Fiction Blog

Ask Me Anything: March 2018

Welcome to my March 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.

What are you working on for Camp NaNoWriMo?

Camp NaNoWriMo is a twice-yearly challenge in which writers set a custom goal and meet in virtual cabins (chat rooms) to support each other. It’s a spin off of National Novel Writing Month, the November challenge in which writers attempt to write 50,000 words in 30 days. For this Camp session, my goal is to spend 60 hours working on Desertera #4 (though I might cheat and play with some other ideas too). I’ve made my goal in hours instead of word count because I need to focus on putting in the time and establishing a better routine.

How did you come up with the steampunk desert setting for the Desertera novels?

When considering a setting for Desertera, I went through a few different ideas. As I said in a previous AMA video, my original inspiration for the story itself was The Arabian Nights, and I liked how the desert setting created a feeling of desire and isolation. I also considered a historical fantasy based on King Henry VIII, but I knew the research would overwhelm me. My husband suggested steampunk, which had that Victorian “royal” flair, but again, I didn’t want to set the story in England or a real place. Therefore, I combined desert and steampunk to create Desertera — a place of desperation and isolation with people clinging onto antiquity, religion, and a romantic vision of a past that may or may not have ever existed.

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

Honestly, I’ve wanted to be a writer as long as I can remember. As a child, I loved reading stories with my mom, and I soon started to write my own. I completed my first story, that I can remember, when I was eight years old. My teacher encouraged me to keep writing, so I did. When I was around 11, another teacher informed me that I could major in Creative Writing in college and write for a career. That pretty much sealed the deal.

How did you find your editing company?

Great question! Finding editors, cover designers, literary agents, and other professionals can be intimidating when you’re starting out as a writer. My best advice, and how I found the editing company I use, Red Adept Editing, is to ask published authors you know for referrals. Most will be happy to share their contacts, especially as it might give them a referral discount. Another great tip is to check the copyright and acknowledgments pages of books that impress you — most writers will include their editors, designers, etc. and you can look them up from there. And of course, there are marketplace websites like Reedsy or lists on industry sites like the Alliance of Independent Authors that link to reputable professionals.

Your husband tags you in a lot of movies on Twitter (@KateMColby). What’s your favorite movie you’ve seen this month?

Haha, yes he does! We’re big movie buffs, Daniel especially. The best movie we saw this month was Thoroughbreds, which is about two teenage girls who plot to kill one girl’s stepdad. It had a dark sense of humor, complex characters, and great suspense. However, my favorite movie was probably Tomb Raider. Growing up, I would “backseat game” the PlayStation games with my dad, so I had a lot of fun watching the new Lara Croft on the big screen. Don’t get me wrong — the movie had its problems, but it also had good action, surprising emotional depth, and a strong lead actress.


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

Advertisements
Fiction Blog, Musings & Bookish Things

My Quarter-Life Revelation, or Enjoy the Journey

My entire life, I’ve looked forward to turning 25.

As a child, I viewed it as the final milestone to reaching “real” adulthood. At 25, you’ve been out of college for three years–long enough to get your life together and know who you are, but not so long that the world has totally beaten you down. You’re old enough to be taken seriously, but not so old that you take yourself too seriously.

However, the closer I got to 25, the more I realized that people this age (at least in my generation) don’t have it all figured out. You see, by the age of 25, my parents owned a successful business, had built their own home (literally, my dad is a carpenter), were married with a three-year-old daughter (yours truly), and carried all the other trappings of “full adulthood.” Me? I’m married (check), but my husband is still in graduate school, we live in a crappy rented apartment, and while I’ve started my own business, I’m nowhere near what most people would consider a success.

But I had a consolation. When the calendar rolled over to my birthday, I would still have something awesome. My quarter-life crisis.

Seriously, no sarcasm. I’m the kind of person who thrives under stress. I love sitting down and analyzing who I am. I adore writing lists and making goals. So, I couldn’t wait to wake up, be racked with healthy nerves, and puzzle out the solution to all my problems.

The only issue? As my birthday dawned, I laid in bed and waited for the crisis to hit. And it never came. By looking for problems with my life, I realized that I’m actually happy.

