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Year-End Wrap-Up and Goals for 2017

When I look back on 2016, I’ll think of it as the year that I finally got serious about making a career out of writing. Whether or not I’ll actually be able to support myself as a full-time writer remains to be seen, but I feel like I’ve grown and learned an immense amount this year. I also feel like I’m poised to make it if I keep doing what I’m doing and things fall into place.

I wrote about 300,000 words of fiction this year, including 4 full-length novels, plus a 5th that’s almost done. Lightning didn’t strike and I didn’t hit it big. It’s been a slow grind so far, but there has been a slight, steady upward trend. That’s certainly better than the alternative. I have two very straightforward goals for 2017:

  1. Publish 10 novels. Pretty clear-cut. I know I can keep up the same pace that I maintained through the last half of 2016, and that’s a 50K-word novel about once a month. The common wisdom is that one key to success in this industry is being prolific, with fast release schedules. If you’d told me even two years ago that I could produce that much prose that quickly, I would have said no way. But sticking to a disciplined regimen and planning well has allowed me to write more than I thought possible. I know I can meet this goal and that if I’m going to be successful, I need to meet this goal. Which leads me to the second goal.
  2. Earn at least $10K from writing. Up until now I haven’t kept very good records, because the dollar amounts are not that serious. But the amount I’m earning from my writing is increasing month-over-month. Going wide already feels like the right strategy, and that’s without even releasing the rest of the Dragonlords series on other platforms. Starting in the middle of January, books 2 and 3 will no longer be rolled in KU, and I can take them wide. I’ll also have the 4th book out at that time. Then I’ll be able to go full-throttle on promoting book 1. Dragon Blue has already gotten a solid amount of downloads on iTunes and Kobo, and I think I can probably do reasonably well with sell-through on those platforms. I wanted to already be making a little more on a monthly basis by now, but I feel reasonably confident that I can start generating between $800-1000 per month once I can release all my books for sale on all platforms.

I think these are good goals because they’re a little aggressive, but not outright crazy. They’re definitely attainable. I want to try to get a BookBub in 2017 as well, and I think that would go a long way towards helping me meet my financial goal.

In addition to maintaining a high word count, I also want to increase the quality of my work. I try to listen closely to what readers are saying about my books, and I want to make them as happy as possible. You can’t please everyone, but you can definitely do your best to produce a high standard of quality. I want to grow my newsletter and friends/followers on all social platforms. I didn’t realize when I started getting seriously into all this how wonderful and supportive a lot of romance readers and writers really are. It’s a great community and one that I’m loving being a part of.

So if you read one or more of my books this year, I just want to say thank you. That’s really what this is all about, sharing stories that make people happy. And if you’re reading this, I hope the end of 2016 finds you well and that you have a wonderful new year.

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Merry Christmas!

I’ve been out of town for a couple of days, so I took it easy and didn’t write or blog this weekend. I’m probably not going to get a lot done before the first of the year, either. DBDW (Dragon Black, Dragon White) still need another solid week of writing, followed by a solid week of editing. So I’m shooting for a release maybe the second week in January. Then I’m going to assess whether I want to just storm on through the fifth book or shift gears a little and work on a standalone or start a new series. I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.

Anyway Christmas was fine. As you get older, it gets a little less exciting. You tend to live vicariously through the younger generations, since you tend to get practical gifts like socks. But it’s still a time to get together with friends and family, eat some good food, and relax. My next post will probably be my year-end recap and goals for 2017, though I’ve probably talked about them a bit already. Until then, I hope every is having a great holiday season!

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Things are Picking Up

I ran a promo on Thursday with I Love Vampire Novels, promoting Dragon Blue for free and got a very nice boost. It seems to have had some sticking power for the last few days as well, so it was definitely worth the money I spent on it. I’ll be using that one again for future books. I think I’m now starting to see the path by which I can actually do this full-time. Though I’m pretty sure that’s not going to be possible unless I either have multiple series or one of my books just goes viral. I’m pretty sure I just need to keep turning out solid stories for my catalog and eventually everything will add up.

