Reflections: 2021 was (surprisingly) an incredible year!
It’s been one year since I published my first book, Camino Wandering.
Did you read that word? Published! I put a book out into the world! Check Amazon—it’s there. The local bookstores stock it on their shelves. They’ve even asked for more copies. How great is that!
I’ve always been a writer and had only dreamed of being a published author! But now, I can say the words: I’m an author.
Oh, but wait! I published two books! I can’t believe I did that – in one year.
Ah, but it wasn’t easy. There was no magic wand involved. It boggles my mind how much I’ve learned in the last year, but there is still so much more to learn. As much as I would like to ‘just write’, I’m still trying to work some kinks out of the business side of things. It’s great to be on Amazon, but not so great if I’m the only one that knows I’m there. With the holidays approaching, I want to make sure that Santa knows where he can pick up a copy of Camino Wandering for Mrs. Claus.
Speaking of the holidays, this is usually the time when we humans like to think about all the nutty stuff that happened over the last year. Lots has happened so let’s get to it.
Finding a silver lining in the pandemic
2021 was a stupid year for so many reasons. Melbournians suffered lockdown for months on end while the rest of the world went in and out of lockdowns at a dizzying pace. And, we’re still not even close to recovered from the horrors of 2020. Let’s get vaccinated people! PLEASE!
Here in Tasmania, we’ve been lucky. Strict government directives have kept us relatively safe. Not safe from individuals that think the rules don’t apply to them, but we’ve had very few cases in 2021, nevertheless. For us, it’s been pretty much business as usual, except for travel. Our borders have remained closed for much of 2021 and for a person who loves to travel, that’s been tough for me. But I’ve managed to keep my itchy-feet syndrome in check by placing my bum in a seat and writing. The world is your oyster if you can keep an active imagination.
And write I did. I published Camino Wandering, Beneath the Surface and drafted another novel. I also wrote three short stories (two of which I’m still working on!)
Understanding it’s an ever-evolving writing process.
Over the course of a year, my writing process has evolved dramatically. I learned a lot when writing Camino Wandering, even more when writing Beneath the Surface, and then more when I drafted my third book (late 2021).
When I wrote Camino Wandering, my process was whacked. I really had no clue what I was doing. “Just write the book,” resounded in my head. If only I knew then what I know now. But I wouldn’t know what I know now without those challenges.
It began by learning about POVs – Point of Views.
Camino Wandering started out as being written from Aubrey, Pam and Georgina’s points of views, alternating the points of view with each chapter. I almost gave up early on, trying to keep it all straight. About a third of the way into writing the book, I knew the reader would toss that book across the room by Chapter Six if I kept writing that way.
So, I learned more about that piece of my craft. POV is something I’ll be blogging more about in 2022.
I learned the power of structure.
Writing fiction is a lot different from writing non-fiction, which is something I had been doing for years.Structure exists in both forms, but the difference is like comparing an orange to a skyscraper. Switching gears took some serious mind grinding. I dug through the enormous amount of content there is online about writing fiction. Here are a few resources that worked for me:
- Save the Cat Writes a Novel
- NaNoWriMo (especially the NaNo Prep101 docs!)
- James Patterson’s Masterclass
Knowing the characters in depth, before writing their story.
I need to know my characters inside and out before I write an outline.
I take every character, no matter whether they are primary or secondary, through a deep character questionnaire, because you just never know who may shine in the story. (Hello Lee and Tom – Camino Wandering, & Lowell – Beneath the Surface.)
When writing my third book (untitled at the time of this writing), I learned that while I may have a clear idea of who the characters are, unless they have a name, I can’t ‘see’ them. Two of the characters had their names auctioned off before I began writing the outline. Even though I had their descriptions and detailed characteristics in black and white -I had to wait for their names to fully understand who they were.
Understanding the need for a solid outline.
At the beginning of 2021, I delved into a complete rewrite with Beneath the Surface. What was published in September 2021 is completely different from what was drafted in 2016. It was rewritten at least ten times and what saved me there was knowing how important an outline was.
In fact, I realised even a basic outline was not good enough. I was halfway through rewriting Beneath the Surface when my characters started (finally!) chatting to me. I had one character who was not coming through, but the other two were loud. I realised then that I needed to make that third character a tertiary character. They didn’t really need to be in the story, but they added some conflict for the main character, so they remained. That’s when I decided I needed to stop (re)writing altogether and create a solid outline for the book – and start over, yet again. With the solid outline created, I was able to complete the (final) draft two weeks later and I was thrilled with the outcome.
When I wrote my third novel, I didn’t start writing until I had a detailed outline. But, one day, I went completely off-script chasing the writing fairies. Then I spent almost a week trying to rein it back in. The characters were working but I had lost where the story needed to be.
Giving myself the space to mull over storylines.
I ‘nap’ a lot when writing. I lie down with my eyes closed and quieten my brain for a while. It’s usually in this relaxed state that the characters chat to me, or I can unravel a complexity I can’t resolve while staring at a screen.
I also bake, paint, or doodle. Not at the same time, of course. It’s another way to ponder storylines.