Honestly, it came as a surprise. Ever since moving to New Haven, all I’ve done is complain about how much I loathe this city. On a weekly basis, I gripe about my commute or my job. Just as often, I’m frustrated with budgetary constraints and my lack of free time. But all of those less-than-ideal circumstances stayed at the surface, and when I dove down deeper, for the first time in my life, I couldn’t find anything really wrong.

A few days later, by pure coincidence, I had to confront this realization again. I have a friend who likes to ask random questions, just as a way of generating conversation and creative thinking, and he asked me to answer yes or no to the following statements: A) I am happy with my life. B) I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to do to survive.

I answered yes to both. He called bullshit. And we started a debate.

During this episode, I thought again about all the surface-level problems I face. And you know what hit me? Gratitude.

Yes, Daniel and I live in a crappy apartment in a noisy, dirty city. But we live here together–and after two years of long distance, I am so thankful for that. Yes, I have a long commute and my job is not my dream job. But I can use my commute to read/write, and my job has a lot of cool perks and has paid Daniel’s tuition and all of our living expenses. Yes, living here expensive and our next home might be too. But it’s all temporary while he’s in school. Eventually, we’ll choose an area more suited to our desired lifestyle.

My friend still challenged me. Paraphrasing here: “Sure, you might be content with where your life is, but that doesn’t mean you’re happy. You haven’t reached all your goals.”

No, I haven’t. But if I had achieved everything I want to by age 25, the next 50-plus years would be pretty damn boring.

And that’s when it hit me. My big quarter-life revelation.

Life is about enjoying the journey. I’d heard it before, read it in a thousand cheesy memes, but it had never really sunk in. Is my life perfect? No. But for 25, I’m doing pretty well, and I’m on a trajectory to reach my goals in the future. Somewhere in the last year or two, I’ve stopped agonizing over the past–over the mistakes I’ve made and the things that have hurt me.

At the same time, I’ve stopped looking at the future as something I lack. The future isn’t the lost puzzle piece that leaves my picture unfinished. It’s the landmark in the distance, and while I watch it grow closer, I also get to drive a fun car and rock out to my road trip soundtrack. And when I reach that landmark? I get to enjoy it for as long as I want, then head off for the next adventure.

The final layer of gratitude, the proverbial icing on my revelatory birthday cake, is that I recognize my privilege. I’m so lucky to be in a situation in which my biggest problem is that I haven’t achieved my dream yet. As my friend’s question revealed, I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to for survival. Not everyone is that lucky. Hopefully, by appreciating what I have, writing books that offer escapism or education, and being a more positive, caring person (one of my 2017 goals), I can give a little back to the world and help someone else live better.

So that’s what I’m taking into my 25th year: forgiveness of the past, appreciation for the present, optimism for the future, and compassion for others. I only hope that I’m blessed enough to receive the lessons of ages 50, 75, 100, and all the years in between.

Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Craft & Tips

Writing through Your Fear

Whether you’re a beginning writer or a seasoned veteran, writing can be scary. Fiction authors put out original imaginings that often hold deeper truths (or are falsely judged to reveal something about the writer). Nonfiction authors declare themselves an authority on a topic, who readers depend upon for knowledge or assistance.

When you think about it, that’s a lot of pressure (especially if you’re an independent author). It’s no wonder we writers get scared of our craft.

I’d like to tell you it gets better, that after the first novel the fear magically goes away. Maybe it does for some people. However, two novels and eleven nonfiction booklets in, I’m still nervous every time I sit down to write.

How Writing Fear Evolves Over Time

fear-of-failureBefore I had written my first fiction book, The Cogsmith’s Daughter, I feared I would never write a novel. I felt certain I would die with this ultimate goal, the one thing I felt meant to do, unaccomplished. Luckily, that didn’t happen. In fact, I went on to write a second book …

And I got even more scared. My fear evolved. I thought to myself, “What if that first book was a fluke?” and “What if everyone hates the sequel?” Now, as I write the third novel, the fear continues: “What if I grow to dislike this series? What if my readers don’t like the direction I take it? What if no one even reads it?”

Of course, my nagging thoughts aren’t limited to fiction. Every time I write nonfiction, I wonder who gave me the right to inspire or educate others (aka imposter syndrome). Who do you think you are, Kate?