But I got a really nice email today from a reader that reminded me it’s not just about marketing and strategizing and trying to maximize ROI. She said she’d read my latest book and that it helped distract her from the worries in her life. Imposter Syndrome is a very real thing, and even though I’m not a “high-achieving individual” (at least not yet), I have doubts nearly every day. I can read a good review and wonder if the reader actually means it, but when someone tells me something I wrote helped them through a rough time, I really have no reason to doubt their sincerity. It’s just a really nice feeling.

I’m still getting that nagging urge to jump over and start a new series, but I’m pretty sure I need to resist it. In my last post, Sheila suggested that I take a little break. I’m definitely doing that for Christmas, but I want to make sure I get the bulk of the draft for Dragon Black, Dragon White finished first. I passed the halfway mark this week. It’s going to need a fair amount of significant revision, but it’s coming together. After Christmas, if it just feels awful sitting down to work on it more, I might actually take a little break to work on something else.

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Committing to a Series

I guess I should have realized that writing a 5-book series was going to be a serious commitment. I’m kind of regretting it right now. If I had it to do all over again, I would have started with a trilogy. Even at the respectably-prolific pace of a novel a month, I was still committing to about six months of work. And that’s fine. I’ve learned a lot and put in the groundwork to build up a solid ARC team and newsletter base.

But I’m feeling a bit of series fatigue right now. I’m almost to the 20K mark in DBDW, and though I’m getting the words down, it’s a bit of a slog. I kind of just want to be done with the series. I hope that doesn’t affect the writing negatively. But I really want to start in on something new. I’m reading a lot more in the shifter romance genre and getting a lot of good ideas about where to go next. One good thing is that I don’t think I’m going to stall out. I still have a strong vision for where the rest of this book and the finale are going to go. So that’s good. But even at six months, it is definitely feels like a long-term relationship!

I’ve considered taking a break from this series to write something else. But there are a couple of reasons that seems like a bad idea. One, I want to give readers the expectation that I’m going to publish on a regular basis, and that I’m not going to delay or abandon a series. I would think for most readers, if they saw an author with an unfinished series start an entirely new one, that might just tick them off a little. The other big reason is that I feel like I would probably lose momentum. I’m pretty entrenched in this world right now, and if I wrote something entirely different, I’d have to immerse myself all over again and that seems bad.

So I think from both a writing and marketing perspective, it’s best to push through and finish the series. I might be able to recharge my batteries a little by taking a break and/or working on something else, but I think I’d lose more than I gained. Hopefully I can still get the first draft done by the end of next week, just before Christmas. Going into the holidays knowing I only have one more book to write will make me feel a lot more confident.

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The Slow Grind

I’m still chugging along on the latest book. My motivation waxes and wanes, but I still make sure to get down my daily word counts. I really hope 2017 sees a breakthrough, even if it’s a small one. For now I’m going to stick with the plan. I don’t want to change things up too much, since I just went wide with Dragon Blue permafree. I’ll be able to take my entire series wide with the launch of the fourth book in the middle of January. I’m already seeing a good number of downloads of Dragon Blue on other platforms, so I’m feeling pretty good about the prospects of the series wide.

I should be able to get the bulk of Dragon Black, Dragon White written over the next two weeks. Even if I somehow managed to finish it before Christmas, I think that’s probably a bad time to launch. So I’ll plan on releasing in January. I read yet another success story today of someone on a forum saying they spiked into the top rankings with their first romance novel, getting tens of thousands of page reads and a very good chunk of money in the process. I don’t know whether to take such stories with a grain of salt or not. They typically don’t share any insights that are helpful, such as particular genres/approaches. So I guess it’s best to take them as inspirational rather than actionable in any way.