I’m different from most in that I can’t write every day when I’m working on a book.
There’s a train of thought in the writing world that you must write every day, even if you force yourself to do so. That works for many people, but it doesn’t for me. It’s not to say I’m not thinking about my current work in progress. That’s constant. But I need to have all my ducks in a row before the story flows out of me.
With NaNoWriMo, November is all about getting words on the page. For me to be successful, I need a plan, a solid outline, my characters complete, before I can churn the words out.
My love/hate relationship with marketing.
Before I could do any marketing, I needed to understand who my reader was. Who was I writing my books for?
Camino Wandering was easy. Beneath the Surface was not.
Marketing practices for these books are completely different. I had to know where the readers were.
Camino Wandering, while easier, has limitations. I can jump on Facebook and delve into the Camino groups and pages, but I can’t promote on those. When people ask if ‘anyone recommends a good book on the Camino?’, I can’t raise my hand… and that’s challenging. So, I stay engaged in the groups and advertise on Amazon, promoting the books to people looking for Camino books.
Selling Beneath the Surface has been like looking for needles in a haystack. It’s not YA, but the protagonist is a teen. It’s a thriller, set in Sydney and Melbourne. It’s a book amongst a million others just like it –even the title gets buried on Amazon. I’ve had to be creative with marketing Beneath the Surface. (Facebook Ads have been the thorn in my side, but they’ve been necessary.)
I also learned that consistently posting on social media is key to selling books.
I have one day a week where I focus ONLY on scheduling marketing. I’ve streamlined this process and now I spent two days a month on it. But I still check in every single day on my social platforms, to comment, like, share. Engagement is key, but it can be time-consuming too.
I’m going to spend some time in 2022 to look at what’s working and how I can be more engaged with my readers.
The hard lesson: Where can I sell paperbacks?
Seeing my book on the shelf of local bookshop has always been a dream for me. I guess it’s validation that not only did I write a book, but bookshops want to sell it. The buyers deem the book good enough that they know there’s readers will buy it.
I discovered that the Tasmanian bookshop community is very welcoming to local authors and everyone one I approached were eager to stock my book within minutes of looking it over. The mainland bookshops too – but only with their own locals. The reason: The pandemic. I can’t do book tours at the moment other than in my own state because of closed borders. The pandemic is also bringing writers out of the woodwork.
I did not have success selling paperbacks in mainland Australia. I queried over two hundred bookshops. Two replied. One was open to commission and ended up sending books back to me, so I lost money there. The second one tried to order through Ingram Sparks (distributor) but Ingram price their shipping so high that I have to discount my books so deeply, that I end up making literal cents on each paperback. In Tasmania, most bookshops opt for direct distribution. It works out much better for them and for me financially.
Selling to large booksellers internationally, like Barnes & Noble or Waterstones is a tough nut to crack. Unless you’re traditionally published, it’s rare to find your book on the bookshelves unless several people request it. I have had one bookshop in the U.S. interested and it’s only because I know the owner personally.
I will say it: Thank God for Amazon.
Constantly learning about the Amazon Advertising game.
For better or worse, many people buy their books from Amazon.
As an Indie Author, you can easily get buried in the mix. Enter: Amazon Advertising. I love it because it brings in about 75% of my book sales. But understanding how it works is an ongoing endeavour. I learned a lot through Bryan Cohen’s 5 Day Challenge – the basics, anyway. The rest is trial and error. We’re just trying not to bleed money.
Investing in Amazon advertising allows my book to show higher in the rankings and get in front of people looking for similar books. They may not see it otherwise.
Wow, there are a lot of snake oil salespeople out there.
Trying to navigate through the immense amount of information there is about marketing can be daunting. I’ve signed up for several webinars this year. At one point I was doing one a week. I can usually get some new tip out of them. The one certainty is there is always a sales pitch at the end about how this program will solve all your problems and you’re on your way to the life you’ve always wanted.
Since I know the basics now of marketing, I’m ready for the next level. I want to know more. I want to do a deep dive. This is where the snake oil salespeople live.
We invested in a $600 course this year (I heard your gasp! Trust me, I had heart palpitations hitting that ‘buy’ button!). It seemed like everything we were looking for. The reviews were positive, and by all indications, the guy looked like the real deal. I signed up KNOWING there was a 30 day return policy. It was a good thing too. I went through the detailed course outline, the course material, and the additional offerings, and thought, there’s nothing new here. I either knew most of it already or it was everything he’d covered in the webinar. The clincher was, he kept saying, ‘but we’ll get to that’… and never did. I was two days from the deadline, but I sent that email requesting a refund. Thankfully, they honoured the money back policy…not all of them make it so easy.
Having a supportive writing community is key.
When I moved to Tasmania in 2019, I was eager to find ‘my people’. It just so happened that by the time I was looking, NaNoWriMo was just around the corner. I met with the NaNoWriMo chapter in Hobart, and what an incredibly supportive community! Not only is it a place to talk freely about writing, but we share ideas about what we’re learning too. If it wasn’t for this community, I may never have discovered Vellum or the local Indie Author community.
I look forward to continually learning more next year, and I’ll keep sharing as I go!
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