My 2018 in review

HAPPY NEW YEAR! (Well, it is here — though maybe not there, where you are. And if it isn’t, why are you reading this right now? Bookmark it and come back to it later!)

Like 2017, 2018 wasn’t a stellar year for me on the writing front. Or at least, that’s how I feel when I think about it — but I’m measuring that purely against the number of words I’ve written on my current novel manuscript. I’m maybe a third of the way through, and have been for a month or more. Everything has kind of … ground to a halt.

Still, one of my two resolutions for 2018 was not to be so hard on myself when I fail to meet my goals, so — in that spirit — I’m going to go over my accomplishments for the year. There have been a few firsts in there, which is actually kind of exciting when I think about it.

I released two new books: Guardian Angel and Rheia

Guardian Angel is a novella, and it’s maybe a quarter of the length of Rheia, so the grumpy cynic in me says it’s cheating, but she can go sit in the corner and sulk. Aside from anything else, urban fantasy is my jam and my comfort place, and working on Guardian Angel really helped me when I got stuck on other projects.

On the subject of Rheia, I love this book and am very proud of it. A friend told me she thought it was my best book yet, and I quietly agree with her (even as this fills me with terror regarding the next book, ahahahahasob). If you haven’t already grabbed a copy and you love the ancient world, creeping doom and/or steampunk, then may I urge you to check it out? ūüėČ

(Actually, I technically released three books, as I also released an erotica novella, Kiss of the Succubus, under my Tammy Calder pen name. If you’re an adult and not related to me in any way, you can learn more about it here.)

I had a story published in the A Hand of Knaves anthology

Being a part of a multi-author anthology is something I’d always wanted to do, so it’s super awesome to be able to cross that off my bucket list. This one was published by the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild, and working with the editors — Leife Shallcross and Chris Large — was a joy. 10/10, would do again.

I was part of the Shadows and Spellcraft book bundle

Again, this is something that had been on my bucket list. This urban fantasy book bundle has fifteen ebook novels and novellas, including Isla’s Inheritance — and it’s around US$4 for all of that, which is great value. And, again, working with this wonderful team of authors was both inspiring and educational. Seriously, I learned a lot.

I went out into the world and did author-y things

Okay, that’s not the best summary in the world, but bear with me. I went to the A Hand of Knaves book launch — a real-world launch, not the online ones I favour — and met new people and signed stuff. I also had a signing at BookFace here in Canberra, and signed even more stuff (mainly copies of Rheia). Given I never organised face-to-face promotional events because the awkwardness it inspires in me isn’t great, this was a pretty big deal for me.

See? Photographic proof! (Also, check out my low-key signing pen.)

A resolution round-up

At the start of 2018, I made two resolutions (one of which I’ve already mentioned):

  • Do better.
  • Forgive myself at times I don‚Äôt do better.

Comparing 2018 to 2017, I can definitely check the first one off the list. The second one … eh, it’s a work in progress.

This year, I want to finish the sci-fi draft that I’ve been wrestling with for the last few months. I’ve also got another idea that I plan to work on — stay tuned for more as the year progresses. Beyond that, my resolutions are the same as for 2018.

Do you do new year’s resolutions? Tell me in the comments below!


Four Reasons Sims 4 is Better Than Real Life — a Writer’s List

I’ve been a fan of the Sims series of games since the first one came out in 2000 (gosh I’m old), and in the last few months I finally caved in and got myself a copy of Sims 4. It is … just as addictive as I remember. To the point where, over the summer break, my son has ordered me to write for a minimum amount of time each day before I’m allowed to play it.

A friend commented that you can tell I’m a writer — I get just as much enjoyment out of creating characters and houses for them to move into as I do out of playing, and even though I try to keep them happy and healthy, when things go wrong, I think “Oooh, plot twist!” and keep going rather than reverting to the last saved game.

There are definite advantages to being a Sim, and especially a writer Sim, despite your shorter lifespan and almost-complete lack of free will. Here’s my list.