When I try to market, specifically through paid advertising, it gets worse. “Why am I forcing my books on other people? What if I don’t earn back my investment? What if everyone who buys my books hates them?”

Don’t worry. I’m done sharing. (See? Even now I fear you’re judging me or growing bored!)

How to Overcome Your Writing Fears

conquer-fearFirst, if you’ve had similar feelings, know that you’re not alone. Second, know that, while your fear may never go away, you can write through your fear. How do you do that? Unfortunately, it’s one of those questions that you have to answer for yourself. But, here are some tips:

Know your enemy

You can’t fight an enemy that you can’t identify. Once you truly understand your fear, you can begin to move past it.

For example, I fear getting bad reviews, because they mean that people hate my books. But it’s not the reviews themselves I really fear. It’s rejection, judgment from others, and that I’m not as talented or intelligent as I want. At the very core of my fear is my own self-doubt. If I truly believed in myself and fostered more confidence, maybe I would be less scared of those inevitable bad reviews.

So, what do I do about it? I’m working on positive thinking to help me have confidence in the skills I currently have. More importantly, I’m continuing my education on writing craft to strengthen my abilities and grow confidence through experience.

What is it that you really fear, and how can you work through it?

Find a greater fear

Yes, bad reviews terrify me. But you know what’s worse? The idea of giving up on writing altogether.

Give this (morbid) exercise a try. Picture yourself about to die. Seriously, go all “writer” on it and set the scene as if it took place in your book. Now, with your death before you, answer what is worse.

Getting a rejection letter from an agent vs. hiding your manuscript on your hard drive

Encountering criticism from internet strangers vs. never meeting the people who love your books

Never drawing attention to yourself vs. never writing a single word

Are you really going to let fear stand in the way of what you want to do?

Drown out the negative thoughts

incentive-960045_640Most of my writing fear happens when I’m not actually writing. Those horrible words come to me when I first sit down at the keyboard, or when I’m trying to think through a troublesome scene while washing the dishes. A simple trick I’ve learned is to drown them out.

There’s lots of ways to do this. Start babbling aloud to yourself so you can’t hear yourself think. Scream “Stop! Stop! Stop!” inside your head. Turn on some music or a podcast. Try to recite the first page of your favorite novel.

I know it sounds silly, but anything you can do to stop the negative thoughts will help. Our brains love shortcuts. You see a growling dog, your brain says, “Run!” You see a pimple on your face, your brain says, “Ugly.” You go to write, your brain says, “You suck.” If you can retrain your brain to avoid negative thoughts (or even better, default to optimistic ones), you’ll also avoid the fear they bring.

Take inspiration from the experts

When all else fails, keep doing what you’re doing now — finding someone who understands and learning how they handle their own fear. Here are a few tried-and-true resources, available for free online or from your local library:

Making Fear Your Bitch by Jamie Davis — I almost didn’t write this article, because this podcast/transcript says it so much better. Seriously, that’s not insecurity talking; it’s just the truth. I’ve bookmarked it for future reference.

The Successful Author Mindset by Joanna Penn — A fantastic book. Penn shares her own fears (including excerpts from her journal), as well as addresses many other psychological issues that plague writers (e.g. perfectionism and the need for validation).

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield — Several writers swear by this as their go-to motivation book. Pressfield personifies fear as “Resistance” and covers all the ways you can and must defeat it.

You can put all of this into practice and start working through your fear today.

Take five minutes to identify the root of your fear, then imagine how your happiness would suffer if you continue to give into it. Then, drown out these thoughts with motivation and inspiration from others. And most importantly, write — even if it scares you.

Do it all again tomorrow. And the next day. As long as it takes.

Why? Because only you can tell your story. The world deserves your story, and you deserve the joy of writing it.


What fears plague you as a writer? How do you overcome your writing fears? Share your tips in the comments!

Fiction Blog, Writing Updates

2016 Year-End Reflection

Before I announce my 2017 New Year resolutions, I wanted to take a few hundred words to reflect on my author journey up to this point. This is one of those posts that I’m writing as a time capsule for myself, but I hope you’ll find it useful or inspiring for your own creative life.

kate-m-colbyWhile 2016 has been a difficult year personally, it’s been my best year as an author and independent publisher. As I wrote previously, I’ve made some great accomplishments and done much more than I expected in just a year since I published The Cogsmith’s Daughter (Desertera #1).