The number of reviews for Dragon Green finally passed Dragon Red on Amazon, though they’re still pretty close. I think maybe I approached new advance readers too early for Dragon Green and they lost interest before release. I don’t know. It’s still a little disappointing to me that I didn’t surpass 50 reviews in the first week, given that my ARC team quadrupled since Dragon Red. I probably need to cull the ARC list, and this time I’ll start recruiting a week or so before release, probably right after Christmas.

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Dragon Black, Dragon White

So I’m now a good 10K into book 4 in the series, entitled Dragon Black, Dragon White: Darkest Day, Brightest Night. It’s going pretty well, though I still don’t have a lot of the plot points worked out. I’ll get there, though. The cover art is actually challenging on this one. For one, the title is very long. It’s difficult to get that much text on the cover and still make it readable. But I’m in love with the title, and I’m not going to change it, so I just need to make it work. Second, it seems like a black and white cover obviously isn’t very colorful, so it’s going to be hard to make it pop next to the first three books. But again, I’ll figure it out.

Here’s a short excerpt, the opening of the book (subject to change):

Of all the days he lived, until he took his very last breath, he would remember that day more than any other.
That was the day the sun went black.
That was the day everyone he had ever known went mad and tried to murder him.
But for all the evil that day held and all the horrors he saw, those were not the reasons he would remember it above all others. Because it was also the day he met her.

So the book starts with the sun over Xandakar going black, people and creatures going mad, and the whole world being thrown into chaos. Our two young lovers are going to need to find each other if they’re going to survive, figure out what’s happening to their world, and try to stop it. The book is (hopefully) going to weave together all the storylines from the first three books and tie them together heading into the finale. I’ll see if I can pull that off.

I’m planning on publishing the book in early January if all goes well. I’m now wondering whether I should release the next book at 99 cents or 2.99. Royalties are so bad for 99 cents. It seems to me the main reason to release at that price is to drive up sales to drive up ranking for visibility. But I may just be better served taking a small hit on sales in favor of better royalty. Then I can just lower the price if I want to run any promos. I don’t know what I’m going to do with that yet.

I had planned to write a clean contemporary romance after finishing this series, one based in Louisiana and centered around food. I may still do that. But I’m also thinking about sending a poll out to my newsletter asking what they might like to see next. I’m not sure how many other authors do that and how well it would be received. I think my three main choices of what to write next year are:

  1. The novel I just mentioned, entitled The Plate Lunch
  2. A new shifter series (probably a trilogy, not dragons, probably present-day, set in a small town)
  3. Alpha/Billionaire contemporary, dirty romance with BDSM elements

I think a shifter trilogy would be the most natural thing for readers to transition into from my current series. I don’t want to commit to another 5 or more books. I have a strong sense of how #1 would go, and I think it would be a strong book and a relatively easy one to write. I just don’t know how well it might be received, and it might look strange in my catalog. I’d also feel pretty confident writing #3. I’ve read a few of these lately and they’re still super popular in the rankings. But that’s still a couple of months out. Until then, it’s time to my my nose back to the grindstone and knock this dragon series out.

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Dragon Green Launch Weekend Update

Not a big change from last time I posted. The launch has still been pretty disappointing. I have a few take-aways and things I want to take action on, though, so that’s good.

But first, reviews are looking pretty good. Still underwhelming given the fact that my ARC list tripled since Dragon Red. But I’ve got 40 reviews on Goodreads and 35 now on Amazon, and the average is above 4.5 on both.

My timing is probably horrible, though. Switching Dragon Blue to permafree right before launch was probably a bad idea. I should have worked on making it permafree at least a couple of weeks before launch. Another thing I’ve come to realize is that I’ve probably stumbled pretty hard with the opening of Dragon Blue. I started chapter one with a very explicit sex scene with my heroine. My initial intent was to write the books very, very steamy. But based on the feedback I’ve gotten, I think they would work a lot better if the steam was turned down a notch (something I’ve been mindful of in the latter two books). Also, I don’t think readers react very well to getting slammed in the face with explicit sex from the get-go. Here’s where knowing how many people abandoned the book after the first chapter would have been super useful. Hint, hint, Amazon. Give us that data, please.