Authors who work hard will definitely succeed

Working hard and practicing your craft are obviously of benefit to a real-world writer, but they aren’t a guarantee of financial success. Self-publishing books doesn’t automatically open doors to publishers and critical acclaim, for example. (At least, not in my experience — not so far!)

In the Sims, on the other hand, my author character (named Evelyn Martin because that was the name my character had randomly generated for her in Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery — did I mention I suck at naming things?) was able to almost single-handledly finance the building of a lush house for her family. I mean, look at this house. Look at it!

View from the front

View from the rear

My son asked me sadly why we didn’t have a swimming pool. Maybe … maybe this is why he wants me to write every day?

A Sim can write a couple of books a day

On a day off, a Sim can smash out a couple of books and still have time for lunch and “woohoo”. Even on a working day, they can write one book. (Of course, a day for a normal lifespan Sim is roughly equivalent to a year for a human — barring accidents, they live at least 81 days, and yes, I looked that up.)

Plus you get the joy of coming up with hilarious book titles without having to write 70k+ words to back them up. (I love that part.) And when you tell a Sim to write, they can’t get distracted by the internet, or by writing blog posts about addictive computer games. They won’t stop unless they have to.

So compulsorily industrious

Death is sad but not always permanent

Speaking of Sim lifespans, there are ways to extend them via magical potions — if you keep your Sim satisfied, they can buy enough potions to effectiely live forever, barring accidents. They can also become vampires, which are, again, immortal (also barring accidents, like walking in the sun for too long because the game froze — I’m looking at you, Hendrick!).

But if they do die, then the author has a way to bring them back — if you write the book of life and customise it to a particular Sim, you can then use it to summon them from the grave. (I haven’t actually tried this yet so I don’t have a screenshot of that, but I’m pretty excited to give it a go.)

Also, dead Sims can come back as a ghost so you can shoot the breeze. And get selfies.

Spectral selfie of Evelyn’s departed wife

And the reaper is an alright kind of guy, not scary at all. You can chat with him once his work is done; I even had one Sim successfully beg the reaper to spare her adult son (the aforementioned Hendrick), so that was nice! And sometimes he hangs around for a bit after he’s done what he needs to do, which does demystify the whole “death” thing.

The reaper playing Sims after he finished “taking care” of a careless repairman

There are lots of inspiring things to write about

Aside from having vampires in the family, there are lots of other exciting occult things to write about, which is great if your Sim writes speculative fiction. Some of it depends on you buying different expansions, but some of it comes with the base game. Here we see Evelyn exploring a magical hidden glade through a mystical portal … and taking a selfie, because that’s how my Sims role.

It’s basically inspiration fodder for your Sim writer’s muse. And maybe for your own.

If you can turn the game off for long enough to write.


In case you haven’t seen it yet, Smashwords is having an end-of-year sale. All of my ebooks are heavily discounted – and some of them are free! You can find a complete list here (including my elf smut under the Tammy Calder pen name, so, uh, discretion is advised for those ones).


My 2017 in review

This is the first time I’ve sat down to write one of these year in review posts where I’ve felt like my successes have been qualified. Where I haven’t felt as proud of myself as in previous years.

On writing

The Lucid Dreaming duology, as endorsed by (my) Lara Croft (PopVinyl)

I finished writing, edited and self-published False Awakening, the second book in the Lucid Dreaming duology. But, since then, I haven’t managed to start my next novel, and my promo efforts have been lackluster at best.

I have done other things; I wrote and submitted a short story for an anthology (which I’m still waiting to hear back about), and this month I’ve been working on a novella I originally wrote more than ten years ago. But I had this huge period in the middle of the year where it felt like I didn’t achieve much of anything.

A lot of that was due to real-life pressures. My work has been short-staffed all year, and insanely busy since May. I edit for a living, as I’ve said before, and the idea of coming home and sitting in front of a PC after sitting in front of a PC all day was just too exhausting. As a result, I’ve fallen out of the habit of writing. Blog posts and reviews, sure, but books? Not so much.