I’m not going to rehash those specific achievements. Instead, I want to outline my growth in a more general way. The Smarter Artist (aka Self-Publishing Podcast) guys talk about their years in terms of themes. Each year, they have a word that drives their creative decisions and business, and takes them one step further in their journeys. (For more, read Iterate & Optimize: Optimize Your Creative Business for Profit). By modeling this practice, I can review how far I’ve come and where to focus my efforts in 2017.

2014: Discovery

This was the year in which my author journey began. I learned about independent publishing, graduated from college, and wrote the first draft of my first novel.

2015: Learning

While I had a manuscript written at the end of 2014, this year marked my steepest learning curve. I researched every aspect of independent publishing, learned several new skills (e.g. formatting), and finally hit “publish.”

2016: Confirmation

Even though I’d been a published author since September 2015, it still didn’t feel real. This past year has been all about confirming things to myself. Was that first novel a fluke? (Nope! I wrote and published a sequel.) Is this really the career I want? (Yup! Each little milestone reminds me.) Is long-term success realistic? (Well, I’m not doing too badly so far … and I’ve got a plan in place!).

Instead of researching the logistics of publishing itself, my focus in 2016 switched to marketing and business planning. While I love my Desertera series, it’s a beast to market, as it doesn’t fit perfectly in one genre and it’s difficult to summarize in an “elevator pitch.” For my next series (which I hope to start drafting in 2017), my goal is to make an idea I love fit within an established genre.

On the business side, I went back to my (rather shallow) accounting roots. One of my 2016 New Year resolutions was to make $1,000 in royalties — which I did! These payments are not profit (as my book production and other costs exceed my revenue), but I’m willing to spend a couple years in the negative like most small businesses. However, I finally sat down and started tracking my gross profit margin (aka income minus expenses), which gives me my break-even and go-full-time years (assuming I stick to my budget and hit my royalty goals). If there’s interest, I’ll talk more about my financial plan in a future post.

Overall, 2016 was also my most consistent year in terms of creation. While I did not write as much fiction as I intended, I kept to my nonfiction production schedule and felt a burst of inspiration from my Fiction Ideas writing prompt booklets. As much as I enjoy writing nonfiction, I intend to make fiction a greater priority for 2017.

2017: Growth

I’ve come a long way in two-and-a-bit years, but I still have a far to go. For me, 2017 will be all about growth. You can read my specific goals here, but in general, I want to diversify the assets I have (aka finally make the leap into audiobooks!), focus on my writing craft (Story by Robert McKee is top of my TBR), find more readers/writers who share my passions, and of course, write more books (my new motto: Always be creating!). It’s a lot to take on, but I think I’m finally ready to make a major shift in my author life. And it starts today!

My final goal? I want to be more transparent with my writing process, business growth, and other aspects of this journey. I really admire indies who do this (see Joanna Penn’s recent post), but they are often already hugely successful. While this is inspiring, it can also be discouraging. It’s difficult to imagine that we’ll ever get to their levels, and their experiences don’t show how other creatives at “our level” are doing. By being more transparent now, I hope to provide a “realistic” look into independent publishing, as well as an example of growth (there’s that word again!).

I hope you’ll stay with me for the journey!


How was your 2016? What broad goals or hopes do you have for 2017? Share them below!

Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Craft & Tips

How to Handle Writer Jealousy

envyWe’ve all been there.

Your classmate’s story is praised in workshop, while yours is torn apart.

“Poorly written” romances dominate best-seller lists, while your science fiction novel languishes in Amazon’s 2,000,000 ranking spot.

The author you follow on Instagram posts their third cover reveal this year, while you struggle to finish your manuscript.

There’s a thousand ways that we writers experience jealousy of other authors. We constantly compare ourselves to our peers in writing groups, our Internet friends, or the hallowed greats like Stephen King. We long for the secret to their success. How do they write a first draft so quickly? How do they have so many Pinterest followers? Where do they find time to publish and write a daily blog?

We take other writers’ successes as inherent failures in ourselves as creatives. Newsflash: art isn’t a zero-sum game.

