their readers, as this is the ultimate effect of a brand.

By ensuring that their brand is a reflection of who they are, authors are able to allow their readers to connect with them on a human level. Think about how much nicer it is as a reader to know something about your favorite writer in terms of their life, personality and the things which influence their creative output.

In the world of self-published books, there is more choice than ever before. People are likely to have a range of books to choose from on any given topic. If you are able to present yourself in a way which increases your credibility with readers, your book stands a better chance of being chosen ahead of the competition.

Branding Through Bios And Language

One of the first things that  browser on a major bookstore will do when researching a purchase is to try and find out something about the writer whose book they are considering buying. This is especially true in the era of self-publishing and pen names.

An author bio is one of the best ways for an author to convey who they really are to readers. Amazon Author Central, for example, offers writers the chance to feature not only a bio, but also links to their website and blog posts.

So how exactly does a bio impact branding?

The choice of language an author uses when describing their life and work directly affects how they are perceived.

Consider someone who writes inspirational, motivational self-improvement books. Imagine that their bio contained dry, dense language. Wouldn’t this be off putting and incongruous to readers? A much better impression would be formed if the author bio contained the same type of uplifting and inspirational language as found in the books.

It’s important that the language used in an author bio matches the tone and style of an author’s work. It should feel like a natural extension of their books. Readers should feel at home and familiar when reading bios of their favourite writers.

Visual Branding

A writer’s image in the eyes of readers is more than the sum of their words. The photographs, videos and design choices made by authors also impact their brand.

Writers should approach their choice of photographs and other visual elements of their brand similarly to choosing language for their bio. The visual material used should be appropriate for the style and tone of the author’s work.

Visual branding is an art and science of its own. For many writers, it can be intimidating and hard to know exactly which images are best suited to their work and audience. Two simple solutions exist for this problem.

First, writers should take the time to get a feel for what other similar writers are doing visually. By spending time checking out similar authors, any trends in terms of the type of image or colors used will emerge. This allows authors to work within the visual conventions of their genre.

Second, it’s important to get objective, outside feedback on any images chosen. Ideally, this should be from a group of relevant readers without a personal connection to the writer. This allows for truly impartial feedback from people in a position to offer valuable insight.

Author Branding Final Thoughts

Some of the keys to making author branding work for you are —

  • Seeing it as a valuable opportunity rather than a sterile chore
  • Learning how to match reader expectations to your own ideas
  • Being willing to accept feedback and make changes accordingly

We are fortunate to have a wealth of author branding examples available to us as inspiration.

If you don’t know where to start, spend some time browsing the websites of authors you admire. You’ll soon get a feel for what appeals to you.

Get inspired, find a way to put your own unique twist on the ideas you come across, and start to experiment. Have fun and make something that truly shows the world who you are.


About Dave

In his own words: When I am not fighting dragons or chasing the bogey man out of my kids closet, I like using my previous Online Optimization skills to help other authors with the ‘technical’ stuff and get the right authors to the top of Amazon and any other eBook service out there.