I’ve been working on that over the last couple of months, though not with a novel (yet). Still, I will definitely have a couple of releases for you this year. Woohoo!

On reading

This is the first year since I started doing the Goodreads and Australian Women Writers challenges that I haven’t quite met me goals. For the Goodreads one, I set a goal of 40 and read 31. And for the Australian Women Writers challenge, I set a goal of 15 and read 11. At least I got close in both, right? (Right?)

A lot of the blame here goes to Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive. When I set my Goodreads goal, I didn’t anticipate discovering (and adoring) this series, and each of these books is over 1000 pages. That’s three regular novels for one Stormlight one. I’m currently listening to the audiobook of the third one in the series, and the download is available in five parts. FIVE. If I hadn’t been reading them, I would have nailed my goal, for sure! ūüėČ

Goodreads produced a handy summary, an extract of which is below. If you’re desperate to stalk my reading (and why wouldn’t you be?!), you can find the rest of the blog post here.

My 2017 reads

My resolutions

In light of all this, my writing resolutions for 2018 are very straightforward:

  • Do better.
  • Forgive myself at times I don’t do better.

I figure that’s pretty comprehensive!

What about you? How did you do with your reading (and, if applicable, writing) in 2017? Tell me your triumphs, or commiserate with me on your woes. ‚̧


Confessing my fear: failing as an author

Happy Halloween, dear readers! As you‚Äôll already be aware, this month on Aussie Owned and Read we‚Äôre talking fears. I‚Äôve already blogged about a couple of mine previously ‚ÄĒ during our 2014 Haunting Halloween blog hop, I shared a scary (and true) story of the last time took part in a seance, and talked about¬†[‚Ķ]

via Fear of failing as a writer ‚ÄĒ Aussie Writers


Elements of a Great Story – Pacing

Look, you guys! I’m over at Aussie Owned today, talking pacing in stories … and recommending two of my favourite books. ‚̧

Aussie Writers

This month on Aussie Owned we‚Äôre looking at the elements of a great story. I chose pacing because it‚Äôs one of my favourite elements of story, and one I have struggled with from time to time ‚ÄĒ particularly when I was a wee baby writer working on my first novel. (I liked to overshare about the day-to-day of my characters‚Äô lives, you guys. No, I loved it. I was still getting to know them, and that‚Äôs fine in a first draft ‚ÄĒ but some of those scenes had to go because, ye gods, they were boring.)

Pacing is, simply, how fast the story unfolds. The ‚Äúright‚ÄĚ pacing varies depending on the requirements of your story. Some stories take you along like you‚Äôre old friends going for a stroll along the beach, slowly immersing you in events until you‚Äôre invested (before probably sucking the sand out from under you or‚Ķ

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Advertising Strategies: a Work-in-Progress

Maze

Source: Shutterstock

As of maybe six months ago,¬†I’m a fully independent or self-published author, what is sometimes referred to as an “author-publisher“. I like that term, because it conveys the sense that¬†self-publishing is more than just banging out words and then sending them out into the world, all naked and unprepared.¬†There are things one needs to consider, things a publisher usually does. Two of those are editing and book design, and I’ve blogged about those before.

The other thing that a publisher does to a greater or lesser extent (at least, if you’re lucky and they are any good) is advertise your book. In the case of small or independent presses, you may have a small or non-existent presence in bricks-and-mortar stores, so you can’t rely on people stumbling across your work by accident. That’s where¬†advertising comes in.

I’m still feeling my way through the morass, trying to find strategies that work for me and my books. I thought it might be helpful to others (and for my own future reference) to catalogue some of them here.