Let me get personal for a minute. Throughout high school and university, I longed to be a writer, but I hardly ever wrote. I seethed with self-loathing and jealousy in equal amounts. As I became more entwined in the literary community, I saw myself in competition with other aspiring writers. With each person’s success, I thought one more seat on the bus to authordom had been snatched from me. Around senior year of college, I finally wised up.

But others I know didn’t. I’ve lost friends over jealousy and unnecessary feelings of competition. I’ve had close friends flat-out ignore my writing career. I’ve had acquaintances insult or downplay my abilities in order to praise their own. It sucks. It hurts. And I don’t want it to happen to anyone else.

Why do we feel jealousy?

spillEasy: because other writers have what we want. Be it a publishing contract, a movie deal, or even just a finished manuscript, if you want it, some writer has already accomplished it. When I used to see a more successful writer, I would instantly translate that into: “Well, shit. I’m so far behind. I’m never going to amount to anything.” OR “They don’t deserve X. They just got lucky. Why can’t anyone see what a talentless hack they are?”

The good news? I don’t ride either of those thought trains anymore. In fact, the moment I feel a twinge of jealousy, I actually get really excited. Why?

Because when channeled properly, jealousy can be a force for good.

The positive side of jealousy

Jealousy and competition are natural human feelings. If you acknowledge them and channel their energy into something positive, it can be motivating for you. The next time you feel jealous, take a moment to deconstruct your emotions and get down to what’s really bothering you. But don’t stop there: make a plan to fix the real issue so that this doesn’t happen again.

Here is how my jealous moments play out now:

  1. Address the feeling: Okay, Kate. You’re feeling jealous.
  2. Forgive yourself: That’s okay! You’re human. It happens.
  3. Find the “what:” Let’s see. I’m jealous that this author started writing a book after me, but is publishing it before I publish mine.
  4. Find the “why:” I wish my book were ready to publish.
  5. Take responsibility and make a plan: Well, what can you do to make that happen? How about we turn off Netflix and do some revising? Let’s eat out one less night a week so we can afford an editor. Let’s stop being nervous and contact the cover designer.
  6. Ride the high: Awesome, I know exactly what to do! I just have to be patient and work hard. I’m going to write right now.

Ways to handle jealousy

accomplishmentNotice this section is not titled “ways to quit being jealous.” That’s probably never going to happen. There will always be someone more successful than you. There will always be something you want that someone else has already achieved. But, there are ways to handle your jealousy in a healthy manner.

Act in opposition to your feelings. A writer friend on Facebook posts that they’ve signed with an agent? Like the post or write a supportive comment. At first, you can console yourself with the smug satisfaction that you were “the bigger person” in the competition your mind constructed. Eventually, your gut reaction will change to genuine excitement for them. I promise.

Figure out how they did it. I want to be Joanna Penn so bad it hurts. She writes kick-ass fiction books, super-helpful nonfiction books, and is a beloved authority figure in the self-publishing community. But instead of hating her and avoiding her, I follow her progress. I read her books. I read the articles she posts. And you know what? I’m learning how to create a career like hers, one step at a time.

Do something about it. If you have a moment of jealousy, then you know what you want. It frustrates you that your writer friend has a finished book and you don’t? Go write your damn book. That Twitter author has better sales than you? Read up on book marketing and business strategy, arrange advertising or book reviews, or publish more books. Outside circumstances may prevent you from achieving 100% of your goals, but if you’re not putting 100% of possible effort in, then you have no one to blame but yourself.

Remember that someone out there is jealous of you. If there is someone ahead of you, then there must be someone behind you. Maybe you don’t make enough money to write full-time yet, but there is a writer out there who has only one book published who envies your five-book series. Moreover, the person of whom you are jealous was once in your position. Keep it all in perspective.

Be kind to yourself. Often, jealousy goes hand-in-hand with feelings of inadequacy. If you are nicer to yourself throughout the entire creative process (keeping your inner critic quiet during drafting, forgiving yourself for missing your word count goal on a busy day, etc.), your self-respect will grow. When it is healthy and happy, you are less likely to be dragged down by bitterness.

And if all else fails? Step away from the situation and eat some ice cream. It really does make everything better.


How do you deal with feelings of writer jealousy? What do your moments of jealousy reveal about your goals? Share your experiences in the comments.