Anyway, after looking back at Dragon Blue, I can easily just lose the first chapter and do some minor revisions. That way I would start chapter 1 with the hero, which is the way the other books start. So it will be more consistent with the rest of the series and less in-your-face. I think that will work a lot better. So that’s on my to-do list for this week.

I’m also going to add a sample chapter of the following book as a lead-in. That’s a pretty old and effective strategy for getting readers interested in the next book. I don’t end each book on a cliffhanger, though the epilogues are a bit of a teaser in each. But I think the sample chapters will help.

And I also think I’m going to take the plunge and invest in Vellum. The formatting is just so much nicer, and I have a Mac in addition to a PC, so the only issue was the price. I think it’s worth the investment, though.

Dragon Blue has gotten something like 700 downloads since it went permafree. Most of those are on Amazon. I’m seeing a little of a trickle of sell-through, but I’d expect to see more this coming week as the first batch of permafree readers finish the book. We’ll see. But at least I feel like there are some steps I can take to shore up the first three books going forward as I work on the fourth.

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Dragon Green Launch Update

Just a quick update on the launch…

One day after launching, it’s not going great. Now I know I shook things up a bit by moving Dragon Blue out of KU to permafree, but there are still a few things about this launch that are quite disappointing.

First of all, I sold 25 copies yesterday. Not very good at the 99 cent price point. I wanted to rely less on promos and begin leveraging my mailing list as the core of my first-day launch strategy. I have over 1,000 subscribers on my newsletter list now, so 25 copies sold is very underwhelming. The bulk of those come from cross-promotions and my Instafreebie giveaway. The open rate for yesterday’s newsletter was 43.7%, which is not that great. I’m going to send out a follow-up newsletter to those who didn’t open this one next week, but I’ll also need to do some pruning on the list.

I sent out the link to Dragon Blue in the same newsletter, noting that it was free. My hope was that a lot of readers would download the first book and go ahead and buy the next two while the third was at a discounted rate. But maybe the way it works is that I’ll see sell-through to the third book down the line as people read the first one for free. I don’t know.

Also slightly depressing is the number of reviews. Right now Dragon Green has 25 reviews, which would normally be great. But at this point in my launch of Dragon Red I already had 20. And that was with an ARC team of 59 readers. I worked hard to build the list up to 180 over the past month. I also made the ARC available through Instafreebie and Facebook, where it got nearly 400 downloads. I was hoping to have 50ish reviews by this point. Again, maybe they’ll trickle in at a higher rate. Or maybe Amazon is glitchy. I did notice the first 3 reviews appearing and disappearing from the listing yesterday as I checked it.

So maybe offering Dragon Blue for free is demotivating readers from buying the 2nd and 3rd books. Or maybe I’m doing something wrong with the cover/blurb. Anyway, I’ve got a couple of small promos running on Dragon Green over the next week, and I’m going to stick with my plan to hammer the free promos for Dragon Blue. I’m just waiting for it to be listed on B&N before I sign up for any big promos.

I’ll try to keep my spirits up while I work on the next book. Maybe sales will pick up over the weekend.

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Dragon Green Launch!

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Dragon Green: A Vision Unseen launched on Amazon today. The launch price is 99 cents, but then it will go up to the normal price of $2.99 next week.

I’m cautiously optimistic about this one. A lot of authors say the third in the series is when you start to get traction. I’m also second-guessing myself a little about going wide, but I’m pretty sure it was the right choice given where I’m at. Amazon price-matched Dragon Blue for free. Time to start pounding on that with free promos.

Also time to churn out the next book. Outlining isn’t going so great. I’ve got the opening and the ending of the story clearly in mind. I know the two lead characters and their path to come together and fall in love. It’s all that messy plotting in the middle that I’m mostly unsure about. I think this one is going to be like Dragon Red, mostly written by the seat of my pants. But I think it will end up working out okay.

I’ll update here about how the launch goes over the weekend.