Book blitzes

These are generally organised to try and raise a bit of word-of-mouth attention when a book first comes out; kind bloggers share promotional content. Sometimes they result in a few¬†adds to peoples’ Goodreads shelves, but I haven’t noticed a huge number of sales as a result. Maybe I’m just not doing them right! Certainly, I wouldn’t do a blog tour with customised posts, as I don’t think the time invested would be worth it. But I would do a book blitz for each of my future releases. Every book deserves a birthday party. ūüėČ

NetGalley listings

Publishers will usually list books on NetGalley, which is a site that allows reviewers to apply for¬†free ebook copies of books in exchange for an honest review. It’s a lot of reviewers’ bread and butter. But it’s expensive to have a NetGalley account, so, for an independent author, it’s generally more cost-efficient¬†to buy in on a co-op such as this one. I had a three-month co-op when Isla’s Inheritance and Isla’s Oath came out (I had¬†each book up for about six weeks), and a one-month co-op for Lucid Dreaming. I got a bump in the number of reviews on sites like Goodreads, but, like a blitz, this is about word of mouth rather than direct sales.

Facebook advertising

I saw a tweet that described Facebook advertising as¬†being as effective as setting your money on fire. The metaphor probably works better in countries where the money is made of paper, but still, it’s not too far off. I have tested a handful of ads and have seen no return. These days, the only thing I’d pay to¬†advertise on Facebook would be occasional¬†posts on my author page; Facebook throttles visibility of page posts so that not everyone who likes the page will see them. If you pay them money (the extortionists that they are), they will share the post more widely. In terms of impressions, this is quite effective … but I’d reserve it for significant updates, such as book releases.

Free book promotions

This has been my most recent effort, and also my most successful to date. Because it is my most recent, I’m going to go into a bit more detail, with some numbers. (This does feel a tiny bit like airing dirty laundry, but if you promise not to oggle my underthings I think we can all ignore that!)

I made the¬†Isla’s Inheritance¬†ebook permafree (ie I have no plans to set a price for it again), and advertised it via the “Buy a Series Post” option at Freebooksy. They have a significant market reach and people loooove free stuff. When I¬†previously advertised a¬†sale of my erotica novella (*cough*), I had a ton of downloads, so I knew it worked.

In the first two weeks after the promo ran, I had almost 5000 downloads on Amazon and a handful at the other sites. Isla’s Inheritance made it to #2 on Amazon US for free Paranormal & Urban Fantasy (as I write this, it’s¬†sitting at 233).

Isla's Inheritance free ranking

There haven’t been a huge number of reviews as a result, but there have been consistent sales on books two and three in the series. I didn’t expect that people¬†who downloaded the book would buy the sequels so quickly, but on the first day of the promo I had four¬†sales of Isla’s Oath and one of Melpomene’s Daughter — suggesting that there were at least four people who read it straight away and liked it enough to keep reading. (If you were one of those people: thank you!)

Within the first two weeks, the promotion had paid for itself with sales on the other books. It’s the first time a promotion has¬†done that for me, so I’m pretty pumped.

There are a few caveats, however. The first is that obviously I didn’t make a penny off those 5000¬†copies of Isla’s Inheritance; this means that, in order for me to even break even on the trilogy, sales on the other two books have to cover not only their own production costs but those of the first books as well. For this reason,¬†I wouldn’t personally make a book permafree that didn’t have sequels¬†available¬†— because, while I don’t expect to be rolling around in piles of money, I’d at least like to imagine I might recoup my expenses at some point. ūüėČ

The other caveat is that there hasn’t been much, if any, cross-pollination to my other book, Lucid Dreaming. I expect that if¬†people finish the trilogy and enjoy it, and they decide that they’d like to see what my adult (rather than young adult) book is like, that might happen … but it will be slower.

What next?

Now that the sales bump from the Freebooksy promotion has more or less worn off, I’ve decided my next experiment will be with Goodreads advertising. I read a really interesting blog post by Lindsay Buroker on how she made it work for her, and I’m keen to give it a try.¬†Goodreads has a big advantage over Facebook in that at least we¬†know the people on there are readers to start with.

Wish me luck!

If you’re an author-publisher, have you tried different forms of advertising? What has worked for you? What hasn’t? ¬†I’d love to hear about it!


Isla1_Front_smlDo you also like free things?

The Isla’s Inheritance ebook is available free from the following retailers:

Amazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon Australia

Barnes & Noble

iBooks

Kobo

Smashwords


Ten examples of how the English language is trolling us

Regular readers of my blog will know that my full-time job is¬†as an editor. You’d think that I’d be fully across all the various, ugly, beautiful permutations of English and its stupid-arse spelling.

You’d be wrong.

What brought this to my attention most recently is that¬†in my latest¬†manuscript I spelled “lightning” wrong. Like, every single time. My finger itches to put an¬†e in there, but noooooooo, that would be¬†the verb meaning to make something lighter. As in,¬†“The lightning is lightening the sky.”

Because obviously.

Eyebrow Doctor

Now, to be fair, since I don’t work for the BOM, I don’t read¬†about lightning in my job very much¬†—¬†so it isn’t something I’ve had trained out of me. But still, I did want to pull my hair out a little bit.

Here are some other examples of the ways that English is trolling us:

Alter / altar. One is the verb meaning “to change”; the other is a sacred¬†table or platform¬†at which¬†religious offerings are made.

Baited / bated.¬†One is describing something with bait (such as worms) attached. The other¬†means “restrained” (with relation to breathing) — so the phrase “with bated breath” means with held breath, not with a mouthful of raw prawns. On behalf of all those romance¬†heroines out there, I think we can say that’s a relief.

Blonde / blond.¬†I gather this one is the fault of French, which¬†has¬†gendered adjectives. There, blonde is feminine and blond is masculine. In English, that’s sorta kinda true, but the application varies;¬†my former publishing house’s convention was that “blond” was the adjective that describes hair colour and “a blonde” is a woman with blond hair.

Compliment / complement. The first is a nice thing someone says about you; the second has a bunch of meanings but generally relates to something that completes a thing or makes it perfect.

Climatic / climactic. One relates to weather; the other is the, er, climax of something. I have seen the wrong one used. Who knew weather could be so exciting?

Discreet / discrete. The first is wise, prudent or judicious; the second is detached or distinct. (I still have to look this one up every time.)

Exercise / exorcise. The first is physical activity and the second is to drive out an evil spirit —¬†possibly in response to having seen me exercise! (Scary stuff.)

Grizzly / grisly. The first is something grey or a type of bear (but not a type of bare!). The second is something gruesome.

A sanction can be both authoritative permission and a provision of a law that enacts a penalty for disobedience — so two things that are OPPOSITE to one another. And in my dictionary, at least, as a verb it always means to approve or ratify something — so sentences such as “the UN sanctioned X country for breaching Resolution 1234” are¬†actually saying that the UN approved the country’s actions rather than punishing it.¬†Oh, UN, you so crazy.

Storey / story. One is a floor¬†of a building; the other is a tale we tell ourselves.¬†(This one’s¬†not for¬†US readers, who I¬†gather use “story” for both…?)

So, all of that being the case, how do you avoid your writing being full of hilariously climaxing environments and buildings where each floor is a tale (but not a tail) of wonder (but not wander)? The answer is at once deceptively simple and also a lifelong job:

  • Read a lot
  • Own (and use) a current-edition dictionary¬†of the specific English variant you’re using
  • Proofread your work (I noticed an incorrect “it’s” when I proofread this blog post — gah!)
  • Proofread it again (I did)
  • Have someone else proofread¬†your work — copy editors are worth their weight (not wait) in gold
  • Make a list of words you know you get confused, and then double-check their usage whenever you see (not sea) them

What’s your favourite pair of¬†words that are usually mixed up? Are they about¬†meeting the principled principal? Having dessert in the desert? Eliciting illicit¬†activity? I need¬†(not knead) to know now!

Pleased Doctor